“The feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts” (Leviticus 23:2).
Sounds important, 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 meant only for ancient Israel and are viewed as meaningless for Christians. New religious holidays not found in the Bible have been substituted instead.
How did this come to be? What is the true meaning of these biblical “feasts of the Lord”? Do they have anything to do with Jesus Christ, or is their symbolism limited to long-ago events? Do the Scriptures reveal whether these feasts teach us important truths about Jesus Christ?
The Passover: a Christ-centered feast?
After the weekly Sabbath day, the Passover is the first of God’s annual feast days mentioned in Scripture in Leviticus 23. It commemorates the greatest event in the people of Israel’s history—their miraculous liberation from Egypt. Observant Jews have been celebrating this feast for more than 3,400 years.
But is this feast intended only to celebrate the Israelites’ deliverance 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, emphasis added throughout).
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 the firstborn on the Passover night in Egypt (Exodus 12:12-13).
In the New Testament, the Gospels several times record that Christ kept the Passover with His disciples. On the night before His death, Jesus knew He was giving His life in fulfillment of the symbolism of the Passover lamb.
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 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 wine signifying the blood He would shed to wash away our sins.
From then on, this feast took on a much greater new meaning to Christ’s disciples. Instead of this feast being abolished, its ultimate meaning was revealed. The disciples came to realize that the Passover lamb was only the symbolic representation of Christ’s perfect sacrifice. Now they would keep this feast with far greater comprehension!
Some 25 years after Christ’s death, the apostle Paul instructed the Corinthian congregation—composed of believing Jews and gentiles alike—about the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread following it: “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).
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 give Himself in sacrifice for others’ sins. So, far from being obsolete, the Passover was revealed to have a vastly important meaning for Christians, with Christ at its center!
The apostle Paul explained this new understanding of the Passover to the Church members in Corinth 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 [i.e., every Passover], in remembrance of Me’” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25).
So in the New Testament, the Passover becomes an annual reminder and symbol of Christ’s sacrifice for all of us!
The Days of Unleavened Bread: Is Christ at the center?
What about the Feast of Unleavened Bread? Is it obsolete and irrelevant? In the Old Testament, the Days of Unleavened Bread were understood to be a memorial of what occurred after the Passover night.
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 offerings to be set on the altar fire 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 in a passage we’ve already seen in part. 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 as it points to what He would do for all of us in cleansing us of sin and helping us to live sin-free lives.
Paul told the Corinthian members that they should continue to keep this feast that followed the Passover with a sense of its greater meaning: “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 enables us to be “unleavened” before God.
So Jesus Christ is at the center of this second annual feast of the Lord too. We must partake of Him as the “Bread of life” and “Bread from heaven” (John 6:35, 41, 48, 50, 51) to become spiritually unleavened, as He is.
Pentecost: Is Christ at the center of this feast?
The Feast of Pentecost was originally 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 a special grain offering of firstfruits was waved during the Days of Unleavened Bread to another waved grain offering of firstfruits. Thus the latter feast acquired the name of “fiftieth,” which is what Pentecost means in the Greek language of the New Testament.
Fifty 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. This made them firstfruits along with Christ in God’s spiritual harvest of mankind.
Jesus Christ revealed the significance of this feast by sending the Holy Spirit to His followers. 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 following 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, read our free study guide 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.
Do we find the first-century Church continuing to observe Pentecost? In the book of Acts, we read of the apostle Paul hurrying to be in Jerusalem to keep this feast: “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). In 1 Corinthians 16:7-8 Paul writes about his plans to remain in Ephesus to observe Pentecost with the Church members there before traveling to Corinth.
The Feast of Trumpets: Is this a Christ-centered feast?
The next biblical feast is the Feast of Trumpets. It is “a holy convocation commemorated with trumpet blasts” (Leviticus 23:24, New Revised Standard Version). Does the Feast of Trumpets teach us about Jesus Christ and His role in things to come?
The symbolism of the trumpet is mentioned by Jesus Himself: “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).
Several times in the New Testament we see the sound of trumpets 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 feast too. At His second coming, the seventh trumpet shall sound, announcing the arrival of the King of Kings. Loud voices will proclaim, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15, English Standard Version).
So until the sound of the last trumpet is heard, this feast points to the future, with the return of Jesus at its center.
The Day of Atonement: Christ’s role 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 early Church came to realize that Christ 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 9, 10 and 13 about Israel’s sacrificial system and the Day of Atonement, with Christ being symbolized in 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]” (Hebrews 13:11-12).
We should consider that while Christ has already been sacrificed, the atonement His sacrifice provides has not yet been applied to all of Israel and the rest of mankind. That will happen after Christ’s second coming.
Not only does the Day of Atonement depict Christ’s sacrifice for sin and His true spiritual reconciling of the people with God as High Priest, 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. When Jesus returns, He will command 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 purifying of the people from sin. And He acts as High Priest and will direct Satan's removal in setting up God's Kingdom.
The Feast of Tabernacles: How is Christ at the center?
Next is the sixth biblical feast, the Feast of Tabernacles. In the Old Testament, it was kept to remind the Israelites of God’s miraculous sheltering and leading of His people when He brought them out of pagan Egypt into the wilderness to be with Him: “All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths [tabernacles], 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 is rich with meaning in the New Testament.
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.
At Christ’s second coming, He will again “tabernacle” with mankind. He will dwell with people on earth for a thousand years, this future rule of Jesus Christ over the earth being the fulfillment of this feast. Moreover, this feast, also called the Feast of Ingathering, celebrated the later harvest of the year and spiritually looks forward to the great spiritual harvest of human beings yet to come.
So Christ is definitely at the center of this feast too—as the Ruler who “tabernacles” with His people in the great harvest of the age to come.
The Eighth Day: yet another Christ-centered feast?
The Feast of Tabernacles lasted seven days. Then, on the eighth day, there followed another, separate feast day, the last of the biblically commanded 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—the ultimate spiritual harvest period. 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” (verses 11-12).
From this passage 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—and to render final judgment.
These feasts are meant for the followers of Christ
We see through these and other passages that Jesus Christ is at the center of all of the feasts of the Bible. Yet He has not brought them to ultimate fulfillment; that will only occur in the coming Kingdom of God.
Yes, Christ is our Passover who died in our place, He is the Unleavened Bread that purifies and sustains us, the Lord of our life who lives in us through the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost, the coming King whose arrival is announced by the blast of the trumpets, the One whose sacrifice will be accepted by humanity when He banishes Satan for a thousand years, and who tabernacles with man as King of Kings. Finally, He is to judge mankind and offer all an opportunity to have their names written in the Book of Life.
This is why God’s Church observes these feasts as shown in the New Testament. This is why these holy feasts are still to be kept—to remind us of the central role Jesus Christ has in carrying out the plan of God. Isn’t it about time you started keeping them yourself?