Many teach that the last three feasts in Leviticus 23 are prophetic and have not yet been fulfilled. How can this be right as the second of these is the Day of Atonement which clearly refers to the Lord’s death?
Leaving aside the Sabbath (which stands on its own), there are seven feasts in Leviticus 23. As is often the case with the number seven, these feasts can be divided into four and three. The opening four (vs 5–22) took place in the first three months of the Jewish calendar. There was then a gap of three months when there were no feasts (apart from the weekly Sabbath), followed by three more feasts in the seventh month. Of the first feast, the NT tells us plainly that “our passover, Christ, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5: 7). The fulfilment of the feast of unleavened bread is in the communion of the Lord’s table (see 1 Cor. 5: 8; 10: 16). For the feast of first–fruits, 1 Cor. 15: 20 tells us that “Christ is raised from among [the] dead, first-fruits of those fallen asleep”, while the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2: 1–4) is an explicit fulfilment of the feast of weeks.
Now just as there was a gap in the calendar of Leviticus 23, so there is a gap in the prophetic calendar of which it is a picture. Although a remnant of Jews entered into the good of the first four feasts (see Rom. 11: 5), Israel as a nation rejected the message of blessing from the ascended Christ. In the present time then, “blindness in part is happened to Israel” (v25), while blessing has gone out to the nations. This period fits in the gap in Leviticus 23.
However, Romans 11 also tells us that the blindness of Israel is only temporary “until the fulness of the nations be come in; and so all Israel shall be saved” (vs 25, 26). Now the fifth feast or feast of trumpets (see Lev. 23: 23–25) was on the first day of the seventh month, indicating a new start for Israel—and so it will prove to be. Isaiah tells us of a day in which “the great trumpet shall be blown” (Is. 27: 13) and that the children of Israel will gathered out of all the nations to which they have been scattered by the judgment of God. Ezekiel says “I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all the countries, and will bring you into your own land” (Ezek. 36: 24). There are many similar prophecies. However, a mere return of the Jews to their ancestral lands (as happened in 1948) will not do for God—which is why the feast of trumpets is followed by the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 23.
The details of the Day of Atonement are given in Leviticus 16. The high priest sprinkling the blood of the sin–offering on the mercy–seat before God, working alone and unseen (see Lev. 16: 17) is a picture of the Lord Jesus dealing with sin in the three hours of darkness (see Matt. 27: 45). When the high priest came out again, it was then (and then only) that the scapegoat was taken up. Another goat had already been slaughtered as a sin–offering (see Lev. 16: 15) and its blood taken within the veil, but the scapegoat was kept alive. Upon its head the high priest placed the sins of the children of Israel, and then sent it sent out into the desert never to return (see v21). 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). This is the long–awaited second coming of Christ. 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). And yet He comes “for salvation” (Heb. 9: 28), and so answers 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 living goat, 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—a repentance that will eventually result in their entrance into the millennial joy set out in the feast of tabernacles (see Lev. 23: 33–36; Zech. 14: 16).