by B. Michael Bigg
There is a lot of debate by Christians and denominations over whether certain days and dates are important, or should be regarded more highly than others. But does one person’s, or group’s, dogmatic proclamation of this day or date make it right? There is Easter versus Passover, Christmas versus Hanukkah, Sunday “sabbath” versus Saturday, and so on. What is needed is both a balanced point of view, and the humility to consider, if not respect, other opinions and practices.
In determining what position we should hold to, we can only, and must only, go to the Bible. Where the Bible is not specific, we should not be dogmatic.
When considering the Old Testament God-Ordained Biblical Feasts we must take into account the context in which the Bible places them. Likewise, when examining New Testament times (post Resurrection) we must consider the societal groups and churches to whom the epistles were written. Also, we should take note of what Jesus said about the Feasts during His earthly ministry and how He participated in them.
Old Testament Israel
The “Feasts of the Lord” as the biblical feasts are often referred to, include: Rosh HaShanah (“head of the year”) – New Year, Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement, Sukkot – Booths, Pesach – Passover, First Fruits, Unleavened Bread, Shavout – Pentecost, Weekly Sabbath, Seventh Year Sabbath and Jubilee (every 50th year).
Other feasts resulting from biblical and historical events include: Purim and Hanukkah.
A peculiarity of some of the feasts was the requirement that the participants had to travel to the Tent of Meeting, and later, after its construction, to the Temple in Jerusalem. Some of the Feasts of the Lord were conducted before the LORD (which was dependent upon where the Ark of the Covenant was located).
During the Gospel
After the Israelite tribe of Judah's defeat by Nebuchadnezzar and their subsequent relocation to Babylon, the Ark of the Covenant was destroyed – never to be rebuilt (cf. Jer 3:16). After their release, and return to the Land of Israel, the Judeans rebuilt and rededicated the Temple. Nevertheless, there was no Ark in the Holy of Holies in the Temple, but the practice by the Jews of going up to Jerusalem during the Feasts remained.
In the Gospel accounts we see Jesus following the same practice of going up to Jerusalem for the Feasts, in particular Passover (Matt 26; Luke 22; John 2, 13). But the thing to note in the Gospels concerning the region is that the people involved are – for the most part – Jews. The Gospels are set within Israel, in a Jewish religious and cultural setting. The practice shown was Jewish in nature – and that before the destruction of the second Temple (in 70AD).
New Testament Epistles
In spite of many of the epistles being written prior to the destruction of the second Temple, we find nowhere, a requirement for Christians (be they Jew or Gentile) to go to Jerusalem for Passover and no requirement for the sacrifice of a lamb for the Passover meal (which would have been required to take place in Jerusalem).
Rather, Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, notes that, “Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed” (1 Cor 5:7). This is a statement of historical reality – not an ongoing annual event. But Paul goes on to say, in the very next verse,
Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. - 1 Corinthians 5:8
Feast! Of what feast is Paul writing? Passover? Easter?
Whether you choose to celebrate Easter or Passover, or whether you think the anniversary event should be referred to as Passover or Easter, is immaterial. Jesus Christ IS our Passover – not WAS our Passover. The final and ultimate judgement of God passes over those who are HIS! Of the traditional Jewish Passover meal which was practised by Jews prior to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70AD – we, as Christians, participate in but a fraction of it. The Gospel accounts record Jesus' celebration of His final Passover meal, prior to His death, with His disciples. In them we are given but a brief snapshot of the majority of the meal, with the final portion of the meal, concerning the Bread and the Wine, being focused upon.
While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body." And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins - Matthew 26:26-28.
While they were eating, He took some bread, and after a blessing He broke it, and gave it to them, and said, "Take it; this is My body." And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, "This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many - Mark 14:22-24.
And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me." And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood - Luke 22:19-20.
The piece of unleavened bread, broken off, wrapped up and hidden away at the beginning of the Passover meal is brought out at the end of the meal, unwrapped, revealed and shared amongst those present. Of this broken piece of unleavened bread Jesus said, “This is My body…”.The Passover Seder (Order of Service) includes the partaking of four cups of wine which originate in the four “I Will” promises of God to Israel:
- The Cup of Sanctification – drunk at the beginning of the Passover – “I will take you out of Egypt”.
- The Cup of Judgement – from which a drop of wine is taken during the Seder's recounting of the plagues God sent upon Egypt, prior to Israel's release as Pharoah's slaves – “I will save you”.
- The Cup of Redemption – this cup is drunk after the meal, and it is this one that Jesus' refers to – “I will redeem you”.
- The Cup of Praise – this cup is drunk as the Passover Seder concludes. However, we must note that Jesus, after drinking from the third cup says that “I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom” (Mat 26:29) – “I will take you to the land I have promised”.
The Christian “Passover” is the Lord's Supper – it is communion, it is the breaking of bread and drinking of wine – as Jesus instructed us to do, as a remembrance. The Jewish Passover Seder and Meal is our guide to the typology involved therein. We, as Christians (more so Christians of non Jewish background) have no New Testament mandate or directive to celebrate a traditional Jewish Passover type meal. But on the contrary, where Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:8 uses the word “feast”, note what Paul says in chapter 11.
Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you. For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me." In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world. So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment. The remaining matters I will arrange when I come - 1 Corinthians 11:20-34.
The feast which Paul refers to is NOT a meal like the traditional Jewish Passover. It is the Bread and the Wine only. (Paul is quite curt concerning the notion that someone should come to this feast looking for a meal.)
The discussion of whether Christians should celebrate Easter or Passover is moot. It is irrelevant (in the grand scheme of things). We celebrate and remember Passover EVERY TIME WE PARTICIPATE IN COMMUNION (i.e. remember the Lord's Supper).
Having said this, I believe it well worth making Easter special and making it an opportunity to share the Gospel – the message of God's sacrifice – to the world. And where, in biblical Christian families and churches the often referred to “pagan roots” are not even considered (and in numerous places, not even heard of), let us make use of the opportunity to not allow the devil to hide the meaning of Easter which today is a celebration of Christ's sacrifice and resurrection. Let us keep (or at least try to keep) Easter 'Christian', rather than relinquishing it to the pagans of today's society who want it regarded as purely a secular holiday dominated by commercial marketing of chocolate eggs, bunny rabbits and the like.
Likewise, I believe that it is well worth making Passover special and making it an opportunity to share the Gospel and show the typology within the Passover Seder to Jewish friends and acquaintances. And for those Christians who have never participated in a Passover Seder, I encourage you to do so – not to Judaise you, or to make you more religious, but to gain a greater understanding of Passover and the Lamb of God. You will be blessed by participating in a Passover Seder (especially at a Messianic Jewish believer's house) and seeing Jesus and God's plan of redemption throughout the service.
Regarding a Day
To the Romans Paul wrote,
One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God - Romans 14:5-6.
And to the Colossians he wrote,
Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day-- things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ - Colossians 2:16-17.
Whether a true Christian regards (and uses the term) Easter or Passover is, ultimately, their choice. But as Paul instructs, “Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind”. After all, what matter is it if you are praising and thanking God for His plan of Salvation and the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ and you refer to it by Easter or Passover? God knows YOU and He knows your heart and He knows what you are referring to. By grace we are saved and that not of ourselves (Eph 2:8) … why then do some dogmatically try to claim one day over the other as if legalistic observation of Easter or Passover is how salvation is approved?
The problem with the debate of the names and origins of Christian feasts is that more often than not they make the non-Christian world look at the Christian family with disgust. They shake their heads and wonder what the big deal is. Consequently, we allow the Gospel Message to be lost to them.
Also, the perceived problem of pagan origins of both Easter and Christmas by some camps within Christianity does nothing to aid the Gospel Message. On the contrary, it aids the devil's cause of hiding the Christian message. While Christians fight over the merits of Christmas, Santa Claus gets stronger. Instead of “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” we let 'Satan get his Claws' in Christmas.No matter the day, no matter the occasion, let us always consider Jesus and make God the Lord of the Day. Let us pray that He will give us opportunities to reach out to others, so that more will come to Him and be saved on the Day of the Lord.
The Biblical Feasts of the Lord have a truth and reality to them. These feasts, in ancient times, however, were Types and Shadows of what was to come. Each Biblical Feast was celebrated for a reason, and each Feast is representative of a God-ordained event (some yet to be fully realised).
The Spring Feasts of Unleavened Bread, Passover and First Fruits were fulfilled in Jesus' life, sacrifice and resurrection. And as Shavout (Pentecost) meant the receiving of the Law on tablets of stone in Moses' day, the Day of Pentecost 2000 years ago was fulfilled with the coming of the Holy Spirit.
The gap between the fulfilment of the Spring Feasts and the Autumn Feasts can be seen in what is usually referred to as the Church Age.But following the Church Age we anticipate the fulfilment of the Autumn Feasts:
- Rosh HaShanah: the New Year, with its expected trumpet blast.
- Yom Kippur: the Day of Atonement, Ten Days after Rosh HaShanah, and then
- Sukkot: the festival of Booths or Tabernacles.
When we look at Sukkot, the feast of Booths or Tabernacles, which celebrates God dwelling with man, it is interesting to read the prophecy of Zechariah.
Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths. And it will be that whichever of the families of the earth does not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, there will be no rain on them. If the family of Egypt does not go up or enter, then no rain will fall on them; it will be the plague with which the LORD smites the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths. This will be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths. - Zechariah 14:16-19
The fulfilment of the Feast of Booths at the completion of this age and during the Millennial reign of Christ includes a physical (Old Testament like) compliance and celebration of the Feast in Jerusalem. And just as ancient Israel's enemies were symbolised in Egypt, modern Israel's enemies can also be symbolised by Egypt.
Come the Millenium, survivors in Egypt (and her surrounding allies who today all worship Allah) will be required to go to Jerusalem “to worship the King, Yahweh of hosts”. During the millennium, those who refuse to do so, or to put it another way, those who refuse to acknowledge and worship Yahweh, will receive no rain. Just like the Spring Feasts, a physical and actual fulfilment of the Autumn Feasts is prophesied, expected and anticipated.