God gave His people in Old Testament times seven great annual festivals, presented to us in the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus. This is one of the most profound chapters in the whole Bible. These annual feasts (“appointments with God”) were designed to reassure the Jewish people that there is a God in Heaven who still cares for them and is concerned about them. The feasts were to be observed each year. They were seasons of special joy, thanksgiving, and festivity among the Jewish people.
All seven festivals can be classified under three labels: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. They were general meetings when all male Jews were to appear before the Lord in the city of Jerusalem. The feasts were actually harvest festivals. The Passover (first month—April) was at the time of the barley harvest. Pentecost (third month—June) was at the time of the wheat harvest. The Feast of Tabernacles (seventh month—October) was at the time of the grape, fig, and olive harvest. What a happy time it must have been when, from all over the land, hundreds of thousands of Jews marched to Jerusalem to meet together in happy fellowship, and to praise the Lord for all the bounties which He had so liberally provided for them during the harvest time.
But the festivals described in Leviticus 23 go far beyond the national boundaries of Israel. The New Testament says that many of these Old Testament happenings were “types” or “shadows” of good things to come. When writing to the Corinthians about some of the Israelite experiences in their wilderness wanderings, Paul says, “all these things happened unto them for ensamples,” or types. These were not only the actual experiences of the Israelites. They were also intended to teach future generations of God’s people some necessary and important lessons.
God attaches great importance to types. One of the likely reasons that God dealt so severely with Moses regarding the incident at Meribah (when he smote the rock instead of speaking to it) is that Moses spoiled an otherwise perfect type. The rock had already been smitten. Because smiting the rock was a type of the death of Christ, it was not necessary to smite it again, for “Christ was once offered [smitten and afflicted] to bear the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:28).
Jesus attached great importance to types. In John 3:14, He compared Himself to the bronze serpent in the wilderness: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”
In this message we will explain how the feasts prefigure, in outline form, the whole history of redemption—from its commencement at Calvary to its close at the end of time. Our message today will be an effort to bring to light a few of the many wonderful truths which are embedded in the Jewish holy days.
1. The Passover (Leviticus 23:4-5)
The first feast in the Jewish holy year was the Passover. Leviticus 23:5 reads, “In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the Lord’s Passover.” The Passover was first instituted in Egypt on that dreadful night when the destroying angel went through the land, slaying the firstborn son of every house which had not been sprinkled with the blood of the slain lamb. The Passover marked the deliverance of Israel from the bondage of Egypt, and it was to be observed every year in memory of that remarkable event.
On the night of the first Passover, a lamb had been slain; a life had been substituted for the firstborn son in each household; and the blood of the innocent lamb was sprinkled on the lintels and doorposts of each Israelite home in the land of Egypt. God had said, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you” (Exodus 12:13). Thus the Passover became the Israelites’ annual Independence Day, because on that very night Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and begged them to leave the country.
The Passover was celebrated with a sacred feast. The central feature was a lamb without blemish which had been slain. It was eaten with “bitter herbs” to symbolize the cruel tyranny which they had endured in Egypt, and “with unleavened bread” to recall the haste of their departure from the land. All this was plainly a type of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb sacrificed for us at Calvary.
The Passover foreshadowed a far greater deliverance than that of Israel out of Egypt. The slain lamb of the Jewish Passover Feast pointed forward to another Victim, the Lamb of God, Whose body was broken and whose blood was shed for us. Just as God found Israel in bondage down in Egypt, so He finds all human beings in the bondage of sin. Just as the sprinkled blood of the slain lamb saved Israel from the dreadful destruction which came upon every family in Egypt (the firstborn son of every family lay cold in death), so we too are justified through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, “whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood” (Romans 3:25). The Holy Spirit’s own commentary on the Passover Feast is given in the New Testament, when the writer says, “For even Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7).
2. The Feast of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:6-8)
The Feast of Unleavened Bread was really a continuation of the Passover. It began the following day and lasted a whole week. The characteristic feature of the Feast of Unleavened Bread was the exclusion of all leaven (verse 6). Leaven was a symbol of moral corruption and it was not to be found in any Hebrew home during the observance of the feast. The people were so scrupulous in this regard, that before the feast they carefully swept every part of their houses to discover and remove every fragment of leaven.
The typical meaning of the Feast is quite evident. Israel had just observed the Passover to recall their redemption. Now, as a redeemed people, they must be a holy people. They must exclude all evil from them. The Passover refers to what Christ has done for us, and the Unleavened Bread refers to what the Christian believer does in return. The Holy Spirit’s own commentary on this Feast is found in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8, where God says, “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump . . . Let us keep the feast [a figure for the conduct of the entire Christian life], not with old leaven [the old habits indulged in before conversion], neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
The Feast of Unleavened Bread is a type of the Christian believer’s life of practical holiness. Our salvation only begins with accepting Christ’s sufferings and death as an atonement for our souls. Immediately after that there must be a new life of holiness and consecration to God. The Passover is to be followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread in our lives—for indeed, a redeemed person is to be a holy person. We are now to live lives separated from sin. Deliverance from death and judgment (as seen in the Passover) is not the only purpose of redemption; we are also called to be holy.
3. The Feast of Firstfruits (Leviticus 23:9-14)
The third of the seven Jewish feasts was called the Feast of Firstfruits. This too was observed in the first month, and was associated with the Passover and the Unleavened Bread. The Israelite was to cut a handful of ripening grain from his fields, take it to Jerusalem, and lay it upon the altar as a pledge that the whole coming harvest would be dedicated to God (verses 10-11). The priest was to “wave it” before the Lord. He held it out toward the altar and brought it back again, and in that way, the harvest was ceremonially dedicated to God.
The word “firstfruits” is used in connection with Christ’s resurrection. Jesus is said to have become “the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 15:20). Thus the Jewish presentation of the sheaf of the firstfruits was typical of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And just as the presentation of the first ripening grain was a pledge that the whole coming harvest would be dedicated to the Lord, so the resurrection of Christ is a guarantee that all human beings will some day be resurrected—and will give an account to God. Jesus said, “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” (John 5:28-29)
Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:23-24, says the resurrection will take place in this order: (1) Christ the firstfruits; (2) afterward, those who are Christ’s at His coming; (3) and “then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father.” The resurrection of Jesus is the glory of the Christian religion. The founders of all pagan religions are dead men and buried in dead men’s graves. How can they ever offer any hope of a future life? But Jesus is alive, the firstfruits of those who slept, and He says, “Because I live, ye shall live also” (John 14:19). His resurrection is a pledge that we too will be resurrected from our cold graves at His coming.
4. The Feast of Pentecost (Leviticus 23:15-22)
After the sheaf of the firstfruits had been “waved before the Lord,” seven weeks were counted, and then on the fiftieth day came the Feast of Pentecost (sometimes called The Feast of Weeks). Pentecost, like all the others, was a harvest festival, at which the Jews were to render their thank-offerings for the bounties of the field. But like the previous feasts, the Feast of Pentecost is rightly regarded as typical of spiritual truth.
Pentecost was to occur exactly fifty days after Firstfruits. It’s easy to see what happened on that day, fifty days after the resurrection of Christ. For forty days He had showed Himself alive by many infallible proofs. Ten days later, after His ascension, and on the fiftieth day after His resurrection, the day of Pentecost had fully come, and suddenly “there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting . . . And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:1-2, 4)
The main feature of the ritual for the Day of Pentecost consisted in lifting up two loaves of bread baked with leaven. There were two loaves, prefiguring the two component parts of the Church, Jew and Gentile. The “leaven” indicates that a measure of evil adheres in all members of the Christian Church; yet the loaves were presented along with a sin offering, with the blood of a slain lamb, and thus the offering (even though baked with leaven) still was acceptable to God. That is a picture of the Christian believer, who is an imperfect creature, but can approach the presence of God through the sin-offering, the shed blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Thus we see that the Passover symbolized the death of Christ; the Unleavened Bread, the holiness of a believer in Christ; the Firstfruits, the resurrection of Christ; and the Feast of Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit fifty days later.
5. The Feast of Trumpets (Leviticus 23:23-25)
The blowing of the trumpet at the Feast of Trumpets was to usher in the seventh month, which came as a climax to the Jewish sacred year. The trumpets were made from rams’ horns, and were blown to announce the coming events of the seventh month. The events included the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles, which would then end the Jewish feasts for another year.
And here too there are symbolic suggestions. The sound of the trumpet will signal the return of our Lord Jesus for the Church (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Between Pentecost and the Trumpets there was a long interval of time. In fact it was the longest period of time between any two of the feasts, and this long time of waiting between the fourth and fifth festivals is not without deep significance, for it sets forth the long period of time that has already elapsed since Pentecost.
God is longsuffering, but the Day of the Lord will surely come! And then, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound” (1 Corinthians 15:52), and the dead in Christ shall rise first, and those in Christ who are still living, shall be caught up with them. They shall be with the Lord forever (see 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). The Feast of Trumpets is typical of the translation of the Church at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
6. The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:26-32)
The Day of Atonement was the most solemn occasion in the Jewish year. The ritual of this solemn day is set forth in detail in Leviticus 16, but here it is mentioned merely in its sequence with the other feasts.
Once a year, Aaron laid aside his priestly garments and put on a garment of white linen. He offered sacrifices for himself and for his family, and then he offered two male goats for a sin offering. The one goat was slain in the offering, and then the priest placed his hands on the head of the live goat, confessing the sins of the people. Ceremonially these sins were transferred to the goat, which was then released to flee into the wilderness. Provision had already been made for the forgiveness of individuals—but this was a service which symbolized atonement for all the sins of the entire nation. Day by day, sins had been confessed and sacrifices had been offered, but now, once a year, on the Great Day of Atonement, expiation was made for “all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, even all their sins.”
The key words in the passage (Leviticus 23:27-29) are, “ye shall afflict your souls,” a type of Israel’s national conversion to Christ at the end of the Tribulation Period, just before He returns to reign. See Hosea 5:15 and Zechariah 12:10. Just as the Jews were to “afflict their souls” on this great day of Atonement, so there’s coming a day when the Israelites will be convinced of their stupendous mistake in rejecting Jesus Christ as their Messiah, and the Bible says they will afflict their souls with a genuine repentance. There will be a nationwide repentance for their sin of rejecting Christ as their Messiah.
7. The Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:33-43)
From the fifteenth to the twenty-second day of the seventh month, the Israelites left their houses and dwelled in tabernacles made from the branches of trees. They observed the most joyful feast of the whole year. The Feast of Tabernacles (verse 39) marked the end of the Jewish agricultural year. All the produce had been gathered in—not only the harvest of grain, but also the produce from the vine and fruit trees.
This great Feast of Ingathering (as it is sometimes called) symbolizes that time when at last all nations shall be brought into the garner of God! The Bible says that at the end of the age there will be a period of one thousand years of peace, prosperity, and plenty. Wars will be utterly unknown, sickness will be conquered, and poverty will be abolished. All the nations will be one great united nation under the government of one King, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The return of Christ and the establishment of His perfected Kingdom has been the blessed hope of the Church through all the passing centuries. We have often prayed “Thy Kingdom come,” and the day is coming when that request will be fulfilled. “The Lord shall be king over all the earth” (Zechariah 14:9).
We have seen in these seven great feasts a picture of God’s plan of redemption from the dark hour of Calvary (in the Passover) to the glorious millennial morning (in the Feast of Tabernacles). The first three feasts were in the first part of the year (first month), and prefigured the work associated with the first coming of Christ, His death, His holiness, and His resurrection. The last three feasts were in the latter part of the year (seventh month), and these refer to events connected with the second coming of Christ, the rapture, the tribulation, and the Millennial reign. And the interval between corresponds to the present dispensation of grace, the church age.
The Feast of Firstfruits (and Pentecost, fifty days later) was always observed on a Sunday. It was always on the same day, but not necessarily on the same date. The Feast of Trumpets was always observed on the first day of the seventh month. This was always on the same date, but not on the same day. Therefore the period of time between the Firstfruits (or Pentecost) and the Trumpets was of varying length each year. The number of days between the two festivals was different each year—like Thanksgiving and Christmas in the United States. Thanksgiving is always on a Thursday, the same day, but not the same date. Christmas is always on December 25, the same date, but not the same day. Thus in 2018 there are 33 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but in 2019, there are 27 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And so it was between Pentecost and Trumpets! Thus we see another accurate type of the Church Age, for we don’t know exactly how long the Age will be. “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.” (Mark 13:32-33)
It is amazing to note the beauty and unity of the Scriptures. It is marvelous that God, way back in Old Testament times, foretold (in type) His great plan of redemption. The fulfillment of the first harvest, Christ the firstfruit Whom God raised from the dead, is viewed as a promise of a larger harvest to come. The resurrection of Jesus Christ promises ultimate resurrection from the dead. We eagerly anticipate the fulfillment of God’s promise in Revelation 21:3, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.”
Are you eagerly anticipating the consummation of God’s plan of redemption, or does this thought send shivers of terror to your soul? If you are disturbed by this thought, please contact us and ask for literature on how you can believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and find rest for your soul.