Much of what Israel did in the Old Testament was symbolic of life in the Christian era and eternity (Hebrews 8: 5; 9: 23; 10: 1). One example of that is the annual feasts of Passover, Pentecost (also known as the Feast of Weeks or Harvest), and Feast of Ingathering (a.k.a. Booths or Tabernacles), attendance to which by all men was required (Exodus 23: 14-17). (Biblical examples indicate that the men took their families along.)
We’re no longer under Old Testament law (the old covenant); however, Paul still participated in the festivals and other aspects of Judaism as a matter of culture (Acts 18: 18; 20: 10; 21: 20-26). Remembering these feasts can heighten our awareness of God’s great love for us, which was their original purpose of the feasts as well. At least, we can delve into their meaning for us today as long as we don’t make them a matter of salvation or allow them cause division (Colossians 2: 13-17; Romans 14: 13-18; Galatians 5: 1-4).
So, what can we learn from the Old Testament festivals?
First, the Passover commemorated God’s protection of his people from the final plague of death and that he led them out of bondage in Egypt. God didn’t visit death on his people because he saw the blood they’d applied to their doorposts as he’d commanded (Exodus 12: 1-30). The Jews kept Passover with the same meal they ate on the night God passed over them – lamb, unleavened bread, bitter herbs, and fruit of the vine, although we don’t learn about the drink until Jesus celebrated the Passover just before he became our Passover Lamb and instituted the Lord’s Supper, which the early church celebrated every first day of the week (Matthew 26: 26-29; John 1: 29: 1 Peter 1: 18-21; 1 Corinthians 5: 7, 8; Acts 20: 7).
On the day after the Sabbath (Sunday – the first day of the week) that concluded the Passover festival, the Israelites were to present a wave offering of the firstfruits of barley. Jesus arose from the dead on that Sunday as the firstfruits of all who will be resurrected to be with him (Matthew 28: 1-10; 1 Corinthians 15: 20-23). (The wicked also will be raised only to face the punishment of eternal death and separation from God – Revelation 20: 12-15; 2 Thessalonians 1: 8-10). God continues to protect us from that today as he sees us covered in Jesus’ blood because we’ve obeyed him out of faith (1 Peter 1: 3-5, 22-25; Acts 6: 7). Being covered in Jesus’ blood also is what frees us from bondage to sin.
The next festival, Pentecost, comes fifty days after the Passover Sabbath and always falls on the first day of the week as a celebration of the firstfruits of wheat. On the Pentecost following Jesus’ resurrection, the message of salvation was presented for the first time, including the terms of how to be saved (Acts 2: 1-41). The 3,000 who were baptized were the firstfruits of the church that Jesus began building that day (Matthew 16: 16-19; Ephesians 2: 19-22).
The third festival that all Israelite men were required to attend, again, likely taking their family, was the Feast of Ingathering, also called Booths or Tabernacles. This feast was to thank God for the recently completed harvest (ingathering) and the bounty of the Promised Land as well as his watchcare during the wilderness wanderings when the Israelites lived in tents.
There is to come a great gathering of God’s people (the new Israel of God – Galatians 3: 26-29; 6: 14-16; Philippians 3: 3; Colossians 2: 11, 12; Matthew 24: 30, 31). When that takes place, we’ll be thankful for God’s watchcare as we lived in the temporary housing of this earth and our physical bodies and we’ll praise him forever for the bounty of our eternal land of rest and that we were part of the great harvest ever (2 Corinthians 5: 1-10; 1 Thessalonians 4: 16-18; Revelation 22: 1-5).
As we wait for that harvest, we should already be thankful and continue working to increase the harvest of the world, just as the early church did following its birthday so the elect (the saved) will be increased on the last day when Jesus returns (John 4: 34-38; Acts 4: 4; 5: 12-14; Matthew 28: 18-20).
This past Sunday was Pentecost. As we live from day to day, let’s remember that although all Christians are among the elect, there are many others who need to learn about Jesus’ love and his terms for being saved so they can become a part of the great final ingathering.
Will you be a part of the final harvest of the righteous? Or will your be collected with the weeds and burned (Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43)?
Leonard Lauriault, church of Christ