The Surprising Sayings of Jesus Christ: What Religious Days Did Jesus Observe?

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The Surprising Sayings of Jesus Christ

What Religious Days Did Jesus Observe?

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The last activity Jesus Christ shared with His disciples, only hours before He was crucified, was the biblically commanded Passover celebration. He had observed this festival annually since His birth (Luke 2:41 Luke 2:41Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover.
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Accompanied by His 12 apostles for their final Passover meal together, “He said to them, ‘ With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer’ ” (Luke 22:15 Luke 22:15And he said to them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer:
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, emphasis added throughout). His intense longing to observe this Passover service reveals His deep devotion to celebrating it.

Not only does Jesus—merely hours before His crucifixion—still regard keeping the Passover as important, but also, as He explained to His disciples that evening, He fully intends to observe it with them again when “it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:16 Luke 22:16For I say to you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.
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Why did Jesus set such a committed example of observing this festival if He intended soon afterward—as is commonly believed today—to abolish this festival? Does that really make any sense?

Most people claiming to follow Christ’s example today know little or nothing about the Passover or the other biblically commanded festivals. Nor do they understand why He considered them important. And most of them certainly have never thought of these days as meaningful to them personally. But should they?

Walking in Christ’s footsteps

After instituting important symbols in that last Passover observance before His crucifixion, Jesus told those gathered with Him: “For I have given you an example , that you should do as I have done to you … If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them ” (John 13:15-17 John 13:15-17 15 For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. 17 If you know these things, happy are you if you do them.
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This is direct instruction to them to continue observing “these things”—that is, the elements of the Passover service—in exactly the same manner as He had done with them. Years later it becomes even clearer that Christ’s instruction is applicable to all Christians. The apostle Paul plainly tells even the non-Jewish Christians in the Greek city of Corinth to follow the example Jesus Christ set on that Passover evening.

“For I received from the Lord,” wrote Paul, “that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’

“In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often [meaning year after year according to God’s command] as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered to you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: 24 And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. 25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do you, as oft as you drink it, in remembrance of me. 26 For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, you do show the Lord’s death till he come.
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Yes, Christ’s apostles believed and taught that we must follow the example He set and live as He lived. As the apostle John wrote, “He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:6 1 John 2:6He that said he stays in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
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Festivals in the biblical context

The religious days observed by Jesus and His countrymen during His physical lifetime included the weekly Sabbath day as well as a series of annual festivals, all commanded directly by God (see Leviticus 23). These days are biblically consecrated as holy convocations in the Scriptures (Leviticus 23:2 Leviticus 23:2Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, Concerning the feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts.
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Since the festivals first appear in the Old Testament, let’s briefly consider Jesus’ attitude toward those ancient Scriptures. How highly did He regard them? Even more importantly, how does He want us to regard them today?

The Hebrew Scriptures made up the only “Bible” available to Jesus and the early Church. The New Testament was written years after His crucifixion. To Jesus the “Word of God” and the Old Testament Scriptures were one and the same.

Jesus’ loyalty to these Scriptures is plain. He explains, “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35 John 10:35If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;
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). He tells us that “it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail” (Luke 16:17 Luke 16:17And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one pronunciation mark of the law to fail.
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). And He points out, “It is written [in Deuteronomy 8:3 Deuteronomy 8:3And he humbled you, and suffered you to hunger, and fed you with manna, which you knew not, neither did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread only, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD does man live.
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], ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’ ” (Matthew 4:4 Matthew 4:4But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.
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He also forcefully exclaims that anyone who “breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least [by those] in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19 Matthew 5:19Whoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
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Jesus expects those who would follow His example both to practice and teach the clear commands of God written in the Old Testament Scriptures. Of course, He expects this obedience to be fully compliant with His example and teachings recorded in the New Testament. But there is no conflict between the two. One is not pitted against the other.

Consider, for example, the principle that the sacrificial shedding of blood is necessary before sins can be forgiven. That is just as valid in the teaching of the New Testament as it was in the Old. The difference is that under the Old Testament administrative system animals were sacrificed to represent the better sacrifice that would be made in the future—the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:12 Hebrews 10:12But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;
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Yet the law requiring this spilling of blood for the forgiveness of sin was not abolished (Hebrews 9:22-26 Hebrews 9:22-26 22 And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. 23 It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: 25 Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest enters into the holy place every year with blood of others; 26 For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world has he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
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). Only by being justified through Christ’s shed blood can we be saved (Romans 5:9 Romans 5:9Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
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Jesus and the Passover

This brings us back to why Jesus was so committed to keeping the Passover with His apostles just before He was crucified. For centuries the keeping of the Passover had represented the fact that Jesus, as mankind’s Redeemer, would be sacrificed by the shedding of His blood for the remission of sins.

Jesus was crucified on Passover day, on the 14th day of the first month in the sacred calendar followed by the Jews. Anciently it was observed by the slaying of an unblemished lamb or kid goat (Exodus 12:5-11 Exodus 12:5-11 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: you shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats: 6 And you shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening. 7 And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it. 8 And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. 9 Eat not of it raw, nor sodden at all with water, but roast with fire; his head with his legs, and with the entrails thereof. 10 And you shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; and that which remains of it until the morning you shall burn with fire. 11 And thus shall you eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste: it is the LORD’s passover.
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). But its real focus was on a different sacrifice. We find this explained in the New Testament when “John [the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’” (John 1:29 John 1:29The next day John sees Jesus coming to him, and said, Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world.
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As the apostle Paul also explains: “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 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.
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). Here Paul is instructing Christians to keep both the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread as Christian observances (compare Leviticus 23:5-6 Leviticus 23:5-6 5 In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the LORD’s passover. 6 And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread to the LORD: seven days you must eat unleavened bread.
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Therefore, we now have direct New Testament evidence that at least two of the seven annual festivals—the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread—are also Christian festivals. Logically then the other five would be also. But before we consider any other festivals, let’s understand what the overall significance of all of these sacred occasions is to Christians today.

The meaning of God’s sacred festivals

All of the sacred biblical festivals are closely linked to the harvest seasons of the Holy Land. And Jesus often compared what God was doing through Him to a harvest.

For example, He said: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white [ripe] for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life , that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together’ ” (John 4:34-36 John 4:34-36 34 Jesus said to them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. 35 Say not you, There are yet four months, and then comes harvest? behold, I say to you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. 36 And he that reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit to life eternal: that both he that sows and he that reaps may rejoice together.
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Here Jesus links the idea of a harvest to His work of bringing humanity into a relationship with God the Father that leads to eternal life. On another occasion “He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest’ ” (Matthew 9:37 Matthew 9:37Then said he to his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few;
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God’s annual festivals depict the work of Jesus Christ in “harvesting” human beings into the Kingdom of God. They are God-given annual reminders of Christ’s role in securing redemption and salvation for all humanity.

God’s master plan of salvation

God began revealing parts of His plan of salvation when He evicted Adam and Eve from the garden in Eden. Because they had succumbed to the serpent’s influence and sinned, God spoke to the serpent, saying, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you [the serpent] shall bruise His [Christ’s] heel” (Genesis 3:15 Genesis 3:15And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; it shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.
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Here God revealed that, at a future time, a very special descendant of Eve would crush the head of “that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan” (Revelation 12:9 Revelation 12:9And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceives the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
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)—bringing Satan’s control over mankind to an end.

God began revealing more details of His plan through Moses—by instituting His annual festivals at the same time He selected the ancient Israelites to be His servants. Some of these festivals even had an immediate meaning and application within the history of ancient Israel.

But the long-term, primary reason that God established them was to depict the relationship of all human beings to the mission of the Messiah . As mentioned earlier, Paul pointed out: “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast …” (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.
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). The relationship of the Passover festival to the death of Christ, and our redemption through that death, has always been its primary purpose.

The Feast of Pentecost

In addition to Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Pentecost likewise is clearly a Christian festival. According to Jewish tradition, the Israelites received the Ten Commandments at the time of the festival of Pentecost. It was then that God made a covenant with them and they became the “congregation of God.”

Yet a far more important relationship would be established on a later Day of Pentecost—through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 1:4-5 Acts 1:4-5 4 And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, said he, you have heard of me. 5 For John truly baptized with water; but you shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.
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tells us: “And being assembled together with them [Jesus’ disciples], He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, ‘which,’ He said, ‘you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’”

Then, “when the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire … And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit …” (Acts 2:1-4 Acts 2:1-4 1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat on each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
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Since Paul tells us, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His” (Romans 8:9 Romans 8:9But you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
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), there can be no doubt that this festival sets an important milestone for all Christians for all time. It is a Christian festival. And Paul observed it as such (Acts 20:16 Acts 20:16For Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia: for he hurried, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost.
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; 1 Corinthians 16:8 1 Corinthians 16:8But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost.
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The other four biblical festivals listed in Leviticus 23 occur around the time of the fall harvest season (in the northern hemisphere).

All depict the main events to occur at or following Christ’s return. For example, the Feast of Trumpets points to His second coming. Seven trumpet blasts are to announce the seven major events leading up to and including Christ’s return (Revelation 8-11). At that time, “He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet , and they will gather together His elect …” (Matthew 24:31 Matthew 24:31And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
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; compare 1 Corinthians 15:52 1 Corinthians 15:52In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
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How much more “Christian” could these festivals be? Their focus is primarily on all that Jesus Christ has done, is doing and will do to ensure our salvation.

When Christ returns, not only will He keep the Passover, along with His resurrected apostles, but He also will require all nations to join Him in keeping the Feast of Tabernacles (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.
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Therefore, should not all Christians today acknowledge the example Christ has set for them? Then all can join the apostle Paul in declaring, as recorded in Acts 18:21 Acts 18:21But 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.
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: “ I must by all means keep this coming feast ” (compare Acts 20:16 Acts 20:16For Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia: for he hurried, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost.
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