God’s Annual Festivals: Foreshadowing Great Events

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God’s Annual Festivals

Foreshadowing Great Events

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Why do most Christians avoid the festivals God commanded ancient Israel to observe in Leviticus 23 and other passages? After all, Scripture shows that these feasts are going to be observed by all humanity when Jesus Christ returns (see Zechariah 14:16; Isaiah 66:23; Hebrews 8:10). Still, many Christians consider them to be either mere Jewish holidays or simply outdated.

What if you discovered that God clearly expects that His festivals are to be observed? Would you do so? It may surprise you to learn that a seamless thread involving these festivals runs throughout Scripture—from the law where they were given to the book of Revelation.

Though the apostle John wrote it down, the actual Author of Revelation is Jesus Christ on behalf of God the Father (Revelation 1:1). This final book of the Bible reveals what God, through Christ, has done over the past 2,000 years, is doing today, and will do in the future beyond today (Hebrews 1:2; Revelation 11:17-18; Zechariah 14:16).

Christ prophesied that the autumn feasts listed in Leviticus 23:23-39—that is, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles and the Eighth Day that follows—will be fulfilled in the latter parts of Revelation. Should you be observing these festivals today?

Does your church keep the feasts Jesus kept?

The New Catholic Encyclopedia tells us that Jesus, the apostles and the first-century Christians actually observed the ancient “Jewish” festivals, not Christmas or Easter:

“The earliest Christians did not immediately dissociate themselves from the observance of the Jewish feasts. Many references in the NT [New Testament] indicate that Jesus and His disciples, as well as the early Palestinian Christian communities [that is, those in Judea and Galilee], observed the Sabbath and the major annual festivals” (1967, Vol. 5, p. 867, “Early Christian Feasts,” emphasis added throughout).

These statements are biblically accurate. Yet what follows is not. Notice carefully how this Catholic resource justifies the changes made to the Sabbath and annual festivals:

“This observance had been invested by Christ with a new dimension, however, since He proclaimed His own superiority to the Law and oriented it to the eschatological [or end-time] events. It remained for St. Paul to proclaim the Christian’s independence from the Jewish festival calendar (Col. 2:16), and with the fall of Jerusalem and the growth of the Church outside Palestine, the Judeo-Christian festival observance ceased except among sectarian groups” (ibid.). This rationale is misleading and wrong.

Jesus would never, could never, nor did He ever, change God’s laws regarding the weekly or annual Sabbaths found in Leviticus 23. Jesus was perfectly at one with His Holy Father, working His will and finishing His work (compare John 17:21; John 9:4; John 17:4; John 17:21). And Jesus remains the same throughout time (Hebrews 13:8). Had He changed God’s law, including the Fourth Commandment about the Sabbath in Exodus 20:8-11 and God’s other delineations of holy time, He would have sinned (1 John 3:4), and we would have no Savior (see 1 Peter 2:22; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

Recall Jesus’ impassioned and unequivocal statement to His disciples regarding God’s laws and Sabbaths: “Don’t suppose that I came to do away with the Law [including God’s Sabbaths] and the Prophets. I did not come to do away with them, but to give them their full meaning”—teaching the meaning through word and perfect living example (Matthew 5:17, Contemporary English Version). He then said: “I say to you very seriously that as long as heaven and earth exist, neither the smallest letter nor even the smallest stroke of a pen will be erased from the Law until everything there becomes a reality” (Matthew 5:18, Common English Bible).

Additionally, the apostle Paul didn’t abolish or repeal God’s laws in Colossians 2:16, as the above resource contends. Instead he confirmed them. Paul stated here, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths.”

It’s commonly thought that he was telling the Christians of Colossae to disregard Jewish criticism over their not following Jewish observances. But the reality was just the opposite. This was a gentile congregation that had not participated in such observances before. The truth is that Paul was telling the Christian converts to disregard outside criticism over how they were now observing these occasions. (See “Colossians 2:16 Shows Gentile Christians Observed the Biblical Holy Days” in our free study aid God’s Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind.)

As we saw, the New Catholic Encyclopedia identifies those who continued to observe the biblical feasts as sectarian—the word here implying narrow-minded smaller groups who don’t follow the teachings of a larger denomination.

Yet Jesus said that His Church would be small: “Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:14). He also said that He would honor those who honor Him (John 12:26) and call those great who do His will and teach others to do the same (Matthew 5:19).

Many Christians today prefer a comfortable and conformist Christianity, one without persecution. Contrast this with Jesus’ teaching: “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).

Does your church keep the feasts Jesus and His disciples kept?

What are the New Testament feasts?

In considering this, let’s address festival observance in the New Testament, and then we’ll see the correlation in Revelation.

The Catholic reference work quoted above admits that Jesus, the apostles and the early Church observed God’s Old Testament feasts in the New Testament. Leviticus 23 lists them. The first three come in the spring in the land of Israel—the feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread and Pentecost. The last four occur in the transition from late summer to early autumn—the feasts of Trumpets, Atonement, Tabernacles and the Eighth Day. Let’s identify all these in the New Testament in stepwise progression.

Jesus died on the Passover day. And the apostle Paul admonished the Corinthian church to keep the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread that followed: “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” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).

Luke, who wrote one of the four Gospels and the book of Acts, used the Feast of Unleavened Bread as a significant time marker: “And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread” (Acts 12:3).

After Jesus’ resurrection, His disciples kept the Feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:1), the very day on which they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Many Christians observe this feast today, at least in name. (The festival was not called Pentecost in its listing in Leviticus 23:15-22. Yet the name was taken from a word that occurs here in verse 16 in the Greek translation of the Old Testament meaning “fifty” in the phrase “count fifty days”—that is, from an earlier grain offering to determine when this feast was to be observed.)

The Feast of Trumpets is not specifically mentioned in the New Testament but the loud noise of trumpets as a herald of Christ’s second coming is. The book of Revelation presents seven trumpets being blown by angels leading up to Christ’s return. And 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4 state that Jesus will come and His followers will be resurrected at the last trumpet. It makes sense that the early Christians would have observed this festival in anticipation of these future events.

Luke presents the apostle Paul referring to the Day of Atonement, a commanded fast day, as a time marker, this day being still significant to Christians: “Now when much time had been spent, and sailing was now dangerous because the Fast was already over, Paul advised them . . .” (Acts 27:9). This occasion also looked forward to future events, as we will see.

Paul seems to refer to the Feast of Tabernacles when he departed from Ephesus:

“I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem; but I will return again to you, God willing” (Acts 18:21). In not naming the feast, Paul may have been following the convention of referring to the Feast of Tabernacles as simply “the Feast,” as it was the greatest of all the feasts in terms of festivity, celebrating the end-of-year harvest (see Deuteronomy 16:16-17; Leviticus 23:39).

Observing this festival will be required of all nations when Jesus returns: “And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem [in the end time] shall go up [to Jerusalem] from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles” (Zechariah 14:16).

The true greatness of this feast rests in what it pictures—the great spiritual harvest of human beings under the reign of Jesus Christ, when the nations will be led to salvation.

The Eighth Day following the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles is a separate and distinct feast, it being the last of the seven annual feasts. Though distinct, its placement immediately following Tabernacles shows its continuance in the prior feast’s themes. Here we find pictured the culmination of the global Eden-like environment for the salvation of the greatest numbers of human beings ever—when all who ever lived without a proper understanding will be resurrected to be taught God’s truth and given the opportunity to be saved. Your Bible presents this period as the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-13).

The number seven in Scripture symbolizes completion, while eight signifies going beyond that—in the sense of being overfull or to “super-abound” (E.W. Bullinger, Number in Scripture, 1979, p. 196, “Eight”). The saving of billions of people in the future fits with this symbolism. (See Ezekiel 37:18-25, which refers to Israel being saved first, but Scripture includes gentiles as well—Romans 9:22-26).

The fact is, this feast and all of the biblical feasts were and are significant for all nations, not just the Jews. They were observed by Jesus Christ, the apostles and the early Christian Church, just as the New Catholic Encyclopedia confirmed. And they will be observed during Christ’s coming reign over the world.

Yet most churches today fail to acknowledge these celebrations that arefound in Scripture and instead follow traditions of substituting other worship days rooted in false religion. As Jesus warned the religious leaders of His day, “It is useless for you to worship me, when you teach rules made up by humans” (Mark 7:7; CEV).

Now let’s see how the autumn feast days will be fulfilled, as revealed in the Bible’s last book.

Time of war and drawing near to God

The later chapters of Revelation show the fulfillments of the four fall feasts found in Leviticus 23. May God open your eyes to see and your ears to hear.

In Revelation 8, we see angels blowing the final seven trumpets that fulfill the meaning of the Feast of Trumpets.

As already mentioned, the Feast of Trumpets represents the calamitous events leading up to Christ’s return and the resurrection and change of His people into immortal glory.

Trumpets were sounded in ancient Israel as an alarm of war (Jeremiah 4:19). The seven trumpets of Revelation warn humankind that Christ is returning to wage war on murderous tyrants to save humanity from itself, when He will “destroy those who destroy the earth” (Revelation 11:18; compare John 18:36).

In Revelation 8, we see angels blowing the final seven trumpets that fulfill the meaning of the Feast of Trumpets: “And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets . . . So the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound” (Revelation 8:2; Revelation 8:6). Four trumpets are blown in Revelation 8, while the fifth and sixth trumpets are sounded in chapter 9.

The seventh and final trumpet is blown in Revelation 11:15, whereon it is announced that the world’s kingdoms are taken over by God’s Kingdom. This is glorious good news, and trumpets were also blown in biblical times in glad celebration, such as at the coronation of kings. We are also told of this time ahead that “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).

Yet while this event of great joy occurs, seven last plagues and more warfare follow. Under demonic direction, the forces of two major military powers, the Beast power (Revelation 13:1-8) and the kings of the east (Revelation 16:12-14), will converge in the land of Israel.

They will then march to Jerusalem to fight the returning Jesus—and, as laid out in Zechariah 14 and Revelation 19, they will lose the battle.

This brings us to the next Holy Day, the Day of Atonement. The vanquishing of human enemies will be followed by the overthrow of the evil spiritual forces influencing the world.

As mentioned, the Day of Atonement is a fast day (Leviticus 23:27-32). God commands His people to fast and pray in order to focus their faith on His deliverance of them from wicked spirits who roam this world (see Matthew 17:21; 1 Peter 5:7; Ephesians 6:12; Job 1:7; Matthew 4:8-9).

Atonement is fulfilled in Revelation 20: “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; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while” (Revelation 20:1-3).

The incarceration of Satan and the demons is a major aspect of the fulfillment of the Day of Atonement, fitting with this day’s ceremony of banishing a goat into the wilderness in Leviticus 16 (see “What Does the Day of Atonement Have to Do With Jesus Christ?”). With the removal of these evil spirits, widespread repentance will occur and peace will begin to spread throughout the world (Isaiah 14:6-7). This leads us to the fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles.

Peace and joy throughout the world

The Feast of Tabernacles depicts a future global Garden of Eden (see Amos 9:13; Ezekiel 36:35). For the first time in human history, all nations will prosper in peace under the rule of Christ and His saints (that is, His followers of this age then glorified). Notice Christ’s overview of this fulfillment in Revelation 20:4-6:

“And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them [see 1 Corinthians 6:2-3; Revelation 2:26] . . . who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished [in fulfillment of the Eighth Day].

“This [at the beginning of the 1,000 years when Christ returns] is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years” (see also Revelation 5:10).

At the end of this 1,000 years Satan will be released for a brief period, during which he will instigate a final rebellion against God. But fire from God will consume those who participate. Satan and his demons will then be cast into the lake of fire and taken out of the picture for good (Revelation 20:7-10).

Then, after the short season of Satan’s final rebellion, comes the Great White Throne Judgment, typified by the Eighth Day.

Again, the Eighth Day follows the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles. This “extra” day may appear to be just an extension of the seven-day feast. Yet it is a separate and distinct holy feast that symbolizes the time of salvation for billions of people!

God sanctioned the Eighth Day as a time for His people to assemble before Him: “For seven days you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. On the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation, and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. It is a sacred assembly, and you shall do no customary work on it” (Leviticus 23:39).

Christ’s imagery of the fulfillment of the Eighth-Day festival as described by John fits here perfectly: “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God [compare Ezekiel 37:1-14], and books were opened [books of the Bible opened to understanding and as the basis for judgment].

“And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life [Philippians 4:3]. And the dead were judged according to their works [over a period of time after God reveals His truth to them], by the things which were written in the books [see John 12:47-48]. The sea gave up the dead who were in it [resurrection to physical life as Ezekiel 37:1-14 shows], and Death [a great enemy, 1 Corinthians 15:26; 1 Corinthians 15:54] and Hades [the grave] delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works” (Revelation 20:11-13; James 2:20-26, concerning faith and works).

Note that judgment here is not an immediate sentencing but an evaluation over the new lifetimes of those resurrected—just as those in God’s Church today are judged over the course of their lives (compare 1 Peter 4:17).

Will you keep the feasts Jesus kept?

Given important understanding of the fulfillments of the last four feasts, the big question is: Will you keep the feasts that Jesus kept? Most who identify as Christians won’t—for now. But beyond today, everyone will. All of God’s feasts will be kept after Christ establishes the Kingdom of God on earth, as symbolized by the Feast of Tabernacles.

God’s feasts in Leviticus 23 portray the salvation of all humankind for all time. Jesus Christ, His apostles, and the early Church of God faithfully kept them—understanding that they pictured great events yet to come. Now God has revealed the meaning of these occasions to you.

The fall feasts in Leviticus 23 are fulfilled in the later chapters of Revelation. May you hear and heed God’s call to observe His festivals as part of the condition of obedience He has set for you and all people to remain in his plan of salvation—both for now and forever!

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  • The Apologist

    Mr. Aust, Paul clearly says in Colossians that old covenant festivals, new moons and sabbaths are types and shadows of what was to come. These things pointed forward to Christ. Now that he has come, the types and shadows have passed away and are no more as the writer to the Hebrews tells us. So Christian festivals now celebrate Jesus, his life, his death and his resurrection for us. Lets us not return to old covenant types and shadows, but let us look now to Jesus the fulfillment of every law and every feast day!

  • Ivan Veller

    (2) Col. 2:17b:

    Yes—and moreover, their very “substance” & essence IS Christ: http://www.ucg.org/bible-study-tools/booklets/gods-holy-day-plan-the-promise-of-hope-for-all-mankind/the-feast-of-0

    “de” (G1161)—
    • “yea” (Lk. 2:35; Ac. 3:24, 20:34; Rm. 8:34, 14:4, 15:20; 1Co. 9:16, 15:15; 2Co. 5:16; 2Tm. 3:12; Hb. 11:36; 1Pt. 5:5; 2Pt. 1:13; 3Jn. 1:12 KJV)
    • “and” (Colossians 2:17b YLT—1,104 places incl. Colossians 2:4, 3:14 KJV)
    • “moreover” (Mt. 6:16, 18:15; Ac. 2:26, 11:12; Rm. 5:20, 8:30; 1Co. 10:1, 15:1; 2Co. 1:23, 8:1; 1Tm. 3:7; 2Pt. 1:15 KJV)
    • “also” (Lk. 12:8, 13:6; Jn. 8:17; Ac. 5:32, 15:35, 22:29; Rm. 9:27; 1Tm. 3:10; 2Tm. 2:22, 3:1 KJV)
    • “for” (Mt. 13:21; Mk. 16:8; Lk.12:2, 12:48, 20:38, 23:17; Jn. 1:39, 9:29; Ac. 17:21; Rm. 7:9, 11:16, 14:23; 1Co. 8:7; 1Tm. 3:5; Rv. 22:15 KJV)
    • “so” (Mt. 8:31, 18:31, 20:8, 20:34, 27:66, 28:15; Mk. 8:8; Jn. 8:7, Jn. 20:4; Ac. 4:21, 7:15, 19:22; Rm. 8:8; 1Co. 15:54 KJV)
    • “therefore” (Mk. 6:19; 1Co. 7:8; Phm. 1:12 KJV)

    So therefore, to reject the Holy Days is literally to reject Christ. If we are truly “looking to Jesus” (Heb. 12:2) and to “the Father” (Heb. 12:9), “See that you do not refuse him” (Heb. 12:25, ESV 2011).

  • Ivan Veller

    Mr. Apologist,

    Christ said: “‘Take, eat; this is My body’” (Mt. 26:26). My friend, “The bread and wine…are…shadows of…Christ's perfect sacrifice, yet…we must partake of them”: http://www.ucg.org/the-good-news/are-all-spiritual-shadows-obsolete

    By partaking, we “proclaim the Lord's death until he comes” (1Co. 11:26; see Mk. 14:25). “Christ was raised” so that “we too might walk in newness of life” (Rm. 6:4)—“eternal life in Christ” (v. 23). This “living hope” (1Pt. 1:3; see 1Tm. 4:10) is one of countless reasons why Paul clearly states the Festivals & Sabbaths

    (1) Col. 2:17a:

    “are a shadow of the things to come” (ESV 2011)—“are a shadow of what is to come” (LEB 2012)—“are a foreshadowing of things to come” (TLV 2014): http://www.ucg.org/bible-study-tools/bible-study-course/bible-study-course-lesson-12/what-did-paul-really-say-in
    • “The grammar…requires this meaning.” http://www.ucg.org/bible-study-tools/booklets/the-new-covenant-does-it-abolish-gods-law/what-does-shadow-of-things-to
    • “The Greek requires it to point to the future. [They] foreshadow…future events in the plan of salvation.” http://www.ucg.org/the-good-news/what-do-the-holy-days-mean-for-christians-today

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