The meaning of the Feast of Tabernacles has to do with where I see my permanent dwelling – this world, or Christ. My life is not one of self-denial but choosing the joy of Christ over the hazards of this world. Notice the language in the Scripture: “…if he gain the whole world…” and “whosoever will preserve his life” and “whosoever shall be ashamed of Me” (Luke 9:24-26). All these things occur when one becomes attached to the world, seeking to make this world and all its comforts, gadgets and status symbols one’s permanent dwelling. We are called to leave this world behind. Jesus’ disciples have no stake here. That is, we have no investment in this world. We look for a city to come, made without hands. Our investment is in Christ.
The Feast of Tabernacles historically commemorates Israel living in tents and wandering forty years in the wilderness. The way of the Lord (Luke 3:4) is prepared in the wilderness, and the Spirit of God leads his people (Luke 4:1; cf. Revelation 12:6) into the wilderness. Moreover, the Lord feeds or nourishes his people (Luke 9:12; cf. Mark 8:4; Revelation 12:14) in the wilderness. Jesus was tested in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-2), but the context shows this wasn’t a desert or an uninhabited place. Rather it was a wilderness of people, a people without understanding (cf. Ezekiel 20:35).
According to the context of Luke 9:24 (cf. John 6:66-68) Jesus was speaking only to the Twelve, but what he says to them has bearing upon all his disciples, whomsoever they may be. A disciple is able to save his life only if he loses his life for the sake of Christ. That is, everything a disciple does in this life for the sake of Christ has meaning for eternity. Conversely, anyone, including a disciple in name only, who seeks to save his life, that is, who lives according to his own desires, cannot keep his life in eternity. Anything lived for the flesh cannot be carried and have meaning past this life. The life not lived for Christ now is wasted as far as enjoying it forever is concerned. Nothing said or done for self has any meaning in eternity. A life lived for Christ, on the other hand, is like one going to college or investing in one’s future in some manner, because it does have meaning for our lives lived with Christ later.
What Jesus means in Luke 9:25 concerns what he said in Luke 9:24. Nothing done for the sake of self can be used for the sake of Christ, and everything that is not done for Christ, now, cannot be enjoyed with Christ in eternity. Therefore, what advantage has a man gained, if he gained the whole world, but at the same time lost his soul. That is, if a man’s life is wasted as far as the Kingdom of God is concerned, what he has gained otherwise cannot be enjoyed forever. Therefore, all that a man has gained today for his own sake cannot be enjoyed beyond this life. So, what does today’s booty gain him? It is like the bowl of pottage Esau enjoyed in exchange for his birthright (Genesis 25:30-34).
In Jesus’ day many folks were ashamed to number themselves with Jesus (Luke 9:26), because they were afraid of the Pharisees and the other Jewish authorities, and what they might do to them (cf. John 12:42-43). We are able to do similarly today and be ashamed of Jesus. Only the circumstances have changed. The cross brings persecution, and we have a choice to number ourselves with Christ or save ourselves by numbering ourselves with Christ’s critics (cf. Romans 1:16; 2Timothy 1:8, 12, 16; 1Peter 4:16).
Christ isn’t ashamed of his disciples who lay all aside to embrace him (Luke 9:26), because, when we choose him over the world, we suffer with him and are one with him in his cause (Hebrews 2:11). Moreover, our Father isn’t ashamed of Jesus’ disciples (Luke 9:26), because we look for a heavenly country, something that far surpasses what can be gained in this world (Hebrews 11:16), that stands in rebellion against God.