It has been said that ‘until you have made a study of the three sevens, you will never know where you are in the dispensational ways of God’. The three sevens referred to are the feasts of Jehovah in Leviticus 23, the parables of the kingdom in Matthew 13 and the addresses to the assemblies in Revelation 2 and 3.
Thus it is disturbing to note how little ministry is given today on any of these subjects—a fact which goes some way to explain the general lack of “an outline of sound words” (2 Tim. 1: 13) among God’s people. Time was when Bible teachers took up ‘The feasts of the Lord’ on a frequent basis, but now such ministry is rare. The reasons for this change are many, but the fact remains that new converts are not getting the start in the study of the Holy Scriptures that they both deserve and need.
There are seven set feasts of Jehovah—seven being, in Scripture, the number of completion. Thus if the addresses to the seven assemblies set out the complete spiritual history of Christendom, the seven feasts of Jehovah give us the ways of God with Israel from Christ’s first coming to His second coming and kingdom. Like most sevens in Scripture, the seven feasts can be divided into four and three—four feasts which picture events before the testimony to the risen and glorified Christ was rejected by the nation and three feasts which speak of Israel’s final restoration.
Now it is true that there are actually eight feasts in Leviticus 23 and not seven. The sabbath, however, while linked to the seven other feasts, is clearly set apart from them by the fact that Moses speaks of it first, before introducing what he describes in verse 4 as the “set feasts of Jehovah”. Furthermore, the sabbath was a weekly feast while the seven feasts were all annual—the year being used to picture the span of the history in view.
The first set feast described in Leviticus 23 is the passover (see v5), and is the foundation of all that follows. The month in which it was inaugurated was to be to Israel “the beginning of months” (Exod. 12: 2): God begins with the death of Christ, and so must we. Each of us must know in our hearts that “our passover, Christ, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5: 7). How solemn then that at the very time of “[the] preparation of the passover” when Pilate proclaimed “to the Jews, Behold your king! … they cried out, Take [him] away, take [him] away, crucify him” (John 19: 14, 15)! The Jews had the feast, but they would not have the One of whom that feast spoke!
Now the blood of the passover lamb was only applied to the door–posts once and so “Christ indeed has once suffered for sins, [the] just for [the] unjust, that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3: 18). However, though the passover itself was not repeated, the feast associated with it was to be celebrated “throughout your generations … for ever” (Exod. 12: 14). In the same way, neither should we ever forget the One who loved us and gave Himself for us (see Gal. 2: 20).
No details of the passover are given in Leviticus 23. The knowledge of the feast is assumed—without this knowledge, the reader will not understand anything of what follows. Thus unless the death of Christ is personally appropriated and understood there can be no access into the things “which God has prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor. 2: 9). The Israelite fresh out of Egypt would see a world of meaning in that simple word passover. So it should be with the Christian—and so it should have been with the Jew in the time of the Lord’s sojourn here.
The Feast of Unleavened Bread
That there needs to be a spiritual answer on our part to what God has done at Calvary is seen in the closeness in timing between the passover and the feast of unleavened bread (which began a day later—see Lev. 23: 5, 6). Paul also brings the two together in 1 Cor. 5: “For also our passover, Christ, has been sacrificed; so that let us celebrate the feast … with unleavened [bread] of sincerity and truth” (vs. 7, 8). Thus the feast of unleavened bread speaks of genuine communion with the “Lord’s table” (1 Cor. 10: 21)—the fellowship centred on Christ’s death. Hence “The bread which we break, is it not [the] communion of the body of the Christ?” (v16).
Twice we read “no manner of servile work shall ye do” (Lev. 23: 7, 8)—utter devotion was required, there were to be no distractions in the observation of this “feast … to Jehovah” (v6, my emphasis). Furthermore, “on the very first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses” (Exod. 12: 15). Leaven speaks of evil—a holy walk is essential if there is to be communion and conformity with the Lord’s death. Thus for seven days the children of Israel were to “eat unleavened bread” (Lev. 23: 6)—they were to be built up by that which in picture speaks of Christ. You will not find a “holy convocation” (v8, my emphasis) like this by the Jews in the Gospels. With them, there was no communion with the mind of God, no moral answer in their walk to His heart, and no appetite for His things—the “feasts of Jehovah” (Lev. 23: 4) had truly become the feasts of the Jews (see John 5: 1; 6: 4; 7: 2). Not only were they “gathered together” (Luke 22: 66) to destroy Christ, but they were riddled with the “leaven of malice and wickedness” (1 Cor. 5: 8).
The Feast of First-fruits
It is not difficult to see from Lev. 23: 9–14 that this feast is particularly about the Lord. We see His perfect life in the oblation of “two tenths of fine flour mingled with oil, an offering by fire to Jehovah for a sweet odour” (v13)—a life in which His Father had immeasurable delight, a life of perfect evenness and consistency (with none of the roughness and flaws that mark every other man), and a life lived in the power of the Spirit. We see also the perfection of His sacrifice in the “he–lamb without blemish, a yearling, for a burnt–offering to Jehovah” (v12)—the One given over to death was in every way perfect, a sacrifice with which God was wholly satisfied. But did all that gave pleasure to God come to an end on the cross? By no means, for “now Christ is raised from among [the] dead, first–fruits of those fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15: 20, my emphasis)—and that resurrection was typified in the feast by “the sheaf of the first–fruits of your harvest” (Lev. 23: 10). Offered up with that sheaf were both the oblation and the burnt offering (all that was pleasurable to God in Christ’s life and death). How then could God not raise Him? God’s own glory demanded it: “Christ has been raised up from among [the] dead by the glory of the Father” (Rom. 6: 4). Yet this is not all: if God has accepted Christ, then that means that I too can be accepted in Him. Thus the priest was to “wave the sheaf before Jehovah, to be accepted for you” (Lev. 23: 11).
Furthermore, if Christ is the first–fruits of resurrection, then there must be others: “but each in his own rank: [the] first–fruits, Christ; then those that are the Christ’s at his coming” (1 Cor. 15: 23). What of the Jewish nation then—did they believe when the testimony to a risen and glorified Lord rang out and so enter the company of “those that are the Christ’s”? Sadly, no. Just as the Jew had been found wanting with respect to the two previous feasts, so he has missed the mark in his response to the resurrection. The concocted story that the Lord’s disciples stole His body away is “current among the Jews until this day” (Matt. 28: 15), and Stephen’s testimony to the risen and glorified Christ (see Acts 7: 56) was rejected for they “hated him, and sent an embassy after him, saying, We will not that this [man] should reign over us” (Luke 19: 14).
The Feast of Weeks
The feast of weeks refers to the fact that it was held seven weeks after the feast of first fruits (or, more exactly, fifty days—hence its Greek name, pentecost). Now if the feast of first fruits was pre–eminently about Christ, the feast of weeks focuses on believers. We know this because the oblation now offered was to be baked with leaven (see Lev. 23: 17), whereas in the previous oblation there was none. Leaven, as already noted, speaks of evil, and therefore the oblation in the feast of weeks is a type of the believer, who, unlike the Lord, has a sinful nature. Furthermore, we no longer have simply a sheaf as in the feast of first-fruits, but loaves (see v17)—the grains have been made into a whole (speaking of individual believers brought together in a new company by the Spirit of God—see Acts 2: 1-4). Why then two loaves? Certainly together they make up one oblation, but nonetheless a distinction remains. I would suggest that the two loaves represent Jew and Gentile together and yet kept distinct in the early Church. This was quite in accord with the blessing promised to the Gentile in the OT by virtue of his association with the Jew (Is. 2: 2; 49: 6 etc.), but it is not really the truth of the one body revealed later through Paul in which “there is no Jew nor Greek” (Gal. 3: 28). In fact, despite their own Scriptures, the Jew was not even prepared to accept any blessing for the Gentiles—in Acts 22 they heard Paul’s defence until he recounted how God had said He would send him to the nations (see v21).
Some think that Lev. 23: 22 refers to the Gentiles entering into blessing along with Israel in the Church: “the gleaning of thy harvest shalt thou not gather: thou shalt leave them unto the poor and to the stranger”. However, Scripture does not say that the nations will enter into Christian blessings on the coat–tails of the Jew. This would contradict the truth of the mystery: “that [they who are of] the nations should be joint heirs, and a joint body, and joint partakers of [his] promise in Christ Jesus by the glad tidings” (Eph. 3: 6, my emphasis). No, what is in view in the instruction to leave a gleaning of the harvest is Gentile blessing in the kingdom. This should have been no mystery to the Jewish mind for the OT prophets had foretold it (see Is. 2: 2; Mic. 4: 2; Zech. 8: 23). Again, when the apostles preached the kingdom in the Acts (see Acts 8: 12; 20: 25 etc.), it ought to have been no surprise that God “has to the nations also granted repentance to life” (Acts 11: 18). However the Gentile being blessed in conjunction with the Jew is not the same as the Gentile being blessed on an equal footing. Thus up until the time that the revelation of the mystery was made known through Paul, the Church was essentially Jewish, and the Gentiles, though blessed, were not viewed as equal partners.
The Feast of Trumpets
Though the Church was originally wholly Jewish, and, even after the admission of the Gentiles, remained dominated by Jewish believers throughout Acts, the situation today is very different. Now the Church is almost completely Gentile, and Jewish believers are a tiny minority. Apart from a little remnant (see Rom. 11: 5), Israel rejected the testimony to the risen and glorified Christ, and so, after much long–suffering, God turned away from them (see Is. 6: 9–13; Acts 28: 27). Thus “blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the nations be come in” (Rom. 11: 25). Again, “For the children of Israel shall abide many days without king, and without prince, and without sacrifice” (Hos. 3: 4)—such a state existed only after the sacking of Jerusalem by Titus in AD70, for before then Israel always had a prince or a sacrifice and sometimes both. The history of God’s ways with Israel as set out in the feasts of Jehovah allows for their rejection, as from the feast of weeks in the third month until the feast of trumpets in the seven month there was no holy convocation.
Yet though God has cast aside Israel, He says “For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee” (Is. 54: 7). Thus on the first day of the seventh month (the first day signifying a new start for the nation), the children of Israel were to “have a rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation” (Lev. 23: 24). Some see here a reference to 1 Thess. 4: 16, 17 and the rapture of the Church, but the primary subject of the Holy Spirit in the verse is Israel. The trumpets speak of divine communications (see Num. 10: 1–10). Furthermore, like the currency of ancient times (see Gen. 23: 16; 1 Pet. 1: 18), the trumpets were made of silver (see Num. 10: 1)—thus God’s communications to Israel are connected with redemption. How could He forget forever the people that He has redeemed (see Is. 44: 21, 22)? After the Church has been removed from this scene, God will begin to awaken and gather his long–scattered earthly people (see Jer. 23: 3; Ezek. 11: 17; Zech. 10: 6). Thus “ye shall be gathered one by one, [ye] children of Israel … the great trumpet shall be blown; and they shall come” (Is. 27: 12, 13). What “a day of blowing the trumpets shall it be” (Num. 29: 1) for Israel!
The Great Day of Atonement
The details of the day of atonement, the scapegoat and the goat of the sin–offering are given in Leviticus 16. The high priest, alone and unseen, sprinkling the blood of the offered goat on the mercy–seat, (see v17) is a picture of the Lord Jesus dealing with sin in the three hours of darkness on the cross (see Matt. 27: 45). When the high priest came out again, it was then (and then only) that the scapegoat was taken up. Upon its head the high priest placed the sins of the children of Israel, and sent it out into the desert never to return (see Lev. 16: 21). Now the last view that Israel, as a nation, had of the Lord Jesus was on the cross. In the type, this answers to the high priest going into the presence of God on the day of atonement. They have not yet seen Him come out. However, just as the high priest came out of the sanctuary having dealt with the question of sins for another year, so Christ “having been once offered to bear the sins of many, shall appear to those that look for him the second time without sin for salvation” (Heb. 9: 28). He will come out of the presence of God, and Israel “shall see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24: 30). At this juncture, the command to “afflict your souls” (Lev. 23: 27) in connection with the feast will take on its full reality as the Jews “look on me whom they pierced” (Zech. 12: 10). He will answer their repentance by taking away and never remembering their sins any more (see Rom. 11: 27; Heb. 10: 17)—the wonderful filling out of the type in which the scapegoat, with the sins of Israel upon its head, was sent out into a “land of forgetfulness” (Ps. 88: 12). How fitting then is the place of the day of atonement in the seven feasts of Leviticus 23! Yes it is the death of Christ that is in view, but it is that death as bringing about the national repentance of His earthly people.
The Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles)
The final feast of the series is particularly associated with joy: “And ye shall take on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, palm branches and the boughs of leafy trees … and ye shall rejoice before Jehovah your God seven days … and thou shalt rejoice in thy feast … and thou shalt be wholly joyful” (Lev. 23: 40; Deut. 16: 14, 15). The feast of tabernacles thus speaks of millennial joy—that wonderful time when the promises that God made to Israel will be finally realised (see. Is. 2: 2–4; 56: 7; Mic. 4: 1). Then “all that are left of all the nations” shall go up to Jerusalem from “year to year to worship the King, Jehovah of hosts, and to celebrate the feast of tabernacles” (Zech. 14: 16). Everything in Scripture is in its right place—the people must be gathered by the feast of trumpets and pass through the affliction of the day of atonement before they can reach that which speaks of the finality of earthly blessing. We see this very distinctly in John 7 where though “the tabernacles, the feast of the Jews, was near” (v2), the King would “not walk in Judaea, because the Jews sought to kill him” (v1). The people might later take “branches of palms” (John 12: 13) in accord with the feast, but the time was not right for the kingdom because the hearts of its subjects were not right either. That is why when the Jew at last enters into the good of the feast of tabernacles “all born in Israel shall dwell in booths; that your generations may know that I caused the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Lev. 23: 42, 43)—they are ever to keep in mind that the promised land was only reached after much spiritual exercise in the wilderness.
In verses 37, 38 we are told that “these are the set feasts of Jehovah … besides the sabbaths of Jehovah” (my emphasis). Why then is the Sabbath mentioned at all? Because it sets out the great end in view of the seven set feasts—the eternal rest of God. At the present moment God is working (see John 5: 17), but there is coming a day when all things shall have been brought into subjection to God … “that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15: 28). This is not the millennial reign of Christ, but the eternal state. Thus “there remains then” to come “a sabbatism to the people of God” (Heb. 4: 9)—not just for Christians, but for Israel.