The original seven Hebrew feasts or festivals are not something we talk about much in our modern Christian churches. There are some very powerful points for us as Christians however that are revealed in these feasts initiated at the time of the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt. Paul called these Old Testament religious feasts or festivals a “shadow” of things to come that were fulfilled in Christ, Colossians 2:17. The writer of the book of Hebrews says that even the sanctuary is a shadow of what is in heaven and also said that the law itself and all of its sacrifices were actually a shadow of things that were fulfilled in Christ.
When Jesus, Paul and others taught, they used the Old Testament. It was the only “Bible” they had. Referring back to what they used as shadows or patterns can help us ensure we rightly divide the Word of Truth. Christ came to “fulfill” the Old, not to do away with it. The Old Testament is still very relevant. The focus of every book of the Bible as you approach it should be God the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit and the church They established. This applies even to the book of Esther where “God” is never mentioned. If your thoughts about any book of the Bible first go somewhere else, a red flag or check should rise in your spirit.
We will reference the seven Hebrew Feasts from several places but if you want to have a couple of places to read them to ground yourself in our focus text for this week and next then read Leviticus 23:4-43 or Numbers 28:16–29:38. These are two books of the Bible that I know you just love to read during the early part of the year in your daily Bible reading plan, right? I pray you have a completely different outlook after this week and next week’s note. These feasts that Christ fulfilled had been celebrated from the time of the Hebrew’s exodus from Egypt, some 1400 years or so before Christ came in the flesh. The early church knew these feasts well and as such Christ became even more real to them. May the same be with us today. There are seven of these feasts, shown below in a tabular, more visual format.
First Hebrew Month - Spring
Seventh Hebrew Month - Autumn
Passover - 14th day of the month
Trumpets or Ingathering - 1st day of the month - Special Sabbath
Unleavened Bread - 15th day of the month - Special Sabbath (Feasts lasts seven days)
Day of Atonement - 10th day of the month - Special Sabbath
Firstfruits - 16th day of the month - Special Sabbath
Tabernacles - 15th day of the month - Special Sabbath (Feasts lasts eight days)
Pentecost - 50 days after 1st day of Unleavened Bread - Special Sabbath
The number “seven” is very important. The Jews considered seven a sacred number representing “complete” or “completeness”. The feasts were celebrated in the first month of the year and in the seventh month of the year. The first month was in the spring and the seventh month was in the autumn. The first three feasts were celebrated on three consecutive days in the spring. The fourth feast was celebrated on the fiftieth day after the second feast. The last three feasts were all celebrated in the seventh month with a few days separating each.
The “Special Sabbath” notations make reference to those particular days being a Holy Day with no regular work performed. All of these Special Sabbath days were preceded by a “Preparation Day” where the people got everything ready to observe the Special Sabbath. Of special note here is that Passover was not only referred to as Passover but could also be referred to as Preparation Day, preparing for the Special Sabbath that occurred the next day. This Preparation Day description at Passover was sometimes deemed the prominent description for the daylight hours of Passover Day, as occurs in the four Gospel accounts, because the people had to prepare for two consecutive Special Sabbath’s on this one day. The normal seventh day is described in Scripture by the Jews as simply the Sabbath or in the case of Jesus’ resurrection, the day prior to the first day of the week (Matthew 18:1, Mark 16:2, Luke 24:1, John 20:1), which we know as Sunday. Some years, these first three feasts aligned with a normal Sabbath yielding three consecutive Sabbaths prior to Sunday. We will come back to that point when we look at the third feast.
Passover commemorates deliverance or rescue of Israel from bondage in Egypt where they had been held captive for 400 years. A vivid image of this rescue is given to us in Exodus 19:4. That passage shows us God speaking to Moses on Mt Sinai and telling Moses that “I carried you on eagle’s wings from Egypt to bring you here”. I provide that detail to help you see that the deliverance from Egypt was truly a rescue by God. The same imagery is used elsewhere in the Bible, rescuing or carrying the Hebrews, the church, and individual believers.
The first Passover occurred on the night that the last of the ten plagues, the most severe one, fell upon Egypt resulting in the death of every firstborn child of every family. All first born would die unless they were residing that night in a dwelling where the doorway was marked in a specific manner. The Hebrews were to take a spotless lamb that was one-year-old, kill it breaking no bones, collect the blood, and then cook the animal a specific way for the people inside the dwelling to eat. The blood of the animal was to be spread across the top of the doorway - the lintel, and on both sides of the door opening - the door posts. As this blood was spread with a hyssop branch, blood would drip. This hyssop branch application method was not like our modern-day paint brushes. If you connect the lines where the blood was placed on the sides and from the top to where it dripped on the ground below, it forms the sign of a cross. Everyone and everything in a dwelling marked with this blood, in other words trusting in, dwelling within the symbol of a bloody cross, would be spared that night as the angel of death visited Egypt. Physical death that night could not touch them.
So why is Passover called “Passover”? The term literally fits what the primary celebration of Passover is all about. Passover symbolized the protection of God’s covenant people, the Hebrews, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, from the angel of death there in Egypt that night. This point of covenant is very important. Moses told the people that night of the first Passover meal that even “strangers”, in other words non-Jews, could partake of Passover and be in the dwelling with the blood on the doorway but only if the males of those families were circumcised, the Hebrew sign of covenant with God, Exodus 12:48. In Exodus 12:49 Moses went further and said that there would be only “one law for those native to the land and who were strangers in the land”, denoting that “covenant” was the focus. Even here in Exodus 12:48-49 Moses is providing us a shadow of the New and Everlasting Covenant which Christ established when He was “cut” (symbolic of covenant ratification) on the cross. The angel of death “passed over” the homes and shelters where the blood was present; blood applied and dripped that formed a cross.
As a Christian, God wants you to see how your new life begins. Your new life begins at a cross where another spotless lamb shed His blood. This time the lamb was Jesus Christ, the one and only Son of God. It was on this cross that Jesus cried out “It Is Finished”. Christ shed His blood for you, in effect placing it over the doorway to your heart / life so that death cannot claim you. Another way of looking at it is that Christ actually took you into Himself as that dwelling where you are protected. He is your “ark”. He literally holds you in His hand and nothing can ever take you out of His hand, John 10:28-29. Your flesh will die but your spirit never will. You have been born-again, John 3:3. You are a new creation, 2 Corinthians 5:17. The condemnation or wrath of God is no longer over you, Romans 8:1. Your spirit has been regenerated, Titus 3:5. All of this because you are now in Christ Jesus, covered by His blood. Jesus said in John 11:25-26 that “whoever lives by believing in me will never die”. Jesus said this speaking of Himself being the resurrection and the life. Jesus was telling us that we actually participate in His resurrection and that is what gives our born-again spirit everlasting life. Our spirit will never die. As a Christian your body may die but your spirit will not. You live, in life and in death, because of His blood.
As a Christian, your new life as a born-again, new creation, begins at the cross. Because of faith in the sacrifice of the sinless, only begotten Son of God (meaning first and only one actually like God), you have been made new. You are one of His children, a part of His Church, a child of the covenant most clearly initially spoken of when given to Abraham that runs from Genesis through Revelation. That covenant was fulfilled through Christ, the one whom God promised would come through Abraham and bless people from all nations meaning His Church. Spiritual death has now “passed over you”.
The Hebrews were told they could leave Egypt immediately after the long night of death of that first Passover. In Exodus 12:31-36, you see where Pharoah summoned Moses and Aaron that very night of Passover as people died and told them to “Get Up, leave our land”. Others said “If God sends another plague, it surely will kill us all.” The Hebrews were told to leave so hurriedly that there was no time to add “leaven”, what we call “yeast”, to the bread. The Jews celebrated the Exodus from Egypt yearly by eating unleavened bread for seven days. They could not even have yeast or leaven in their house during these seven days.
Leaven in the Bible often represented sin and decay. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 5:6, tells us that “a little leaven, leavens the whole lump of dough”. Jesus told the people in Matthew 16:6-12 to beware of the “leaven of the Pharisees”. In verse 12 it says clearly that the leaven of the Pharisees was literally the doctrine they taught. “But Greg” you may say, “I thought they taught about living good, sinless lives”. That is what they taught but their doctrine actually meant that you living without sin is what made you righteous or holy. It was a doctrine of “if I do this, God then must do that”. There was no grace in it. It was all works. Romans 4 is the quintessential passage on this topic of righteousness saying over and over that your faith in Christ is what makes you righteous. Christ actually credits or reckons over to you His righteousness due to your faith in Him and what He did on the cross. In the passage referenced above by Paul from 1 Corinthians chapter 5, he goes on to say in verse 7, “get rid of the old yeast so that you may be a new unleavened batch – as you really are”. He was calling on them to never, ever, believe that your works, your own attempts to live righteously and holy, are what makes you holy. This works-based righteousness was a teaching Paul battled over and over and over. He literally hated that type of teaching. Only Christ can declare you Holy through what He did on the cross. “So, Greg, does this second feast mean that since I am already righteous or holy, that I can now do whatever I want and it does not matter?” There is another quintessential passage in Romans that deals with that topic. Romans 6 says in the second verse – “GOD FORBID” regarding those type of thoughts. The whole chapter refutes that twisted type of thinking. Paul says we are to offer no part of our self, physically or mentally, to sin. We are instead to offer our entire self to God due to what He did in giving us eternal life (in other words due to GRATITUDE), as an instrument of service to him, an instrument of righteousness.
This second feast, celebrated the day after Passover, signifies that as a Christian you are so excited after experiencing the deliverance or rescue from the angel of death and from a life of bondage to sin, being declared now righteous or holy, that you immediately drop your old life’s sinful ways that you exhibited before receiving Christ. You want nothing of your old life, no old leaven, no old “works doctrine”, no teaching that elevates man above God, no sins that hurt you or others, spoiling this new life Christ has promised you. You have heard me say that in the book of Romans, chapters 1 – 11 are generally “what God has done / does”. Chapters 12 – 16 are generally what we are to do now as a result of what God has done. These last chapters tell us how to live in this world. It is interesting that Romans 12:1, the very first verse of this section of this very powerful book of the Bible says the following: “Therefore (referencing back to the prior 11 chapters), I urge you brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.” In the first of Cory’s sermon series on “Getting There”, He said you had to “start” somewhere. The point he highlighted as the starting point was “to be holy”. This is what the term “Hebrew” means as I have shared with you many times. You have “crossed over” and are to never go back. You have left Egypt and are full of gratitude, a gratitude displayed by living a life dedicated to the One that rescued you.
The Feast of First Fruits occurred the very next day. This feast of firstfruits was depicted by bringing the first part of the barley harvest to the priest who would offer it as a grain offering. It was a symbol of giving to God of the very first of your crop and trusting that He would then bring to fruitfulness the rest of the crop, even until the final harvest in the autumn six months away. There is a powerful, practical message in what the Hebrews were commanded to do here by trusting God with all you have. Someone grasping the concept of First Fruits does not give to God after everything else is paid for. They give before anything else is paid for.
The most important point though for the Christian that is to be realized from the feast of firstfruits is again, not something you have done. Passover was about what Christ did. Unleavened bread was about Christ declaring you, actually giving you His righteousness, passing it over to you. Firstfruits, the feast on the third day, is really about what happens at the end of the three days. It is not an accident that God had Moses celebrate these three feasts on three consecutive days. There are many passages in the New Testament that outline for us what the shadow of the feast of firstfruits really meant. I suggest you read all of these: Romans 8:23, Romans 11:16, 1 Corinthians 15:20-24, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, James 1:18, Revelation 14:4. The passage in 1 Corinthians 15 states that Christ had become the “firstfruits” of them that sleep. Literally what Paul is saying is that Christ is the first of those that are resurrected to life.
The term “three days” appears often in the Gospels. The term equates to what Jesus would do Himself in or after three days in most of those passages. Here on the third day of this spring feast period, God set a pattern for something else that occurred in or after three days. That was Jesus, rising from the dead, the first of many that would be resurrected to life. Here on this third day, this feast of firstfruits, you celebrate the resurrection of the Jesus Christ.
You may say, “But Greg, there must be something we are to do. The Hebrews at least had to bring an offering”, and to that I would agree. You do bring an offering to Him. This offering though is an offering of your life back to Him out of all that you have. You present yourself back to Him as a holy, living sacrifice as we saw from Romans 12:1. That is the thing you do in all of this. Included in that sacrifice back to Him are offerings of praise, worship and humble, everlasting gratitude for the gift of salvation, not through anything you have done but through grace.
Feast of Weeks or Pentecost
This feast occurs exactly seven weeks after the Feast of First fruits, that earlier feast which commemorated the day the Hebrews swiftly left Egypt. Seven weeks comprised of seven days, was 49 days. They then begin this feast on day 50 which is where the term Pentecost is derived. Why this time period you may ask? This was a commemoration of how long it took the Hebrew children to reach Mt Sinai. Mt Sinai was the mountain on which God dwelt and where Moses went up to meet God and receive the Law, the old covenant.
Paul referred to this time for the Hebrews in 1 Corinthians 10:1-3 as being “baptized into the cloud and the sea”. This “baptism” is what is also referenced in Acts that occurred on the first Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection. There the people received the Holy Spirit of God as evidenced by tongues of fire. The early church celebrated Pentecost, contrasting it with what happened at Sinai. At Sinai, God spoke to the people from the fire of the mountain in rumblings like thunder but rumblings that they could all understand. This scared them greatly. The Hebrews actually asked Moses to never let them hear that again (Exodus 19 and 20 and Deuteronomy 4, 5 and 18). “Please tell God to speak to you only in the future”, they told Moses. Here at Pentecost in Acts, God is now speaking to and through people, believers in Christ, in sounds that seem strange but yet are understood and that appear as fire. Peter reminded the people of this in Acts 3:22 when he repeated what Moses declared in Deuteronomy 18:15-16. Peter told those present that God will no longer only speak through Jesus or some other flesh and blood prophet. God has now sent His most Holy and most Divine Spirit to live in us, speak to us, and speak through us as Christians to boldly fulfill our mission on this earth.
In Acts 1:3, we are told that Jesus appeared and ministered to His followers for forty days after He arose. Forty days plus three days in the grave leaves just seven more until Pentecost. Seven as stated earlier in this note meant “complete”. Jesus was telling them, not just in words, but by everything that happened, that these last seven days that I want you to go wait for the Holy Spirit will make everything complete. Just seven more days and the Father has a special gift for you, John 16:7-15. With that gift, you will understand it all and then you will have all that I have promised you. On that 50th day, after receiving the Holy Spirit, the simple fisherman Peter stands up at nine o’clock in the morning and begins to preach; no microphones, no music, just the Word of God being explained in power. That first sermon led to 3000 people being saved that very day. What a start! What is God wanting to start through you?
On this holy day, the 50th day after the feast of Firstfruits, the Hebrews celebrated receiving from God the old covenant, having been through the baptism of the cloud and the sea on their journey to Sinai. Pentecost today for the Christian represents us being baptized with the Holy Spirit and given a new covenant, a better and now everlasting covenant. We are now empowered by the Holy Spirit to spread the Word of God and build / strengthen / multiply the church. This is the fourth feast of your Christian life. It is the feast where you enter into a dance of pure joy and love. That dance is the one where the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have been loving each other forever. You are now in the middle of that dance. May your life going forward be a most fruitful one as you move forward in this dance toward the autumn of your life.
The first four feasts all occurred early in the year, the first month on the old Hebrew calendar to be specific. They also occur at the beginning of your Christian life. They are all things that Christ has fulfilled and things wherein we respond with rejoicing, praise, worship, gratitude leading us to live a holy life for Him. That gratitude is not just saying you are grateful and singing a few songs each week. It is living a life that displays and literally oozes love, gratitude and power. You have been rescued. Death holds you no more. You have been given power to minister the Gospel of Jesus Christ to your world.
Next week we will finish this two-part study looking at the last three feasts which occurred in the autumn, the harvest season, symbolizing the autumn of our Christian life.