“I will work a work in your days which you would not believe, though it were told you.” – Habakkuk 1:5
Now comes the good times, the parties – the Jewish holidays. Seven holidays are commanded in Leviticus 23. And again, it is all about Jesus. Jesus is our Offering; Jesus is our Priest; Jesus is our Prophet; Jesus is the reason we celebrate. The feasts highlight the redeeming work, the triumphant return, and the eternal kingdom of Jesus Christ so boldly and delicately that I marvel how it was possible. It’s all printed in Leviticus 23, and it is too marvelous to be believed.
Spring Feasts (Jesus is born to dwell among us.)
Passover. Leviticus 23:5 - Nisan 14. I Corinthians 5:7 places the link between Christ and Passover beyond debate. “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.”
The Passover feast begins with the sacrifice of the lamb about mid-afternoon – followed by a very formally organized dinner at sundown called the Seder, literally “meal of order.” What we refer to as the last supper was in fact Jesus and the disciples celebrating the Seder.
The calendar of Judea was one day advanced from the calendar of Galilee. The difference was over the definition of when the day began. The Judean day started at midnight, and the Galilean day started at sundown. This is why the Gospel accounts (which used Judean time) from the Last Supper to the crucifixion cite times roughly in line with the cycle we are familiar with. But since Jesus was in Judea, He celebrated Passover according to the Judean calendar. In Galilee, it was still Nisan 13. When Jesus was sacrificed to be our Passover, it was mid-afternoon Nisan 14 in Galilee – the precise time to sacrifice the Passover lamb in Galilee. What appeared to be a quirk in the timeline of the calendar was more accurately a carefully orchestrated work of God decades earlier. God used this so-called quirk to enable Jesus to celebrate Passover, AND to be sacrificed as THE Passover Lamb. Quirk indeed!
Feast of the Unleavened Bread. Leviticus 23:6-8 – Nisan 15-21. Today, this feast tends to be blended into the Passover Feast – an extension of Passover. But Leviticus 23:6 presents it as a separate feast.
The Bible’s use of “leaven” doesn’t always refer to sin. But sometimes it is unmistakably a reference to sin. “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees.” Israel is given seven days to reflect on the sinless man, the coming Messiah. He pays the wages of sin on our behalf, and He qualifies those who believe to be counted for that same sinlessness.
Feast of the Firstfruits. Leviticus 23:9-14 – Nisan 17. The day that Jesus resurrected. “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
So in the Spring feasts, Israel is taught how to observe the sacrifice which is Jesus; His death; His ministry from the grave; and His resurrection.
Feast of Weeks (Pentecost). Leviticus 23:15-22 – Sivan 7. “[Jesus said] I will build My church.” – Matthew 16:18. Acts 2 records the birth of the Church of Jesus Christ. It occurred simultaneously with the normal Feast of Weeks – 50 (pente) days after the first day of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread.
Since it was the time of the Feast of Weeks, the Jewish people from all over the world were gathered in Jerusalem. This explains why there were speakers of so many languages gathered to hear Peter’s sermon. God had it planned all along. Peter’s sermon was no local event. God used the calendar He Himself dictated to make it possible for Peter’s message to be heard first hand by all Jews scattered however throughout the world.
Fall Feasts (Christ Returns to Earth to Rule.)
Feast of Trumpets. Leviticus 23:23-25 – Tishri 1 (It has to be day 1). HAPPY NEW YEAR, Israel!
Rosh Hashanah. Quite literally this means “The head of the year.” [Some may find it problematic that New Years Day is celebrated on the first day of the seventh month: Nisan is roughly equivalent to our March/April, and marks the beginning of the agricultural year. When the Bible enumerates the months, Nisan is the first month, and Tishri is the seventh. But the holy year begins Tishri 1. This is the day that the Jewish nation advances the year marker one year. It might take a little getting used to. But to a Jew, that is just the way they have always done it. Just think of it as a fiscal year. It isn’t a lot different than the way our 2011 Super Bowl was played on February 5, 2012. The football year starts in August. But the year marker doesn’t advance until January 1.]
The sound of the trumpet marks the beginning of the second earthly ministry of Christ to Israel. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:16. The Church has fulfilled its purpose. The trumpet sound proclaims that once again, Israel is returned to the status of God’s people. “[B]lindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved.” Romans 11:25b-26a.
When the trumpet sounds, God resumes work on His promise that all Israel will be saved.
The Day of Atonement. Leviticus 23:26-32 – Tishri 10. Yom Kippur.
Israel gloriously repents, and God restores fellowship with Israel. Yom Kippur is the most celebrated day on the Hebrew calendar – even today - and for good reason. “[T]hen they will look on Me whom they pierced.” – Zechariah 12:10.
There are a multitude of passages that describe the prophesy finally of Israel repenting to God, and accepting the Messiah Christ to be their King. Deuteronomy 30:1-10 is the first such foretelling. Isaiah 59:20-21 (reaffirmed in Romans 11:26-27) declares (paraphrased): This is when I fulfill all my covenants with Israel. You will recognize it when you see that I have taken away all their sin.
Blow the trumpet in Zion… “Now, therefore,” says the Lord, “Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm. Who knows if He will turn and relent, And leave a blessing behind Him— A grain offering and a drink offering For the Lord your God? Blow the trumpet in Zion, Consecrate a fast, Call a sacred assembly; Gather the people, Sanctify the congregation, Assemble the elders, Gather the children and nursing babes; Let the bridegroom go out from his chamber, And the bride from her dressing room. Let the priests, who minister to the Lord, Weep between the porch and the altar; Let them say, “Spare Your people, O Lord, And do not give Your heritage to reproach, That the nations should rule over them. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” – Joel 2:1, 12-17
Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths, or Tents). Leviticus 23:23-35 – Tishri 15-21. Jesus Christ at long last takes His place seated on the throne of Israel.
Micah prophesies that Christ’s rule is forever. Yet tabernacle implies a temporary dwelling place, often used to describe the Messiah’s ministry on earth. And of course, when Christ rules from Jerusalem (named Zion when Christ is King), that is temporary – earth itself is temporary. Nothing on earth can be comprehended as forever. Comprehend Micah’s prophesy to include from the day Jesus Christ sits on the throne of Israel, through to the end of earthly time, and continued into the eternal state.
4 Now it shall come to pass in the latter days
That the mountain of the Lord’s house
Shall be established on the top of the mountains,
And shall be exalted above the hills;
And peoples shall flow to it.
2 Many nations shall come and say,
“Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
He will teach us His ways,
And we shall walk in His paths.”
For out of Zion the law shall go forth,
And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
3 He shall judge between many peoples,
And rebuke strong nations afar off;
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war anymore.
4 But everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree,
And no one shall make them afraid;
For the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.
5 For all people walk each in the name of his god,
But we will walk in the name of the Lord our God
Forever and ever.
6 “In that day,” says the Lord,
“I will assemble the lame,
I will gather the outcast
And those whom I have afflicted;
7 I will make the lame a remnant,
And the outcast a strong nation;
So the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion
From now on, even forever.
Hanukah and Purim
The feasts of Leviticus 23 were required feasts, and most of them remain observed today in the Jewish community. Some believe the list of feasts should start and end in this chapter. My attitude is somewhat different: Those who wish to celebrate in the Lord, let them celebrate.
The Feast of Purim
The Feast of Purim was inaugurated in Esther 9:18-27. It is a strange name for a feast to the Lord – Purim means “lots,” tools of chance. Somehow I don’t see a proposal that we inaugurate a church-wide Festival of Snake-Eyes as gaining much support. But that’s just me1. My only real comment about the Feast of Purim is that man inaugurated it, and God said and did nothing to express disapproval. The formula to determine the date of this feast is complicated.
The Feast of Hanukah
The Feast of Hanukah was inaugurated as follows:
Moreover Judas [a good man] and his brethren with the whole congregation of Israel ordained, that the days of the dedication of the altar should be kept in their season from year to year by the space of eight days, from the five and twentieth day of the month Casleu [modern: Kislev], with mirth and gladness. – 1 Macabees 4:592 (material in brackets and emphasis added)
Daniel 11:21-25 gives a prophetic account of the rise of Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) – a vile man, alleged to have offered a sow on the altar. About 400 years after Daniel, this prophesy was fulfilled – in sparkling detail. The Jews, led by Judas Maccabeus and his three brothers, overcame Epiphanes and reclaimed the temple. Hanukah is the feast which celebrates the victory.
Let the critics of the manmade feast be silenced by John 10:22-23, “Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch.” There is no alternate event called the Feast of Dedication; Jesus Himself was a willing participant in Hanukah.
1Perhaps we could use Psalm 127:5 to launch The Feast of the Quiver Full, to be celebrated when a family size reaches (say) six. But some naysayer with too much time on his hands would protest by accusing us of celebrating the Feast of the Full House.
21 Macabees does not carry the authority of the 66 recognized books.
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