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The ancient Jewish sanctuary and the Jewish feasts foreshadow God’s Plan of Salvation for Jews and Gentiles. They contain the secret code for endtime prophecy.
The Jewish Feasts
Today’s study – Part 1 of Messiah’s Calendar – is based on the sanctuary and on the Hebrew feasts. I’ve shared with you before that the study of the ancient sanctuary is one of the teachings that has most increased my faith. Every aspect of the sanctuary points to a beautiful, precious truth about God’s Plan of Salvation for mankind. Every ritual and every sacrifice points not to bulls and goats, which cannot atone for sin, but points to Jesus: the pre-ordained Messiah of both Jews and Gentiles.
The Bible says in Psalms 77:13: “Your way O Lord is in the sanctuary: who is so great a God as our God?” Who said that He was “the way, the truth and the life”? Jesus the Messiah of course. In math, if a = b and b = c, then a = c, right? This same reasoning applies here. If the Lord’s way = the sanctuary and Jesus = way, then Jesus = sanctuary. In other words, the entire sanctuary system of ancient Israel is imbued with the truth of the prophesied Messiah. Every apartment of the sanctuary and every article of furniture points to a phase of His ministry, to an aspect or an event.
Today we’re going to unveil the beautiful, precious mysteries that are concealed in the ancient Hebrew religious feasts, and we’re going to connect them to the calendar of Jesus’ ministry on earth and in heaven. Every one of the 7 Hebrew feasts that the Lord ordained in Leviticus 23 corresponds to a significant event, a key milestone, in the ministry of Jesus. If we needed any further evidence that the sanctuary is connected to Messiah’s calendar, let’s read another verse from Psalm 77: “And I said, This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High” (Psalm 77:10). And who’s the right hand of the Most High? Once again the answer is Jesus.
The children of Israel were afflicted with something called “literalism”. The definition of “literalism” is: adherence to the exact letter or the literal sense, as in translation or interpretation of the law. Literalism is an inability to grasp the spirit or the essence or the symbolism of a thing or a word or a law, and instead to focus on the literal meaning or application. Tragically throughout the history of the people of Israel they failed to see the deeper spiritual meaning or spiritual symbolism of the word that the Lord gave them.
When the Lord gave them His law and instructed them to bind it between their eyes as frontlets and as symbols on their hand, He meant it figuratively. He meant for them to write His law on their forehead figuratively speaking, meaning that they should engrave His law on their minds, and to bind their arm with His law meaning that their deeds should be submitted to God’s holy law. But the people of Israel took that quite literally and even today wear literal frontlets on their foreheads and bind their arms with a leather strap. So whether we consider the priests or the believers, none of them could decode the symbols pointing to their promised Messiah imprinted all over the ancient Hebrew sanctuary system.
This is why Paul said in Romans 11:25: “For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in”. Today I’m going to take you behind the veil that prevented God’s people in ancient times from discerning the “big picture” meaning of the Hebrew sanctuary. But we’re going to go there in humility, mindful of the fact that “salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22) and that we owe to the Jewish people the knowledge of God’s Plan of Salvation and even our Messiah whom God has sent.
Messiah’s Calendar is a beautiful study that decrypts the ancient clues that lead us along the path of Jesus’ ministry on earth and take us right into the Holy of Holies. We’re also going to answer some practical questions such as “Do we still need to keep the Jewish feasts?” “Is the Sabbath part of these feasts or not?” and “What does this all mean for us? What should we do with this information?” These wonderful truths will take your faith and your walk with God to a whole new level. Let’s get started!
The Jewish Civil and Agricultural Year
The ancient Israeli economy was based on agriculture. The civil life of ancient Israel was based upon the earth cycle of their three main harvests: first came the barley, then the wheat, and then the fruits such as olives and of course grapes. Many of us are city dwellers or have been city dwellers most of our lives, and we don’t have a good understanding of the earth cycle. So we’ll take a moment to review this cycle to help us to better appreciate the various types of rain that fall throughout the year and that are mentioned so often in the Bible. What I’m going to share with you now is some basic information that will help us to better situate the Jewish sacred holidays in their proper context.
The Jewish civil calendar, like that of other agricultural civilizations, is based on the moon. It has 12 lunar months, meaning that each month begins with the new moon also called the crescent moon. Every month consists of 29 or 30 days. Because the lunar calendar is out of sync with the solar calendar, there needs to be an adjustment made in leap years when an entire month is added. The month of Adar 2 (an additional 30 days) corresponds to a 13th. month and is added on top of the regular month of Adar after the month of Shevat, which corresponds to our January/February.
As we talk about the agricultural cycle we need to remember that Israel is a Mediterranean climate, very warm and dry during the summer months. Every new agricultural cycle starts in the month of Tishrei shortly after the gathering of the last crop, which is the fruit. Tishrei corresponds to our months of September or October, depending on the year. The farmer starts plowing and preparing the earth, and the early rains fall to soften the dry earth and facilitate that labor. So the early rain falls during the autumn months.
During the month of Chislev which corresponds to our November or December the fields are planted with grain seeds – grains are the main crops – and are irrigated by the heavy rains of January. Then as the land of Israel starts heading into spring, the latter rain falls. This latter rain needs to be very heavy so that the grain crops of barley and wheat will be abundant. The barley is harvested in April and May during the Hebrew month of Iyyar and the wheat is harvested in June during the Hebrew month of Sivan.
During the summer months the grapes and olives are growing and ripening in the hot summer sun. They’re collected during the month of Elul, which corresponds to our August and September. This part of the cycle I’m more acquainted with because in France many students go work in the vineyards during their summer holiday. The olives and grapes are gathered and the earth and the farmers rest for barely a few weeks before it starts all over again.
The Hebrew civil year starts with the month of Tishrei on a day called Rosh Hashannah. Rosh Hashannah is a civil holiday, not a religious holiday, because we’ll see in a moment that unlike the civil calendar, the Hebrew religious calendar doesn’t start with the month of Tishrei but rather it starts in the spring with the month of Nissan.
System of Types and Shadows
Before we delve into the Jewish religious calendar, which has some significant differences with the civil calendar, we need to take a quick detour for a moment and talk about a very important biblical concept of type versus anti-type or shadow versus reality. In essence, this is referring to the fact that the New Testament is concealed in the Old and the Old Testament is revealed in the New. Another way to say that is “The New is in the Old contained; The Old is by the New explained”.
In several chapters of the Book of Hebrews Paul refers to the Old Testament sanctuary system as being a system of “types and shadows”. For example, listen to this quote in Hebrews 8:5, where Paul is referring to the levitical priests: “Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount”. In Hebrews 10:1 Paul talking about the system of shadows says: “a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things”. So the shadow is an imperfect or incomplete version of the thing itself which when fulfilled will be perfect.
Another place where Paul explains this is in Colossians 2:16-17: “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: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ”. This scripture is saying that Christ is the body or the substance of those shadows; they are fulfilled in Him. Now don’t get confused where it talks about the Sabbaths. We’re going to explain that shortly.
But right now let me give you some examples of types or shadows in the Old Testament that point to things to come. To fully understand the Book of Hebrews you need to understand the Book of Leviticus, and vice versa. To fully understand the Book of Daniel you need to understand the Book of Revelation, and vice versa. To understand the Feast of Passover feast you need to understand Calvary. The brazen serpent in the desert that Moses lifted up for the children of Israel to look at and be healed is a type of Christ on the cross. Adam is a type of Christ: Jesus is called the Second Adam. Abraham is a type of God the Father and his son Isaac is a type of Christ. The flood is a type of the end of the world, Jesus said that Himself when He said “But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:37). We call the shadow of the thing a “type” and the thing itself we call “anti-type”.
While the Old Testament is a record of the history of the children of Israel, the events of that history are more than mere events; they are “typical” or they’re “types” of God’s beautiful Plan of Salvation as it’s fully revealed in the New Testament. As we’re about to see, several of the Sanctuary feasts are a commemoration of key events in the history of Israel. We’re going to study how these types and shadows point to their fulfillment in key events of Messiah’s ministry. The ministry of Jesus is patterned after the history of the children of Israel, and the history of the children of Israel is fulfilled and perfected in the ministry of Christ. Now that we’ve laid this foundation we can take a look at the Jewish religious feasts.
The Jewish Religious Calendar
Unlike the civil calendar that has 12 months, the Jewish religious calendar only has 7 months. It also doesn’t start in the fall with the month of Tishrei but instead starts in the spring with the month of Nissan. As the civil calendar, the religious calendar is based on the moon. Every month starts with the new moon and has 29 or 30 days.
The Hebrew religious calendar has 7 main feasts ordained by God and explained in Leviticus 23. The feasts are grouped in the following way: 4 spring feasts and 3 autumn feasts. There are no feasts during the long dry summer. So the feasts are linked to the agricultural cycle. Some of them are commemorative of Jewish history and some are not, because they point instead to future events that are yet to take place. In the system of types and anti-types the 4 spring feasts are related to Jesus’ first coming, and the 3 autumn feasts are related to Jesus’ second coming.
As I describe the feasts be attentive to the detail – afterwards we’re going to make some important connections. First, let’s consider the 4 spring feasts:
Passover or Pesach:
Passover is celebrated on the 14th. day of the first month of the religious calendar, the month of Nissan. It was the first feast of the religious year, and the Lord required that all the Jewish males 12 and older present themselves before Him at the temple in Jerusalem. Passover is a commemoration of the Hebrews’ exodus from Egypt. They had been slaves in the land of Egypt, held in bitter and cruel bondage by pharaoh and his slave masters. The children of Israel couldn’t deliver themselves and cried out to the Lord for deliverance, which came according to a specific time prophecy 430 years after they became slaves. In order to bring stubborn Pharaoh to yield and let God’s people go, after a succession of 9 plagues the Lord slew the first-born of every house in Egypt.
The Lord commanded the children of Israel to kill a lamb. The lamb was to be in its prime (a male of the first year) and without blemish. They could not break its bones. They were instructed to use hyssop to apply the blood to their doorposts, so that they would be protected from death and not receive that plague. The lamb was a substitutionary sacrifice, so that the first-born of the house would not die. The lamb’s blood was a sign: for the Lord it meant “I will pass over”. Note that it wasn’t enough to kill the lamb: the lamb’s blood had to be applied to the door. That night they were to eat the lamb roasted, with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.
Is a continuation of the Passover. This feast is celebrated during 7 days starting right at the end of the Passover. It starts with a “holy convocation” meaning a feast Sabbath and ends with a feast Sabbath. On the first day of the feast they had to search their houses and remove all leaven from their house. During the seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread the children of Israel were not to eat any leaven bread at all or they’d be cut off from the congregation. For the Jews the leaven represents sin and corruption. In Luke 12:1 Jesus warned of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. In 1 Corinthians 5:8 the apostle Paul refers to the leaven of malice and wickedness. The Feast of Unleavened Bread is a memorial of the 7 days that the children of Israel ate unleavened bread on their journey out of Egypt as the Lord had commanded them.
First Fruits or Omer:
This feast is a celebration of the barley harvest and is celebrated immediately ending the Feast of Unleavened Bread. First Fruits or Omer in Hebrew commemorated the first harvest after the children of Israel were settled in the land of Canaan. When the first sheaves of barley were collected, the people went to the temple to bring the sheaves to the high priest. He would wave the sheaf before the Lord in front of the tabernacle on the Day of First Fruits. The children of Israel individually waved their sheaves but the priest did it to represent them collectively. No one in the congregation could eat of the barley harvest until this wave offering had been made. First Fruits is the first gathering of grain. In the agricultural cycle that would be followed by the gathering of the wheat later in the spring and in the fall would come the Feast of Ingathering to celebrate the last harvest, that of the fruits.
Pentecost or Shavuot:
Pentecost was the second feast of the religious year where the Lord required all the males 12 and over to come present themselves before Him at the temple in Jerusalem. The Greek word “Pentecost” means fiftieth (50th.). Exactly 50 days after the sheaf was waved before the Lord, another festival would be celebrated. This time period consists of 7 weeks or 49 days. After those 49 days were past, the next day or 50th. day would be a festival called Shavuot, or “the Feast of Weeks” because it falls on the day after the seven weeks have been counted. On Pentecost a number of sacrifices were to be made, including two lambs and two loaves of leavened bread that were to be waved before the Lord. Pentecost was a holy convocation, a day when no servile work was to be done. And the children of Israel were instructed not to gather everything from their fields but to leave a little bit for the poor and needy.
What actually happened in the history of Israel that this feast is commemorating? It was the Lord’s descent to Mount Sinai, when He gave His holy law to Moses and the children of Israel. Let’s read from Exodus 19:16-20:
“And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled. And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount. And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice. And the Lord came down upon mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the Lord called Moses up to the top of the mount; and Moses went up”.
So this commemoration is associated with God coming down, with quakes and fire, and with voices speaking. In Part 2 of the study we’re going to see that what happened on Mount Sinai is the same pattern as an important New Testament event.
Now let’s consider the 3 fall feasts. After the Feast of Pentecost in the late spring, there were no religious holidays during the summer. This long summer drought represents Israel’s wanderings in the desert because of their apostasy, and was broken by the Feast of Trumpets in the fall.
Feast of Trumpets or Yom Teruah:
This feast is often confused with Rosh Hashannah. But Rosh Hashannah is a civil holiday, not a sacred holiday. The purpose of the Feast of Trumpets is to announce and alert the people to the coming Day of Atonement. It takes place every year on the first day of the 7th month, Tishrei. Let’s read in the Bible Leviticus 23:23-25: “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall ye have a Sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation. Ye shall do no servile work therein: but ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord”.
Isaiah 58 provides a good description of the spiritual condition of the children of Israel that the Lord was displeased with. The chapter starts like this, Isaiah 58:1: “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins”. They were outwardly pious and kept all the rituals, but in their hearts they were unkind, judgmental, didn’t care for the poor and even put unnecessary burdens on people. The Lord wanted His people to be warned that judgment was coming and that they needed to get their house in order and be in right standing before Him. Surface piety wasn’t good enough. The Lord wanted true righteousness and charity.
Then in verse 11 the prophet actually refers to the spiritual drought: “And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not”. Then the climax, where all of Isaiah 58 is leading to, is the Lord telling Israel that He wants them to keep His Sabbaths holy. Let’s read Isaiah 58:13-14:
“If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour Him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it”. In Part 2 of this study we’ll see why this is so significant
The Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur:
Let’s review what happened in the Jewish temple daily service so that we can better understand what happened in the yearly Yom Kippur service. The daily sacrifice for sin is described in the Book of Leviticus Chapter 4. The sinner was guilty and deserved to die. The sinner brought an unblemished lamb to the tabernacle. The sinner placed his hands on the head of the lamb and confessed his sins. Sin was transferred from the sinner to the victim, the poor innocent lamb. The sinner slew the lamb and the priest took the blood and applied it in the Holy Place, the second apartment of the sanctuary where intercession was made on behalf of sinners. The sinner could now go home with the assurance that his sins had been forgiven. (By the way, the priest also had to perform a sacrifice for himself to be forgiven for his own sins and those of his family – he was required to kill a bull instead of a lamb).
Throughout the year, all of these sins that the children of Israel atoned for in the daily sacrifice piled up in the sanctuary, and the sanctuary became defiled. The blood lifted the sin off of the sinner, but transferred the sin to the sanctuary.
This is why the Lord made provision for the yearly cleaning of the sanctuary. Every year in the month of Tishrei on the 10th day of the month there took place the holiest convocation of all, the Day of Atonement, with the purpose of cleansing the sanctuary from all of the sins of the congregation that had accumulated over the course of the year. The sins had been forgiven (in expectation of the coming Messiah), but the record of sin persisted and needed to be blotted out.
The ceremony that took place on Yom Kippur is described in Leviticus 16. First the priest would sacrifice a bull for himself so that his sins were forgiven. Then two goats were prepared. One was to be killed so that blood could be used to make atonement for or to cleanse the Holy Place of the sanctuary that had been defiled by all the sins. The other goat was to become a scapegoat to bear all the sins of the children of Israel. The priest took the blood of the bull that he sacrificed for his own sins and took it into the Most Holy Place of the sanctuary, behind the veil. He dipped his finger in the blood and sprinkled the blood seven times before the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat. He repeated the same ritual on behalf of the children of Israel with the blood of the sacrificed goat. Then he went outside to the altar and placed blood upon the horns of the altar to cleanse it.
Finally when the sanctuary had been cleansed, he took the scapegoat which was called Azazel and placed upon its head all the sins of the children of Israel. At that point a fit man was waiting in the wings and took the goat off into the wilderness and loosed him there. Both the priest and the man had to wash themselves and the man had to wait until evening before he could come back to the camp. I’ve described this in a lot of detail because it’s a key ceremony and shortly we’ll be making the connection to Jesus’ ministry in the heavenly sanctuary.
The Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot:
This feast is known by several names. In addition to Feast of Tabernacles it’s also called Feast of Booths or Feast of Ingathering. It takes place 5 days after the Day of Atonement, that is to say on the 15th. day of the 7th. month which is Tishrei. Let’s read in the Book of Leviticus: “Also on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep the feast of the Lord for seven days; on the first day there shall be a Sabbath-rest, and on the eighth day a Sabbath-rest. And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. You shall keep it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. … You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
Sukkot is a happy feast, a celebration of the Lord’s goodness and mercy in bringing Israel out of bondage and His continuous provision both in the wilderness and in the promised land. It’s the last feast of the year where the Lord required all the males 12 and over to come present themselves before Him at the temple in Jerusalem.
We just covered the three fall feasts that conclude the Hebrew religious calendar – Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and Feast of Tabernacles. Only the last feast is linked to the agricultural cycle, it’s commemorating the last harvest of the year where the fruits are gathered. The Feast of Trumpets and the Feast of the Day of Atonement are purely spiritual. But the Feast of Tabernacles also has a spiritual significance beyond just the gathering of the fruits.
As we step back to take in what the three fall feasts represent, we see this progression:
- First the trumpets announcing the impending day of judgment. We also saw that the Feast of Trumpets is very much about God’s people keeping the Sabbath holy.
- Then the fateful day of judgment when God’s people need to be afflicting themselves while the high priest is blotting out their sins from the sanctuary
- And finally the joyful celebration of those who’ve been cleared of all sin and who thank their God for His goodness, mercy and bounty.
The Jewish feasts were given to the Jewish people as a condensed, symbolic enactment of God’s Plan of Redemption for mankind. In one year God’s people took the journey and covered the ground that Jesus would cover in 2000+ years of ministry on earth and in heaven. The Jewish religious calendar is a microcosm of the global Plan of Salvation that was given for both Jews and Gentiles.
We need to study the feasts, because they’re types of this Plan of Redemption that’s in its final phase of completion. “This generation shall not pass until all these things be fulfilled”. Through the study of the types we learn much about the anti-type, through the study of the shadow we can learn much about the reality of the Plan of Salvation. We learn especially about Jesus as High Priest and the work that He’s doing on our behalf even now in heavenly places. It’s the sanctuary that provides the backbone and the calendar for endtime prophecy.
But no, we don’t need to keep the feasts. God never intended for the Gentiles to keep the feasts. I’ll provide the biblical evidence for that statement in Part 3 of this study where we’re going to map the Jewish feasts to the calendar of Jesus’ ministry. But for now, I pray that you’ll join us again for Part 2 where we’re going to consider Jesus’ movement through the sanctuary in the successive stages of His ministry on earth and in heaven. God bless you.