Sin has cut humanity off from God and brought the ultimate penalty of death. But God has a plan to heal the broken relationship and save mankind. That plan is revealed in a series of annual reminders—the festivals of God found in the Bible.
Why do 2 billion Christians remain blinded to God's plan to redeem and save humankind? Remarkably, you can know that plan!
Starting with the first human couple in the Garden of Eden, humanity has sinned against God—violated His law. Indeed, with the exception of Jesus Christ, who lived a perfect life of obedience, all human beings have sinned and have earned the ultimate penalty of death (Romans 3:23; 6:23).
But God has provided a way for humanity to be delivered from that fate. He has set in motion an awesome plan to restore human beings to a right relationship with Him so that they may dwell with Him in joy forever. That plan is found in the pages of the Bible.
We must understand, however, that the message contained in the Bible is like a giant jigsaw puzzle. It is solvable, but not without the framework.
If you have ever put together a big jigsaw puzzle, you first established the framework, made up of the straight edges of the puzzle, so that the rest of the puzzle could be more easily filled in.
God's framework for this prophetic jigsaw puzzle is a succession of important steps outlined in Scripture. These steps are commemorated annually in a series of festivals. Indeed, the biblical festivals reveal and map out the way God intends to save you and the rest of mankind.
God's system of annual feasts
A system is a group of interacting and interdependent elements forming a complex whole. For example, the human body is made up of a number of systems, each a group of functionally related organs. Likewise, the salvation of humankind is accomplished through a systematic plan entailing steps portrayed in seven annual festivals.
There are three harvest seasons in the land of Israel. Each of these seasons is accompanied by special festivals God instituted that outline His plan for "harvesting" human beings for salvation in His family (see Exodus 23:14-17; Deuteronomy 16:16).
With the early spring barley season comes the Passover and the weeklong Feast of Unleavened Bread. With the later spring wheat season comes the Feast of Harvest or Firstfruits, also known as the Day of Pentecost. And with the late summer and fall ingathering season come four festivals—the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles, and the Eighth Day, now referred to as the Last Great Day.
The three harvest seasons of the year show the major framework of the periods in which God intends to save mankind. And contrary to what many believe, today is not the only day of salvation.
God's annual festivals or feasts, and the Holy Days of rest and worship among them, are listed in Leviticus 23. In stepwise progression, each builds on preceding ones, making the sum greater than the individual parts. Understand what these feasts portray and you will understand God's master plan of salvation.
Sadly, most who profess to be Christians today do not observe God's festivals, typically calling them "Jewish" feasts and claiming they are obsolete. Yet God said they are His feasts (verse 2). And He commands that they still be observed —even in the New Testament (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 5:8). Because people do not observe these festivals as God commands, they do not understand their meaning. Obeying God's commands would give them better understanding (Psalm 111:10).
Passover, the first step
The Passover is the first feast in the cycle. It represents the crucial first step in God's plan to save mankind—without which the other steps would not be possible.
God revealed the Passover festival to the ancient Israelites during the process of freeing them from captivity in Egypt (Exodus 12). In it the Israelites brushed their doorposts with the blood of a sacrificial lamb (verse 7). This sacrifice was symbolic of the later shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ as the "Lamb of God" and "our Passover" to take away sin and its penalty (John 1:29; 1 Corinthians 5:7).
Without the fulfillment of the Passover feast, there would be no salvation. Yet Christ's Passover sacrifice itself does not accomplish our salvation, nor does our acceptance of it. Rather, this makes salvation possible.
Remission or forgiveness of sins comes through Jesus' shed blood when one repents (Matthew 26:28; Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:22; Acts 2:38). Through acceptance of His blood in faith we are justified, or made right, with God the Father (Romans 5:9). Yet salvation itself is accomplished through Jesus' resurrected life: "For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life" (verse 10).
Nevertheless, the reconciliation that comes through accepting Jesus' Passover sacrifice clearly provides a foundation for salvation.
In observing this festival today, we do not sacrifice a lamb but partake of the unleavened bread and wine of Passover as symbolic of Christ's sacrificed body and blood as He instructed (Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25).
The next festival shows how we should live following the acceptance of the sacrificial death of our Passover, Jesus Christ.
The Feast of Unleavened Bread
The Feast of Unleavened Bread is vitally important to a Christian's salvation; it shows us what God expects of us beyond accepting Jesus' shed blood for forgiveness.
Leaven is an agent, such as yeast, that causes bread dough to expand and rise during baking. God commanded that for the seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, leaven is to be removed from our homes and not eaten—and we are to instead eat unleavened bread during this period (Leviticus 23:6).
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul applied the symbol of leaven to sin (1 Corinthians 5:6-7). Conversely, he explained that un leavened bread represents sincerity and truth—righteousness and holiness (verse 8).
God set aside seven full days, the number seven representing completion and perfection in Scripture, for His followers to remember that He is holy, and that we should become holy as He is (1 Peter 1:16), striving to put sin out of our lives. Yet we can only do this with the guidance and help of Jesus Christ.
The ancient Israelites departed from Egypt during the Days of Unleavened Bread, following a pillar of cloud and fire. The One the Israelites knew as God was in that cloud (Exodus 13:21). And this divine Being who accompanied them later came to the earth as Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4).
It is also important to note that when the Israelites later came to the Promised Land, they were to present a special grain offering on the first day of the week during the Feast of Unleavened Bread—a sheaf of the firstfruits of the barley harvest, which was waved before God for His acceptance (Leviticus 23:9-14).
This represented Jesus Christ as the initial firstfruits of salvation (1 Corinthians 15:23)—who was accepted in heaven this day after being resurrected during the festival.
Our ultimate example of living the unleavened life is Christ, and we must follow Him in faith to salvation and eternal life. Yet this is actually possible only through what is pictured in the next festival.
Pentecost, the Feast of Firstfruits
Pentecost is the New Testament term for the Old Testament Feast of Weeks, which was also called the Feast of Harvest or Feast of Firstfruits. The word Pentecost means "fiftieth," as the Israelites were to count 50 days starting with the day of the wave-sheaf offering during the Feast of Unleavened Bread—so that the last day of the count would be the day after seven complete weeks, when a new grain offering was to be brought (Leviticus 23:15-16).
This offering was also to be a firstfruits offering waved before God, taken from the wheat harvest and baked into two loaves of bread (verses 17, 20; Exodus 34:22). Symbolized here are the faithful believers whom God calls the firstfruits of all His harvests (James 1:18). Romans 8:23 says these have "the firstfruits of the Spirit."
According to Acts 2, it was on the Day of Pentecost following Jesus' death and resurrection that His followers received God's Holy Spirit with a miraculous display of divine power. Thousands more were then converted on this day, also receiving the Spirit upon repentance and baptism.
Modern professing Christians acknowledge the fulfilled promise of the gift of God's Spirit to humankind on this occasion. However, many effectively deny the power of it, not understanding that one must obey God to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 5:32). And receiving the Spirit in turn enables further and sustained obedience (compare Romans 5:5; 1 John 5:3).
This is part of the great meaning of Pentecost, along with the fact that God's people of this age are counted as the firstfruits of salvation—in anticipation of other fruits to follow in the age to come.
Pentecost is the last of the spring festivals —the last of those that portray events relating to the time of Christ's first coming and the present age. The feasts that follow in the autumn in the land of Israel look ahead to His second coming.
The Feast of Trumpets
As mentioned earlier, the great ingathering harvest in Israel came in late summer and early fall. It was celebrated with the Feast of Ingathering or Tabernacles (Exodus 23:16; Deuteronomy 16:16), but the festival period actually commenced with the Feast of Trumpets two weeks earlier.
On this day there was a "memorial of blowing of trumpets" (Leviticus 23:24). This represents the time of the coming of the Messiah to take over the rule of the world, as Jesus will do when He returns (Revelation 19:11-21; 12:10; compare Zechariah 14; Isaiah 11:1-10).
Jesus' second coming will be heralded by supernatural trumpet blasts. During a period known as "the day of the Lord" and "the great day of His wrath" (Revelation 6:17), God will bring judgment on the rebellious nations of the earth. Revelation 8-9 presents the cataclysmic circumstances that will follow the blowing of six successive trumpets.
Revelation 11:15 then describes the blowing of the seventh trumpet, when this world's governments are transferred over to the rule of the returning Christ. It is also the time of the rewarding of God's saints— His faithful servants of this age (verse 18). They will, at this last trumpet, be resurrected from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16)—at last receiving ultimate salvation from death through transformation into immortal spirit beings.
The seventh trumpet also heralds further judgment on those who remain defiant, who persist in destroying the earth and its inhabitants (Revelation 11:18).
Jesus Christ, through the meaning of the Feast of Trumpets, directs His attention to saving His people as well as the rest of humankind (Revelation 19:11-21), breaking the power of the world's leaders and humbling the nations to the point that they will accept His intervention and rule.
But the major obstacle to mankind learning God's ways will still have to be removed, and that is pictured in the next occasion God instructs us to observe.
The Day of Atonement
The next of God's appointed times is a solemn day of drawing near to Him through fasting (Leviticus 23:26-32). On this day, the Israelites were to sacrifice a goat to represent the Lord, the high priest was to take its blood into the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle (the only time he went in during the year) and he was to confess the people's sins over a live goat, which was then driven off into the wilderness (Leviticus 16).
The sacrifice of the first goat, representing the Lord, along with the high priest taking its blood into the Most Holy Place signified the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and His intercessory work as High Priest. This was to bring atonement —a word meaning "at-one-ment" with God. Yet further atonement was required through the driving away of the second goat. What does this symbolize?
If the world knew that vast numbers of demons—powerful evil spirits led by the rebellious archangel now known as Satan the devil—truly existed, that they hold sway over the earth and that their avowed purpose is to debase and destroy humankind, people might well turn to God to save them.
The reason they don't is obvious when you understand it. Satan, as the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4), has blinded them from this fact. He has deceived the whole world, palming himself off as an angel of light, which he once was. He is now our adversary, who walks the earth like a roaring and devouring lion (Revelation 12:9; 2 Corinthians 11:14; 1 Peter 5:8).
Humanity has willingly turned from God and has come under Satan's dominion. Jesus said, "Their eyes they have closed" (Matthew 13:15). Although Satan is ultimately responsible and accountable for mankind's blindness, we still have a responsibility in this great deception. We can repent and change.
The Day of Atonement is the appointed time for celebrating the removal of Satan and the demons from the world scene (Revelation 20:1-3; Isaiah 14:16-17). With Satan's expulsion, human beings can truly experience "at-one-ment" with God, as God intends (John 17:20-21). Indeed, God will remove all forces that have set themselves to destroy His plan, which is to expand His family through the salvation of billions of human beings.
The Day of Atonement is also a reminder of Jesus Christ's atoning sacrifice. Following Jesus' return, His sacrifice will begin to be applied to the world at large, as all are led to accept it in repentance, being no longer under the influence of the devil.
For the first time in the history of mankind, we will fully experience peace on earth, with God's will for people no longer being resisted by Satan.
The Feast of Tabernacles
Finally, what God had promised through the ages, to bring peace on earth (Luke 2:14), will arrive. Isaiah 9:6-7 foretold both the first and second comings of the Messiah in stating: "For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder . . . Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end" (Isaiah 9:6-7).
As pictured in the Feast of Trumpets, Jesus will take over the rule of this world (Revelation 11:15). Satan will be deposed and incarcerated, as shown in the Day of Atonement (Revelation 20:1-3). Then Jesus and His resurrected and transformed saints will reign on the earth over all nations for 1,000 years, a millennium (Revelation 5:10; 20:4, 6).
During this 1,000 year messianic reign over physical nations of the earth, Christ will live with humankind. This is celebrated in the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles or Booths, referring to tents or temporary dwellings (Leviticus 23:33-43).
For the duration of this festival, God's people live in temporary dwellings, recalling in part the time when God "made the children of Israel dwell in booths" following the Exodus (verse 43). In fact, God Himself also dwelt in a tabernacle in journeying with the Israelites through the desert.
Yet this Feast also looks forward to the wonderful, though temporary, conditions of the millennial age—which anticipates a permanent new heaven and new earth to follow (Revelation 21-22).
As previously noted, this festival was also called the Feast of Ingathering (Exodus 23:16), celebrating the great harvest of late summer and fall in the Promised Land.
This harvest depicted the ultimate spiritual harvest of humanity to come—the later fruits following the firstfruits of this age. The future harvest begins with those who live through the terrible events at the end of this age and into the millennial period. It then continues with their progeny throughout the 1,000 years, generation after generation.
Under the righteous rule of God, humanity will live in unprecedented peace and unparalleled health and prosperity (Zechariah 14:8-11; Isaiah 2:1-4; 11; 35; Micah 4:1-8; Amos 9:13-15). Ezekiel 36:35 says the environment will be like the Garden of Eden: "So they will say, 'This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden; and the wasted, desolate, and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.'"
At that time, God will extend His New Covenant relationship to all mankind, beginning with Israel:
"For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them" (Hebrews 8:10-11).
These conditions will continue into the period pictured in the next festival, which comes at the end of the Feast of Tabernacles, though distinct and separate from it.
The Eighth Day
On the day following the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles— the eighth day—the Israelites were to observe a final Holy Day in the annual cycle God gave (Leviticus 23:36, 39).
Though a separate festival, the Eighth Day is connected to the Feast of Tabernacles or Ingathering because it further celebrates the future spiritual harvest of mankind, portraying events that will immediately follow the millennial reign of Christ and His resurrected and transformed saints.
The 1,000-year period of peace and prosperity for the entire global human family serves as a stepping stone to a vast increase in the late harvest of human lives. Revelation 20:5 says that "the rest of the dead" will live again when the 1,000 years are finished. This includes all people who lived but were not converted to God's way from Adam to Christ's second coming—which could number in the scores of billions.
They will be raised to physical life and at last given the opportunity for salvation during a period of judgment (compare Ezekiel 37:1-14; Matthew 11:20-24; 12:41-42; 1 Peter 2:12; Revelation 20:11-12). This is sometimes called the Great White Throne Judgment, as Revelation 20:11-12 describes the risen dead standing before such a throne.
The White Throne Judgment is not an instant sentencing but a period of evaluation and corrective measures spanning the new lifetime of those resurrected—paralleling the lifetime judgment of God's saints today, whom He wants to save, not lose (see 1 Peter 4:17; 1 Corinthians 11:31-32).
Sadly, not everyone will choose salvation. Those who ultimately refuse to repent will be destroyed in a lake of fire (Revelation 20:14-15; 21:8). But the vast majority of mankind will be saved—transformed into immortal spirit like those in the first resurrection.
Indeed, the whole creation will be transformed. The great beauty, peace and prosperity on earth during Christ's millennial reign will continue through the White Throne Judgment period. And after this, the present earth and sky will give way to, as mentioned earlier, a new heaven and new earth—at which time God the Father as well as Jesus Christ will dwell with glorified humanity forever (Revelation 21-22).
Solving the puzzle
Thus, God's festivals help us to solve the prophetic puzzle of how mankind is to be saved, bringing God's plan into focus.
From the harvest of Jesus Christ as the initial firstfruits, to the harvest of the rest of the firstfruits of this age and finally to the ultimate harvest of the remainder of mankind in the age to come, God's plan entails everyone, yet in a specific order.
And we are reminded of this plan each year through God's seven annual festivals, which come in accordance with the three major harvest seasons in the land of Israel.
What a great blessing and privilege it is to understand that God will ultimately offer salvation to everyone—and that we have the opportunity to live according to His calling today! GN