What is the meaning of the seven Jewish festivals?
The phrase “Hindsight is 20/20” refers to the fact that it is easier to analyze and evaluate events after they have already happened, rather than beforehand or when you’re in the middle of them. Hindsight refers to looking back or reflecting on things in the past, and 20/20 refers to perfect vision. So when we look back on situations in the past, we see things clearly that were not clear to us at the time. The phrase has been applied to the COVID-19 pandemic. And it is applied to the Jewish Festivals in this post.
In Biblical times the Israelites (or Jews) were required to celebrate major festivals (or feasts) annually in spring and autumn (fall). These commands were given at Mount Sinai via Moses about 1445BC (Lev. 23:4-44).
God planned the sequence and timing of each of these seven festivals to reveal a special story. The seven annual festivals of Israel were spread over seven months of the Jewish calendar, at set times appointed by God. But the meaning of the festivals will not be understood by many Jews until they are regathered before the second coming of Christ.
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that the spring festivals are related to the first coming of Jesus Christ to earth as the Jewish Messiah:
– Jesus was crucified on the day of the Passover Festival. Because He died for our sins, Jesus was like the Passover lamb who died to save the firstborn of the Israelites in Egypt.
– Jesus was in the grave on the first day of the Festival of Unleavened (without yeast) Bread. In Scripture yeast is a symbol of sin (1 Cor. 5:7-8). Because He was a sinless sacrifice, Jesus was like unleavened bread.
– Jesus rose from the dead on the day of the Festival of Firstfruits. Because He was the first person to be resurrected and die no more, Jesus was like the firstfruits of the barley harvest. The rest of the “harvest” is when all true Christians will be resurrected at the rapture and other believers will be resurrected at the second coming of Christ.
– After His resurrection Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem to receive the Holy Spirit and this happened on the first day of the Harvest Festival (Pentecost). Because the early Jewish believers were the firstfruits of many more who would choose to follow Jesus (Jas. 1:18), they were like the firstfruits of the wheat harvest. From the day of Pentecost they were indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
So when Christ died a significant event associated with His first coming occurred on each of the Spring Festivals.
It has been suggested that the Autumn Festivals may be related in a similar way to the second coming of Christ. This is less certain than the spring festivals relationships because we don’t have the benefit of hindsight. But before we consider this proposal, we need to look at some other topics.
“Mysteries” in the New Testament
The Greek noun mysterion (Strongs #3466) is used in the New Testament to describe a new revelation from God. It occurs in 28 verses of the Bible. The new topics revealed include the deity, death, resurrection and reign of Jesus Christ; the church; and the rapture (Appendix A). This means that these truths are not mentioned in the Old Testament. So it is not surprising that in the first century the Jews were expecting a conquering Messiah to overthrow the Romans, not a suffering Messiah to die for their sins.
A parenthesis in human history
The description of the church as a “mystery” (new revelation) in Ephesians 3:2-14 occurs in a literary parenthesis in this letter. It is also interesting to note that the present church age is a parenthesis in the history of God’s dealings with humanity. Since the day of Pentecost, God has been working through the Church. The nation of Israel has been temporarily set aside.
According to MacDonald, “During most of the period of history recorded in the Old Testament, God was dealing primarily with the Jewish people. In fact, from Genesis 12 through Malachi 4 the narrative centers almost exclusively on Abraham and his descendants. When the Lord Jesus came to earth, He was rejected by Israel. As a result, God set aside that nation temporarily as His chosen, earthly people. We are now living in the Church Age, when Jews and Gentiles are on the same level before God. After the church has been completed and is taken home to heaven (at the rapture), God will resume His program with Israel nationally. The hands of the prophetic clock will begin to move once more. So the present age is sort of a parenthesis between God’s past and future dealings with Israel. It is a new administration in the divine program – unique and separate from anything before it or after it.”
The gospel of the kingdom
Old Testament prophets had spoken of the kingdom of God (Isa. 23:2-4; Ezek. 7:21-28; Dan. 2:44). They had described the universal peace and abundant prosperity that would accompany this kingdom that would rule over the earth.
Jesus taught the gospel of the kingdom of God to the Jews (Acts 1:3); Repent and receive the Messiah, then you will enter His kingdom when it is set up on earth. The disciples were looking forward to this kingdom (Acts 1:6; 3:19-21). This was the gospel (good news) under the law of Moses. And Peter preached this message to the Jews (Acts 3:19-26). But they rejected the invitation and after that the gospel went out to the Gentiles.
On the other hand, the good news in the Church Age is the gospel of God’s grace (Acts 20:24): “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you … Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4).
Autumn (Fall) festivals
There are three main aspects of Christ’s second coming:
– The rapture of the church.
– The judgment of Israel in the Tribulation before the second advent of Christ.
– The deliverance of a faithful remnant of Israel into the Millennial kingdom at the second advent.
As the rapture wasn’t revealed in the Old Testament, I don’t think it is related to a Jewish Festival. The rapture is related to the church while the Jewish Festivals are related to the Jews. This is despite the fact that the rapture is associated with “the trumpet call of God” (1 Th. 4:16; 1 Cor 15:62).
There were three Autumn Jewish Festivals. Here is how they may be related to events associated with Christ’s second coming to earth:
Festival of Trumpets – Israel used trumpets to announce important events, to gather people together, and to sound an alert for war (Num. 10:2-10; Amos 3:6). On this festival the Jews assembled in Jerusalem to re-establish offerings (Ezra 3:6) and to hear the law (Neh. 8:1-9). After the rapture, when the Jews are regathered and return to Israel, “a great trumpet will sound” (Isa. 27:12-13NIV; Mt. 24:31). Many other passages in the Bible speak of Israel’s regathering, in belief, at the end of the tribulation, in conjunction with Christ’s second coming, in preparation for commencement of the millennium: Dt. 4:29-31; 30:1-10; Isa. 43:5-7; Jer. 16:14-15; 23:7-8; 31:7-10; Ezek. 11:14-18; 39:25-29; Amos 9:14-15; Zech. 10:8-12. This will be the second regathering – the first was after exile in Babylon (Isa. 11:11-12). Because the regathering of Israel is associated with the sound of a great trumpet, it will be like the Festival of Trumpets.
Day of Atonement – This was a day of mourning and fasting when people and things were cleansed so they could be in God’s presence (Lev. 16:2-34). It reminds us of God’s holiness and the fact that sin builds a barrier between us and God. When a remnant of Israel repents of their sins and acknowledge Jesus as Messiah (between the rapture and the second coming of Christ), they will mourn over their rejection of the Messiah (Zech. 12:10-13:1). This will be like the Day of Atonement.
Festival of Shelters – At this festival the Israelites were reminded of how God provided for them in the past, the present and the future. The future aspect is that this Festival will be celebrated in the Millennial reign of Christ (Ezek. 45:25; Zech. 14:16-19). This occurs after Israel’s restoration (Ezek. 36:25-38) and the second coming of Christ. Christ’s separation of unbelievers (for judgment) and believers (for blessing) at His second coming is likened to a harvest (Christ (Isa. 27:12; Joel 3:12-14; Mt. 13:39; 25:31-34; Rev. 14:14-16). Because the Millennial kingdom includes the final harvest of believers, it is like the festival celebrated after the final harvest of the agricultural year in Canaan.
The spring festivals definitely relate to Christ’s death (Passover), sinless life (Unleavened bread), resurrection (Firstfruits), and the coming of the Holy Spirit and “harvest” of new Jewish believers (Pentecost). These are important aspects of the first coming of Jesus Christ (as a suffering servant).
The autumn festivals seem to relate to the regathering (Trumpets) and restoration (Atonement) of Israel followed by the Millennial Reign of Christ (Shelters). These are important aspects of the second coming of Jesus Christ (as a conquering king) that involve the Jewish nation.
These are highlights of the gospel story, particularly as they relate to the Jewish nation. This is the gospel of the kingdom of God. For the Old Testament Israelites/Jews, the festivals were dramatic representations of future events.
The meanings of the festivals for Jews who come into belief in the Tribulation are that at the Spring Festivals they remember the Messiah who died for their sins so they can enter the kingdom of God. And at the Autumn Festivals they can remember how they will enter His kingdom when it is set up on earth.
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The lessons of the festivals for believing Jews and Gentiles today are that at the Spring Festivals they could remember the Messiah who died for their sins so they can be raptured and be with Christ. And at the Autumn Festivals they could remember how they will reign with Christ in the kingdom when it is set up on earth.
But the book of Hebrews shows that the Jewish priesthood was superseded by a divine eternal priesthood. And the Jewish sacrifices were superseded by the sacrifice of Christ. “The [Old Testament] law [with its religious festivals] is only a shadow of the good things that are coming – not the realities themselves” (Heb. 10:1). And “These [religious festivals] are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col. 2:17). The old Sinaic covenant (with its religious festivals) is now “obsolete and outdated” (Heb. 8:13). The old covenant has been replaced by the new one.
For information about Hanukkah (shown in the first diagram) see Appendix B.
The only recurring celebration specified in the Bible for the church is the Lord’s Supper. For them, the Lord’s Supper has replaced the Jewish Festivals. That’s how Christians can remember Christ’s role in the gospel of God’s grace.
For the Old Testament Israelites/Jews, the festivals were dramatic representations of future events. But the meaning of the festivals will not be understood by many Jews until they are regathered before the second coming of Christ. That’s when they will understand the gospel of the kingdom.
Meanwhile, Christians should celebrate the Lord’s Supper rather than the Jewish Festivals. That’s when they can remember Christ’s role in the gospel of God’s grace.
Appendix A: The noun mysterion in the New Testament
In the New Testament, a mystery (Strongs #3466) is what can only be known through divine revelation. This noun occurs in 28 verses of the Bible. For example:
– The kingdom of God (Mt. 13:11; Mk. 4:11; Lk. 8:10).
– The grace of God (Eph. 3:9).
– Christ is the Son of God (Col. 2:2;4:3).
– The crucifixion of Christ (1 Cor. 2:1-2).
– The resurrection of Christ (1 Tim. 3:16).
– Believing Jews and believing Gentiles are united in the church (Rom. 16:25-26; 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 3:3-6; 6:19; Col. 1:26-27). Both Jews and Gentiles are included in God’s plan of salvation.
– The union between Christ and the church (Eph. 5:32).
– the spirit of disobedience to God (2 Th. 2:7; Rev. 17:5, 7). Also see Ephesians 2:2.
– The rapture of believers to be with the Lord (1 Cor. 15:51). At the rapture the bodies of believers will be exchanged from glorified bodies.
– After the rapture, many Jews will trust in Jesus as their Messiah (Rom. 11:25-27).
– Jesus will rule over the Millennial kingdom (Eph. 1:9-10).
– All of the above (1Cor. 4:1).
Because these were unknown until they were revealed in the New Testament, none of these truths were revealed in the Old Testament.
Appendix B: Purim and Hanukkah
Observance of the seven festivals was commanded by God, but the Jews also invented other celebrations to remember historical events. For example, Purim and Hanukkah.
Purim is a Jewish holiday which commemorates the saving of the Jewish people from Haman, a Persian Empire official who was planning to kill all the Jews in the empire (Est. 9:20-32). This celebration was commanded by Mordecai, not by God. It is a Jewish custom to remember when they got relief from their enemies.
The Festival of Dedication (Hanukkah, or Festival of Lights) is a Jewish festival commemorating the rededication of the temple after its desecration by Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) by offering a pig on the altar in 168 BC. That desecration of the temple by the Syrian forces of Antiochus Epiphanes was called “the abomination of desolation” (Dan. 11:31; Mt. 24:15). The priest Mattathias and his sons revolted against this persecution. On 25 Kislev 164 BC, they liberated the temple. As the last books of the Old Testament were written in 430BC, this festival is not mentioned in the Old Testament. But it is mentioned in the New Testament (Jn. 10:22). It is a Jewish custom to remember when they were delivered during the Maccabean period.
MacDonald William (1989) “Believer’s Bible commentary”, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, Comment on Ephesians 3:1.
Written, July 2021
Also see: What was the purpose of the Jewish pilgrimage festivals?
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