The relation of Christianity to the annual Jewish feasts
LEWISVILLE, TX: From the earliest biblical times, calendars were used to track annual seasons for planting and harvesting crops. The end of each season gave an opportunity for the community to celebrate a successful harvest of crops and give proper acknowledgment to God. Israel’s celebratory feasts, as recorded in the Law of Moses, followed the agricultural calendar. In addition to the agricultural celebrations, religious feasts were also a part of the Jewish calendar.
Today religious calendars do not focus on the agricultural calendar
Today’s religious festivals are focused on the historical events the calendar celebrate.
Both the Christian and Jewish religious calendars provide opportunities to commemorate and celebrate past historical and religious events for the purpose of worship and the practice of faith.
Many major Jewish feasts from the Old Testament emphasized the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt: spring feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits; early summer feast of Weeks (Pentecost); fall feasts of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah), Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) and Tabernacles (Booths). In addition to the major feasts, Judaism has multiple minor feast to celebrate.
The Christian Church’s yearly calendar of celebrations are organized around the life of Jesus, his birth, death and resurrection. The celebrations include: Advent (Christmas), Resurrection (Holy Week and Easter), Lent (imitation of Jesus fasting in the wilderness), Epiphany (visit of Magi) and Pentecost (descent of the Holy Spirit).
Some major Jewish feasts will be celebrated this fall: Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year September 30-October 1, 2019), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement October 9) and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles October 14-20).
Christian Church and the Jewish holidays
In addition to the New Testament, every event recorded in the Old Testament is important to Christians. They are not to be relegated to the dusty shelves of forgotten history. Many events represented by Jewish festivals are not just for Jews only but are an integral part of the understanding of Christianity’s Messiah—Jesus Christ.
Sacrifices of the Samaritans
My first journey to Samaria (in Arab territory) to visit the annual ritual of the Samaritan Passover places me in a time-warp to ancient history. The event was the most fascinating event I ever experienced in my years in Israel. The Samaritans today offer sacrifices much like what they have been doing since before the time of Christ.
The slaughter of multiple sacrifices at the blowing of the shofar. The sounds of sheep bleating, the stench of bloodletting and entrails burning, the gore, the massive crowds in a sense of confusion, reminded me of what the original festivals must have been like. But even on a greater scale than in the Bible.
Few events today so effectively transport the modern person back to the ceremonies of the biblical days. What the Samaritans practice today resembles ancient Judaism (Jesus, A Visual History, 126).
The following video shows sacrifices in graphic detail:
Many Christian leaders today, both traditional and conservative denominations, along with Jewish congregations have historically objected to Christian observance of the Old Testament “Jewish” festivals. Christian objections stem from the fear that New Testament believers will confuse the Old Covenant message with the New Covenant message.
On the other hand, many Messiah Jews (ethnic Jews who believe in Jesus) insist on observing Jewish feasts with a Christian emphasis. The modern Jewish observance of the feasts is often quite removed from biblical practices.
The Bible has much to say about the Jewish feasts
One of the most perplexing problems in the early church was how believing Jews would relate to god-fearing gentiles. The Jerusalem council (Acts 15:16-20), the book of Galatians and Hebrews settled the issue that Jews and Gentiles were redeemed the same way. The Gentile did not have to become a Jew before salvation.
The Jewish feasts of the Old Testament were primarily shadows (types) of reality. They pointed to the person and work of Christ (Messiah). “Therefore, do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17)
The book of Hebrews warns that professing believers who were tempted to go back to the “shadows” of Judaism was to deny Christ’s finished work on the cross.
Can or should the Christian Church observe the Jewish feasts?
If we understand that the biblical feasts were shadows that point to Christ, the acknowledgment of the feasts may enhance one’s awareness of God and His plan for permanent salvation. Many Messianic Jews follow the Jewish calendar not only because it shadows Jesus as the Messiah but because it is part of their Jewish heritage.
If, however, by observing the feasts, while professing the efficacy of the finished work of Christ, one believes it will somehow elevate their spirituality mystically above those who do not observe, then the purpose of the feasts is missed.
The events represented by the festivals have great significance for Christians. Observing or not observing depends on the individual’s conscience, relationship to Christ and on understanding the meaning of the feasts. I found understanding the Jewish feasts had a profound effect on me. Yet I am aware that the way modern Judaism celebrates some feasts have lost biblical significance. Let the Scriptures determine one’s own relationship to the Jewish feasts.
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