During the recent Feast of Tabernacles this year I had conversations with some of my Christian friends about observing God’s feasts that are recorded in the Bible. Like many Christians, my friends believe that all of God’s Laws were done away with and fulfilled by Jesus’ death and resurrection—that we are no longer under the Law, but under grace and we are no loner are required to observe the feasts.
Whose Feasts are they?
Even before the Old Covenant was ratified and before he scaled Mount Sinai to receive the Law from God, Moses was instructed about Passover and the first Feast, The Feast of Unleavened Bread. God told Moses to “Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance.“ (See Exodus 12:12-17) [Emphasis mine throughout]
We learn first of all that it is a “festival to the Lord,” Later in Leviticus, a book that details each of the seven annual Feast observances, God commands Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘These are my appointed festivals, the appointed festivals of the Lord, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies.” (Lev. 23:2) He leaves us with no doubt as to whom these observances belong. They are God’s feasts, not Israel’s; and not Feasts just for Jews.
Lest we wonder whether all the Feasts are God’s, He details each one for us in Leviticus 23:4-43. But carefully notice how God prefaces the feasts He is about to list:
“These are the Lord’s appointed festivals, the sacred assemblies you are to proclaim at their appointed times.” (v.4) So Scripture proves that all these special annual times belong to God and are given to those who seek to truly know and love Him.
The common misunderstanding.
The mistaken assumption many make is in thinking that all laws in the Bible are the same. The fact is, we find five different kinds of law in Scriptures:
• Spiritual law
• Civil law
• Ceremonial-ritual-sacrificial law
• Judicial-criminal law
The Feasts (as well as the Ten Commandments) fall into the category of spiritual law. They reveal the spiritual attributes of God and they transform us spiritually to be more like Jesus when we observe them. They also remind us of how God will always watch over us and protect us with His mighty power.
The laws that many refer to as being changed by the New Covenant of Jesus are actually the ceremonial-ritual-sacrificial laws. The book of Hebrews speaks of that change:
“This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order. But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:9-14)
These ritualistic ordinances had been added to the law obligation because of Israel’s continued transgressions. (Gal. 3:19) It was imperative that Israel learn the important lesson that sin is a serious thing that separates us from God and requires blood-shedding for atonement. But now we rely on the Savior as the ultimate sacrifice, and who now intercedes for us as our High Priest. His blood and not the blood of bulls and goats is the only effective antidote to counteract and blot out sin.
THIS is the change in the law that the Bible speaks of. But we find nothing here or anywhere else in the Scriptures about a change in our responsibility to keep the spiritual law—meaning either the Ten Commandments or God’s Feast days. That is because neither the Commandments nor these annual observances are part of the ceremonial-ritual-sacrificial law that was changed with the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The apostle Paul observed God’s feasts.
In Acts 21 we are told that the Apostle Paul arrived in the city of Jerusalem from his third missionary trip. When he arrived, the apostles in Jerusalem told Paul that there were rumors in the city that he had been speaking against the Mosaic law, had encouraged the men to not be circumcised, and had tried to motivate others to ignore the Jewish customs during his missionary travels (v. 20-21). Consequently, in order to counter these false rumors, the apostles encouraged Paul to purify himself according to Jewish custom (v. 24) and to pay the cost for four Jewish men to have their heads shaved, (v. 23-24) In other words, they wanted Paul to demonstrate that he still followed the Mosaic customs. (But not the sacrifices) Paul agreed and did as they suggested. (v. 26)
This raises a important question. Why did Paul follow the Mosaic customs? In Acts 16:1-3 we discover that Paul circumcised Timothy himself — a Jewish custom. In Acts 18:18, Paul had his hair cut “for he was keeping a vow” —a Nazirite vow. In Acts 20:6 we are told that Paul observed the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and in Acts 20:16 he observed the Feast of Pentecost. If all of God’s laws were replaced at Jesus’ resurrection, why did Paul follow the Mosaic customs? Was he wrong to do so?
Did Jesus’ death and resurrection change God’s spiritual laws?
Some may be asking, ”But doesn’t Colossians 2:14 say that all of God’s laws, including the Feasts, were nailed to the stake when Jesus died?” Not if we study (in context) what Paul was explaining to his readers.
Paul begins by saying, “ See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” (V. 8) Then he goes on to say that we were not circumcised with human hands but by Christ. (Vs. 11-12) Paul then adds, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Vs. 13-15)
Here we find that the legal indebtedness (or obligations) that were nailed to the tree were “against us.” Is God’s law against us? Does not Paul write, “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good?” (Rom. 7:12)
If the law is against us, why does I John 5:3 say, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous”? In fact, God’s laws are intended for our good! God’s commandments are good, and so are his Feasts. WE are the ones who have the problem!
Many Christians pick out Colossians 2:16-18 and mistakingly believe that Paul is telling us not to observe the feasts: “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.”
Paul is not telling us not to observe God’s festivals or Sabbaths, he is telling us not to let others JUDGE us when we DO observe them! And who are those who would judge us? The legalistic Jews and the world who would impose man-made ordinances and rules on us: “Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings.” (Vs. 20-22)
The New Testament Christians Kept the Fall Holy Days
The Apostles Paul and John wrote:
“Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)
“He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” (1 John 2:6) And that included keeping the Fall Holy Days.
Notice that even after the death and resurrection of Jesus, the importance that the Apostle Paul attached to keeping a Feast in Jerusalem: “I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem; but I will return again to you, God willing.” (Acts 18:21 KJV)
I find it interesting that many Bible translations today have removed the part of that verse that says, “I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem.” Compare it to the NIV which reads, “But as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” Then he set sail from Ephesus.” Why no mention of keeping the feast in Jerusalem?
The Apostle Paul kept the Fall Holy Days. Paul wrote that he needed to keep the feast (possibly meaning the Feast of Tabernacles) Paul also apparently kept the Day of Atonement (known as the Fast): “When considerable time had passed and the voyage was now dangerous, since even the fast was already over, Paul began to admonish them, and said to them, “Men, I perceive that the voyage will certainly be with damage and great loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” (Acts 27:9-10)
Notice some statements from the Apostle Paul:
“…Men and brethren, though I have done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers.” (Acts 28:17)
“..though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” (Philippians 3:4-6)
Since Paul kept the customs of his people, he, too, kept all the Holy Feast Days. If not, he could not have made that statement which is in Acts 28:17 nor the ones about being blameless in the law in Philippians 3:4-6.
Did the 2nd or 3rd Century Church Keep God’s Feasts?
There are at least five reasons that it can be concluded that the second century church observed the feasts:
1. The original Apostles did. (Acts 18:18-21; 27:9)
2. They are mentioned in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments.
3. Polycarp , a disciple of the apostle John, said he followed the practices of the Apostles in regards to holy days.
4. There were early Christian meanings for them.
5. If they were not being kept, then certain leaders in the Roman Catholic Church would not have later felt the necessity to drive the observances out.
There is also an indication in an old, 4th century writing, that Polycarp discussed the Fall Holy Days:
“What must one say, when even He that was gentler than all men so appeals and cries out at the feast of Tabernacles? For it is written; And on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried saying, If any man thirsteth, let him come to Me and drink. (Pionius, Life of Polycarp (1889) from J. B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, vol. 3.2, pp.488-506.)
Fall Holy Days Preached Against, Though Observed, in the Late 4th Century
According to Eusebius’ Life of Constantine, Book III chapter 18, the Roman emperor Constantine stated:
“Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd; for we have received from our Saviour a different way.”
Constantine was a worshiper of the sun-god Mithras and December 25th was Mithras’ birthday, and later that day became adopted as Christmas. A few decades after Christmas was adopted by Rome, the Roman Catholic saint John Chrysostom preached the following in 387 A.D.:
“The festivals of the pitiful and miserable Jews are soon to march upon us one after the other and in quick succession: the feast of Trumpets, the feast of Tabernacles, the fasts. There are many in our ranks who say they think as we do. Yet some of these are going to watch the festivals and others will join the Jews in keeping their feasts and observing their fasts. I wish to drive this perverse custom from the Church right now…If the Jewish ceremonies are venerable and great, ours are lies…Does God hate their festivals and do you share in them?”
Notice that he did not say this or that festival, but all of them together. (John Chrysostom. Homily I Against the Jews I:5;VI:5;VII:2. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/chrysostom-jews6.html 12/10/05)
Had Jesus or Paul told us that under the New Covenant we don’t need to observe the seven annual Feasts, then we wouldn’t have to bother. The reality is, NO ONE in the New Testament said such a thing! In fact, we find a myriad of passages in the New Testament where people intended to keep them, continued keeping them, and would keep them in the coming Kingdom.
Is the Feasts commanded to be observed forever?
In Zechariah 14:16-19 we read: “Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, and to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles. If any of the peoples of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, they will have no rain. If the Egyptian people do not go up and take part, they will have no rain. The Lord will bring on them the plague he inflicts on the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles. This will be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles.”
In Leviticus 23:41 the word used for “forever” is the Hebrew עוֹלָם (`owlam) and means, long duration, antiquity, futurity, everlasting, evermore, perpetual, always, continuous existence, unending, eternity—In other words, FOREVER!
The New Testament Greek word for forever: aion (ahee-ohn’) and means at all times, always, perpetual, continuously, or continuous—In other words, FOREVER!
The account in Zechariah 14 refers to the time AFTER Jesus returns to earth and emphasizes the fact that this Feast is a statute forever. All nations are commanded to observe this Feast in the millennium whether they prefer to do so, or not. Eventually, all nations will come to understand and appreciate God’s commanded Feasts.
Peter likely alludes to this holiday when Jesus appears in His full glory next to Moses and Elijah. (Matt. 17:1-13; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36). Peter then asks Jesus if it would be appropriate to build three tents. (or booths) This was obviously a vision given by God since none of the disciples knew what Moses and Elisha looked like.
Besides, why would Moses and Elisha need earthly shelters, if they already had their dwelling in heaven? Is it possible that the Feast of Tabernacles was being observed at this time? Sukkot looks forward to the day when God will once again dwell in the midst of His people as Messiah did. The Feast of Tabernacles thus looks forward to the return of our Messiah and the establishment of His Messianic Kingdom.
Human tradition stops many from observing God’s feasts. Notice some of what Jesus taught about religious people who preferred traditions over the commands of the Bible:
“Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:7-9)
Those who have their minds set on earthly things lose sight of the world to come. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. (Phil.3:19) Esau was faithless and willing to give up his inheritance in exchange for the immediate gratification of his earthly hunger. We do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
It is very easy to become ensnared by the superficial trappings of worldly comforts so that we fail to realize just how vulnerable and naked we are in this world. The Sukkah reminds us of our weakness and vulnerability: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary, troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1)
The Feast of Tabernacles is not just to remind the people that they lived in booths, but also that God dwelt among his people. They were led by his glorious presence and the tabernacle of the Lord was pitched in the midst of their tents. The Sukkah reminds us that as we live within this mortal, temporary body, God also dwells with us as he leads us by His Spirit to our eternal dwelling.
Only when we put aside this earthly tent and receive our glorified immortal bodies will we rejoice in the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises, yet we rejoice even now because we have been given the first-fruits of the Spirit guaranteeing our citizenship in the heavenly Jerusalem which is yet to be revealed.
Not one professing Christ kept Halloween, All Saint’s Day, Christmas, or even Easter until hundreds of years after Christ died. The biblical holy days were sadly rejected by people who had anti-semitic feelings and who wanted to endorse pagan practices.
The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was in 336AD, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine, who was a self proclaimed sun worshiper. A few years later, Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the 25th December.
The Feast of Dedication, or Hanukkah, occurs at about the same time as Christmas. Hanukkah celebrates when, after the Romans desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem, the Maccabees fought and won against the Romans and the Jewish people were able to re-dedicate the Temple and worship there again. In John 10:22 we read that even Jesus went to the Temple to observe the Feast of Dedication.
Although most who profess Christianity now celebrate it, Easter-Sunday was not observed by the second century Christians in Asia Minor. They observed Passover instead. Although the Bible does mention that Jesus was resurrected, it never once suggests that it be observed as some type of holiday. Jesus specifically mentioned that Christians were to observe the Passover as He did. (Luke 22:14-20)
I have no problem with Christians celebrating Christmas and Easter as remembrances to honor Jesus’ birth and resurrection; but what does Jesus’ birth have to do with Christmas trees, Mistletoe, and Santa Claus? And what does Jesus’ resurrection have to do with the Easter Bunny and Easter egg hunts?
So should we obey the teachings of God as revealed in the Bible and as practiced by Jesus and the early Christian Church, or celebrate the pagan-based holidays of men?