In October this year, a relatively small number of faithful followers of Jesus Christ will meet in locations around the world to celebrate four Holy Days that Jesus of Nazareth and the early New Testament Church observed. On each of these days they will be reminded of His central role in the meaning of these festivals.
Ironically, most Christians—people who by their very name indicate their respect and obedience to Christ—know little about these days authorized by the Bible and observed by our Savior and His followers after His crucifixion.
What are these festivals, and what role does Jesus play in each of them? It is crucial that we see the biblical Holy Days in the proper perspective. That perspective is that of Jesus Christ. Jesus, the One who sits at the right hand of the Father, is central to God's plan of salvation for humanity.
We all know that when Jesus came to earth, He came to die for our sins and to pave the way for eternal salvation. He taught His followers true Christianity, by both His words and His example.
One example that we see recorded in Scripture is His example of observing the festivals of God. Luke tells us that His custom was to observe God's Sabbaths (Luke 4:16). Matthew shows that He observed the Passover (Matthew 26:17); John records Him observing the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:2, 10).
Later passages show that Jesus' followers also observed the Holy Days of God, now with deeper spiritual understanding—Christian understanding. Paul admonished the gentile Corinthians to properly observe the Feast of Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread (1 Corinthians 5:7-8) because these days were Christian celebrations.
Christ is our Passover sacrifice for sins
Passover, which included the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, was commanded by God (Exodus 12; Leviticus 23:4-5). Passover is also mentioned no less than 28 times in the New Testament, with the majority of occurrences found in the Gospels.
But what is the New Testament Passover all about? It is about the One who is so profound, so holy, so important, that without Him there is no New Testament Passover. That Someone is Jesus Christ.
Paul wrote of Passover's significance in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8: "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" (emphasis added throughout).
Just before Jesus' last Passover observance before His crucifixion, the high priest Caiaphas said that Jesus would "die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish" (John 11:50).
John explains this with this comment: "Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad. Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death" (John 11:51-53).
These scriptures and others reveal that Jesus is our true Passover lamb and that the ancient ceremony pointed to Him and His sacrificial death on our behalf. In fact, the Gospels show that He was slain on the very day of Passover.
As we observe the New Testament Pass-over (kept in the spring in the northern hemisphere), we commemorate and come to better understand the central role Jesus has in the removal of our sins as foreshadowed by the Passover lambs. "And you know that He [Jesus] was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin" (1 John 3:5).
Unleavened Bread: Jesus Christ in us
The second annual festival, the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread, follows right after Passover (Leviticus 23:6-8). In observing these days, Christians discover that this biblical festival is a time to focus on putting sin out of their lives.
For seven days Christians avoid leaven (an agent such as yeast or baking soda that causes bread dough to rise), as leaven represents sin during the festival.
Paul, referring to "the leaven of malice and wickedness" (1 Corinthians 5:8), compares leaven to sin and its tendency to grow and spread. Jesus referred to leaven as representing hypocrisy (Luke 12:1), false doctrine (Matthew 16:12) and moral depravity (Mark 8:15). These are some of the sins Christ's true followers must overcome.
But there is an even deeper meaning to the Days of Unleavened Bread. These days picture the promise of the risen Christ. He was resurrected during the Days of Unleavened Bread. Jesus promised that He and the Father would make Their home in our hearts (John 14:23). In fact, Christ living within us gives us the sure hope of future glorification as the divine children of God (Colossians 1:27).
As we eat unleavened bread during this festival, representing sincerity and truth (see 1 Corinthians 5:8), we are reminded that Jesus Christ is the perfect example of this. We should desire with all of our being to have that Holy One living within us.
Observing the Days of Unleavened Bread reminds us that it is not our righteousness that causes us to overcome sins. Rather, it is the righteousness that comes as a result of Jesus living His righteous life in the hearts of His people, empowering us to conquer sin.
As the apostle Paul explained: "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).
Thus the Days of Unleavened Bread are a reminder of the crucial fact that the resurrected Christ who saves us from our sins, is living again in each Christian.
Pentecost: Christ empowers His Church
The third of God's festivals is Pentecost. It was celebrated with much excitement in Israel because it signified the completion of the early firstfruit harvest from the fields. Israelites could be assured of food for their families when God's blessing was on them. This festival, too, teaches us much about Jesus Christ's role in God's plan.
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). Answering their concern as to what they should do after His death, 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 24:49: "Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high." That power is the Holy Spirit. As Jesus foretold, the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), and suddenly the disciples became the Church of God.
No longer were they a dazed and bewildered group of men and women—they were now the people of God. 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.
This all became 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 celebrate Pentecost to this day, we are reminded that Jesus continues to empower His Church to do His will and to preach the gospel.
We will now briefly cover each of the next four Holy Days, which come in the autumn of the year. As we examine them, we will again notice the pivotal role Jesus Christ plays in fulfilling the meaning of each of these days.
Trumpets: Announcing Christ's return
The Feast of Trumpets is observed in late summer or early autumn, September or October of the Western calendar, on the first day of the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar (Leviticus 23:24-25).
Trumpets were used in biblical times for several purposes. They were used to announce the beginning of this first autumn Holy Day (Leviticus 23:24). Trumpets were also used to announce the coronation of a king (1 Kings 1:39-40). They were used as an alarm to warn of war (Numbers 10:9; Jeremiah 4:19). They were used to call the people of God to assembly (Numbers 10:1-8).
All of these purposes find their ultimate fulfillment in the New Testament teaching that Jesus Christ will return to the earth.
At His return as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, He will battle against the armies of earth that oppose Him and His rule (Revelation 19:11-21).
He will also assemble His people together at the sound of the seventh trumpet. The New Testament makes it clear that the resurrection of Christ's faithful servants will occur at the blowing of the seventh trumpet: "For 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).
And in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 we read: "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 sounded [his trumpet]: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, 'The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!'"
The biblical Feast of Trumpets foreshadows the long-awaited second coming of Jesus Christ!
Atonement: Satan banished
The Day of Atonement is perhaps the most unusual of the biblical Holy Days. It is a day on which God's people fast, avoiding food and drink (Leviticus 23:26-32; Acts 27:9).
Atonement is also the day in which the Israelites sacrificed one goat as a sin offering (Leviticus 16:9) and released a second goat, the scapegoat (Hebrew Azazel), into the uninhabited wilderness (Leviticus 16:10).
The first goat, which was sacrificed as a sin offering, represented Jesus Christ. This goat was slain, its blood shed to cover the sins of people (verses 15-16) just as Christ's blood covers our sins. The mediating high priest in this ceremony also represented Christ. The scapegoat is representative of Satan, who departed from God and is responsible for the temptations of humanity. Satan is the one Jesus called a "liar" and a "murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44).
After Jesus returns to earth, He will commission an angel to banish Satan into the bottomless pit (Revelation 20:1-3). Satan will no longer be allowed to deceive the nations. This world will not know peace until Satan the archdeceiver is put away. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the One who has crushed the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15) and whose sacrifice will afterward be applied to the earth's repentant nations, is central to the ultimate fulfillment of this day.
Tabernacles: Christ's millennial rule
Jesus is also central to the understanding of the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles. He observed this Feast while He was on earth and told others to observe this 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 the leafy branches of trees, rejoicing in the worship of God (Leviticus 23:40). The Old Testament links the reign of Jesus Christ on the earth with the observance of the Feast of Tabernacles (Zechariah 14:16-21).
After Jesus returns, the world will experience a 1,000-year period of peace and prosperity (Revelation 20:1-6). He will serve as the King of the Kingdom of God under God the Father. The earth will be changed—not through the achievement of mankind, but through the infinite power of Almighty God.
In Isaiah 35:4-7 we read of this time: "'Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you. Then 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 verses will be literally fulfilled when the One who now sits at the right hand of the Father, Jesus Christ, returns to earth.
The last festival: Salvation offered to all
Following the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles is a final feast day, the eighth day (Leviticus 23:36). This festival has an ultimate and profound meaning in the plan of God.
Many today worry about loved ones who died before they came to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. They worry about loved ones who died before they repented and were baptized in faith. Their concern is that their loved ones are 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 the gospel. All who have gone to their graves without the knowledge of God will ultimately be given an opportunity to know God and respond to Him.
In Ezekiel 37:10-14 we read of a great resurrection of people, Israelites who had died without really having understood God's great plan: "So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceeding great army."
God's words to them are: "Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. 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 tells us that a time is coming when those who died without the full knowledge of God will be given an opportunity for salvation. They will finally recognize Jesus Christ for what He really is, our Lord and our Savior.
Non-Christians who lived their entire lives without ever hearing the name of Jesus —the only name by which we can be saved (Acts 4:12)—will at last have the opportunity to accept His sacrifice as payment for their sins and be given their opportunity to receive God's Spirit.
This last of God's festivals represents the Last Judgment. The meaning of this final festival is that a time is yet coming in God's timetable in which those who never had the opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will be raised from their graves and learn God's truth for the first time.
Jesus described it as a time when the long-dead inhabitants of Nineveh and people like the Queen of Sheba would rise in a period of judgment with those of Jesus' day (Matthew 12:41-42). Since the Father "has committed all judgment to the Son" (John 5:22), Jesus himself will be the final judge of all mankind.
This festival does not symbolize, as Pentecost does, those who presently are called and who know the Lord's will. We know that our time of judgment is right now, and that we must be busy serving God today.
But those who have never known the truth will someday be given the opportunity to know God and understand His great plan. The meaning of this festival is that it will not ultimately be only the few who will be given opportunity for salvation, but the many. God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4, compare 2 Peter 3:9).
These Holy Days of God give us an overview of God's great plan of salvation. The fulfillment of these days is dependent on the One who became man, who died for our sins, who now sits at the right hand of the Father and who is coming again. That One's name is Jesus Christ. GN