Every nation in the world has its own holidays. For example: in the United States we celebrate Easter, Father’s Day, the 4th of July, and Christmas. However, there is only one nation in the world that celebrates specific holidays that point towards a future fulfillment – Israel. You see, though we have some which are celebrated simply as mere present realities [Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc.], most of our holidays are based upon past events. July 4th commemorates our independence as a nation while Christmas recognizes the birth of the Lord Jesus into the world.
According to Leviticus 23, there are seven national holidays that the Lord gave Israel to celebrate during the calendar year: Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Weeks, Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Booths. At first glance it would be easy to walk away from this passage and think that these were just some random get-togethers for the people of God. But, upon closer inspection, one soon realizes that these seven festivals actually mark the most important events on God’s eternal calendar from beginning to end. And not only are they each a reflection of the past, but they all point forward in time to when the Messiah will fulfill His promises to His people in the future.
The Feast of Passover was originally intended to celebrate the event in which God literally passed over His people as He passed through Egypt to bring judgment upon the Egyptians (Ex. 12:29). Thus, Israel was commanded to celebrate this festival every year throughout their generations (Ex. 12:14) in order to remember how the Lord rescued His people from the house of slavery in Egypt. However, as is seen with the feast of Unleavened Bread, Jesus referred to this celebration as anticipating the inauguration of the New Covenant in His blood which came about almost fifteen hundred years later (Matt. 26:27-28).
The prescriptions are as follows: on the tenth day of the first month every household was to bring in a male lamb (Ex. 12:3) that was without blemish (Ex. 12:5). Then, after a few days of the family growing close in their emotional attachment to that lamb, they were commanded to kill it on the fourteenth day of the first month (Ex. 12:6). After taking something that was precious to them and sacrificing it on the altar before God, they were each to smear its blood on the door posts of their homes and consume the body of this lamb in haste because of how quickly the Lord would bring them out of the land (Ex. 12:7-13).
The Feast of Unleavened Bread takes place immediately after the Passover on the evening of the fourteenth day of the first month (Ex. 12:18) and shares the same purpose: to remember God’s salvation of the Israelites from bondage but, more specifically, to foreshadow the cleansing from sin [pictured in the removal of all leaven] that took place as a result of the blood of the covenant. Also, another reason why the people were not to have any leaven in their possession was to act as a reminder of when the Lord brought them out of their homes and sent them out of Egypt.
The Feast of Firstfruits (Lev. 23:9-14) takes place during this same week. Leviticus 23:11 states that this celebration is to take place “…on the day after the Sabbath….” Thus, on Sunday, the day after the Passover, the people were commanded to bring a bundle of the firstfruits of the land, which they reaped from the harvest, to be waved by the priest before the Lord. This would act as a demonstration of their thankfulness, provision for the priesthood, and reveal God’s acceptance and blessing upon them to bring in more from the harvest. The Apostle Paul spoke of this feast as foreshadowing Christ’s resurrection from the grave and our future resurrection with Him in glory (1 Cor. 15:23).
The Feast of Weeks (Ex. 34:22), also known as the Feast of Harvest (Ex. 23:16) and the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1), was the beginning of the wheat harvest. Israel would count fifty days to the day after the Passover in which they were required to bring in the firstfruits of their crop. The significance behind this is that of being referred to as “the firstfruits” in Exodus 34:22 because the apostles interpreted this feast as being fulfilled in the coming of the Spirit (Acts 2). Thus, in the same way that the Feast of Firstfruits was fulfilled in Christ and is awaiting a fuller realization in His saints, the same is true of the Feast of Weeks. The long-promised Spirit (Ez. 36:26; Joel 2:28) has been poured out, but there is still so much more of the “harvest” to come in from being reaped (Rom. 8:23).
Opposed to the previous four feasts, which take place at the beginning of the Jewish calendar and were at least initially fulfilled in Christ’s first advent, these last three occur at the end of the year and are still awaiting to be realized in Christ’s Second Coming. The Feast of Trumpets begins the ten “high holy days” of Israel and is first mentioned in Leviticus 23:23-25. As far as this passage is concerned, the reader is not informed as to why the Jews are commanded to organize this annual celebration. The fact that there is a level of mystery to this feast adds significant weight to the equation and bolsters the Apostle Paul’s connection that he made between this mysterious celebration and the coming rapture of the Church (1 Cor. 15:51; 1 Thess. 4:13-18).
Whenever the trumpets were blown the entire congregation of Israel was gathered together before the Lord at the tent of meeting which “signaled the appearance of God” (Num. 10:1-3). It is important to note that the priests were the ones chosen to blow the trumpets (Num. 10:8), one of the reasons for blowing them was to proclaim the loud noise of God’s coming salvation (Num. 10:9) and, on the day they were blown, the people would rejoice in celebration (Num. 10:10). This is why the Apostle Paul spoke of Christ’s return taking place with the sound of the trumpet of God (1 Thess. 4:16): Jesus is the Great High Priest who alone is able to blow the trumpet (Heb. 4:14), as soon as it is blown the people of God will be gathered together into His presence (1 Thess. 4:17) because He is bringing salvation (Tit. 2:13), and thus inaugurating the ultimate day of celebration for God’s people (Rev. 4 – 5).
The Day of Atonement
Within ancient Israel there was only one day of the year in which the high priest could walk past the second curtain and proceed into the most holy place where God’s presence dwelled (Heb. 9:1-7). After making a sacrifice for himself, the priest would then make a sacrifice to atone for the sins of the entire congregation. Though the Day of Atonement certainly had an impact on the individual lives of the people, it was more concerned with national forgiveness (Lev. 16:21-22, 33-34). Therefore, this atoning sacrifice was designed for the corporate people of God.
In view of the overarching narrative of the Bible and God’s predetermined timeline of events, this specific feast will be fulfilled during the coming seven-year tribulation in which God will bring about the much-needed national forgiveness (Jer. 30:7; Zech. 12:10; 13:1) they had previously denied (Matt. 12:22-32). It is no mere coincidence that this is the only feast which directly states that Israel must be afflicted (Lev. 23:29, 32). Though this terminology is initially realized in Christ as the Suffering Servant (Is. 53:7), it is still awaiting further consummation in the corporate affliction of the nation itself (Dan. 9:27; Rev. 6-19).
Finally, the Feast of Booths, also known as the Feast of Tabernacles, is the last festival presented in the book of Leviticus. The purpose of this feast is to be a continual reminder of when God brought the people out of the land of Egypt and He gave them a new dwelling place and provided for their needs. The first occurrence of the term “booths” is used in relation to Jacob and his family when they were sojourning through the land (Gen. 33:17). Booths, or tents, were temporary structures the Israelite families made during their wilderness wanderings because they would be quick and easy to put up and tear down. Thus, throughout their generations, Israel is to remember how God led them from one place to another and how their ancestors lived in temporary dwelling places until they finally came into the land.
The prophetic nature of this festival will be fully realized in the future millennial reign of Christ upon this present world (Rev. 20:1-6). In the same way that their ancestors were travelers who set up temporary dwelling places to stay in during their journey to the new land, the future millennial saints will be temporary residents in this world on their journey into the new heavens and the new earth – the ultimate promised land. God will certainly be ruling over them, but believers in the Kingdom will not reach their final destination until after the thousand-year reign of Christ.
Each of the seven feasts were to be celebrated because of a past event as well as a future fulfillment. Only God can institute these types of holidays!