The book of Revelation reveals that all people who have ever died without hearing of Christ or learning God's way of life are to be resurrected and given their opportunity to receive eternal life. This brings us to the concluding aspects of God's plan.
What is God's seventh and last annual festival?
"Also on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep the feast of the LORD for seven days; on the first day there shall be a sabbath-rest, and on the eighth day a sabbath-rest" (Leviticus 23:39).
"Also day by day, from the first day until the last day, [Ezra] read from the Book of the Law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day there was a sacred assembly, according to the prescribed manner" (Nehemiah 8:18).
The seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles are followed by another high day, on which God commands an assembly. This eighth day is the Last Great Day of the fall festival season, and it represents the final, or seventh, step in God's plan of salvation.
As Christ's 1,000-year reign on earth (Revelation 20:4) is followed by other prophesied events, the Feast of Tabernacles is also followed by a concluding festival that represents the conclusion of those final events—the final aspects of God's purpose and plan for humanity on our physical earth. The book of Revelation reveals that all people who have ever died without hearing of Christ or learning God's way of life are to be resurrected and given their opportunity to receive eternal life. This brings us to the concluding aspects of God's plan.
John writes: "And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:12-15).
This is the resurrection of "the rest of the dead [who] did not live again until the thousand years were finished" mentioned in Revelation 20:5. This resurrection of many millions of people back to physical, perishable life is graphically depicted in Ezekiel 37:1-12. In this resurrection, according to Jesus, the dead of all past ages—people such as the queen of the South (or Sheba) from Solomon's time, the inhabitants of the ancient Assyrian stronghold of Nineveh from Jonah's time and the people of Christ's time—will all be resurrected together (Matthew 12:41-42).
This judgment will take place over time as these people hear and learn God's truth for the first time. Those who rise in this resurrection and repent—and the Scriptures indicate that most of them will repent—will receive God's Spirit. "Then you ... will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live ... Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD" (Ezekiel 37:13-14, NIV). In this resurrection God will give them their opportunity for salvation—an opportunity they never had before.
Did Jesus speak of a connection between the Last Great Day and the receiving of God's Spirit?
"On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, 'If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.' But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, [which] those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified" (John 7:37-39).
Most people cling to the notion that God sends those who die unsaved to an ever-burning hell to be tormented forever. This is one of the great deceptions Satan has foisted off on mankind. It is simply not true. Instead, the Scriptures consistently teach that each person who dies remains in his grave, having no consciousness or pain (Ecclesiastes 9:5; Psalm 6:5) until God resurrects him. (For detailed proof be sure to request the booklets Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach? and What Happens After Death?)
Jesus explained that everyone who dies will be resurrected from his grave, not from an ever-burning hell: "Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs ['graves' in most translations] shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment" (John 5:28-29, New American Standard Bible). Some translators incorrectly render this event as a "resurrection of condemnation." Such translation does not accurately reflect what the Scriptures teach.
Humanity's final judgment, according to the Scriptures, will not be in the form of a resurrection to automatic condemnation. Rather it will be the time when those who have never heard God's truth explained will finally receive an opportunity to hear and repent—by being resurrected and taught God's truth over a generously sufficient length of time to come to repentance and prove to God they really want eternal life and are willing to submit to Him.
Through God's wondrous foresight, all people will enjoy the opportunity to learn His truth and come to repentance, because God "desires all men to be saved" (1 Timothy 2:4). God will forgive those who repent (the biblical indications are that most will repent) and give them His Spirit and ultimately salvation in His Kingdom. Remember, "the Lord is ... not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). He provides for everyone to have a genuine personal opportunity to have his name written in the book of life.
Finally, this time of judgment will conclude when the incorrigibly wicked—those who, after receiving their opportunity to repent, still refuse to accept God's ways—are cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14-15).
What do the Scriptures describe as the conclusion of this final judgment period?
"Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away" (Revelation 21:1-4).
What follows in Revelation 21-22 briefly describes the community of those who have received salvation living peacefully and harmoniously with each other in the presence of God for eternity. In His wonderful Kingdom God will reveal the meaning of His promise, "Behold, I make all things new" (Revelation 21:5).
God's festivals celebrate the seven stages of His wonderful, all-encompassing plan so we can have faith in Him and rest assured that He knows what He is doing. He has thought out every detail to bring us—all who are willing—to repentance and give us eternal life.
By keeping His festivals we remain focused on what is important in our view of the future and our role in it. Each time we keep them we deepen our understanding of prophecies throughout the Bible that fill in the details of God's wonderful plan.
Members of the United Church of God, publishers of this Bible Study Course, gather every year in dozens of locations around the world in obedience to God's command to observe the Feast of Tabernacles. In addition, they keep God's other annual festivals in their local congregations. Visitors are always welcome.
In this lesson we cover only the highlights of what the Bible reveals about God's Holy Days and their relationship to biblical prophecy. For more information about God's festivals be sure to read and study our 64-page booklet God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind. For a more-thorough understanding of God's plan as revealed in Bible prophecy, also request the booklets Are We Living in the Time of the End?, You Can Understand Bible Prophecy and The Book of Revelation Unveiled. All will add to your understanding of God's festivals and their relationship to His plan and to the prophecies that reveal many of its details.