Should Christians observe the Israelite festivals? Are they necessary for salvation?
LIST OF FESTIVALS
(It is advisable to read Leviticus 23 from the Bible along with this study. All of the Festivals are listed in Leviticus 23. All were observed at the sanctuary in the wilderness and later at the temple in Jerusalem. All were accompanied by sacrifices and offerings. All were prophetic of future events—all of which have been, or are in the process of being fulfilled except The Feast of Tabernacles. Seven yearly sabbaths were observed in connection with these feasts.)
This included the slaying of the Passover lamb on the 14th of the first month, partaking of the lamb and observing the Passover sabbath on the 15th.
Unleavened Bread Feast
This lasted seven days and the first day coincided with the Passover on the 15th and continued through the 21st day of the first month, (Nisan). The 15th and 21st were sabbaths. Why unleavened bread? Leaven represented sin and it was also the type of bread eaten the night that they left Egypt.
On the second day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread was the offering of the “Wave Sheaf.” This was the offering of the first of the barley harvest. This represented Christ's presentation before the Father on that day--Sunday the 16th of Nisan in 31 AD. (John 20:17) This was called the "firstfruits" of their harvest and represented Christ who is called “the firstfruits” from the dead. 1 Corinthians 15:22-23 says, "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.
Pentecost Feast—Feast of Weeks
Fifty inclusive days, counting from the day after the Passover sabbath, a feast and sabbath were to be observed. This feast represented, in type, the outpouring of The Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. All this historically occurred, fulfilling the prophecy.
Blowing of Trumpets Feast
This was celebrated on the 1st day of the 7th month. It's purpose was to herald the coming of The Day of Atonement on the 10th day, calling the people to prepare their hearts, examining their lives and making things right with God.
The Day of Atonement
This was understood to be a day of judgment when all sin was dealt with and the people, the priest and the tabernacle/temple were cleansed. And, then the scape goat, a type of Satan, was held responsible for the sins, having them placed on his head. And he was led away into the wilderness. (See Leviticus 16 for the details of The Day of Atonement.)
Feast of Tabernacles
Five days after The Day of Atonement, the joyous Feast of Tabernacles began, not only as a reminder of the Children of Israel dwelling in tents in their sojourn to Canaan, but also prophetically of the future rest in Heaven of the faithful. It was a joyous time because the people felt cleansed from the burden of their sins and at peace with God. This feast lasted for 8 days with sacrifices each day. The 15th and 22nd were sabbaths.
ACTIONS DURING FESTIVALS
Animal sacrifices, meat and drink offerings, afflicting souls, confessing sins, rejoicing.
EVIDENCE FOR CESSATION OF THE FESTIVALS
Does the Bible say that the sacrifices and offerings will cease?
Daniel 9:27, KJV. "And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease. . ."
Was there historical evidence that the earthly temple services of sacrifices came to an end in fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy?
Matthew 27:50-51, "Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent. . ."
LOCATION OF THE FESTIVALS
The Festivals and offerings of animals and meat and drink offerings connected with them were offered at the sanctuary in the wilderness and later at the temple in Jerusalem. Three times a year the men of Israel were to gather for these which included 7 yearly sabbaths. (1. Passover and unleavened bread, 2. Pentecost and 3. Day of Atonement followed by Feast of Tabernacles)
Besides, Jesus, what else was nailed to the cross and blotted out?
Colossians 2:14, KJV "Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross"
What were these ordinances about?
Colossians 2:16, "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days". . . [the seven yearly sabbaths]
What did all these offerings and yearly sabbaths point forward to?
Colossians 2:17, NLT "For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality."
Were the Gentiles required to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses?
Acts 15:1,5, KJV "And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. . . .But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.
What was the decision of this Jerusalem council in 49 AD regarding keeping the law of Moses and circumcision?
Acts 15:19-21, KJV "Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day." In other words, the Gentiles and Jews were hearing the commandments about the feasts as Moses' books were read—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.)
What did the letter from Jerusalem say to those in Antioch?
Acts 15:23-29 And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment: It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.
Was the decision of the Jerusalem counsel, God's decision and directions?
Acts 15:28, ASV. "For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things:"
Is there another Bible reference that describes the cessation of the feasts?
Ephesians 2:15, KJV, "Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace. . .
Ephesians 2:15, NLT "He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups."
Are any of the feasts said to be ordinances?
Numbers 9:12 They shall leave none of it unto the morning, nor break any bone of it: according to all the ordinances of the passover they shall keep it.
Colossians 2:14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross
Does this “blotting out” and “abolishing,” include the seventh-day Sabbath?
No. Col. 2:16, 17 indicates that the sabbaths mentioned here are prophetic, ("shadows of things to come"). This could only be true of the yearly sabbaths that were prophetic of Christ's sacrifice and ministry. It therefore could not apply to the weekly Holy Sabbath Day which is not a shadow or prophecy of Christ's sacrifice and ministry. The weekly Sabbath was established at Creation and is what we could call a birthday memorial of Christ's creative work. A birthday memorial cannot be eliminated or changed any more than your own birthday or national holiday because all three are permanent historical events. An event that is not only a memorial, but also a sign of knowing God and a covenant of salvation and a forever friendship celebration and worship day, would have no reason to be removed. And it would have every reason to remain just as it was originally established by Christ. (Psalm 111:7, 8; Isaiah 58:13, 14; Exodus 20:8-11; Mark 2:27, 28; Exodus 31:13-18; Isaiah 66:22, 23.)
The Sabbath is one of The Ten Commandments. As such it portrays the perfect character of God and righteousness and The Ten commandments serve as a ruler for right living which will be used in the judgment to decide who is worthy of eternal life. (Matthew 19:17-19; James 2:8-12; Revelation 22:14)
Are there passages in the Bible besides the prohibitions for the Gentiles in Acts 15 in which days to be regarded and food to be eaten is to accommodate those who have mistaken ideas about days and food? Yes. This is seen in 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14, in which those who do not understand about food offered to idols or observance of the feasts are not to have their consciences harmed by others, (even though the food and feast days to be observed are not God's requirements).
One noted Christian writer says this about the ceremonial system which included the feasts and seven yearly sabbaths that God instructed Moses to institute: “The whole system must be swept away. . . . Christ was standing at the point of transition between two economies and their two great festivals. He, the spotless Lamb of God, was about to present Himself as a sin offering, that He would thus bring to an end the system of types and ceremonies that for four thousand years had pointed to His death. As He ate the Passover with His disciples, He instituted in its place the service, [commonly termed, “The Lord's Supper”/”Holy Communion” or the Eucharist”], that was to be the memorial of His great sacrifice. The national festival of the Jews was to pass away forever. The service which Christ established was to be observed by His followers in all lands and through all ages. . . . It was Christ's desire to leave to His disciples an ordinance that would do for them the very thing they needed--that would serve to disentangle them from the rites and ceremonies which they had hitherto engaged in as essential, and which the reception of the gospel made no longer of any force. To continue these rites would be an insult to Jehovah.”
Colossians 2:16-17, NLT, "So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or [yearly] sabbaths. For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality."
The yearly feast days pointed forward, (in other words, were prophetic), of Christ's sacrifice. They were to be celebrated at the temple in Jerusalem with meat, drink and animal offerings. When they were fulfilled in Christ's sacrifice, Christ resurrection, Christ's ascension briefly on Sunday morning as represented by “the wave sheaf,” and Pentecost, 50 inclusive days later, there was no need to continue the feasts. In fact, to continue the feasts would seem to indicate that one did not believe they had been fulfilled! A Christian writer puts it this way: "To continue these rites would be an insult to Jehovah."
It might be a danger, if one urges the keeping of the feasts, to neglect The Gospel Commission of Matthew 28:19-20, ASV, "Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world."
Matthew 24:14, KJV, "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come."
Revelation 22:20, KJV, "He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus."
Exodus 21:6, KJV, "Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever."
Obviously, the servant isn't still serving the master today and into the ceaseless ages, but did so as long as life lasted. And, the sacrifice of animals will not continue into the New Earth where there will be no more death. (Revelation 21:4) As you can see, “for ever” does has its limits.
From Bible scholar, Frank Holbrook, we have this note about the phrase, “for ever” since that is used about some of the feasts in the Old Testament:
How Long is ‘Forever’?
A major reason why some Christians are led to believe that the typical festivals of the Temple should be observed permanently as part of the Christian religion is because Israel was instructed to keep them “forever.” For example:
Exodus 12:14, 17 "And this day [Passover] shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the Lord throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever" [Hebrew, ‘ôlām; Greek Septuagint, aiōnios].
...And ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt: therefore shall ye observe this day in your generations by an ordinance for ever"[Hebrew, ‘ôlām; Greek, aiōnios].
To Western minds the expression “forever” means “endlessness.” However, this is not the meaning to the Eastern mind-set when either the Hebrew `ôlām or the Greek aiōn/aiōnios is used. While these terms may be translated “forever” or “everlasting/eternal” in English, both the Hebrew and Greek words derive their length from the nature of the object described.
For example, if we say, “God lives forever” (in Hebrew/Greek terms), we do, indeed, mean “endless,” because by nature the Deity is immortal or eternal. But if we were to say, “King Darius, live for ever” (Daniel 6:6), it would simply mean, Live a long life. The phrase would not mean “endlessness” at all, because man is mortal and subject to death (Job 4:17). For another example, see 2 Samuel 7:16, 19. Although God promised David a dynastic throne that would last “for ever,” David understood the promise to mean “for a great while to come.” It actually ended with Zedekiah in 586 B.C. The emphasis of the Hebrew and Greek terms translated “for ever” in the Bible is on duration. A thing or person exists continuously without break—endlessly or until it comes to an end—according to its nature.
Thus, when God called for the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread to be observed “for ever” (or more accurately, that the ordinance governing these should be an “everlasting/eternal” ordinance), He simply meant that these typical festivals were intended to be observed regularly for as long as He intended the typical system to last. In this case, it meant a regular, annual observance of these festivals until the Messiah—the Antitype to their symbolism—should come and die for the sins of the world. “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us” (1 Cor 5:7). By its very nature no typical rite or observance was ever intended to be permanent.