|The Feasts and the Future
Tom McCall and Zola Levitt
Because the Rapture concerns only the New Testament church, Bible students have generally assumed that information about it is found only in the New Testament.
But, in a wonderful way, God wove the principle of this mighty culmination of the church age throughout the Old Testament as well. An imaginative Bible scholar of the first century, having only the Old Testament to study, might well have arrived at this principle by thinking about trumpets.
(The accompanying chart shows the feasts, their various dates, and the symbols they represent.)
The trumpet which sounds at the moment of the Rapture is the key to understanding a vast panorama of spiritual depth, beauty, and magnitude. The Person and work of Christ in all ages, and God's very plan for redemption, are fully explained through the complete understanding of this unique symbol.
We have to go all the way back to the Book of Genesis for the first reference to the trumpet and its use in a redemptive way.
Then, too, we all know the story of Joshua, the great Jewish general who frustrated the defense of walled Jericho with trumpets. But how many of us stop to realize that our Saviour's name is really Joshua?
We say His name in Greek today because the original English translators left it the way they found it in the Greek manuscripts--"Jesus." In Hebrew the name was "Yeshua" (Redeemer). Though it is the usual practice to render proper names just as they are found when translating an original, if we pronounce "Yeshua" (Jesus) in English we have "Joshua," and we suddenly see a beautiful Bible analogy (called a "type").
Joshua was the one who delivered his people to their promised land at the sound of the trumpet. Our Joshua will do the same for us!
The symbol of the trumpet urges us still further back, to the Book of Leviticus, where God established for His people the dramatic Feast of Trumpets (Leviticus 23:42). In Leviticus 23, God gave Moses a quick-reference guide to all the feasts which were to be established as "holy convocations" among the Jews for all time. The proper dates of each observance are given, as well as the important sacrifices and duties connected with each commemoration.
The feasts are described in other places in the Old Testament, but Leviticus 23 serves as a kind of handbook of the most vital elements of each feast. A believer could carry with him this one page of the Bible and he wouldn't miss any of these solemn convocations. God is practical.
The association between the trumpet of the Rapture and the trumpet of the Feast of Trumpets gives us an understanding of prophecy and redemption which are hard to grasp in any other way. In the feasts God made a kind of tapestry of future events, and in later actions He fulfilled these events.
The Rapture is the event which fulfills the Feast of Trumpets, as we shall see, and the position of this feast among the others tells us a great deal about our coming redemption.
The Feast of Trumpets comes fifth in the series of seven feasts, and it occurs on the first day of the seventh month (Tishrei), which falls in late August or September on our Julian calendar. The Jews call it Rosh Hashanah today--"the Head of the Months"--and they celebrate it as the beginning of the new year. They send new year's greetings on this day, though this tradition disagrees with the Jewish Torah (the first five books of the Bible). Leviticus 23:5 and Exodus 12 clearly establish Nisan, the month of Passover, as the first month of the year.
Many of the Jewish observances have been altered from their original requirements through the leavening of tradition and through the destruction of the second Temple in 70 A.D. The feasts are primarily oriented around sacrifices, and the Temple of God in Jerusalem was the only appropriate place to offer them (2 Chronicles 7:12). Because the sacrifices have not been possible for some 19 centuries, other kinds of observances have replaced them.
The ancient Jews went to considerable trouble to keep these feasts. A total of three pilgrimages to Jerusalem were required each year during the three festival seasons of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. The first and third seasons take in three feasts each, as we will see, but the devout Jew couldn't get by with less than three trips each year to observe all seven feasts at the Temple.
We get a picture of the international atmosphere of the widely traveled Jews at their worship in Acts 2. This electrifying chapter, which describes the coming of the Holy Spirit, lists some 16 nations from which the Jews had come to keep the Feast of Pentecost. The gift of tongues was a necessity for sharing the gospel on that particular scene. Carelessly called "Pentecost One" by some Christians, this feast had actually been celebrated for over 1000 years years by the hearty Jewish pilgrims!
But though the Jews were careful to observe their feasts, they tragically missed the fulfillments of these feasts in Christ. Let's look carefully at the seven feasts and their fulfillments, and we won't miss the Rapture when it comes!
1. THE FEAST OF PASSOVER
Passover was established during the tenth plague, in which Pharoah was finally persuaded to let the Jewish people leave Egypt. God's avenging angel killed the firstborn in each Egyptian household, but he passed over the homes of the Jews. The Jews had been instructed to mark their door-posts with the blood of a lamb ("without blemish, a male..."--Exodus 12:5). The blood of the lamb would deliver them from slavery. It was their mark of redemption.
This principle is also dramatically true in Christianity. The blood of Christ, our Lamb, delivers us from slavery to sin. Paul refers to the Lord as "Christ our Passover" (1 Corinthians 5:7).
It is remarkable that the Jewish nation missed this fulfillment of their feast. John the Baptist tried valiantly to communicate this truth about Christ when he introduced Him. John did not say "Behold the Son of God" or "Behold the Savior of the world;" rather, he said pointedly "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).
This must have held quite a bit of meaning for the Jews present with John as he baptized. But many later missed the point.
Significantly, the Lord was crucified exactly on Passover day, 14 Nisan. The night before, while Christ was celebrating the Passover meal with His disciples, He lifted the wine and said, "For this is my blood of the new testament [covenant], which is shed for many for the remission of sins."
Those Jews, the Lord's own disciples, surely understood the imagery there, but most Jews today continue to celebrate Passover in remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt. Though this was perfectly proper before the Messiah's coming, it is tragically inappropriate now that the feast has been fulfilled.
Passover, then, is the first of the feasts--the first one given and the first one fulfilled.
2. THE FEAST OF UNLEAVENED BREAD
The seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread begins on the day following Passover. Nisan, the first month (which contains the first three feasts), corresponds to late March or early April on our Julian caalendar.
God commanded the Jews to eat only pure, unleavened bread during this week, for leaven symbolized sin and evil. As sin corrupts and permeates the human condition, so leaven corrupts and permeates bread dough.
The Apostle Paul developed this symbol further when he urged Christians to "purge out the old leaven" by purifying themselves (1 Corinthians 5:7).
The Jews today conduct a ceremony of ridding their homes of leaven in order to sanctify the dwellings for Passover. The father of the house hides bread crumbs and cookie particles on bookshelves and window sills, and the children come running to find them. When they discover the hidden leaven they shout for father. He comes with a feather and a wooden spoon, sweeping the crumbs into the spoon with the feather and ceremonially throwing them out the window.
The fulfillment of this Biblical "type" in Christ emphasizes the Lord's body. At His Passover table He took the unleavened bread and called it His body, even as He afterward referred to the wine as His blood. The bread makes an excellent symbol of His body: it is striped, pierced, and pure. Because of the way the unleavened bread is prepared (without fat or any rising agent), it bears stripes from the grill, and it must be pierced to cook through.
During the actual Passover meal, the Jews perform a unique ceremony with the unleavened bread. They place three pieces of it in one little stack. Then they take out the middle piece (the Son in the triune Godhead) and break it. ("This is my body, broken for you"). Next, they wrap the broken piece in white linen and hide it or bury it.
They bring this broken piece out again and eat it while drinking the third cup of wine, the "Cup of Redemption."
Incredibly, most Jews have failed to see the gospel in this ceremony repeated every year on the anniversary of Christ's crucifixion!
God performed the exact fulfillment of this ceremony with the unleavened Bread of Life, giving to all of us the Cup of Redemption.
3. THE FEAST OF FIRST FRUITS
The feast of thanksgiving for a bountiful land occurs on Sunday ("the morrow after the Sabbath") during the Week of Unleavened Bread. The Israeli farmers were to bring the initial yield of their spring barley crop to Jerusalem, where a priest would wave these firstfruits before the House of the Lord.
This was most clearly fulfilled by Jesus, who was resurrected on the Sunday during the week of Unleavened Bread. Paul explains: "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive [resurrected]. But every man in his own order: Christ for the firstfruits, and afterwards they that are Christ's at His coming" (1 Corinthians 15:22,23).
The Jewish leaders have failed to notice that Jesus was raised on the Sunday following Passover (or they have assumed that this is a fabrication of the New Testament intended to give the story credence to the Jews). Christians call this day "Easter" rather than Fruitfruits and perhaps also miss the ultimate significance of the prophetic feast. It is not only that Christ was raised; we will all be raised, and so we celebrate! He was the firstfruits, but we will all follow in due time.
Again, however, this resurrection concerns only "they that are Christ's" (1 Corinthians 15:23).
The Jews do not celebrate Firstfruits at all anymore. Passover and Unleavened Bread have become one eight-day holiday, and the Sunday within this time span, despite all its Biblical significance, is not noted in any special way.
We might pause to realize a wonderful truth before going on to the remaining feasts. The feasts give us the Christian experience in chronological order.
First we had Passover, the blood sacrifice of Christ. Then we had Unleavened Bread, the celebration of His bodily sacrifice and the events connected with it during that final week of Christ's ministry. Then we had Firstfruits, celebrating both Christ's resurrection and ours to follow.
What would we expect next?
When Jesus was about to leave His disciples He promised them that they would not be left alone. The complex doctrines He had taught them would be refreshed in their memories, and their guidance through the difficult times ahead would be accomplished.
To do this the Lord was going to send the Comforter, the Holy Spirit.
4. THE FEAST OF PENTECOST
The Spirit came as Christ had promised, at the Feast of Pentecost. Pentecost occurred 50 days after Firstfruits on the Jewish calendar (usually in May or June). The disciples anxiously waited for this miracle. Christ had rejoined them for 40 days after His resurrection, but then He ascended to His Father. As He departed He instructed them to go to Jerusalem and await the fulfillment of His promise.
Sure enough, after ten days, when the Day of Pentecost was "fully come," the Holy Spirit came upon the worshippers at the Temple.
The deeper significance of this miracle is that it too fulfilled an Old Testament feast. The Spirit did not come on just any day, but on Pentecost, the beginning of the fullest harvest season. God's great harvest, the church age, was getting underway!
It is fascinating to realize that exactly 3000 people were saved on that remarkable day when the Spirit was given, while exactly 3000 people died on the day the Law was given on Mount Sinai! Truly, "the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Corinthians 3:6)! Interestingly, in modern Judaism the Rabbis teach that Pentecost, or Shevuoth ("a week of weeks," or seven weeks) marks the day when Moses received the Law on the Mount. The Scriptures do indicate that this occurred in the third month (Exodus 19:1), after the exodus from Egypt (Nisan 14, of course), but the exact date is not given.
In the old observance of the feast, the priest was to wave two leavened loaves (Leviticus 23:17). These symbolize the Jew and Gentile together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:6).
So Pentecost, the fourth feast, the "birthday" of both the Law and the Spirit, starts the church age, God's mighty harvest of human souls.
How does this period end? Because crops are planted in the spring and gathered in the fall, we should find a great harvest being brought in at the end of the age. And, true to our chronological schedule, the next feast symbolizes the Rapture of the believers!
5. THE FEAST OF TRUMPETS
On the first day of the seventh month (late August or September on our calendar) was scheduled the Feast of Trumpets. This harvest-time feast is now clearly seen to represent the Rapture--the culmination of the church age, the final gathering of souls to God.
We now see the position of the Feast of Trumpets on God's calendar, and the reason why a trumpet sounds at the Rapture. God's placing of symbols is very beautiful indeed!
We will discuss the details of this thrilling feast in the next chapter and its full implications through the rest of the book, but we should point out here that in one sense the trumpet signals the beginning of the end. In unique and separate ways the trumpet will culminate God's plans for both the Jews and the church.
The Feast of Trumpets symbolizes "regathering" for both the church and the Jewish nation. The Rapture will culminate the redemption of the church, of course. But the trumpet will also regather the Jews to their land. Many years ago Isaiah heard God's trumpet (Isaiah 27:12,13) and foresaw a great homecoming of exiled Jews. More on that later.
The "beginning-of-the-end" aspect of the trumpet is expressed by the nature of the next feast, the solemn Day of Atonement. On this day the Jew made a special appeal for forgiveness, and by means of extraordinary effort he attempted to gain redemption.
6. THE DAY OF ATONEMENT
This feast, following Trumpets by just ten days, represented the most solemn day on the ancient Jewish calendar--and it still does. On this day and this day alone, the High Priest of Israel, and he alone, would enter the Most Holy place of the sanctuary of the Lord. In this chamber where the Ark of the Covenant was placed, the High Priest would seek atonement (covering) for the sins of all Israel.
He would enter first with the blood of a bull (with which he would atone for his own sin) and then with the blood of a goat (for the national sin of Israel). He would apply the blood to the mercy seat of the Ark.
It was a moment of such tension and drama that the Jewish people down through the ages feared that the High Priest could possibly die in the chamber. For this reason a rope was tied to his leg, so that if he didn't appear in due time he could be pulled out! No one except the High Priest was authorized to enter the Most Holy Place, but the dead body could not be permitted to defile the chamber.
Today the Jews have no Most Holy Place--in fact, no Temple at all--but they continue the tradition of Atonement with a long day of fasting and prayer. The tragedy is that, having spent the day in confession (chatanu, chatanu--"we have sinned, we have sinned"), the Jew gains no assurance of redemption at all.
The fulfillment of this feast for believers obviously lies in the finished work of Christ, through which everyone may claim permanent redemption. The chosen people will not be left out--the Day of Atonement will be fulfilled for "all Israel" on the coming occasion of the national atonement in the promised land.
Paul informs us that when the Deliverer (the Messiah, Christ) returns to Zion, "all Israel will be saved" (Romans 11:26). Zechariah proclaims a coming day when Israel will mourn in national repentance and will finally accept her Messiah: "They shall look upon Me, whom they have pierced" (Zechariah 12:10). It may well be that the entire Jewish nation will urgently recite the penitential message of Isaiah 53, confessing their tragic error of rejecting Jesus the Messiah when He came to die for their sins. At that time they will realize a true Day of Atonement. Then will be opened a "fountain of cleansing" for the Jews. (Zechariah 13:1).
This will occur, according to the Biblical context, when Jesus returns after the Tribulation period and establishes His kingdom on the earth. This follows the Rapture, of course, and is in keeping with our chronology.
All Jews will then experience the Christian Day of Atonement--the day on which the believer receives Christ and stands before his Creator as a forgiven man.
7. THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES
We would expect by this time, seeing the logic of the chronological order of the feasts, for the final feast to symbolize the Millennium, that 1000-year rule of Christ on earth which follows the other events we have discussed so far. And it does indeed.
The Feast of Tabernacles takes us back to the times of the Israelites in the wilderness (Leviticus 23:42,43), when they lived in makeshift shelters or "booths." This is the feast of Succoth (tabernacles), in which the Almighty wished the Jews to remember how He took care of them in inhospitable surroundings. This feast also looks forward to the coming kingdom as pictured by Zechariah (14:16-19).
The orthodox Jews believe in the Messianic implications of the Feast of Tabernacles. They build little shelters from which hang fruit and nuts, and some actually sleep in the "tabernacles" for the duration of the eight-day feast. They feel that this feast is a harbinger of the peace and rest that will come to Israel and the world in the "days of Messiah," when "every man will dwell under his own vine and fig tree" (Micah 4:4).
This is fulfilled in the Christian believer, of course. This feast will clearly be fulfilled during Christ's coming reign on earth, when everyone "shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles (Zechariah 14:16). The prophet adds a bit of admonishment to the nations, noting that those who fail to get to Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles will have no rain. Egypt is singled out as an example of those who might omit this feast in the coming Kingdom.
That time will see quite a different earthly society from what we see today. The Christian nation of Israel will finally take its place as the "head of the nations," and the church, the Bride of Christ, will reign with the Lord. At that time the meek will truly have "inherited the earth" (Matthew 5:5). In those days "the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9).
OUR POSITION ON THE TIMETABLE
There were no more feasts in the Law, and no need for any more. God gave these symbolic feasts for the entire Christian chronology in sequential order. The feasts take us from Christ to Christ--from His sacrifice (Passover) to His reign (Tabernacles); from the Lamb to the Lion.
The very spacing of the feasts throughout the year displays God's redemptive program for us. The first three feasts come in rapid succession (Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits), showing the sacrifice, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Then there is a pause until the Holy Spirit comes (Pentecost). Then follows an extended pause for the church age (the harvest). Then the Rapture, the granting of atonement, and the establishment of the kingdom (Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles) com again in rapid succession to finish the timetable.
In a further divine symbol, God illustrates His design of the seven-day week--six feasts work, the seventh rest.
Where are we on this timetable of God?
Obviously, we stand somewhere between the coming of the Spirit and the Rapture, in that long summer between Pentecost and Tabernacles.
Jesus Himself alluded to our position in the sequence of feasts when He admonished us to look to the harvest period: "Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, for they are white already to harvest" (John 4:35).
Many Bible students believe that the harvest is almost over. The signs of "the end" as given in various Scriptural teachings, notably those of Jesus in Matthew 24, seem to be upon us today. It is a mistake to try to "schedule" the Rapture, to "pick a day." On the other hand, we would be remiss to fail to notice the signs of our times, or that the fields lie white and ready to harvest.
The Pentecostal harvest goes on, with the laborers working the fields and the unbelievers moving the world toward its ultimate tribulation. As the first four feasts were each fulfilled according to their special symbols, so will be the last three. As suddenly as the Spirit came to the Jews at that dramatic Pentcost after the Lord's ascension, just as suddenly will Jesus return for His own.
At the sound of the trumpet.
(From Raptured, by Thomas S. McCall and Zola Levitt, by permission from Zola Levitt Ministries, Inc.)