When God gave the Law to Moses, He instituted seven feasts to be observed by the Jewish people. These feasts are described in Leviticus, chapter 23. Before presenting the individual feasts, I want to first mention a unifying thread which connects them all.
God instituted the feasts of Israel for several reasons. Each had its immediate place in the annual calendar of events, being a harvest festival, a time for atonement, or some other seasonal event.
Beyond this, God meant the holidays to be memorials to the Jewish people, both to remind them of what He had done for them as a people and also of their obligations to Him. We read in Numbers 10:10 -- "Also in the day of your gladness and in your appointed feasts . . . you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; and they shall be as a reminder of you before your God. I am the Lord your God."
Each feast also prophetically symbolizes God's dealings with the world throughout history. The book of Hebrews states that God uses the feasts as shadows or pictures of things to come, and if we ignore the pictures, we'll miss out on the deeper meanings of the events as they continue to unfold.
The feasts also have personal significance in the lives of individual believers. Each feast has Y'shua as its central core. As we examine the holy days, we will see how Y'shua is foreshadowed in each of them. Just as they held personal significance for Israel under the Law, so they hold current and future significance for all God's people under grace.
Each of the first four festivals was fulfilled on the exact day of its occurrence. Note that we are now in the Church Age, awaiting the future completion of the prophetic calendar portrayed in the Jewish festivals.
This chart summarizes the Jews for Jesus teaching on the Feasts of Israel.
This chart, compiled by Chosen People Ministries , presents the feasts from another perspective.
Because the spring feasts have already been fulfilled prophetically and symbolically in Y'shua's death and resurrection, and in the institution of the Church, Y'shua's role in them is easily seen. The fall holy days are yet to be fulfilled in coming historic events, so not only does Y'shua have a distinct role in each of them, but each has prophetic significance as well. I will explain this in more detail as we cover the individual holy days.
As you can see on the timeline, the Biblical calendar starts with the month of Nisan, also called Aviv, which roughly corresponds to our April. The first three feasts of Israel, Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits, fall within the same week, and are usually celebrated as one holiday. The first two are a commemoration of the exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt, when Moses led them out of slavery to the Promised Land of Israel; the third is a harvest festival within Passover week.
The first day of the holiday is called Pesach, or Passover, in commemoration of the tenth plague God visited upon the Egyptians, when the Angel of Death passed over the homes of the children of Israel. The next day begins a week called Unleavened Bread, when no leaven is eaten. The first Sunday after Passover, during the week of Unleavened Bread, is First Fruits. The entire holiday extends from the 14th of Nisan, the first month in the Jewish calendar, until the 21st of Nisan. The entire week is generally referred to as Passover.
These feasts are described in detail in Exodus, Chapter 12, and then summarized in Lev. 23: "In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight is the Lord's Passover. Then on the fifteenth day of the same month there is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread . . . When you enter the land which I am going to give to you and reap its harvest then you shall bring in the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest. And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord for you to be accepted; on the day after the sabbath the priest shall wave it" (Lev. 23:4-11).
In Deut. 16 God instructs the Jewish people on how to observe Passover: "Observe the month of Aviv and celebrate the Passover to the Lord your God, for in the month of Aviv the Lord your God brought you out of Egypt by night. And you shall sacrifice the Passover to the Lord your God from the flock and from the herd, in the place where the Lord chose to establish His name. You shall not eat leavened bread with it; seven days you shall eat with it unleavened bread, the bread of affliction (for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste), in order that you may remember all the days of your life the day when you came out of the land of Egypt. For seven days no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory, and none of the flesh which you sacrifice on the evening of the first day shall remain overnight until morning. You are not allowed to sacrifice the Passover in any of your towns which the Lord your God is giving you; but at the place where the Lord your God chooses to establish His name, you shall sacrifice the Passover in the evening at sunset, at the time that you came out of Egypt. And you shall cook and eat it in the place which the Lord your God chooses. And in the morning you are to return to your tents. Six days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a solemn assembly to the Lord your God: you shall do no work on it" (Deut. 16:1-8).
Historically, Passover was observed annually according to the traditions described in these passages. The key elements were the Paschal Lamb — the spotless, unblemished sacrifice, commemorating the lamb slain that first Passover, whose blood spread on the doorposts of the Jewish families' homes spared them from the tenth plague, the Angel of Death passing through the land of Egypt, killing the firstborn in each Egyptian home; the bitter herbs, to be eaten with the lamb, reminding us of the bitterness of bondage and slavery; and the unleavened bread, or matzah, eaten for the next seven days, bringing to mind the haste with which the Jewish people had to flee Egypt, with not enough time to let their bread rise. Passover and Unleavened Bread commemorated the redemption from slavery, and First Fruits expressed thanksgiving for the early harvest.
Although Passover's observance was neglected during the times of the Kings, it was revived shortly before the time of the Babylonian captivity, as described in 2 Chron. 30 and 35, and 2 Kings 23. After the return to the land it was faithfully observed, and by Y'shua's time, it was firmly established as one of the three annual pilgrimage festivals, when all Jewish families traveled to Jerusalem to sacrifice at the Temple, as the Law demanded.
In addition to the Temple sacrifice, a family celebration also took place. The Passover meal, or Seder, was comprised of many traditional elements, most of which were already in place during the time Y'shua spent on earth. The participants reclined at the table, in acknowledgment of their freedom from bondage; there was a ritual washing which took place, and the Hallel psalms (Ps. 113-118) were recited.
Four cups of wine were drunk during the Seder, representing the four stages of deliverance inherent in God's promise of redemption from Egyptian slavery — Ex. 6:6-7, "I am the Lord, and (1) I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and (2) I will deliver you from their bondage. (3) I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then (4) I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians."
Finally, bitter herbs were eaten, in accordance with Ex. 12:8, "And they shall eat the flesh that same night, roasted with fire, and they shall eat it with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs." In this way, the bitterness of slavery was kept fresh in their minds, and appreciation for God's deliverance was perpetually reinforced.
As a faithful and observant Jew, Y'shua celebrated Passover each year He walked this earth. Several of these observances are mentioned in Scripture, notably in Luke 2:41-49, when He was twelve years old and left His family to go to the synagogue and talk with the rabbis; in John 2:13-25, when He threw the moneychangers out of the Temple; and in Matt. 6:4-14, where He fed the five thousand.
Y'shua's last Passover on earth was, of course, the Last Supper, described in Matt. 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, and John 13. In these passages Y'shua was both celebrating and fulfilling the Passover, as I will describe in a moment.
Passover is celebrated today in much the same way as it was when Y'shua celebrated it, with the exception of the Paschal Lamb. Since the Temple no longer stands, and since the priesthood no longer performs sacrifices, there is no Passover sacrifice to eat at the Seder. Jewish people usually eat chicken or turkey instead, and have a lamb shank bone on the Passover plate to help remember the sacrifice. Along with this shank bone, the plate has places for the hagigah, or egg, commemorating the daily Temple sacrifice; maror, or bitter herbs, symbolizing the bitterness of Egyptian servitude; karpus, or parsley which we dip in salt water to remind us of the bitter sweetness of life in Egypt, the green of spring and its new life, the saltiness of our ancestors' tears, and the parted waters of the Red Sea, through which they fled to safety and freedom; and, finally, charoseth, a mixture of chopped apples, nuts, cinnamon, and wine, representing the mortar for the bricks our ancestors made for Pharaoh, and whose sweetness promises redemption.
The Seder table also has a plate with a matzah tash, a three-parted sack containing three pieces of matzah. Although the rabbis disagree on the meaning of this ceremonial object, it seems clear to Jewish believers that the three matzos represent the Triune God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The middle matzah, the one representing Y'shua, is taken out during the meal and broken in two, with the one half being hidden until the end of the meal, to be brought back from its hiding place and distributed among the family members.
Another item on the Seder table is Elijah's Cup, a wine cup which is filled and left for Elijah to drink. Elijah's appearance was supposed to herald the coming of the Messiah, as foretold in Mal. 4:5, "Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord." There is a Jewish tradition that Elijah will come at Passover, so a wine cup is filled for him, in the hopes that this will be the year that he appears to announce the Messiah's coming or, as we believe, His return. When Messiah returns, all believing Jews will assemble in Jerusalem, so this cup represents God's 5th, as yet only partially fulfilled, promise: "And I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am the Lord" (Ex. 6:8).
We continue the tradition of eating matzah for seven or eight days, cleansing our homes of leaven, and eating only unleavened foods. This serves to remind us of the Exodus experience, of the bondage from which we were redeemed. The spirit of redemption is paramount at Passover, as can be seen in this Mishna quotation: "Nisan is the month of redemption: in Nisan Israel was redeemed from Egypt; in Nisan Israel will again be redeemed."
Y'shua was the prophetic fulfillment of all three Passover feasts. He was our Passover sacrifice: Is. 53:7 describes His death, "He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth"; 1 Pet. 1:18-19 further describes this sacrifice, "knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Messiah"; Paul says "Messiah, our Passover, also has been sacrificed" (1 Cor. 5:7); and John the Baptist characterized Him concisely in John 1:29, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."
Y'shua's death on Passover was the ultimate and final Passover sacrifice, the full payment for our debt of sin. The third cup of wine at the Passover Seder, the cup of Redemption, represents the blood of the Passover Lamb, and it is this cup which Y'shua shared with His disciples in what we have come to call the communion service. Luke 22:20 says, "And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.'"
Just as the blood of those first Passover sacrifices spread on the doorposts of the Jewish homes protected against the Angel of Death, so Y'shua's blood shed on His final Passover protects us against death. Those of us who have applied His blood to the doorposts of our hearts need not fear death; Y'shua's sacrifice has freed us from bondage to sin, removed the penalty of death, and given us eternal life.
Y'shua has also fulfilled Unleavened Bread. Leaven is used in Scripture to represent sin, and the pierced, striped matzah is a perfect picture of Messiah's body, which was pierced and striped with the Roman whip for our sins. If you hold a piece of matzah up to the light, you can see both stripes and piercings. It is this body, broken for us, that we symbolically share in the communion service. We read in Luke 22:19, "And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.'"
In John 6:48 Y'shua says, "I am the Bread of Life . . . I am the living Bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh" (John 6:48,51). As a sinless, unleavened sacrifice, He has cleansed us from sin and made us new, as stated in 1 Cor. 5:6-8, "Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Messiah our Passover also has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice or wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."
Finally, Y'shua was
the total fulfillment of First Fruits. On the Sunday after His crucifixion,
Easter Sunday, He rose from the dead. 1 Cor. 15:20 states, "But now
Messiah has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are
asleep." His resurrection gives us the firm hope of our own future
resurrections, as described in 1 Thess. 4: 14-17, "For if we believe that
Y'shua died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have
fallen asleep in Y'shua. 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, shall
not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will
descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and
with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Messiah shall 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." Y'shua's resurrection fulfilled First Fruits, and
our own resurrections are assured, although they will be the fulfillment
of a future feast of Israel.
The fourth feast of Israel, the final spring feast, is called Pentecost, because it falls on the fiftieth day after the Passover sabbath. It is called Shavuot in Hebrew, which means weeks, because this is a week of weeks, or seven weeks, plus one day, from Passover. It usually occurs on either the 6th or 7th day of the Sivan, the third month.
We read of Pentecost in Lev. 23:15-17, "You shall also count for yourselves from the day after the sabbath, from the day when you brought in the sheaf of the wave offering; there shall be seven complete sabbaths. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh sabbath; then you shall present a new grain offering to the Lord. You shall bring in from your dwelling places two loaves of bread for a wave offering, made of two-tenths of an ephah; they shall be of a fine flour, baked with leaven as first fruits to the Lord." This and other passages go on to describe the animal sacrifices involved.
Historically, Pentecost was primarily observed as a harvest festival. More notable than the animal sacrifices were the two loaves offered to the Lord at this time; unlike the grain offerings at the other feasts, these loaves were to contain leaven.
Although not specifically stated in Scripture, by Y'shua's time this day was considered to be the anniversary of the day when Moses received the Law from God on Mount Sinai. According to Jewish tradition, this had occurred seven weeks after the Passover sacrifice and exodus from Egypt. It was also one of the three pilgrimage festivals, when all adult males had to travel to Jerusalem to present their offerings at the Temple. Since Jews came from far away, not only from towns and villages in the land of Israel but from all the countries to which they had spread, it was a time of much bustle and festivity in Jerusalem.
After Y'shua's resurrection, He told His disciples to remain in Jerusalem, where they had been gathered for the pilgrimage feast of Passover. "To these He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God. And gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, ‘Which,' He said, ‘you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now'" (Acts 1:3-5).
The disciples remained in Jerusalem ten more days, which brought them to day fifty, Pentecost. We read in the Second Chapter of Acts, "And when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent, rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance" (Acts 2:1-4). There were Jews from many distant nations present, all gathered for the Feast of Shavuot, and they were amazed to hear the uneducated disciples speaking in all their various languages.
Today Shavuot is observed as a harvest festival, and the Book of Ruth, with its harvest motif, is read in synagogues. It is also a celebration of the giving of the Law. Jews no longer travel to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage festivals, for there is no longer a Temple where they can sacrifice and present offerings. But in Jewish homes special foods are eaten to commemorate the harvest nature of the Feast, and the Law is held in high esteem at this time.
Shavuot was prophetically fulfilled when the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples at Pentecost. As we read in Acts 2, the disciples were empowered to spread the Gospel when they received the Holy Spirit, and thousands of new believers were added daily. "And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles . . . and the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved" (Acts 2:42-43, 47). A great harvest of souls was brought into God's Kingdom on this harvest festival!
Pentecost is considered to be the birth of the Church, Messiah's Body, composed of all those who believe in Y'shua and have received the Holy Spirit. The Church is made up of the two loaves of Jews and Gentiles, sinful in our humanity and thus leavened, but brought together in the Church, Messiah's body. Unlike the unleavened, sinless Passover sacrifice of Messiah, the Shavuot offerings contained leaven. The leaven represents our sin, but the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives unites us into one Body, Messiah's Body, the Church. We are the first harvest of the redeemed, and God's Law, given at Sinai on this very day, has been written on our hearts at Pentecost: "‘But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,' declares the Lord. ‘I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people'" (Jer. 31:33).
There is a gap in the Jewish festival calendar at this point. The first three holy days occur in one week, the first week of the ceremonial year. The fourth, Pentecost, occurs 50 days later. It is several months before any more feasts occur, not until September or October. This lengthy time period corresponds prophetically to the Church Age (see timeline handout). Many people believe the Church Age is drawing to a close with the return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel in the fairly recent past. So, just as the next Jewish feast occurs in early fall, many expect the resumption of prophetic events in the near future. We will look at this in more detail after break.
The first fall feast is Rosh Hashanah, which means "head of the year." It is called this as it is considered to be the Jewish New Year, because according to tradition, God started creating the world on this day (5758 years ago). It is also known as the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Judgment, as it initiates the ten Days of Awe, in which God is said to determine who will remain alive for the coming year. It takes place at the first new moon after the 6th month, on the 1st and 2nd days of the seventh month, Tishri.
We read of this feast in Lev. 23:24-25: "In the seventh month on the first of the month, you shall have a Sabbath, a reminder by blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall not do any laborious work, but you shall present an offering by fire to the Lord."
This festival is mentioned again in the book of Nehemiah, when the Jewish people have returned from exile in Babylon and have resumed reading the Torah. Nehemiah tells the people not to mourn but to rejoice: "go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and give portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength" (8:10). It is a day of joy and thanksgiving, despite its motif of repentance and judgment.
Historically, the shofar, or ram's horn, was the type of trumpet blown on Rosh Hashanah. It was used to bring to remembrance Abraham's intended sacrifice of Isaac, and his subsequent salvation by the ram God provided in his place.
The blowing of the trumpets also represented Israel's return to its land. Joshua had brought down the wall of Jericho upon their return to the land with a blast of trumpets. But future returns were heralded as well. The passage in Nehemiah occurred after the return from Babylonian captivity, and both Isaiah and Zechariah look forward to a future time of national regathering under the Messiah, heralded by the trumpet blast.
At the time of Y'shua, Rosh Hashanah held a role of major importance. The shofar was blown in synagogues throughout the Diaspora, the dispersion of the Jewish people throughout the world. It symbolized God's judgment, Israel's repentance, and divine restoration.
Y'shua can be clearly seen in the feast of Rosh Hashanah. It commemorated the time when Abraham placed Isaac on the altar, in preparation to sacrifice him to God. Isaac had asked his father where the lamb was to offer to God, and Abraham had answered his son in faith: "God will provide Himself the lamb for the burnt offering" (22:8). When God stopped Abraham's hand as he started to slay Isaac, He said, "I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me" (22:12). He then provided a ram caught in the bushes for Abraham to sacrifice instead, and promised Abraham and his descendants future blessings because of his faith. One of those blessings God promised was that through Abraham's seed, all the families of the earth would be blessed.
God did provide Himself the lamb for the burnt offering. He provided His Son, His only Son, to be the sacrifice for all our sins, for the Gentiles as well as the Jewish people. All the families of the earth have been blessed through Abraham's seed, Y'shua, just as God promised Abraham. Y'shua is Himself the lamb God provided as our offering, and the ram's horn, blown on Rosh Hashanah, reminds us not only of what He did for Abraham on Mount Moriah, but also of what He has done for us on Mount Calvary. And just as Isaac returned from the mountain when for all intents and purposes he was dead, so Y'shua's resurrection provides us with the promise of resurrection and eternal life.
Today the synagogue service is much the same as in Y'shua's time. It lasts two days, and most Jews spend at least part of those days in synagogue. The shofar is blown several times, and many prayers of repentance and thanksgiving are recited.
At home, it is a time of feasting, characterized by special meals, most of whose dishes have honey in them. This is to symbolize a coming year of sweetness and joy. It is a time of rejoicing, thanking God for a successful past year and asking Him for a bountiful new one.
Rosh Hashanah initiates a ten-day period of repentance, the Days of Awe. During this time, Jews repent of their sins. They greet each other by saying, "L'shanah tovah tikutavu," which means, "Good year, and may you be inscribed" -- expressing the hope that we will be inscribed in God's Book of Life for another year. Whether or not we are will be determined at the end of this period, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Just as Y'shua, our Passover Lamb, was sacrificed for us on the festival of Passover, many believe He will return with the blast of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. In 1 Thess. 4:16 we read: "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Messiah shall 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." Again, we see in 1 Cor. 15:51-52: "Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed."
Many Christians believe that this will occur at the Rapture of the Church. It will be heralded by the shofar blast, when we will be gathered together with Y'shua, to be with Him forever. The Rapture will be a fulfillment of the feast of Rosh Hashanah, as we are regathered with Y'shua. The Israelites did not know exactly when Rosh Hashanah would occur, as its date depended on the appearance of the new moon; in the same way we don't know exactly when the Rapture will occur, but need to be ever watchful so we will not be surprised by its coming.
DAYS OF AWE
In Jewish tradition, God has three books. In one are written the names of the totally righteous, in the second, those who are totally wicked, and in the third, those who are partly good and partly bad. The fate of the righteous and wicked is settled on Rosh Hashanah, but the vast majority of mankind must spend the seven days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur entreating God for forgiveness.
Similarly, those of
us whose righteousness has been imputed to us on the basis of our redemption
in Messiah have been written in the Lamb's Book of Life. We will
join Him at the Rapture, and will not have to undergo the intervening period
of judgment. These intervening seven days of Awe will be prophetically
fulfilled in the Great Tribulation, a seven-year period when God visits
His judgment on the earth. This period is referred to in Jewish Scripture
as the Time of Jacob's Trouble (Jer. 30:7, Dan. 12:1), and will be a time
of great persecution for the Jewish people and for anyone who comes to
believe in Y'shua. Many Jews will become witnesses for God during
the Tribulation, and at its end, those of Israel who survive the great
devastation will recognize that Y'shua was indeed their promised Messiah,
and all Israel will be saved. This will occur at Y'shua's return,
which will be heralded, again, by the trumpet blast.
After two days of Rosh Hashanah and seven Days of Awe, we arrive at the final, tenth Day of Awe, the 10th of Tishri. This is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the most solemn day in the Jewish calendar. It is characterized by fasting and self affliction in an attempt to convince God of our true repentance and obtain His forgiveness.
This day is found described in Lev. 23:27-32 -- "On exactly the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall humble your souls and present an offering by fire to the Lord. Neither shall you do any work on this same day, for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement on your behalf before the Lord your God."
It is further described in Leviticus, Chapter 16. A bull was to be slaughtered, for the sins of the high priest and the priesthood. The high priest was to take two goats, one to be a sacrificial sin offering and the other to be the azazel, or scapegoat. The sin offering was slaughtered by the high priest, who took its blood inside the veil and sprinkled it on the mercy seat, making atonement for the holy place, himself, his household, and all the people of Israel.
He would then take the second goat, the azazel, or scapegoat. Laying his hands on it, he would confess over it all the sins of the people of Israel, and send it away into the wilderness. The goat was supposed to carry off all Israel's sins to a "solitary land," but a tradition developed of driving it off a cliff. Tradition says that Azazel is a title for Satan. So Israel's sins, already expiated by the blood of the first goat, were carried off to Satan via the second goat, as proof that God has no more cause to condemn Israel, at least for another year.
In Y'shua's time, Yom Kippur was the most solemn day in the Jewish year. Sadly, the role of the high priest had become tainted with politics. Appointed by Herod, he often won his job through treachery and bribery. The most influential figure in Jewish politics and religion, the high priest was no longer a man of God and was not respected by the common people. How sad that such a man should be responsible for the most serious of all Jewish relations with God, the forgiveness of their sins. Although he went through the elaborate ritual of the bull and the goats, there was no Ark or Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies on which to sprinkle their blood; they had been lost in the Babylonian captivity, and since Indiana Jones had not yet appeared to replace them, a small rock was all that remained in the Temple, behind the veil, to receive the blood offering.
Y'shua has fulfilled this role in the life of the believer. It is clear from Scripture that there is no atonement except through the shedding of blood. "For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement" (Lev. 17:11). When Y'shua died on the cross, He shed His blood and paid the ransom for our sins, becoming our atonement. And like the azazel, or scapegoat, He carried away our sins. As John the Baptist said, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Through Him, our sins are not only atoned, they are taken totally and permanently away.
Yom Kippur is observed far differently today than in Bible time, because the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. and there no longer exists a priesthood to mediate for the Jewish people. Over the centuries many traditions have developed, to substitute for the sacrifices prescribed by God. The major substitutes are repentance, prayer, and doing mitzvot, or good deeds.
The one universal tradition of Yom Kippur is fasting. Scripture says to afflict your soul, and this has been taken to mean going without food. This fast is followed by a festive meal to break the fast, and to thank God for forgiving our sins and writing us in the Book of Life for another year. The Books, opened on Rosh Hashanah, are thought to be sealed on Yom Kippur, so the period of begging God for forgiveness is now over and life can be resumed. The synagogue service ends with one long shofar blast.
There are many traditions associated with Yom Kippur, yet the problem is an insoluble one apart from Messiah. The atonement prescribed in Leviticus cannot be carried out today, with no Temple and no priesthood. But the true atonement has already been carried out, and is available to all who would receive it: Y'shua is our living Temple; He is our offering, our altar, and our priest; His shed blood has both paid for our atonement and carried away our sins forever. And His sacrifice is available to any Jew who truly wants to observe Yom Kippur after God's pattern rather than man's.
Although Y'shua is indeed our atoning sacrifice, His death prophetically fulfilled Passover, not Yom Kippur. That is yet to come historically. The seven intervening Days of Awe correspond to the seven years of the Great Tribulation, which will end when Y'shua returns in power to set up His Kingdom on earth. Y'shua's return will fulfill Yom Kippur, and will occur, according to this model, seven years after the Rapture ( see timeline ). The intervening seven years, full of terrible trials and persecutions for both the Jewish people and any who come to Y'shua during the Tribulation, will culminate in great earthly disasters and war.
Yom Kippur ends with one long shofar blast, and we read of Y'shua's return in Matthew 24:29-31 — "Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken, and then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other." In the Book of Revelation, we read that at the blast of the seventh and final trumpet, the Millennial reign of Y'shua is announced in heaven: "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Messiah; and He will reign forever and ever" (11:15).
After the Great Tribulation is over, Y'shua will establish His Kingdom on earth and reign for a thousand years, and this will occur as Israel acknowledges her Messiah and receives national redemption, as foretold in Zechariah 12:10 and 13:1 — "And I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son . . . In that day a fountain will be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for impurity."
The Jewish people will accept their ultimate Yom Kippur sacrifice, and will receive national redemption, "as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.' And this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins" (Rom. 11:26-27). According to Zechariah, after God has tested the Jewish people with the fires of the Tribulation and refined them as a nation, He will on that day say, "they will call on My name, and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people.' And they will say, ‘The Lord is my God'" (13:9).
The final fall feast is Sukkot, or Tabernacles. It is also called the Feast of Booths and the Feast of Ingathering. It begins on the 14th of Tishri and lasts for seven or eight days.
It is described in Lev. 23:34-43: "‘On the fifteenth of this seventh month is the Feast of Booths for seven days to the Lord. Now on the first day you shall take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days . . . You shall live in booths for seven days, so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.'"
And again in Deut. 16:13-15: "You shall celebrate the Feast of Booths seven days after you have gathered in from your threshing floor and your wine vat . . . because the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you shall be altogether joyful."
The Israelites were told to construct leafy booths to dwell in during this week-long festival. This was to remind them of how God had provided for them in the desert when He delivered them from Egypt. It was also a time to impress upon them their indebtedness to Him for the harvest, for His faithfulness in keeping them alive and providing for them both physically and spiritually.
During the time when Y'shua walked the earth, several additional traditions had developed. One of these was the pouring of the water. Since Sukkot is a harvest festival, a ceremony developed in which water was drawn from the pool of Siloam in a golden pitcher and poured out into a silver bowl in the Temple, accompanied by the sound of trumpets and lutes, and prayers for rain. The water reminded them of the water God provided for them in the wilderness. It also symbolized the Holy Spirit, and drew to mind the words of Joel 2:28, "I will pour out my Spirit on all mankind."
For six days the priests proclaimed, "O Lord do save, we beseech Thee; O Lord, we beseech Thee, do send prosperity" (Psalm 118:25). The seventh day, Hoshanah Rabah, "the great hosannah," means "save now." On this day, the plea for salvation was repeated seven times. The pilgrims carried lights and torches, and the Temple was filled with brilliant light and chanting for salvation.
It was into this scene that Y'shua entered during the events recounted in John 7:37-39 — "Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Y'shua stood and cried out, saying, ‘If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, "From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water"'. But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive." Water was a symbol of life in the arid land of Israel, and Y'shua was offering a water that totally satisfies (John 4:13) and produces a well of living waters springing up into everlasting life (John 4:14). Y'shua said, "If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink" (John 7:37), echoing the words of Isaiah, "Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters" (55:1).
Y'shua was offering the Jewish people life and redemption, if only they would drink the living water He offered. He was telling them they would find blessing and refreshment in Him, and that in the latter days both Jews and Gentiles must drink of Him to find everlasting life.
He continued in John 8:12, "I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life." This was vividly illuminated by the blazing lights of the Temple. There were four enormous golden candlesticks, each with four bowls of oil. Along with the pilgrims' torches, this made a brilliant light. This light represented the Shekinah Glory that had once filled the Temple. Y'shua was proclaiming Himself to be that Glory when He said, "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12).
Messiah Y'shua is clearly portrayed in the Feast of Tabernacles. He dwelt among us in a bodily tabernacle, as John said, "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt (or tabernacled) among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). As the Temple had been a dwelling place for the Shekinah glory of God, so Y'shua manifested God's glory in His earthly tabernacle. He portrayed Himself as the source of the water of life in the water-pouring ceremony, and as the source of the light of life amidst the brilliance of the Temple.
The tradition today is to begin work on building a sukkah, or booth, at sunset at the end of Yom Kippur. The family may eat their meals in it, or even sleep in it. The only requirement in a sukkah is that the roof be open to the heavens — the stars must be visible, and the rain must be able to get in. The roofs are made of woven branches with plenty of space between them. The walls are decorated with fall fruits, flowers, and vegetables, because Sukkot is a harvest festival.
Sukkot will have its fulfillment in times to come, in the millennial reign of Messiah on earth. At the beginning of the Millennium, after Israel's foes have been defeated and the nation has acknowledged Y'shua as Messiah, He will return to rule the world from Jerusalem. At that time, according to Zechariah, "it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, and to celebrate the feast of booths." (14:16-17).
Sukkot is a time of ingathering and thanksgiving, and it is appropriate that the nations saved out of the Tribulation would have this festival to commemorate what God will have done for them. They will have converted to the One true God, and this will be their opportunity to show their obedience through festival observance.
Ultimately, Y'shua is
our tabernacle. John says in Rev. 21:3-4, "I heard a loud voice from
the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He
shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall
be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there
shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or
crying, or pain." The whole earth will be God's sukkah, and we will
have the ultimate, unsurpassable joy of being in the presence of God forever.
The seven feasts of Israel were given by God to the Jewish people through Moses, and we can clearly see Y'shua in all of them. He is the Lamb of God, slain as our Passover sacrifice, whose blood saves us from the Angel of Death; He is the sinless, Unleavened Bread of Life, whose body was broken for us; He is the First Fruits of the Resurrection, who gives us eternal life. He is the giver of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, uniting Jews and Gentiles into one body, His Body, the Church--the first harvest of redeemed believers. The Feast of Trumpets will see us regathered with Y'shua at the Rapture. The Day of Atonement will see judgment meted out on the world, as Y'shua, our Atonement, returns to the repentant nation of Israel to set up His throne in Jerusalem to begin the Millennium. And, finally, Tabernacles will celebrate the time when all the earth is brought under Messiah's reign, as Y'shua, the Light of the World, the source of Living Water, and our Eternal Dwelling, rules as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
These feasts continue to be observed by Jewish people today, although many of the details of observance have been changed due to the destruction of the Temple and the dispersion of the Jews throughout the world. One Jewish writer has said, "The catechism of the Jew consists of his calendar. On the pinions of time which bear us through life, God has inscribed the eternal words of His soul -- inspiring doctrine, making days and weeks, months and years the heralds to proclaim His truths. Nothing would seem more fleeting than these heralds of time, but to them God has entrusted the care of His holy things, thereby rendering them more imperishable and more accessible than any mouth of priest, any monument, temple or altar could have done" (Judaism Eternal, Vol.1, p.3).
Just as each of the first four spring feasts was prophetically fulfilled on the precise date of its occurrence on the Jewish calendar, many believe the three remaining fall feasts will be similarly fulfilled on their ceremonial dates. The Feast of Trumpets is next in line, and although we don't know the year of the Rapture, we expect it will occur on the day of Rosh Hashanah. Seven years later, on the Day of Atonement, Y'shua will return to end the Tribulation, judge the nations, and set up His Kingdom on Earth. Tabernacles, His Millennial reign, will then begin.
Christians are not required to keep the feasts of Israel. But having a knowledge of their existence and meaning greatly enriches our understanding of Y'shua's life as He observed those feasts. It helps us to truly appreciate His work in our own lives and in the earth's future, and it increases our faith as we see His sovereign Hand moving throughout history.
"The Jewish Festivals -- Sabbath"
Text is Copyright © 2000
by Nancy Silver Cochran;
1. The Open Bible,
glasspainting from Queen's Park Synagogue, by John K. Clark,
This image is copyright and may not be reproduced without permission of the artist