Summary: The feasts were a part of the Mosaic Law that was given to the Children of Israel by God through Moses (Exodus 12; 23:14-17; Leviticus 23; Numbers 28 & 29; and Deuteronomy 16). The Jewish nation was commanded by God to celebrate seven feasts over a seven
Origin and Timing of the Feasts
The feasts were a part of the Mosaic Law that was given to the Children of Israel by God through Moses (Exodus 12; 23:14-17; Leviticus 23; Numbers 28 & 29; and Deuteronomy 16). The Jewish nation was commanded by God to celebrate seven feasts over a seven month period of time, beginning in the spring of the year and continuing through the fall.(NASB) You will find the timing and sequence of these feasts illustrated on the chart below.
As you study the chart, notice that the feasts fall into three clusters. The first three feasts Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits occur in rapid succession in the spring of the year over a period of eight days. They came to be referred to collectively as "Passover."
The fourth feast, Harvest, occurs fifty days later at the beginning of the summer. By New Testament times this feast had come to be known by its Greek name, Pentecost, a word meaning fifty.
The last three feasts Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles extend over a period of twenty-one days in the fall of the year. They came to be known collectively as "Tabernacles."
The Nature of the Feasts
Some of the feasts were related primarily to the agricultural cycle. The feast of First Fruits was a time for the presentation to God of the first fruits of the barley harvest. The feast of Harvest was a celebration of the wheat harvest. And the feast of Tabernacles was in part a time of thanksgiving for the harvest of olives, dates, and figs.
Most of the feasts were related to past historical events. Passover, of course, celebrated the salvation the Jews experienced when the angel of death passed over the Jewish houses that were marked with the blood of a lamb. Unleavened Bread was a reminder of the swift departure from Egypt so swift that they had no time to put leaven into their bread.
Although the feasts of Harvest and Tabernacles were related to the agricultural cycle, they both had historical significance as well. The Jews believed that it was on the feast day of Harvest that God gave the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai. And Tabernacles was a yearly reminder of God’s protective care as the Children of Israel tabernacled in the wilderness for forty years.
The Spiritual Significance of the Feasts
All the feasts were related to the spiritual life of the people. Passover served as a reminder that there is no atonement for sin apart from the shedding of blood. Unleavened Bread was a reminder of God’s call on their lives to be a people set apart to holiness. Leaven was a symbol of sin. They were to be unleavened that is, holy before the nations as a witness of God.
The feast of First Fruits was a call to consider their priorities, to make certain they were putting God first in their lives. Harvest was a reminder that God is the source of all blessings.
The solemn assembly day of Trumpets was a reminder of the need for constant, ongoing repentance. The Day of Atonement was also a solemn assembly day a day of rest and introspection. It was a reminder of God’s promise to send a Messiah whose blood would cover the demands of the Law with the mercy of God.
In sharp contrast to Trumpets and Atonement, Tabernacles was a joyous celebration of God’s faithfulness, even when the Children of Israel were unfaithful.
The Prophetic Significance of the Feasts
What the Jewish people did not seem to realize is that all of the feasts were also symbolic types. In other words, they were prophetic in nature, each one pointing in a unique way to some aspect of the life and work of the promised Messiah.
1) Passover - Pointed to the Messiah as our passover lamb whose blood would be shed for our sins. Jesus was crucified on the day of preparation for the Passover, at the same time that the lambs were being slaughtered for the Passover meal that evening.
2) Unleavened Bread - Pointed to the Messiah’s sinless life, making Him the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Jesus’ body was in the grave during the first days of this feast, like a kernel of wheat planted and waiting to burst forth as the bread of life.
3) First Fruits - Pointed to the Messiah’s resurrection as the first fruits of the righteous. Jesus was resurrected on this very day, which is one of the reasons that Paul refers to him in I Corinthians 15:20 as the "first fruits from the dead."
4) Harvest or Pentecost - (Called Shavuot today.) Pointed to the great harvest of souls, both Jew and Gentile, that would come into the kingdom of God during the Church Age. The Church was actually established on this day when the Messiah poured out the Holy Spirit and 3,000 souls responded to Peter’s first proclamation of the Gospel.