Why do most people keep holidays that are different from the festivals listed and described in the pages of the Bible? When were the biblical feasts abandoned, and why? How can we be sure which sacred days Christians should observe?
Here are the answers!
Jesus Himself set an example for us (1 John 2:6 1 John 2:6He that said he stays in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
American King James Version×) in observing the sacred festivals commanded in the Holy Scriptures (Matthew 26:17 Matthew 26:17Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to him, Where will you that we prepare for you to eat the passover?
American King James Version×; Mark 1:21 Mark 1:21And they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the sabbath day he entered into the synagogue, and taught.
American King James Version×; Luke 4:16-31 Luke 4:16-31 16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. 17 And there was delivered to him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, 18 The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, 19 To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. 20 And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 And he began to say to them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. 22 And all bore him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph’s son? 23 And he said to them, You will surely say to me this proverb, Physician, heal yourself: whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in your country. 24 And he said, Truly I say to you, No prophet is accepted in his own country. 25 But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; 26 But to none of them was Elias sent, save to Sarepta, a city of Sidon, to a woman that was a widow. 27 And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian. 28 And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, 29 And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill where on their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong. 30 But he passing through the middle of them went his way, 31 And came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and taught them on the sabbath days.
American King James Version×; John 7:8-10 John 7:8-10 8 Go you up to this feast: I go not up yet to this feast: for my time is not yet full come. 9 When he had said these words to them, he stayed still in Galilee. 10 But when his brothers were gone up, then went he also up to the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret.
American King James Version×; John 7:14 John 7:14Now about the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple, and taught.
American King James Version×; John 7:37 John 7:37In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink.
American King James Version×). His apostles and their converts, walking in His footsteps and following His example, continued observing the same festivals (Acts 2:1 Acts 2:1And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
American King James Version×; Acts 12:2-4 Acts 12:2-4 2 And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. 3 And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.) 4 And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.
American King James Version×; Acts 16:13 Acts 16:13And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spoke to the women which resorted thither.
American King James Version×; Acts 18:4 Acts 18:4And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks.
American King James Version×; Acts 18:19-21 Acts 18:19-21 19 And he came to Ephesus, and left them there: but he himself entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they desired him to tarry longer time with them, he consented not; 21 But bade them farewell, saying, I must by all means keep this feast that comes in Jerusalem: but I will return again to you, if God will. And he sailed from Ephesus.
American King James Version×; Acts 20:6 Acts 20:6And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came to them to Troas in five days; where we stayed seven days.
American King James Version×; Acts 27:9 Acts 27:9Now when much time was spent, and when sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was now already past, Paul admonished them,
American King James Version×; 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, as you are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: 8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
American King James Version×). The Encyclopaedia Britannica (13th edition), under “Festivals,” states that it is “abundantly clear that Christ and His disciples observed the appointed Jewish feasts.”
Faithful Christians continued, for several centuries after Christ’s death, to follow His and the apostles’ examples in keeping the festivals. But this all changed when a politicized and paganized form of Christianity developed within the Roman Empire.
Historian Stewart Easton explains how and when the change occurred—with the help of the Roman emperors. “Constantine [A.D. 306-337], though not baptized a Christian until he was on his deathbed, took an active interest in the [Christian] religion, presiding over the important Council of Nicea … During the fourth century, under imperial protection …, the Christian religion … made rapid progress, even in the rural areas where the old gods had never altogether lost their appeal. When at the end of the century (A.D. 392) [Emperor] Theodosius I decreed that henceforth Christianity was to be the only religion in the [Roman] empire, the countryside perforce had to submit and adopt at least the forms of Christianity. But it would probably have been difficult for any observer to detect much difference … It is clear that these folk knew little enough of the teachings or theology of Christianity, and the festivals and ceremonies of paganism for the most part were incorporated directly into the new official religion ( The Heritage of the Past: From the Earliest Times to 1500 , 1964, p. 402, emphasis added).
Charles Guignebert, who was a professor of the history of Christianity at the University of Paris, describes the continuation of the process: “Now at the beginning of the fifth century, the ignorant and the semi-Christians thronged into the Church in numbers … They had forgotten none of their pagan customs … The bishops of that period had to content themselves with redressing, as best they could, and in experimental fashion, the shocking malformations of the Christian faith which they perceived around them … They had to be content with … postponing until a later date the task of eradicating their superstitions, which they preserved intact … This ‘later date’ never arrived, and the Church adapted to herself, as well as she could, them and their customs and beliefs. On their side, they were content to dress up their paganism in a Christian cloak” ( The Early History of Christianity , 1927, pp. 208-210, emphasis added).
During this time—in the early centuries after the passing of the original apostles—observance of biblical practices, including the seventh-day Sabbath and God’s festivals, practically disappeared from the new and growing religion. They were replaced with other practices and a new set of religious holidays.
Prophecy, however, reveals that God will require the whole world to observe these same biblical festivals in the future. For example, Zechariah prophesies that God will require people to attend the Feast of Tabernacles after Christ returns (Zechariah 14:16 Zechariah 14:16And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles.
American King James Version×). Isaiah prophesies that people of all lands will regularly keep the weekly Sabbath during Christ’s millennial reign (Isaiah 66:23 Isaiah 66:23And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, said the LORD.
American King James Version×). Isaiah and Micah prophesy of that time: “Many nations shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion the law shall go forth, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem” (Micah 4:2 Micah 4:2And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
American King James Version×; compare Isaiah 2:3 Isaiah 2:3And many people shall go and say, Come you, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
American King James Version×).
Some faithful Christians to this day observe the sacred festivals, the same festivals of God that Christ kept. God instituted these annual occasions to keep His people aware of Christ’s mission as the Messiah. These sacred days really are Christian festivals in every respect, and Christians everywhere should observe them.