The Bible lists seven festivals that God gave to the nation of Israel for them to celebrate each year (Leviticus 23). The New Testament shows many examples of Jesus, His apostles and the Church of God observing them as well. Each festival is full of rich Christian symbolism, pointing to God’s plan for humanity and Jesus Christ’s role in each step.
Most of the festivals are also special annual Sabbath rest days, which are observed in addition to the weekly Sabbath day.
The first, the Passover, is a memorial of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins. The original Passover was a reminder of how God spared the firstborn of His people from death in Egypt. As the ultimate fulfillment of what the Passover pictures, the New Covenant Passover reminds us that Christians are saved from sin’s penalty of eternal death by Christ’s sacrifice as the Lamb of God. In the United Church of God, we approach this period of the year with deep spiritual introspection. We commemorate the Passover with a service based on the instructions of the apostle Paul and the New Covenant Passover ceremony that Jesus instituted in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).
The solemn Passover service begins after sundown the night before Passover day, according to Jesus’ example. The service starts with a brief explanation of its purpose and readings from the Gospels. Then, following Jesus’ example and instructions in John 13, Christians wash one another’s feet. Then there is an explanation of the symbols of the Passover, unleavened bread and wine, which represent the body and blood of our Savior. Each baptized member of the Church eats a small piece of the unleavened bread and drinks a small glass of the wine. Passover is the only festival that is not also a special annual Sabbath day.
(See: Exodus 12:1-50; Leviticus 23:5; Matthew 26:17-30; Mark 14:22-24; 1 Corinthians 11:23-28)
Feast of Unleavened Bread
The Feast of Unleavened Bread symbolizes a Christian’s responsibility to strive to live a sin-free life. Church members prepare for the festival by removing leaven and leavened products (please see “What Is Leaven?” for more info) from our homes. Christians also don’t eat anything made with leaven during the seven days of the festival. This is because, during the week of the festival, leaven symbolizes sin, which Christians are striving to keep out of their lives. Instead we eat unleavened bread, which represents the righteousness of Christ in us through the Holy Spirit.
This festival begins and ends with a special annual Sabbath on which services are held. The services are similar to our weekly Sabbath services, but on each of the annual Holy Days the messages focus on various aspects of the meaning of the festival. The annual festivals are the only times the United Church of God takes up an offering, following the example set in Deuteronomy 16:16.
(See: Exodus 12:18-19; Leviticus 23:5-8; 1 Corinthians 5:8)
Day of Pentecost
God’s third annual festival is Pentecost. It’s also called the Feast of Harvest or Firstfruits and the Feast of Weeks. On this Holy Day Church members meet for a special annual Sabbath service. The Church of God began on Pentecost, and this festival was the day God gave His Spirit to those He called together.
On this day Christians remember that God’s Holy Spirit empowers them with the love of God, the motivation to obey Him and a sound mind to discern His truth. Those who are led by God’s Spirit are called the children of God. These Christians have a pledge or down payment on eternal life and can look forward to the first resurrection to eternal life in God’s family.
(See: Exodus 23:16; Exodus 34:22; Leviticus 23:16-21; Acts 2:1-41; 2 Timothy 1:7; John 15:26; John 16:13; Romans 8:9, Romans 14; 2 Corinthians 5:5; Revelation 20:5-6)
Feast of Trumpets
The fourth festival of God is the Feast of Trumpets. The Bible describes the day as a “memorial of blowing of trumpets.” In Israel, trumpets were used as a way of announcing special, very important messages.
Jesus Christ reveals that before His return to the earth, seven trumpets will be blown, announcing the downfall and overthrow of this world’s kingdoms and the return of Christ to take possession of the earth and establish the Kingdom of God. Christ’s return is announced by the seventh and final trumpet. This day also pictures the ultimate fulfillment of every Christian’s hope: the moment when faithful Christians will be resurrected to receive the gift of eternal life at the sounding of the seventh trumpet. A Christian’s eternity with God begins with the opportunity to reign on earth with Jesus Christ for 1,000 years.
(See: Leviticus 23:24-25; Numbers 10:1-10; Revelation 8:2; Revelation 11:15; Revelation 20:4-6; 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16)
Day of Atonement
The Day of Atonement is unique among the other annual festivals because it is a day of fasting. Following shortly after the Feast of Trumpets, Christians observe the day by fasting, which means not eating or drinking for the day. This solemn day of reflection portrays the human race finally becoming reconciled with God after millennia of rebellion against Him.
The Day of Atonement also pictures that Satan the devil, who now leads all of mankind astray, will be bound for 1,000 years so all humans of all nations can be reconciled to God.
(See: Leviticus 23:26-32; Isaiah 58:3; Esther 4:16; Ephesians 2:2; Revelation 12:9; Revelation 20:1-3)
Feast of Tabernacles
The Feast of Tabernacles lasts for seven days and is a time of joy and excitement for Christians around the world.
The Feast of Tabernacles is also known as the Feast of Ingathering. It pictures the future 1,000-year rule of Jesus Christ on earth with His saints. After His return, Jesus will set up the Kingdom of God and Isaiah describes this future period as a time of peace when all people will be taught to know, love and obey God. The nature of animals will change, the earth will become highly fertile, and, most importantly, “The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” With Satan’s evil influence removed, all of humanity will at last learn God’s ways.
During the seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles, the United Church of God organizes sites all over the world where members gather to enjoy fellowship, worship God and study His Word each day of the festival. The first day is a special annual Sabbath. Find more about this year’s Feast of Tabernacles at http://feast.ucg.org.
(See: Leviticus 23:34; Exodus 23:16; Revelation 20:4-6; Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 11:6; Isaiah 11:9; Isaiah 35:1; Isaiah 65:25)
The final step in God’s plan of salvation for all mankind is portrayed in a feast day that immediately follows the Feast of Tabernacles.
Called the Eighth Day (and often traditionally called the Last Great Day) this festival pictures the judgment of humankind described in Revelation. During this time all people who never knew God’s plan for them will be resurrected to life and will be judged and have an opportunity to understand and respond to God’s call. Even though not everyone will choose God's way of life for eternity, our Creator wants “all men to be saved” and is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” Through God's wonderful plan everyone will have an opportunity to know His truth, repent and receive salvation.
Since the Eighth Day immediately follows the Feast of Tabernacles, Church members meet together one last time at the chosen site before returning home.
(See: Leviticus 23:39; Revelation 20:11-13; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9)
The progression of these festivals throughout the year vividly portrays the glorious plan of God to bring many children to glory in His family (Hebrews 2:10). There’s much more to learn about God’s festivals, and we recommend you read God’s Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind.