Bible: What were the Jewish Festivals about?
There were seven special events the Jewish people were to faithfully observe. They are all listed in Leviticus 23 of the Bible. Even though we as believers are not to observe them today, there was a time when God required it of all His people. However, because of what these occasions represent, believers should become familiar with each of them because they all foreshadowed or symbolized some aspect of the life, death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Furthermore, they help us see the plan of God unfold historically.
The book of Leviticus is not a book of “devotional reading,” but it gave Israel specific instructions regarding the ceremonial things they were to do in their worship. Each one of these spoke of God’s provision for Israel and foreshadowed things pertaining to their coming Messiah. Again, while believers today are not to observe these things, we can learn of their significance in relation to what they represented.
16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:
17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. [Emphasis added]
The reality of all these things come to fulfillment through Jesus Christ and all He’s done to provide us with the means to our salvation and all it provides for us.
These times often began and ended with a “Sabbath rest” during which the Jews were commanded not to work, but to rest. This “rest” represents the peace of mind we gain through our faith in Christ’s completed work in our behalf, namely, His death for our sins and His subsequent burial and resurrection.
Beginning in the spring, the seven Jewish feasts are The Passover, The Feast of Unleavened Bread, The Feast of Firstfruits, the Feast of Weeks, The Feast of Trumpets, The Day of Atonement, and The Feast of Tabernacles. Each of these were to remind the Israelites of God’s ongoing protection and provision. But most important of all, these observances foreshadowed various aspects of Christ’s redemptive work beginning with His death, burial, and resurrection and ending with His Second Coming and the establishment of His Kingdom in which He will dwell with them. We will look at a summary of the meaning of each of these.
This is the first of three observances that occur back-to-back, almost simultaneously. The Feast of Unleavened Bread begins the day after Passover is celebrated. Then, on the second day of this feast, The Feast of Firstfruits begins. Passover speaks of our redemption from sin. It represents the time when Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, was offered as a sacrifice for our sins. It is on this basis alone that God can provide believers with justification. Just as the blood of a lamb sprinkled on the doorpost of Jewish homes caused the Spirit of the Lord to pass over those homes during the last plague in Egypt [Exodus 12], so those covered by the blood of the Lamb will escape the judgment God will bring upon all who reject the salvation He provides. Of all the festivals, Passover [Leviticus 23:5], as our Lord observed it with His disciples in Matthew 26:17-28, is of the greatest importance because it speaks of His shed blood to provide us with the way of salvation.
I Corinthians 5:7-8
7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:
8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. [Emphasis added]
By passing the elements and telling the disciples to eat of His body, Jesus was presenting Himself as the reality of what the Passover Lamb was designed to portray.
The Feast of Unleavened Bread—
This followed immediately after The Passover and lasted for one week, during which time the Israelites ate no bread containing yeast in remembrance of their haste in preparing for their exodus from Egypt. In the Bible, yeast is often associated with sin and evil [I Corinthians 5:6-8; Galatians 5:9], and, just as Israel was to remove yeast from their bread, so Christians are to purge sin from their lives and live a new life in righteousness. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit and God’s Word working in us that we are enabled to do this. As the Israelites were leaving behind an old life, so it is God’s will for us as we have gained our new life in Christ.
II Corinthians 5:17
17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. [Emphasis added]
The Feast of Firstfruits—
This took place at the beginning of the harvest and signified Israel’s gratitude to and dependence upon God. In accordance with Leviticus 23:9-14, every Israelite was to bring a sheaf, that is, a bundle of grain stalks laid lengthwise and tied together after reaping, of the first grain of the harvest to the priest who would wave it before the Lord as an offering [Deuteronomy 26:1-11]. The person offering it would by this acknowledge that it was God who had delivered them from Egypt and provided for them The Promised Land. This serves to remind us of Christ’s resurrection as He was “the firstfruits of them that slept,” speaking of those believers who had died.
I Corinthians 15:20-22
20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. [Emphasis added]
I Corinthians 15 is for the most part an entire chapter on the reality of our coming resurrection. The day will come when every believer will be provided with a perfect resurrection body with all the virtues Christ had in His resurrection body.
21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself. [Emphasis added]
The Feast of Weeks [Pentecost]—
The Greek word PENTECOST means fiftieth. This was observed fifty days after the Firstfruits festival and celebrated at the end of the grain harvest. It was observed as an expression of gratitude for the harvest. It served to remind them of the fulfillment of the promise to send them a Helper [the Holy Spirit] to abide with them and empower them for ministry.
16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; [Emphasis added]
Unlike this provision for Israel, today we have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that serves as a guarantee of our coming bodily resurrection.
13 In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,
14 Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. [Emphasis added]
This seals our salvation and bears witness with our spirit that we are indeed “joint heirs with Christ,” meaning we’ll share in all the blessings God has provided for Him.
16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. [Emphasis added]
After the spring feasts concluded with The Feast of Weeks, there is a gap in time before the fall feasts begin. It is in this timeframe that this unprophesied period of history of which we are a part today has been inserted. The old program was interrupted, and God dispensed this period of grace of which we are a part now. Just as the spring feasts pointed toward the Messiah’s ministry at His first coming, the fall feasts point toward what will happen at the time around His Second Coming.
The Feast of Trumpets—
1 And in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, ye shall have an holy convocation; ye shall do no servile work: it is a day of blowing the trumpets unto you.
2 And ye shall offer a burnt offering for a sweet savour unto the Lord; one young bullock, one ram, and seven lambs of the first year without blemish: [Emphasis added]
The trumpet blast was meant to signal to Israel that the agricultural year was ending and that they were entering a sacred season. The fulfillment of this coincides with Christ’s Second Coming.
30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. [Emphasis added]
The Day of Atonement—
This occurs ten days after The Feast of Trumpets. It was the day the high priest went into the Holy of Holies each year, the most sacred part of the Temple, to make an offering for the sins of Israel. This feast is representative of the time when God will again turn His attention back to Israel.
25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel [this is where they are today], until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.
26 And so all Israel shall be saved [in the later end of the Tribulation period]: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer [a reference to Christ’s Second Coming], and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:
27 For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.
28 As concerning the gospel, they [Israel] are enemies for your sakes [those who become members of the body of Christ]: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the father’s sakes. [Emphasis added]
The Jewish remnant that survives The Tribulation Period will come to the point of seeing Jesus as their promised Messiah. It is at that time that their spiritual blindness ends, and they come to have faith in Jesus their Christ.
The Feast of Tabernacles [Booths]—
This is the seventh and last of Israel’s feasts. It was observed five days after the Day of Atonement. For seven days the Israelites presented offerings to the Lord, during which time they lived in “booths” or huts. This was to cause them to recall their journey prior to them taking the land of Canaan.
41 And ye shall keep it a feast unto the Lord seven days in the year. It shall be a statute for ever in your generations: ye shall celebrate it in the seventh month.
42 Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths:
43 That your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. [Emphasis added]
This observance represents the future time when Christ will rule and reign over the Earth. From that time on and throughout all eternity people from every tribe, tongue, and nation will “tabernacle” or dwell with Christ in the New Jerusalem [Revelation 21:9-27]. Here’s the first four verses of this passage.
1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.
2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. [Emphasis added]
As we’ve seen in this study, the first four spring feasts look back at what Christ accomplished at His first coming while the three fall feasts look forward toward the glory of Christ’s second coming. The first is the source of our hope in Christ and all that He did to provide the way of salvation for us—His death, burial, and resurrection. The last three feasts look toward the glory of Christ’s Second Coming and all that it’ll provide.
Understanding the significance of these God-appointed Jewish feasts helps us understand the complete plan of God’s redemptive work in the course of history. They all serve to remind us of all the things for which we all should be thankful. As I write this, I’m reminded of a pertinent verse related to this that we should all know and apply consistently.
I Thessalonians 5:18
18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. [Emphasis added]