The seven feasts of the Hebrew year: their meaning

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1. Introduction

In study: ’The Sanctuary on Earth’ we see how the daily sacrifices and the annual Day of Atonement in the earthly Sanctuary were God’s teaching about atonement for sin. 

In addition, to complete His teaching, God provided the seven feasts of the Hebrew ecclesiastical year, which taught (in symbol) the sequence of events in the plan of salvation, from the Cross to the entry of the Redeemed into God's eternal Kingdom.

2. The seven feasts of the Hebrew ecclesiastical year

The seven feasts are summarized in Leviticus chapter 23, and are addressed in this section in order of occurrence.

2.1 The Passover, Le 23:5  (see Exodus chapter 12)  Time line 1-3

The Passover is a memorial of Israel’s exodus from Egypt.  Pharaoh finally released the Hebrews after the Angel of the Lord slayed the first-born of every house that did not have the blood of an unblemished lamb smeared on the doorpost (Exodus 12).  

The Angel ‘passed over’ each house where the blood of the lamb was smeared.  The lamb prefigured Christ the unblemished ‘Lamb of God’ (Jn 1:29,36) whose blood causes the Lord to ‘pass over’ the sin of those who believe in Christ as Saviour (see study: 'The Cross',2.3,3).

The lamb had to be acquired four days before Passover (Ex 12:3,6).  This left time for the lamb to be examined thoroughly to see that it was without blemish.  During the four day period the lamb became the household’s ‘personal lamb’ - it was thus their personal sacrifice for sin.

For Christ to be the true Passover Lamb, events concerning Him must conform to the Passover account.

We know that six days before Passover (Jn 12:1), we have the incident of the anointing of Jesus' feet with ointment.

The next day (Jn 12:12), i.e. five days before Passover, Christ made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Mt 21:1-11 - also Mk 11:1-11, Lk 19:28-44, Jn 12:12-19).  We know that Christ was the Lamb of God (Jn 1:29,36), and that He was exalted on His triumphal entry.  Thus, from Ex 12:2,3, we know that the triumphal entry occurred on the 10th day of the first month.

This left four days that Christ spent in Jerusalem before Passover. During the four days that the people had the Lamb of God with them, they could have known Him as Saviour - instead, they demanded His death. 

Furthermore, if we add the four days to the three (part - in Scripture, a part of a day or a night is counted as a whole day or night) days and nights that Christ spent in the tomb (Mt 12:40), we have seven further days to the feast of Firstfruits, which always occurred on First-day, Sunday (see section 2.3), and on which day Christ was resurrected.  Thus Christ's triumphal entry occurred on the eighth day prior to Firstruits, i.e on First-day, and is celebrated today on Palm Sunday.

Given these events and timings, we know conclusively that Christ was indeed the true Passover Lamb, that takes away the sin of the world.

The temple Passover lamb was slain at the ninth hour (3.00 pm, the start of evening) in the afternoon of the day of Passover. This is in keeping with Ex 12:6.

Christ, the true Passover Lamb, died at that same moment (Mt 27:46,50; Mk 15:34,37; Lk 24:44,46. See study: ’The Cross’,2.4), thus completing the Passover sequence, once, for all eternity.

2.2 Unleavened Bread, Le 23:6-8 (see Exodus 13:3-13)  Time line 1-3

The Passover lamb was slain at dusk (3.00 pm) on the day of Passover (14th day of the first month) and was eaten after sunset.  The Bible day begins at sunset (see Genesis chapter 1); thus the Passover lamb was eaten on the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread. Sunset at the the time of the Passover was/is about 7.00pm - this left sufficient time to prepare and cook the sacrificed lamb so that it could be eaten after sunset.

The lamb was eaten with unleavened bread to remind the people of the haste in which Israel left Egypt (Ex 12:39) - on the day of the Exodus they had no time for bread to rise.

During the seven days of Unleavened Bread all leaven (yeast) was to be removed from the house - any that disobeyed were to be ‘cut off’ from Israel (Ex 12:19; 13:7).  

Christ had used leaven to represent the sin of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Mt 16:6,12).  Abstaining from leaven during Unleavened Bread, therefore, symbolized accepting the atonement for sin by the Cross of Christ on which Christ, the sinless Bread of Life, was 'broken' (in the sense of sacrificed - 1Co 11:24) for us.  

Those who disobeyed by eating leaven during the feast of Unleavened Bread rejected the atonement for sin. They were thus still in their sin, and were consequently excluded from Israel.

2.3 Firstfruits, Le 23:10,11 (see Exodus 23:16)  Time line 1-3

When the Barley harvest (the first crop harvested) was brought in, a sheaf of Barley was waved as an offering before the Lord.  This was to thank God for His bounty.  

Christ was resurrected on the Feast of Firstfruits - He was the Firstfruits from the dead (1Co 15:20).  

We see in Le 23.15 that the sheaf is called a ‘wave offering’, which in the Hebrew is ‘a brandishing’ (Strong’s H8573).  

Thus Christ, in figure, was ‘brandished’ before God, i.e. waved triumphantly, signifying that He would triumph over sin and death.  Christ is the ultimate bounty bestowed by God upon mankind.

The Feast of Firstfruits was not a designated annual sabbath.  Thus none today can claim that Christ rose on a sabbath (neither on a ceremonial sabbath nor on the weekly Sabbath), using it as justification for making First-day (Sunday) the new Christian sabbath.

2.4 Feast of Weeks, Le 23:15-17,21  (see Ex 34:22; Nu 28:26; De 16:10)  Time line 4-7

Note.  The timing of the Feast of Weeks (always on First-day, the 50th day after Firstfruits) proves that Firstfruits always occurred on First-day.

In the New Testament , because it occurs on the fiftieth day after Firstfruits, the Feast of Weeks is known as Pentecost (Strong’s G4005, fiftieth, e.g. 1Co 16:8).

The Feast of Weeks was an annual sabbath, and required a wave offering of two loaves of leavened  bread - these were the firstfruits of the wheat harvest.  Also, a sacrifice of seven unblemished lambs, a bullock, and two rams was required for a burnt offering as a ‘sweet savour’ to the Lord.

The leaven of Pentecost symbolized the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, which is the ‘Kingdom of God within you’ (Lk 17:21).  Christ taught this in His parable of the Leaven (Lk 13:20,21).  

As leaven (yeast) permeates and enriches the entire loaf of bread, the repentant sinner is to allow the Holy Spirit to permeate, influence and enrich every aspect of the life. 

On Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples in the form of tongues (Ac 2:1-4).  From then on the disciples were empowered by the Holy Spirit to take the Gospel, first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles.

2.5 Trumpets, Le 23:24,25 (see Numbers 29:1)  Time line 4-7

Trumpets in the Old Testament were used for announcements and warnings.  However, the Feast of Trumpets is a special occasion because it was accompanied by the sacrifice of lambs, rams and a bullock for a burnt offering as a ‘sweet savour’ to the Lord. 

The Feast of Trumpets occurred shortly before the great Day of Atonement, and was thus a warning to the people of Israel to prepare themselves for the final atonement for the nation. 

The Feast of Trumpets symbolizes the end time when God’s people are commissioned to take God’s final warning to the world (see study: ‘The three angels’ messages’), just before the ‘final trump’ is sounded at Christ’s second advent (1Co 15:52; 1Th 4:16).

2.6 Day of Atonement, Le 23:27-32  (see Leviticus chapter 16)  Time line 4-7 

The Day of Atonement is of such importance that it is addressed in depth in study: ‘The Day of Atonement’.

2.7 Tabernacles Le 23:34-36 (see De 16:13)  Time line 4-7

Occurring shortly after the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles was a joyous occasion celebrating God’s acceptance of Israel after their sin was eradicated (in figure for the time).

The Feast of Tabernacles prefigured the joyous entry of God’s people into the Kingdom of Heaven at the second advent of Christ.

3. Annual sabbaths

The annual sabbaths of the Hebrew ecclesiastical year were entirely ‘beside’ the weekly Sabbath of the Lord:

Le 23:38  Beside the sabbaths of the LORD, and beside your gifts, and beside all your vows, and beside all your freewill offerings, which ye give unto the LORD.

Occurring only once a year, the annual sabbaths clearly had a very different purpose than the weekly Sabbath of the Lord.  

The weekly Sabbath is at the heart of the Ten Commandments, commemorating God as Creator and Saviour (see study: ‘The Sabbath’), and is thus as eternal as God is eternal.

The annual sabbaths, on the other hand, were a figure for the time, teaching the plan of salvation by means of animal sacrifices, which reached their culmination in the Cross.  

After the Cross animal sacrifices were no longer required, and everything associated with them was thus abolished.

4. Summary

The earthly Sanctuary and the seven feasts of the Hebrew ecclesiastical year together comprised God’s instruction on salvation.  

We do not practice the feasts and sacrifices today - they were rendered obsolete by the Cross.  However, for the purpose of teaching salvation, they are as valid today as they were anciently.  

Without them, we today would not have the comprehensive knowledge of the plan of salvation that is essential in these last days to confound Satan's falsehoods.  For this reason, the Lord has preserved His Word as it is, combining the instruction in the Old Testament with the testimonies and teachings in the New Testament.

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