When Yeshua was a boy, His parents made regular trips to Jerusalem for the celebration of the pilgrimage festivals, as it says, “They went up there according to the custom of the Feast” (Luke 2:42). The Gospel of John depicts Yeshua and the Twelve faithfully attending the pilgrimage festivals in Jerusalem. In John 2:13, He traveled to Jerusalem for Passover. In John 4, He returned to Galilee from a festival in Jerusalem, possibly Shavu’ot. In John 5, He went back to Jerusalem for another festival. In John 6, the Passover was near, and we assume He went up as was His custom. In John 7, He attended the Sukkot festivities in the Temple. In John 12, He went back to Jerusalem for His last Passover.
In the days of the Master, the roads to Zion flowed like rivers of people as hundreds of thousands of Jews converged on Jerusalem for the festivals. The psalmist refers to the pilgrimage festivals when he says, “How blessed is the man ... in whose heart are the highways to Zion!” (Psalm 84:6). The pilgrims on the roads sang the psalms of ascent as they ascended to the house of God.
After the destruction of the Temple and the fall of Jerusalem, the pilgrims no longer ascended to the holy city for the pilgrimage festivals: “The roads of Zion are in mourning because no one comes to the appointed feasts” (Lamentations 1:4). The psalmist laments, “These things I remember and I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God, with the voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival” (Psalm 42:5).
When our Master comes again, however, the roads to Zion will once more rejoice with the sound of those who ascend to Jerusalem, saying, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob” (Isaiah 2:3). Even the Gentiles “will go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to celebrate Sukkot” (Zechariah 14:16). Then our joy will be made full, as it says, “You will be altogether joyful” (Deuteronomy 16:15):
And you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite and the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are in your towns. (Deuteronomy 16:14)
All nations will ascend for the annual pilgrimages, bearing gifts of tribute and offerings of praise to the one true God who will reign out of Jerusalem. This anticipation of the coming kingdom explains why we conclude each of the pilgrimage festivals with the words, “Next year in Jerusalem!” Those who live in Jerusalem conclude the pilgrimage festivals with the words, “Next year in New Jerusalem!” May it be speedily, soon, and in our life time.