Jesus In The Jewish Holidays
The holidays that the Lord gave the Jewish people, which are described in Leviticus 23, accomplish multiple purposes. They keep us in touch with the seasons God has designed into creation. They remind us of the great things God has done in Israel’s history. They look forward to what God will do to save the chosen ones of humanity from Satan and the demons, sin and the sin nature, and death. Understanding the holidays builds us up in our most holy faith and helps us better understand the Word of God.
The first holiday is the Sabbath. Perhaps it’s mentioned first because, in one sense, it’s the most important holiday of all. It takes place once a week while the other holidays take place once a year. The word “sabbath” means “rest.” Every seventh day, beginning Friday night at sunset and continuing through Saturday night at sunset, is set aside for rest.
Why does the Sabbath begin at sunset? The answer is found in the first chapter of Genesis, where it is written: There was evening, and there was morning, the first day. God’s days begin at sunset – and the Jewish people begin our days at sunset.
The Sabbath reminds us that God created the universe in six days, and on the seventh day He rested. The Sabbath also reminds us of salvation because it wasn’t until we were saved from Egypt that we were able to observe the Sabbath.
The Sabbath also reminds us of the greater salvation made possible by Messiah, who called Himself the “Lord of the Sabbath.” The Lord of the Sabbath wants us to understand that salvation comes from His work and not from our work. No amount of human effort, good works or law-keeping can save us. We are saved us when we understand that Messiah did the work of salvation for us, and we rest in His finished work.
The Sabbath also reminds us of the great future salvation, when Messiah returns and brings rest to His people and to this entire weary world.
The Lord of the Sabbath alone is able to give rest to weary souls. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Are you weary? Want rest for your soul? Become a follower of the gentle, humble Messiah.
The Calendar And The Number Seven
God’s calendar uses the number seven, a number which represents completion. A week has seven days, and the seventh day completes the week. The seventh month completes the seven annual holidays. For six years we sowed the fields, and the seventh year the land of Israel rested. Then, at the end of seven sevens of years, the land and the people experienced Shanat Yovel, the Year of Jubilee. The land rested for an additional year. Ancestral properties which had been sold were returned to the original owners. People who were sold into slavery were released. Israeli society returned to a state of rest.
But “Shanat Yovel” does not complete the number seven’s relationship to God’s calendar. It is possible that the seven days of creation represent seven thousand years. Just as we work for six days and rest on the seventh, a weary world will labor for six thousand years – until Messiah returns and brings a thousand years of rest.
The first of the seven annual holidays is Passover. The month in which Passover occurs, Nisan, is the first month of the calender God gave His chosen nation. This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. So, why is the first day of the seventh month, Tishri, called the Jewish New Year? I’ve heard various explanations, but whatever the explanation, the real Jewish New Year occurs in the Spring. That’s fitting. The Spring is a time of new beginnings – new beginnings for the life-cycles of many plants and animals. And it’s the time in which Israel was rescued from slavery in Egypt and had a new beginning as a free nation.
The story of Passover begins with the Jewish people going down to Egypt in the time of Joseph. The Lord used Joseph to save the Jewish people while we were just beginning, as well as save the nation of Egypt. Years later, a new Pharaoh came to power who did not remember Joseph, and instead of showing gratitude to Joseph’s people, he enslaved us. God raised up Moses, who went to Pharaoh and demanded that Israel be released.
However, Pharaoh repeatedly hardened his heart and refused to let Israel go. So, the Lord sent ten plagues on the land of Egypt. The tenth plague was the worst – the death of the first-born sons in Egypt. However, the Lord made it possible for the first-born sons to survive. Families needed to kill an unblemished, year-old lamb, collect the blood and apply it to the sides and tops of the doorframes of the house where the Passover lamb was eaten.
The Lord went through Egypt that night, striking houses everywhere, but passed over those houses where the blood of the lamb was applied to the door. The first-born sons were protected from death; and the next day, our nation, now grown to several million, was freed from slavery and we began our exodus from Egypt.
Passover was a prophecy of a greater salvation, a greater Exodus and a greater Lamb which was to come. Yeshua is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He died on Passover so that God can pass over the sins of everyone who believes in Him. In one sense, the Passover story is not over. God is going throughout the world today, like He did that first Passover, looking for those He can spare. When we know that Yeshua is the risen Messiah, and become loyal to Him, His blood is applied to our lives and we are freed from our enslavement to Satan and the demons, sin and the sin nature, and death.
It’s no coincidence that Messiah died on Passover. His last supper was a Passover Seder and He died the next day, the first day of Passover – in fulfillment of Passover. We will see a similar pattern with the rest of the holidays. Each one looks forward to something the Messiah would accomplish, and each will be fulfilled on its day.
Matzah: The Holiday Of Unleavened Bread
The holiday of Matzah, Unleavened Bread, begins with Passover and continues for seven days. Nothing with yeast is eaten during that time. This reminds us that when God saved us from Egypt, it happened so quickly there wasn’t time to add yeast to the dough for the bread to rise.
There’s another reason we eat matzah. Yeast is a symbol for sin. In ancient times, before a batch of dough with yeast was baked into bread, part of the dough was pinched off and set aside. Later that piece of dough was added to a new batch of flour, leavening the new batch. This symbolizes sin and the sin nature which is transmitted from generation to generation.
Prior to Passover, Jewish families will remove the yeast from their homes. Rabbi Paul used this to teach us to break the cycle of sin and the sin nature that has been transmitted from generation to generation: Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch – as you really are. For Messiah, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the holiday, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. The followers of the Sinless Messiah need to remove the sin from our lives, so we can maintain a good relationship with Yeshua, who is the fulfillment of the Passover lamb and the unleavened bread.
At His Last Passover, Yeshua gave the matzah new meaning when He said: this is My body given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me. Yeshua is the fulfillment of the unleavened bread. He lived a perfect, sinless life. He is the only human being who never sinned. Then, on the holiday of Matzah, His body was given for us – which makes it possible for us, when we are united to Him by faith, to break the cycle of sin and the sin nature.
Another thought: The holidays of Passover and Matzah occur at the same time. Only one who is like matzah, without sin, could be the true Passover lamb who atoned for our sins.
The Holiday Of First Fruits
The holiday of First Fruits also takes place during the week of Passover and Matzah. God is the best and deserves the best. He deserves the best we have to offer. He deserves the first fruits of the harvest, not the leftovers. So, in the Spring, when the nation went up to Jerusalem to observe Passover and Matzah, we offered the first fruits of the new barley harvest to the Lord. The priest took the first sheaves of barley and waved them. It was a kind of prayer: “Lord, we offer You the first fruits of this year’s harvest. Accept the first fruits, and accept us, Your people; and please bring in the rest of this year’s harvest.” If God accepted the offering of the first fruits, it was a promise that He would bless the rest of the harvest.
First Fruits was also a prophecy that the Messiah, who died on Passover, would rise from the dead. Death would not be able to hold the Sinless One. He would be, as Rabbi Paul observed, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:20). Because God found the sacrifice of Yeshua acceptable, those who are joined to Him by faith will likewise be resurrected.
It seems likely that Messiah was resurrected on First Fruits. He was resurrected “on the third day.” The Passover lambs were killed at the end of the fourteenth of Nisan. Passover and Matzah begin on the fifteenth. First Fruits takes place on the sixteenth. So, if we consider killing the lambs on the fourteenth to be part of Passover, First Fruits is connected to the third day of Passover. It seems likely that the same day the Priest was offering the first fruits of the barley harvest, God raised Messiah from the dead and accepted Him as the first fruits of a new humanity.
Shavuot: The Holiday Of Weeks
The next holiday is Shavuot, which means “weeks.” It takes place seven weeks and one day after First Fruits. The Greek name for this holiday, “Pentecost,” means “fiftieth” because it takes place on the fiftieth day after First Fruits.
To observe Shavuot, Jewish men were again required to go up to Jerusalem. On Shavuot, the Priest waved two loaves of bread made from the first fruits of another crop – the wheat. The bread was made with yeast. This is unusual, since normally, grain offerings were not allowed to be made with yeast (see Leviticus 2:11).
The waving of the bread was another prayer. The Priest was praying: “Lord, thank You for extending the harvest to the wheat. Again we offer You the first fruits of this crop. Lord of the harvest, please accept this offering and bring in the rest of the harvest.”
Shavuot was also a prophecy – that the new life given to the Messiah, which took place fifty days earlier, would be extended to more of humanity. The second chapter of Acts records the fulfillment of this holiday: 50 days after Yeshua was resurrected and received new life, His followers were in Jerusalem, and the Spirit of God was given to them, giving them Messiah’s new life. This happened on Shavuot, in fulfillment of Shavuot.
Since the Temple was destroyed, and waving the bread is a kind of offering, we no longer wave two loaves of bread for Shavuot. Because of this, the emphasis of this holiday has changed. According to tradition, Shavuot is the day Israel received the Law on Mount Sinai, so the emphasis is in the giving of the Law.
We should remember, however, that after we received the Law, the majority broke the Law and worshiped the golden calf. When Moses came down from the mountain, he saw what was happening and rallied the faithful, who killed 3,000 people who were involved in that idolatry.
3,000 were killed when the Law was given. In contrast, 3,000 received new life when the Holy Spirit was given! What a powerful illustration of the principle: the letter kills but the Spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6).
Why were two loaves waved, and not one, three, 10 or 12? I think the two loaves of bread represent the two groups which make up Messiah’s Community. Paul compared Messiah’s Community to an olive tree made up of the original branches, the Jewish people, and the wild olive branches which are grafted in, the Gentiles. It was God’s plan to save a remnant from the nations, starting with the chosen nation; to make a new united humanity from the Jewish people and the other peoples.
Why wave two loaves of bread made with yeast? That’s unusual, since normally, grain offerings could not be made with yeast. Because, unlike the sinless Messiah, the people of Messiah’s community are not sinless – yet. However, when He appears, we will be like Him, and will have complete victory over the presence and power of sin.
The first four holidays are connected. They take place in the Spring. They are prophecies about the first arrival of the Messiah. They were fulfilled on their day. We will see a similar pattern with the three Fall holidays.
After the Spring holidays, comes summer. During that time, the crops continue to ripen. The summer represents the past 2,000 years. Messiah arrived 2,000 years ago. Messiah’s Community began in Israel among the Jewish people. Since then, the Good News has been proclaimed and many people from the nations have been gathered in. In the Fall, the final harvest of humanity will be gathered in.
The Fall Holidays
The four Spring holidays are connected to Messiah’s first coming. The three Fall holidays are connected to Messiah’s second coming. They take place in the seventh month – the month of completion. Just as the Spring holidays were fulfilled on their day, I believe the Fall holidays will be fulfilled on their day.
Yom Truah: The Day To Blow The Shofar
The first Fall holiday is Yom Truah, the day to blow the shofar, which is commonly known as “Rosh HaShana” – the Jewish “New Year.” Remember, however, that the real Jewish New Year occurs in the Spring at Passover.
Yom Truah is the first day of the seventh month. On that day we blow a trumpet made from a ram’s horn. In ancient Israel, the shofar was blown for various reasons: to warn of danger; to direct us in battle; and to announce the arrival of the king.
The day to blow the shofar is a prophecy that the King of Kings will return to Earth. And, Yeshua’s return will indeed be announced by blowing a trumpet. The Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God (1 Thessalonians 4:16, see also 1 Corinthians 15:51-52). Blowing the shofar teaches us to be anticipating and ready for the return of King Messiah.
Yom Kippur: The Day Of Atonement
Ten days later, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, takes place. This was the only day when the High Priest was allowed to enter the Most Holy Place, sprinkle blood on the ark of the covenant, and atone for the sins of the nation. It’s a day of judgment, atonement and cleansing. It’s a day for fasting and praying and seeking forgiveness.
The rabbis teach that we have the ten days from the day we blow the shofar to the end of Yom Kippur to get right with people we have offended, and get right with God. If we don’t repent during those ten days, God will judge us and blot our names out of the Book of Life, and during the following year, we will die.
Yom Kippur is also a prophecy about the judgment that will take place when Messiah returns. That judgment is described in Matthew 25. After Yeshua returns, He will judge the nations. Those who turned to God will be welcomed into His kingdom. Those who continued to rebel will be removed from His Kingdom. I think Messiah’s judgment will occur on a future Yom Kippur.
Sukkot: The Holiday Of Booths Or Tabernacles
Finally, we come to the last of the seven holidays, Sukkot – the holiday of Booths or Tabernacles. This the seventh holiday in the seventh month. It lasts for seven days. It completes God’s plan to save the chosen ones of humanity.
After we harvested the crops, and for the third time, we went up to Jerusalem. We thanked the Lord of the harvest for the harvest. We built booths and lived in them. We took willow, palm and myrtle branches, waved them and rejoiced with them. The booths remind us of our salvation from Egypt followed by 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. They remind us that our God is a God who is able to save us, and our lives are brief, and in this world, we have no permanent home.
Sukkot is also a prophecy of a greater harvest, and a greater salvation, and a greater home is to come. After Messiah returns and judges the world and rules for a thousand years, He will gather the chosen ones from the nations into His kingdom; and He will give them eternal homes.
God has a plan to save a chosen remnant of human beings. That plan is revealed in the Jewish holidays.
Those who are part of the chosen remnant experience the rest that the Lord of the Sabbath provides by understanding that Messiah did the work of salvation for us, and we rest in His finished work.
God passes over our sins us when we understand that Yeshua is our Passover lamb who died for us, and rose from death in fulfillment of First Fruits.
The cycle of sin and the sin nature is broken when, by faith, we are united to the Sinless One, who is the fulfillment of the matzah.
In fulfillment of Shavuot, we receive Messiah’s Spirit and new life.
By faith, we can already hear the shofar blowing, and even now prepare ourselves for the King’s return, who will fulfill Yom Truah, the day for blowing the shofar.
We know that when Messiah returns, He will judge the nations, and so fulfill Yom Kippur.
And we believe that everyone who is gathered into the Kingdom of Messiah will live forever in their true homes and experience everlasting joy – which is the fulfillment of Sukkot.
God designed the Jewish holidays to point us to Yeshua. Yeshua fulfills the Jewish holidays. He fills them full of meaning, purpose, fills them full of life and salvation. I pray that more and more people everywhere, especially my Jewish people, see Jesus in the Jewish holidays. And if you do know Him, won’t you tell others about Him, so they can see Jesus in the Jewish holidays too?