Growing numbers of Christians around the world are discovering and celebrating the biblical festivals outlined in Leviticus 23. By looking at the symbolism associated with these days, they are coming to view them in light of the life and mission of Jesus Christ.
After all, Jesus Christ Himself commenced the acting out of the plan of salvation by becoming our sacrificial Passover lamb. As the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:7 1 Corinthians 5:7Purge 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:
American King James Version×, “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (compare Isaiah 53:7-9 Isaiah 53:7-9 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opens not his mouth. 8 He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. 9 And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.
American King James Version×; 1 Peter 1:18-19 1 Peter 1:18-19 18 For as much as you know that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; 19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:
American King James Version×). Furthermore, Jesus started His Church on another of these festivals, the Feast of Pentecost (Acts 2). He must have considered them important.
During the spring of the year (March-April in the northern hemisphere), immediately after Passover and before the Feast of Pentecost, falls another biblical feast—the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:6-8 Leviticus 23:6-8 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.
7 In the first day you shall have an holy convocation: you shall do no servile work therein.
8 But you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD seven days: in the seventh day is an holy convocation: you shall do no servile work therein.
American King James Version×; Exodus 12:17-18 Exodus 12:17-18 17 And you shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt: therefore shall you observe this day in your generations by an ordinance for ever. 18 In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at even, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the one and twentieth day of the month at even.
American King James Version×). Here we’ll take a brief look at the greatest event to have ever taken place during this feast—and what it means for Christians today.
The greatest among several great events
Some might say that the Exodus from the slavery of Egypt, which also took place immediately after Passover during the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Numbers 33:3 Numbers 33:3And they departed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month; on the morrow after the passover the children of Israel went out with an high hand in the sight of all the Egyptians.
American King James Version×), was the greatest event to have ever happened during this spring festival.
Others might view the crossing of the Red Sea, which is traditionally assigned to the last day of Unleavened Bread, as another of the great festival events. This crossing signified that Israel was, at long last, finally free from Egyptian domination. Freedom was then a reality. Later, after Israel entered the Promised Land, the miraculous conquest of Jericho took place over the seven days of this same feast.
The apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 5:8 1 Corinthians 5:8Therefore 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.
American King James Version×, encouraged the mostly gentile church there to “keep the feast, not with old leaven … but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
Other great Unleavened Bread events involved rededicating of the people of God to their Creator. Two examples are recorded in 2 Chronicles. Chapters 29 through 31 describe the religious reform led by King Hezekiah, and chapters 34 and 35 tell of another reform through King Josiah. These chapters reveal the tremendous excitement and joy God’s people felt as they recommitted themselves to Him (2 Chronicles 30:21-23 2 Chronicles 30:21-23 21 And the children of Israel that were present at Jerusalem kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with great gladness: and the Levites and the priests praised the LORD day by day, singing with loud instruments to the LORD.
22 And Hezekiah spoke comfortably to all the Levites that taught the good knowledge of the LORD: and they did eat throughout the feast seven days, offering peace offerings, and making confession to the LORD God of their fathers.
23 And the whole assembly took counsel to keep other seven days: and they kept other seven days with gladness.
American King James Version×and 2 Chronicles 35:17-18).
But one other event that took place during the Days of Unleavened Bread is much greater in its ultimate impact than any of these wonderful events. That event is the resurrection of Jesus Christ!
When was Jesus Christ resurrected?
We know that Jesus was crucified on the day before a Sabbath, as John 19:31 John 19:31The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) sought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.
American King James Version×tells us. While most people assume that the Sabbath mentioned here was the regular weekly Sabbath day (observed Friday sunset to Saturday sunset), John plainly tells us that this particular Sabbath “was a high day” — a term used for the seven annual Holy Days that were part of God’s festivals.
A careful reading of the Gospels shows that this “high day” was the first day of Unleavened Bread, which was a Holy Day (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.
American King James Version×; Leviticus 23:6-7 Leviticus 23:6-7 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. 7 In the first day you shall have an holy convocation: you shall do no servile work therein.
American King James Version×) that can fall on a weekday.
Jesus remained in the grave for three days and three nights just as He had promised (Matthew 12:40 Matthew 12:40For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
American King James Version×). It is impossible to reconcile Jesus’ statement in Matthew 12 with the idea of a Friday afternoon crucifixion followed by a Sunday morning resurrection. (See “Jesus Wasn’t Crucified on Friday—or Resurrected on Sunday! “.)
Three days and three nights from the time of His entombment, just before the beginning of the first Holy Day of Unleavened Bread, brings us to the sunset at the end of the weekly Sabbath, still during the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread, as the time when Jesus was resurrected.
In actuality there was no Sunday morning resurrection. But on that Sunday word spread quickly that the tomb was empty and that He had appeared first to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18 John 20:11-18 11 But Mary stood without at the sepulcher weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulcher,
12 And sees two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.
13 And they say to her, Woman, why weep you? She said to them, Because they have taken away my LORD, and I know not where they have laid him.
14 And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.
15 Jesus said to her, Woman, why weep you? whom seek you? She, supposing him to be the gardener, said to him, Sir, if you have borne him hence, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.
16 Jesus said to her, Mary. She turned herself, and said to him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.
17 Jesus said to her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brothers, and say to them, I ascend to my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.
18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the LORD, and that he had spoken these things to her.
American King James Version×) and then to other followers.
The greatest event in human history
Now, if we were followers of Jesus in Jerusalem at the time of His crucifixion and then were told that He had been resurrected, what would be the topic of our conversation for the rest of the spring festival? What would be in your thoughts? Undoubtedly we would all be thinking about the greatest event to have ever taken place in the history of humanity, the very statement of the angel: “He is risen!” (Matthew 28:6-7 Matthew 28:6-7 6 He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.
7 And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goes before you into Galilee; there shall you see him: see, I have told you.
American King James Version×).
These Days of Unleavened Bread marked a turning point in the way the spring festival was to be celebrated down through the ages. Yes, Christians would still recall the Exodus, the coming out of Egypt , as a type of redemption from sin and release from the bondage of Satan. There would still be an emphasis on eating unleavened bread as a physical reminder that we are to become spiritually unleavened by removing sin from our lives.
But at the very center of it all—at the very core of the meaning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread is the all - encompassing truth that the resurrected Jesus Christ, the One who was raised during this spring festival, now lives His life in every individual Christian!
Jesus repeatedly emphasized the importance of His own resurrection. During the last supper, He told the disciples that He would soon be betrayed, but He also told them that He would live again: “Because I live, you will live also” (John 14:19 John 14:19Yet a little while, and the world sees me no more; but you see me: because I live, you shall live also.
American King James Version×). He had just promised them that Christians would not be left as orphans (John 14:18 John 14:18I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.
American King James Version×)—that is, spiritually unprotected and totally vulnerable to the power of Satan.
He stated that both the Father and He would live in the hearts and minds of Christians by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (John 14:20-26 John 14:20-26 20 At that day you shall know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
21 He that has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me: and he that loves me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.
22 Judas said to him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?
23 Jesus answered and said to him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our stayed with him.
24 He that loves me not keeps not my sayings: and the word which you hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me.
25 These things have I spoken to you, being yet present with you.
26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatever I have said to you.
American King James Version×). Since the resurrected Jesus Christ now lives in us, we are given the strength to conquer our sins. This new life, now made possible by the living Christ, empowers us to overcome “the sin which so easily ensnares us” (Hebrews 12:1 Hebrews 12:1Why seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
American King James Version×).
Symbolism of Unleavened Bread
Part of God’s instruction for the Days of Unleavened Bread is to put leavened bread products out of our homes (Exodus 12:15-16 Exodus 12:15-16 15 Seven days shall you eat unleavened bread; even the first day you shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel.
16 And in the first day there shall be an holy convocation, and in the seventh day there shall be an holy convocation to you; no manner of work shall be done in them, save that which every man must eat, that only may be done of you.
American King James Version×). The apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 5:8 1 Corinthians 5:8Therefore 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.
American King James Version×, encouraged the mostly gentile church there to “keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness [lingering sinful attitudes], but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth”—a clear reference to the Feast of Unleavened Bread (emphasis added).
Paul recognized that the unleavened bread of this Feast is symbolic of sincerity and truth, which should be hallmarks of the life of every Christian. He also understood that leaven during this time symbolized sin, and this Feast pictures our need to make every effort to eliminate it completely from our lives.
The truly great story about the Days of Unleavened Bread is the story of the resurrected Christ living His life in those of us who have truly repented of living in sin and have received the Holy Spirit! This empowers us to overcome sins in a way that previously was simply not possible.
Yes, the Feast of Unleavened Bread is a festival that helps us to focus on replacing sin with righteousness. But the only real way to put sin out of our lives is to put Jesus Christ into our lives! We are promised that we can truly put sin out of our lives because Jesus Christ lives within us (compare Galatians 2:20 Galatians 2:20I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives 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.
American King James Version×; Romans 7:23-25 Romans 7:23-25 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
American King James Version×- Romans 8:1-4).
What it takes to overcome sin
Paul tells us in Romans 13:12 Romans 13:12The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.
American King James Version×that we are to “put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light” (New International Version). He then lists the “deeds of darkness” as sins such as revelry, drunkenness, lewdness, lust, strife and envy. Then in Romans 13:14 Romans 13:14But put you on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof.
American King James Version×he shows the way to conquer such sins: by being clothed “with the Lord Jesus Christ” (NIV).
In our struggles against sin, not only during the Days of Unleavened Bread but throughout the entirety of our lives, we can choose to fight on our own strength or we can surrender our will to God and rely on the power of the risen Christ who lives His life in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. With this kind of power working against our sins, the very “power of His resurrection” (Philippians 3:10 Philippians 3:10That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable to his death;
American King James Version×), we can say with Paul, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
We can struggle all alone, or we can rely on the power of the only One who never once sinned, Jesus Christ. He tells each of us as sinners, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 Matthew 11:28Come to me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
American King James Version×). He encourages us to place our yokes and burdens on His powerful shoulders to find spiritual rest, saying, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30 Matthew 11:29-30 29 Take my yoke on you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
American King James Version×).
He promises that His faithful followers will never perish, nor will anyone be able to take them from His hand, because it is He who gives eternal life (John 10:27-28 John 10:27-28 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
28 And I give to them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.
American King James Version×). We follow His instructions by coming to Him so that we may have life (John 5:40 John 5:40And you will not come to me, that you might have life.
American King James Version×).
Jesus Christ lives again in us
Yes, Paul reminded Christians to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12 Philippians 2:12Why, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
American King James Version×). Yet he was in no way preaching a works-based salvation, for in Philippians 2:13 Philippians 2:13For it is God which works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
American King James Version×he explains that “it is God who works in you both to will [that is, to have the desire to overcome] and to do [to act on that desire] for His good pleasure.”
Embedded in the meaning of the Days of Unleavened Bread is the belief that central to our overcoming sins is the realization that the resurrected Jesus Christ lives His life in each one of us.
Indeed, as Paul also said, “If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (1 Corinthians 15:17 1 Corinthians 15:17And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; you are yet in your sins.
American King James Version×). And he further stated: “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 Galatians 2:20I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives 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.
American King James Version×, King James Version).
It is the resurrection of Christ, and His living again in Christians to empower them to remove the leaven of sin from their lives, that gives these spring festivals—the Passover, the Festival of Unleavened Bread and Pentecost—such a deep and lasting meaning. Isn’t it time you looked more deeply into the meaning of these biblical festivals and what they teach us about the life and mission of Jesus Christ?