A Celebration to Die For
An October 2014 press release from one Christian denomination announced that its membership will follow the example of the early Christian church and begin celebrating the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles.
Because the Bible says that, “Jesus taught in the temple during the ancient Hebrew Festival of Tabernacles (see John 7),” members of this denomination planned to gather at 40 festival sites around the world, to launch eight days of celebration for the coming kingdom of God.
All of this raises the question: Does God require Christians to keep the feasts and festivals that were observed by the Hebrews? The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible reminds us that the Hebrew nation regularly celebrated those occasions in which God had manifested His power on their behalf. Each celebration was indicated on Jewish calendars by either of the interchangeable terms, feast or festival. These festivals kept the Hebrews mindful of the power and greatness of the Almighty. Their faith in His ability to provide for all their needs, particularly in hard times, was reinforced by their systematic reflections on God’s help in the past. Knowing that He was present strengthened them.
The Hebrew calendar designated three annual feasts to commemorate the power and provisions of God. We can identify these three primary feasts as: the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover), the Feast of Harvest (Pentecost), and the Feast of Ingathering (Tabernacles). We find these feasts introduced and explained in Exodus 23:14-17 and Deuteronomy 16:16.
The importance of the Passover to Israel can never be overstated. It represents God’s amazing intervention in the deliverance of His children from Egyptian bondage. Passover is celebrated on the fourteenth of Nisan, first month of the Hebrew year (March/April on modern calendars). The Passover celebration reminded Israel that their security was in God’s hands. Likewise, it helped them to recall God’s willingness to meet the needs of His faithful and obedient people.
The second great annual feast, the feast of weeks or Pentecost, was a harvest celebration occurring during May/June. It symbolized the end of the grain harvest, and
celebrated the great harvest effected by God when He delivered Israel from Pharaoh’s oppression. As a result, Jews were perpetually reminded that their material wealth was owed entirely to God (Exodus 23:16; 34:22; Numbers 28:26).
Feast of Tabernacles
The third great annual feast for the Jews was the Feast of Ingathering, also known as the Feast of Booths or the Feast of Tabernacles. Beginning on the fifteenth day of the seventh Jewish month of Tishri, corresponding to the months of September/October, the Feast of Tabernacles provided assurance to the Jewish nation of God’s imminent return to abide with His people. It was a celebration that prefigured the incarnation of the Lamb of God.
Highly symbolic, the feasts and festivals of Judaism help to find the connection between the faith of God’s chosen people, literal Israel, and that of His redeemed people, spiritual Israel. Whether spiritual Israel—Christians—observes the Jewish feasts again points out once again the importance of becoming acquainted with the sanctuary service. The sanctuary offered the shadow of what was to come. Jesus is the fulfillment of the shadow.
Are Christians required to observe the feast days of Israel? No.
The Pulpit Commentary on Leviticus (pp. 360-372) helps us understand the feasts for what they were, shadows of the coming Messiah.2 As yet, the realization of the equivalent to the Feast of Tabernacles (or Ingathering) has yet to occur, and it will not until the redeemed are gathered on the glorious day when “the Lord Himself will descend from heaven. . .” (I Thessalonians 4:16).
The Feast of Tabernacles was not pointing to the establishment of an earthly kingdom in Jerusalem. Rather, it symbolized the resurrection of the redeemed. When at last we celebrate the fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles, it will be our declaration that the journey on the road of redemption, with all of its challenges and sorrows, has been completed.
For now, we labor to build the kingdom as we disciple others. Our grand celebration will take place on resurrection morning, and as celebrations go, it’s one to die for.
1W. A. Elwell, and B. J.Beitzel, in Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988).
2Spence, H.D.M. & Exell, J.S., Editors (1985). The Pulpit Commentary. New York, NY: Funk and Wagnalls