Prophetic Programme in the Feasts of Israel

Johan Malan, University of the North, South Africa

Abstract: A very clear prophetic programme emerges from a study of the seven major religious feasts of Israel. We are on the threshold of the fulfilling of the fifth feast – the feast of trumpets.

The annual cycle of the seven feasts of Israel explains the basic principles of God's plan of salvation for Israel and the nations. A strong prophetic application is evident in the feasts, and in their chronology we can clearly distinguish the way of salvation for humanity. It starts with the sacrificing of the Lamb of God on the cross, proceeds to the resurrection life and outpouring of the Holy Spirit, then leads to the period of the gathering of a harvest for God, eventually to be followed by the sounding of the trumpet at the end of the harvest season, the tribulation period, the second coming and conversion of the remnant of Israel as a nation, and the establishment of the Messianic kingdom on earth.

The Lord confirms in His Word that the feasts of Israel were not initiated by men, but came from Him, and must therefore be celebrated in the correct order every year: "The feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts... which you shall proclaim at their appointed times" (Lev. 23:2, 4). These feasts are fulfilled in the New Testament and are described as "a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ" (Col. 2:17). This statement by Paul literally means: "The feasts are prophetic indications of future events that will be fulfilled at the time of the Messiah." Prophetically, they point to the new covenant and the establishing of the Messiah's kingdom. The first four have already been fulfilled.

The seven feasts, and their New Testament fulfilment, are as follows:

Old Testament Shadow

New Testament Fulfilment

·       Passover

·       Sacrificing of the Lamb of God

·       Unleavened bread

·       Burial of Messiah

·       Sheaf of firstfruits

·       Messiah’s resurrection

Feast of firstfruits

continues for 50 days

50 days between the resurrection

and Pentecost

·       Pentecost (celebration of the
receiving of the Law)

·       Pentecost (celebration of the outpouring
of the Holy Spirit)

Four months during which

the harvest is gathered

in Israe

Dispensation of world evangelism

to gather a harvest for the kingdom of God

among all nations

·       Sounding of the trumpet

·       Sounding of the trumpet at the rapture

The seven awesome days

of testing and humbling

The seven years of the

great tribulation

·       Day of Atonement

·       Coming of Messiah to save Israel

·       Feast of Tabernacles

·       Messiah’s millennial reign

The Passover

"These are the feasts of the Lord, holy convocations which you shall proclaim in their appointed times. On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the Lord's Passover" (Lev. 23:4-5).

The establishment of the Passover was the first guideline for God's plan of salvation that was to be fulfilled 1 500 years later when the Messiah was crucified for the sins of the world. Moses told the people of Israel:

"Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year... Now you shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood, and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it" (Ex. 12:5‑7).

In the New Testament, Christ is called "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (Jn. 1:29). The words of Peter also indicate the connection between the Passover and Jesus' death on the cross: " were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Pet. 1:18-19).

Right from the beginning it was clear that the Passover pointed to a future event, therefore it is logical that it would be fulfilled during a future Passover celebration. Viewed against this background, it was no mere coincidence that Jesus was crucified during the Passover celebrations. However, the Jewish leaders wanted to prevent it:

"After two days it was the Passover, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take Him by trickery and put Him to death. But they said: Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar of the people" (Mk. 14:1-2).

But they could not prevent the fulfilling of this feast, and Jesus was crucified on Friday, the fourteenth day of the month Nissan (in April 32). He died at three in the afternoon (Mk. 15:34‑37), at exactly the same time when the lambs were slaughtered in Egypt. It was conclusively proved that He was dead (Jn. 19:32-37). Pilate was surprised that Jesus had died so quickly, and granted permission for Him to be buried (Mk. 15:42‑45). So it happened that He was buried before the evening and the onset of the Sabbath (Lk. 23:52‑ 54; Jn. 19:31).

The Feast of the Unleavened Bread

"And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; seven days you must eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it" (Lev. 23:6-7).

According to John 19:31, the Sabbath directly after the crucifixion of Jesus was an important day. That was because it was not only the weekly Sabbath, but also the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. For the Jews this was a feast of soul‑searching and cleansing. As yeast is a symbol of sin, eating unleavened bread would mean that the believer was honestly committed to live a holy life. Therefore, they had to remove all the yeast from their houses for the duration of the feast. This rule was to be applied so stringently, that they even had to sweep out crumbs of leavened bread and burn it outside (Ex. 12:15).

This feast was fulfilled when Christ died. He was the seed that had fallen in the ground and died in order to grow and bear fruit (Jn. 12:24). As the perfect and sinless Son of God, He was the unleavened bread of life through whom we could come to spiritual life. That was why Jesus said: "I am the living bread which came down from heaven. if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world" (Jn. 6:51).

Paul says that this feast is indeed a Christ‑centred occasion that is to be celebrated by all of us:

"Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Cor. 5:6‑8).

The Jews had to search their houses on their knees for traces of yeast. In the same way we must search our lives in the light of God's Word and leave all traces of evil behind. Please read the following passages that reflect on soul‑searching, purifying and holiness: Psalm 139:23-24; Proverbs 28:13; Matthew 16:6; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Colossians 3:8‑10; Hebrews 3:12-13; 1  Peter 2:1-2; 1 John 1:8-9.

The Feast of the Firstfruits

"Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: When you come into the land which I give to you, and reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest. He shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it" (Lev. 23:10-11).

Because Israel is a winter rainfall area, the first sheaf of grain was given to the Lord as a sacrifice in the spring. This had to happen on a Sunday, and it was a very meaningful event, for this celebration was meant to make the people of Israel acceptable to the Lord.

The Feast of the Firstfruits was usually celebrated close to the time of the Passover. The grain was nearly ready to be harvested when the Jews left Egypt (Ex. 9:31). This just adds to the meaning of the spring month of Nissan as the beginning of a new life. Not only did Jesus rise from the grave in that month, but the Jews were also led out of Egypt in Nissan. In the year 32, the ceremony was conducted on Sunday morning – the day on which Jesus rose from the grave. It was the day after the Sabbath: "Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene" (Mk. 16:9).

 The seed that had fallen in the ground (the death and burial of Jesus) gave its first fruit on that Sunday morning when Jesus rose from the grave. It also indicated the beginning of the harvest of souls, for the whole harvest that would be gathered after that, would be acceptable to God through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Furthermore, it signalled the transition from the old covenant to the new. That is why it had to happen on a Sunday, the first day of the week and symbolically the beginning of a new dispensation. That is why the celebration of the Sabbath was changed from the seventh to the first day of the week in the new dispensation of grace. Because of the finished work of the Messiah, we can celebrate resurrection day every Sunday. We have entered into  the new covenant with God through Him, and are therefore active partakers in the resurrection life of Jesus our Lord:

"And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!... But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Cor. 15:17, 20).


"And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: Seven Sabbaths shall be completed. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the Lord. You shall bring from your habitations two wave loaves of two-tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven. They are the firstfruits to the Lord" (Lev. 23:15‑17).

We see that only the first and the fiftieth days of the Feast of the Firstfruits were to be celebrated. On the fiftieth day, a Sunday, two leavened loaves had to be given to God as a wave offering. Remember that leaven is the symbol of sin, therefore these two loaves do not point to the Messiah. They must be seen as prophetic symbols of two groups of believers – those in Israel and those in the Gentile world. The believers from Israel and the nations are despite their salvation not sinless and perfect, and must be consecrated to the Lord. That is the meaning of this ceremony.

The Jews celebrate the onset of the dispensation of the law at Pentecost (derived from the Greek word pentecostos, meaning fiftieth). They believed that the people of Israel arrived at Sinai fifty days after their departure from Egypt. It was there that God gave Moses the law (Ex. 19:1‑3). It was for the celebration of this feast that the Jews from all over the world gathered in Jerusalem on the day when the Holy Spirit descended (Acts 2). They did not realise that the Passover, the Feast of the Unleavened Bread and the Feast of the Firstfruits had already been fulfilled through the atoning work and resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, they did not realise that the dispensation of the law had been consummated. The new dispensation of grace, ministered by the Holy Spirit, was to come in its place, "for the code of the law kills, but the Holy Spirit makes alive" (2 Cor. 3:6 AB. See also Heb. 8:7-13 and Jer. 31:31).  3 000 people died at Sinai because they were punished under the law for worshipping an idol (Ex. 32:28). On the day of Pentecost, of which we read in the New Testament, 3 000 people were saved when the new dispensation was introduced by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:41).

The beginning of the dispensation of the church at Pentecost, indicates that it replaces the dispensation of the law. It was another example of God's perfect timing, since 40 days passed between the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and another ten days while the disciples were praying and waiting for the Holy Spirit to be poured out. This total of 50 days is exactly the same as the time that expired between the two wave offerings of the Feast of the Firstfruits. We still recognise this chronology, as we celebrate the resurrection on the Sunday after Good Friday, the ascension 40 days later on a Thursday, and Pentecost ten days later, again on a Sunday.

It is also interesting that Pentecost is not celebrated in isolation. It forms part of a whole cycle of feasts and is intimately linked to the Passover festival 50 days earlier. For this reason the outpouring of the Holy Spirit must always be seen in its close association with the  whole series of events that include the death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Gathering the harvest

After the Feast of the Firstfruits a period of four months follows, during which the harvest is gathered. The last three feasts are then celebrated after the harvest, in the seventh month. The long time-span between these two groups of feasts has prophetic significance. It refers to the dispensation of the church, for in that time the harvest of the kingdom of heaven is to be gathered. Those working for God, must give all they have to complete their task within the available time: "Do you not say: There are still four months and then comes the harvest? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!" (Jn. 4:35).

On another occasion Jesus said: "The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into His harvest" (Lk. 10:2). In one of the parables a field is used as a symbol of the world, and the final gathering of the harvest as the end of the world (Mt. 13:38-39).

 We do not know exactly how long it will take to gather the harvest in the heavenly barn, but we do have an indication, as Christ said that Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled (Lk. 21:24; also see Rom. 11:25, 26). The end of the treading down of Jerusalem is a sure sign that the dispensation of world evangelism is nearing its end now. God's trumpet could sound any time. Jerusalem only awaits its spiritual restoration. We can, therefore, expect the fulfilment of the fifth feast soon.

God's trumpet

"Speak to the children of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation" (Lev. 23:24).

The seventh month marks the end of the harvest, or virtually the end of it, as only the aftercrop is then still to be reaped. When this very critical period of Israel's history dawns they will, as a nation, still be unsaved:

"The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved!" (Jer. 8:20).

Although it will be a very late hour in the harvest season, a special opportunity will nevertheless be offered to the Jews to be saved:

"Also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed for you, when I return the captives of My people" (Hos. 6:11).

The Feast of Trumpets starts with a holy day on which the trumpets are sounded. This feast will be fulfilled when the seventieth year-week of Israel's history of salvation as a nation begins. Although this year-week is referred to as the time of Jacob's trouble, it is also a time that will be characterised by a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit over Israel (Zech. 12:10; 13:1). It will be a short, decisive and very difficult time for them in which to make a choice between the true Messiah and the false messiah. By that decision between life and death they will determine their final destiny.

The orthodox Jews blow the trumpets (shofar) in the synagogues on this day every year. It is regarded as an appeal to the people to leave their sins behind and to serve God wholeheartedly. This feast, combined with the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah), is celebrated in September. The Jews believe that God created the earth in the month Tishrei, therefore they regard it as the first month of the year. However, God Himself changed the order of the months after the exodus from Egypt (Ex. 12:2). He did it because He wanted the people of Israel to regard their liberation from slavery as a new beginning, a new birth. Because of this, the Jewish people observe two calendars – a secular and a religious one.

 According to rabbinical tradition, God opens three books on the first day of the seventh month: in the first is written the names of all the righteous, as well as the rewards and blessings they will receive from the Lord. This includes material and spiritual blessings, such as a spiritually productive life, health, sufficient harvests and victory over the enemy.

The third book contains the names of the godless and the punishment they will receive. Then there is a second book containing the names of all those who do not fall into either of these two categories. They are not completely righteous, but they are not completely godless either. They are granted a limited period in which they can repent and restore their broken relationship with God. If they do this, they will also be included in the ranks of the righteous. The Jews observe what is known as the seven awesome days in the period between Rosh Hashanah (on 1 and 2 Tishrei) and the Day of Atonement on 10 Tishrei. This is a time of anxiety and humiliation in which prayers of repentance are offered in the synagogues, widows and orphans receive help and peace is even made with enemies. The reason for this is that, according to popular opinion, most people fall in the second of the three categories as there are many things in their lives that are not pleasing to the Lord.

If the people turn back to God, He will accept the sacrifice brought  by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement, and bless His people. If they do not truly repent and humble themselves before God, He will reject the sacrifice and punish them.

The New Testament also uses different spiritual criteria to divide all people into three categories. Paul says that the natural man does not accept the things of the Holy Spirit, because he is still a fallen sinner, twisted by his sins. The spiritual man, on the other hand, has been renewed by the Spirit of God, and is ready to be taught and led by Him (1 Cor. 2:14-15. See also Gal. 5:16). Then he also describes the carnal man, that leads to a middle group consisting of people who have been saved, but who do not live dedicated lives under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Paul gives a clear definition of this group:

"And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?" (1 Cor. 3:1‑3).

The spiritual deadlock in which these Christians with the divided hearts find themselves, can be attributed to the fact that although they may be saved, they have not yet made a full surrender in which the old sinful nature has been given over to be crucified. The following verse also clearly relates to this problem:

"For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Gal 5:17).

What is the standard and quality of your dedication to the Lord? Carnal Christians continuously grieve the Holy Spirit and cannot really be used by Him. Have you given over the carnal nature [the old man] to be crucified? "Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth" (Col 3:5). “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Rom. 8:13). "This I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh" (Gal. 5:16). “…put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Rom. 13:14).

If we live victorious, holy lives, we will be rewarded at the judgement seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:11-15; 2 Cor. 5:10) shortly after the trumpet of 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 has blown.

The tribulation period

The seven awesome days, 3 to 9 Tishrei, prophetically refers to the tribulation period. A week in the prophecies often refers to a period of seven years (see Lev. 25:8; Dan. 9:24). The end of the harvest season will mark the beginning of Daniel's 70th year-week, a time in which Israel will be tried and persecuted and Jerusalem will be surrounded by the armies of hostile nations (Ezek. 22:18‑22; Zech. 14:12, 13). During this time many people from many different nations will have to make a final choice with regard to their eternal destination. Unprecedented events will occur as the terrible judgements of which we read in Revelation 6 to 19, will come into effect in rapid succession.

The Day of Atonement

"Also the tenth day of this seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement. It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the Lord" (Lev. 23:27).

This is the most important religious feast in Israel. It was also the only day of the year in which the High Priest was permitted to enter into the Holy of Holies to atone for the sins of the nation. This day will be prophetically fulfilled when the Messiah comes again to bring an end to all sins and establish eternal righteousness in Israel.

 Good Friday, the day on which our Lord was crucified, is the day of atonement for all Christians. Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) must therefore be seen as a Jewish feast, relevant for and important to Israel, for it refers to the unique day of their national reconciliation with God. The Lord promised: "I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day" (Zech. 3:9).

Jesus will return on the last day of the seven years of tribulation, and He will set foot on the Mount of Olives. Then all eyes will see Him, including the eyes of those who pierced Him (Rev. 1:7). In Israel it will be a day of repentance and conversion: "In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness" (Zech. 13:1).

The Messiah's coming will not only bring about reconciliation, but also judgement. He will become reconciled with the remnant of Israel (Rom. 11:26), but at the same time He will judge Israel's enemies (Zech. 14:12-13).

The Feast of Tabernacles

"The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days to the Lord... 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. So Moses declared to the children of Israel the feasts of the Lord" (Lev. 23:34; 42‑44).

This is a joyous feast that is celebrated after the harvest to thank the Lord for all His goodness. He is also praised for leading His people through the dangers of the wilderness, and freeing them from the bondage in Egypt. The feast has a definite future perspective, as it clearly reflects the coming of the Messiah. When He comes, the final harvest of the kingdom of heaven will have been gathered.

 On the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles, the rabbis read Zechariah 14 in the synagogues. This chapter deals with the following themes:

·       the coming of the Messiah and all His saints (verses 4, 5);

·       the kingship of the Messiah (verse 9);

·       the exaltation of Jerusalem (verses 8‑11);

·       the destruction of Israel's enemies (verses 12‑15); and

·       the compulsory participation of the other nations in the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem during the Messiah's reign (verses 16‑18).

The liturgy of the feast includes a prayer asking that the Gentiles may also come to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast. This is why Christians from various countries have decided to confirm their solidarity with Israel by going to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. In 1980, the year in which Jerusalem was reinstated as capital of Israel, 1 000 Christians from 20 countries decided that they would participate in the feast. They were greatly surprised at the warm welcome they received from the Israeli leaders. These leaders declared that to them it was further proof that the coming of the Messiah was drawing near. The publicity of this event was overwhelmingly positive, and the Christians were asked to take part in the march through the streets of Jerusalem. They were also given the place of honour ahead of the Israeli army.

On the last day of the feast, the International Christian Embassy was opened in Jerusalem. This embassy represents Christians who acknowledge Israel's Biblical position, and is an important link with the Israeli Government. The embassy explicitly recognises and supports the Jews' Biblical right to be restored to their land. Every working‑day is started with  prayers for the safety of Jerusalem (Ps. 122:6; Is. 62:6, 7).

 The following year (1981) saw a tremendous increase in the number of participants, as 3 500 Christians from 35 countries attended the Feast of Tabernacles; 400 of them were from South Africa. Interest in the feast kept on increasing, despite the inhibiting effect of the security situation during certain years. 1992 was a record year when over 6 000 pilgrims from 86 countries attended the feast in Jerusalem. This is a definite sign that the dramatic events prophesied for Jerusalem in the end‑time, are imminent.

The return of Jesus will also be the fulfilment of the Feast of Tabernacles. Then we will all praise God for having saved us from the bondage of sin, and for having protected us in this dangerous and evil world. We will thank and praise Him for the great harvest of believers that have been gathered into the kingdom of heaven. Great joy will prevail when the Messiah's millennial reign is instituted with Jerusalem as the capital city of the world!


It is fitting that the biblical connection between the birth of the Messiah and the Feast of Tabernacles should also be discussed here. So much confusion is surrounding Christmas celebrations in the world today, that the biblical roots of the celebration of Christ’s coming to the world have virtually been obliterated.

The annual Christmas festival on the 25th of December is a wrongly scheduled, perverted and highly commercialised feast celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike. As the world increasingly lay claim to this feast, the tendency is to continue distorting its implied Christian character by mixing it with heathen practices. In some cases Christ is even removed from the Christmas feast by cancelling His name with an X and renaming the feast Xmas.

The decision to move the celebration of the Messiah's birthday from a previous date in April to the present date of 25 December, was taken way back in the fourth century during the reign of Constantine. Official recognition had been given to Christianity, and to make it more acceptable to heathen communities, some of its traditions were adapted and synthesised with heathen religious traditions.

In the pre-Christian heathen world, 25 December was the day on which The Feast of the Invincible Sun (Invicti Solis) was celebrated. The winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere occurs on 22 December. Sun-worshippers then started conducting various rituals to the sun-god to invoke him to turn back. People believed that if the sun continued on its southerly course, darkness, cold and death would befall humanity. On 25 December, when the sun starts its journey back, great jubilation erupted. People danced around green trees, became drunk and presented gifts to one another.

Christmas was moved to 25 December on the premise that the Messiah is the Sun of Righteousness. Although the intention may have been to christianise the Babylonian Feast for the Invincible Sun, the two feasts really became intermingled. One of the results of this syncretism is that two idols, Bacchus (the god of liquor) and Mammon (the god of money), are receiving great prominence in modern Christmas celebrations.

As indicated earlier in this chapter, the feasts of Israel are really the feasts of the Messiah. Biblical evidence indeed suggests that Jesus was born during the Feast of Tabernacles. The following clues in events leading to the birth of the Messiah, are relevant:

An important indication is the time when Zacharias, a member of the priestly family of Abijah, conducted his duties in the temple. 1 Chronicles 24 contains an account of the allotment of two weeks of temple service to each of 24 families in a fixed schedule: "This was the schedule of their service for coming into the house of the Lord" (1 Chr. 24:19). The eighth family in the group of 24 was that of the priest Abijah (1 Chron. 24:10).

The first month in the cycle was Nisan, which is the first month in the religious calendar (Ex. 12:2, Lev. 23:5).  According to this schedule the family of Abijah was the eighth group, and was therefore due for service in the second half of the fourth month in the Jewish calendar. It was to this family that priest Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, belonged:

"There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah... So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord" (Lk. 1:5, 8-9).

While he was busy with his task, an angel appeared to him and said:

"Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John" (Lk. 1:13).

The rest of the events are closely associated with this announcement:

"Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months... Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary... The angel said to her: Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever... Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible. Then Mary said: Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word" (Lk. 1:24, 26-27, 30-33, 36-38).

Zacharias' encounter with the angel, and his wife's conception shortly afterwards, occurred in the second half of the fourth month in the religious calendar. Six months later, in the second half of the tenth month (about the time of the present Christmas celebrations), Mary conceived. Nine months later, in the second half of September, Jesus was born.

Since Zacharias' turn of service in the temple, 15 months (6+9) elapsed until the birth of Jesus – that is one year and three months. Within the framework of the religious calendar of the Jews, this period expired between the second half of the fourth month and the second half of the seventh month in the following year. The birth of Jesus therefore coincided with the Feast of Tabernacles: "The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days to the Lord" (Lev. 23:34).

There is also circumstantial evidence supporting this information on the time of Jesus' birth. The shepherds were still sleeping outside in the field – something they did not do in mid-winter, because of the cold:

"That night some shepherds were in the fields outside the village, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly an angel appeared among them, and the landscape shone bright with the glory of the Lord. They were badly frightened, but the angel reassured them: Don’t be afraid, he said. I bring you the most joyful news ever announced, and it is for everyone! The Saviour – yes, the Messiah, the Lord – has been born tonight in Bethlehem! How will you recognise Him? You will find a Baby wrapped in a blanket, lying in a manger!" (Lk. 2:8-12 Living Bible).

It was customary in Israel, at least among some of the religious Jews, to look out for the Messiah during the Feast of Tabernacles. That is why the brothers of Jesus urged Him not to remain in Galilee, but to attend the feast in Jerusalem and reveal Himself there, if He was indeed the Messiah:

"Now the Jews' Feast of Tabernacles was at hand. His brothers therefore said to Him: Depart from here and go to Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing" (Jn. 7:2-3).

The feast had already begun and the Jews were on the look-out for Jesus. They hotly debated the question whether He was the promised Messiah or not. Suddenly, Jesus appeared in their midst: "Now about the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught" (Jn. 7:14).

His critics rejected His teaching and the claims about Him, but some people strongly believed that He was the Messiah. They maintained that He fulfilled all the prophecies related to the Messiah as the One who will reveal the power of God:

"Many among the crowds at the temple believed in Him. After all, they said, what miracles do you expect the Messiah to do that this Man hasn't done?" (Jn. 7:31 Living Bible).

On the last day of the feast, Jesus invited people to come to Him with their spiritual needs:

"On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying: If anyone thirsts, let Him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive" (Jn. 7:37-39).

Apart from the distinct future perspective of the Feast of Tabernacles, it also clearly reflects on the first coming of the Messiah. Then the door was opened to invite people to the throne of mercy and to gather a big harvest for the kingdom of heaven among all nations.

Personal experience

How do you experience the fulfilment of the feasts in the Messiah? Every saved person begins his pilgrimage at the foot of the cross, where the blood of the Lamb was shed for sinners like you and me. When we take our refuge in Him, our sins are forgiven and we are clothed with the garments of righteousness that only Jesus can give us. From there we progress to the experience of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit endows us with His power to become harvesters for the kingdom of heaven. When the Lord returns for the final harvest feast and the glorious revelation of His kingdom, He wants to find us out there in the fields, gathering the harvest:

"Then the master said to the servant: Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled" (Lk. 14:23).

To share in the final triumph of Jesus, we must  walk with Him all the way. That will also involve the experience of rejection by the world. Only those who suffer with Him, will be exalted with Him (Rom. 8:17; also see 2 Thes. 1:5, 2 Tim. 2:12 and 1 Pet. 5:10).

This is not an easy journey, and some people turn back along the way. They simply cannot bear the cross to the end of the road, and as an easy way out, want to claim the benefits and trouble‑free life of the millennium right now (prosperity gospel and kingdom theology). They are not prepared to be crucified to the world, and they are not spiritually strong enough to bear the loneliness and sacrifices that may be required of them. They find it hard to accept the fact that we are strangers and pilgrims in a world that lies in the power of the evil one (Heb. 11:13; 1 Jn. 5:19). Will their faith prevail under circumstances of persecution?

Most people try to avoid the way of the cross, and therefore they never even start the pilgrimage through the seven feasts to the final destination of eternal glory. This was also the case when Jesus was on earth. Large crowds followed Him as He was performing miracles and healing the sick. They enjoyed listening to Him, and thousands ate from the meagre supply of fishes and loaves after it had passed through His hands. Yes, they wanted to make Him king of Israel!

When He talked of the cross, they became offended and turned their backs on Him. They did not want to hear Him say that they would have to become part of His broken body to be saved (Jn. 6:51‑66). Even those who were constantly with Him, all except the twelve, turned their backs on Him.

Today the same religious curiosity still prevails. If miracles and easy ways to prosperity are offered, thousands gather to hear and see. But that is just where it ends, for the moment they hear of self‑sacrifice, Christ's cross and the coming judgement, they lose interest and turn back.

Except for a faithful minority, Israel did not accept the way of the cross, and therefore God's plan of salvation was offered to the Gentiles. Even in the Gentile world, few walk the way leading from the cross and the experience of Pentecost to the harvest fields of the world. Those followers of Jesus who are mainly interested in the fringe benefits of Christianity, have only a form of godliness. They are denying its power, which is the crucified and resurrected Messiah (2 Tim. 3:5). They are like the church at Sardis that outwardly conforms to certain traditional practices, but is spiritually dead (Rev. 3:1).

Only those who chose to seek protection under the blood of the lamb, were saved in Egypt. They embarked on a journey that, however dangerous, led to the Promised Land.

Are you also on this journey?