God first instituted festivals when giving Moses the Law after bringing the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. We find God's prescription for these "appointed feasts" in Leviticus 23 and they include: the Sabbath, the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Firstfruits, the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Booths. Two other Jewish festivals are mentioned in the Bible including the Feast of Purim (Esther 9:20–32) and the Feast of Dedication (John 10:22). Jews also celebrate festivals commemorating other events recorded in Scripture including Lag B'Omer commemorating the giving of manna in the desert (Exodus 16), Tisha B'Av commemorating the destruction of the Temple (Jeremiah 52:12–23), and Tu B'Shvat marking a new year for the trees to determine proper tithing according to Deuteronomy 14:22, 28. We can now look at each festival more in depth and how Jesus is reflected in each one.
What are the different Jewish festivals in the Bible?
The Sabbath was to be a day of solemn rest on the seventh day of every week. Jews were commanded to not do any customary work on those days thereby setting aside those days as holy and dedicated to the Lord. Of course, Jesus declares Himself Lord of the Sabbath in Matthew 12:8 and He offers rest to all who come to Him in Matthew 11:28–30. Jesus is our Sabbath rest.
The Passover is the feast commemorating the night the Spirit of the Lord "passed over" the Israelites' houses that were covered with the blood of a sacrificial lamb during the plague that killed all the firstborn. This plague finally freed the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt (Exodus 12). This feast foreshadows Jesus' sacrificial blood as the Lamb of God who "freed us from our sins" (Revelation 1:5). It is also important to note that Jesus instituted the New Covenant in His blood during the Passover meal in Luke 22:20.
The Feast of Unleavened Bread is considered to be part of Passover as it's celebrated for seven days beginning the day after Passover. Israelites were commanded to not eat anything that contains yeast during this festival in remembrance of having fled Egypt in haste before the bread could rise. By New Testament time, yeast had become symbolic of sin or evil (1 Corinthians 5:6–8). Jesus was without sin and is the only perfect sacrifice (Hebrews 4:15; 2 Corinthians 5:21). It makes sense then, that during the Passover meal immediately preceding His death, Jesus took the unleavened bread and said, "This is my body, which is given for you" (Luke 22:19).
The next festival is actually held on the second day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and is the Feast of Firstfruits. On the Feast of Firstfruits, the Israelites were to express their dependence on God and gratitude to Him for the Promised Land by bringing their very first harvest of barley and other sacrifices to the temple. Jesus is said to be "the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" in reference to His being raised from the dead as someday all of us shall be (1 Corinthians 15).
Thirty-three days after Passover, Jews celebrate Lag B'Omer to commemorate God providing them with manna as they traversed the desert. Jesus refers to Himself as "… the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world" (John 6:32–33). He is the Bread of Life.
The Festival of Weeks, also known as Shavuot and Pentecost, occurs fifty days after Passover and is meant to be a celebration of gratitude to God for the wheat harvest similar to the Festival of Firstfruits for the barley harvest. Jesus fulfilled His promise of sending another Helper (John 14:16), the Holy Spirit, on Pentecost in Acts 2:1–4. If Jesus is like the barley harvest, the firstfruits, the Holy Spirit is this second harvest testifying that we are also God's children (Romans 8:16–17).
All the previously described festivals are spring festivals and there is a period of time before the next festivals begin. If the Spring festivals represent the work Jesus did during His first coming as Messiah, then the fall festivals foreshadow His ministry during His second coming as reigning King. So this gap of time can represent the current age of waiting and anticipation.
The first fall festival is the Feast of Trumpets, or Rosh Hashanah. This feast marks that the agricultural year has come to an end and a new one is beginning. The Israelites now enter a sacred season, presenting themselves before God, seeking His favor. This festival is commemorated with trumpet blasts. First Thessalonians 4:16 notes that Jesus will come again "with the sound of the trumpet of God." Trumpets in the book of Revelation announce the coming judgement of God and likewise, this festival announces the next festival just ten days later.
Ten days after Rosh Hashanah is Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. It was the one day per year the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies to present a sacrifice on behalf of the people to wipe away all the sins of the previous year. Of course, Jesus has become our High Priest and "he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption" (Hebrews 9:12).
Five days after Yom Kippur is the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles), or Sukkot. This festival celebrates the fall harvest and commemorates the Israelites' sojourn in the desert when they lived in tents (or tabernacles). The Israelites were commanded to construct and live in tabernacles or huts for seven days during this festival each year to remember that time of their history with God. The Feast of Tabernacles foreshadows the time when Jesus will rule and reign on earth. In the new heavens and new earth God will "tabernacle" with man; "… He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God" (Revelation 21:3).
The Feast of Dedication mentioned in John 10:22 is perhaps better known as Hanukkah. This winter holiday is the festival when Jews celebrate the dedication of the Second Temple as recorded in the books of First and Second Maccabees in the time between the Old and New Testaments. The Feast of Dedication is also called the Festival of Lights. Jesus declares Himself "Light of the World" in John 8:12, and Revelation 21:23 says that in the New Jerusalem "its lamp is the Lamb."
Related to Hanukkah, in some ways its opposite, is Tisha B'Av. Observed in the summer, Tisha B'Av commemorates the destruction of both the First Temple by the Babylonians in 587 BC as recorded in Jeremiah 52:12–23 and Herod's Temple by the Romans in AD 70. Christians believe God now dwells in men through His Holy Spirit, which removes the need for a physical temple to hold the presence of the Lord.
After Sukkot in the fall and Hanukkah in the winter, the only remaining festival in the Bible before circling back to Passover in the spring, is Purim. Purim was instituted in Esther 9:20–32 to commemorate God's saving the Jewish people through the actions of Esther and Mordecai. God still uses ordinary people today to accomplish His will on earth.
Because these festivals commemorate the Lord's provision for His people and foreshadow His redeeming work through Jesus Christ, understanding these holidays helps us better understand God, His ways of working in the world, and His plan for salvation. Studying the Jewish festivals is well worth the effort.
How is the meaning of each of the Jewish feasts fulfilled in Jesus?
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What is the significance of the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur)?
The Feast of Tabernacles – What is it?
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