Have you ever wondered why God gave His chosen people a diet devoid of many of the delicacies you and I enjoy every day? Imagine being at your favorite restaurant and not being able to order lobster, spare ribs, eggs with bacon, or our beloved cheeseburger. Ugh! What was God thinking?
Was the restriction for health reasons? Was He making them suffer?
Quite the contrary. For a Jew, eating kosher, like Sabbath observance and circumcision, was to remind them of their unique calling and specialness among the nations.
What is often overlooked in this regard is perhaps God's greatest gift to His people: their calendar. Vastly different from the prevailing worldview of the day – the circle of life rotating around the hub of death – the calendar revealed to them that time was linear, that a future was unfolding before their very eyes.
Nineteenth-century German rabbi Samson Hirsch states: "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."*
God's full calendar is recorded in Leviticus 23. The Lord tells Moses, "Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: 'The feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts'" (vv. 1-2). He lists and describes seven: Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Weeks, Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles.
Designed to give His people a rhythm and flow through the four seasons, the calendar was a release from the mundane and tiresome grind of life. But a key insight is gained by the phrase "holy convocations." These are "set" or "appointed times" in the original Hebrew language. When God says these are His feasts, He is declaring a special quality that differentiates these days from all others.
So why these seven?
Scholars believe that, contained within the feasts, we discover a prophetic time clock that reveals God's plan of redemption until the end of time. It's a fascinating study, because each feast both looks back at all God has done and forward to all He will accomplish.
Let's see what this calendar reveals.
We begin our study with Passover. The first and greatest of the feasts, it marked the Jews' deliverance from 400 years of Egyptian bondage. Celebrated together with the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the meal of bitter herbs, lamb, and matzo was a reminder of their harsh slavery in Egypt, God's method of rescue, and their swift exodus.
The centerpiece of the feast was the lamb, pointing back to the first Passover recorded in Exodus 12. We read there that that the lamb had to be a male "without blemish." It lived with the people for a time. It was sacrificed at a set time, and its blood protected them from death. This points forward to the death of the ultimate Passover Lamb. As the Apostle Peter writes, "you were not redeemed with corruptible things...but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Next we turn to the Feasts of Firstfruits and Weeks. Firstfruits, occurring in Passover week, celebrated the beginning of the wheat harvest, when people would bring one sheaf, a token of their trust for the Lord's provision of a full harvest. Seven weeks later came the Feast of Weeks, when the people would bring the full offering from their harvest of wheat. Since the time between Firstfruits and Weeks worked out to be 50 days, Weeks came to be known as Pentecost.
Unlike Passover, Pentecost had no specific historical event to look back upon. However, it foresaw the day of the great ingathering of people, both Jew and Gentile, not only at the day of Pentecost described in Acts 2, but when Jesus returns.
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming. (1 Cor. 15:20-23)
Therefore, Jesus, in his first coming, fulfilled the spring festivals. But what are we to make of the fall festivals?
Next on God's calendar was the Feast of Trumpets. The interesting thing about this feast is that there is no reason given for it; it was simply a day to sound a trumpet. Modern-day Jews celebrate this feast as Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, even though, according to Leviticus 23:24, it occurs at the start of the seventh month. In my opinion, however, this feast corresponds to the next event on the prophetic calendar: the rapture of the Church.
Listen to Paul:
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. (1 Thess. 4:16-17)
After the rapture of the Church, the world will see the greatest time of judgment since Noah's flood, seven years of great tribulation as God's wrath comes upon a Christ-rejecting world. (See Revelation 6-13.) This is foreshadowed in the next feast, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, a day that "will afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the Lord" (Lev. 23:27).
The final festival was the Feast of Tabernacles, also called the Feast of Ingathering (Ex. 23:16). The people were to come to the place where God would choose to put His name (Jerusalem), bringing a harvest of fruit from "beautiful trees" (Lev. 23:40). They were also to bring leafy branches, and use them to build shelters where they would dwell for a week in the place that God called home.
Finally, the Scriptures declare that we will celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles in the new world as a memorial to God's faithfulness (Zech. 14:16).
So where are we presently on God's calendar?
I believe the last two thousand years have been the long hot summer months between the spring and fall feasts. One day Jesus asked his disciples to look at the fields and declared that they were ripe for harvest. For the past two millennia, the gospel has gone into all the world, as Jesus predicted, and millions have come in.
Presently, we see many signs pointing to the fulfillment of the fall feasts: rapid population growth (Genesis 6), increase in knowledge and technology (Daniel 12), a revived European Union (Daniel 9), violence and terrorism (Genesis 6; 1 Thessalonians), Israel in the land (Isaiah and Jeremiah).
The only delay is God's love and grace.
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
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