Wouldn’t it be great if our celebrations helped give meaning to our lives and provided hope for the future? The festivals taught in the Bible do!
The average professing Christian looks forward to the “big” holidays of the year—Christmas and Easter heading the list, with others like Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween fitting in there somewhere.
But what’s the connection of these holidays to the purpose of life and the way we live each day? And what’s the connection each has to the others? Is there a plan, a sense of forward movement toward a goal? And what should we understand that goal—if there is one—to be?
Christmas and Easter, at least, have an assumed focus on the Savior, Jesus Christ. They are supposed to observe His birth and resurrection, respectively. Whether they do, in fact, is another question (see our section on “Holy Days vs. Holidays” and articles on Christmas and Easter).
But where’s the plan?
One unfortunate thing about the days so many people observe and celebrate, especially days like Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween, is that they form no sort of discernible pattern or plan. They’re disjointed, arbitrary and hollow of any guidance for daily Christian life.
Even Christmas portrays a newborn Jesus, who, as a baby, has no instruction for us. Easter is supposed to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, though the emphasis is often on bunny rabbits and Easter eggs, which have no visible connection to any Christian meaning—both are, in fact, well-known symbols of fertility frequently found in pagan traditions of Roman and other cultures.
Is this God’s message for us, His children? Or is something missing here?
In fact, there is! What’s missing is nothing less than the hope found in God’s revealed plan for human salvation. The apostle Paul clearly understood that Christ’s indwelling presence in us (through the Holy Spirit, John 14:16-17) led to a future hope—the hope of glory (Colossians 1:26-27)! There was, and is, a clear hope for the future.
Where do we look?
But where can we find the blueprint? Where do we find a step-by-step plan for our lives, a revelation of how God plans to carry out His stated design of “bringing many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:10)?
Long ago God gave His people a series of days that are set aside for meaningful celebration and observance. Jesus Christ observed these days during His lifetime, and the apostles and the early New Testament Church continued to do so after His death.Long ago God gave His people a series of days that are set aside for meaningful celebration and observance. Jesus Christ observed these days during His lifetime, and the apostles and the early New Testament Church continued to do so after His death. But they’re more than just days on which to relax, to take a day off work or to party.
It all starts with an understanding of the life and death of Jesus. In Hebrews 2 we note that Christ Himself shared in the human condition, with its sufferings and trials (verses 10, 14 and 18). He was the One who showed the way, who went ahead of the rest of us. And His suffering and offering of Himself as a sacrifice for sin is where we begin to understand God’s plan for mankind.
In fact, we are not instructed to celebrate His birth (for which it is not possible to determine an exact date) or even His resurrection; instead, we are to memorialize His death (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). The symbols of the bread and wine Paul spoke of in 1 Corinthians 11 are key elements of the observance of the New Testament Passover. Jesus instructed His disciples about this New Testament Passover before His arrest, trial and crucifixion (Luke 22:14-20).
That’s just step one.
Holy days in the New Testament?
More than 20 years after the death and resurrection of Christ, Paul wrote to one of the gentile congregations in his care (at Corinth), citing not only the Passover, but clearly pointing to an ongoing observance of the festival of the Days of Unleavened Bread (1 Corinthians 5:6-8; Leviticus 23:5-7).
These days emphasize one of the key lessons of life—that we are to remove human tendencies toward wickedness and malice and replace them with godly qualities like sincerity and truth. And Paul identified the meaning embedded in the use of leaven as a symbol—the fact that as leaven spreads through a lump of dough, so do these sinful qualities tend to spread in our lives, unless checked by the influence of God’s nature, His Spirit.
Other references in the New Testament show a familiarity with these same spring observances (Acts 20:6; and 12:4, where the word translated “Easter” in the Authorized Version [Greek pascha] has been corrected to “Passover” in the New King James Version).
A quick search of New Testament records will reveal the next step in the plan with the Day of Pentecost (known in the Old Testament as the Feast of Firstfruits or Feast of Weeks—see Leviticus 23:9-16 for more details).
Acts 2 records a powerful history of this momentous day. On Pentecost the Holy Spirit was sent to the New Testament Church, energizing it with a force for good that was humanly unavailable before. We learn of our need to repent, submit to Jesus and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
The other days listed in the all-inclusive chapter of Leviticus 23 find their place in the New Testament Church’s observance too.
The reference to “the Fast” in Acts 27:9 is generally acknowledged by most biblical researchers and scholars to refer to the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:26-32). As we observe this unique day, we look forward to a time of repentance after Christ returns. Satan’s banishment will mean he can no longer deceive mankind (Revelation 20:1-3; Leviticus 16:29, 21-22).
Christ’s own practice of keeping the Feast of Tabernacles is clearly shown in John 7:2 (compare Leviticus 23:39) and expanded on in more detail throughout this crucial chapter (verses 8, 11 and 37). The reference to the “great day” of the Feast probably alludes to the seventh and last day of the festival, followed by Jesus’ presence and teaching in the temple on what was most likely the Eighth Day festival (John 8:1-2; Leviticus 23:39).
Christians who observe the Feast of Tabernacles and the Eighth Day (which we often call the Last Great Day) celebrate and anticipate the times after Jesus returns when all will be given the opportunity to receive the gift of salvation.
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Hope for the future!
Here’s the key: These days all connect in a pattern illustrating what God intends for His children. Paul stated it in his letter to the Colossians: “To fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:25-27).
That mystery need not be hidden from you. These biblical festivals are days of truthful and meaningful celebration, rejoicing and worship—not random and empty days filled with pagan symbolism and tradition.
There is so much more than this temporary, physical life to anticipate, thankfully. Paul told the Corinthians, in asserting the truth of the resurrection, that “if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (1 Corinthians 15:19). He explains more of the outline of that future hope throughout the chapter, leading up to the raising of the “dead in Christ” in verses 50-55.
The astonishing truth is that these festivals God initially revealed to ancient Israel have great meaning to New Testament disciples of Jesus Christ. They are a blueprint of hope for the future!
Want to know more? Check out the links to each of those festivals in this section: “Plan of Salvation: How God's Festivals Reveal His Plan.”
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.
And keep that flame of hope burning brightly for what lies ahead by learning about and celebrating God’s wonderful plan of salvation!