I want to give credit to a book entitled "The Feasts of Israel" by Kevin J. Conner. It was of great assistance in preparing this teaching.
Understanding our heritage and history is paramount to understanding our mission in life. If that history is one we are shamed by, then through studying it and understanding it we may seek to avoid the repetition of it. However, if it is one that we are proud of, we are urged to emulate and imitate those brave souls who have gone before us to forge our birthright. Whichever may be the case for our particular country, and the legacy that has been passed on to us, ignorance of it is anything but bliss. The citizen of a free country with a history of dictatorship or fascism who does not study his country’s past, may not recognize the same brutal attitudes that fueled it when they begin to seep back into society. On the other hand, the American who does not understand the foundation upon which his freedom is based, and the sacrifices that have been made for it, will not appreciate the gift of it. Without that appreciation, he most likely will not be willing to surrender what is necessary to preserve and perpetuate it.
The natural world always has a spiritual reflection. In this case, that spiritual reflection can be found in the necessity of the Christian to have an understanding of his spiritual legacy. That legacy begins in detail in the Old Testament, and each commandment, ceremony, and spiritual experience contained therein is like a piece of a complex puzzle which, when it is put into place, reveals a little more of the great picture of the character and personality of God. Our Lord wastes nothing. The Book He has preserved for us – the Book that many have suffered and died for, the Book that many even today risk their lives by owning, contains nothing extraneous or superfluous. It is all for our enlightenment as we search the impenetrable depths of His truth. And it gives us an understanding of the spiritual history of the people of God throughout the ages. Some of what they did brings shame on His holy Name, and we read of those incidents as an admonition not to fall into the same sins. In contrast, other actions shine like bright stars in a dark night – there are sacrifices and admirable deeds that challenge us and spur us on to do more for God in the little time we have left in this fallen world.
If a person was taught the history of the United States only from the 1950’s, and not before that time, this would be insufficient to prepare that citizen to understand the depth of our beginnings. He would have no sense of the struggle for freedom and the sacrifices made for it, nor the victories and mistakes that were made as the country developed. Likewise, the Bible is not a complete document without the Old Testament. The very essence of the whole system of redemption cannot be fully grasped without understanding everything God used in the process which led up to it. Historians tell us that the study of history is valuable, for it repeats itself, and we should look to the past to determine what might come about in the future. In the same manner, we will find that our prophetic understanding of what will occur to the Church and the world is wrapped up in some of the most complicated ceremonies under the Old Covenant. And, as we endeavor in our study of the Feasts of Israel, we will discover that Christ is found as the basis of everything God has constructed for the eventual reconciliation of Man to Himself.
Let us then search the Scriptures and find much more of Him than we have previously known, which will also enhance our prophetic knowledge of what is to come. For locked in the ceremonies and rituals of the Old Testament, we will find truths that reveal to us where we are on God’s prophetic calendar.
The Center is Christ
The first principle we must grasp in seeking to interpret Old Covenant commands is that even as the hub of a wheel is the center of it, and each spoke that goes out from that hub would be ineffective without the hub, Jesus Christ is the center of the whole Bible. Although we scarcely grasp every reference and every nuance that refers to Him, as we discover each new one, our understanding of God is enhanced. This truth is underscored in the following Scriptures:
"Then I said, "Behold, I have come – in the volume of the book it is written of Me – to do Your will, O God.’" Hebrews 10:7 (NKJV)
"You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me." John 5:39 (NKJV)
Failing to integrate Jesus into our reading and interpretation of the Old Testament leaves us bereft of the deep truths contained therein. However, finding Him, as one might seek a jewel – yes, even a pearl of great price, brings revelation and wisdom that cannot be gained in any other manner. And it is through the understanding of how He is revealed in the Feasts of Israel that we grasp a more specific understanding of what the Church faces in the future so that we might prepare for it. Some might scoff at this and question if we can really know the future by studying ceremonies God established thousands of years ago, which Christians no longer practice today. Nevertheless, even as the practice of them has stopped since they have been fulfilled in Christ, the understanding of that fulfillment constitutes knowledge that we still need. As God has revealed end-time events in the Book of Daniel, Revelation and others, He has also provided revelation for those who seek to know His Son in the intricate details of all the festivals which speak of His sacrifice for our redemption. Nevertheless, the deeper the truth, and the more profound the understanding, the more patience and exactitude we must practice in our quest. For we read there is some work involved in learning more of Him:
"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." 2Timothy 2:15 (NKJV)
"…He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." Hebrews 11:6 (NKJV)
A Triune Fulfillment
The key to understanding the relation of the feasts to the contemporary world is the premise that they have a triune fulfillment. Even as man is triune in nature (body, soul and spirit) and God is triune (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), we find that the completeness of God’s word, as applied here, has three aspects which, when combined, bring fuller understanding. The first of these three is the historical fulfillment. This simply means that the feasts were literally fulfilled in Israel, as they practiced them according to the commands of God. The second way that the feasts are fulfilled is in Jesus Christ. He prophetically fulfilled each feast in something that He did. And we will discover that He fulfilled each feast in such magnificent detail that the Divine signature of God is unmistakable. In fact, as we study the feasts and find His imprimatur (imprint) on each one, the evidence will be so complete that if an orthodox Jew were to examine it with an open mind, he would reach the inescapable conclusion that Jesus is the Messiah (Yeshua Hamashiah).
The third fulfillment for the feasts is as an experience in the Church today. This is also a prophetic fulfillment. Something has happened or will happen in the Church, something that can or will be experienced by Christians, which is represented in the feasts. Let us not be misguided into thinking that this refers to us celebrating the feasts as Israel did. There are teachings of this sort going around today, in which believers are taught that they must experience the feasts in the same manner as the Israelites who lived before Christ did. Some are even so blind as to wish to practice the sacrifice of animals, which is a terrible effrontery to the fact that Jesus was the end of all sacrifices. Rather, we are speaking here of a spiritual experience; something that the Christian will encounter and receive from God that has its roots in the natural practices of the feasts. In other words, the feasts were a "type" of spiritual experience in the church, and in discovering the correlation and representation of that type (the anti-type), we will also come to understand where we are presently in regard to Biblical prophecy. Another way of looking at this is that each feast was fulfilled before Christ, by Christ, and after Christ. All the feasts have been fulfilled historically (by Israel) and prophetically (by something Christ did), but not all of them have been fulfilled in the Church. And it is this last fulfillment, something that the Church has yet to experience, that will compel us to realize where we are on the prophetic clock of the Bible. Let the reader not be concerned if right now this point seems confusing – it will become clearer as we continue the study, and we will find that it is well worth the effort it takes to sift out the great truths in the Feasts of Israel.
Principles of Interpretation
As we discussed, the center of all the Old Covenant ceremonies is Christ. However, there are also other principles of interpretation that shed light on the symbolism of the Old Testament. In Colossians we read:
"So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ." Colossians 2:16-17 (NKJV)
Again we read that the substance is Christ, but let us note the phrase "shadow of things to come." This supports our understanding that Old Testament ceremonies represented something spiritual, and were not an end in and of themselves. Moreover, if they shadow what is to come, they must speak prophetically – and have something relevant to our spiritual understanding today. For if a large building casts a long shadow, and I find the shadow, I must follow the shadow to find the actual building. The shadow had no substance, but the building does. If I only have the shadow, I never get the benefit of seeing the actual building. The shadow only gives me an outline of the building – the detail is lost. The shadow essentially only gives me enough information to lead me to the real object the sun has outlined on the ground.
In the same manner, everything God told the Israelites to do, reflects a shadow into the New Covenant, and there it finds its spiritual reality. Consequently, as we read the Old Testament, we understand that there is a spiritual message for us in all that transpired for Israel – and the message is not limited to any time period, it rather speaks to our present situation. And that present situation also encompasses our prophetic understanding, for God wants us to be established in "present truth," as we read:
"For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth." 2Peter 1:12 (NKJV)
"Present truth" does not mean that the truth is changing; rather, we find that there are different things occurring depending on when we live on the earth, and generations of Christians need to understand their current disposition. If I find the present truth, I can trace the shadow from the Old Testament truth to find the present revelation in the New Testament. God has ordained things so that the truth of the Old Testament clarifies and enriches the New Testament truth once they are connected. This is why the New Testament cannot be fully understood without the Old, because it is a foundation for the new. And this brings about a very important point of interpretation, which is that God does nothing in the New Testament that He has not established a pattern for in the Old Testament. And so we find that an old poem applies to this understanding:
The New is in the Old contained;
The Old is by the New explained.
Let us then picture in our minds a cross standing in bright sunlight, with a shadow that covers a period of about four thousand years before it. Everything that occurred in that time period leads up to Christ dying for us on Calvary, even as we are informed by Scripture of the fact that we were not only created through Jesus, but that He was also part of the plan of salvation from the very beginning.
"He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him." John 1:10 (NKJV)
"And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel." Genesis 3:15 (NKJV)
The First is the Natural
The feasts are a natural representation of something spiritual, which will come forth later in the New Testament. This corresponds to the spiritual principle that the natural precedes the spiritual.
"However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual." 1Corinthians 15:46 (NKJV)
We see this operative on a personal level in our daily lives. For instance, when we are provoked by others, often our first reaction is to take our anger out on them, but our second thought is to restrain ourselves. It is the same with fear. A situation occurs and we are at first afraid, but as we remember the promises of God’s protection, and the fact that He is in control of every situation, we compose ourselves as our spiritual understanding overrules the natural reaction.
Let us then apply this to what might have heretofore been a paradox in our minds as we have read certain passages of Scripture. In Biblical times, the first-born son would essentially receive the family fortune (or most of it) and would take the place of authority of his father. Esau was the first-born and the blessing that went along with that status belonged to him. However, he was set aside for Jacob. It is true that Jacob connived for the first-born status, but he would have received it nonetheless, because it was ordained for him by God. The prophecy to his mother at his birth was:
"And the Lord said to her: "Two nations are in your womb, two peoples shall be separated from your body; one people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger.’" Genesis 25:23 (NKJV)
Likewise, later in Egypt, Joseph tried to correct his father when Jacob began to pray the first-born blessing on the younger son. However, Jacob was not deterred and prayed according to God’s will, because it was ordained that the older was to serve the younger.
"And Joseph said to his father, ‘Not so, my father, for this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.’ But his father refused and said, ‘I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations.’" Genesis 48:18-19 (NKJV)
Going back further, we also find that Ishmael was set aside for Isaac – however, we certainly know the reason for this. Ishmael was not the rightful heir. Isaac was the child of promise, even though he was younger. We also see that Cain was set aside for Abel. Now we begin to see where the pattern is going. It is clearly a shadow of prophetic significance and it finds its ultimate fulfillment in the New Covenant, for Adam, the man of the flesh would be set aside for Jesus Christ, the God-man of the Spirit. In the same manner, we have been changed from being men in the flesh, to becoming men in whom the Spirit of God, yes, the Spirit of Life now lives. And so in the New Covenant we find the reminder in Romans regarding this promise, for we read:
"It was said to her, ‘The older shall serve the younger.’" Romans 9:12 (NKJV)
This principle is of overwhelming importance to us, because it is the basis on which we must live our lives as Christians. Not that we change the birth order of our children – but rather, that we change the birth order of our spiritual lives. When we are born-again the "old man" (the older) must not control us, but must rather serve our "new man," the new person we are in Christ. We read of this throughout the Scriptures:
"Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds…" Colossians 3:9 (NKJV)
"That you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts…" Ephesians 4:22 (NKJV)
"Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin." Romans 6:6 (NKJV)
Let us now consider what an important principle this must be for God to have given us such a definitive object lesson for it. We should also realize that the shaking up of the birth order in Old Testament times created a lot of difficulty for everyone. The older brother was unlikely to easily accept this reversal, for truly, according to the flesh, he did deserve the inheritance. However, the claim of the spiritual is always higher and should supersede the physical. Nevertheless, even on a personal basis it causes upheaval. For the "old man" the unregenerated aspect of our persona – our soul and mind, are at battle with the "new man," the spirit man that has been given new life from God and is a new creation. The battle continues as long as we are on this planet, and even as we prevail in this internal struggle against Satan and sin, we find that the fruit of that victory brings forth another challenge – persecution from the world.
We might wonder why people would dislike a person trying to live for Christ, but they do. One man in his university would not listen to dirty jokes, so they began to mock him and call him "Holy Joe." Another person refused to go into the tavern with others at work, because liquor was served there, and he was called a killjoy. A woman may find that the cursing at work is worse with the other women than with the men, and be reviled as a prude. Whenever a Christian makes the older serve the younger, he or she becomes salt and light in the world, and this pleases Christ but stirs up the ungodly.
The Religious Calendar of Israel
Seven months of the twelve months of each year was set aside as a religious calendar for Israel. Seven is a special number in the Bible. Many think that it is God’s number, but that is not necessarily so – more likely we would say that three is God’s number, if we could assign one to Him. Seven is rather a number which indicates earthly completeness or perfection. There are a total of seven feasts that are celebrated in the seven-month time period of the religious calendar.
Another numerical aspect of this is that although there were seven feasts in Israel, the first and last feasts are triune in nature, in that they were three-in-one feasts. Passover, Unleavened Bread and Firstfruits compose the first three-in-one feast, and they were held in one gathering. Pentecost came fifty days later, and at the end of the religious calendar, in the seventh month, the Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and Feast of Tabernacles comprised another three-in-one event. And so we see that there are actually three major feasts, but since two of them are three-in-one feasts, there are a total of seven. In this regard, we see a representation of the colors of the rainbow, or a prism. There are three primary colors in a prism, but they are manifest in seven variations of those colors.
"But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you." 1Thessalonians 5:1 (NKJV)
If an Israelite had no calendar, he would still be able to determine when the feasts were occurring, because this religious calendar was not based on earth’s revolutions around the sun, but rather, on lunar activity. Each month starts with a new moon, reaching a full moon in the middle of the month. Passover always falls on a full moon, the first full moon of the spring, and the tides and seas rise and fall with this cycle. Almond blossoms would also bloom about the time of Passover, so even if a person could not read, they would know that the season was coming about. This alludes to the understanding that salvation is universal, and is obtainable regardless of illiteracy or a lack of worldly knowledge.
The Feasts Were Important to Jesus
The word for feast in Hebrew is chagag, which primarily means "to dance" as if in a circle, or to march in a sacred procession. Interestingly, some modern Jewish worship dances incorporate the use of a circle. However, the root word means "an appointed day" and it carries the connotation of having an appointment with God. Jesus took these appointments very seriously. He and His apostles walked seventy-five miles to Jerusalem to the feasts, because according to the law, they had to be observed at the Temple. Even when Jesus was under a death threat, He kept the Feast of Tabernacles (See John 7). The importance of the feasts to Christ and to the Jews speaks to us clearly of their spiritual significance to us today. Nevertheless, how can they be relevant to us unless we know what God is telling us through them? In the next episode, we will begin our discovery of what the Feast of Passover means to us as believers.
BACK to menu