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The twenty-third chapter of Leviticus instructs how to celebrate feast days designated as Holy Convocations. “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 feast’” (Lev. 23:2, NKJV). Seven feasts are given to the children of Israel to celebrate with the offering of sacrifices. They range in length from one day to seven days. Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits feast occurred during the second and third week of the Jewish first month of Nisan (March/April). The Harvest Festival, Pentecost, celebrated the wheat harvest and occurred fifty days after the Passover/Unleavened Bread feast during the month of Sivan (May/June). The remaining three feasts, Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles, were celebrated in the fall after the harvest was completed during the seventh month of Tishrei (Sept./Oct.).
These “feasts of the Lord” coincided with the changing seasons and reminded the people of God’s constant provision and protection for them. These feasts allowed the people to return to God a part of all he had given them. All were occasions of delight, enjoyment of God’s gifts, and a time to seek his forgiveness and cleansing. These feasts brought the twelve tribes together in worship and fellowship. All males were required to attend the feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles (Ex. 23:14-19).
Since the feasts were prophetic, they foreshadowed events like the other ordinances. Each of these feasts has already found or will find fulfillment. Some have already been fulfilled and documented for us in the New Testament. It is incredible how the chronological sequence of the feasts within the year corresponds to their chronological fulfillment of God’s program.
Israel had two calendars based on the moon instead of the sun. Each month began with the new moon and lasted 29 or 30 days. About every six years, an extra leap moon (Second Adar) was added to their standard twelve months to bring their calendars into an agreement with the earth’s revolution around the sun. Their religious calendar, originating in the nation’s birth (Ex. 12:2), began with the month of Nisan in the spring of the year. Their civil calendar started with the month of Tishri (Sept./Oct.), the seventh month of the religious calendar. Thus, the religious New Year began in the spring, and the civil New Year began in the fall. It was during the time between spring and fall that the first four annual feasts were celebrated. Understanding the timing of these feasts is most helpful in our study of the Gospels in the New Testament.
The first three feasts, Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits, are all celebrated within eight days, beginning with the fourteenth day of the first month of Nisan (March/April). Many collectively refer to these three feasts as the Passover feast or Unleavened Bread. However, Leviticus chapter twenty-three identifies them as separate feasts, and each one depicts a distinct shadow of the work of Christ.
Four days before the feast of the Passover (Ex. 12:1-11, Lev. 23:5), each family took an unblemished lamb from the flock and set it aside. Then, on the fourteenth of Nisan, late in the afternoon, the lamb was offered as a sacrifice in memory of their redemption from the bondage of Egypt.
Prophetically, the sacrifice looked forward to the death of Christ (I Cor. 5:7). The fourteenth day of the month came to an end at 6:00 PM. Immediately following was the fifteenth day and the beginning of the feast of Unleavened Bread ( Ex. 12:14-20, 23:15, Lev. 23:6-8), which continued for seven days. This feast was celebrated by eating the unleavened bread with a portion of the lamb and was a communion celebration with God. It is fulfilled in our communion with Christ (I Cor. 5:8). Today, it has been replaced with the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. The leaven symbolizes sin, thus illustrating that there can be no fellowship with God until we have been cleansed from sin. Therefore, communion is served with unleavened bread.
The celebration of the First Fruits was on the first day of the week during the feast of Unleavened Bread (Lev. 23:9-14). When the people had come into the Promised Land, they were to bring a sheaf of the first fruits of the barley harvest unto the priest, and he would wave it before the Lord. The offering of a burnt offering and a meal offering followed the waving of the sheaf of first fruits. The feast of first fruits looked forward to the resurrection of Christ, who was the first fruits of the resurrection (I Cor. 15:20). It was on the day of the feast of first fruits that Christ rose from the grave.
The harvest feast of Pentecost or Weeks was fifty days after the feast of the First Fruits. Two wave loaves, baked with leaven, were brought to the Lord, followed by a burnt offering, a peace offering, and a sin offering. The Feast of Pentecost looked forward to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4). Let us be reminded that fifty days was precisely the period between the resurrection of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit to join both the Jews and the Gentiles together into one body, the Church. Also, note that the two wave loaves, which symbolized the Jews and the Gentiles, were baked with leaven because there is still evil and sin in the Church.
A significant interval of time elapsed between the feast of Pentecost and the fall feast. We see a great time gap has elapsed between the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the return of Christ for the Church. The fall feasts of Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles were celebrated during the seventh month (Tishri) of the religious year, the first month of the civil year. They were held to celebrate the fall harvest and prophetic events that will occur when Jesus returns. Also, they occur during the first month of the civil year, which symbolizes the beginning of a new age.
The Feast of Trumpets (present-day Rosh Hashanah) occurs on the first day of Tishri (Sept./Oct.), and could be considered a New Year celebration, because this is the first day of the Jewish civil year. This commemorated the time when the Trumpets were blown to call the people together, and announce that the wilderness march was about to begin (Matt. 24:31, Joel 2:1-3:21, Isa. 18:3, 27:13). “Of all the feasts, Yom Teruah is the most concealed and shrouded in mystery” (Google). However, some believe that it finds its prophetic fulfillment in the rapture of the Church. – others believe it symbolizes the return of Christ to the earth. Trumpets are involved in both comings.
The Day of Atonement ( Lev. 16:1-34, 23:26-32), the feast at which the high priest offered sacrifices for the nation’s sins, occurred nine days after the Feast of Trumpets. This was the only day of the year when the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies. The blood of a goat was sprinkled upon the Mercy Seat as propitiation to God, in faith, for the atonement of the sins of National Israel.
This feast has a double prophetic message. First, it looked forward to the death of Christ. Secondly, it looks beyond to the return of Christ when Israel shall receive their Messiah with great mourning. “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn” (Zech. 12:10, NKJV). Also, see ( Isa. 45:17) and (Rom. 11:26).
Five days later, on the fifteenth day of Tishri, the feast of Tabernacles, Booths, or Ingathering (present-day Sukkot) was begun and lasted for seven days. The Feast was a celebration in commemoration of God’s deliverance and protection during their stay in the wilderness. Also, it looks forward to the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel ( Acts 1:6-7), and their entrance into the Millennium Kingdom under the reign of their Messiah (Zech. 14:16-21).
Scripture quotations marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible, copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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