God gave seven feasts that were observed in the Old and New Testaments, yet many Christians know little about them. What can we learn about these feasts?
What if one day you discovered on your desk an invitation to meet with God? If God invited you to meet with Him and gave you the dates, what would you do?
Likely you’d wonder: Why? What do I wear? How should I act? Is this invitation really for me?
Appointments with God
Perhaps there on your desk you have a Bible or a Bible program. Look at Leviticus 23:1-2:
“And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: “The feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts.”’”
In verse 2, the word translated “feasts” is from the Hebrew word moed. This means “an appointed time or place,” especially “a specific appointed time, usually for a sacred feast or festival” (The Complete Word Study Dictionary Old Testament, 2003, pp. 582-583).
In verse 3, the Sabbath day is referred to as one of God’s feasts (a weekly appointment with God) that includes a convocation—Hebrew miqra, meaning “reading, a public meeting, and an assembly” (ibid., p. 662). A holy meeting is set apart by God for a special purpose. (Study more about the Sabbath in our booklet The Sabbath: A Neglected Gift From God.)
Continuing in verse 4, we read:
“These are the feasts of the LORD, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times.”
In addition to the weekly Sabbath, God has appointed seven annual feasts in the Bible. These are appointments with God! Yet many people today are unaware of most of them or do not understand their significance.
Other words used to describe God’s seven feasts are hag, a noun meaning a feast, and hagag, a verb meaning “to hold a feast, a pilgrim feast, to celebrate a holy day” (ibid., pp. 312, 313).
God wants to meet with us to celebrate with us—and to teach us.
Holy convocations; meetings set apart by God
When God calls a holy convocation, we have the opportunity to be part of a meeting or assembly to learn from Him.
Everything God does and asks us to do has meaning.
There are a few examples in the Bible that detail some of the things that were taught on specific festivals.
- Jesus’ teaching on the Passover is given in Matthew 26 and John 13-17.
- Peter’s Pentecost sermon is summarized in Acts 2.
- Ezra’s teaching on the Feast of Trumpets is described in Nehemiah 8.
Beyond such extended teachings, it can take work to uncover the meanings of some of the festivals. Many people through history have celebrated them without really understanding what they picture.
These festivals continued to be observed by Jesus Christ, the apostles and the New Testament Church. (For more about this, see our articles “Christian Festivals” and “Hidden in Plain Sight: The Festivals Jesus Celebrated.”) In fact, the seven feasts of the Lord took on greater meaning for the Church.
The meaning of Passover is summed up by the apostle Paul: “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7).
Just as the blood of the lamb saved the Israelites from death in the 10th plague on Egypt, so Christ’s shed blood makes it possible for us to be forgiven of our sins. This is commemorated by following Christ’s example at His last Passover (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
Passover is the starting point of God’s plan of salvation.
Feast of Unleavened Bread
Paul also talked about the seven-day festival that comes after Passover. During the Feast of Unleavened Bread, leaven (such as active yeast) represents sin.
Paul warned, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened” (1 Corinthians 5:6-7).
These seven feasts of the Lord display God’s loving plan for humanity. Observing them every year serves as a needed reminder and encouragement for those resisting this world, Satan and his evil influences.Removing leaven reminds Christians to remove sin from their lives with God’s help and to replace it with godly thoughts and actions. Paul continued with a command for Christians to observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread:
“Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (verse 8).
During the Feast of Unleavened Bread as observed in ancient Israel, a unique ceremony took place. Some today mistakenly label this the “Feast of Firstfruits,” but closer examination shows clearly that it isn’t a separate festival. Still it has great meaning and was used as the starting point in the count to the next festival 50 days later, Pentecost.
The firstfruits mentioned in Leviticus 23:10 referred to a sheaf of the first barley to be harvested.
“The presentation of the sheaf ‘on the day after the Sabbath’ [during the Feast of Unleavened Bread] symbolized the dedication of the whole year’s crop; and until this was done, none of the new grain was to be eaten” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary Abridged Edition, 1994, comment on Leviticus 23:9-14).
In the New Testament we find that Jesus spent three days and three nights in the grave, then on the first day of the week during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, He fulfilled this barley sheaf offering. That was the day He ascended to the Father (John 20:17).
Feast of Weeks or Pentecost
Counting 50 days, starting with the waving of the sheaf (Leviticus 23:11, 16), brings you to the Feast of Weeks or, as it is called in the New Testament, Pentecost.
Peter’s inspiring sermon and its results remind us of the wonderful gifts represented by Pentecost. God made it possible for us to repent, be baptized and receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Those who have the Holy Spirit then compose the Church of God that Jesus began to build that day (verse 47; Matthew 16:18).
So the first three festivals remind us of the first three steps in God’s plan of salvation that have already taken place: Christ’s sacrifice, our exodus from slavery to sin, and the launch of the Church. What about the meaning of the next four festivals?
Shadows of things to come
Paul referred to God’s festivals as “a shadow of things to come” (Colossians 2:17). Though we would love a full-color brilliant vision of the future steps in God’s plan, for now we may be limited to see “in a mirror dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). But we can glimpse the shadow that hints at what “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
What are the next steps in God’s plan? Revelation 19 and 20 (among other passages) summarize the events ahead of us in God’s plan of salvation.
The Feast of Trumpets
Revelation 19 records events surrounding Jesus Christ’s return to the earth to stop mankind’s self-destruction and to begin to establish God’s Kingdom. These include the defeat of the evil end-time Babylonian system, the marriage supper of the Lamb and His wife (the resurrected saints), and the final defeat of the armies opposing Christ.
Other passages highlight the trumpet blasts associated with these times (Matthew 24:31; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52; Revelation 8:6; 11:15).
The Day of Atonement
The Old Testament ceremonies for the Day of Atonement foreshadowed an end-time event. The Azazel goat of Leviticus 16 reflected Satan’s influence in leading mankind to sin. The other goat represented the sacrifice of Jesus Christ by which sin can be forgiven. (Study more about this in our articles “Leviticus 16 and the Day of Atonement” and “The Holy Day Satan Hates Most.”)
Revelation 20:1-3 shows the solution:
“Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished.”
After Satan is locked away and unable to influence humanity, the Bible foretells a time of peace and prosperity.
The Feast of Tabernacles
Revelation 20:4 tells of the 1,000 years when the resurrected saints will serve under Jesus Christ. When the long-prophesied Kingdom of God rules the earth, all the utopian prophecies will come to pass.
This is foreshadowed by the Feast of Tabernacles, a seven-day festival of abundance enjoyed in temporary dwellings. Even the 1,000 years will someday seem temporary.
Micah records one of the amazing prophecies:
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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” (Micah 4:1-4).
The knowledge of God’s way of life will be made known to all. Many people will choose to follow God’s way, leading to peace and plenty and the acceptance of His offer of salvation.
The Eighth Day
Many have wondered, though, about the vast majority of people throughout history who did not know God’s way or receive God’s calling. Thankfully, our merciful God has a plan for those who have never had a chance for salvation. This is pictured by the Eighth Day, a separate festival after the Feast of Tabernacles. It is described in Revelation 20:11-12:
“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them.
“And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books [of the Bible] were opened [to their understanding]. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life [opened so more names could be added]. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.”
Few understand this festival and its incredible meaning. Study more about it in our articles “What Happens to Those Who Died Without Hope?” “Is God Fair?” and “Is the Second Resurrection a Second Chance?”
Celebrating the right festivals the right way
These seven feasts of the Lord display God’s loving plan for humanity. Observing them every year serves as a needed reminder and encouragement for those resisting this world, Satan and his evil influences.
But just observing the feasts is not enough. Ancient Israel sometimes kept the feasts, but generally without the right attitude or desire to learn and obey. Isaiah records God’s disgust with those who hypocritically observed the feasts while continuing to do evil, with their hands “full of blood” (Isaiah 1:13-20).
God wants His ways, including these seven feasts, to change us, to help us think as He does.
Jesus expressed His love for His disciples and His zeal for His festivals when He said:
“With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15).
So, as Paul said, “Therefore, let us keep the feast” (1 Corinthians 5:8)—and keep the feasts the way God wants us to keep them.
Learn more about all seven festivals in our booklet From Holidays to Holy Days: God’s Plan for You.