The Festivals of God
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The Festivals of God
We celebrate the festival days God has commanded us to observe in Scripture, rejecting all man-made holidays derived from pagan worship, such as Christmas and Easter, in accordance with Deuteronomy 12:29-32.
When God delivered the nation of Israel from captivity in Egypt, He commanded the nation to participate in periods of special worship during the harvest seasons of the year (Exodus 23:14-16; Deuteronomy 16:1-17). These are listed in full in Leviticus 23, where they are referred to in a number of Bible translations as "the feasts of the Lord" (Leviticus 23:2-4).
"Feast" is used here in the sense of festival or celebration. That is certainly a valid description, and four of the listed occasions are actually named in the original Hebrew Old Testament with the word chag or hag, meaning "festival." But the Hebrew word used up front in verses 2-4 for all the occasions is mo'edim, meaning "appointed times." Thus, these occasions are special appointments God has made with His people—appointments He wants us to keep.
Understanding of the gospel message and God's plan of salvation is enriched by realizing that God uses the physical harvests of food crops to symbolize the spiritual harvests of human beings through God's gift of salvation by Jesus Christ (Matthew 9:37-38; John 4:35; John 15:1-8; Colossians 2:16-17). The first three festivals are associated with the spring harvests in the land of Israel, while the last four festivals are related to the harvest of late summer and fall.
Within the seven festivals are seven annual Holy Days or annual Sabbaths. These, along with God's weekly Sabbath, are holy convocations, or commanded assemblies, of God's people. They are holy because they are sanctified—set apart—by God. He commands His people to assemble on these days for worship and to learn about Him and His plan, as well as for fellowshipping and rejoicing together (Leviticus 23:1-4; Deuteronomy 14:23-26; Nehemiah 8:1-12).
The New Testament record shows that the first-century Christian Church continued to observe these biblical festivals. Jesus Christ Himself observed these festivals, and we as His followers are told to walk as He walked (John 7:8-14; 1 John 2:6)—to live as He lived.
The New Testament Church miraculously began on one of these annual festivals—the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). The apostles and disciples of the early Church continued to observe these festivals long after Jesus' death and resurrection (Acts 18:21; Acts 20:16; Acts 27:9; 1 Corinthians 5:8).
Paul upheld their observance and presented them as continuing "shadows" or outlines of the great events in God's plan of salvation that are yet to be fulfilled (Colossians 2:16-17). He also instructed the gentile (non-Israelite) congregation in Corinth regarding one of the festivals, "Let us keep the feast" (1 Corinthians 5:8).
Through the observance of these feasts, God's people focus on and are reminded throughout the year of the work of Jesus the Messiah in fulfilling God's plan of salvation. His work involves different phases—first coming to offer Himself as the sin sacrifice for humanity, now serving as Advocate and High Priest for His people and living within them to help them overcome sin, and ultimately returning in power and glory to establish the reign of the Kingdom of God over all nations.
All of this and more is pictured in the annual festivals. Through Christ as our focal point, we begin to understand the special meaning behind the annual feasts.
The plan of salvation as revealed in the Holy Scriptures is pictured in the meaning of these seven annual festivals listed in Leviticus 23. In brief:
The Passover, in early spring in the northern hemisphere, teaches us that Jesus Christ was sinless and, as the sacrificial "Lamb of God," gave His life so that the sins of humanity could be forgiven and the death penalty removed (1 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Peter 1:18-20; Romans 3:25).
Passover, although not observed as an annual Sabbath on which no customary work is to be done, is the first festival of the year. Its observance includes foot-washing and the partaking of unleavened bread and wine as symbolic of Christ's body and shed blood offered in sacrifice.
The Feast of Unleavened Bread, starting the day after Passover and continuing for seven days, teaches us that Jesus Christ leads us to reject lawlessness, repent of sin and live by every word of God (1 Corinthians 5:8; Matthew 4:4).
During this festival, leaven—an agent such as yeast that causes bread dough to rise during baking—symbolizes sin and is therefore removed from our homes and not eaten for the seven days (1 Corinthians 5:7-8; Exodus 12:19). By eating unleavened bread during this time instead, we picture living a life of sincerity and truth, free from sin. The first and last days of this seven-day festival are annual Sabbaths.
The Feast of Pentecost is an annual Sabbath in late spring in the northern hemisphere. Also called the Feast of Weeks or the Feast of Harvest or Firstfruits, it teaches us that Jesus Christ is now building His Church, comprising those who are a "kind of firstfruits" in the spiritual harvest of mankind, having the "firstfruits of the Spirit" (Exodus 23:16; Acts 2:1-4; Acts 2:37-39; James 1:18; Romans 8:23).
These will be given salvation at the return of Christ. They have been empowered with the Holy Spirit, which creates in each one a new heart and nature to live in wholehearted obedience to the commandments of God. Jesus Himself is the first of the firstfruits, as formerly pictured in a special firstfruits offering during the previous festival (see Leviticus 23:9-14; 1 Corinthians 15:20, 23). Pentecost, Greek for "fiftieth," is the 50th day counting from that initial offering.
The Feast of Trumpets, an annual Sabbath in late summer or early fall in the northern hemisphere, teaches us that Jesus Christ will visibly return to the earth at the end of this age. At that time He will resurrect God's faithful servants who are no longer living and instantly change those obedient saints who are still alive into immortal spirit beings (Matthew 24:31; 1 Corinthians 15:52-53; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).
This festival commemorates the blowing of the trumpets that will precede and herald His return. Seven angels with seven trumpets are described in Revelation 8-10 heralding world-shaking events. Christ will return with the blowing of the seventh trumpet (Revelation 11:15).
The Day of Atonement, an annual Sabbath following shortly after the previous one, points to the time when Satan the devil will be bound for 1,000 years (Leviticus 16:29-30, 20-22; Revelation 20:1-3). It pictures the removal of the primary cause of sin—Satan and his demons. Until God removes the original instigator of sin, mankind will continue to be led into disobedience and suffering.
This Holy Day also pictures our High Priest, Jesus Christ, making atonement for the sins of all mankind. This act of atonement—"at-one-ment"—allows us to be reconciled (at one) with God and have direct access to Him by spiritually entering into the "holiest of all" (Hebrews 9:8-14; Hebrews 10:19-20). By fasting on this day, we draw closer to God and picture the reconciliation to God that all mankind will experience following Christ's return. Christ is essential in this process as our High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-15; Hebrews 5:4-5, 10) and as our one sacrifice for sin forever (Hebrews 9:26-28; Hebrews 10:12).
The Feast of Tabernacles, also called the Feast of Ingathering, comes a few days after the previous Holy Day and lasts for seven days, the first being an annual Sabbath. This festival teaches us that when Jesus Christ returns, He will begin the ingathering or harvest of the greater part of mankind and establish a new society with Himself as King of Kings and Lord of Lords under God the Father.
Christ, assisted by the resurrected saints, will set up His government on the earth for 1,000 years (Revelation 19:11-16; Revelation 20:4; Leviticus 23:39-43; Matthew 17:1-4; Hebrews 11:8-9). Rule under His laws will spread from Jerusalem throughout the world to usher in an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity (Isaiah 2:2-4; Daniel 2:35; Daniel 2:44; Daniel 7:13-14).
This festival is observed today through regional gatherings throughout the world, with Church members living in temporary dwellings for the entire period, in line with the Bible's instructions.
The Eighth Day, the annual Sabbath immediately following the Feast of Tabernacles, is known to many as the Last Great Day. This day teaches us that Jesus Christ will complete His harvest of human beings by raising from the dead, and offering salvation to, all who have died in the past and have never been given a full opportunity to be saved (Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 11:25-27; Luke 11:31-32; Revelation 20:11-13).
Thus, the annual cycle of the celebration of the festivals and Holy Days reminds Christ's disciples that He is working out God's plan of offering salvation from sin and death and the gift of eternal life in the family of God to all humanity—past, present and future.
The Annual Festivals of God
Passover: April 3 (Observed evening before)
Feast of Unleavened Bread: April 4-10
Pentecost: May 24
Feast of Trumpets: September 14
Day of Atonement: September 23
Feast of Tabernacles: September 28 - October 4
The Eighth Day: October 5
Passover: April 22 (Observed evening before)
Feast of Unleavened Bread: April 23-29
Pentecost: June 12
Feast of Trumpets: October 3
Day of Atonement: October 12
Feast of Tabernacles: October 17-23
The Eighth Day: October 24
Passover: April 10 (Observed evening before)
Feast of Unleavened Bread: April 11-17
Pentecost: June 4
Feast of Trumpets: September 21
Day of Atonement: September 30
Feast of Tabernacles: October 5-11
The Eighth Day: October 12
Passover: March 30 (Observed evening before)
Feast of Unleavened Bread: March 31 - April 6
Pentecost: May 20
Feast of Trumpets: September 10
Day of Atonement: September 19
Feast of Tabernacles: September 24-30
The Eighth Day: October 1
Passover: April 19 (Observed evening before)
Feast of Unleavened Bread: April 20-26
Pentecost: June 9
Feast of Trumpets: September 30
Day of Atonement: October 9
Feast of Tabernacles: October 14-20
The Eighth Day: October 21
Passover: April 8 (Observed evening before)
Feast of Unleavened Bread: April 9-15
Pentecost: May 31
Feast of Trumpets: September 19
Day of Atonement: September 28
Feast of Tabernacles: October 3-9
The Eighth Day: October 10
Passover: March 27 (Observed evening before)
Feast of Unleavened Bread: March 28 - April 3
Pentecost: May 16
Feast of Trumpets: September 7
Day of Atonement: September 16
Feast of Tabernacles: September 21-27
The Eighth Day: September 28
Passover: April 15 (Observed evening before)
Feast of Unleavened Bread: April 16-22
Pentecost: June 5
Feast of Trumpets: September 26
Day of Atonement: October 5
Feast of Tabernacles: October 10-16
The Eighth Day: October 17
Passover: April 5 (Observed evening before)
Feast of Unleavened Bread: April 6-12
Pentecost: May 28
Feast of Trumpets: September 16
Day of Atonement: September 25
Feast of Tabernacles: September 30 - October 6
The Eighth Day: October 7
In biblical reckoning, days begin in the evening (Genesis 1:5), when the sun goes down (Joshua 8:29; 2 Chronicles 18:34; Mark 1:32), and are counted "from evening to evening" (Leviticus 23:32). Thus, all God's festivals begin the evening just before the dates listed in this table. For example, in 2015 Passover is observed Friday evening, April 2, after sundown, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread begins Saturday evening, April 3. The festivals end in the evening on the dates given.