Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.
Fact About Christ from page 22: Christ is the reality, the real substance, of all the festivals
…festival… newmoon… Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come but the substance belongs to Christ– Colossians 2:16-17
“Let my people go!” So Moses entreated Pharaoh on behalf of the children of Israel. Pharaoh’s continual refusals, the ten plagues, and the resulting Exodus from Egypt are recognizable stories to many. Yet, few know Moses’s full request, first seen in Exodus 5:1, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’”
A feast to Jehovah! Not only was God delivering His people out from oppression and forced labor under the hand of the Egyptians, He desired them to enter into a life full of enjoyment and rest, one of feasting together before the Lord as a holy people. Later, in chapter 23 of the book of Leviticus, God instructs Moses about the festivals the Israelites were commanded to observe while they live in the land of Canaan. These festivals were not simply holidays as we celebrate them today, at home with our families, but they were pilgrim feasts, where the people traveled to the appointed place where they could appear before the Lord together. The verses below tell us more about the purpose and meaning of this practice given by the Lord. (I also recommend reading all of Leviticus 23).
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, These are the appointed feasts of the Lord that you shall proclaim as holy convocations; they are my appointed feasts.
“Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the Lord in all your dwelling places.
“These are the appointed feasts of the Lord, the holy convocations, which you shall proclaim at the time appointed for them. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight, is the Lord’s Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread.– Leviticus 23:1-6
Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths. They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed.– Deuteronomy 16:16
The seven feasts (or eight, if you include the Sabbath) listed in Leviticus 23 are the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Firstfruits, the Feast of Pentecost, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Booths. The Sabbath is introduced to the Israelites first and is observed weekly, distinguishing it from the other feasts. Yet, the Sabbath comes first—this shows that it’s character, that of solemn rest, is a common feature and aim for all the festivals.
From Deuteronomy, we see another command regarding these festivals. Three times a year, all the males of Israel were to gather before Jehovah “at the place that He will choose.” And so we see that these seven feasts were grouped. In the first month of the year, they would travel and stay to celebrate the Passover, Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Feast of Firstfruits. In the third month, there was the Feast of Pentecost. Finally, in the seventh month, there was the Feast of Trumpets on the first day, which did not require travel, and the Day of Atonement on the tenth, performed by the high priest alone. But all the people would again go up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Booths, starting on the fifteenth day and held for seven days.
These feasts were holy convocations, days and weeks of rest. Yet “rest” doesn’t always mean “convenient.” Hebrews 4:11 says, “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest.” It was not up to the Israelites to decide where to hold these feasts. Before entering the good land, God was very clear to the Israelites—there would be a special, designated place chosen by God “to make His name to dwell there (see Deut. 12:11). It didn’t matter if you lived close or far, you had to travel to Jerusalem for these feasts. For these, no one could say, “I think I’d like to worship the Lord in my home.” No! That was not where God’s name dwelt!
Furthermore, no man was to “appear before the Lord empty-handed.” As the people travelled, they brought their grain and their flocks and their freewill offerings. When it came time for the feast, it didn’t matter if the harvest was unfinished, or if a business deal was almost sealed, or if there was a dispute between you and another in the same city. All were to go to Jerusalem. A price had to be paid.
Yet for those with a heart for the Lord’s name, this was a joyful thing. Psalm 122 was “a song for those who go up to Jerusalem to worship the Lord,” and begins with “I was very glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go up to the house of the Lord.’” Oh, to be before the Lord, hands full from what He has blessed you with, in the midst of all the people of God, with feasting and rest in His presence!—this was a festival of Jehovah.
What does the New Testament say about it?
These feasts can be looked at as prophetic, where each feast has a specific fulfillment in time. (Ex. The Lord’s crucifixion, resurrection, and the pouring out of the Spirit corresponding to Passover, Firstfruits, and Pentecost. Click here for a diagram.) However, this article series will focus on looking at these festivals in light of a believer’s experience of Christ.
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.– Colossians 2:16-17
In Colossians, the festivals, new moons, and Sabbaths that were celebrated by the Jews are explained as shadows of the things to come, with the substance, the reality, belonging to Christ. Imagine a figure standing on a faraway hill with the sun behind it. You are unable to see the details of the figure by looking at it directly, but you can see the shadow that it casts. Through examining these shadows, you can form a rough idea of different features of this figure, but it is not until you see what was casting the shadow that what you see can be fully explained.
Thus, the festivals are a shadow, but the body casting that shadow, the body with the real substance, is Christ. Jesus is the Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). But in the Old Testament, this reality was seen only in shadows. After sinning, Adam and Eve were clothed with animal skins (Gen. 3:21). A ram was provided in place of Isaac. The Israelites were given the Passover lamb.
So what does this picture say about Christ?
When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.– Colossians 3:4
When we say, “Christ is our life,” these festivals are a good picture. Every Israelite must organize the rhythms of their life around the festivals. They made demands on your living, your work, your house, your travel, even your emotions. Some were exceedingly joyful! Others required solemn rest, and one even called for mourning and self-affliction for sin.
But Christ is the reality of the festivals. As New Testament believers, we are no longer required to observe Sabbaths, new moons, and festivals. They had the shadow, but we have the reality! If then we have Christ, then how much more shall our lives, our schedules, our emotions, even our joy and our rest be governed by the life of this One living in us?
What does this mean for me as a Christian?
There can be no “Sunday-morning Christian.” Just as all Jewish men must appear before the Lord for those feasts, Christ as the reality of the festivals demands that every aspect of our life and living be presented before the Lord. Christ is not limited to meetings, doctrines, or buildings. Our travel? Christ’s. Our house? Christ’s. Our emotions? Joy? Rest? All are under Christ and for Christ.
Have any inspirations or questions about the content of the article? Or do you just want to say hello and introduce yourself? We’d love to hear from all our readers! Leave a comment or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the title of this post in the subject line. If you are burning to engage with us, but don’t know what to say, here are some questions that could be a help:
- Before the children of Israel entered into Canaan, the Lord repeated, “the place that the Lord will choose, to make his name dwell there” many times. Oftentimes when it comes to our local church, we like our own choice of who and where we meet. Yet, have you ever asked the Lord, “is there a place You have chosen?” (Listen to “The Ground of the Church” for a brother’s further explanation of this in New Testament practice.)
- Consider the phrase, “Christ who is your life,” in context of your own daily living. In what area of your daily, weekly, or even yearly routine have you not allowed Christ to be your life?
- Despite ordaining the festivals, God was not shy to pronounce judgment on them when the Israelites celebrated them in hypocrisy. In Amos 5:21, He says, “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.” God cared about the inward reality of His people’s hearts rather than the outward form of worship and honor. “Seek me and live” (Amos 5:4b), the Lord cried through the prophet Amos. Do you allow an outward display of faithfulness and piety to cover a heart that is not seeking after God?