11. The Feasts of Israel

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 from 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; subsequently, this is 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 of human origin, but were instituted by 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). They are all Messianic feasts which are finally fulfilled in Him. During His first coming, the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the wave offering of the Feast of Firstfruits were fulfilled; then ten days after His ascension, i.e. 50 days after His resurrection from the dead, the feast of Pentecost was also fulfilled. During the events of His second coming the last three feasts will be fulfilled, jointly referred to as the Harvest Feast.

Although we as Christians should not celebrate these feasts in their shadowy, Old Testament form, they nevertheless give us a clear prophetic picture of things to come. We celebrate fulfilled New Testament feasts.

1. The Passover

The Passover is celebrated in Nisan, the first month on Israel’s religious calendar. That is the spring month in the northern hemisphere, which partially overlaps with March and April on the Gregorian calendar. Israel’s deliverance from their Egyptian slavery and spiritual oppression which lasted for centuries, introduced a completely new phase in their history as a people. The “winter” of barrenness was over, and through the Lord’s intervention Israel was set free to start a very special journey to take possession of the Promised Land. This new beginning (a national rebirth) explains why the Lord changed the starting-point of Israel’s calendar to begin during the spring of their exodus, and no longer during autumn: “This month shall be your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you” (Ex. 12:2).

However, Israel’s civil calendar which starts with the Rosh Hashanah on 1 Tishri (in September or October on the solar calendar), is still in use. Tishri is the seventh month on the religious calendar. Israel’s months are based on the cycles of the moon and always start with the new moon. Since 12 lunar months only total 354 days, the Jewish calendar often provides for leap years with a 13th month in order to keep track with seasonal years. That explains the fact why their feasts, which are scheduled in terms of their own calendar, annually have fluctuating dates on the Gregorian calendar. However, the fluctuation is limited due to Israel’s feasts being connected to specific seasons within the annual agricultural season, and therefore always synchronise with the seasons in solar years.

The first of the annual feasts starts with the full moon in Nisan (which is two weeks after the new moon): “On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the Lord’s Passover” (Lev. 23:5). 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. And they shall take some of the blood, and put it on the two door-posts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it. ... For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the first-born in the land of Egypt. ... Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt” (Ex. 12:5‑7, 12-13).

In the New Testament, Christ is called “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Peter’s words also indicate the connection between the Passover and Jesus’ death on the cross: “...you 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; cf. Eph. 1:7; Heb. 9:22).

Right from the beginning it was clear that the Passover pointed to a future event, therefore it makes sense 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” (Mark 14:1-2).

But they could not prevent the prompt fulfilment 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 (Mark 15:34‑37), at exactly the same time that the lambs were slaughtered in Egypt during the first Passover. It was conclusively proven that He was dead (John 19:32-37). Pilate was surprised that Jesus had died so quickly, and granted permission for Him to be buried (Mark 15:42‑45). So it happened that He was buried before the evening and the onset of the Sabbath (Luke 23:52‑ 54; John 19:31).

We read the following regarding the day of the crucifixion in Mark: “Now when evening had come, because it was the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member ... came and went in boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus” (Mark 15:42-43).

John Grassmick (1983:191) says the following about this Scripture: “Jesus’ burial officially confirmed His death, an important point in early Christian preaching (cf. 1 Cor. 15:3-4). The designation Preparation Day is used here as a technical name for Friday, the day before the Sabbath (Saturday) as Mark explained to his non-Jewish readers. Since no work was allowed on the Jewish Sabbath, Friday was used to prepare for it. This reference confirms that Jesus was crucified on a Friday.”

2. 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. Not only was it 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 symbolises sin, the eating of unleavened bread indicated 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 the crumbs of leavened bread and burn it outside (Ex. 12:15). This is a symbolic act which points to sanctification. People should also be spiritually purified by forsaking their sin.

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 (John 12:24). As the perfect and sinless Son of God, He was the unleavened bread of life through whom we could gain 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” (John 6:51). He does not only deliver us from our bondage to sin, but also gives us spiritual strength to persevere in the way of the redeemed.

It is expected of us to identify so intimately with Christ as the unleavened bread of life that we purge out all the leaven of sin from our lives. Paul says, “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. Pray the prayer of David: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23-24).

3. The Feast of the Firstfruits

The following feasts are all linked to different stages of the annual gathering of the harvest. This third feast is known as the feast of the sheaf of 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 (the day after the Sabbath), and it was a very meaningful event, for this celebration was intended 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 almost ready to be harvested when the Jews left Egypt (Ex. 9:31). This feast adds to the significance of the spring month of Nisan 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 Nisan. 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” (Mark 16:9).

The seed that had fallen in the ground (the death and burial of Jesus) bore its first fruit on that Sunday morning when Jesus rose from the grave. It also pointed to 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, this feast signalled the transition from the old covenant to the new; that is why it had to be celebrated on a Sunday, the first day of the week and symbolically the beginning of a new dispensation. At the very beginning of the church age the observance of the Lord’s day was changed from the seventh to the first day of the week. 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).

Some people have a problem with the fact that Jesus was not in the grave for three full days and nights (i.e. 72 hours), and make all sorts of efforts to move the day of His crucifixion from Friday to the preceding Wednesday. The fact is that the Jews practice a form of inclusive reckoning of time in which a part of the day is also described as a full day. It has already been indicated that Jesus was buried on the Friday afternoon, shortly before the beginning of the Sabbath, and that He rose early on the first day of the week (Sunday). The day on which He was crucified (Friday) was therefore the first day, Saturday (the Sabbath) was the second day, while Sunday (the day of His resurrection) was the third day.

The men who were on their way to Emmaus confirm these facts. On the day that Jesus rose from the dead (Sunday), they were walking along the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13). Not being aware of the fact that Jesus Himself had joined them, they were discussing the events related to His crucifixion early on the Friday morning, and added: “We were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened. Yes, and certain women of our company, who arrived at the tomb early, astonished us. When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive” (Luke 24:21-23). Sunday was, therefore, the third day after the crucifixion of Jesus, which had occurred on the preceding Friday.

4. Pentecost

The feast of the first sheaf and the feast of Pentecost together constitute the Feast of Firstfruits. They are also referred to as the Feast of Weeks as they are separated by exactly seven weeks. It was instituted as follows:

“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).

Only the first and the fiftieth days of the Feast of the Firstfruits were celebrated. On the fiftieth day, a Sunday, two leavened loaves were brought before 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. Despite their salvation, the believers from Israel and the nations are not sinless and perfect, and must therefore be consecrated to the Lord. That is the purpose of this ceremony.

Orthodox Jews celebrate the beginning of the dispensation of the law at Pentecost (the feast of the fiftieth day). They believe 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 that 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). At Sinai, 3 000 people died 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 of Christ on the Sunday after Good Friday, His ascension 40 days later on a Thursday, and Pentecost ten days later, again on a Sunday.

It is important to note that Pentecost is not celebrated in isolation, but follows after a countdown from the first day of Firstfruits. It forms part of a whole cycle of feasts and is directly linked with 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 final day of 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!” (John 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” (Luke 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 (Matt. 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 would be trodden down by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled (Luke 21:24; also see Rom. 11:25-26). The end of Jerusalem’s trampling by Gentiles is a sure sign that the dispensation of world evangelism is drawing to a close now. This very special city only awaits its final political and spiritual restoration under the Messiah. God’s trumpet could sound any time now, and after that Israel and Jerusalem will pass through the dark time of Jacob’s trouble before the light of the Messiah’s presence will suddenly and brightly arise.

5. God’s trumpet

The Feast of Trumpets starts with a holy day on which the trumpets are sounded: “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). This feast is celebrated as thanksgiving for the harvest, and also an appeal to the people to repent from their sins and to serve God wholeheartedly.

Orthodox Jews blow the trumpets (shofars) in their synagogues every year on the first and second days of Tishri, with the final sounding just before dusk on 2nd Tishri. The extension of the feast to also include the second day of Tishri was done much later to provide for Jews who live in other time-zones of the world, so as not to be excluded from the significance and blessings of the harvest season’s last trumpet at the beginning of Tishri.

As far as the kingdom of God is concerned, Israel’s harvest festival in Tishri marks the end of the harvest, or virtually the end of it, as only the after-crop is then still to be reaped. This feast will prophetically be fulfilled when God’s spiritual harvest among all nations, including the Messianic Jews, will be gathered in heaven:

“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; cf. 1 Cor. 15:51-52).

Directly following the last trumpet, Jews observe what is known as the seven awful days in the period between Rosh Hashanah on 1 and 2 Tishri and the Day of Atonement on 10 Tishri. 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. It is generally agreed by spiritual leaders that there are things present in most people’s lives that are not pleasing to the Lord, and these need to be put in order through repentance – especially during this time of the year.

The seven awful days from 3 to 9 Tishri, prophetically refers to the tribulation period of seven years. A “week” in biblical prophecies often refers to a period of seven years (cf. Dan. 9:24). The end of the worldwide gathering of the harvest will mark the beginning of Daniel’s 70th year-week, a time in which Israel and the unbelieving nations will be tried and persecuted and Jerusalem will be surrounded by the armies of hostile nations (Zech. 14:2). This will be a short, decisive and very difficult time for Israel and all nations, as they will have to make a choice between the true Messiah and the false messiah, and be prepared to face the consequences of their decision. It will be a decision between life and death, which will determine their final destiny.

Although this year-week is referred to as the time of Jacob’s trouble, there will also be a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon Israel (Zech. 12:10; 13:1), leading to a spiritual awakening in which 144 000 Jews will be saved (Rev. 7:1-8). They will preach the gospel under very trying circumstances, constantly being threatened by the false messiah and his forces (Rev. 12:11).

6. 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 behind the veil to atone for the sins of the nation. This feast will be prophetically fulfilled when the Messiah sets foot on the Mount of Olives at His second coming and every eye shall see Him, also those who pierced Him.

On that day, Israel as a people will be reconciled with Him. Only then, according to Daniel 9:24, everlasting righteousness will prevail among them. That only applies to Israel as a people since they are not yet reconciled with God through the Messiah. This troubling thought on the Chosen People’s spiritual alienation was already expressed by Jeremiah: “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved!” (Jer. 8:20). But Hosea confirms the ultimate spiritual restoration of Israel: “Also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed for you when I return the captives of My people” (Hos. 6:11).

On this day, a remnant from all nations will also be saved – those who survived the great tribulation and the battle of Armageddon, and who did not enter into a covenant with the Antichrist. In His Olivet Discourse, the Lord Jesus says the following on the dramatic day of His appearance:

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:29-30).

In his visions on the end-time, John says: “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, and they also who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him” (Rev. 1:7). The majority of modern Jews, particularly the religious orthodox, still condone their forefathers’ act of rejecting and crucifying Yeshua and are therefore also described as “they who pierced Him”. They will mourn because of Israel’s corporate sins, and be joined by the survivors from all nations who will likewise be guilty of rejecting the Messiah.

On this day, the day of the spiritual awakening of a remnant from Israel and the nations, the Lord will pour out His wrath upon His enemies to destroy them. Israel knows from past experience that if they did not find favour in the eyes of the Lord during the “seven awful days” before the Day of Atonement, He could reject the sacrifice of the High Priest and surrender His people to their enemies. At His second coming He will show mercy to those who look up to Him in faith, but to the wicked it will be a day of divine wrath which will consume them in one moment before the face of the Lord (Rev. 19:19-21; Zech. 14:12).

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 (Lev. 23:34; 42‑43).

This is a joyous feast that is celebrated after the harvest to thank the Lord for all His goodness during the year which has passed, and for the harvest that was gathered. Apart from its annual importance, the feast also has historical significance in referring to Israel’s exodus from Egypt when they dwelt in booths (or tabernacles) in the wilderness. While reflecting on these times, many Israelis sleep in temporary shelters in their gardens during the feast and thank the Lord that He led His people safely through the wilderness to take possession of the Promised Land. Thirdly, the feast has a definite future perspective as it clearly alludes to the coming of the Messiah. When He comes, the final harvest of the kingdom of heaven will have been gathered, and the Messiah will rule over the world from Jerusalem.

Because of the strong Messianic expectation during this feast, the brothers of Jesus asked Him (according to John 7) to attend the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem and to declare Himself as Messiah. There was much reasoning and argument about Him, but the spiritual leaders did not accept Him as the promised Messiah. However, at His second coming they will accept Him. 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).

In Zechariah 14:16, there is a clear indication that Gentiles will celebrate this feast annually after Israel’s Messiah-King has returned to establish His kingdom on earth: “And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.”

By virtue of the same Scripture, Christians from various countries decided to confirm their solidarity with Israel by also celebrating this feast. In 1980, the year in which Jerusalem was reinstated as Israel’s capital by a former Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, 1 000 Christians from 20 countries participated in their own Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. They were greatly surprised when Jewish leaders heartily welcomed them, and declared that in terms of Zechariah 14 it was an indication to them that the coming of the Messiah is drawing near. This event received overwhelmingly positive publicity, and the Christians were asked to take part in the Jerusalem March, positioned in front of the Israeli Defence Force.

On the last day of the feast, the International Christian Embassy was established in Jerusalem. This embassy represents Christians who acknowledge Israel’s biblical mandate to the land, and also liaises with the Israeli Government. They are involved with the relocation of Jews from other countries to Israel, particularly the immigration of thousands of poor Russian-speaking Jews. Activities at the embassy are initiated daily with prayers for the safety of Jerusalem, as commanded in Isaiah 62:6-7 and Psalm 122:6 – “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem”.

 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 continued to increase, and at the turn of century about 6 000 pilgrims from more than 80 countries were in attendance.

The return of Jesus will also be the fulfilment of the Feast of Tabernacles. Believers will then all praise God for having saved them from the bondage of sin, and for having protected them in this dangerous and evil world. They 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 God’s plan of salvation, which started with the sacrificing of the Passover Lamb, has been consummated with the institution of the Messiah’s millennial reign in Jerusalem.

Personal experience

How do you experience the fulfilment of the feasts in the Messiah? Every saved person begins his or her 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 with the sounding of a trumpet to gather the final harvest for the glorious revelation of His kingdom, He wants to find us out there in the fields, busy inviting people into His kingdom.

Those who remain behind when the Lord takes away His children will face the greatest tribulation of all time under the tyranny of the Antichrist. When the saints return with Christ after seven years, the empire of the false messiah will be destroyed during the battle of Armageddon. That judgement will be followed by the establishment of the Messiah’s kingdom on earth. If we wish to share in the final triumph of the Messiah, we have to follow Him all the way and also experience rejection and persecution by the world. It is only after we have suffered with Christ that we will also be glorified with Him and reign with Him (Rom. 8:17; Phil. 1:28-29; 2 Thess. 1:5; 2 Tim. 2:12; 1 Pet. 5:10).

This is not an easy journey, and some people turn back along the way. They simply cannot bear to carry the weight of the cross all the way to the end of the narrow road and rather opt for an easy way out, by claiming the benefits and trouble‑free life of experiencing the Millennium right now. In so doing, they follow the teachings of the prosperity gospel and kingdom now theology. They are those who are not prepared to be crucified to the world, or to let go of their worldliness and let it be crucified to them. They are not spiritually strong enough to bear the loneliness and sacrifices that may be required of them during their walk in the service of the Lord. They find it hard to accept the fact that true believers are strangers and pilgrims in a world which lies in the power of the evil one (Heb. 11:13; 1 John 5:19). Will their faith prevail under circumstances of persecution?

In reality, most people try to avoid the way of the cross and therefore do not even set out on the pilgrimage through the seven feasts to the final destination of eternal glory. This was also the case when Jesus was with us in the flesh. Large crowds followed Him as He was performing miracles and healing the sick. They enjoyed listening to Him, and thousands ate in amazement after He miraculously multiplied the fishes and loaves. They wanted to make Him king of Israel at all costs!

However, when Jesus spoke about the principle of discipleship and the need to partake of His body and His blood to be saved, large numbers of opportunistic followers regarded it as harsh words and turned away from Him. Even many of His regular followers, with the exception of the twelve, did not understand what He had said and deserted Him. Only a small core group remained with Him and believed that He was the Saviour from whom alone they could receive eternal life (John 6:51‑66).

Are we not still in exactly the same situation today? Large crowds are flocking together where healings and other miracles are said to be performed, where the prosperity gospel is proclaimed and sinful consciences are soothed. They are stirred by messages which speak of untold blessings and they crave ecstatic experiences. 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 withdraw. They are not prepared to be soldiers for the cross, but rather pursue the benefits offered to them by kingdom now theology (dominionism).

Except for a small group of faithful Messianic Jews, Israel would 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 follow the way that leads from the cross the open grave, the experience of Pentecost and on to the harvest fields of the world. The professing followers of Jesus, who are mainly interested in the fringe benefits of Christianity, soon become spiritually confused, lose their vision, and lapse into a mere form of godliness (2 Tim. 3:5). Many of them are followers of men and become involved with cults that deviate greatly from the truth (Matt. 24:4-5).

In Egypt, salvation was only granted to those who had the faith to seek protection under the blood of the lamb. They embarked on a journey that, although dangerous and fraught with trials and tribulations, led to the Promised Land. Are you also on this journey and are you making progress in your spiritual life? The annual feasts, as expressions of our faith in the Messiah, are meant to be times of refreshing in the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:19). It strengthens your vision and commitment, while you are once again endued with power from on high to fulfil your calling as a follower of the Messiah in an evil world.

Hanukkah

The religious character of the Jewish feasts implied that, in biblical times, they were all associated with the temple service. Even feasts that were not prescribed by the Old Testament have this same religious character. One of these feasts is Hanukkah, which is also known as the Festival of Lights. This festival is celebrated for eight days, starting on the 25th day of the Jewish month Kislev (December on the Gregorian calendar). The Hanukkah lampstand has nine candles, and during the festival another one is lit every night, until all nine of them are burning at the end of the feast.

“Hanukkah” means “dedication” and was derived from the dedication of the temple during the Maccabee period of their history in 165 BC. Three years earlier, in 168 BC, the temple was desecrated by the Greek dictator, Antiochus Epiphanes, who was king over the Syrian Province. He forced the Jews to worship Greek idols and placed an image of their god, Zeus, in the temple. He also forced the Jews to eat pork.

In 165 BC, Judah Maccabee defeated the Greek and Syrian forces and drove them out of Jerusalem. Thereafter, the temple was purified, dedicated to the Lord and the temple service was resumed. That took place on 25 Kislev. However, a big problem arose in that there was a small flask of oil which was only sufficient to keep the lampstand (menorah) burning for one day.

It takes quite a few days to prepare and purify olive oil for this purpose (cf. Lev. 24:2). However, during the eight days that was needed to prepare new oil, the lampstand in the temple kept on burning with the little oil that was in it. This miracle during the temple dedication of 165 BC is still annually commemorated, along with the victory over Israel’s enemies.

Like all the other annual festivals, Hanukkah contributes to the strong desire among orthodox Jews to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Their objective is to once again integrate the celebration of their feasts with the temple service. They believe that when this is achieved Israel will once again enjoy great blessings from the Lord. This sentiment is expressed on various Jewish websites, of which the following are two examples:

Colel Chabad say on their website: “We celebrate Chanukah – the festival of lights – for 8 days commencing on the eve of Kislev 25 which this year coincides with December 20, 2011. Coming in the dead of winter, Chanukah celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, of purity over contamination, of spirituality over materialism. Which is why it is such an important occasion for giving tzedakah, especially to widows, orphans and impoverished families through organizations like Colel Chabad” (www.colelchabad.org/Chanukah).

Another website echoes the same sentiments: “Hanukkah is the annual Jewish Festival of Lights that starts on the 25th day of Kislev as per the Jewish calendar. It is an eight-day festival of religious observance by Jews across the world. ... Hanukkah celebrates the victory of Jewish troops led by Judah Maccabee over the Greek soldiers, the miracle of purified oil, which lit Menorah for eight days continuously, and the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem” (http://www.hanukkahcelebrations.com/facts.html).