The appointed festivals in this chapter were sacred for the ancient Israelites. They are still sacred for the Jewish community today. What does the New Testament say about them?
As I note in many of these posts that touch on the Levitical priesthood and sacrifices and now these festivals, the Spirit-inspired writers of the New Covenant Scriptures (New Testament) encourage us to read the Old Testament, particularly the priesthood and the ministry of the priests, as containing types and shadows of the substance or reality, which is Christ and his heavenly priesthood.
They [priests] serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven (Heb. 8:5)
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. (Heb. 10:1)
Then the author of Hebrews writes many, many verses explaining the realities of the copies and shadows. They are revealed most clearly in Jesus’s sacrifice and his priesthood in the heavenly, eternal sanctuary.
Peter explicitly makes the water of the flood during the time of Noah symbolic:
And this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. (1 Pet. 3:21)
Paul writes that food and festivals are but the shadow, while Christ is the substance:
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. (Col. 2:16-17)
For a general overview of the interrelations between the Old Sinai Covenant and the New Covenant, click on:
Many (not even close to all) elements are retained, and what is kept is improved on or streamlined.
The NIV is used here, unless otherwise noted. Readers are invited to go to biblegateway.com, choose their own translation, and open another window to follow along.
Let’s begin with each appointed festival or holy-day, one by one, in order.
Time of year in OT: Every week
Time of year in modern calendar: Every week
How to celebrate it:
Do no regular work. All food preparation must be done on the previous day (Friday before sunset). Num. 28:9-10 adds:
9 “‘On the Sabbath day, make an offering of two lambs a year old without defect, together with its drink offering and a grain offering of two-tenths of an ephah [seven pounds or 3.2 kilograms] of the finest flour mixed with olive oil. 10 This is the burnt offering for every Sabbath, in addition to the regular burnt offering and its drink offering.
The drink offering was used for the priests to drink. 2 Kings 16:13 says that King Ahaz poured out some of it at the altar. Paul says he is already being poured out as a drink offering (2 Tim. 4:6). He life was ending, draining away. He was about to live a new life in heaven, which shall never end.
The requirements spelled out in Leviticus are much simpler and less costly than the ones in Numbers!
“It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.” (Exod. 31:17)
The ancient Israelites were to imitate God who worked six days and rested on the seventh, when he made the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1-2:1-3; Exod. 20:8-11)
Other Scriptures: Exod. 20:8-11; 31:12-17; Deut. 5:12-15
Here’s what the New Covenant Scriptures teach about the Sabbath.
The Sabbath (Ex. 20:8-11) is usually considered to be not part of moral law, but a ritual. This means that the Sabbath is dispensable. Further, Ex. 31:14-15 threatens Sabbath breakers with death, which was carried out on one violator (Nu. 15:32-36).
The New Covenant Scriptures offers a better way. They free people from observing the Fourth Commandment issued from command and backed up by the death penalty. Specifically, Jesus was asked whether it was lawful for his disciples to go through the grain field and pluck the grain and eat the kernels. He replied: “Then he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.’” In other words, Sabbath does not hang above the person’s head like a sword, but the person stands on the Sabbath.
Paul liberates the conscience by saying one man holds a day special, while another does not (Rom. 14:5-6, quoted below)
So if a Messianic Jew wants to keep the Sabbath freely, he is certainly allowed. If someone else (or the Messianic Jew) does not want to keep it, then he is free to follow his conscience. He no longer lives under command and threat of death. Freedom of conscience in Christ. The better way. (This is different from regular church attendance, which must be done; some larger churches hold services during the week, for convenience, and even here sometimes people miss on occasion, and that’s okay.)
See my post:
Passover and Festival of Unleavened Bread
Time of year in OT: First Month: Aviv / Nisan 14th day (for one day)
Time of Year in Modern Calendar: March / April (second Passover is one month later according to Num. 9:10-11)
How to celebrate it:
(1) A whole lamb by the number of people in household, being ready to share with nearest neighbor; (2) one-year-old males without defects, taken from sheep and goats; (3) Take care of them until the fourteenth day; (4) then all the community is to slaughter it at twilight; (5) put the blood on the tops and sides of the doorframes of the houses where the lambs are eaten, with bitter herbs and bread without yeast; (6) that night eat the lambs roasted over fire, with the head, legs and internal organs, not raw or boiled (7) do not leave any of it until morning; if there is any leftover, burn it; (8) the cloak must be tucked into belt; sandals on feet and staff in hand; (9) eat in haste in order to leave Egypt soon (Exod. 12:4-11).
Purpose: Exodus from Egypt and Protection from Judgment:
The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. (Exod. 12:13)
Other Scriptures: Exod. 12:4-14; Num. 28:16
(2) Unleavened Bread
Time of Year in OT: Same month, 15th to 21st days, for seven days
Time of Year in Modern Calendar: Same month, on the fifteenth day, which lasts for seven days
How to celebrate it:
Exod. 12:14-20 says that the Israelites were to eat bread without yeast for seven days, from the fourteenth day to the twenty-first day. On the first day they were to remove the yeast from their houses. If they eat anything with yeast from the first to the seventh days they shall be cut off (excommunicated), and this was true for foreigner or native-born. They must not do work on those days, except to prepare to prepare the food for everyone to eat. On the first days they are to hold a sacred assembly (meet at the tabernacle) and another one on the seventh day.
Other Scriptures: Exod. 12:14-20; Num. 28:16
Purpose: see the previous section “Passover.”
Paul writes in 1 Cor. 5:6-8:
Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Cor. 5:6-8)
The ancient Israelites were not supposed to eat leavened bread during this time. They were in such a hurry to leave Egypt that they could not wait for the yeast to raise the lump of dough. In this context yeast symbolized sin and hindrance. We are to keep the Passover, but only in a spiritual sense: “with sincerity and faith.” We are to get rid of the old yeast or moral corruption in our lives and the life of the church. Christ is our Passover lamb, and he protects us from God judicial wrath or judgment, when we are in union with him.
First, in the next verses in John 4 Jesus said that the food–literally bread–is the will of God. He said these next words in the context of ministering to the Samaritan woman, who repented. Then many Samaritans were converted to Jesus.
34 “My food [bread],” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”
Doing the will of God is the right food, and this food is about the harvest and reaping souls. Harvest and reaping is the first work so that souls can be nourished with the bread of heaven.
Second, let’s build on the idea that sacred bread from heaven nourishes the soul. After feeding the five thousand with bread and fish, Jesus said:
32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”
35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:32-35)
Then he added a lesson about his body and blood:
48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:48-51)
He expands on this idea by contrasting Manna (Exod. 16; Num. 11:4-35) in the wilderness with his being the bread that lasts:
53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53-58)
Many interpreters say the bread imagery includes the Eucharist or Communion bread, because it is all about feasting on the person and Spirit of Jesus, and then they shall live forever. However, as we shall see below, the bread at the Lord’s Table (Communion or Eucharist) is never explained to allow the partaker to live forever, unless one imports a prior belief of a miracle into the bread eaten at the Last Supper.
Further, Jesus did not say here in John 6 that his body was literal bread, but this is metaphorical language for intimacy and lifelong connection to him. Only daily life in Christ and walking in the Spirit can do that, not a doctrine that mystifies literal bread at the Eucharist or Communion.
Third, speaking of the Eucharist or Communion, Jesus here takes the bread and breaks it and distributes it.
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” (Mark 14:22)
This post is about the bread in the Holy Place in the sanctuary being symbolic of New Testament truth that Christ is the bread of heaven. It is metaphorical, not literal. And in this case Paul guides us clearly in Col. 2:17, which says that eating and drinking is a mere shadow, but the substance is in Christ. Therefore, we can symbolize things from the Old to the New Testaments.
(1) Firstfruit of barley
Time of year in OT: Day after the Sabbath of Unleavened Bread week
Time of Year in Modern Calendar: March / April
How to celebrate it:
After the Israelites enter promised land and plant barley, they must not eat it until the bring a sheaf of the first grain they harvest. The priest is to wave the sheaf before the Lord on the first day after the Sabbath, indicating this is dedicated to him. The offerer must make a sacrifice of a burnt offering, indicating total dedication to the Lord, with a lamb without defects. A grain offering is also presented of finest flour (7 pounds or 3.2 kilograms) mixed with olive oil. It was a pleasing aroma to the Lord. Let’s focus on the aroma. More deeply still than the mere grain and oil, recall this verse: “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:2). Jesus is the pleasing aroma when God inspects our sacrifice. Jesus stands in for us, and God is pleased with our offering, because of his Son.
The priest ate most of this, except a small portion that was burned on the altar as the memorial portion. Finally a drink offering is presented, one quart or one liter of wine. No one can eat bread or roasted or new grain until he brings this offering to the Lord.
Purpose: dedicate the crop to the Lord; it is his.
Other Scriptures: Exod. 23:16; 34:26
Here’s how the New Covenant Scriptures (New Testament) fulfill the firstfruits requirements:
Rom. 8:23: The Spirit is our firstfruits of the life to come.
Rom. 11:16: If Israel, which rejected the Messiah, is grafted back in, then they are like firstfruits of the dough, which is holy.
1 Cor. 15:20-23: Christ’s resurrection is the firstfruits of our own resurrection.
2 Thess. 2:13: God chose the Thessalonians as the firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.
James 1:8: God gave the early church birth through the Word so that they and James would be a kind of firstfruits of all that God created.
Rev. 14:4: Those who followed the Lamb wherever he went were purchased from among humankind and were offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb.
Sinai Covenant: Firstfruits were only material offerings
New Covenant: Firstfruits were never material offerings, but were reworked to become theological truths.
Festival of Weeks
(2) Firstfruit of wheat
Time of Year in OT: Sivan: Day after Sabbath, but seven weeks later (fifty days) after Unleavened Bread week
Time of Year in Modern Calendar: May / June
How to celebrate it:
The Israelites were to bring a new grain offering of wheat this time, to the Lord. They were commanded to bring two loaves made of 7 pounds or 3.2 kilograms of flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering. Then they presented seven male lambs, each one a year old and without defects; one young bull and two rams, for burnt offerings. Then they sacrificed one male goat for a sin offering and two lambs, each a year old, for a fellowship offering. The priest was to wave the two lambs before the Lord as a wave offering, together with the bread of the firstfruits. The people must proclaim a sacred assembly and do no regular work. Then the worshipper offered grain as food, which was a pleasing aroma to the Lord. As noted earlier, let’s focus on the aroma. Recall this verse: “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:2). Jesus is the pleasing aroma when God inspects our sacrifice. Jesus stands in for us, and God is pleased with our offering, because of his Son.
The number of animals in Leviticus seems prohibitive for the poor tenant farmer. However, Deut. 16:10 simplifies matters: “Then celebrate the Festival of Weeks to the Lord your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the Lord your God has given you” (Deut. 16:10). The offering could be proportional to a farmer’s income of crops and animals.
Purpose: Dedication of harvest to the Lord; it’s all his
Other Scriptures: Num. 28:26-31; Deut. 16:9-12
God also repeats the charitable harvest: Don’t harvest to the edge of the field or the corners. Leave them for the poor and foreigners to harvest (Lev. 23:22).
How does the New Covenant Scriptures fulfill this festival?
In Acts 1 and 2:1-4, at Pentecost, The Spirit birthed the church and filled everyone present with the Spirit, including their prayer languages (commonly called “tongues”). It seems we should not overlook the fact that God honored the Passover for the sacrifice of his Son, as the sacrificial lamb without defect, and the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, fifty days later.
In Acts 20:16 and 1 Cor. 16:8, Paul said his goodbyes to the Ephesian elders and was very eager to get to Jerusalem before Pentecost. He was not necessarily keeping this festival religiously and certainly not to prove his salvation or earn it, but he did seem to honor the flow of the sacred festivals in order to honor Jerusalem, when many people will have gone to that capital. Maximum people meant preaching to the crowds.
Therefore if Messianic Jews wish to keep these festivals to be a good witness to their unconverted Jewish neighbors, they are free to do so. The spiritually mature and biblically knowledgeable Messianic Jews realize that they don’t keep these festivals to earn salvation or score points with God or to place barriers between them and their Gentile fellow-believers, but to be a good witness to their fellow Jews.
Festival of Trumpets
Time of Year in OT: Seventh month: Ethanim / Tishri, first day of month
Time of Year in Modern Calendar: September / October
How to celebrate it:
According to Num. 29:1-6, on the first day of the seventh month, the people are to hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. Then the priest sounds the trumpet (shofar or ram’s horn in this case). Then they are to “offer a burnt offering of one young bull, one ram and seven male lambs a year old, all without defect. The bull offering is accompanied is a grain offering of eleven pounds or five kilograms of finest flour mixed with oil. And with the ram seven pound or 3.2 kilograms. With each of the seven lambs, three-and-a-half or 1.6 kilograms. The offerer is to include one male goat as a sin offering to make atonement. These offering are in addition to the monthly and daily burnt offerings with their grain offering and drink offering.
Those animals seem prohibitive for a poor farmer, and no other text lightens the burden.
Purpose: Bring in the New Year.
Other Scriptures: Num. 29:1-6
The New Covenant Scriptures do not mention this festival. However, the trumpet figures prominently in the Return of the Lord (e.g. Matt. 24:31; 1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Thess. 4:16). Some speculate that since the Lord was crucified at Passover and that God through his Spirit launched the church at Pentecost, the Lord will return at the Festival of Trumpets. However, Jesus himself said no one knows the day or the hour (Matt. 24:36; Mark 13:32).
The Day of Atonement
Time of Year in OT: seventh month, Ethanim / Tishri, tenth day of the month
Time of Year in Modern calendar: September / October
How to celebrate it: See this post:
Purpose: “Do not do any work on that day, because it is the Day of Atonement, when atonement is made for you before the Lord your God” (Lev. 23:28).
Other Scripture: Lev. 16; Num. 29:7-11
Next, let’s review what atonement means and how the New Covenant takes it over and summarizes it in Christ.
In English the word literally means “at-one-ment,” or reconciliation, being at one with God (the -ment suffix means the “result of”). The Hebrew verb is kapar (used 102 times) and is generally translated as “to atone,” “to wipe clean,” and “to appease.” In Gen. 32:20, Jacob sent gifts ahead of him to “wipe” (atone) the anger off his brother Esau’s face. The Day of Atonement was to atone for the worshiper’s own sins, by blood manipulation and sacrifice. God’s judicial wrath was lifted and he smiled on the people of Israel again.
The NT Greek nouns are hilasmos (used twice) (pronounced hih-lahs-mohss) and hilasterion (also used twice and pronounced hih-lah-stay-ree-own). The first noun appears in 1 John 2:2 and 4:10 and means “an atoning sacrifice, propitiation.” Propitiation means “satisfaction” or “appeasement.” Jesus is the sacrifice that atones for sins. Our sins destroyed and separated us from God, but the sacrifice of Jesus reconciles us to God (1 John 1:6-7).
For more information, please click on this post:
To forestall objections that falsely accuse God of being primitive or petty or a child abuser, please see this post:
The Day of Atonement really does express penal substitution, which the New Covenant says is carried out and completed once and for all in Christ. Again, see this post for lots of Scriptures, especially in the epistle to the Hebrews:
And see the post which is a modified version of the one about Cosmic Child Abuse:
The Festival of Tabernacles (Booths)
Time of Year in OT: seventh month, Ethanim / Tishri fifteenth day of the month and lasts eight days.
Time of Year in Modern Calendar: September / October
How to celebrate it:
On the first day, the Sabbath, the people are to hold a sacred assembly (meet at the tabernacle), when they are not to do any work. For seven days they present food offerings, and then on the eighth say the hold a closing sacred assembly and do no regular work. The festival begins after the people had gathered all the crops of the land. Lev. 23:40-43 offers these further instructions:
On the first day you are to take branches from luxuriant trees—from palms, willows and other leafy trees—and rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. 41 Celebrate this as a festival to the Lord for seven days each year. … 42 Live in temporary shelters for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in such shelters 43 so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in temporary shelters when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.’” (Lev. 23:40-43)
Num. 29:12-38 lays out the commands for the offerings the community had to bring, on each day. They are too numerous to discuss here. The reader is invited to click on the link.
Purpose: Bring in crops and celebrate the Lord’s bounty and to teach descendants that the Israelites lived in temporary shelters when the Lord brought them out of Egypt.
How does the New Covenant carry on and fulfill this festival?
Jesus celebrated the Festival of Tabernacles and taught in the temple courts, independent of his brothers and disciples (John 7). No evidence suggests that he kept the details of this law, particularly the ones spelled out in Num. 29:12-38. However, he had to sleep somewhere, so he may have found a temporary booth with strangers, or he may have left the city at night.
On the last day of the Festival he stood up and announced:
37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7:37-39)
Life in the Spirit was about to replace this festival and all other ones in the law.
This festival is all about celebrating the harvest and redemption out of bondage. Here are Jesus’s words on deliverance from enslavement to your own sins:
34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:34-36)
Here’s Paul writing about enslavement to sin in the old life and freedom in Christ in his new life:
Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[b] Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 6:19-23)
When you were slaves to sin, you didn’t worry about righteousness. You enjoyed your lifestyle. But what were the benefits of this lifestyle? Death! But thank the Lord, you have become slaves to God and the the harvest you reap is is holiness, which leads to eternal life.
Moses told the people that these festivals do not replace the offerings of the Lord’s Sabbaths and the people’s gifts and freewill offerings and whatever they have vowed (vv. 37-38).
How the New Covenant Scriptures view all of these festivals.
These festivals are numerous and costly. Yes, they have spiritual truths hidden in them, but the New Testament waves off the actual keeping of them with Scriptures like these:
One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special does so to the Lord. (Rom. 14:5-6; Mark 2:27-28; Col. 2:16-17)
Those two verses allow for freedom to keep your conscience. If a Messianic Jew wishes to keep the festivals–boiled down–without animal sacrifices, for example, he is free to do so. Since he is spiritually mature and biblically knowledgeable, he understands that keeping them is not a command, but he does this simply to be a good witness to his unconverted Jewish neighbors. He realizes that they are not boundaries that stand between him and his fellow Gentile believers. He is so free that when he is with his Gentile neighbors, he does not proselytize about the festivals, but always directs his conversation to glorify liberty in Christ.
Another two verses sweeps away the necessity of keeping these festivals and New Moon celebrations, for example (Num. 10:10; 28:14).
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. (Col. 2:16-17)
Shadows never replace the real meaning behind them–Jesus Christ.
How does this post help me grow in Christ?
You are free. You do not have to keep these ordained festivals. The Scriptures we have looked at in the New Testament lay out your freedom in Christ. However, going to a Seder dinner (invented after the Old Testament and even the New Testament) does not rob you of your liberty in Christ if you understand that you go freely and not by law. I went to one many years ago, and the Christ-believing host and hostess were thrilled to lead it, as they explained all the elements and sequence of steps and how they were symbols in Christ.
However, after I left the meal, I didn’t really see any biblical value in it. Making connections like that tickles the mind. New insights are always sought for in the comfortable American church. But if you do go to a Seder dinner and enjoy it, so be it. I won’t quarrel with you
For me, Jesus told us how to commemorate his death and New Covenant: with the cup and bread. And that’s what I do. No replacement and no embellishments. I follow my Bible-trained conscience.
At that link, I used BTSB’s table on p. 208, for the times of the festivals.