Why do most people keep holidays that are different from the festivals listed and described in the pages of the Bible? When were the biblical feasts abandoned, and why? How can we be sure which sacred days Christians should observe?
Here are the answers!
Jesus Himself set an example for us (1 John 2:6 1 John 2:6He that said he stays in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
American King James Version×) in observing the sacred festivals commanded in the Holy Scriptures (Matthew 26:17 Matthew 26:17Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to him, Where will you that we prepare for you to eat the passover?
American King James Version×; Mark 1:21 Mark 1:21And they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the sabbath day he entered into the synagogue, and taught.
American King James Version×; Luke 4:16 Luke 4:16And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.
American King James Version×, 31; John 7:8-10 John 7:8-10 8 Go you up to this feast: I go not up yet to this feast: for my time is not yet full come. 9 When he had said these words to them, he stayed still in Galilee. 10 But when his brothers were gone up, then went he also up to the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret.
American King James Version×, 14, 37). His apostles and their converts, walking in His footsteps and following His example, continued observing the same festivals (Acts 2:1 Acts 2:1And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
American King James Version×; 12:2-4; 16:13; 18:4, 19, 21; 20:6; 27:9; 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, as you 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.
American King James Version×). The Encyclopaedia Britannica (13th edition), under “Festivals,” states that it is “abundantly clear that Christ and His disciples observed the appointed Jewish feasts.”
Faithful Christians continued, for several centuries after Christ's death, to follow His and the apostles' examples in keeping the festivals. But this all changed when a politicized and paganized form of Christianity developed within the Roman Empire.
Historian Stewart Easton explains how and when the change occurred—with the help of the Roman emperors. “Constantine [A.D. 306-337], though not baptized a Christian until he was on his deathbed, took an active interest in the [Christian] religion, presiding over the important Council of Nicea … During the fourth century, under imperial protection …, the Christian religion … made rapid progress, even in the rural areas where the old gods had never altogether lost their appeal. When at the end of the century (A.D. 392) [Emperor] Theodosius I decreed that henceforth Christianity was to be the only religion in the [Roman] empire, the countryside perforce had to submit and adopt at least the forms of Christianity. But it would probably have been difficult for any observer to detect much difference … It is clear that these folk knew little enough of the teachings or theology of Christianity, and the festivals and ceremonies of paganism for the most part were incorporated directly into the new official religion ( The Heritage of the Past: From the Earliest Times to 1500 , 1964, p. 402, emphasis added).
Charles Guignebert, who was a professor of the history of Christianity at the University of Paris, describes the continuation of the process: “Now at the beginning of the fifth century, the ignorant and the semi-Christians thronged into the Church in numbers … They had forgotten none of their pagan customs … The bishops of that period had to content themselves with redressing, as best they could, and in experimental fashion, the shocking malformations of the Christian faith which they perceived around them … They had to be content with … postponing until a later date the task of eradicating their superstitions, which they preserved intact … This 'later date' never arrived, and the Church adapted to herself, as well as she could, them and their customs and beliefs. On their side, they were content to dress up their paganism in a Christian cloak” ( The Early History of Christianity , 1927, pp. 208-210, emphasis added).
During this time—in the early centuries after the passing of the original apostles—observance of biblical practices, including the seventh-day Sabbath and God's festivals, practically disappeared from the new and growing religion. They were replaced with other practices and a new set of religious holidays.
Prophecy, however, reveals that God will require the whole world to observe these same biblical festivals in the future. For example, Zechariah prophesies that God will require people to attend the Feast of Tabernacles after Christ returns (Zechariah 14:16 Zechariah 14:16And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles.
American King James Version×). Isaiah prophesies that people of all lands will regularly keep the weekly Sabbath during Christ's millennial reign (Isaiah 66:23 Isaiah 66:23And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, said the LORD.
American King James Version×). Isaiah and Micah prophesy of that time: “Many nations shall come and say, 'Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.' For out of Zion the law shall go forth, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem” (Micah 4:2 Micah 4:2And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
American King James Version×; compare Isaiah 2:3 Isaiah 2:3And many people shall go and say, Come you, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
American King James Version×).
Some faithful Christians to this day observe the sacred festivals, the same festivals of God that Christ kept. God instituted these annual occasions to keep His people aware of Christ's mission as the Messiah. These sacred days really are Christian festivals in every respect, and Christians everywhere should observe them.