Jesus in the Feasts of Israel
The Jewish celebration of Passover begins today [April 8] at sundown and is the first of seven major feasts. 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.
While there are many religious celebrations in Jewish history and custom, seven are most significant: Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, Pentecost, Trumpets, Day of Atonement and Tabernacles. God established the timing and sequence of these feasts to reveal to us a special story — the work of the Messiah in the redemption of mankind and the establishment of His kingdom on earth.
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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.
Why seven feasts? The number seven is significant in Scripture. It is tied to completeness or fullness. For example, God rested on the seventh day after creation, not because He was tired but because His work was complete and He was fully satisfied in it. The cycle of the seven-day week provided the basis for much of Israel’s worship. In addition, the seventh month features four of the seven feasts; the seventh year and the 50th year (the year of Jubilee, following seven cycles of seven years) also are significant.
There are several key truths to keep in mind as we study the feasts:
► The Lord established the feasts and gave them to Israel.
► The feasts were based on the Jewish lunar calendar (12 months of 29 or 30 days per month).
► The feasts relate to Israel’s spring and fall agricultural seasons; Israel was and still is, to a great extent, an agricultural nation.
► They picture the timing, sequence and significance of the Messiah’s redemptive work.
► Though the feasts were given to Israel, every person is invited to meet with God and receive His gracious blessings through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
► There is a binding relationship between Israel and the church even though they are distinct entities with distinct promises. God’s unconditional covenant with Abraham promised, “In thy (Abraham’s) seed shall all nations be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). “Every blessing which the true Church now enjoys and every hope she anticipates come out of the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants which God made with Israel” (The Feasts of the Lord by Kevin Howard and Marvin Rosenthal, p. 14).
► The number of feasts – seven – relates to the Biblical number for completion. The full work and revelation of Messiah/Christ is pictured in the seven feasts.
► All seven feasts are found in Leviticus 23; additional passages in the Old and New Testaments also address the feasts.
“To summarize, these seven feasts of the Lord are God’s appointed times during which He will meet with men for holy purposes. When completed, these seven special holidays will triumphantly bring an end to this age and usher in a glorious ‘Golden Age'” (www.christcenteredmall.com).
Why study the feasts? There are several good reasons to study the feasts: 1) to remember God’s goodness; 2) to understand more fully His divine revelation through “types;” 3) to increase our knowledge of God’s plan through the work of His eternal Son; 4) to more fully appreciate the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf; and 5) to joyfully anticipate the days in which Jesus will return and establish His Kingdom on earth.
Why do so many Jewish people observe the feasts but fail to see Jesus in them? The destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. led to significant changes in the location, emphasis and practice of the feasts. It must be remembered that the destruction of the Temple itself, and the scattering of the Jewish people, was God’s judgment upon the nation for its rejection of Jesus as Messiah. The hardening of the Jewish heart, however, has provided opportunity for Gentile believers to be grafted into the true church, made up of those “from every nation, tribe, people, and language” who worship Jesus as Lord (Rev. 7:9; see also Rom. 11:11-12). All Christians should love the Jewish people. God does, and He is not finished with them yet. The fall feasts in particular point to the coming days when a remnant of believing Jews will “look on Me whom they have pierced” (Zech. 12:10), mourn over their unbelief, and turn to Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Test Your Knowledge of the Feasts of Israel
1. Which of the following is not a Jewish feast:
- a) Pentecost
- b) Day of Atonement
- c) Unleavened Bread
- d) Bonnaroo
2. True or false:
Jesus was crucified on Passover and rose from the dead on First Fruits.
3. True or false:
All Jewish males were required to appear in Jerusalem for all seven Jewish feasts.
4. Which horn was sounded during the Feast of Trumpets:
- a) Shoe horn
- b) Ram’s horn
- c) Cream horn
- d) Schermerhorn
5. What are other biblical names for the major feasts (choose all that apply):
- a) Appointed times
- b) Holy convocations
- c) Pot-luck suppers
- d) Floating holidays
6. Which feast pictures Christ’s sending of the Holy Ghost to inaugurate the church:
- a) Halloween
- b) Pentecost
- c) Festivus
- d) Hanukkah
7. The Feast of Unleavened Bread (choose all that apply):
a) Lasted seven days
b) Required the Jewish people to remove all leaven (yeast) from their homes
c) Pictured the burial of Messiah
d) Was observed in the fall
8. Jesus invited all who thirst to come unto Him during the Feast of:
- a) Passover
- b) Dasani
- c) Aquafina
- d) Tabernacles
9. What is significant about the Feast of Trumpets: (circle all that apply):
- a) It features a shofar, or ram’s horn
- b) Doc Severinsen appears in Jerusalem
- c) It is the only feast that falls during a new moon
- d) No trumpets are actually used during the feast
10. Why is the high priest so important on the Day of Atonement (circle all that apply):
- a) He does all of the priestly work, including all the sacrifices
- b) He alone enters the Holy of Holies
- c) He dies for the sins of the people
- d) He foreshadows the work of the Messiah, our great high priest
11. True or false:
Many of the Jewish feasts are no longer observed as they once were because there is no Temple in Jerusalem.
12. Who had responsibility for the tabernacle and its services:
a) The Jonas Brothers
b) The sons of Sceva
c) The Nephilim
d) The Levites
- The correct answer is (d). Bonnaro is an annual music festival in Tennessee.
- False. Jewish males were required to appear in Jerusalem for three of the seven feasts: Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.
- The correct answer is (b). The ram’s horn also is known as the shofar. If you guessed (c – cream horn), go directly to Dunkin’ Donuts. If you guessed (d – Schermerhorn), you chose the name of the symphony hall in Nashville.
- (a) and (b).
- The correct answer is (b). If you picked (c – Festivus) you watch too much Seinfeld, or maybe not enough. If you picked (d – Hanukkah) you’re thinking of the eight-day Jewish holiday that normally falls in December and is not one of the seven major feasts.
- (a), (b), and (c). The Feast of Unleavened Bread is observed in the spring.
- The right answer is (d). Dasani and Aquafina (b) and (c) are brands of bottled water; Passover (a) is the spring feast during which Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper.
- (a) and (c). If you chose (b – Doc Severinsen) you stayed up too late as a kid watching Johnny Carson’s band leader on TV. If you chose (d – no trumpets are actually used during the feast), well, duh, the name of the feast should have been a clue.
- (a), (b), and (d). The high priest did not die for the sins of the people, but he pictured the Messiah, who would do so.
- True. The Temple was destroyed by the Roman army in 70 A.D.
- The correct answer is (d). The Jonas Brothers (a) are an American boy band. The sons of Sceva (b) were seven sons of a Jewish high priest; they took a beating from demons they were trying to cast out because they invoked the name of Jesus when in fact they were not followers of Him (see Acts 19:13-20). The Nephilim (c) were a race of giants who lived before the flood (see Gen. 6:4).
Answering Your Questions about the Feasts of Israel
Your text on Yom Kippur says the Ark of the Covenant was never recovered after the captivity. Is there any record that it was taken into captivity or destroyed?
According to the Jewish Virtual Library (www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org), what happened to the ark after the captivity is unknown and has been debated for centuries. It is unlikely the Babylonians took it because the detailed lists of what they took make no mention of the Ark. “According to some sources, Josiah, one of the final kings to reign in the First Temple period, learned of the impending invasion of the Babylonians and hid the Ark. Where he hid it is also questionable – according to one midrash, he dug a hole under the wood storehouse on the Temple Mount and buried it there (Yoma 53b). Another account says that Solomon foresaw the eventual destruction of the Temple, and set aside a cave near the Dead Sea, in which Josiah eventually hid the Ark (Maimonides, Laws of the Temple, 4:1).”
Some Ethiopian Christians claim they have the Ark today. In Axum, Ethiopia, it is widely believed that the Ark is being held in the Church of Saint Mary of Zion, guarded by a monk known as the “Keeper of the Ark.” According to the Axum Christian community, they acquired the Ark during the reign of Solomon, when his son Menelik, whose mother was the Queen of Sheba, stole the Ark after a visit to Jerusalem. The claim has been impossible to verify, for no one but the monk is allowed into his tent.
A more plausible claim is that of archaeologist Leen Ritmeyer, who has conducted research on the Temple Mount and inside the Dome of the Rock. He claims to have found the spot on the Mount where the Holy of Holies was located during the First Temple period. In the center of that spot is a section of bedrock cut out in dimensions that may match those of the Ark as reported in Exodus. Based on his findings, Ritmeyer has postulated that the Ark may be buried deep inside the Temple Mount. However, it is unlikely that excavation will be allowed on the Mount any time soon by the Muslim or Israeli authorities.
All the feasts are mandated in the Pentateuch, supposedly written by Moses. What is your view concerning the historicity of Moses and the Fathers (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob), and more generally the first part of the Old Testament?
While there are some who believe the Bible should be read as literature rather than Scripture, and some scholars who deny the historical truth of Gen. 1-11, it may be best for us to look at how Jesus felt about the Fathers and the Old Testament. For example:
- Jesus referred to Moses as the author of the Pentateuch (Luke 24:27, 44; John 5:46; 7:19 and others). Also, Moses appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration with Elijah and Jesus (Matt. 17:3).
- Throughout the Gospels, Jesus quoted richly from the Old Testament, especially in regard to the Messianic prophecies.
- He spoke of Adam and Eve as real persons (Matt. 19:3-6)
- He talked about the worldwide flood in the days of Noah as a historical fact (Matt. 24:37-38).
- He compared His physical resurrection to the reality of Jonah’s three-day experience in the belly of the great fish (Matt. 12:38-40).
- He made numerous references to Abraham as a real person (Matt. 8:11; 22:32; Luke 3:8; 13:28; 16:19-31; John 8:58).
- His disciples staked His claim of being Messiah, in part, to His lineage, which included Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Matt. 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38).
What life application should we take into our lives from the feasts? Understanding that they point to the return of Christ, and that some churches even celebrate these with the Jewish people, how can or do the feasts or the knowledge of them fit into our worship practices today?
It seems to me that the Western church has largely lost the “Jewishness” of the Scriptures. A systematic teaching of the feasts would strengthen the faith of believers as they see God’s hand in human history, and they may serve to convince unbelievers of the amazing prophetic truths of Scripture.
In addition, worship services and sermons devoted to the feasts in the spring and fall may help all of us reconnect with the fact that God’s Anointed One came to us through God’s chosen people, the Jews. One great opportunity that exists now is the Lord’s Supper, which was instituted during the Passover. What a great opportunity to teach Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Also, baptism gives us the opportunity to talk about Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits.
On a personal level, I know I have become much more aware of the imminent return of Christ in the fall, and I watch with anticipation for Trumpets, when the dead in Christ shall rise first, and then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
There are other Jewish feasts besides the seven we have studied. What can you tell us about Purim and Hanukkah, for example?
Purim commemorates a time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination, thanks to the heroic acts of Esther, a Jewish woman chosen as Persia’s queen. Her story is told in the book of Esther. Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of Adar, which usually falls in March. The word “Purim” means “lots” and refers to the lottery that the evil Persian leader Haman used to choose a date for the massacre of all Jews. Haman’s sinister plot against the Jews was thwarted when Queen Esther, at the urging of her cousin Mordecai, risked death by revealing the plot to King Ahasuerus. The Jewish people were saved, and Haman was put to death. Purim is a joyous celebration preceded by a fast, which commemorates Esther’s three days of fasting in preparation for her meeting with the king. Observant Jews read the book of Esther, enjoy food and drink, and make gifts to charity.
Hanukkah (also spelled Hanukka, Chanuka and Chanukah) is one of the most joyous times of the Jewish year. The people remember the miraculous military victory of the small, ill-equipped Jewish army over the ruling Greek Syrians, who had banned the Jewish religion and desecrated the Temple. In addition, they celebrate the miracle of the small cruse of consecrated oil that burned for eight days in the Temple’s menorah. As a result, Hanukkah is an eight-day festival beginning on the 25th day of Kislev, which normally falls in December. It also is known as the festival of lights. Hanukkah is celebrated by lighting a menorah for eight nights; eating foods fried in oil, especially potato pancakes and jelly doughnuts; and playing with a dreidel, a four-sided top. Many non-Jews – and even some Jews – equate this holiday with Christmas, adopting many of the Christmas customs such as gift-giving and adorning the house in festive decorations.
Neither Purim nor Hanukkah are “appointed times” or “holy convocations” in Scripture. Nevertheless, they play important roles in Jewish history and modern custom.
Jesus in the Feasts of Israel: Tabernacles (part 2)
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The idea of salvation in the Jewish mind — as written in Isa. 12:2 for example — is tied to the feast of tabernacles. The reference in verse 3 to joyfully drawing water from the springs of salvation reminds the people of the ceremony practiced each day of the feast in which water is drawn from the Pool of Siloam, and it foreshadows the day when Jesus would stand, on the final day of the feast, and proclaim, “If anyone is thirsty, he should come to Me and drink” (John 7:37).
“As the Jew was reminded by the feast of tabernacles of his wanderings in tents in the wilderness, so the Jew-Gentile Church to come shall call to mind, with thanksgiving, the various past ways whereby God has at last brought them to the heavenly “city of habitation” (Ps. 107. Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, S. Is 12:2).
Everyone can see Jesus in the Feast of Tabernacles by noting the Messianic symbols God gave us — and Jesus fulfilled — in the feast, most notably:
1. The tabernacle.
2. The water.
3. The light.
4. The harvest.