God gave seven annual festivals that present the work of Jesus Christ in saving humanity. It's vital that all of us learn of them and what they teach.
As His Word the Holy Bible reveals, the Creator God made human beings with the intent of their becoming part of His family—billions of children joining God the Father and Jesus Christ in glory forever, sharing Their nature and character.
However, from the time of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, mankind has been led astray by the rebellious fallen angel now known as Satan the devil. Under his influence, all people have sinned—disobeyed God—and come under the resultant penalties, ultimately death (see Romans 3:23; 6:23).
So is humanity lost beyond recovery? Has God's plan to produce His family been thwarted? By no means, for God had already established a plan to save His precious children before they even existed.
The Bible presents God's awesome plan of salvation. Spanning ages, it encompasses some being led in this age to realize their need for forgiveness of sin on through to the time when salvation will be offered to all who have ever lived. The major steps in this plan are revealed through the biblical festivals God's Word instructs us to observe (laid out sequentially in Leviticus 23). And through these annual commemorations we learn the key role Jesus Christ performs in mankind's salvation.
Exodus 12 introduces the Passover lamb as a means of redemption for the ancient Israelites in Egyptian slavery. When God sent a plague of death on the land of Egypt, the blood of the sacrificed lambs around the doors of the Israelite houses allowed the Israelites to be spared. This occasion was to be observed every year on the same day it occurred in early spring as a memorial (see also Leviticus 23:4-5). Yet the sacrificed lamb without blemish more importantly served as a representation of Jesus Christ, who was without any spiritual blemish of sin.
The New Testament reveals that Christ was killed on the very Passover day and that He is "our Passover, sacrificed for us" (1 Corinthians 5:7). Indeed, He is "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Through His sacrifice we are by God's grace forgiven of sin and ultimately spared from sin's penalty of death.
Today Christians are commanded to observe the memorial of the Passover yearly at the same time by drinking of the cup of the New Covenant and eating unleavened bread in remembrance of Christ's incredible sacrifice. By doing so, we solemnly and thankfully remember the Lord's death until He returns (1 Corinthians 11:25-26). This festival pictures the start of God's plan of redemption—the washing away of our sins by the very blood of Jesus Christ.
The Feast of Unleavened Bread
So, being forgiven of sins by God's grace through the sacrifice of Christ, are we entitled to go on sinning?
Paul asks, "Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?" (Romans 6:1). In other words, do we just stay the way we are and continue our sinful habits while expecting God to look the other way? Paul answers emphatically: "Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Romans 6:2).
Rather, in deep appreciation of what God has done and is doing for us through His Son, we continue to repent of our sins and live a changed life. As we come under God's grace and mercy, we must continue to "cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 7:1).
The Days of Unleavened Bread immediately follow the Passover (Leviticus 23:5-8). Historically, the seven days of this festival commemorate the time that the freed Israelites departed from Egypt and its godless ways. For a Christian living under the New Covenant, these days reveal the convicting truth that we must leave our sinful ways and work to overcome sin. We cannot continue in sin!
Yet, unlike the Israelites of old, we have a new and better way to accomplish this spiritual work. This festival begins to tell us how a new life, based on Christ, can be achieved.
This seven-day festival highlights elements of the work of Jesus Christ that are essential for our understanding the salvation process of God the Father. For one, it was during this festival that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, three days and nights from His death, as He said He would (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). This central truth of Scripture is key to our salvation, because without a risen Savior we are still in our sins without hope (1 Corinthians 15:14, 1 Corinthians 15:17)
Scripture tells us that for this one-week period we are to avoid leavening, an agent that causes bread to rise in baking (yeast in the biblical period), as representing "malice and wickedness" or, in other words, sin (1 Corinthians 5:8). And for this one week we instead eat un leavened bread with our meals (Exodus 12:14-20). By doing so, we are reminded of our constant need to put sin out of our lives and to put sincerity and truth (1 Corinthians 5:8) into our lives.
Furthermore, the Days of Unleavened Bread also picture the work of the risen Christ. In fulfillment of a special firstfruits grain offering brought during this festival (see Leviticus 23:9-14; 1 Corinthians 15:20-23), Jesus, at the time it was to be offered, ascended to the throne of God to present Himself for acceptance as the beginning of God's spiritual harvest of humanity and as the One who leads us all in the way of salvation. Being accepted as the Lamb of God, He entered the Most Holy Place with His own blood and began a new role as High Priest making intercession for us (Hebrews 9:12, Hebrews 9:24-25).
Moreover, this ongoing work makes the eating of unleavened bread throughout this festival all the more significant. Jesus Christ, as the bread of life (John 6:48-51) enters the life of a Christian through God's Spirit. It is then possible to live a new life with and through the help of Jesus Christ as He lives again through and in us.
The apostle Paul spoke of this awesome truth when he wrote, "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" (Galatians 2:20, King James Version).
The Feast of Pentecost
The next festival God revealed to the Israelites (Leviticus 23:15-22) came in late spring after seven weeks or on the 50th day following the offering of the firstfruits that took place during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. On this day—called the Feast of Weeks (Exodus 34:22; Deuteronomy 16:10, Deuteronomy 16:16), Pentecost (meaning 50th in Greek) and the Feast of Harvest (Exodus 23:16)—another firstfruits grain offering was presented. This day pictures the next step in God's great plan of salvation.
Acts 2:38-39 explains that God's Holy Spirit was poured out on Christ's disciples on this very day. God's Spirit forever changed these people. Peter immediately gave an inspired sermon and exclaimed to the multitudes gathered: "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call."
Yes, the promise of receiving the Holy Spirit is available to all those whom God is calling today. Those who receive God's Spirit are said to have "the firstfruits of the Spirit" (Romans 8:23), being themselves "a kind of firstfruits of His creatures" (James 1:18).
While Jesus, as we saw, was the firstfruits of God's spiritual harvest of mankind, here we see that Christ's followers in this age are also considered firstfruits—Jesus therefore being first of the firstfruits. One implication of God's servants in the present age being His firstfruits is that others will be spiritually converted at a later time—a fact we will see more about shortly.
Progressing from spring to fall festivals
So far, then, we see a logical progression in God's plan of salvation. First of all, Jesus, our Passover lamb, demonstrates God's love for us by dying for our sins.
Secondly, we learn through the Days of Unleavened bread that we are to not only strive with all our being to overcome sin in our lives, but we are to look to the risen Christ to deliver us from sin's power and help us live righteously.
Thirdly, we learn through the Day of Pentecost that God promises to give to us of the Holy Spirit—His power, mind and life—as firstfruits in the spiritual harvest of His family. It is through the Spirit that we can "put to death the [sinful] deeds of the body" (Romans 8:13), and walk as Christ walked.
Now let's take a look at the last four festivals mentioned in the Bible. Coming in late summer and autumn in the land of Israel, the prophetic fall feasts represent events that come later than those pictured by the spring festivals. Indeed, they foreshadow wonderful events yet to take place in God's great plan.
The Feast of Trumpets
Leviticus 23:23-25 commands God's people to observe "a sabbath rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets."
Trumpets had great meaning for the Israelites. They were used in the calling of special assemblies (Numbers 10:1-10) and to sound the alarm for war (Jeremiah 4:19). Moreover, God had come down in a manifestation of power at Mount Sinai to reveal His law with the blaring of a trumpet (Exodus 19:16-19).
Scripture also prophesies that trumpets will serve as heralds of great future events soon to take place on the earth. The book of Revelation tells us that seven trumpets will be sounded by angels to announce awesome end-time events. The first angel's trumpet will announce a great plague of hail, fire and blood, which will destroy a third part of the earth's vegetation (Revelation 8:7).
More trumpet blasts will be heard, culminating with the seventh and last trumpet (Revelation 11:15). This trumpet announces the return of Jesus Christ to the earth and the establishment of His glorious Kingdom over all nations.
We are also told by the apostle Paul that this trumpet will signal the resurrection of the dead in Christ and the transformation of all Christ's followers from physical flesh to glorified spirit existence (1 Thessalonians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 15:50-52). Jesus Himself said that His chosen people will be gathered at the "great sound of a trumpet" (Matthew 24:31).
As we observe this festival of Trumpets today, we are to keep in mind the great events that will soon take place on the earth, culminating in the return of Jesus Christ and the resurrection of the saints.
The Day of Atonement
The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:26-32) is mentioned in the New Testament in Acts 27:9, where it is called "the Fast," as marginal notes in many Bibles today affirm. It was thus familiar to New Testament Christians as a day they still observed with fasting.
This Day of Atonement, on which we are to fast, is called "a sabbath of solemn rest" (Leviticus 23:27-32). The ancient rituals for the day are explained in great detail in Leviticus 16. A central ceremony involved two goats, one sacrificed in representation of the Lord and the other called in Hebrew ez ozel, meaning "goat of departure." Some early translators used the word "scapegoat," thinking the goat escaped free. The word has since come to mean one who is innocent made to bear blame. Neither sense fits here.
In some other translations, such as the New Revised Standard Version, the Hebrew word Azazel is used, some maintaining that Azazel is the name of a demon.
Some claim that the Azazel goat represents Jesus Christ just as the first goat, but this is an illogical interpretation once we understand the fate of the Azazel goat. Leviticus 16:22 tells us, "The goat shall bear on itself all their [i.e., the Israelites'] iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he [the suitable man chosen for the task (Leviticus 16:21)] shall release the goat in the wilderness."
This goat was not allowed to return to dwell among humanity. It was driven away and banished. This is the exact opposite concept of the role of Jesus Christ, who as Immanuel —meaning "God With Us" (Matthew 1:23) —has promised to always be with us. He tells us He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). So, in contrast to the goat of departure, Jesus will be with us always.
In direct contrast to Jesus Christ, it is Satan who will be banished from the face of humanity. At Jesus' return, the devil will be apprehended and cast into a bottomless pit (Revelation 20:1-3)—and later taken out of the picture for good (Revelation 20:10).
The Day of Atonement pictures the wonderful time when humanity at large will repent and accept the atoning sacrifice of Christ, as pictured by the first goat, and Satan will be banished, as pictured by the driving away of the second goat. We will be given complete victory over the devil through Jesus Christ.
The Feast of Tabernacles
The next annual festival, the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:33-36), was celebrated by the ancient Israelites with makeshift shelters, recalling their transitory dwelling when they left Egypt and made their way to the Promised Land.
Also called the Feast of Ingathering (Exodus 23:16; Exodus 34:22), this festival celebrated the late summer and early fall harvest in the land of Israel. In a spiritual sense it represents the great ingathering of God's spiritual harvest of mankind following Christ's return. Indeed, this feast looks forward to the time of the earthly rule of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Himself observed this feast during His ministry and told others to do so as well (John 7:8-14). The Bible even states that instead of being done away, this feast will be observed by the gentile (non-Israelite) nations during Christ's reign over the earth (Zechariah 14:9, Zechariah 14:16-18).
Scripture tells us that the resurrected saints will reign with Christ. Revelation 20:4 says: "And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them . . . And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years" (compare Daniel 7:27).
The wonderful truth is that when Christ returns, true Christians from this age will rule under Him as kings and priests (Revelation 5:10; Revelation 20:6)—leading the rest of the world into God's ways.
The Eighth Day
Immediately following the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles is another Holy Day or Sabbath—referred to in Scripture simply as "the eighth day" (Leviticus 23:36, Leviticus 23:39). This day pictures the most joyful of all events yet to take place in God's great plan.
We should consider that the celebration of the ingathering of all humanity is not complete with the 1,000-year reign of Christ. For what about all those who died in this age who were not called as part of God's firstfruits? There will yet remain billions of people from this age who are not saved. So are they forever lost?
Many Bible students realize that one day we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10). What most don't realize is that for those who died without the true knowledge of the plan of salvation, the time will come when they will be resurrected to physical life and given their first opportunity to really understand God's plan and make an informed choice about it.
Revelation 20:11-15 speaks of this time yet to come 1,000 years after the "first resurrection" (Revelation 20:6), when "the rest of the dead" will in a second resurrection be restored to life (Revelation 20:5). Ezekiel 37:1-14 describes the same period—a time when those who seemed doomed with all hope lost (Ezekiel 37:11) will be raised to life again. They will be astonished to find out that God will offer to them His Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 37:14) and give them the opportunity to really know for the first time just who the true God is (Ezekiel 37:13).
This vision, then, speaks of the time when all humanity who never sufficiently understood God's truth will at last come to know it. It will be at this time that they will have to decide whether or not they will serve God. In other words, their salvation is dependent on whether or not they will choose to accept Jesus' shed blood for their sins and serve God faithfully once they come to know Him.
This will be a time of judgment in the sense that the new lives of these multitudes will be under evaluation. Those who stay on the right path with God's help will be saved. Those who ultimately reject God are the only ones who will be condemned in the end. Undoubtedly, most of humanity will make the right decision to obey Him and continue in His ways.
God, in His great wisdom, has a plan to offer everyone who has ever lived an opportunity to inherit eternal life. He is calling some to repentance now, and the rest He will call during the millennial reign of Christ and the second resurrection period that follows.
If you have read this far and are coming to understand God's great plan, perhaps you are being called at this time. May God help you to respond to His call to receive Jesus Christ and follow His ways—including observance of these important festivals that show the way to eternal salvation in God's family!