Exodus 23:14-17; Leviticus 23:4-36
At the heart of the Christian Faith is the fact that we are debtors to the laws and ceremonies given by Yahweh to the Hebrew people and handed down through the OT Scriptures. Every aspect of the Christian faith finds its roots in the OT.
In the BOOK OF THE COVENANT, Yahweh weaves the secular and scared as one weaves threads to make a seamless garment. Laws regarding worship and ritual are interwoven with the laws of social justice, righteousness, equity and mercy.
The worship of God and the working of the Land (which belonged to God) were bound together. Israel’s religious festivals were tied to the agricultural year in a series of sevens. The seventh day was the Sabbath and seventh year was the Sabbatical Year. The Feast of Unleavened Bread was celebrated for seven days after Passover. The seventh month opened with the Feast of Trumpets and included the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles.
The weekly Sabbath not only reminded the Jews that they belonged to God, but it also showed God’s care for the health of man and beast and the “health” of the Land.
Ritual is not ritual for its own sake but it serves wider human concerns and creation interests. Yahweh decrees with Exodus 23:14-17—
Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me. Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread; for seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in that month you came out of Egypt. No one is to appear before me empty-handed. Celebrate the Feast of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field. Celebrate the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field. Three times a year all the men are to appear before the Sovereign LORD.
The three feasts commanded here in the BOOK OF THE COVENANT are the GREAT FEASTS OF ISRAEL. Three times a year every male is to take a vacation from his work and appear before Adonai Yahweh. Once the Temple was build in Jerusalem, this meant making a journey to the Holy City three times a year if one lived away from it.
These three feasts were clearly related to harvest seasons, coming immediately after the work of harvesting was completed. For an agricultural nation, the timing of the harvest feasts was perfect. The feasts gave Israel the opportunity to celebrate the bountiful blessings from God as well as a time to rest from labor to enjoy the fruits of it. Yahweh draws into the orbit of worship occasions for acknowledging His presence and activity in every sphere.
These three festivals celebrate the work of God the Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer and all males were required to participate in them. The Jewish Rabbis understood this command to include all males except old men, male idiots, and male children less than thirteen years of age. We read of Jesus in Luke 2:41-42—
Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom.
A careful study of the Gospels reveals that Jesus observed the Sabbaths and feasts instituted in the OT. I certainly would not want to be the one standing before Him on Judgment Day, saying, “I had more important things to do on Your holy days than celebrate and worship!”
THE FEAST OF THE UNLEAVENED BREAD was combined with PASSOVER and was celebrated on 14-21 Nisan, or March-April, to keep in remembrance the wonderful deliverance of the Hebrews from Egypt. It was celebrated at the beginning of the barley harvest.
THE FEAST OF HARVEST was also called the FEAST OF WEEKS because it was held seven weeks after the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It was a one-day celebration coming fifty days after the Passover to commemorate the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, and hence came to be known by the Greek word for fifty—PENTECOST.
THE FEAST OF INGATHERING, called also the FEAST OF TABERNACLES. It was celebrated for seven days about the 15th of the month Tisri, September-October, to commemorate the Israelites’ dwelling in tents for forty years in the desert after God delivered them from Egypt.
GOD, OUT OF HIS GREAT WISDOM APPOINTED FESTIVALS AMONG THE JEWS FOR AT LEAST SEVEN REASONS:
FIRST, to perpetuate the memory of those great events, and the wonders He had wrought for the people For example, the Sabbath brought to remembrance the creation of the world; the Passover, the departure out of Egypt; the Pentecost, the giving of the Law; and the Feast of Tabernacles, the forty-year sojourn of their fathers in the desert.
SECOND, to keep Israel faithful to their religion by appropriate ceremonies, in which they were given opportunity to offer sacrifices and serve the LORD.
THIRD, to provide for Israel lawful pleasures, and necessary rest.
FOURTH, to give Israel instruction; for in their religious assemblies the Word of God was always read and explained.
FIFTH, to consolidate Israel’s social union, by renewing the acquaintance of their tribes and families—for on these occasions they come together from different parts of the land to the Holy City.
SIXTH, to tie Israel to the Land and Yahweh. The calendar was not only timed to coincide with their planting and harvest labors, it was also designed to keep Israel’s history and future continually before the nation. In fact, Israel’s calendar became Israel’s catechism, a teaching instrument for succeeding generation, young and old alike. As a perpetual catechism, it constantly remind them of their unique history and identity.
SEVENTH, to foreshadow Christ, Salvation and the Kingdom of God through a Prophetic Calendar that is spelled out in more detail in Leviticus 23. Turn in your Bibles to Chapter 23 of Leviticus and the chart on your bulletin, “Israel’s Appointed Feasts.”
Leviticus 23:4 states—
These are the LORD’s appointed feasts, the sacred assemblies you are to proclaim at their appointed times:
Some of the appointed times or feasts were more solemn than festive. All seven feasts in Leviticus 23 represent the period of full development of the OT dispensation of time and have or will be fulfilled in the NT dispensation. Paul writes in Colossians 2:16-17—
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.
It is crystal clear that THE APPOINTED TIMES AND FEASTS were types, figures, and representations of spiritual things foreshadowed in Christ.
The first two feasts on God’s Calendar is PASSOVER and FEAST OF UNLEAVENED BREAD. These two feasts are contiguous in observance as well as connected in verses 5-8—
The LORD’s Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. 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. On the first day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. For seven days present an offering made to the LORD by fire. And on the seventh day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work.'”
As the first feast, the Passover is basic to all spiritual blessing, because it is grounded in sinful man’s redemption by Christ. Clues and evidence are found in the NT of PASSOVER foreshadowing Christ. For instance, 1 Peter 1:18-19 declares to Christians—
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
1 Corinthians 5:7 states —
Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
The annual celebration of Passover pointed to Christ. To look at Christ and not see Him as the Passover Lamb is to miss Him for who He is.
In Jesus’ day, the sacrifice of the Passover lambs took place at the Temple at twilight, that is the last three hours of the day from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. With the three blasts of the trumpets that announced the beginning of the sacrifices at 3 p.m., Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “It is Finished—Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit” and He breathed His last. The thick curtain in the Temple, dividing the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies, tore from top to bottom, the earth shook and the rocks split!—the Lamb of God was Sacrificed. What significance this gives to John 1:29—
The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
God’s forerunner and prophet, John the Baptist, made the selection of the Passover Lamb for the nation of Israel. John was saying . . .
Jesus is Needed to take away sin.
Jesus is Chosen by God to take away sin.
Jesus is Spotless—He qualifies to take away sin.
Passover is the key to Israel’s existence and the Lamb is the key to the Passover. What the Passover lamb had meant to Israel in Egypt, Jesus became to us on the Cross. The shedding of His blood indicates that His life was indeed given for us, assuring us that the wraths of God will PASSOVER even as the death angel in Egypt passed over the Israelite households with the blood applied to their doorframes.
The OT observance of Passover, therefore, not only looked back to previous redemption, but also looked forward to the coming of the Lamb of God, who would deliver Israel from the bondage of sin. As the Passover brought an enslaved people a new life of liberty and rest, so through Christ’s death the believer is brought into a new life of rest and peace.
In 1 Corinthians 5:7, Paul maintains the connection between Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread for the Christian—
Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
Leaven or Yeast to the Jews was always a symbol of sin and corruption; so, before Passover, they always washed and scoured their houses to remove all traces of leaven. And for seven days following Passover, they were not allowed to come in contact with leaven.
Following the Passover, unleavened bread was to be eaten seven days, demonstrating that the entire span of the believer’s life on earth is to be lived in fellowship with Christ in separation from sin. The bread speaks of communion and fellowship with Christ.
Christ died for us, not to make us like the world, but to make us like God. The LORD’s command is “Be holy for I am holy.” We are to get rid of the old yeast—sin in our life. Galatians 5:9 reminds us—
A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.
Communion with Christ—the Unleavened Bread—is to result in our separation from evil (Yeast or Leaven). Our redemption is to be followed by a holy life and walk—that’s the message of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It pictures God’s people putting sin out of their lives and feeding on the Lamb that they might have strength for the journey.
Do not reverse these two feasts. Nobody is saved by putting away leaven (sin), and nobody will put away sin until first he or she has been saved by the blood! This is the difference between religious reformation and spiritual regeneration, being born again by the Spirit of God.
The next event on God’s Calendar is the bringing of FIRSTFRUITS. Verses 9-14—
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.
On the day you wave the sheaf, you must sacrifice as a burnt offering to the LORD a lamb a year old without defect, together with its grain offering of two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil—an offering made to the LORD by fire, a pleasing aroma—and its drink offering of a quarter of a hin of wine. You must not eat any bread, or roasted or new grain, until the very day you bring this offering to your God. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live.
The sheaf of the firstfruits of the barley harvest typifies Christ’s resurrection, and then those who are His at the Rapture of the Church. 1 Corinthians 15:23 predicts the order of the resurrection—
But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.
Jesus fulfilled FIRSTFRUITS rising from the grave on the third day after Passover—the sixteenth day of Nisan—Sunday! Worshiping on the Lord’s Day is not the invention of the Church, as some people teach. It was written into God’s calendar centuries before.
The priest would wave the first sheaf of grain before the altar as a token that the whole harvest belonged to God. The Father was waiting for Christ’s presentation (His sheaf “being waved”) after His resurrection. Jesus stood before the empty tomb and then in God’s presence, not for Himself personally as much as for us. Christ the firstfruits is a pledge of the coming harvest. Rightly so, 1 Corinthians 15:20 declares—
But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
Because Christ, the Firstfruits, is alive, the entire “resurrection harvest” belongs to God. Not one person will be forgotten. Christ’s promise is certain— “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19).
THE FEAST OF FIRSTFRUITS was celebrated on the sixteenth day of Nisan in the same week as Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, stressing the foundation of holy living and future glorification that lies in redemption.
The fourth appointed time on God’s Calendar is the FEAST OF WEEKS—PENTECOST. Verses 15-21—
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.
Present with this bread seven male lambs, each a year old and without defect, one young bull and two rams. They will be a burnt offering to the LORD, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings—an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the LORD. Then sacrifice one male goat for a sin offering and two lambs, each a year old, for a fellowship offering. The priest is to wave the two lambs before the LORD as a wave offering, together with the bread of the firstfruits. They are a sacred offering to the LORD for the priest. On that same day you are to proclaim a sacred assembly and do no regular work. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live.
PENTECOST was to be observed on the fiftieth day after Passover. It looked back to God’s giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai in 1446 B.C. and forward to His giving of the Holy Spirit on Mt. Zion in A.D. 33.
THE OFFERING OF NEW GRAIN was composed of two loaves of bread, symbolizing Jews and Gentiles baptized into one body, the Church, by the Holy Spirit. The priest presented the loaves as one and not sheaves since all believers were to be united in Christ.
The fact that leaven was allowed in the loaves shows that there is sin in the Church on earth today. That’s what Jesus taught in His Parables of the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew 13. Thank God the day will come when there will be no leaven among God’s people!
There are three feasts in the first month and three in the seventh month, with Pentecost between. This long gap of four months speaks of the Church Age, during which Israel has rejected the Passover Lamb and is scattered across the world. Israel has no temple, no priesthood, no sacrifice, and no king. What is her future? It is seen in the next feasts.
THE FEAST OF TRUMPETS is the Fifth Appointed Time on God’s Calendar and it involves gathering of the harvest. Verses 23-25—
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. Do no regular work, but present an offering made to the LORD by fire.’
We read in Numbers 10:1-2—
The LORD said to Moses: “Make two trumpets of hammered silver, and use them for calling the community together and for having the camps set out.
Why two trumpets? Isaiah 27:12-13 predicts that one trumpet will be for the gathering of Israel back to the Promised Land—
In that day the LORD will thresh from the flowing Euphrates to the Wadi of Egypt, and you, O Israelites, will be gathered up one by one. And in that day a great trumpet will sound. Those who were perishing in Assyria and those who were exiled in Egypt will come and worship the LORD on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.
The other is the Rapture Trumpet to gather the Church to Christ in 1 Corinthians 15:52—
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.
The Blowing of the Trumpets for rapturing the Church and gathering Israel are the next two events on God’s prophetic calendar!
Trumpets were also sounded in Israel for war, and once Christ has the Church off the earth, He will declare war on the nations with the trumpets judgments of the Book of Revelation. The prophet identifies the special blowing of the trumpet in Zion as a warning in Joel 2:1-2—
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming. It is close at hand—a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness.
This is a description of the Tribulation Period following the Rapture—the Catching Out—of the Church. It is also described in Jeremiah 30:7—
How awful that day will be! None will be like it. It will be a time of trouble for Jacob, but he will be saved out of it.
After the Blowing of the Trumpets, comes the Sixth Feast on God’s Calendar—THE DAY OF ATONEMENT. Verses 26-32—
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. 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.”
This solemn occasion prefigures the repentant sorrow of Israel at the nation’s conversion. Israel’s great coming time of self-humiliation and conversion will take place in the Tribulation Period.
Therefore, the Day of Atonement is the only FAST (DENY YOURSELVES) commanded by God. It was the most sobering time of the year for Israel, a time for repentance for the broken law of God.
The Tribulation Period will be the most sobering time of Israel’s history as God humbles the nation and brings it to terms with Himself. The LORD says of this day in Zechariah 12:10—
And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.
The Tribulation—the Day of Atonement—will be a sad stop on God’s Calendar, but a stop that will bring glory to His Name in Israel. This most solemn day of the festal cycle will be the coming highlight of Israel’s history. The whole nation will be saved in one day. Paul quoting from Isaiah declares in Romans 11:26-27—
And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”
The DAY OF ATONEMENT was for the taking away of Israel’s sins. Two goats were selected, one killed. The High Priest took its blood into the Holy of Holies to make atonement. Then he laid both hands on the head of the live goat and confessed over it all wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. The goat was taken carrying on its head all their sins to a solitary place and was released in the desert never to return.
John the Baptist prophetically combined Passover and the Day of Atonement when he said about Jesus, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
Today, unsaved Israel is hopelessly lost without the Temple and its Most Holy Place. Having rejected Jesus Christ, they presently have no access to God. But God’s Prophetic Calendar says the Day of Atonement is coming and all that will change! The prophet predicts in Zechariah 13:1—
On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.
Then all saved Israel will be prepared for the seventh and last appointed time on God’s Prophetic Calendar—the FEAST OF TABERNACLES. Verses 33-36—
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.
This feast speaks of the future Millennial Kingdom that God has promised Israel. This feast followed the final harvest, which teaches us that God will have gathered all of His harvest before Christ establishes His earthly kingdom. This was to be a feast of rejoicing, not sorrow; and certainly all heaven and earth will rejoice when Christ reigns from Jerusalem.
Israel was to live in tabernacles (booths of branches) for seven days. This was to remind them that God brought them out of Egypt so that they might be brought into their own land. It was a time of great rejoicing. Psalm 14:7 looks to this time—
Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!
This is the final stop on God’s calendar before eternity. The Feast of Tabernacles will be celebrated annually during the Millennial Kingdom. Zechariah 14:16-19 predicts—
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. If the Egyptian people do not go up and take part, they will have no rain. The LORD will bring on them the plague he inflicts on the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. This will be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.
We are currently in the middle of God’s Calendar. The next stop is the Rapture of the Church! If Jesus is your Passover, it is your stop, too!
Are you ready for the trumpets to sound?