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Festivals of Hope

The festivals foreshadow and reveal the basics of God's plan of salvation.

When God freed the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, He revealed to them, in addition to the weekly Sabbath, His seven annual festivals. The apostle Paul tells us these observances are "a shadow of things to come" (Colossians 2:16-17)—that is, they foreshadow and reveal the basics of His plan of salvation.

God originally gave them as harvest festivals—and for an appropriate reason. The writers of the Bible often compare the spiritual harvest of human lives to the agricultural harvests that physically sustain life. Therefore we find harvest analogies and parables to represent aspects of God's plan to bring humanity to repentance. God's goal is to harvest human beings—you and me—into His Kingdom. One of Christ's best-known parables that illustrates this is the famous illustration of the sower and the seed (Matthew 13:3).

Jesus compared the work God began through Him to a harvest. Christ told His disciples: "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. Do you not say, 'There are still four months and then comes the harvest'? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together" (John 4:34-36).

Here Jesus links the concept of a harvest to His work of bringing eternal life (salvation) to humans. "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). The Greek word translated into English as "Jesus" means Savior. Its Hebrew equivalent, translated into English as "Joshua," means God is salvation.

Jesus' role in securing our salvation is the nucleus of God's plan. Paul, writing to the young evangelist Timothy, explained that God "has saved us and called us with a holy calling ... according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:9-10).

God planned from the beginning to both create and save mankind through Christ. Describing Jesus' role, Paul explains: "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence" (Colossians 1:15-18).

Christ's role in God's master plan was not an afterthought. Everything in that plan is directly related to Jesus' mission and work as our Savior.

The apostle John refers to Jesus as "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8).

Jesus, speaking about the specific importance of His crucifixion to humanity's salvation, told His disciples, "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself" (John 12:32).

Christ's task is not only making salvation possible but leading "all peoples" into a lasting relationship with Him and His Father.

Christ's role in humanity's salvation is crucial. His role is also the central theme of God's sacred festivals, which reveal the sequence of events in His plan. The festivals all occur during harvest seasons in the Holy Land, where Jesus grew up and lived His human life.

Seven annual festivals are listed in the Scriptures: (1)the Passover, (2)the Feast of Unleavened Bread, (3) the Feast of Firstfruits (Pentecost), (4) The Feast of Trumpets, (5) the Day of Atonement, (6) the Feast of Tabernacles and (7) the Last Great Day. Each focuses on a specific aspect of God's plan.

In Exodus 23:14-16 God reveals to us the proper seasons for the festivals: "Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me. Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread; for seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in that month you came out of Egypt. No one is to appear before me empty-handed. Celebrate the Feast of Harvest [Pentecost] with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field. Celebrate the Feast of Ingathering [Tabernacles] at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field" (NIV).

During the three festival seasons of the year—spring, early summer and fall—God commands that a "holy convocation" (Exodus 12:16), a sacred assembly, take place every annual sabbath or special "high day" (John 19:31). No one is to perform any regular work or labor on those days (Numbers 28:18, 25, 26; 29:1, 7, 12, 35 ).

Occurring during the physical harvests of life-sustaining food products, God's festivals all point to aspects of His spiritual harvest of humanity to eternal life. As is so often the case in the Scriptures, God uses physical things to help us better understand spiritual truths. Jesus Himself frequently drew physical analogies to teach spiritual principles.

Let's now begin exploring the spiritual truths God reveals through His seven annual festivals.

 

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