In 1965 a classic film was produced about the life of Jesus Christ titled The Greatest Story Ever Told. It starred Charlton Heston as John the Baptist and Max von Sydow as Jesus Christ. Other famous actors in the film included Sidney Poitier and John Wayne.
Even though the life of Jesus Christ has been a big seller, Hollywood just seems to always get it wrong.
Bruce Barton’s 1925 classic, The Man Nobody Knows, was one of the best-selling nonfiction books of the 20th century, and it confirmed how little people know about the Christ of the Bible. The Jesus portrayed in books and movies is different in virtually every way—from His physical appearance to what He taught—from the Jesus Christ of the Bible.
Distorted and ignored
But this isn’t the only biblical story that has been distorted. The answers to the really big questions in life can be found in the pages of the Bible:
- What is the purpose for mankind?
- Why were you born?
- What do you mean salvation?
And these questions are answered through a story that most people have never heard. It is the story of the seven annual festivals God revealed to ancient Israel.
Most Christians assume these days are only for the Jews and are only found in the Old Testament. It may shock you to learn that, out of the 66 books in the Bible, there are more references to the festivals in the New Testament book of Acts than in any other book with the exceptions of Exodus, Leviticus and 2 Chronicles.
God’s festivals are referred to in more than 40 verses in the New Testament and never in a negative manner.
It is clear from the historical record that the New Testament Church observed these annual festivals. So, why are these days so important in Scripture and early Church history, yet almost completely ignored by Christians today? It is truly the greatest story never told.
In chronological order God’s festivals, as listed in Leviticus 23, are Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks (or Pentecost), the Memorial of Blowing of Trumpets (or Feast of Trumpets), the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles and the Eighth Day (or Last Great Day).
Many authors will tell you that a well-written story has seven components: setting, plot, a hero or main characters, some type of conflict, perspective or point of view, an overall theme, and a conclusion or resolution.
You may be surprised to know that all of these can be found in the vitally important true story told through the meaning of God’s festivals.
Passover: The Setting
Our story begins in Jerusalem with the death of Jesus Christ. He was God in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16), which means He eternally existed and was the One who interacted with mankind in the Old Testament (John 8:58). He is introduced in the New Testament as the Son of God, which makes His life worth more than all human lives. He is the central character of the story.
After living a sinless life, Jesus was crucified outside the city of Jerusalem on Passover day. This was reminiscent of the Passover sacrifice that led to the escape of the Israelites from Egypt as recorded in Exodus 12.
The death of Jesus Christ is the one sacrifice that makes forgiveness of sin possible (Hebrews 10:10). Today Christians who recognize the importance of the festivals follow His example and gather on the night of the Passover, the evening that begins the 14th of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar. We wash one another’s feet and partake of the symbols of the bread and the wine.
Through these symbols, we understand that Jesus Christ gave His life so that we might live. It is a sobering, yet deeply meaningful evening, and it provides the setting for the story to follow.
Days of Unleavened Bread: The Plot
Our story doesn’t end with the death of Jesus Christ or with His resurrection. The Christian world seems confused on this issue. It commonly teaches that salvation is secured with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but Scripture and the festivals reveal that there’s more to the story.
The second festival is the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which explains the need to remove sin from our lives. Essential to this story is your involvement. From the time God calls you (John 6:44) and you accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for your sins, you must be removing sin from your life. This is the plot that is consistent throughout the story of the festivals—sin separates us from God and must be removed.
But the Feast of Unleavened Bread reveals to us that we must do more than just remove sin. We must replace it with righteousness. Replacing leavened bread with unleavened bread during this festival represents replacing sinful conduct with actions pleasing to God.
Unleavened bread on the night of the Passover pictures the beaten body of Jesus Christ. Unleavened bread during the Feast of Unleavened Bread pictures the righteousness that must replace the sin in our lives. As Christians, we follow the example of Jesus Christ. We commit to repenting of sin and keeping God’s commandments.
Pentecost: The Main Characters
Unleavened Bread identifies the difficulty we face in living a sinless life. The next festival is Pentecost, which provides hope and comfort. Through Pentecost, we understand that we can be part of the Church that was built on the foundation of Jesus Christ, the apostles and prophets (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 2:20).
The main characters of the story are Jesus Christ—our Savior and the Head of the Church—and those called to be firstfruits in God’s harvest of humanity (James 1:18). By receiving God’s Holy Spirit after repentance, baptism and the laying on of hands, we begin our personal journey as a firstfruit. (Read more about this process in our free booklet Change Your Life!)
In ancient Israel there were two harvest seasons—spring and fall. Generally speaking, grain (barley and then wheat) was harvested in the spring, and fruit and other produce were harvested in the fall. Pentecost pictured the end of the spring harvest, but we should not think that the spiritual harvest ends on that day. After the grain was cut from the field, beginning after the wave-sheaf offering, it had to be stored and dried before it could be used. Even though we are called to become firstfruits, there is a maturing and drying process (trials) that cannot be avoided.
While the central character in this story is Jesus Christ, God the Father is by no means left out. No one can come to Jesus Christ or be part of His Church except the Father draws him (John 6:44).
Our story does not end when we are sealed as firstfruits. In many ways, it is only beginning.
Feast of Trumpets: The Conflict
The next festival foreshadows the events that will bring us to the climax of human history, the return of Jesus Christ. It pictures the ultimate conflict that will engulf the world at the end the age. This is the “memorial of blowing of trumpets” (Leviticus 23:24), and we refer to it as the Feast of Trumpets.
Through this festival, we gain insight into a time of great conflict that will come upon the world. Scripture tells us that leading up to the return of Jesus Christ there will be plagues, woes and heavenly signs. These events will be introduced by a series of trumpet calls (Revelation 8).
There will be great fear throughout the world, as millions will die from disease, war and natural disasters. But among the saints there will be great joy at the fulfillment of the many prophecies about Christ’s return. The resurrection of the saints and the change to immortality for those who are alive are central to the fulfillment of this day (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
Upon His return to this earth, Christ will bring with Him the angels and the saints who will meet Him in the air at the blowing of the seventh trumpet. Human beings won’t be raptured to heaven, but will meet Christ in the air and return with Him to the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:11-12).
Day of Atonement: God's Point of View
To comprehend God’s plan, we must understand God’s point of view, a necessary element to a good story. God sees not only the physical events occurring in the world, but the invisible spiritual forces at work behind the scenes.
When Christ returns, He will remove Satan and his demons from their positions of influence. God will ultimately place the blame for the sins of the world on the head of Satan (symbolized by the Azazel goat sent away on the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16:10). From God’s point of view, man has sinned and is responsible for his sins, but Satan was the originator of sin and the deceiver of all mankind (Genesis 3:1-5; Revelation 12:9) and will face the consequences.
The Day of Atonement foreshadows the binding of Satan and his demons. For 1,000 years Satan will be unable to influence human beings. Revelation 20:1-3 describes his imprisonment shortly after the return of Christ. Satan is the impediment standing in the way of mankind’s being reconciled to God. This is the ultimate fulfillment of the Day of Atonement.
Feast of Tabernacles: The Overall Theme
In addition to a plot, great stories have an overall theme. This theme is found in the meaning of the sixth festival, the Feast of Tabernacles. This seven-day festival foreshadows the setting up of God’s government on the earth. This is the heart of the gospel—the good news of the Kingdom of God. It is the same message that Jesus Christ came preaching (Mark 1:14).
For ancient Israel, the Feast of Tabernacles reminded them of the 40 years they spent wandering in the wilderness (Leviticus 23:39-43). For us, it tells the story of the millennial reign of Jesus Christ on this earth, when all mankind will learn that our limited physical life gives us time to learn to trust God and follow His ways—building holy, righteous character. With Satan out of the way, it will be a wonderful and peaceful life for the saints and those who survive the horrific events surrounding the return of Jesus Christ.
The Eighth Day: The Conclusion
Our story concludes with the Eighth Day of the Feast (Leviticus 23:36). Traditionally we refer to this as the Last Great Day. It is the time of final judgment and represents a period when all mankind will be given an opportunity to know God’s truth and be judged accordingly.
Those who never knew God will be resurrected to physical life in a world free of Satan and the pulls of an evil society and will be judged by their works during this judgment period. We refer to this as the Great White Throne Judgment period (Revelation 20:11). On the other hand, those who were converted but then rejected God will be destroyed in the lake of fire (Malachi 4:1; Revelation 20:15; Romans 6:23).
After this final judgment, we see the arrival of a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21), the ultimate fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. At that point we are told that God the Father will come down to this new earth to dwell with us (Revelation 21:3).
Since the plan of salvation is about eternal life, it really has no ending. Eternal life goes on for, well, eternity. What will we be doing for all eternity? It appears there is another story to be written.
Eagerly anticipating the conclusion of the story
Each year when we observe these seven annual festivals, we are retelling this wonderful story. It has all the elements of a great book—setting, plot, hero or main characters, conflict, point of view, overall theme and conclusion.
We should pray fervently for the day when this story will be complete, when Jesus Christ will appear in the clouds as King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16) followed by the removal of Satan, the 1,000-year reign and the final judgment.
Yes, it is the greatest story never told!
Learn more about God’s plan and your part in it by downloading our free booklet From Holidays to Holy Days: God’s Plan for You.
You will also want to watch our video series “Feasts of the Lord.” This series of 10 short videos explores God’s plan and what it means for you.