THE RELEVANCE OF CHRISTIANS CELEBRATING OLD TESTAMENT FEASTS
Please refer to these scriptures as you read.
It is important to see from the start that as Christians we do not “keep” the Feasts so much as “celebrate” them. In other words, we’re not obliged to do so but rather delight in their rich significance to us. Often labelled “Jewish Feasts” people wonder if those who celebrate them are trying to be Jewish. Actually, they are biblically called Feasts of the Lord (Leviticus 23:1,2,4,44 – The Lord said to Moses, say to the Israelites, The set feasts or appointed seasons of the Lord which you shall proclaim as holy convocations, even My set feasts, are these. These are the set feasts or appointed seasons of the Lord, holy convocations you shall proclaim at their stated times. Thus Moses declared to the Israelites the set or appointed feasts of the Lord).
As to their relevance in our times the Word says (Leviticus 23:14,21,31 – it shall be statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings)
We, as Gentiles have come into the household of God through the work of His Son, Y’shua. (Ephesians 2:12,13,19 – That at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, you who sometimes were far off are made near, by the blood of Christ. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.) We now share in the rich inheritance of the family of God. How quick we are to “claim” so many promises and blessings given to the Jewish people and yet hesitate when it comes to the Feasts.
As we look at Church History we see how gradually the Feasts of the Lord were replaced by Christian versions thereof. We now have Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Harvest Festivals amongst others. In some modern gatherings even these have disappeared as “irrelevant”. We also find out in Zechariah that during the Millennial Reign of Jesus from Jerusalem, that the nations are commanded to keep the Feast of Tabernacles or receive no rain, (14:16,17 – And every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, and to keep the feast of Tabernacles or booths. And it shall be, that whoso of the families of the earth shall not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, upon them there shall be no rain.) Believers, who celebrate the season of Tabernacles, are practicing these things already and make a prophetic statement of things to come.
It is said that you remember far more of that which you see than that which you hear or read. I believe the Lord has used these annual feasts to visually depict His plan with mankind. Each looked forward to a fulfilment “in Christ” and each can be looked back on, to see God’s initial purposes and plan. Don’t you sometimes feel because we are so far removed from all the blood and sacrifice that took place, that we might not always realise the immense cost involved, where the innocent die for the guilty?
It is also important for us to see that Jesus celebrated each Feast, although He Himself fulfils each of them. He didn’t consider them obsolete or unimportant any longer. Some believe that everything in the Old Testament has passed away now that the New Covenant was made. I believe that the early Church, made up mostly of Jewish believers, would have celebrated their pilgrimages to Jerusalem with such thanksgiving and awe, now understanding the deeper aspects of how Y’shua fulfilled them.
There is legalism in keeping these feasts, rather that they become teaching tools to help our families honour God. Our fellowship for instance, does not usually celebrate the feasts on the exact date according to the Hebraic calendar but we select the most suitable for our congregation.
What we need to look at now is a brief overview of the annual running of the Lords’ Feasts and then relate them to the Lord’s finished work. before we begin with the feasts we see that God calls us to remember His Shabbat.
In Leviticus 23 there is laid out for us God’s appointed times. First on His list of Holy Days was the Sabbath from the Hebrew “Shabbat” meaning “rest”. (Genesis 2:1-3) tells us right in the beginning as God finished His work, He rested. Celebrating Shabbat each week is a memorial to His creation. It also reminds us that we “messed it up” and broke “the rest” and peace that was ours, as in the Garden of Eden. As a result, we labour for the rest of the week. But on Shabbat (whichever day you make it) we draw aside from toil and earning and spend time with our Maker and our loved ones. By realising each week the eternal rest that is our in Y’shua and the hope set before us. I believe we honour God’s memorial. Soon the Lord will allow us back into the “Garden of Eden” (Numbers 28 & 29). See also (Ex 20:8-11, Ex 23:12-17, Deut 5:12, Mark 2:27, Matt12:7-12, Deut 16:16)
There are seven feasts established by God, divided into three pilgrimages that all Jewish men made to Jerusalem. This was to fulfil the command that the sacrifices be made at the altar of God, i.e. the Tabernacle and later the Temple. As we go through these we shall see the steps we take in our relationship with God. Passover deals with that first step; namely Atonement or “making peace” with God.
Before we move on to the instructions concerning Passover, we need to go right back again to Adam and Eve when they disobeyed the Lord. They saw death for the first time as God slayed an animal so the blood could “cover” their sin (Gen 3:21 – For Adam also and for his wife the Lord God made long coats (tunics) of skins, and clothed them.) Their sin was temporarily dealt with, until Jesus (the Lamb of God) came. They still lost the presence of God. Then again the thread of the redemptive plan is picked up in Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son. Another pointer that “God would provide a lamb” (Gen 22). As the people became enslaved and ill-treated in Egypt, the Lord’s plan to deliver them and take for Himself a Bride, was unfolding. Again, the sacrifice for each family was a lamb. But this time the Lord commanded that His act of redemption be remembered forever, through all generations, at the Passover Celebration each year. (Ex 12:1-14 and Lev 23:5) finds the instruction of Passover.
The Passover is a memorial to the Hebrew’s deliverance from Egypt. But the deliverance came only to those who had been protected by the coverage of the lamb’s blood, sealing them off from the angel of death’s “passing over”. They were covered by the blood of an innocent one in order to know God’s release and peace. Now He would start an incredible walk with a people, chosen to show the world, Who he was. But they had to also choose Him, in the act of circumcision before He would bring them out of Egypt. At the cross we choose to answer the same call to be part of His people, by circumcising our hearts and saying “yes” to the One who shed His blood and has passed over our sin. (John 1:29 – The next day John saw Jesus coming to him and said, Look! There is the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world! Also Isaiah 53).
Otherwise we are still “in Egypt” and the angel of death (eternal) has full rights to claim us. We, as Gentiles are now “grafted into” the family, the tree, the nation of God, inheriting the same promises and blessings covenanted by God with His Jewish people. (Ephesians 2:12-13)
Now we have passed from one life into another – thus we are born-again. This feast represents our first encounter with God. We can look back each year from where we have come, rejoicing in our freedom “in Him”. Also, every time we take the Lord’s supper, we remember our Passover Lamb slain “from the foundation of the world”.
Finally have a look at 1 Cor 5:7-8.
FEAST OF UNLEAVENED BREAD
The second feast was that of Unleavened Bread. This was to be started the day after Passover, for a week, in which the people ate only unleavened bread. This teaches us about separation from all that is filthy and unclean in the sight of the Lord. The Lord wants to take us on to higher ground. He loves us too much to leave us as we are.
The Hebrews came out of Egypt so suddenly, there was no time for the bread to rise. That leaven became symbolic of the old lifestyle under bondage in Egypt. In religious Jewish homes today, so much preparation is done to make sure no leaven is left behind in the “spring cleaning”. What a lesson for us. I see this period, as a time for being willing to change the old habits and ways that we have perhaps slipped back into. Jesus is the Bread of Life without sin. (2 Cor 5:21, 1 John 3:5). During the Feast of Unleavened Bread He performed an amazing statement of Himself with the feeding of five thousand from five loaves of barley and two fishes. The next day He told them He was the Bread of Life. (John 6:32-35). As He broke the bread at His final Passover, He was showing His disciples how He would be broken, in order to redeem all of us.
FEAST OF THE FIRST FRUITS
The third feast in this first pilgrimage was that of First Fruits. (Lev 23:9-14)
On the day after Sabbath (Sunday morning) the priests would wave two barley sheaves before the Lord. This was to consecrate the whole harvest that was to come in later. They also acknowledged that the land, the crops, and the full harvest belonged to Him. Do you see how fulfilling is the scripture in (1 Corinthians 15:20-23) as Jesus our Messiah is the first fruit of the believers to come? He was resurrected from the dead on the first day of the week, the first from the grave, the first fruit of the Kingdom. WOW! What a wonderful dance can be done with the waving of the barley sheaves at that time of the year to say to the world that nothing can prevent God’s harvest coming in, and what a responsibility for us to be part of bringing it in.
Therein also, is a promise of our being raised up as He was. We will not die but just sleep. (Job 19:25-26)
In the Feast of Unleavened Bread I see the dying to self to everything old. I believe that here the command to be baptized is realized. As we go under the water we are buried with Christ and this visual demonstration speaks loudly to the world of separation from the old way of life. In the Feast of First Fruits – we are resurrected from the grave (up out of the water of baptism) and born again. We should be committed to living holy lives, pleasing to God. We are no longer our own – “bought with a price” (Gal 2:20, 2 Cor 5:17, Rom 6:11-14, Gal 5:16)
After we have tried to separate ourselves from the unclean (Feast of Unleavened Bread), we go on to consecration or holiness (First Fruits). With an attitude of first love, we give the first fruits of our lives in response to what has been done for us, i.e. time, finances, pleasures, relationships, talents, careers, etc. basically, it’s an attitude of gratitude which is our “reasonable service” (Rom 12:1).
The second pilgrimage or fourth feast is Shavout or Pentecost. This Greek word means “fifty” and this occurred fifty days after First Fruits. The Hebrew word Shavout means “Weeks” i.e. Feast of Weeks. Through this feast we can know the Power of God. This is our fourth step toward God. (Read Lev 23:15-22 for the full instruction of Shavout or Pentecost).
At this feast two loaves of bread were waved before the Lord to thank Him for the barley harvest and to show their dependence on Him for their daily bread. It is also believed that the law was given from Mount Sinai at Shavout. This has become the more emphasized element amongst the Jewish people now.
God’s timing is so exact. He chooses a time when all peoples would be in Jerusalem (celebrating Shavuot) to send the Holy Spirit. Jesus spoke about this when He told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Promise (Acts 1:4-8).
He was with them for forty days and they received the Holy Spirit ten days later at Pentecost. The purpose was to empower the disciples to witness. What amazing timing! Three thousand responded to the disciples' powerful witness that day – the beginning of the church.
Many believe the two loaves waved, stood for Jew and Gentile believers, made with the one same fine flour of Christ. Both with leaven but with the power of the Holy Spirit they can be overcomers.
Jesus fulfilled the Feast of Pentecost as the Glorified Lord who baptizes in the Holy Spirit. We notice in Acts a transformation in the characters of the disciples, once doubting, ashamed of Jesus, denying Him and running away, now bold, persecuted for their faith, willing to die, totally empowered and convinced of their cause. This is what the Baptism of the Holy Spirit can do for us too. Even Jesus had to be Baptized in the Spirit and water before ministering (Matthew 3:16-17). But He was limited, in that He could only do so much in His human form. But now through us (His body) He is able to bring in His harvest if we are willing and effective through His empowering by the Holy Spirit. It’s not our efforts as He says : “Not by might nor by power but by My Spirit.” (Zech 4:6)
The next feast season was Tabernacles. It consisted of three feasts i.e. Trumpets, Atonement and Tabernacles. It is a season of rest, the wheat harvest is all in, and the land and people rest. Remember the three phases : Passover teaches how to make peace with God, Pentecost how to receive His power and now Tabernacles how to receive His rest. This season is still to be realized.
The prophetic significance of these Feasts is that they represent the final dealing with our present age and the coming again of our Lord Jesus, not as the Lamb of God but now the Lion of Judah, King of Kings, and Prince of Peace. He will now “tabernacle” with His people forever. He will rule the nations with a rod of iron and we will live for one thousand years in peace, in Jerusalem, until He does away with this present world and ushers in the new heaven and earth, the New Jerusalem.
FEAST OF TRUMPETS
The start of this season after the long, hot summer was the Feast of Trumpets. This was to prepare the people as a wake up call for the Day of Atonement ten days later (Lev 23:23-25).
Each new month started with the blowing of the shofar (ram’s horn) but on this month, Tishri (Jewish New Year namely Rosh Ha Shanah, meaning “head of the year”) extra loud, extra long, all day blowing was heard. (There are many wonderful accounts of the effect of blowing of the shofar in scripture).
The one we can all look forward to, is recorded in 1 Thes 4:16-17 when the trumpet is blown, as Jesus returns. For many it will be terrible but for us who wait it will mean Glory. (Rev 11:15) See also (Rev 19:11, Joel 2:1). We all need to understand God’s shofar calls in our lives: wake up, work for the Kingdom, etc. Are we ready?
DAY OF ATONEMENT (YOM KIPPUR)
This is the sixth feast as found in Lev 23:26-32. On this day the sins of Israel were covered as the priest went into the Holy of Holies on behalf of the people and himself. The “ten days of awe”, heading up to this, were spent on reflecting and remembering their sin, and the day spent in fasting and repentance. Anyone not doing so could suffer death from God.
THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES (Leviticus 23:33-34; 42-43)
The celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles is a very special time since this feast has so much to teach us about God, ourselves and the future. The Feast is therefore rich in instruction and given that it is a joyous celebration, makes its observance more special.
A casual glance at this celebration will reveal that central to its observance is a leafy type construction similar to a small hut. This leafy house or succah, from which we get the term ”The Feast of Succot or Tabernacles”, is the focal point of the festival. Jewish homes throughout the world will build these booths on their verandas, balconies and patios. They will, much to the children’s delight, decorate them with fruit, pictures and streamers. Some families will eat all their meals in a succah and even spend a night or two sleeping in them. Scripture reveals that this feast will be celebrated by all nations in the perfect Messianic age (Zech 14:16-20) and thus it is a universal celebration incorporation both Jew and Gentile. So what does it in fact signify? Well in all, four things:
1. In terms of the past it commemorates the time when the Israelites came out of Egypt, wandered in the wilderness and lived in booths or succahs. These structures are weak and in fact no real refuge from the harsh natural Middle Eastern climate. They therefore constituted a statement! That is, they reflected the believer’s dependence upon God for protection and security. Man was made to live under the rule of God. This fact was most vividly demonstrated on the great day of the Feast when, as the long hot summer was coming to an end, water, which was by now in short supply, was poured out before God; A ceremony vividly depicting man’s dependence upon God for life’s sustaining resources. It was at this time, just as the water was being poured out, that Jesus invited the thirsty to come to Himself and drink from the waters of eternal life (John 7:37-38).
2. In terms of the present it symbolizes the gathering in of the harvest. That is, the harvest of men, women and children, from every corner of the world, into the Kingdom of God (Rev 5:9). It was therefore also an agricultural festival. At this very time God is grafting many Gentile nations – “wild olives” – into the natural Olive Tree of Israel (Rom 11:17-19). Our rejoicing at this celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles underlines this.
3. In terms of men and women from every tribe, tongue and nation of the world the Feast of Tabernacles reflects this vast and differing company by the “waving of the species” or lulav. (Lev 23:40-41). Four plant species are held together by the worshiper. The species are palm, myrtle, willow and etrog, a type of citrus. Each species is symbolic of the type of person you will find in the world:
THE PALM TREE – Those with understanding of God but without fragrance – that is, a life that does not speak of His presence.
THE ETROG – Those with understanding of God and with fragrance. That is a life that also speaks of His presence.
THE MYRTLE – Those with little understanding of God but fragrance nevertheless. – and
THE WILLOW – Those without understanding of God and without fragrance.
Hopefully, as all four come into contact, so the knowledge and fragrance of God will spread around. This is why all four tree species are held together by the worshiper at Succot. Paul the apostle spoke of this truth when he declared, “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death to death and to the other the aroma of life to life. And who is sufficient for these things.” (2 Cor 2:15-16).
4. In terms of the future, the Feast of Tabernacles look towards the Messianic Age (Zech 14). It will forever demonstrate God’s triumph in Messiah over all that is evil and God’s dwelling eternally with men.
I think the last day harvest amongst Gods people (the Jewish nation) is going to surpass everything we imagined, as He faithfully
gathers in those who “cut off” for our sakes, whilst he dealt with the heathen nations (Rom 11). Hosanna – meaning “Save Now”, is a
cry, out from their hearts, as they start to recognize “Him whom they have pierced”. It is interesting that the closing Psalm sung at Tabernacles is 118 in which they cry “Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!” Didn’t Jesus say that to Jerusalem before He left, that His people would have to invite Him back!! (Matthew 23:37-39)
As the people concluded these Psalms on the Great day of the Feast, Jesus stood up in the Temple and said : (John 7:37,38 – Now on the final and most important day of the feast, Jesus stood forth and He cried in a loud voice, If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink! He who believes in Me – who cleaves to and trusts in and relies on Me – as the Scriptures has said, out from his innermost being springs and rivers of living water shall flow (continuously)). He was saying “I am your Salvation”. It caused much division. (John 7:43).
Another major happening is the lighting of the temple. All the pilgrims came with lit torches and the place was so beautifully lit up for miles and miles. The next day, Jesus said “I am the Light of the World” (John 8:12).
When the Lord reigns in Jerusalem, all the nations have to keep the Feast and go up to worship Him at Tabernacles! Those nations that defy Him will experience no rain (Zech 14:16-17). Some say this could be a spiritual drought, (no Holy Spirit), others think, drought. The Feast of Tabernacles could represent the one thousand year reign of Jesus on earth as He brings rest to the
world. (Rev 20:1-6) Isaiah saw this as he wrote (51:11). The final Rest of God comes with the new Heaven and Earth from (Rev 21:1-6, Rev 22:1-5). I want to be there – how about you?
There is so much more covering wonderful truths of the Feasts, but I hope to have whet your appetite to study further and see how you as a dancer could bring these visual aids to your congregation, to depict our walk with the Lord.
DANCE LEADER AND CHOREOGRAPHER OF “REJOICE DANCE COMPANY”