The Biblical Festivals That Teach Us About Jesus Christ
Few people are aware of the seven festivals God reveals in the Bible. Even fewer are aware that they center around and teach us a great deal about Jesus Christ and His role in God's plan for all mankind.
"The feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts" (Leviticus 23:2). Sounds impressive, doesn't it? God Almighty saying in Scripture, " These are My Feasts ."
Yet for most of traditional Christianity, these "feasts of the LORD" are thought to have been kept only by the Jews and are deemed meaningless for Christians. New religious holidays have been substituted that supposedly center on Jesus Christ.
How did all this come to be? What is the true meaning of these "feasts of the LORD"? Do they have anything to do with Jesus Christ, or is their symbolism limited only to long-ago events? If we truly want to find the answers in the manner God instructs us, then we should follow the advice He inspired: "Test all things; hold fast what is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
The Bible gives us a good example of how to examine a belief to see if
it is correct. When the apostle Paul traveled to Berea, he taught the
Bereans certain things that must have been surprising to them. But they
didn't close their minds or reject them. Instead, they were willing to
give them a fair hearing by carefully examining the Scriptures. What was
the result? We read in Acts 17:11-12
that these men and women "were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed ..."
So in examining the feasts of the Bible, will we give them a fair hearing as well? Do the Scriptures reveal whether these feasts teach us important truths about Jesus Christ?
The Passover: A Christ-centered feast?
The Passover is the first of God's annual feast days mentioned in Scripture. It commemorates the greatest event in the people of Israel's history—their miraculous liberation from Egypt. The second book of the Bible, Exodus, is dedicated to narrating this history. Observant Jews have been celebrating this feast for more than 3,400 years.
But is this feast only to celebrate the Israelites' departure from Egypt? Does the New Testament have anything to say about the occasion?
When John the Baptist saw Jesus Christ coming to the Jordan River to be baptized, he exclaimed, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29).
In the Bible the lamb is a symbol of the Passover because a lamb was slain at the beginning of the Passover and eaten that night. The Israelites knew the blood of the lamb had protected them from the death of their firstborn on that first Passover night they kept in Egypt (Exodus 12:12-13 ).
In the New Testament, the Gospels record that Christ kept the Passover with His disciples several times. On the night before His death, Jesus knew He was fulfilling the symbolism of the Passover lamb in voluntarily giving His life for the sins of the entire world.
Notice Luke 22:14-16 : "When the hour had come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him. Then He said to them, ‘With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.'"
Jesus then instituted the new symbols that represented not the sacrifice of a lamb, but His far greater sacrifice. The Passover symbols would now represent Christ's complete sacrifice—the unleavened bread representing His sinless body that was beaten for us, and a sip of wine signifying the lifeblood He would shed to wash away our sins.
From then on, this feast took on a much greater new meaning to the Church. Instead of being abolished, this feast now revealed its true, ultimate meaning. The disciples now realized the Passover lamb was only the physical forerunner of that perfect sacrifice which was Jesus Christ. Now they would keep this feast with far greater significance and comprehension.
Paul explains the Christian Passover
Some 25 years after Christ's death, the apostle Paul instructed the Corinthian congregation—composed of believing Jews and gentiles alike—about the Passover: "Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us" (1 Corinthians 5:7, emphasis added throughout).
Paul understood this ancient feast of the Passover had now revealed its true meaning with Christ's sacrifice. It was part of God's plan for all of mankind that Jesus would come and sacrifice Himself for the sins of the world—and the Passover anticipated it.
So, far from being obsolete, the Passover was revealed to have a vastly important meaning for Christians, with Jesus Christ being at its very center.
The apostle Paul explained this new understanding of the Passover to the Corinthian brethren when he instructed them on how to observe it: "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed [Passover night] took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.'
"In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes" (1 Corinthians 11:23-26 ).
So in the New Testament, the Passover becomes an annual reminder and symbol of Christ's sacrifice for all of us.
The apostle Paul clearly understood that these biblical feasts were harbingers of what was to come in God's master plan of salvation. In a passage frequently misunderstood by many, Paul shows these feasts of the Lord were "shadows" of things to come—not of things that have already happened.
He warned the brethren not to be intimidated by some who were questioning their manner of keeping God's feasts, as well as the Sabbaths, new moons, and eating and drinking. He said, "So let no one judge [criticize or condemn] you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come . . . Let no one cheat you of your reward ..." (Colossians 2:16-18 ).
Paul was combating a group of ascetics who were introducing several strange doctrines, including worshiping angels (verse 18) and abstaining from wholesome food and drink (verse 21). He told the brethren to ignore them and continue observing what he had taught (and he certainly taught keeping the Passover, as we have seen). Regrettably, the Colossian brethren had been cowed by these self-righteous intruders and were starting to shy away from observing these feasts.
So Paul mentions how important they are, as foreshadowing coming events in God's plan for mankind. These events have not been completely accomplished so far, and many are still in the future.
Even the Passover's symbolism was not completely fulfilled with Christ's sacrificial death. Jesus Himself said He will again take the Passover with all the believers in God's Kingdom (Mark 14:24-25 ; Luke 22:15-16 )—an act that represents the ultimate triumph of His sacrifice when all believers join Him in His Kingdom.
The Days of Unleavened Bread: Is Christ at the center?
What about the Days of Unleavened Bread? Are they obsolete, solely an Old Testament symbol? Or are they also glorious shadows of things to come?
In the Old Testament, the Days of Unleavened Bread were understood to be a memorial of what occurred after the Passover night, when all the Egyptian firstborn died.
The next morning the Israelites packed their belongings and traveled to a nearby gathering place, ready for departure. That evening, they left Egypt by night. "It is a night of solemn observance to the LORD for bringing them out of the land of Egypt" (Exodus 12:42).
Before that evening, one last thing occurred: "And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they had brought out of Egypt; for it was not leavened, because they were driven out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared provisions for themselves" (verse 39).
This feast of the Lord is clearly spelled out in Leviticus 23:6: "And on the fifteenth day of the same month [as Passover] is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; seven days you must eat unleavened bread."
What does this feast have to do with Christ? What does it teach us about Him?
Unleavened bread—bread made without leaven—is mentioned in the Bible as something pure and unpolluted. All the grain sacrifices to be burned were to be made without leaven. "No grain offering which you bring to the LORD shall be made with leaven, for you shall burn no leaven nor any honey in any offering to the LORD made by fire" (Leviticus 2:11).
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul explains the spiritual symbolism of unleavened bread. Rebuking the Church members in Corinth for their acceptance of sin, he tells them: "Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us" (1 Corinthians 5:6-7 ).
Yes, as Paul states, it is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that removes our sins, and so we become "unleavened" in a spiritual sense. So, again, Jesus Christ is the focus of this feast of the Lord. The shadow of this feast points to what Jesus would do for all of us in cleansing us of sin and helping us to live sin-free lives.
Paul told the Corinthian brethren that they should continue to keep this feast that followed the Passover. "Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (verse 8).
We see, then, that the spiritual meaning of the Days of Unleavened Bread was revealed. Its deeper significance wasn't ultimately found in what had occurred in the Old Testament, but in Jesus Christ, the sinless one, who purged our sins and gave us a chance to be spiritually "unleavened" before God. As the apostle Jude noted, Jesus "is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy" (Jude 24).
So Jesus Christ is at the center of this second feast of the Lord, too. He makes it possible for us to be spiritually "unleavened" before God.
In the Old Testament, the Feast of Pentecost is called the Feast of Weeks (Exodus 34:22). This is because Leviticus 23:15-16
mentions counting seven weeks (or Sabbaths) or "fifty days" from the day the wave sheaf was offered during the Days of Unleavened Bread. Thus the feast acquired the name of "fiftieth," which is what Pentecost means in the Greek language of the New Testament.
In the New Testament, 50 days after Christ had been resurrected, the first Christians were celebrating Pentecost, one of the feasts of the Lord. And, as recorded in Acts 2, what a day that was! On it they received the Holy Spirit from God. Suddenly the Old Testament Feast of Weeks had taken on a new meaning for them. The shadow of this feast had now become a reality! Pentecost would become the Church's anniversary of the receiving of God's Spirit.
Jesus Christ revealed the significance of this feast by sending the Holy Spirit to His brethren in the faith. He had told them, "Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high" (Luke 24:49; compare John 16:7).
God's Spirit plays a crucial role in the life of Christians today as it did then. When a person receives God's Spirit upon repentance and baptism, that Spirit begins a process of spiritual transformation in the person's life, a transformation the Bible calls conversion (to learn more, request or download the free booklet Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion ).
Through this process, we shed our own way of thinking and living and allow Jesus Christ's attitude and way of life to guide everything we do. Paul described this life-transforming change in Galatians 2:20:
"I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (King James Version).
Thus we see that Jesus is at the center of the Feast of Pentecost as well. Yet the ultimate fulfillment will only be realized after He returns to earth to establish God's Kingdom, when all will have access to God's Spirit. So this feast should still be kept as a memorial and a shadow until its purpose is completely accomplished.
Do we find the first-century Church continuing to keep Pentecost? In the book of Acts, we read of the apostle Paul hurrying to be in Jerusalem to keep this feast with the brethren. "For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost" (Acts 20:16).
Even in one of Paul's epistles in which he writes so much about the gospel message, he refers to his plans to remain in Ephesus to observe Pentecost with the Church members there before traveling to Corinth.
He writes: "I do not want to see you now just in passing, for I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost" (1 Corinthians 16:7-8 , New Revised Standard Version).
The next biblical feast is referred to in the Bible as the Feast of Trumpets. It is "a holy convocation commemorated with trumpet blasts" (Leviticus 23:24, NRSV). God said when the trumpets were blown, "you will be remembered before the LORD your God, and you will be saved from your enemies" (Numbers 10:9).
Is the Feast of Trumpets also a shadow of Jesus Christ and His role in things to come?
In the New Testament, the symbolism of the trumpet is mentioned by Jesus. "Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (Matthew 24:30-31 ).
Often in the New Testament the sound of trumpets is tied to Christ's coming. Notice Paul's description of the resurrection of the dead at the time a great trumpet announces Christ's return: "Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed" (1 Corinthians 15:51-52 ).
We find this again described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16: "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first."
So Christ will ultimately fulfill the symbolism behind the Feast of Trumpets. He is the center of this foreshadowing feast too. At His second coming, the trumpet shall sound, announcing the arrival of the King of Kings. Loud voices proclaim, "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!" (Revelation 11:15).
But until the sound of the trumpet is heard, this feast is still pointing to the future, and its meaning is still to be fulfilled—with Jesus at its center.
The Day of Atonement: Is Christ involved in its meaning?
Perhaps the most unusual of the biblical feasts is the Day of Atonement. In Old Testament times, it included an elaborate ritual described in Leviticus 16. The high priest was to present two male goats, the first of which was sacrificed for the nation's sins (verse 15). Then, after the sins of the nation were symbolically placed on the other goat, it was expelled into the desert to a life of wandering (verses 21-22).
What does the Day of Atonement reveal about Jesus Christ's roles? Is He also at the center of this feast?
The Bible is full of rich symbolism, and the New Testament Church quickly realized Christ in His first coming was at the center of the feasts of the Lord. Just as He was described as being "our Passover" and "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8), so they came to understand that He was at the center of the Day of Atonement. How? He fulfilled the role of the male goat slain for the sins of Israel and carried outside the camp (Leviticus 16:27).
We read in Hebrews 13 about the Day of Atonement, and Christ being symbolic of the male goat and other animals slain on that day as sin offerings. "For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate [of the city of Jerusalem]" (verses 11-12).
We should consider that while Christ has already been sacrificed, the atonement His sacrifice provides has not yet been applied to all of Israel. That will happen upon Israel's repentance at Christ's second coming.
Not only does the Day of Atonement depict Christ's sacrifice for sin and a true spiritual reconciling of the people with God, but Christ is directly involved in the symbolism of the other male goat that was cast out into the desert by a strong man (Leviticus 16:21).
The second goat, over which the sins of the Israelites were confessed, represented the instigator of those sins—none other than Satan the devil.
At Christ's second coming, He will instruct a powerful angel to bind Satan and cast him into a place of restraint for 1,000 years, exiling him from mankind just as the live goat was exiled from the Israelite camp on the Day of Atonement. "Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years" (Revelation 20:1-2 ).
So Christ plays a dual role in the symbolism of the Day of Atonement. He is sacrificed as the first goat for the sins of the people, the atonement of which is yet to be applied to all Israel upon the nation's repentance at His return. And He will also be involved, as King of Kings, in banishing Satan at that time to establish the Kingdom of God on earth.
Next is the sixth biblical feast, the Feast of Tabernacles . In the Old Testament, it was kept to remind the Israelites of all of God's miraculous interventions during the 40-year period in the wilderness. "All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt" (Leviticus 23:42-43 ).
What does the Feast of Tabernacles have to do with Jesus Christ? Jesus is recorded to have kept this feast in John 7:2-36 . The symbol of the tabernacle in the New Testament is rich with meaning.
During Christ's earthly ministry, the apostle John mentions that "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). The Greek term for "dwelt" here actually means that He "tabernacled" among us. Just as Jesus Christ as the Creator God of the Old Testament (John 1:1-3 , 10; Hebrews 1:2; Colossians 1:16) "tabernacled" with the Israelites in the wilderness, He now did so with His people in His physical life many centuries later.
The apostle Paul says that the Israelites in the wilderness all "drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ" (1 Corinthians 10:4, New International Version).
At Christ's second coming, He will again "tabernacle" with those who are saved. He will dwell with His people for a thousand years, and this 1,000-year rule of Jesus Christ over the earth is the ultimate fulfillment of this feast. "Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years" (Revelation 20:6).
So Christ is definitely at the center of this feast too—as the ruler who "tabernacles" with His people for a thousand years.
The Feast of Tabernacles lasted seven days. Then, on the eighth day, there followed another, separate feast day, the last of the biblical feasts (Leviticus 23:36). What does this day have to do with Jesus Christ?
In John 7, an account of Jesus Christ's last Feast of Tabernacles on earth, we find Jesus declaring the significance of its conclusion. "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" (John 7:37-38 ).
He was talking about His return to earth, when He will freely offer the Holy Spirit to those who will believe in Him. Jesus died for all of mankind, but only a fraction have ever had the opportunity to know about Him and accept His offer of receiving the Holy Spirit.
Yet during Christ's 1,000-year reign, all of mankind will be offered God's Spirit. And beyond that, the Bible reveals there will come a future time when Christ will offer it to those who rise up in a resurrection of the dead from all past ages. In Revelation 20, we read what happens after the Millennium (pictured by the Feast of Tabernacles) is completed:
"Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face
the earth and the heaven fled away ... 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" (Revelation 20:11-12 )This period is also called the White Throne Judgment, and it is Christ who has been appointed to judge all of mankind (John 5:26-27 ; Romans 14:10
). This does not mean immediate condemnation but a judgment period, since the Book of Life is opened—meaning an opportunity is opened to receive God's Spirit and have one's name written into it. The apostle Paul writes in Philippians 4:3 of those "who labored with me in the gospel ... and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life."
So Christ will also carry out the central role of this final feast, that of lovingly and mercifully offering the multitudes of the uninformed and the deceived an opportunity for conversion and salvation and to have their names inscribed in the Book of Life.
Thus, the seven feasts of the Lord are "a shadow of things to come," and Jesus Christ is at the center of all of them. Yet He has not brought them to ultimate fulfillment; that will only occur in the coming Kingdom of God.
Yes, Christ is our Passover, He is the Unleavened Bread that purifies us, the Giver of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the coming King whose arrival is announced by the blast of the trumpets, the one who banishes Satan for a thousand years, and who tabernacles with man as King of kings. Finally, He is to judge mankind and offer the great majority an opportunity to have their names written in the Book of Life.
This is why God's Church kept these feasts as shown in the New Testament (see "‘The Feasts of the Lord' in the Book of Acts" on page 25). This is why these holy feasts are still to be kept—to remind us of the central role Jesus Christ has in carrying out in the plan of God. Isn't it about time you started keeping them yourself? GN