The feasts of Israel are religious celebrations remembering God’s great acts of salvation in the history of His people. The term “feasts” in Hebrew literally means “appointed times” and in Scripture the feasts often are called “holy convocations.” They are times God has appointed for holy purposes – times in which the Lord meets with men and women.
While there are many religious celebrations in Jewish history and custom, seven are most significant: Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Pentecost, Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles. God established the timing and sequence of these feasts to reveal to us a special story – most significantly, the work of the Messiah in the redemption of mankind and the establishment of His Kingdom on earth.
Rev. 14:4 – These are the ones not defiled with women, for they have kept their virginity. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. They were redeemed from the human race as the firstfruits for God and the Lamb. (HCSB)
They were redeemed … as the firstfruits
We should note that John refers to the 144,000 as people “redeemed from the human race as the firstfruits for God and the Lamb.” In what way are they firstfruits?
In the Old Testament, the first sheaf of ripe grain is to be offered to the Lord, and is waved before Him by the priest, expressing gratitude to God and acknowledging that He – the Owner and Giver of all things – will grant a bountiful harvest. A lamb also is sacrificed as a burnt offering (see Lev. 23:10-14). In addition, the Lord requires the first of the Israelites’ flocks, and even their first-born children, although a redemption price is accepted in their stead. All of this is designed to teach God’s people that He is their sovereign Lord who demands their first and best, yet who watches over them as a gracious landowner, husbandman and shepherd.
In this respect, the word “firstfruits” involves two ideas: 1) that which is first, the beginning, or that which has the priority of time; and 2) that which is part of the whole to follow, and which is the earnest or pledge of the whole. The first sheaf of ripe grain therefore is not only the first in order of time, but is the earnest or pledge of the entire harvest that surely will come in.
Consider the feast of firstfruits, one of seven major Jewish festivals. The first and best of the barley crop is offered to the Lord in thankfulness and in faith that He will grant the rest of the harvest to be bountifully reaped. More importantly, it is a shadow of the coming Messiah.
Today marks the first day of the Jewish celebration of Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles. It is the seventh and final feast God gave Israel. It is the most festive of all the feasts and is mentioned more often in scripture than any of the others. The word sukkot in Hebrew is translated “tabernacles” in English and means booths or huts. Throughout this seven-day feast, the Jews are required to live in temporary shelters to remind them of God’s provision during their 40 years of wilderness wandering. The holiday also is called the Feast of Ingathering (Ex. 23:16; 34:22) because it is observed after all the fall crops are harvested. This happy feast commemorates God’s past provision in the desert and His present goodness in providing the fall harvest.
The feast begins on the 15th day of Tishri (September/October), five days after the Day of Atonement. The first day of Tabernacles and the day after Tabernacles (known as Shemini Atzeret) are sacred assemblies, or Sabbaths. No work is permitted on these days. This is one of three pilgrim feasts, along with Unleavened Bread and Weeks (Pentecost), requiring all Jewish males to appear before the Lord in the Temple.
Learn more about the Feast of Tabernacles:
Download a free study: Jesus in the Feasts of Israel
Today at sundown, Jews around the world will celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. This celebration is more than a secular event, however. It is rooted deeply in Jewish life and worship. One of the seven major Jewish feasts, Rosh Hashanah also is called the Feast of Trumpets, and the ram’s horn, or shofar, plays a prominent role.
Many Jewish Christians, and their Gentile brothers and sisters, see the significance of this feast as pointing to the rapture of the church — the physical removal of Christians from this world to meet the Messiah in the air. Just as the four spring feasts (Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, and Pentecost) signified the work of the Messiah in His first coming and priestly ministry, the three autumn feasts (Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles) depict the Messiah’s second coming and kingly reign.
The sounding of the shofar and the resurrection of the dead are connected in the New Testament. Consider these passages:
- 1 Cor. 15:51-52 – “Listen! I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed.”
- 1 Thess. 4:16-17 – “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will always be with the Lord.”
In Old Testament times, the reasons for trumpet blasts were well established. It appears their purposes continue in events to come, if indeed Rosh Hashanah foreshadows our resurrection. The reasons for sounding the shofar are:
- To gather an assembly before the Lord (the rapture of the church).
- To sound a battle alarm (God will defeat Satan and his rebellious followers).
- To announce the coronation of a new king (Jesus the Messiah will sit on the throne of David as King of kings and Lord of lords).
Download a free study: Jesus in the Feasts of Israel.
With Easter approaching, as Christians celebrate the finished work of Christ — His death, burial and resurrection — it may increase our joy to see His earthly ministry in light of the Jewish feasts. In this post, we will complete our three-part look at Jesus in the Passover. For a free download of the complete study of Jesus in the feasts of Israel, click here.
Jesus appeared at Passover during each of the three years of His public ministry. Each time He revealed key truths about Himself and His work as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. In each appearance, Jesus illustrated His person and work through confrontations and confirmations.