Every single year, Jesus observed seven annual festivals, and so did His Church that followed.
Have you ever heard of the Feast of Tabernacles? How about the Days of Unleavened Bread? Ever hear of the Day of Atonement?
Do the festivals of the Bible belong to the Jews alone, or are they also commanded observances for all those who follow Christ?
These special celebrations are found in the Bible—and not only in the Old Testament. Jesus Christ, your Savior, not only observed these festivals, but He is central to them. When we observe these festivals, we are celebrating the mission and work of Jesus Christ—what He has done, what He is doing now, and what He will yet do. They are a key to developing a closer relationship with Him. And through them you can also learn how God is bringing salvation to the entire world!
Jesus Christ is one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented figures in all history. He is certainly the most well known, but there's a lot to learn about His life, His teaching and His example.
It's essential to realize that Jesus kept these commanded biblical festivals as part of His worship of and teaching about the Father—and to understand that these festivals show Christ's central role in the process of salvation. It's vital that we see the biblical Holy Days in their proper New Testament perspective. That perspective points to Jesus Christ. Jesus, who sits at the right hand of the Father, is the main agent of God's plan of salvation for mankind.
At this point some of you may be thinking: "But those are Jewish feasts. They have nothing to do with the New Testament or Christianity today." That's a widely held belief—but it's incorrect. These festivals do not belong to the Jews alone. They belong first to God the Father and Jesus Christ. These are God's festivals. They are also commanded for Christians who desire to follow Jesus' example, and they have everything to do with Christ and His Church today.
Let's step through the biblical festivals and learn how Jesus is represented in each one. These festivals are grouped into three periods of the year, tied to the harvest seasons of the Holy Land. They provide remarkable insight into how God the Father, through Jesus Christ, will harvest people in His plan of salvation.
Passover: "Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us"
The first of the festivals is Passover, immediately followed by the Days of Unleavened Bread. The Passover was a major part of the story of ancient Israel's Exodus from Egypt, but it's more than an Old Testament observance. We find that it's mentioned 28 times in the New Testament.
Now what is the New Testament Passover about? It's about the One who is so profound, so holy, so important, that without Him there is no hope for mankind—Jesus Christ. From the beginning, the Passover pointed directly to Jesus. He is our true Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7). In observing the New Testament Passover (in the spring in Israel and the rest of the northern hemisphere), we understand the central role Jesus has in God's forgiveness of our sins. Scripture states, "And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin" (1 John 3:5).
Many prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures foretold the life and death of a Messiah. Christ's death by crucifixion fulfilled many of these scriptures in incredible detail. It is one of the great proofs of the validity of the Bible and of who Jesus is. Just before Jesus' last Passover with His apostles, the Jewish high priest Caiaphas predicted that Jesus would "die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish" (John 11:50).
Christ's death, occurring on the Passover day, fulfilled the ritual of the slaughtered lamb, and it opened a new dimension of understanding to the festivals. Notice how the apostle Paul understood this New Testament application and taught it to gentile Christians in the city of Corinth:
"Therefore purge out the old leaven [a reference to the Days of Unleavened Bread, leaven being an agent that causes bread to rise during baking], that you may be a new lump [of dough, figuratively speaking], since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast [of Unleavened Bread], 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, emphasis added throughout).
In this passage referring to the first two annual biblical festivals, we see the essential role of Christ in our proper understanding and observance of these days.
Let's next look at the Days of Unleavened Bread.
Days of Unleavened Bread: leaving sin by partaking of the true Bread of Life
The day after Passover begins the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread, with a Holy Day on the first and last day. As with Passover, Jesus Christ is the central focus of this feast too. Christians observe this festival knowing that it's a time to focus on striving to put sin out of their lives and overcoming sin.
Leavening, for the purpose of the spring festival season, represents sin. Again the apostle Paul refers to it as "the leaven of malice and wickedness" (1 Corinthians 5:8). Other scriptures similarly identify leaven with hypocrisy (Luke 12:1) and false teaching. During this New Testament festival, leavening is portrayed as wickedness that Christians strive in their lives to overcome.
God's instruction for keeping this festival is to remove and not eat anything leavened for seven days, and to instead eat "the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Corinthians 5:8).
The Days of Unleavened Bread tie deeply into something very significant revealed in this festival. You see, these days picture the promise Christ made that was to be fulfilled after He was raised to life. 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 future glory in God's Kingdom (Colossians 1:27).
And as we eat unleavened bread during this festival, we are reminded that Christ, the "bread of life" and the "living bread which came down from heaven" (John 6:35, John 6:51), is the ultimate example of the sincerity and truth the unleavened bread represents. Christians desire with all their being to have that Holy One living in them.
Observing the Days of Unleavened Bread also reminds us that it is not our own innate or self-generated righteousness that enables us to overcome sins. Rather, it is the righteousness that comes as a result of partaking of that Bread of Life, of Jesus Christ living His righteous life in the hearts of His people and empowering us to conquer sin.
As Paul writes, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20, King James Version).
The New Testament observance of the Days of Unleavened Bread teaches us about the resurrected Christ who died for our sins that we may leave a life of sin and have the hope of eternal life through partaking of the true Bread of Life. It explains that by letting Christ live in us, we can be transformed. Only by taking on Jesus' character and nature can we truly overcome sin.
Pentecost: Christ empowers His Church with the Holy Spirit
Now let's look at the next festival, the Feast of Pentecost, representing the firstfruits of the wheat harvest in Israel. It came seven weeks after an offering of firstfruits of the smaller barley harvest presented during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. These harvest celebrations were eagerly celebrated by the Israelites. They could be assured of food for their families when God's blessing was on them. Pentecost signaled a good year ahead for an Israelite.
In a special ceremony the priest would lift up two loaves of bread before God as an offering. The offering recognized God as the one who blesses Israel and gave them the fruit of the harvest. It was a great festival of both hope and joy.
According to Jewish tradition, God gave Israel the Ten Commandments on the day of Pentecost. But the Israelites did not have the Holy Spirit in them, so they failed to obey the immutable spiritual laws God had given them.
In the New Testament, we see a deeper and a more profound parallel to this. Jesus Himself was the first of the firstfruits, represented by the waved barley sheaf during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And His followers of this age are represented by the firstfruits of the wheat harvest of Pentecost.
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, where He said, "Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry [or wait] in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high" (Luke 24:49).
That power is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit descended on the disciples on the day of Pentecost, as we read in the second chapter of Acts. And suddenly with that event, the disciples became the Church of God.
No longer were they a dazed and bewildered group of men and women—they were now the firstfruits of the people of God, the first part of God's harvest. 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.
All of this was made 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 today celebrate this festival, we are reminded of the transforming power of God's Holy Spirit. By the power of the Holy Spirit we have hope and joy to carry out the same work Christ did while here on earth—the work of preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God.
We have covered three of the annual biblical festivals—Passover, the Days of Unleavened Bread and the Feast of Pentecost. We will now briefly cover each of the next four festivals, observed in the autumn of the year in the Holy Land and the rest of the northern hemisphere. As we examine them, we will again notice the pivotal role Jesus Christ has in fulfilling each one.
Trumpets: Jesus Christ returns and resurrects His followers
The next biblical festival uses an interesting symbol—the blowing of trumpets.
These days are special to God because they reveal what His plan for mankind is all about.
Trumpets, whether metal instruments or rams' horns, were used in the Bible for several purposes. They were used to call the people of God to assembly (Numbers 10:1-10). They were also used to announce the beginning of this Holy Day (Leviticus 23:24; compare Psalm 81:3-4). And trumpets were 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 earth as King and assemble His people together at the sounding of a great trumpet blast.
Furthermore, the New Testament clearly shows that at what is called the first resurrection, with the blowing of a great trumpet, "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).
In 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 Paul writes: "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."
Another key scripture is Revelation 11:15: "Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, 'The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever'" (English Standard Version).
The Feast of Trumpets pictures the time when Jesus Christ steps into our world and imposes His Kingdom in place of every human government. It also pictures the resurrection of what is called in the Bible the "dead in Christ" (1 Thessalonians 4:16) and the change to a glorified spirit life—becoming spirit beings in the family of God. Jesus stated that He Himself would raise His followers at this future time (John 6:44).
The Bible further shows us that Christ's return will not be welcomed by the armies and the leaders of this world. In fact, the coming of Christ is accompanied by a time of war. The "kingdom of the world" will not willingly yield nor submit to Jesus Christ.
There is a reason the Lamb of God with a robe dipped in blood and wielding a sword will "strike the nations" (Revelation 19:13-15). The kingdom of the world is currently controlled by a powerful spirit being called Satan the devil. This evil being is the real power behind the scenes of all human folly.
Before the righteous reign of Jesus Christ can begin on this earth, Satan himself must be decisively dealt with. This next step in God's plan is told through the next festival, the Day of Atonement.
Atonement: Christ sends Satan away and offers reconciliation to all
The Day of Atonement is the most unusual of the Holy Days. It is a day on which God's people do not eat food or drink any liquids. It's called a "fast" (Leviticus 23:26-32; Acts 27:9). In ancient Israel, once a year on this festival a ceremony took place with the high priest and the offering of two specially chosen goats.
One goat was killed and its blood was offered within the Holy of Holies—that sacred room within the temple where only the high priest could go on this special once-a-year festival. This represented the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the atonement of humanity.
The second goat was not killed. It was driven into the wilderness. This goat represents Satan, the one who rebelled against God and is the primary cause of sin and evil in the world. Satan is the one Jesus called a "liar" and a "murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44). His evil presence and influence must be removed from the human family before the peace of God's Kingdom can begin.
While we do not observe the Day of Atonement today with the temple ritual of the two goats, we nevertheless focus on the great meaning behind this while we fast in drawing near to God. The Day of Atonement looks forward to the time when 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. With this done, the eyes of mankind will be opened. The light of God's truth will spread over humanity and a spiritual healing will come upon all peoples from all walks of life. At this time Christ's sacrifice, as pictured by the slain goat, will begin to be applied to the world at large, as people repent and draw near to God, making humanity atoned or at one with Him.
Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the One who has offered His life in place of all mankind and has crushed the head of the serpent (see Genesis 3:15), is central to the ultimate fulfillment of this day. Now the real work of God's Kingdom can begin.
The Feast of Tabernacles: Jesus Christ's millennial rule over the entire earth
After Jesus returns, the world will see 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. The biblical festival called the Feast of Tabernacles pictures this time—which theologians often refer to as the Millennium (meaning simply 1,000 years).
Jesus is the key to understanding the Feast of Tabernacles. He observed this Feast while a human being, and He 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 leafy branches of trees, and they would rejoice in the worship of God (Leviticus 23:40). And the Old Testament directly links the reign of Christ on the earth with the observance of the Feast of Tabernacles (Zechariah 14:16-21).
The book of Revelation tells us that Christ will reign on the earth for 1,000 years. And His reign will create what human government has not been able to accomplish for thousands of years—lasting peace, true justice and the opportunity for godly knowledge to flourish within the human family.
The prophet Isaiah foretells this period in many of his exciting prophecies. Let's note two of them.
Isaiah 2:4 says, "He [the Lord] shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation."
Isaiah 35:5-7 states: "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 ultimately fulfilled when the One who sits at the right hand of the Father, Jesus Christ, returns to the earth.
The Eighth Day: Jesus offers salvation to all
The three fall festivals we've covered so far—the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles—all occur within a three-week period (days 1 through 21 of the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar). But there is one more festival the day after, and its meaning offers the greatest hope for all of mankind.
Have you ever wondered about those who died never having accepted Jesus Christ as Savior? What about them? Is there hope? What does the Bible say about this group of people? The meaning of the final biblical festival of the year holds the answer.
Following the Feast of Tabernacles is a final feast day (Leviticus 23:36). It's designated as an Eighth Day, distinct from the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles. Now this last of the commanded annual festivals has a profound meaning in the plan of God.
Many today worry about loved ones who died without receiving salvation through Jesus Christ. They fret and mourn over these loved ones who never repented of sin and never received baptism being lost, doomed forever in an ever-burning hellfire.
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 and understand the gospel. He will even yet offer salvation to those who have gone to their graves without adequate knowledge.
The prophecy of Ezekiel 37 speaks of a great resurrection of people who died without having understood God's great plan. While specifically showing what is to happen to Israel, it gives us understanding of what God intends for the entire human race as foretold in Revelation 20:5, Revelation 20:11-12.
Ezekiel writes: "I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceeding great army. And they say, 'Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off'" (Ezekiel 37:10-11). The prophet is seeing, in vision, a resurrection.
But God then speaks comforting words to the Israelites: "Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves . . . then you shall know that I am the Lord . . . 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 37:12-14).
These verses, along with other biblical passages, tell us that a time is coming when those who died without the full knowledge of God will be given their 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 Christ's name, as well as those who professed Christianity but never really understood the truth, will be given the opportunity to both accept His sacrifice as payment for their sins and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Revelation 20 tells us of a resurrection at the conclusion of the 1,000-year reign of Christ—of "the dead, small and great" (Revelation 20:12). They will stand before Him and have the books of the Bible opened to their understanding. They will have the opportunity to confess belief in God and Christ and enter into eternal life.
Only those who ultimately reject God despite full enlightenment will be burned up in a final lake of fire.
The Eighth Day festival, then, pictures the time yet coming in God's timetable when those who have never had full opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will be raised from their graves and given the opportunity to truly learn the truth.
So the great meaning of this final festival is this: Every human being who has ever lived will receive the opportunity to know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He sent. God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4). (See also "Jesus Christ and the Great White Throne Judgment".)
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, who now sits at the right hand of the Father, and who will soon return to rule the world. His name is Jesus Christ.
What should we do?
What is it that people can learn by keeping these biblical festivals?
They can learn a tremendous amount. These are God's Holy Days. Think about that word—holy. We forget sometimes what that word really means. It designates something special to God, set apart by Him.
These days are special to Him because they reveal what His plan for mankind is all about. He maps it out for us to make it very clear that it all starts with Passover, pointing to Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for us. We picture coming out of sin and becoming like Jesus Christ during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Pentecost pictures the Holy Spirit enabling those God has called to truly change.
The Feast of Trumpets gives us hope that Jesus will return and set all things aright. The Day of Atonement memorializes the time when Satan will be banished, prevented from influencing mankind, and the nations will at last come to accept Christ and His atoning sacrifice. The Feast of Tabernacles pictures Jesus dwelling with mankind and ruling over the nations for 1,000 years.
And then, at the end, we have the Eighth Day that makes it very clear that God wants to save everyone who is ultimately willing. All people of all past ages will have an opportunity to have the Bible opened to them. God's Word will come to life for them, and they will have an opportunity to choose life.
What an amazing blessing it is when you see how Jesus Christ fits into all of the Holy Days! It's something that everyone needs to check into.
You really need to examine your beliefs. Maybe you celebrate Christmas, Easter and other religious holidays but you're finding them lacking. Maybe you can tell something is missing. It's time that you ask some hard questions about what you've accepted and what you've been doing all your life in a religious sense.
Moreover, you should consider finding a church that observes these biblical festivals. These celebrations offer so much meaning and so much understanding. It's vital to comprehend what they represent in God's plan for you. Find out why many people are turning to what God's Word really says and come to understand how to truly worship Him!