Feasts and Fulfillments
We all have days marked on the calendar that are special to us. These could include religious celebrations such as Christmas and Easter, national holidays, as well as personal anniversaries, birthdays, and even days that spiritual victories were won. We tend to mark the most important, life-changing moments in our lives, and remember them annually to help us appreciate their value.
Have you ever considered what special dates are marked on God’s calendar? Leviticus 23 describes seven feasts that God instructed the Children of Israel to keep annually. The word “feasts” is a translation of the Hebrew word moedim meaning “appointed times.” In other words, the Jewish feasts are days on the calendar that have been appointed by God. Some of these were to be joyful celebrations and some were to be somber. Five of them lasted for a single day and two were week-long observances. All of them were considered holy to the Lord and had to be kept. Attendance was a requirement of Jesus in His earthly lifetime, and many Jews still keep them today.
These feasts hold great significance for the Jewish people, but also for everyone in the entire world. They present a prophetic illustration of God’s plan of redemption, arranged chronologically from beginning to end, with Jesus as the fulfillment of each. Four of the feasts take place in the springtime, and these were all fulfilled by Christ during His first coming. The last three occur during the fall season and have been fulfilled in part, but are expected to be completed at Christ’s Second Coming.
As we review each of the seven feasts, we will consider their historical origins, prescribed observances, and prophetic meaning and fulfillment. This will give us greater insight into New Testament events, and help us recognize what is next on God’s calendar. When we understand why these dates are important to God, we will understand why they are important to us.
The first three springtime feasts celebrate different aspects of one major event in Jewish history: deliverance from bondage in Egypt. They occur together in an eight-day period, beginning with Passover. Technically, Passover is only the first night of the celebration, but the three feasts are commonly referred to as “Passover week.” The fourth springtime holiday, the Feast of Weeks, occurs seven weeks later.
1. FEAST OF PASSOVER | PESACH
Date: Fourteenth day of the first month
Next Occurrence: April 5-6, 2023
Scripture: Leviticus 23:5; Exodus 12:1-46
The word “passover” is a translation of the Hebrew word pesach and refers to the promise God made to the Jews while they were enslaved in Egypt. At that time, God commanded the Egyptian Pharaoh to release the Jews. When Pharaoh refused, God sent nine plagues in warning. For the tenth and final plague, God announced that His destroyer would pass through the land of Egypt and kill all the firstborn. The only way to escape death was to sacrifice a lamb without blemish and cover the doorposts of the home with its blood. The blood was an indication of the substitutionary death of the lamb in place of the firstborn. God told the Jews, “For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the Lord will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you” (Exodus 12:13). God instructed the Jewish people to eat the entire Passover lamb that night along with bitter herbs and unleavened bread (bread that did not rise).
The first Passover in Egypt and the Israelites’ deliverance from bondage marked the birth of the Jewish nation, and God established this as the start of their year (Exodus 12:1-2).
Passover is a joyful celebration of Israel’s miraculous deliverance from death and Egyptian bondage. It is commemorated with a special meal based on the foods eaten at the original Passover, including a sacrificial lamb, bitter herbs, and unleavened bread. The Mishnah indicates that while the Temple was standing, Jewish men sacrificed their own lambs in the Temple courtyard, priests sprinkled the blood on the bronze altar, and then the men took their lambs to be cooked for the Passover meal with their families.1
After the Temple was destroyed, some new traditions were incorporated into the holiday to compensate for the inability to sacrifice a lamb. The Passover meal came to be known as the Seder, a Hebrew word that means “order” and refers to the specific order of events at the dinner.
Highlights of the Seder:
- A cup of wine called the “Cup of Sanctification” is shared, and a blessing of consecration is given.
- A hand-washing ceremony is performed by all participants. (The basin used for washing hands could have been the basin referred to in John 13:5 when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper meal.)
- A leafy vegetable (usually parsley) is dipped in salt water and then eaten. The salt water represents the tears shed during enslavement. (This could have been the dish referred to in Matthew 26:23 at the Last Supper meal.)
- A special bag holding three pieces of unleavened bread, or matzah, is opened. The middle piece is broken in half; one half is returned to the bag and the other is hidden, to be reintroduced later.
- A second cup of wine called the “Cup of Plagues” is shared, and the account of the Exodus is rehearsed.
- A second hand-washing ceremony is performed and then a blessing is prayed over the matzah, which is eaten with bitter herbs (usually horseradish), lamb, and a sweet paste made of nuts and fruits. The matzah represents how the people fled Egypt in haste; the bitter herbs represent the bitterness of slavery; the lamb represents the original Passover lamb; and the sweet paste visually reminds participants of the mortar used by the slaves. Since the Jewish people no longer sacrifice lambs, many substitute a lamb shank bone or a hard-boiled egg.
- A variety of traditional Jewish dishes are eaten as the main course.
- The broken piece of matzah that had been hidden away is brought out and shared. (This could have been the bread referred to in Matthew 26:26 at the Last Supper meal.)
- A closing blessing is given and a third cup of wine, called the “Cup of Redemption,” is shared. (This could have been the cup referred to in Matthew 26:27-28.)
- An extra cup of wine is poured for Elijah, the forerunner of the Messiah, whom the Jews expect to arrive on Passover.
- A fourth cup of wine, the “Cup of Praise,” is shared, and the Hallel (Psalms 113-118) is recited or sung. (This could have been the hymn referred to in Matthew 26:28.)
- At the close of the meal participants say, “Next year in Jerusalem,” hoping that the Temple will be rebuilt and the next Passover will be held in Jerusalem.
Fulfillment: Christ’s Death
Scripture explicitly states that Jesus is our Passover Lamb. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:7, “For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.” The Jews’ deliverance from Egyptian bondage foreshadowed our greater deliverance from the bondage of sin, which is accomplished through the Blood of Jesus applied to our hearts. Thus, the birth of the nation was a prophetic illustration of spiritual birth.
The key parallel between Christ and the Passover lamb is that the lamb had to be without blemish, and Christ was without sin. The lamb also had to be inspected four days before Passover, paralleling the day Christ entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. That week, Jesus was tried and Pilot declared, “I find no fault in him” (John 19:6). The lamb could have no broken bones, and despite the physical abuse Christ suffered, none of His bones were broken (John 19:32-33).
At Jesus’ last meal with His disciples, He instituted the new ordinance of the Lord’s Supper that would reflect the New Covenant. We read, “Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28). Jesus died before sundown the following day.
The Passover was the first feast ordained for Israel and the first feast on their calendar year. Just as the Passover was the starting point of the nation of Israel, Christ’s death must be the starting point of our spiritual journey. Passover was a time for the Jewish people to remember the Exodus from Egypt and look forward to the coming deliverance of the Messiah. For believers today, the Lord’s Supper is a time to look back to Calvary and our salvation from sin, and look forward to our greater deliverance at Christ’s return (see 1 Corinthians 11:26).
Shortly after the Exodus, God gave Moses the design for His earthly dwelling place. During the Israelites’ wilderness wanderings, God’s house was a movable, tent-like structure called the “Tabernacle.” Once they had conquered most of the Promised Land, the Tabernacle was established in the city of Shiloh. Eventually, King Solomon built it as an impressive and beautiful permanent structure in Jerusalem that became known as the “Temple.” King Solomon’s Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C., but seventy years later, a less elaborate structure was built in its place, which is known today as the Second Temple. In the first century B.C., King Herod renovated that structure, making it an ornate and glorious Temple, but the Romans destroyed it in 70 A.D. and it has never been rebuilt.
Many aspects of Judaism, especially the feasts, centered around the Temple. All sacrifices were to be offered there, and all Jewish men were required to make a pilgrimage to the Temple for three of the feasts. However, since it was last destroyed, pilgrimages and sacrifices have not been possible. Practicing Jews still keep the feasts, but they are not able to perform observances that involve the Temple.
2. FEAST OF UNLEAVENED BREAD | MATZOT
Date: Fifteenth through the twenty-first day of the first month
Next Occurrence: April 6-13, 2023
Scripture: Leviticus 23:6-8; Exodus 23:14-15
This feast commemorates the first days of the Israelites’ freedom from bondage. When God brought the Jews out of Egypt, He instructed them to eat only unleavened bread, and to eat their meal with their shoes on and belongings packed so they could quickly flee Egypt. Exodus 12:34 records, “The people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneadingtroughs being bound up in their clothes upon their shoulders.”
The Feast of Unleavened Bread officially starts on the fifteenth day of the first month, the day after Passover, though leaven is also prohibited at Passover. Not only are Jews to abstain from eating leaven during the week, but all leaven is to be purged from their homes beforehand. If anyone eats leaven during the week, that one is to be cut off from Israel. The purpose of discarding the leaven was that the Jews would “remember the day when thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 16:3).The holiday was also to be marked by daily sacrifices and a day of rest at the beginning and end of the week.
In Bible times, leaven did not come in jars of active dry yeast or containers of baking powder, as it does today. Instead, people relied on starter dough for leavening. The first batch would take several days to develop using yeast that is naturally occurring in the environment. Then, before baking the dough, a portion would be reserved for the starter of the next batch. Therefore, every new loaf of bread had some of the old dough in it. During the Exodus and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the starter dough was discarded, and subsequently the people had to make a new one from scratch. This indicated a break from the past, leaving old things behind, and making a new start.
This is the first of the three pilgrimage feasts, which all Jewish men were required to attend at the Temple. However, since the first three feasts occurred together during one week, the men effectively attended all of them.
In the Bible, leaven is commonly symbolic of sin, and thus unleavened bread is symbolic of a life without a trace of sin—including both outward sinful acts and an inner sinful nature. We read in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8, “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
Discarding the old leaven represents a total break from the past life of sin. A spiritual birth is a new start, and the old sinful ways must be left behind (2 Corinthians 5:17). Just as the Jews had to carefully search out and eradicate leaven from their homes, sin must be eradicated from our hearts. When we search our hearts, consecrating our lives fully to God in prayer, He sanctifies us, purging the sin nature. The provision for this second definite work was also accomplished through Christ’s sacrificial death, as Hebrews 13:12 states, “Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate.”
3. FEAST OF FIRSTFRUITS | BIKKURIM
Date: The day after the Passover Sabbath
Next Occurrence: April 8-9, 2023
Scripture: Leviticus 23:9-14; Exodus 23:16, 19
This feast commemorates the Jews’ entrance into the Promised Land, and the fulfillment of God’s promise to give them the land as an inheritance.
Due to unbelief, observance of this feast did not begin until forty years after the Israelites’ deliverance from Egypt. The Jews celebrated Passover in the wilderness, but they did not celebrate Firstfruits until they arrived in Canaan. According to Joshua 5:10-12, the Israelites held their final wilderness Passover just prior to the battle of Jericho. Two days later God stopped providing manna, so it is likely that their first meal in the Promised Land took place on the day of Firstfruits.
This is the first of three feasts that have a connection to some part of the harvest season. The point of this feast is to bring the first of the harvest to God, thanking Him in advance for the rest of the harvest that is to come.
Firstfruits lasts one day, and is celebrated on the day after the Sabbath (the day after Saturday) during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. On that day, the priests were instructed to bring to the Temple the first harvest of the first crop of the season, which was barley. The people were prohibited from eating of the barley harvest until this offering had been made. Another lamb without blemish was to be offered, as well as grains, oil, and wine.
Fulfillment: Resurrection Day
Christ’s death is marked at Passover and His Resurrection was three days later, on the day after the Sabbath, which was the Feast of Firstfruits. Scripture explains plainly that Christ is the firstfruits offering: “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 15:20).
The Jewish people could not partake of the fruit of the land until the Firstfruits offering had been presented to the priests, and in John 20:17 we read that Jesus cautioned Mary not to touch Him because He had not yet ascended to the Father. In other words, the Firstfruits offering had not yet been made. After Christ ascended, the Old Testament symbolic type was fulfilled, and then He interacted with many people.
Just as God promised the land of Canaan for an inheritance to the Jewish people, He promises believers an eternal inheritance in Heaven. Christ was the first to be resurrected from the dead and receive that inheritance. When we celebrate Easter each year, we rejoice both in the resurrection power that raised us from spiritual death, and our hope of Heaven one day.
THE HEBREW CALENDAR
The Hebrew calendar is lunisolar, based primarily on the phases of the moon. Therefore, it does not align with the solar-based calendar used in most of the world today. Each month starts with the appearance of the first sliver of the new moon. The first month is in the springtime for northern-hemisphere locations, and there are twelve or thirteen months per year depending on the moon cycles. As a consequence, the dates of Jewish festivals fluctuate on our calendar.
The Jews also consider the start of a day to be at sundown, following the pattern established in the Creation account that “the evening and the morning were the first day” (Genesis 1:5). Thus, the Jewish feasts always begin and end at sundown, and consequently appear to last an extra day on our calendar.
4. FEAST OF WEEKS or PENTECOST | SHAVUOT
Date: Fifty days after the Feast of Firstfruits
Next Occurrence: May 27-28, 2023
Theme: Revelation of God’s Law
Scripture: Leviticus 23:15-21; Exodus 34:22; Deuteronomy 26:1-11
This is another harvest-themed festival, and is directly connected with the Feast of Firstfruits. In fact, they can be considered as the bookends of the start of the harvest season, and at times both are referred to as “firstfruits.” While the Feast of Firstfruits marks the beginning harvest of the first crop (barley), the Feast of Weeks marks the beginning harvest of the last crop (wheat), with several fruits ripening during the intervening weeks (these were traditionally dates, figs, grapes, olives, and pomegranates). This was a time to thank God for what had already been harvested, and make an offering in anticipation of what was still to come.
According to Jewish tradition, the Feast of Weeks also marks the date that Moses received the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. Scripture does not give the exact date, but Exodus 19:1 records that the Law was given in the third month, which is the month when the Feast of Weeks takes place. Thus, the holiday combines the two major themes of the early harvest and the revelation of God’s Law.
Shavuot means “weeks,” and refers to the seven weeks between Firstfruits and this holiday. Since Firstfruits is always on a Sunday, this feast is as well. This is to be a day of rest when the people are not allowed to work. It is the second pilgrimage festival for which attendance in Jerusalem was required.
The Feast of Weeks offerings included grain, wine, and animal sacrifices, and some quantity of the later spring crops. It was prohibited to eat of the wheat harvest until this offering had been made. The people were also commanded to bring the unusual offering of two loaves of leavened bread (offerings of bread at the Temple were almost always unleavened). Since all leaven had been discarded at Passover, this offering was made with new leaven.
Fulfillment: Giving of the Holy Spirit
In the New Testament, the Feast of Weeks is referred to by its Greek name: Pentecost. Jesus told His disciples that He must leave so that the Comforter would come (John 16:7), and we read in Acts 2:1 that it was on Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was first poured out. Thousands of pilgrims were in Jerusalem for the feast that day, which is why Jewish men “out of every nation under heaven” heard their own languages spoken by the individuals who were filled (Acts 2:5-6). The giving of the Holy Spirit resulted in 3,000 souls being saved and marked the birth of the Church.
A correlation can be made between the Law given at Sinai and the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost. Paul referred to the Law as a “school master” (Galatians 3:24) and Jesus said the Holy Spirit would “teach you all things” (John 14:26). However, the Law reveals sin, which causes death, and the Spirit reveals Christ, who brings life. As Paul wrote, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). Indeed, at Sinai 3,000 people disobeyed the Law and died (Exodus 32:28), but at Pentecost 3,000 souls heard the Gospel and were saved (Acts 2:41).
In the Old Testament, Jeremiah prophesied of the transition from the Law to the Spirit. He wrote, “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; . . . After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:31-33). The Law of the Old Testament was written on stone tablets, but the law of the New Testament is written by God’s Spirit on the heart.
While a measure of the Spirit is given at salvation, the disciples in the Upper Room experienced a greater revelation of the Spirit when they were “filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:4). They were endued with God’s power to serve Him more effectively, and that gift is still available to sanctified believers today.
Considering the harvest aspect of this feast, we can note its connection to the Feast of Firstfruits. On Firstfruits, Jesus ascended to the Father at the same time that the priests were making the barley offering; on Pentecost, the 3,000 souls were reconciled to God in Heaven as pilgrims made their Feast of Weeks offerings. They were the firstfruits of converts under the new dispensation.
It is also notable that the date of this feast is never given; instead, the date is calculated by marking fifty days after Firstfruits, which in turn is calculated from the date of Passover. This indicates that the work of Pentecost is inseparable from the work of Passover, and Passover must occur first. The spiritual implication is that to experience a personal Pentecost (the infilling of the Holy Spirit), one must start with a personal Passover (deliverance from sin, new life, and sanctification).
Because the Feast of Weeks falls at the start of the full harvest season, it has a sense that there is yet work to be done. The infilling of the Holy Spirit empowers one to labor in God’s harvest field until the entire season is over.
The fall feasts all take place in the seventh month of the Jewish calendar. Since the number seven is representative of completion, it seems fitting that these feasts would mark major events of the end times. Christ fulfilled the spring feasts during His first coming and it is anticipated that He will fulfill these fall feasts during His second coming.
5. DAY OF TRUMPETS | YOM TERUAH
Date: First day of the seventh month
Next Occurrence: September 16-17, 2023
Scripture: Leviticus 23:23-25; Numbers 29:1-6
This feast does not correlate to a specific event in Jewish history and Scripture does not state its purpose. Since it features the sounding of trumpets, it is commonly understood to be a warning call to prepare for the most sacred day on the calendar, the Day of Atonement, which occurs just ten days later.
This was to be a solemn day of rest that included animal sacrifices, grain offerings, and the blowing of trumpets. The word teruah means “blasts,” referring to the sound of a trumpet. Numbers 10:1-10 indicates that the feast trumpets were to be made of silver; the same horns that were used to call an assembly, call for war, and announce the first day of the month. However, the Talmud prescribes that the primary trumpet be a ram’s horn (shofar) and details exactly how to play it. The ram’s horn trumpet is fitting as it is associated with a call to contrition and penitence.
The mysterious nature of this feast may have contributed to the Jewish people adopting a number of extra-Biblical traditions related to this day. For example, the feast is now primarily viewed as the Jewish New Year (Rosh HaShanah). It is not known when or why this day was adopted as the New Year (as opposed to the first day of the first month), but many believe it is appropriate because of the extreme importance of the fall holidays. The Talmud also indicates that Yom Teruah is the anniversary of the first day of creation.
According to the Talmud, the Feast of Trumpets is also the day when God’s Book of Life is opened, to be sealed on the Day of Atonement. The ten intervening days are called the “Days of Awe,” when people have the opportunity to have their names inscribed in that book, before it is sealed for the year. While these details have no Biblical support, the tradition is in keeping with the theme of the Day of Atonement being a time for spiritual introspection.
This feast has not yet been fulfilled, but its mysterious nature and the blowing of trumpets suggests a connection to the Rapture of the Church: “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52).
This feast is the only one to occur on the first day of the month, which would begin with the first showing of the new moon. Because the Jewish people could not know exactly when that would happen, they had to watch the sky for the first crescent of the moon to appear. Likewise, no man knows the day or hour when Jesus will return, and we must be watching.
As it is traditional for the Jews to blow both silver trumpets and ram’s horns on this day, it could be that this feast will have a dual fulfillment: the joyful sound of silver trumpets calling the saints to Heaven, and the mournful warning of the ram’s horn calling the Jewish people to repentance.
According to Jewish tradition, Moses received both a written law and an oral law from God at Mount Sinai. While the written law was recorded in Scripture, the oral law was passed down verbally from generation to generation. After Jerusalem was conquered in 70 A.D. and the people were scattered, significant discrepancies in the oral law began to arise among the Jewish populations in different areas. In order to preserve the oral law, religious leaders formalized it in writing in the second century A.D. That document is called the Mishnah, and it prescribes several festival traditions that are not part of Scripture. In addition, Scriptural commentaries by rabbis throughout the ages have been preserved in a document called the Gemara. The Mishna and the Gemara are together referred to as the Talmud, which gives much of the guidance for how Judaism is practiced today. While these documents are not the inspired Word of God, they are helpful historical resources that provide a better understanding of how the feasts likely were observed in Jesus’ day.
6. DAY OF ATONEMENT | YOM KIPPUR
Date: Tenth day of the seventh month
Next Occurrence: September 24-25, 2023
Scripture: Leviticus 23:26-32; Leviticus 16:1-34.
This feast is not based on any historic event, but rather on detailed instructions given by God to the Israelites. The focus was a sacrificial ceremony to atone for the sins of the nation. The Hebrew word kippur means “covering,” which implies that God was providing a covering for sin. The title “day of atonement” only appears in Scripture three times, and in each instance the word translated “atonement” is kippurim, which is the plural form of the word, “atonements” (see Leviticus 23:27-28, 25:9).
The first Day of Atonement was held in the wilderness, seven months after the Jews were delivered from Egypt.
Sin is what separates mankind from God, and the Day of Atonement was about spanning that chasm. This was not a celebratory feast; it was the most solemn day on the Jewish calendar. God commanded that no work of any kind was to be done on this day. The Jewish people were to fast for twenty-five hours while abstaining from doing their own pleasure as well. They were instructed to afflict their souls, recognizing the gravity of their sins. The punishment for not doing so was death.
To understand God’s instructions for this day, we first need to know a little about the Temple, where the sacrifice for atonement was to be made. The Temple was divided into two rooms: the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. In the Holy Place was a golden altar for burning incense, a seven-branched candelabrum (menorah), and a table with bread on it. Behind a curtain was the Holy of Holies, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. That room was reserved as God’s dwelling place, and was entered by only the high priest on one day of the year: the Day of Atonement. If he entered at any other time, or did not follow God’s precise instructions for entrance, he would die. In fact, days before the first Day of Atonement, two sons of the high priest disobeyed God’s instructions for bringing an offering and were consumed by fire (Leviticus 10:1-2).
On the Day of Atonement, the high priest first washed himself and put on holy garments, and then sacrificed a bullock as a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering for his own iniquity and that of his own household. Taking coals from the altar of incense, he burned incense as he entered the Holy of Holies. Once inside, he sprinkled the bullock’s blood seven times in front of the Ark. Then he repeated the same process using a goat as a sacrifice for the sins of the people. Next, he cleansed the altar of incense as well by sprinkling it with blood. In this way, the high priest made atonements for himself and his family, the Holy Place, the golden altar of incense, the Temple, and the people of Israel. Atonement for the physical structures was necessary because of human defilement. Thus, the Day of Atonement was to ceremonially cleanse both the people and their place of meeting with God.
There was also a second goat used in the ceremony, which is called the scapegoat. Initially, both goats were brought before God and lots were cast to determine which would be sacrificed and which would be sent away. After sacrificing the first goat, the priest laid hands on the other, symbolically placing the sins of the people onto the animal. Then the goat was released into the wilderness, never to return. The ceremony ended with the priest removing his soiled garments, washing, and putting on clean clothes.
This feast has not yet been fulfilled because no major event has taken place on the tenth day of the seventh month. However, the atonement ceremony foreshadowed Christ’s death. His sacrifice fulfilled all the steps of atonement.
At Passover Christ was the Sacrificial Lamb, but in the Day of Atonement He is both our High Priest and our Atoning Sacrifice. Hebrews 9:11-12 says, “But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.”
Because Christ was sinless, He did not need to first bring an offering for His own sins. Instead, He offered His own Blood as a sin offering to make a complete atonement for the sins of all mankind. Atonement is no longer limited to one day of the year; a sinner can come in repentance to God at any time and the offering of Jesus’ Blood will atone. Jesus’ sacrifice also fulfilled the symbolic type of the burnt offering, which was to cleanse inward iniquity. Because of that, individuals who have been saved can come to God in consecration and have their sin nature purged.
The instructions for the Day of Atonement give insight into the way to receive salvation today. For instance, God’s command for the people to afflict their souls reflects how a sinner comes in repentance, mourning for his sins and asking God to forgive. God told the Children of Israel that no work was to be done on this day, illustrating that man cannot do anything in himself to atone for his sins. Jesus did all the work and He offers salvation as a free gift.
We can also learn from the negative examples of the two sons of the high priest who were consumed by fire. God rejected them because they disobeyed His instructions for approaching Him. This teaches that we cannot make up our own ideas of how to come to God. We must reverence God enough to obey His instructions.
In the Tabernacle, the high priest entered the Holy of Holies bearing incense. We know from Bible passages that incense represents prayers (see Psalm 141:2 and Revelation 8:3-4), and this helps us understand that we must come before the Lord through prayer.
The scapegoat illustrates that Jesus bore our sins and carried them away, so we do not have to bear the weight of guilt and shame for our sins.
Some Bible scholars suggest that the Day of Atonement will be fulfilled in the future day of mourning when Christ will return to defend the Jewish people at the Battle of Armageddon. The prophet Zechariah foretold that day: “And they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10).
7. FEAST OF TABERNACLES | SUKKOT
Date: Fifteenth through the twenty-first day of the seventh month
Next Occurrence: September 29 – October 26, 2023
Theme: Millennial Kingdom
Scripture: Leviticus 23:33-43; Deuteronomy 16:13
Leviticus 23:39-43 identifies two sources of inspiration for this feast. The first is that the harvest season has ended, so this is a time to thank God for His provisions during the current year. For this reason, this feast is also called the Feast of Ingathering (see Exodus 23:16, 34:22). The second is to remember the years that the Israelites lived in tents (tabernacles) in the wilderness. Thus, the people were to remember and thank God for His provision, protection, and presence during the challenging wilderness years and in the present year. The joyful mood of this holiday stands in stark contrast to the somber Day of Atonement that takes place just five days prior.
A prophecy about this feast is given in Zechariah 14:16, “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles.” This indicates that when the Messiah reigns, all nations will keep this feast. For that reason, the Jewish people celebrate it with their minds centered on the Messiah. In addition to thanking God for His provisions, they long for the Messiah to usher in a time of even greater rejoicing.
This final feast on the Jewish calendar is also the third pilgrimage festival, so all men would go up to celebrate in Jerusalem. It occurs five days after the Day of Atonement and lasts eight days, with a Sabbath of rest on the first and last days. Deuteronomy 31:10-11 indicates that the Law was to be read aloud every seventh year during the feast.
The word sukkah means “booth.” As a reminder of God’s provision in the wilderness, the Israelites were instructed to build booths (simple shelters) outside their homes, where they would dwell for seven days. These booths were to be made from the boughs of various trees, including palm branches. The Israelites were also instructed to make a large quantity of animal sacrifices and grain and wine offerings daily.
This feast is a time of great jubilation; the people were specifically commanded to “rejoice before the Lord” (Deuteronomy 16:11). It has the sense of a Thanksgiving holiday and is marked by joyful music, dancing, and daily reciting of the Hallel (Psalms 113-118).
The Talmud describes two important traditions associated with the Feast of Tabernacles. The first was the “Water Drawing Ceremony,” when priests would lead a celebratory parade from the Temple to the Pool of Siloam to fill a golden pitcher with water. During the march, the people would sing, wave branches, and rejoice, as instructed in Leviticus 23:40. They would all return to the Temple, where the priest would walk around the altar and then pour out the water on the altar. This ceremony was repeated each day until the seventh day, known as “The Day of Many Hosannas,” when the priest would circle the altar seven times before pouring out the water. This was the pinnacle of the celebration. The Talmud records, “He who has not seen the rejoicing at the place of the water-drawing has never seen rejoicing in his life.”2 The ceremony is believed to reference Isaiah 12:3, “Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.”
The other tradition was the “Candelabrum Ceremony” which involved the lighting of massive candles in the Temple courtyard of the women. These candles stood 75 to 150 feet tall, held gallons of oil, and had wicks made of the priests’ worn out garments. They added to the festive atmosphere, as the Talmud describes: “There was not a courtyard in Jerusalem that was not illumined by the light of the place of the water-drawing. Men of piety and good deeds used to dance before them with lighted torches in their hands, and sing songs and praises. And Levites without number with harps, lyres, cymbals and trumpets and other musical instruments were there upon the fifteen steps leading down from the court of the Israelites to the court of the women.”3
This feast also has not yet been fulfilled. Since Zechariah prophesied that the Feast of Tabernacles will be celebrated during Christ’s Millennial Reign, it could be that this date will mark the beginning of His governance or some other key date related to His kingdom.
While the Water Drawing and Candelabrum ceremonies are no longer practiced today, they would have been held during Jesus’ lifetime. The account in John 7, when Jesus went to Jerusalem on the final day of the Feast of Tabernacles, would have been on the most exuberant day of the Water Drawing Ceremony. This was the moment when Jesus, standing at the Temple, cried out, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38). Thus, as the Jews symbolically drew “water out of the wells of salvation,” looking for God to send the Messiah, the Messiah Himself announced that He would give them living water. In fact, some who were present that day concluded from Jesus’ comments that He was the Messiah.
The following day, after the feast had ended, Jesus taught in the courtyard of the women. The immense candles had illuminated the area the day before, but the celebration had ended and the lights had gone out. John 8:12 records what Jesus taught there: “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” Again Jesus spoke directly to the deeper spiritual meaning of the traditions.
It is interesting to note that rejoicing with palm branches was the hallmark on Palm Sunday as Jesus entered Jerusalem. Because this was a Feast of Tabernacles tradition—a feast closely associated with the Messiah—it would have been a natural response when the Jewish people recognized their Messiah.
If God continues fulfilling the feasts in chronological order, this will be last to be fulfilled, and it seems fitting that God’s “grand finale” would be the biggest celebration.
The Hebrew word hallel means “praise,” and we can recognize that it is the root of the word hallelujah, meaning “praise God.” Hallel refers specifically to the collection of Psalms 113-118, which are rehearsed in their entirety at three of the Jewish feasts: Passover, Weeks, and Tabernacles. A shortened version, called “Half Hallel,” is used at the Feasts of Unleavened Bread and Firstfruits, and at the new moon observances that mark the start of a month.
Hallel is always preceded and followed by a blessing to God, and the psalms may be sung or recited, either in unison or in a call-and-response format. It is always a joyful expression of praise and therefore is not part of the somber holidays, the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement. Psalms 113-118 have no known authors. They all incorporate the concept of praise, and individually touch on the topics of God’s goodness, the Exodus, God’s unique greatness, His salvation, His mercy, and the Messiah.
God’s calendar of appointed feasts shows us that the times and seasons are in His hands and He is orchestrating world events to accomplish His great plan of redemption for mankind. Many of the Jewish people of Jesus’ day did not recognize the season they were living in, and they missed their opportunity to participate in God’s plan. Luke 19:41-44 records that Jesus wept over Jerusalem “because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.”
Today, we know what season we are in. The Feast of Weeks has been fulfilled and the Feast of Trumpets has not yet come. We are in the middle of the harvest season, and we are called to labor in God’s fields to bring in the harvest of souls. May we do so faithfully until the Trumpet sounds!
1 Mishna Pesachim 5:5-7
2 Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sukkah 51a
3 Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sukkah 51a and 51b