Within the New Testament, we see the Apostles observing the biblical festivals. For instance, Paul spends Passover in Philippi and then hurries back to Jerusalem so he can celebrate the festival of Shavuot (Pentecost) at the temple (Acts 20:6, 16)
Despite this, early in the Church’s history, Christians moved away from celebrating the biblical festivals. In modern times, believers within the Messianic, Hebrew Roots, and Torah Movement have begun to celebrate the biblical festivals again realizing these festivals point to the work of Christ on the cross. For those within the mainstream Christian Church, these groups have taken on too much Jewish tradition in an attempt to “look” Jewish. But are Christians missing something? If we strip away the rabbinic traditions associated with these festivals we can see the wonderful prophetic point God has made in the festival cycle proscribed by the Old Testament texts.
There are five main holidays in the festival cycle that God commands the children of Israel to celebrate. Each year the festival cycle recounts the redemption of Israel from Egypt and the journey to make this nation clean and acceptable to the coming King that would unite in covenantal relationship with her and rule over her for eternity. This festival cycle also shows the personal salvation of every single person, the coming of our returning King, the outcome of the coming day of judgment, and the eternal joy and peace we as believers will have when our King finally reigns supreme from His throne in Jerusalem.
The first festival is Passover which celebrates the children of Israel being miraculously freed from slavery to Egypt. The image of a lamb that is slaughtered and the blood that is put on the doorpost in order for the destroyer to pass by shows the work Jesus would do on the cross on behalf of His elect. The events that took place on the first Passover were not just done so that Israel could be freed from the oppressive Pharaoh, but also served as a prophecy of our redemption from sin through the shed blood of God’s only begotten Son. The payment for sin through blood and the death of a first-born son was prophesying the Messianic figure who would bring about redemption and make us no longer slaves to darkness (Egypt) but slaves to light (service to Christ).
Israel walks through the water of the Red Sea, a foreshadow of our baptism by water into the service of Christ washing away of sin and cleansing unto the Almighty God.
Directly connected to this is Shavuot (Pentecost). This festival is connected to Passover through the counting of the omer. The omer was an offering of grain each day in the temple for 50 consecutive days. These days are counted until we arrive at the giving of the covenant which was originally given at Mt. Sinai. God’s people have been taken out of service to Pharaoh and are now going to serve the Almighty God. The covenant is the contract between God and His people that they will serve Him and they will be His people. Covenant stipulations are given showing God’s people are set apart unto Him and instruct His bride how they are to be sanctified unto the Lord. This festival ultimately highlights the continued work of sanctification that we as believers continue to pursue. The giving of the Holy Spirit on this festival in the book of Acts shows that the Covenant inclusion and the payment for sin by the Son of God are not only for the people of Israel but extends to all nations. Through the giving of the Holy Spirit on this festival, we are to understand that the Abrahamic Covenant is being fulfilled through the Gospel message.
Yom Teruah (Rosh HaShanah)
After a stretch of time, we now come to the fall festivals. Little is said in the Scriptures about the festival of Yom Teruah, or what is commonly referred to as Rosh HaShanah. The shofar is to be heard (Lev. 23:24) and it is a joyous occasion. Like all of the Biblical festivals, Yom Teruah holds a dual meaning. The blast of the shofar wakes us to the fact that God is coming to earth to redeem His people. God comes in human form to pay the price for Sin. This event took place when Christ first came through the virgin birth (Luke 1-2). Yom Teruah also prophecies the second coming of our King:
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
(1 Thessalonians 4.16 ESV)
Ultimately, Yom Teruah marks the coming of the Great King!
After Yom Teruah we count ten days and arrive at Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. Before the coming of our Messiah, this day was a prophecy of the work Christ would do on the cross to pay for the sins of His people and redeem the people of Israel from their sins. Now, this day is a time to reflect on the price that was paid by our King in order to wash us clean from our transgressions. Yom Kippur also looks forward to the day of judgment when we will stand before Christ and give an account:
I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12.36–37 ESV)
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (1 Corinthians 4.3–5 ESV)
As believers, we have an assurance that the price for sin has been paid by the Messiah and that we have been declared “not guilty” (John 3:16-21, Rom. 6:23). This day is a day of reflection on the price that has been paid by Christ on our behalf. It is a time to consider the shed blood that was given to pay the price for our sins. Within the Torah, God says Yom Kippur should be a day to “afflict your soul” (Lev. 16:29-31). This has been understood to mean Yom Kippur is a day of fasting. For believers, this is a time that is bittersweet as we realize that although we have been declared “not guilty” because of the price paid by Christ, we also realize that we are sinners that do sin, which grieves the Holy Spirit.
The final festival in the cycle is the festival of Sukkot (booths). At first glance, this festival seems a bit odd, as God commands His people to dwell in booths, or temporary structures for seven days (Lev. 23:42-43). God tells the people of Israel that they are to dwell in booths because this is what Israel did when God brought them out of the land of Egypt. The people of God had been promised a land flowing with milk and honey, but due to their rebellion, God made them wander in the desert for forty years.
But why should we remember this? It is because the seven days of dwelling in temporary structures are to represent that this life is temporary. Just as God finally brought His people into the promised land, we too will soon dwell with the King as He rules His kingdom.
Another aspect of this is that Christ came and dwelled among His people. The Almighty God came in human form and was born in a stable so that we could live with Him for eternity.
Lev. 23 tells us to dwell in booths for seven days, but then on the eighth day, there is a Sabbath day to the Lord. The eighth day is significant because our weeks only last seven days and then start again, but on the festival of Sukkot, we have an eighth day. This represents eternity with Christ. Lev. 23 states:
“Speak to the people of Israel, saying, On the fifteenth day of this seventh month and for seven days is the Feast of Booths to the LORD… For seven days you shall present food offerings to the LORD. On the eighth day, you shall hold a holy convocation and present a food offering to the LORD. It is a solemn assembly; you shall not do any ordinary work. (Leviticus 23.34, 36 ESV)
This eighth day is the culmination of the entire festival cycle. We were saved by the blood of the lamb during Passover, we were sanctified unto God at Pentecost, we saw the Almighty God coming to earth to save His people, and His return on Yom Teruah. We were declared “not guilty” because of Christ’s sacrifice, and His blood paid the price for our sin so we will owe nothing on the day of judgment which we see at Yom Kippur, and because of this, we will live in eternity with Christ which we celebrate during the festival of booths.
The Biblical Festivals Conclusion
One of the things that have struck me as I have studied the biblical festivals is that these joyous times are meant to point us to Christ. Every time my family celebrates them we learn something new, realize something we hadn’t before and come closer to our savior because of them. They are designed to shine the Messiah through the year and to turn our hearts to Christ. I believe that every Christian should celebrate these festivals because at the center of each one is Jesus.
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