The Bible contains very specific details about a number of feasts that were instituted by God and were to be observed by the Israelites. There are seven appointed feasts that are intended to be special times for God’s chosen nation to meet with him. Moses was given all the instructions that the Israelites were to follow but these feasts are not just for the Israelites, they are also God’s feasts:
The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘These are my appointed festivals, the appointed festivals of the LORD, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies. (Leviticus 23:1-2 NIV, emphasis added)
It is important to stress that Christian’s are released from the necessity of observing these OT sabbaths, festivals and Holy days:
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. (Colossians 2:16-17 NIV)
However, the passage above also reveals the feasts are a shadow of things to come – in other words, they teach us something about future events.
In essence, there were seven yearly feasts and it appears that they all paint a portrait of Jesus Christ – either at His first coming or second coming. The number “seven” is God’s number of completeness and these feasts combine to illustrate the historical and prophetic plan of God for the redemption of mankind.
Leviticus 23 (among other passages) teach the details of the feasts that there were to be kept as holy days on a yearly basis. The Israelites were instructed to observe these holy days and each one tells a story of God’s dealing with mankind. Many teachings in the NT describe these feasts being fulfilled by Christ and we believe they were appointed in order to point the Jewish people to their Saviour Jesus. Not only this, but we also believe that these feasts serve as yearly rehearsals for BOTH Christ’s first coming and his second coming.
We will briefly explore each of these seven feasts, beginning with the four “spring” feasts and then the three “autumn” feasts. We hope you will see how the spring feasts all point exclusively to Christ and pre-shadow his first coming and were fulfilled with amazing detail. We then describe how the fall feasts could be fulfilled by Christ with equal precision at His second coming. While we cannot be certain exactly how or when they will be fulfilled with Christ’s second coming, given how literally the spring feasts were fulfilled, we have no doubt the same will be true of the autumn feasts.
For the Jewish community, Passover is observed on 14 Nisan (March or April) to commemorate the Israelites deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Details of this feast can be found in both Leviticus 23:4-5 and Exodus 12. It involved the sacrifice of a male lamb, without spot or blemish. The sacrifice of this lamb was performed in a certain way that provides a perfect template for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ:
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 ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1 Peter 1:18-19 NIV)
During the first Passover, the Israelites (and gentiles) who observed this feast were spared destruction from the “angel of death” by sprinkling the sacrificial blood on their doorposts. In an identical concept, the blood of Jesus Christ (our Passover Lamb) also rescues from eternal torment all those who are saved through Christ. The NT teaches that Christians are no longer bound by keeping this feast and that this feast was fulfilled in Christ:
Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch–as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:7-8 NIV)
Our Jesus OUR Passover Lamb article provides greater detail on the amazingly precise way that Jesus performed the role our Passover lamb, in fulfilled of this feast.
Unleavened Bread (Hag HaMatzot)
The feast of Unleavened Bread immediately follows Passover, throughout the period of 15 – 21 Nisan (March or April). A description of this feast can be found in either Leviticus 23:6-8 or Exodus 12:15-20. The days of unleavened bread were to act as a memorial of the Passover. During this feast, the Jewish community could not consume any product containing yeast (leaven), neither could they store yeast in their houses as it was seen as something impure and a polluting agent.
As with the Passover, the negative influence of leaven is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5:
Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch–as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:6-8 NIV)
Leaven here is a reference to sin. The presence of sin permeates all areas of our lives and this feast was to provide a picture of how subtle and destructive this process is. Even the smallest quantity of leaven would leaven the whole lump of bread. It is homogenous and once it is present, it is impossible to remove. Sin works in the same way for mankind – we are all affected by the presence of sin and succumb to its destructive presence. This is why Jesus Christ had to be sinless – no leaven was to be found in him!
Jesus body lay in the tomb during the first days of the feast of unleavened bread waiting to burst forth the resurrected life which is foreshadowed in the feast of firstfruits!
The feast of firstfruits also happens very soon after Passover and during the feast of unleavened bread on 16 Nisan (March or April) – this feast is described in Leviticus 23:9-14. The Israelites were to take a sheaf from the first-fruits of the barley harvest and present it to the priests at the temple. The priest was to “wave” the sheaf up and down acknowledging that it is a blessing from the Lord. We would suggest this is figurative of Jesus dying “down” and being resurrected “up”, thereby defeating death.
It is very important to remember that the account of Jesus Christ does not end with His sacrifice on our behalf. On the day after the first “weekly” Sabbath after the Passover, the Israelites were instructed to take part in the offering of “firstfruits”. This symbolically pointed forward to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead to demonstrate the complete defeat of sin and death for those in Christ Jesus. Paul makes this point to the church in Corinth:
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. (1 Corinthians 15:20-23 NIV)
What else could Jesus Christ have done to demonstrate He really is Lord of Lords and King of Kings? Not only did He take it upon Himself to die in our place – He demonstrated power over sin and death in His resurrection. What a staggering gift for those who will accept Him!
Feast of Weeks/Pentecost (Shavuot)
The Feast of Weeks is celebrated 50 days after Passover on 6 Sivan (May or June), it is a time to present an offering of new grain for the summer to the Lord as described in Leviticus 23:15-22. Deuteronomy 16:16 states all Jewish males are required to go to Jerusalem to “appear before the Lord” on the feast day. This feast has become known as Pentecost, which is Greek for “50”.
As Jesus’ death was on Passover, 50 days after all His believers were in Jerusalem is one place. This was when God poured out his Holy Spirit on His believers:
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 NIV)
The apostle Peter confirms this was a fulfilment of the prophet Joel:
No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ (Acts 2:16-21 NIV)
Peter followed on by saying the risen Jesus had poured out the Holy Spirit:
God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. (Acts 2:32-33 NIV)
As a result, more than 3000 were baptized on this same feast day:
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:41 NIV)
Feast of Trumpets or New Year (Yom HaTeruah / Rosh HaShanah)
This feast is the first of the “fall feasts” and is observed on either the 1st or 2nd Tishri (September or October) and is detailed in Leviticus 23:23-25. Unusually, the OT gives no specific reason for this feast, but the Jews understood the blowing of trumpets to be a call to repentance in order to prepare to appear for trial before God to receive judgment.
There appears to be a strong connection between this Jewish feast and the rapture of the faithful Church that described in the NT:
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 NIV, emphasis added)
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 Corinthians 15:51-52 NIV, emphasis added)
We believe these two passages indicate that the rapture of the Church described here could be the ultimate fulfilment of the OT feast of trumpets that will usher in a time of God’s judgment on an unbelieving earth.
Another interesting feature of this feast is that it is dated by the first glimmer of a new moon and because of this it can occur anytime during a 48hr period. Because of this, it is the ONLY feast day of which it is true to say that no man knows the “day nor the hour”. Of course, we should not be dogmatic about this – however, it certainly is an interesting feast day. We do know for sure that the date of the rapture of the Church cannot be dated and we are instructed not to attempt to date it.
Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur)
This is the day that the high priest makes atonement for sin. It is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar held on 10 Tishri (September or October), described in Leviticus 23:26-32. Yom Kippur is the final day of the “days of repentance”, which include Rosh HaShanah. This day is the only day of the year the high priest will enter the Holy of Holies in the temple to make a sacrifice. The sacrifice is to pay for the high priest’s sin and the sins of the people. Once the atonement sacrifice was complete the high priest would release a goat into the wilderness, This goat, known as the “scapegoat” carried all of Israel’s sins away. It is a solemn day of fasting and prayer for the Jewish people.
Within the temple, the Holy of Holies is separated by a veil reaching from the floor to the ceiling. When Jesus died upon the cross this veil was ripped completely in two:
It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23:44-46 NIV)
Christ entered the Holy of Holies, heaven itself, as the high priest to pay for our eternal redemption, not with the blood of goats, but with His own blood. Although this is a fairly long quote from Scripture, it is worth reading through:
But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance–now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. When Moses had proclaimed every command of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:11-28 NIV, emphasis added)
Jesus paid the final atonement for our sins:
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood–to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished (Romans 3:21-25 NIV, emphasis added)
Since 70 AD, when the temple was destroyed, the high priest can no longer make atonement for the sins of the Jewish people. It is Jesus Christ who we must all look upon to have our sins forgiven since he paid for all of us upon the cross.
Many believe it could be on this feast day in the future that Jesus’ second coming will occur. When Jesus does return, it will be a day that Israel sees Him as their Messiah and repent, and they will be forgiven:
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. (Zechariah 12:10 NIV)
I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way 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.” (Romans 11:25-27 NIV)
Feast of Booths or Tabernacles (Sukkot)
The feast of tabernacles is a seven-day festival that is celebrated from 15 – 22 Tishri (September or October). Full details of this feast can be found in Leviticus 23:33-43. The Jewish community were instructed to build and live inside booths during this time to remember the time when God brought the Israelites out of Egypt and the Israelites dwelled in booths. This is a very joyful time that includes singing, dancing, feasting and rejoicing and commemorates the fact that God dwelt with or “tabernacled” with Israel throughout the travels and journeys.
The most likely future fulfilment of the feast of tabernacles is in the millennial reign of Christ on earth, described in Revelation 20, when Christ will literally dwell with man. We know that this feast will continue to be observed during this time:
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 Festival 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 Festival of Tabernacles. This will be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles. (Zechariah 14:16-19 NIV, emphasis added)
We feel it is possible that Jesus Christ was born during the feast of tabernacles. We know it was a feast time because there was “no room at the inn” which means Bethlehem must have been an unusually busy place. It would be entirely appropriate for our Saviour to be born during this festival to symbolise him dwelling with humanity during this feast:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 NIV, emphasis added)
It was during the feast of tabernacles that Jesus spoke these great words:
On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:37-38 NIV)
The Seven Feasts
We have now had a brief look at each of the yearly feasts as stipulated in the Torah and how they apply to Jesus Christ. During the yearly calendar, the Jews were required to journey to Jerusalem three times a year as part of these feasts periods:
Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks and the Festival of Tabernacles. No one should appear before the LORD empty-handed: (Deuteronomy 16:16 NIV)
As you can see from above, the Israelites were not to appear empty-handed before the Lord on these three occasions and we would suggest that as believers in Christ, we should not appear empty-handed either. The first feast of the year that required the journey to Jerusalem was the feast of unleavened bread. As mentioned above, the leaven is figurative of sin and as Christian’s, it is our responsibility to remove the presence of leaven (sin) from our lives wherever possible. The second feast referred to here is the feast of Weeks (Pentecost) where the Holy Spirit was poured out on the new followers of Christ. Equally, our own lives should be “Spirit-filled” and the fruits of the spirit should be evident to others as we walk with Christ. The final feast of the year that the Jews would go to Jerusalem is the Feast of Trumpets which we suspect pre-shadows the rapture of the Church. It is at this point that we will all appear before our Lord and Judge, Jesus Christ, and we should not be empty-handed here either. How fruitful will our lives have been and what will we have done with our “talents”? Will we be able to demonstrate that we have shared Christ with our unsaved friends and discipled our saved friends? It is this point that the believer receives rewards for the fruits of their work:
their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved–even though only as one escaping through the flames. (1 Corinthians 3:13-15 NIV)
Two additional feasts
In addition to the seven feasts described above, there are two other feast days that the Jewish community celebrate that are worth mentioning. The Feast of Dedication and the Feasts of Lots are celebrated in remembrance of significant events in Jewish history and serve as vivid reminders of God’s sovereign protection over his chosen nation. Although the New Testament does not indicate that these feasts are fulfilled by Jesus Christ in the same way as the Feasts instituted by Moses, we have briefly described them below as they provide a more thorough understanding to the yearly Jewish calendar.
Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah/Chanukah)
The feast of Dedication celebrates the Maccabee’s victory over the Greeks in 165 BC. The temple was rededicated after being defiled by the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes. It is celebrated between 25 Kislev – 2 Tevet (November or December). This feast is also known as the Feast of lights as during the rededication a miracle took place with the oil for the temple light. To rededicate the temple the light needed to be burning continuously for eight days but there was only enough oil for one day. God kept the flame burning for the whole eight days until more oil could be obtained.
Although not recorded in the Bible, it is seen as an important time of remembrance and celebration, the events were recorded in the book of Maccabees (in the Apocrypha). Jesus even celebrated this as John tells us:
Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, (John 10:22 NIV)
Hanukkah is a reminder that God is faithful to his believers. God will not leave us and we should remain faithful to him in times of persecution, seeking courage and strength:
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12 NIV)
Feast of Lots (Purim)
Purim is celebrated each year on 14 or 15 Adar (February or March) to remember Haman’s failed plot to kill all the Jews in King Xerxes’s kingdom. The feast is named Purim (which means “lots”) as Haman cast lots to decided on the day to kill the Jewish people (Esther 3:7). Esther was the Jewish Queen in Shushan and it was her cousin, Mordecai, who uncovered the plot and warned her, who then told the king. The whole story is covered in the book of Esther.
The feast is a celebration of God’s protection over His people. Although God is not mentioned in the book of Esther, is provision is clearly seen. Just as the Jews in Shushan had an irrevocable decree put against them, which God delivered them from, we all have an irrevocable decree against us because of our sin and deserve death. But Jesus Christ delivers all those who believe in Him from that decree:
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 NIV)
The Bible passage we quoted at the top of this article releases the Christian from the necessity of strictly observing any festival. Although Christmas and Easter were formally pagan festivals that were “Christianised”, they can and do provide great opportunities to share and promote the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, we would add that we feel there is great value in recognising and commemorating the Jewish feast days as they all teach us something of Jesus Christ – they either point us to His first coming or His second coming. We would question the logic of completely ignoring the Jewish feasts that were instigated by God and were celebrated by Christ to then replace them with commercialised holidays that were previously pagan festivals. Neither Christmas or Easter had anything to do with Jesus Christ until they were hijacked by the early church but the biblical feasts teach us intimate details about Jesus Christ and the way of salvation for mankind. Not only this, they illuminate and reveal features of the two most important events in eternity – the first and second coming of Christ! This is obviously a judgment call for every Christian – however, we would strongly encourage every believer to invest some time to learn about the Jewish feasts and discover that Jesus Christ is at the centre of each one. We will be greatly enriched by making a study of the Jewish feasts a priority!
Calendar of Future Feasts
|Passover||April 19||April 9||March 28||April 16||April 6|
|Unleavened Bread||April 20||April 10||March 29||April 17||April 7|
|Firstfruits||April 21||April 11||March 30||April 18||April 8|
|Pentecost||June 9||May 29||May 17||June 5||May 26|
|Trumpets||September 30||September 19||September 7||September 26||September 16|
|Day of Atonement||October 9||September 28||September 16||October 5||September 25|
|Tabernacles||October 14||October 3||September 21||October 10||September 30|
|Dedication||December 23-30||December 11-18||Nov 29 – Dec 6||December 19-26||December 8-15|
|Lots (Purim)||March 21||March 10||February 26||March 17||March 7|