Relevance of Israel: the Feasts
Summary: The details and timing of the Jewish feasts provide insight to God’s plan for Israel, the church, his kingdom on earth and major events of the biblical end times.
Leviticus 23:1-2 reads, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: “These are my appointed feasts, the appointed feasts of the Lord, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies.”’”
The Hebrew word translated “appointed feasts” means, (1) an appointed or designated time; (2) an annual season; (3) a unit of time; (4) a feast, a festival of celebration and worship appointed by an authority; (5) an assembly, a group of persons that meet for a specific purpose or occasion; or (6) an army, a group of soldiers assembled together. The word translated “assemblies” means, (1) an assembly or convocation of people gathered for a purpose; (2) a public reading; (3) a public signal or sign calling a community together. Notice the common themes of these words: (1) an appointed or designated time (which is not negotiable); (2) it involves an assembly of people; and (3) it has a specific purpose.
These are “the appointed feasts of the Lord,” the Lord’s feasts. He appointed them as part of the Law for Israel to observe and designated their sequence and timing. We’ll discover these feasts have great spiritual and prophetic significance:
- Their fulfillment is in the order in which they occur.
- They portray Jesus’ entire redemptive career.
- They provide insight to end times events.
Many of the feasts were based on Israel’s agricultural seasons and we’ll see evidence of an agrarian culture when we examine them. The feasts were assigned to specific dates in the Jewish calendar, which was based on lunar months, not solar months as is the Gregorian calendar we use today. As a result, the feasts don’t always occur on some days each year on our calendars.
Another point to keep in mind as we examine the feasts is that the Jewish day begins at sundown: evening first, then morning or daylight. This is based on the Genesis 1 creation account. For example, Genesis 1:5 states, “And there was evening, and there was morning — the first day.”
The Bible is one book. The Old Testament holds the imagery and precedent, while the New Testament holds the fulfillment, so we’ll discover significance of the feasts in both the Old and New Testaments.
This article is only an overview of the feasts, so we won’t address the hundreds of details of the feasts and their significance. Our focus is on the feasts’ end-times relevance.
What was the significance of the original Passover? The Israelites were slaves in Egypt and Moses and Aaron interceded with Pharaoh for them. They displayed multiple signs and plagues from God to persuade Pharaoh to release Israelites and the final plague was the death of the firstborn of every household in the land. If the Israelites observed the feast specified by God and applied blood to their doorposts as he said to do, then the death angel would pass over their household and the firstborn of their household would not be harmed. Afterward, God led the Israelites out of Egypt into the Promised Land.
The feast of Passover is an annual celebration of that event, the final plague on Egypt and what it meant to Israel. To Israel, Passover represents redemption — shedding of blood, liberation from bondage in Egypt and the promise of a homeland.
According to Leviticus 23:5, “The Lord’s Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month.” Notice, the day begins at twilight. The verse also states Passover occurs during the first month; the first month of the Jewish year is Nisan, begins near the end of March or early April.
Fulfillment of Passover
As real as the first Passover was in Egypt, and as radically as it changed Israel’s history, that event was an image of an even more significant event in the New Testament. The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:7, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” The Apostle John (the author of the gospel of John & Revelation) referred to Jesus as the “lamb” or “lamb of God.” For example, John 1:29 reads, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” In Jewish thinking, that was a clear reference to the Passover lamb.
“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (Col 2:16-17)
Passover was a celebration of deliverance from Egypt, but also a shadow of things to come. The “Last Supper” Jesus celebrated with his disciples was a Passover Seder, a Passover meal. Jesus died at the time the Passover lamb was sacrificed — an unblemished sacrifice for the people’s sins and a perfect fulfillment of the original Passover.
To us, Jesus’ death provides our redemption — the shedding of his blood, our liberation from bondage to sin and receiving God’s promises; all parallels to the Jewish fulfillment in the Old Testament. Passover represents redemption, in both the Old and New Testaments.
This feast was celebrated the day after Passover, so the two merged together in Jewish thinking.
“On the fifteenth day of that month the Lord’s Feast of Unleavened Bread begins; for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast.” (Lev 23:6)
In the Bible, leaven (yeast) represents sin or evil, because it causes fermentation, decay, or decomposition. So the unique characteristic of this feast is the requirement they eat bread made without yeast. The first and last days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread are special Sabbaths, as opposed to weekly Sabbaths. This also is the first of three mandatory feasts, when all Jewish males must appear before the Lord.
Fulfillment of Unleavened Bread
Jesus died on Passover and had to be buried immediately because the next day was a special Sabbath of Unleavened Bread. As stated earlier, leaven (yeast) represents sin, evil, decay and decomposition. In fulfillment of this feast, Jesus’ body did not decompose in the grave, as foretold in Psalm 16:9-10: “My body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.”
As Christians, we’re to purge sin and evil from our lives, just as the Jews purged their households of leaven for this feast. This purging of sin and its effects is what we call “sanctification.”
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: “When you enter the land I am going to give you and you reap its harvest, bring to the priest a sheaf of the first grain you harvest. He is to wave the sheaf before the Lord so it will be accepted on your behalf; the priest is to wave it on the day after the Sabbath”’” (Lev 23:9-11).
Notice that Firstfruits occurs on the day after the Sabbath; this includes the weekly Sabbaths (our Saturdays) and special Sabbaths (including the first and last days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread). This feast clearly reflects Israel’s agrarian society. They planted barley as a winter crop, which begins to ripen at the time of this feast. The people were to bring a sheaf of the first grain they harvested to this feast.
Fulfillment of Firstfruits
According to research on Jesus’ final week, Passover began at sundown on Tuesday, so he celebrated the Passover Seder that evening and he died at the time of the Passover sacrifice on Wednesday afternoon. The people buried him quickly because the next day was a special Sabbath and there wasn’t enough time to ceremonially prepare him for burial. Thursday was the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a special Sabbath, so no Jews were supposed to work. On Friday, the women prepared the spices for Jesus’ burial; Saturday was the weekly Sabbath, so everyone rested; and the women intended to prepare Jesus for burial on Sunday, the day after the Sabbath. It was then they discovered Jesus had risen from the dead.
Before he was arrested and crucified, Jesus told his disciples, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise” (Mk 9:31). The Gospel of Matthew records him saying, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Mt 12:40). He was, in fact, in the tomb three days and three nights: Thursday, Friday and Saturday. He rose from the grave on Sunday (which began at sundown Saturday), the day after the Sabbath. This means he fulfilled Firstfruits on the day of that feast, which occurs after Sabbath following Unleavened Bread.
“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Co 15:20). Jesus is the firstfruits of those who died but will be raised from the dead and firstfruits represents resurrection.
“Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Ro 8:23). “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession” (Eph 1:13-14). So the Holy Spirit is both a firstfruits and a down-payment on our inheritance.
“He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created” (Jas 1:18). So Christians are firstfruits. According to Revelation 14:4, the 144,000 from the tribes of Israel also are firstfruits: “They were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb.”
Firstfruits is the first harvest after winter and symbolically represents spiritual life after spiritual death, for both the Jew and Gentile. Passover, Unleavened Bread and Firstfruits combined seem to represent the birth of Israel as a nation as well as Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, which provide salvation for those who believe.
“From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord. From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the Lord” (Lev 23:15-17). This is called the “Feast of Weeks” because it was seven full weeks plus one day, or fifty days, after Firstfruits. The New Testament (Greek) term is “Pentecost,” which means “fiftieth.”
We notice in this passage that the people had to bake two loaves of bread with yeast, which is significant. During the Feast of Unleavened Bread, they had to eat unleavened bread, or bread baked without yeast. To the Jews, leaven or yeast represented sin, evil and decay. But Shavuot, Weeks or Pentecost mandated the use of leavened bread. This is a hint that there is something distinctly non-Jewish about this feast. It’s interesting this feast required two loaves of bread and we’ll see the significance of this later.
Fulfillment of Weeks (Savuot) or Pentecost
Keep in mind that Jesus rose from the dead on Firstfruits, fifty days before the Feast of Weeks. Acts Chapter 1 explains what happened after his resurrection.
“After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 1:3-5). Jesus was with his disciples 40 days, proving he was alive and speaking about the kingdom of God. He told them to wait in Jerusalem for the “gift” of baptism with the Holy Spirit.
“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:1-4). The Holy Spirit filled them on the day of Pentecost; i.e., on Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks.
As we noted earlier, the Jews had to bake two loaves of bread with yeast for Shavuot; the two loaves represent Jewish and Gentile believers. “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (Eph 2:14-16). Jewish and Gentile believers are one in the Messiah or Christ.
This passage states that Jesus abolished the Mosaic law’s commandments and regulations. The Greek translated “abolish” means (1) put an end to; (2) put a stop to, make completely inactive; (3) invalidate, deprive of power; (4) free from earlier relationship. That’s what Jesus’ death did to the law with its commandments and regulations.
We saw earlier that the bread must contain yeast, which represents sin, evil and decay. We believers have not yet been glorified, so we still have sin in our lives, do we not?
Jesus initiated the new covenant at “the last supper” which was a Passover Seder and it was the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, with accompanying power of God, that sealed the covenant. Pentecost represents the birth of the Church.
Jesus fulfilled the Feast of Passover on the day of Passover. He fulfilled the Feast of Unleavened Bread during the first days of that feast. He fulfilled the Feast of Firstfruits on the day of Firstfruits. That is, he fulfilled all of them on their respective days in less than a week. The Holy Spirit fulfilled the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot, Pentecost) on the day of Pentecost following Jesus’ resurrection. That means the spring feasts were all fulfilled in two months’ time. Once the process started, it ran to its natural conclusion, including a seven-week delay.
God fulfilled the Spring feasts with Jesus’ first coming, fulfilling each Jewish holiday on the precise date it occurred that year. Likewise, God will fulfill the Fall feasts with Jesus’ second coming, fulfilling each Jewish holiday on the precise date it will occur that year.
The Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement and Feast of Tabernacles all occur in the seventh month of the Jewish year: Tishri, which begins near the end of September or early October.
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites: “On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts”’” (Lev 23:23-24). Trumpet blasts in ancient Israel had two primary functions identified by the type of blast: to summon people to sacred assemblies or call them to war. The Feast of Trumpets is a sacred assembly announced by trumpet blasts. It also is commemorated with specific trumpet blasts during the feast.
Since the second century AD, Jews have observed a civil year beginning with month of Tishri. Rosh Hashanah, literally “head of the year,” basically is their New Year’s Day for the civil calendar. The Bible defines the religious year, making Tishri the seventh month. Rosh Hashanah — the civil New Year’s Day — is not the Feast of Trumpets — a religious festival — but they occur on the same day, the first day of Tishri. If you want to find the Feast of Trumpets on a calendar, look for Rosh Hashanah.
Fulfillment of Feast of Trumpets
“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” (1 Co 15:51-52). As I understand, there are different trumpet calls made throughout the Feast of Trumpets and the final one is identified as the last trumpet.
“The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever’” (Rev 11:15). The seven trumpets of Revelation Chapters 8-11 announce end-times events, not God’s wrath. The last or seventh trumpet precedes the announcement that Jesus will reign on earth for ever.
Here’s what happens at Jesus’ second coming:
- he appears in the sky and everyone sees him
- he exercises his right to reign, which he won at Calvary
- he removes the saints from earth to reward them
- he seals the 144,000 Jews who acknowledge him as the Messiah
- an angel announces that God’s wrath on the ungodly is imminent.
The last trumpet fulfills both purposes from ancient Israel: it calls the saints together for a sacred assembly and announces a declaration of war on the enemy. This suggests the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11 coincides with the last trumpet sounded at the Feast of Trumpets. This is especially likely if you believe end-times events will occur on the day of the feast they fulfill.
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves, and present an offering made to the Lord by fire’” (Lev 23:26-27). The days from the Feast of Trumpets (first of Tishri) to the Day of Atonement (tenth of Tishri) traditionally are called “days of awe.” Days of awe lead up to Day of Atonement, which is when High Priest enters Holy of Holies to secure atonement or forgiveness of Israel’s sin.
“Do no work on that day, because it is the Day of Atonement, when atonement is made for you before the Lord your God. Anyone who does not deny himself on that day must be cut off from his people. I will destroy from among his people anyone who does any work on that day. You shall do no work at all. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live. It is a sabbath of rest for you, and you must deny yourselves. From the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening you are to observe your sabbath” (Lev 23:28:32).
There are other times in scripture when God tells them to observe feast as a sabbath and not to work. However, when describing the Day of Atonement, God uses very strong, emphatic language. Anyone who violates this sabbath will be cut off from his people and destroyed. This is a really big deal and makes it distinct from other sabbaths and feasts.
Fulfillment of Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur)
The “days of awe” are days of repentance and the 144,000 Jews will repent during that period. They will see Jesus in the sky on the Feast of Trumpets and acknowledge him as Messiah. Yom Kippur is the day of atonement or forgiveness of sins. Always before, the High Priest entered God’s literal presence as Israel’s representative on that day and only on that day. That’s an extremely strong precedent for the repentant 144,000 Jews when Yom Kippur is fulfilled.
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites: “On the fifteenth day of the seventh month the Lord’s Feast of Tabernacles begins, and it lasts for seven days. The first day is a sacred assembly; do no regular work. For seven days present offerings made to the Lord by fire, and on the eighth day hold a sacred assembly and present an offering made to the Lord by fire. It is the closing assembly; do no regular work” (Lev 23:33-36).
“On the first day you are to take choice fruit from the trees, and palm fronds, leafy branches and poplars, and rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. Celebrate this as a festival to the Lord for seven days each year. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come; celebrate it in the seventh month. Live in booths for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in booths so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Lev 23:40-43).
They’re to rejoice for seven days and live in booths; temporary shelters or tabernacles. This commemorates their temporary dwellings in route from Egypt to the Promised Land. At the beginning of Israel’s national history, God stated this is to be a “lasting ordinance for the generations to come,” but it’s also a clue. God only said this about Tabernacles, which is one of the three mandatory feasts.
Fulfillment of Tabernacles
I suggest Jesus will return to earth to rule from the Temple in Jerusalem on the first day of Tabernacles, to dwell or tabernacle among his people. It will be a time of great celebration among Jews.
The following passage provides some useful insight:
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters — one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Mt 17:1-5).
The Greek word translated “shelters” means a tent, tabernacle or dwelling; possibly a temporary shelter booth made of green boughs, skins or other materials. It’s very likely Peter suggested building these because it was Feast of Tabernacles. That’s the only time a Jew would consider building one; otherwise, why would he suggest building shelters?
Notice that after Peter made his suggestion, God spoke, “This is my Son . . . Listen to him!” In other words, “Pay attention to my Son, not to Peter.”
If Jesus was transfigured during Feast of Tabernacles, what would that suggest? It’s possible Jesus and we will appear to the world in transfigured form during that feast.
Zechariah 14 describes the Lord returning to fight the nations gathered against Jerusalem and set up his kingdom on earth. “Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. If any of the peoples of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, they will have no rain” (Zech 14:16-17). After the Lord sets up his kingdom on earth, the nations will be required to go to Jerusalem annually to celebrate Tabernacles; or else they’ll have a drought the following year.
Why will this be the only event the nations will be required to observe? I think there will be several reasons:
- it’s the anniversary of Jesus’ return to earth, to begin reigning & dwelling among his people
- it’s the end of threats to Israel’s existence; they’ll begin living in permanent blessing and security
- it’s the end of Christians’ limited existence; we’ll become kings and priests of God and begin ruling with Christ on earth.
The Feast of Tabernacles will be a major anniversary! It’ll be a new beginning for the Jews, the Christians and the world!
As we’ve seen, Trumpets (the first of the month) signals the catching away of the saints. Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement, tenth of the month) signals the forgiveness of Israel’s sins. Tabernacles (15th-21st of the month) is when Jesus returns to dwell among the Jews and reign on earth. When will God pour out his wrath on the ungodly? One possibility is during the “days of awe” between Trumpets and Yom Kippur. The four or five days between Atonement and Tabernacles is plenty. The descriptions of the feasts don’t include descriptions of anything like God’s wrath on the ungodly.
“Three times a year all your men must appear before the Lord your God at the place he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles” (Deut 16:16). These are the only mandatory feasts and they have special significance, because they reveal God’s plan:
- Unleavened Bread — birth of Israel
- Feast of Weeks, Pentecost — birth of the church
- Feast of Tabernacles — birth of Jesus’ kingdom on earth, dwelling among his people
God’s relationship with his people
- Unleavened Bread — God chooses a people, Israel
- Feast of Weeks, Pentecost — God spiritually lives within his people, Christians
- Feast of Tabernacles — God physically lives among his people, Israel
God’s redemptive plan
- Unleavened Bread — redemption/salvation; sanctification, freedom from the effects of sin
- Feast of Weeks, Pentecost — empowerment; anointing of spiritual gifts
- Feast of Tabernacles — official authority, setting in place; ruling with Christ
As we saw earlier, all the spring feasts (Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits) were fulfilled on the days they occurred. In addition, Jesus fulfilled them in one week and the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) was fulfilled fifty days later. So we can expect the fall feasts (Trumpets, Yom Kippur, Tabernacles) to be fulfilled on the days they occur. Will the fall feasts all be fulfilled in the same month? I think it’s not only likely, but certain.
However, there’s an unresolved issue. Jesus stated clearly that we need to be ready because we won’t know the day or hour of his return (Mt 24:36; 24:50; 25:13). Yet it appears we’ll be caught away on the Feast of Trumpets, which is only one day long. Since Trumpets is the first of the fall feasts and the others immediately follow, we might conclude we simply won’t know which year they’ll happen; but Jesus said we “won’t know the day or hour.” Regardless, I’d suggest that since we can know when the Feast of Trumpets occurs (same day as Rosh Hashanah), we should really be alert as it approaches each year.
Obviously, none of us knows how much longer we’ll live, so we need to be ready at all times. But as you see Rosh Hashanah approaching, heads up!
God has revealed his plan for the ages through the regulations, sequence and timing of the Jewish feasts.