When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, He also commanded that the Israelites keep three yearly festivals in His honor (Exodus 23:14). These “feasts” were times for the people of Israel to come together to worship God, to gather before Him and present offerings of thanks. Now, under the Gospel, all believers can take part. When we keep the feasts as Christians, we celebrate Jesus’ fulfillment of the Old Testament Law, rejoice in the gift of the Holy Spirit, and look forward to scriptural promises yet to be fulfilled. For Christians who have experienced the wonder and power of the Gospel, the feasts are even more joyful and glorious than in olden times.
The three feasts of Exodus 23:14 are the Feast of Passover, set up to commemorate God’s mighty salvation of Israel from their slavery in Egypt; the Feast of Pentecost, originally a time to celebrate the first-fruits of the wheat harvest; and the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths), a time of worship and thanksgiving after the harvest at the end of the year.
Under the Gospel, each of these feasts takes on a new significance. Each points to an aspect of the Gospel. There is great blessing in keeping the feasts under the Gospel—an added joy and glory in remembering Jesus. There is an element of joyful anticipation, too: When Jesus returns to reign as King over the whole earth, all nations will participate in keeping the feasts in Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:16).
The Feast of Passover
When God sent Moses to Egypt to tell Pharaoh to let His people go, He brought ten plagues upon Egypt as punishment when Pharaoh would not comply. The last and most devastating of these was the death of the firstborn of every family. However, God spared (passed over) the home of any family who had sacrificed a lamb and put its blood upon the lintel of the house. The morning after the slaying of the firstborns, Pharaoh finally relented, and let the children of Israel leave Egypt and slavery. It was a great salvation indeed, and God directed that the occasion be commemorated—kept as a memorial—forever (Exodus 12:1-51).
This event foreshadowed the coming of the Lamb of God, Jesus. Because of Jesus’ atoning death during the Feast of Passover, God’s wrath “passes over” the believer and ushers him from the slavery of sin into the kingdom of God. Peter writes, “You were ransomed…with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (I Peter 1:18-19). Paul states it this way: “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (I Corinthians 5:7). When John the Baptist first announced Christ, he did so with these words: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
In keeping the Feast of Passover, we remember Jesus’ perfect sacrifice and worship Him for His great deliverance.
The Feast of Pentecost
While this feast was initially a time of rejoicing over the wheat harvest (Exodus 34:22), as Christians we celebrate it as a commemoration of the time that the Holy Spirit came upon the 120 people gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem after Jesus ascended into Heaven (Acts 2:1-4). The Bible tells us that the sound of a rushing wind filled the air, and tongues of fire appeared on each one there. “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” This was the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that He would send a comforter.
As we keep the Feast of Pentecost we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit, and we honor His work in our own lives and all over the world. We also look ahead to the time when God’s promise through the prophet Joel is fulfilled in the last days: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh” (Joel 2:28).
The Feast of Tabernacles
The Feast of Tabernacles was a time of thanksgiving to God for the harvest at year’s end (Leviticus 23:39-43). Under the Gospel, we keep it as a time in which we look ahead to, and believe God for, the great harvest of souls: the evangelization of the world. In a sense, this Feast of Harvest is what the Feast of Passover (celebrating the sacrifice of Jesus) and the Feast of Pentecost (celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit) are ultimately pointing toward. As we keep this feast we pray for the salvation of souls all over the world as a part of that greatest harvest.
Joyful Feast Keeping
God gave specific instructions in how and when to keep the feasts. One of these was a command that all the men appear before God in the place of His choosing (Deuteronomy 16:16), with the understanding that men, women, and children were all welcome to take part in the celebration (Deuteronomy 16:14). And celebration it was to be! One of God’s instructions was that the feasts were to be kept joyfully (Deuteronomy 16:15). As we gather with other believers to worship God, we have a unique opportunity to meet with Him apart from the business of everyday life. In doing so, in honoring Him, listening to His word, and enjoying fellowship with His people, we find refreshment and joy in His presence.