Transcribed © 2021. L’Chaim Fellowship Bible Study, a ministry of Olive Tree Alliance.
The Feasts of the Lord are not rabbinic tradition. All festivals found in Leviticus 23 are biblical appointments and prophetic in nature. As such, the faith community should be eager to understand these God-ordained calendar events. Yet, it would be safe to say—at least in my experience—that many Christians have never been given the opportunity to learn why God bothered to include these holy days on the calendar.
In this study, we’ll explore why God created those fascinating calendar events found in Leviticus 23. We’ll also discover what Christians have missed for centuries. Our purpose is to gain understanding from the Word of God and history.
After that introduction you may be wondering, Why did the Church abandon the Feasts of the Lord? And, What do we do with biblical holidays that have been ignored for nearly 2,000 years?
The answer to the first question can easily be discovered in the record of church history.
Why did the Church abandon the Feasts of the Lord?
Christendom—a term I use for anyone and every group that espouses Christianity—compartmentalized the Bible when an allegorical method of interpretation was universally applied to all of Scripture. That was no accident, but rather by design. There was a determination to move away from the true date of Passover by some, but not all early church leaders. That move skewed not just the dates of our Lord’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection, but also the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits and Pentecost, and undermined the Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement and Tabernacles, and even the observance of the Sabbath.
The unbiblical and anti-Semitic doctrine that the church replaced Israel is known as Supersessionism because Supersessionists believe the Church superseded or replaced Israel. Replacement Theology, which is the more common name of that doctrine today, is the official position of the Roman and Eastern church. As early as AD 125, the Roman church celebrated Passover on a Sunday according to the historian Eusebius (Eusebius H.E. 5.24.14). That move to disassociate from the Jewish calendar was a great loss for Christendom and robbed us of much that defines our rich Judeo-Christian heritage.
What happened in the early church is no different than today when aberrant doctrines enter the local church. Conflict invariably arises as false doctrine is challenged. In verse three of the epistle that bears his name, Jude instructs us, “to contend earnestly for the faith, “which is imperative (Jude 3).
There were Christian leaders who attempted to retain Passover as the true date of our Lord’s crucifixion. Those who held to commemorating the crucifixion on 14 Nissan were called Quartodecimans—taken from the Latin Vulgate phrase quarta decima, as found in Leviticus 23:5. Polycarp, who was the Bishop of Smyrna, tried to settle the dispute in AD 154. Polycarp is also known for confronting Gnostic influencers of the day. (After a long life, he was martyred for his vibrant faith at the age of 86.)
Looking back from the 21st century, there is no doubt that the Supersessionists won the battle. Attempts to establish a fixed date for Easter were solidified in AD 325 when Constantine and the Council of Nicaea ruled that Easter would universally be celebrated by Christendom on the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal (Spring) equinox. The council further clarified, if the full moon occurred on a Sunday coinciding with Passover, Easter would then be celebrated the following Sunday. Subsequent amendments by the council ensured that Easter would never coincide with Passover. I’ll skip the details. Suffice it to say, reconciling the calendar over the last two millennia was no easy task. How simple it would have been to return to what God established in Leviticus 23!
There is good news, however. After 2000, years, biblically authentic Christians are rediscovering their Jewish roots with a return to a literal reading and understanding of Scripture. (Remember, allegory is always explained in the context with metaphors, similes, idioms and other figures of speech.) The fact that Christians are taking the Bible at face value—along with a growing number of Jewish people who are also at the same time discovering their Messiah—means that the church or body of Christ is once again becoming homogeneous as it was at first, which is another indicator that we are rapidly nearing the end of the Church Age.
Why did God bother to include the feasts on the Jewish calendar?
The Bible is a cohesive message. The Feasts of the Lord in Leviticus reveal Messiah and in that context, God’s purposes for humanity—both Jews and non-Jews.
God included a holiday calendar so that successive generations would have a template to rehearse His willingness to provide for our salvation. God utilizes numerous teaching methodologies particularly repetition and pattern in the written Word so people won’t miss what He is communicating. Even creation itself we are told declares His glory, but few bother, “to search out the matter” (Prov. 25:2). He entrusted Israel with the big job of being a “light to the nations” so that the whole world would have the opportunity to know God (Isa. 49:6).
Read the full text of Leviticus 23. We’ll pick up the story where God gave Moses the directive for the first of the Fall Feasts while the nation of Israel was camped at Mount Sinai.
LEVITICUS 23:23-25 (NKJV)
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a Sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work on it; and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord.’”
Yom Teruah is the Hebrew transliteration of the phrase, “day of trumpets,” and more accurately describes the festival. The shofar used for Yom Teruah comes from the horn of the ram. Those crafted in Israel are highly prized, though the horns are usually imported because of high demand that can’t be met domestically.
In preparation for the High Holidays, the daily blowing of the shofar during the preceding Hebrew month of Elul climaxes on the new moon that begins the month of Tishrei and with it the Feast of Trumpets, as God commanded in Leviticus 23:24.
Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the Jewish civil New Year and in that context literally means “head of the year.” That’s why a whole fish with the head attached is served as a treat for the New Year.
The civil New Year was formally instituted in the second century AD following the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and was based on a Day of Trumpets celebration described in the book of Nehemiah. In Nehemiah chapter eight, the high priest Ezra assembled the people together for the first reading of Torah in the newly rebuilt city of Jerusalem (Neh. 8:1-11). The last verse of Nehemiah chapter seven tells us, “When the seventh month came, the children of Israel were in their cities”—back from the Babylonian captivity. (7:73). Counting from Passover, the seventh month is Tishrei. The first day of Tishrei is Rosh Hashanah, the day the world was created.
Just by way of interest, you may be wondering how the Jewish people keep track of two calendars. Religious holidays, the Torah and Haftarah portions as well as the beginning and ending times for Shabbat are noted on the civil calendar that begins with Tishrei. Messianic calendars also list a suggested New Testament passage to read on Shabbat.
How is the Feast of Trumpets celebrated by Jewish people around the globe and in Israel?
The following portion from the Psalms is read before the shofar is blown on Rosh Hashanah.
“Blessed are the people who know the joyful sound!
They walk, O Lord, in the light of Your countenance.
In Your name they rejoice all day long,
And in Your righteousness they are exalted.
For You are the glory of their strength,
And in Your favor our horn is exalted.
For our shield belongs to the Lord,
And our king to the Holy One of Israel” (Ps. 89:15-18).
Tradition requires a minimum of one hundred shofar blasts on both days of the celebration. The blowing of noisemakers during New Year’s Eve parties on the Gregorian calendar is nothing like the sound of the shofar on Yom Teruah, Day of Trumpets.
The word translated “joyful sound” is actually the Hebrew word “teruah” (trumpet). Rendered “joyful shout” in the Tanakh, a side note in the Hebrew Study Bible describes the word as a “blast of the ram’s horn.” (1) The word “know” is yawdah in Hebrew and conveys the idea of understanding or comprehension. The psalmist declares that the blessed people are those who grasp the prophetic implications of the shofar blast. Here’s why.
The Shofar has prophetic significance for Israel.
According to rabbinic tradition, blowing the shofar on Yom Teruah symbolizes the final regathering of Israel. The Hebrew Scriptures indicate that, “a great trumpet shall be blown,” to call the scattered descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob back to their ancestral homeland (Isa. 27:13).
Many believe the final regathering of Israel will coincide with a future celebration of the Feast of Trumpets.
The 89th Psalm confirms the Davidic Covenant in the context of a plea for God to restore the nation of Israel and affirms the following:
- God’s covenant with David will endure (Ps. 89:3-4, 20-23).
- God’s promises to Israel will be literally fulfilled (vv. 24-29).
- The Messianic Kingdom will be established on the earth as God promised (vv. 34-37).
The promises God made to King David will culminate in Messiah’s Second Coming to inaugurate the Messianic Kingdom. The blast of the shofar—the joyful sound—captures the hope of the Messianic Kingdom.
Are There Prophetic Implications for Christians?
It’s true. Christians should be straining to hear the sound of a trumpet that signals the moment when all Church Age saints are caught up literally and bodily to meet the Lord in the air (1 Th. 4:13-18). That moment, when we leave the cares of life behind for our meeting in the air with the Lord, can’t come soon enough!
There are at least three reasons why Bible scholars and Messianic teachers suggest the Rapture event could happen during a celebration of Yom Teruah. Please feel free to interrupt with questions or comments.
- First, the Roman government’s crucifixion of Jesus the Christ occurred on Passover (Pesach) which always occurs on the fourteenth of Nissan. (This is how God set up the religious calendar in Leviticus 23.) Jesus rose victorious from the grave on First Fruits (Feast of Bikkurim). Pesach (Passover), the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Yom HaMazot) and First Fruits (Bikkurim) are the three spring feasts celebrated during the month of Nissan. The Church Age began on Pentecost/Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) and is wedged between the cycle of Spring and Fall Feasts (Acts 2).
- Second, Feast of Trumpets (Yom Teruah), follows Shavuot and begins the new cycle of Fall Feasts and the New Year. Since each of the Spring Feasts align with the fulfillment of God’s redemptive program, the same can be expected for the Fall Feasts.
- Finally, if you hold to the view that the Rapture will occur on the Feast of Trumpets, then it is reasonable to believe that the Rapture of the church initiated with, “a shout, the voice of the archangel, and the trumpet of God,” is the next event on the prophetic calendar. The follow passages are used to support this position: 1 Th. 4:16-17; 1 Cor. 15:51-58; Heb. 10:35-38; Jas. 5:7-8; 1 Pet. 4:7-8.
There are also a growing number of Bible scholars and Messianic teachers who strongly suggest the Rapture event could happen on Pentecost.
- First, Pentecost or Shavuot as it is known in Israel stands between the Spring and Fall Feasts.
- Second, Shavuot is often referred to as the feast with no set date that actually adds credibility for a connection to the Rapture. Leviticus 23:15 instructs that the Feast of Bikkurim (Firstfruits) must occur on the first day of the week following Passover. The big question—of determining which Sabbath precedes First Fruits—is still up for debate. And, herein lies the difficulty of pinpointing the actual day.
The Sadducees taught that the word “Sabbath” means the seventh day of the week and began counting the omer on the first Sunday after Passover. Therefore, Pentecost always fell on Sunday seven weeks later (Talmud: Menachot 65).
Pharisaic Judaism teaches that the “day after Shabbat” refers not to Sunday, but to the day after Passover. This is what caused a flurry of discussion on social media in the weeks leading up to First Fruits/Bikkurim among Messianic Torah enthusiasts last Spring.
Coinciding with the beginning of the barley harvest and extending to the beginning of the wheat harvest, the people of Israel were required to come to Jerusalem with the first and best of the year’s produce. In biblical times, the nation did not eat or sell any of the new crops until the priests waved a representative sheaf of green barley before the Lord (Lev. 23:14).
On the first day of the week 50 days later, the season of Firstfruits came to an end with the culmination of the daily counting of the omer and celebration of Pentecost at the beginning of the wheat harvest.
You can see why the debate over fixing the date of Pentecost is so controversial and lends itself to the Lord’s words, “of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only,” speaking of the Rapture (Mt. 24:36). (The same can also be said of the Feast of Trumpets with regard to the sighting of the new moon.) The disciples assembled in Jerusalem must have calculated the day based on the Sadducees understanding that “Sabbath” means the seventh day of the week.
In God’s economy, nothing is done arbitrarily. Nothing is left to chance. The Feasts of the Lord are not only memorial in nature, but are also prophetic in that they typify or prefigure set times on God’s schedule for launching the Messianic Kingdom.
Pivot back to Exodus 19. Let’s begin reading at verse 16 where the children of Israel are gathered at Sinai after the Exodus from Egypt.
“Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled.
And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly.
And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice. Then the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up” (Ex. 19:16-20).
This is the first of only two passages that speak of the sounding of the trumpet of God in Scripture. The other is found in 1 Thessalonians 4 beginning at verse 15:
“For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.
And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:15-18).
If the sounding of the Trumpet of God at Mount Sinai is the first trumpet, then the trumpet associated with the Rapture can logically be considered the last because there are only two instances of the Trumpet of God being sounded in the entirety of the Bible. The last trumpet of the tribulation recorded in the book of Revelation is a trumpet of judgement and cannot be equated with the “last trumpet” mentioned in 1 Thessalonians, chapter four.
I hope this information provides a foundation for answering the questions:
- Why did God create the fascinating calendar events found in Leviticus 23?
- Why did the Church abandon the Feasts of the Lord?
- And, What have Christians missed for centuries?
Again, our purpose is to gain understanding from the Word of God and history. In denying the prophetic aspect of the feasts over the centuries, Christians have been deprived of the cohesiveness of God’s plan and purposes in relation to salvation, the Rapture and Messianic Kingdom. As the Spring Feasts were fulfilled literally, the Fall Feasts will also be fulfilled.
The Hebrew word translated “feasts” is mo’edim and conveys the concept of an appointment or fixed set time. In a specific sense, the feasts were fixed appointments that God scheduled with His people, Israel, throughout the course of a given year. In a broader sense, we are reminded that Torah, where we find the Feasts of the Lord, is “a shadow of good things to come” (Rm. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11).
It bears repeating. In God’s economy, nothing is done arbitrarily. Nothing is left to chance. The Feasts of the Lord are not only memorial in nature, but are also prophetic in that they typify or prefigure set times on God’s schedule for launching the Messianic Kingdom.
What do we do with biblical holidays that have been ignored for nearly 2,000 years?
The faith community should eagerly anticipate these calendar events. The Fall Feasts loom large in Autumn beginning with the Feast of Trumpets, which is the spiritual side of Rosh Hashanah. The shofar is predominant in God’s requirements for celebration, even though customary foods usually come to mind first. I’ll leave those for another discussion.
The build up to Rosh Hashanah traditionally includes a daily morning shofar “call of awakening” during the month of Elul, in addition to the biblical mandate on the Day of Trumpets. In Jewish tradition, Rosh Hashanah/Yom Teruah begins the Days of Awe—ten days set aside for national repentance—that conclude with Yom Kippur. This is not repentance for salvation, but rather with the hope to be inscribed in the Book of Life for another year.
It is worth noting that the Midrash—the Jewish commentary on the Torah—teaches that the word “shofar” comes from the root word shapru that means to amend, reform or beautify. (Vayikra Rabbah 29:6) Some even suggest that the curved shape of the shofar represents the way a repentant heart bends before the Lord.
So in conclusion, a final question.
How should 21st century Christians prepare for the Fall Feasts?
Our inclination—once we’ve become aware of the richness of being grafted into root of Abraham—is to seek fulfillment through a more Jewish expression of our faith. Unfortunately, many unwittingly adopt the formality of Pharisaic Judaism that Jesus condemned. The complex tapestry of Judaism has caused many to succumb to the lure of legalism that Paul soundly condemned.
At the council of Jerusalem as described in Acts 15, the apostles ruled that only four requirements would be imposed upon non-Jewish Believers in Yeshua. We must,
- abstain from things offered to idols—don’t eat food offered to idols,
- abstain from blood—never eat blood, the life of all flesh is in the blood,
- abstain from things strangled—don’t eat strangled animals, which is an inhumane treatment of animals, and
- abstain from sexual immorality—keep yourself pure” (Acts 15:29).
Furthermore, non-Jewish Christians are not required to be circumcised; nor are they required to keep the 613 laws included in the Mosaic Ceremonial Law (most of which were requirements for the priests). Technically, we are not even required to observe the levitical calendar or feasts.
There is liberty, however, to mark the dates with a thankful heart for what God has already accomplished through the Spring Feasts and a grateful expectancy for future prophetic fulfillment of the Fall Feasts.
When false teachers infiltrated the Galatian church lecturing about adherence to circumcision and the Mosaic Law, Paul responded by upbraiding the congregation.
“. . . after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain” (Gal. 4:9-11).
In other passages, he reprimanded those who were seeking to steer the church toward Pharisaic legalism (Gal. 5:1-6). We are no longer in bondage to what Paul referred to as, “the schoolmaster,” of the Law, which was designed rather to bring us to faith (Gal. 3:24-25).
Then as if anticipating the very situation that emerged with the rise of Replacement Theology, Paul told the Colossians,
“. . .let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ (Col. 2:16-17).
Here, the apostle Paul plainly tells us that the Feasts of the Lord were designed as a prophetic, “shadow of things to come,” revealing the very essence of the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s true, the closer we get to the end of the Church Age, the more Israel will move toward her rightful place as a light to the nations. We can expect to see more Christians eager for these biblical calendar events because the Fall Feasts will surely be fulfilled just as the Spring Feasts were two millennia ago.
Please consider the following suggestions:
- Be willing to dig deeper in the Word to learn about the feasts. These are God’s appointments of set times on His prophetic calendar.
- Break out of the repression that has blinded the Church to the truth of God’s Word.
- Study church history because the facts have been conveniently swept under the rug for centuries.
- Intentionally devote time during the upcoming Fall Feasts to review the significance of each one with your family. The Feasts of the Lord should not be compartmentalized or locked-up in the Old Testament era as though irrelevant to the Church Age. The Feasts of the Lord are not merely celebrations with a Hebrew flavor.
There is great spiritual significance embedded in the eight appointments listed in Leviticus 23. God’s appointment calendar was designed to reinforce our faith in the consummation of His plan for humanity. What you do with the Fall Feasts is your choice.
1) Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, The Jewish Study Bible, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 1392.
1) The Joyful Sound. (Used for illustrative purposes) (Photo credit: Pixabay/[Public domain]/Enhancement: MKM Portfolios)
Copyright © 2021, Charles E. McCracken. Transcription. L’Chaim Fellowship Bible Study, an Olive Tree Alliance affiliated ministry. Reprint with permission. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.