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  • « The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament | Main | John's Letter to Timothy »

    Images of the Savior (33 -- The Holy Feasts of Israel)

    And Yahweh spoke unto Moses, saying, “Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, 'These are the appointed feasts of Yahweh which you shall proclaim as my holy convocations; they are my appointed feasts'”. – Leviticus 23:1-2

    In many ways and at many different places in the book of Leviticus, we have encountered the theme of holiness to the Lord as that one central motif which binds everything together, and gives all the diverse regulations a unity and singularity of purpose: in the tabernacle, the children of Israel had a holy place, where they might meet with their holy God; in the laws of morality and cleanness, they were shown the way to be set apart from sin and the world as a holy people, among whom the holy God might dwell; in the laws concerning the sacrifices and the priesthood, they were given a way to be cleansed and made holy in spite of all their failures to follow God's Law, so that the tabernacle might remain a holy place, and they might continue to be a holy people living in the presence of the holy God. Of course, all this emphasis on holiness led the children of Israel straight to their promised Messiah, who would be the true tabernacle, bringing the very presence of the holy God down to men; and also the true Sacrifice, offered up to make men holy, the true Priest, bringing them out from the world of sin and uncleanness, the true Law-keeper, able always to stand in the thrice-holy presence of God, and so on. In light of this history, it should come as no surprise that the next portion of Leviticus, in which the sacred feasts of Yahweh are detailed, is likewise underscored by the need for holiness, and designed to lead to Christ the Savior: just as the people of Israel were to be a holy nation; just as the tabernacle was to be a holy place; and just as all the worship rituals were to be holy activities; so the appointed feasts were to be holy times. And furthermore, even as all the elements preceding the discussion of these feasts pointed ahead to a better and more lasting fulfillment in the days of the Messiah, so it was with the feasts too: just as, when the Messiah came, he would make his people utterly holy, cleansing their conscience indeed (Hebrews 10:9-14); and just as he would make the whole world their holy place, ensuring its entire recreation as a world where righteousness dwells (John 4:21-24; 2 Peter 3:13); so also would he make all the time of his people holy time, and would ensure an eternity set apart for them to enjoy his holy presence (Hebrews 4:9-11).

    So let us give a brief overview of the timing and character of these holy feasts, and show how specifically they pointed to the Savior's work of sanctifying his people for all time. From a brief survey of Leviticus chapter twenty-three we may discover seven distinct festivals, which would require three annual trips to Jerusalem for their observance. The first of these trips would be made in the first month, in order to the celebration of the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the waving of the sheaf of Firstfruits on the eighth day of the festival, that is, on Sunday following the Passover. The second trip would be required on the day following a week of weeks after the completion of the Passover celebration; that is, on the Sunday after seven full weeks, or precisely fifty days later. Thus, it is called here the Feast of Weeks, but in the New Testament, it is called Pentecost, which signifies “fifty days”. Finally, the third trip would be required in the seventh month, which was set apart as a holy month even as the seventh day was set apart as a holy Sabbath. In this month would be three great observances: first, the Feast of Trumpets, on the first day of the month, when memorial blasts were given; this feast came to be observed as Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Then, on the tenth of the month would be the Day of Atonement, which was described in much greater detail in chapter sixteen of Leviticus. And finally, on the fifteenth day of the Month, would begin the celebration of the Feast of Booths, or Tabernacles, which is also called the Feast of Ingathering (Exodus 23:16; 34:22).

    Now, let us mention what we may learn of Christ from the first of these trips, in which the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Firstfruits was celebrated. We have already noted in much more detail the particulars of the Passover, in our discussion of its first observance, when God delivered his people from Egypt; so we will only mention in passing the major heads of significance, and then comment more substantially on the Firstfruits, which we have not yet mentioned anywhere. It is most evident, in the Passover celebration, that the Passover Lamb, who was led out on the tenth of the month, and then slaughtered and feasted upon on the fourteenth day of the month, was a surpassing type of the Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), who was brought into Jerusalem in his triumphal entry on the tenth day of the month, and then, on Good Friday, he was slaughtered for his people, so that they might feast upon his body and his blood, and so be given new life. Thus did he exchange the Lord's Passover for that which Paul later calls the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:20), in which he offers his blood of the New Covenant, and his body, which was broken for sinners, and yet of which a bone was not broken (John 19:33-36; cf. also Exodus 12:46), to nourish the faith of his people (see Matthew 26:17-30). And it is likewise evident that the Feast of Unleavened bread, which took place the day afterward, and in which the Israelites ate their unleavened bread of affliction, to remember the affliction in which they made that first bread, and the haste in which they were brought out from Egypt, taking none of the old leaven of that land with them, is another type of the work of Christ: for on Good Friday, in much affliction, he gave up his body to be broken so that his people might eat of him in faith, and so be given strength for their journey out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. In this way, we see that all the affliction was our Lord's, and all the sustenance was our own. The bread that was made with tears and affliction became the strength of our lives and the joy of our souls, and brought us out from the wickedness and affliction of the world, and into the rest of our God. Thus does the Apostle say that, if we have feasted upon Christ our Passover, then we must purge out the old leaven of malice and evil: we have left all that behind in the land of our affliction, and we are now a a pure and unleavened loaf in the Lord (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).

    But in our earlier discussion of the Passover, we made no mention of the celebration that is described here, in verses nine through fourteen. On this occasion, on the Sunday following the Passover, a single sheaf was waved as an offering before the Lord, which was called the Sheaf of Firstfruits. This sheaf was given in pledge and earnest of the offering of firstfruits which would be made fifty days later, on the Day of Pentecost, at the beginning of the harvest time. This waving of the Sheaf of Firstfruits, therefore, must be understood in conjunction with the celebration of Pentecost; for the Sheaf is the guarantee of Pentecost, and Pentecost is the culmination and consequent of the Sheaf.

    Now, we can see how this waving of the Firstfruits is likewise a type most exactly fulfilled in Christ: for after he had offered himself up as our Passover Lamb, and after he had broken his body in affliction to become our unleavened bread, on Sunday, the day following the Sabbath, he arose from the dead, and was thereby waved, as it were, before God, in token and proof of his triumph; the resurrection vindicated his claim to be God's Son, and evinced and sealed God's favor with him, and his acceptance of his sacrificial work (see Romans 1:1-4; Acts 13:29-37). Thus it is, that he is called the firstborn from the dead (Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5; Romans 8:29), and the firstfruits of them that had fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:20).

    But not only is Christ the Firsfruits of the resurrection; he is also the Seal and Guarantor of the resurrection of all his people. Just as the Sheaf of Firstfruits guaranteed and anticipated the firsfruits of Pentecost, so Jesus' resurrection from the dead guaranteed the resurrection of us all (Romans 6:4-8; 8:29; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22); and so it is, as well, that even as Jesus is called the Firstfruits, so we are also called a kind of firstfruits (James 1:18; Revelation 14:4), and an assembly of firstborn (Hebrews 12:23). And then, the fulfillment of this typical Feast of Weeks is made surpassingly clear in the second chapter of Acts, which declares that only then had Pentecost fully come (Acts 2:1); and on that occasion, in consequence of Christ's triumph and resurrection, the harvest of souls is begun through the outpouring of the Spirit, and the three thousand that heard Peter's message become the firstfruits of the Kingdom.

    So much for the festivals of the Spring; but we have still to examine the festivals of the Autumn, those three great convocations which took place in the seventh month of the year. The first of these, as we already observed, was the Feast of Trumpets, appropriately thought of as the New Year, since it came indeed with the pronouncement of a new era of redemptive history, called the Year of the Lord's favor (Isaiah 61:2). Now, just as Christ became the Firstfruits from the dead, fulfilling the waving of the Sheaf; and just as the Day of Pentecost proved to be the true fulfillment of the Feast of Weeks, beginning the harvest of souls; so now the Feast of Trumpets signifies the trumpeting of the Gospel message which should follow this first influx, and continue to gather in the harvest until the Kingdom should spread across the world (for which reason it is also called the Feast of Ingathering in Exodus 23:16). The blowing of trumpets was sometimes intended as a memorial of God's covenant works (e.g. Leviticus 23:24; Numbers 10:10), a summons and a warning against impending calamity (e.g. Numbers 10:9; Judges 7:19-22; Ezekiel 33:1-6), and also an announcement of liberty (e.g. Leviticus 25:9-10); and so today the heralds of the Gospel proclaim that Jesus is Lord, call out a warning against the coming judgment, but then rejoice to announce the great work of redemption that Christ has accomplished, to save those who flee to him from the wrath to come (see, for example, Acts 2:32-40; 5:29-32; 17:29-31; 1 Thessalonians 1:8-10). The trumpets of God's evangelists are continuing to sound across the earth, but the ultimate fulfillment of this Feast will not come until the seventh and final trumpet is sounded, and the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ (Revelation 11:15). Ah Lord, haste the day!

    Following is another description of the Day of Atonement, which is the most solemn and central day of the year, and which is most exactly and admirably fulfilled in the work of Christ, as we have before observed in some detail. And then, in consequence of this great Day of Atonement, comes the last great Feast, that of Booths, or Tabernacles. This Feast was one of the most joyful and celebratory of them all, and by the time of Christ had become an elaborate affair, with Temple-lighting and water-pouring ceremonies, symbolizing the work of the Messiah, who would pour out his life-giving Spirit on all flesh. In the seventh chapter of John, Christ Jesus proves himself to be the true fulfillment of all these ceremonies, as we noticed very particularly in our discussion of that account; so, passing over all of those details, we will only observe very generally that this Feast in one sense looked backward, to the day when God redeemed his people from Egypt, so that they had to live in crudely constructed booths on their journey through the wilderness; but it also looked forward to when all the festive types would be completed, and the culmination of all would be God's own tabernacling among his people, to dwell in their midst, and be their God. Of course, Jesus is also the fulfillment of this Feast in that he took on flesh in order to tabernacle among his people (John 1:14); but there also awaits another, culminative fulfillment, when it will be announced, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he shall tabernacle with them, and they shall be his people, and he shall be God with them, their God; and he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes, and their shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain any longer, because the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4). So then, we too have both a backward- and a forward-looking manner of remembering this last great feast: we look back to Jesus' incarnation, his taking on flesh so that he might dwell among us; and then we press on through the wilderness of this world, sojourning as it were in tents and booths, with our eyes turned full to the skies in anticipation of the blessed appearing of our great God and Savior, who will return again, and tabernacle among us forevermore. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

    Posted by Nathan on November 21, 2008 10:30 AM

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