Jesus Christ and the Meaning of the Biblical Holy Days

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Jesus Christ and the Meaning of the Biblical Holy Days

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This Fall, a number of Christians will be celebrating four of the Holy Days that Christ and the early New Testament Church observed. They will be reminded of Jesus Christ’s central role in the meaning of these festivals that most Christians today know little about.

What are all of the biblical festivals, and what role does Jesus Christ play in each of them? For Christians today, it is crucial that we see the biblical Holy Days in the proper perspective. That perspective points to Jesus Christ. Jesus, who sits at the right hand of the Father, is central to God’s plan of salvation for humanity.

We all know that when Jesus came to the earth, He came to die for our sins and to pave the way to eternal salvation. He taught His followers true Christianity, both by His words and by His example.

One example that we see recorded in Scripture is Him observing the Holy Days of God. For example, He kept the Sabbath (Luke 4:16), the Passover (Matthew 26:17) and the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:2, 10).

Passages in the New Testament indicate that Jesus’ followers also observed these same Holy Days. They saw these days as being magnified by a New Covenant setting. Paul admonished the gentile Corinthians to observe the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).

Christ our Passover sacrifice for sins

Passover is commanded by God (Leviticus 23:4-5). It is mentioned no less than 28 times in the New Testament, with the majority of occurrences found in the Gospels. But what is the New Testament Passover all about? It is about the One who is so profound, so holy, so important, that without Him, there is no New Testament Passover: Jesus Christ.

What are all of the biblical festivals, and what role does Jesus Christ play in each of them?

Paul explained it clearly in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8: “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. 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” (emphasis added throughout).

Just before Jesus’ last Passover, the Jewish high priest Caiaphas predicted that Jesus would “die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish” (John 11:50). John continues with this comment: “Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad. Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death” (John 11:51-53).

These scriptures reveal that Jesus is our true Passover lamb. As we observe the New Testament Passover in the spring (in the northern hemisphere), we understand the central role Jesus has in the removal of our sins. “And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5).

Unleavened Bread: Christ in us

The Days of Unleavened Bread comprise the second festival, right after Passover (Leviticus 23:6-8). In observing these days, Christians know that it is a time to focus on putting sin out of their lives. Leaven, for the purpose of the spring festival season, represents sin. Paul refers to it as “the leaven of malice and wickedness” (1 Corinthians 5:8). Other scriptures refer to leaven as hypocrisy (Luke 12:1) and false doctrine (Matthew 16:12).

During the festival, leavening is portrayed as a type of wickedness that Christians strive to overcome. But there is an even deeper meaning to the Days of Unleavened Bread. These days picture the promise of the risen Christ. Jesus promised that He and the Father would make Their home in our hearts (John 14:23). In fact, it is Christ in us who is the hope of our glory (Colossians 1:27).

As we eat unleavened bread during this festival, we are reminded that Christ is the ultimate example of sincerity and truth. We desire with all of our being to have that Holy One living in us. Observing the Days of Unleavened Bread reminds us that it is not our righteousness that causes us to overcome sins. Rather, it is the righteousness that comes as a result of Jesus living His righteous life in the hearts of His people, empowering us to conquer sin. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Thus the Days of Unleavened Bread are a celebration of the resurrected Christ who saves us from our sins.

Pentecost: Christ empowers His Church

The third of God’s Holy Days is Pentecost. It was celebrated with much excitement in Israel because it signified the completion of the early firstfruit harvest from the fields. Israelites could be assured of food for their families when God’s blessing was on them.

In the New Testament, we see a deeper and more profound parallel to this. When Jesus was about to ascend to heaven following His resurrection, the apostles were perplexed because their risen Lord was being taken from them. But Jesus had already promised them that He would not leave them as orphans (John 14:18). He promised that both He and the Father would come to the disciples by and through the power of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-23).

Jesus repeated this promise in Luke 24:49: “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.” That power is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), and suddenly the disciples became the Church of God.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, they would now be able to truly overcome sin. And through that same power, God’s Church would take the gospel to the entire world.

No longer were they a dazed and bewildered group of men and women—they were now the firstfruits of the people of God. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, they would now be able to truly overcome sin. And through that same power, God’s Church would take the gospel to the entire world. This all became possible because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He fulfilled His promise by empowering the Church with the Holy Spirit. As Christians celebrate Pentecost to this day, we are reminded that Jesus enables His Church to do His will and to preach the gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit.

We will now briefly cover each of the next four Holy Days, which come in the fall of the year. As we examine them, we will again notice the pivotal role Jesus Christ has in fulfilling each of these days.

Trumpets: announcing Christ’s return

The Feast of Trumpets is observed in the early fall, September or October on the Western calendar and the first day of the seventh month on the Hebrew calendar (Leviticus 23:24-25).

Trumpets are used in the Bible for several purposes. They were used to call the people of God to assembly (Numbers 10:1-10). They were used to announce the beginning of this first fall Holy Day (Leviticus 23:24). Trumpets were also used to announce the coronation of a king (1 Kings 1:39-40). All of these purposes find their ultimate fulfillment in the New Testament teaching that Jesus Christ will return to the earth as King and assemble His people together at the sound of the seventh trumpet.

Furthermore, the New Testament makes it clear that the first resurrection will occur at the blowing of the seventh trumpet: “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” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). And in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 we read: “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.”

A key scripture is Revelation 11:15: “Then the seventh angel sounded [his trumpet]: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!’”

Atonement: Christ sends Satan away

The Day of Atonement is the most unusual of the Holy Days. It is a day on which God’s people fast (Leviticus 23:26-32; Acts 27:9). Atonement is also the day on which the Israelites sacrificed one goat as a sin offering (Leviticus16:9) and released a second goat, the scapegoat (Hebrew, Azazel), into the uninhabited wilderness (Leviticus 16:10). The scapegoat is representative of Satan, the one who departed from God and who is responsible for the temptations of humanity. Satan is the one Jesus called a “liar” and a “murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44).

After Christ returns to the earth, He will commission an angel to banish Satan into the bottomless pit (Revelation 20:1-3). Satan will not be allowed to deceive the nations for a thousand years. This world will not know true peace until Satan, the ultimate deceiver, is put away. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the One who has crushed the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15, New International Version) is central to the ultimate fulfillment of this day.

Tabernacles: Christ’s millennial rule

Jesus is also central to the understanding of the Feast of Tabernacles. He observed the Feast while He was on the earth, and told His disciples to observe the Feast as well (John 7:2-14). In Old Testament times, the Israelites would gather in Jerusalem and dwell in small huts or booths made from the leafy branches of trees, and rejoice in the worship of the Lord (Leviticus 23:40). The Old Testament links the reign of Jesus Christ on the earth with the observance of the Feast of Tabernacles (Zechariah 14:16-21).

After Jesus returns, there will be a 1,000-year period of peace and prosperity (Revelation 20:1-6). The earth will be changed, not through the achievement of mankind, but through the power of God.

Jesus observed the Feast while He was on the earth, and told His disciples to observe the Feast as well.

In Isaiah 35:4-7 we read: “Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing. For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. The parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water.”

These scriptures will be literally fulfilled when the One who sits at the right hand of the Father, Jesus Christ, returns to the earth.

Last Great Day: Jesus offers salvation to all

Following the Feast of Tabernacles is a final feast day (Leviticus 23:36). This festival has an ultimate and profound meaning in the plan of God. Many today worry about loved ones who died without receiving salvation through Jesus Christ. They worry about loved ones who died before they repented and were baptized in faith. Their concern is that their loved ones are lost, doomed forever in an ever-burning hell fire.

But God is a God of love. He will never allow any human being to be lost without first being given a fair opportunity to hear the gospel. He will save even those who have gone to their graves without the knowledge of God.

The Holy Days of God give us an overview of God’s great plan of salvation.

In Ezekiel 37:10-14, we read of a great resurrection of Israelites, people who died without really having understood God’s great plan: “So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceeding great army.” God’s words to them are: “Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken it and performed it.”

Ezekiel 37 tells us that there is a time coming when those who died without the full knowledge of God will be given an opportunity for salvation. They will finally recognize Christ for who He really is, our Lord and our Savior. Non-Christians who lived their entire lives without ever hearing His name will be given the opportunity to both accept His sacrifice as payment for their sins and to receive the Spirit.

This wonderful truth is the point of Jesus’ sermon recorded in John 7:37-38: “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.”

The meaning of this Last Great Day is that there is a time yet coming in God’s timetable in which those who never had the opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will be raised from their graves and given an opportunity to hear the truth.

The Last Great Day is not for those who presently are called and who know the Lord’s will. We know that our time of judgment is right now, and that we must be busy serving God today. But those who have never known the truth will someday come to know God and understand His great plan. The meaning of the Last Great Day is that it will not ultimately be only the few who will be given an opportunity for salvation, but the many. God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

The Holy Days of God give us an overview of God’s great plan of salvation. The fulfillment of these days is dependent upon the One who became a man, who died for our sins and who now sits at the right hand of the Father. His name is Jesus Christ.