The Festivals of God

We believe in the commanded observance of the seven annual festivals that were given to ancient Israel by God; were kept by Jesus Christ, the apostles and the New Testament Church; and will be observed by all mankind during Christ's millennial reign. These festivals reveal God's plan of salvation.

We celebrate the festival days God has commanded us to observe in Scripture, rejecting all man-made holidays derived from pagan worship, such as Christmas and Easter, in accordance with Deuteronomy 12:29-32.

When God delivered the nation of Israel from captivity in Egypt, He commanded the nation to participate in periods of special worship during the harvest seasons of the year (Exodus 23:14-16; Deuteronomy 16:1-17). These are listed in full in Leviticus 23, where they are referred to in a number of Bible translations as "the feasts of the Lord" (verses 2-4).

"Feast" is used here in the sense of festival or celebration. That is certainly a valid description, and four of the listed occasions are actually named in the original Hebrew Old Testament with the word chag or hag, meaning "festival." But the Hebrew word used up front in verses 2-4 for all the occasions is mo'edim, meaning "appointed times." Thus, these occasions are special appointments God has made with His people—appointments He wants us to keep.

Understanding of the gospel message and God's plan of salvation is enriched by realizing that God uses the physical harvests of food crops to symbolize the spiritual harvests of human beings through God's gift of salvation by Jesus Christ (Matthew 9:37-38; John 4:35; 15:1-8; Colossians 2:16-17). The first three festivals are associated with the spring harvests in the land of Israel, while the last four festivals are related to the harvest of late summer and fall.

Within the seven festivals are seven annual Holy Days or annual Sabbaths. These, along with God's weekly Sabbath, are holy convocations, or commanded assemblies, of God's people. They are holy because they are sanctified—set apart—by God. He commands His people to assemble on these days for worship and to learn about Him and His plan, as well as for fellowshipping and rejoicing together (Leviticus 23:1-4; Deuteronomy 14:23-26; Nehemiah 8:1-12).

The New Testament record shows that the first-century Christian Church continued to observe these biblical festivals. Jesus Christ Himself observed these festivals, and we as His followers are told to walk as He walked (John 7:8-14; 1 John 2:6)—to live as He lived.

The New Testament Church miraculously began on one of these annual festivals—the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). The apostles and disciples of the early Church continued to observe these festivals long after Jesus' death and resurrection (Acts 18:21; 20:16; 27:9; 1 Corinthians 5:8).

Paul upheld their observance and presented them as continuing "shadows" or outlines of the great events in God's plan of salvation that are yet to be fulfilled (Colossians 2:16-17). He also instructed the gentile (non-Israelite) congregation in Corinth regarding one of the festivals, "Let us keep the feast" (1 Corinthians 5:8).

Through the observance of these feasts, God's people focus on and are reminded throughout the year of the work of Jesus the Messiah in fulfilling God's plan of salvation. His work involves different phases—first coming to offer Himself as the sin sacrifice for humanity, now serving as Advocate and High Priest for His people and living within them to help them overcome sin, and ultimately returning in power and glory to establish the reign of the Kingdom of God over all nations.

All of this and more is pictured in the annual festivals. Through Christ as our focal point, we begin to understand the special meaning behind the annual feasts.

The plan of salvation as revealed in the Holy Scriptures is pictured in the meaning of these seven annual festivals listed in Leviticus 23. In brief:

The Passover, in early spring in the northern hemisphere, teaches us that Jesus Christ was sinless and, as the sacrificial "Lamb of God," gave His life so that the sins of humanity could be forgiven and the death penalty removed (1 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Peter 1:18-20; Romans 3:25).

Passover, although not observed as an annual Sabbath on which no customary work is to be done, is the first festival of the year. Its observance includes foot-washing and the partaking of unleavened bread and wine as symbolic of Christ's body and shed blood offered in sacrifice. (See the chapter titled The Passover.")

The Feast of Unleavened Bread, starting the day after Passover and continuing for seven days, teaches us that Jesus Christ leads us to reject lawlessness, repent of sin and live by every word of God (1 Corinthians 5:8; Matthew 4:4).

During this festival, leaven—an agent such as yeast that causes bread dough to rise during baking—symbolizes sin and is therefore removed from our homes and not eaten for the seven days (1 Corinthians 5:7-8; Exodus 12:19). By eating unleavened bread during this time instead, we picture living a life of sincerity and truth, free from sin. The first and last days of this seven-day festival are annual Sabbaths.

The Feast of Pentecost is an annual Sabbath in late spring in the northern hemisphere. Also called the Feast of Weeks or the Feast of Harvest or Firstfruits, it teaches us that Jesus Christ is now building His Church, comprising those who are a "kind of firstfruits" in the spiritual harvest of mankind, having the "firstfruits of the Spirit" (Exodus 23:16; Acts 2:1-4, 37-39; James 1:18; Romans 8:23). (See the chapter titled The Church.)

These will be given salvation at the return of Christ. They have been empowered with the Holy Spirit, which creates in each one a new heart and nature to live in wholehearted obedience to the commandments of God. Jesus Himself is the first of the firstfruits, as formerly pictured in a special firstfruits offering during the previous festival (see Leviticus 23:9-14; 1 Corinthians 15:20, 23). Pentecost, Greek for "fiftieth," is the 50th day counting from that initial offering.

The Feast of Trumpets, an annual Sabbath in late summer or early fall in the northern hemisphere, teaches us that Jesus Christ will visibly return to the earth at the end of this age. At that time He will resurrect God's faithful servants who are no longer living and instantly change those obedient saints who are still alive into immortal spirit beings (Matthew 24:31; 1 Corinthians 15:52-53; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).

This festival commemorates the blowing of the trumpets that will precede and herald His return. Seven angels with seven trumpets are described in Revelation 8-10 heralding world-shaking events. Christ will return with the blowing of the seventh trumpet (Revelation 11:15).

The Day of Atonement, an annual Sabbath following shortly after the previous one, points to the time when Satan the devil will be bound for 1,000 years (Leviticus 16:29-30, 20-22; Revelation 20:1-3). It pictures the removal of the primary cause of sin—Satan and his demons. Until God removes the original instigator of sin, mankind will continue to be led into disobedience and suffering.

This Holy Day also pictures our High Priest, Jesus Christ, making atonement for the sins of all mankind. This act of atonement—"at-one-ment"—allows us to be reconciled (at one) with God and have direct access to Him by spiritually entering into the "holiest of all" (Hebrews 9:8-14; 10:19-20). By fasting on this day, we draw closer to God and picture the reconciliation to God that all mankind will experience following Christ's return. Christ is essential in this process as our High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-15; 5:4-5, 10) and as our one sacrifice for sin forever (Hebrews 9:26-28; 10:12).

The Feast of Tabernacles, also called the Feast of Ingathering, comes a few days after the previous Holy Day and lasts for seven days, the first being an annual Sabbath. This festival teaches us that when Jesus Christ returns, He will begin the ingathering or harvest of the greater part of mankind and establish a new society with Himself as King of Kings and Lord of Lords under God the Father.

Christ, assisted by the resurrected saints, will set up His government on the earth for 1,000 years (Revelation 19:11-16; 20:4; Leviticus 23:39-43; Matthew 17:1-4; Hebrews 11:8-9). Rule under His laws will spread from Jerusalem throughout the world to usher in an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity (Isaiah 2:2-4; Daniel 2:35, 44; 7:13-14). (See the chapter titled Jesus Christ's Return and Coming Reign.)

This festival is observed today through regional gatherings throughout the world, with Church members living in temporary dwellings for the entire period, in line with the Bible's instructions.

The Eighth Day, the annual Sabbath immediately following the Feast of Tabernacles, is known to many as the Last Great Day. This day teaches us that Jesus Christ will complete His harvest of human beings by raising from the dead, and offering salvation to, all who have died in the past and have never been given a full opportunity to be saved (Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 11:25-27; Luke 11:31-32; Revelation 20:11-13). (See the chapter titled The Resurrections and Eternal Judgment.)

Thus, the annual cycle of the celebration of the festivals and Holy Days reminds Christ's disciples that He is working out God's plan of offering salvation from sin and death and the gift of eternal life in the family of God to all humanity—past, present and future.

For more details, read Holidays or Holy Days: Does It Matter Which Days We Observe? and God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind.


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