Jesus said, "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill." (Matthew 5:17)
Paul understood this. We must also. The Apostle Paul wrote to the saints in Colossae:
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)
The dietary guidelines had a purpose. So did the festivals and Sabbaths. They were a shadow of what is to come. They pointed to the substance which belongs to Christ. These aspects of the Law were given for a purpose. They revealed in shadow what was coming in the future. They were prophetic. In fact, they still are.
Christ has fulfilled much of the Law and Prophets in His first coming. Christ was born according to the Scriptures. He died for our sins according to the Scriptures. He was buried and rose again according to the Scriptures. The Son of Man has entered into His glory and is currently seated at the right hand of the Father.
Jesus has not yet returned. But, He will. These aspects of the Law and Prophets have yet to be fulfilled at Christ's second coming.
Christ in the FeastsThe Law contained commandments to celebrate holidays at the Lord's appointed times. These are the "festivals" which Paul discussed in Colossians 2:16. While New Covenant believers do not need to take the Law upon themselves and celebrate the festivals accordingly, we would be wise to see how these shadows point to Christ. They will equip us to better understand how Christ fulfills the Law.
We must note a difference between the Pilgrimage Festivals/Feasts (Heb: chag or chagag) and the other Appointed Times (Heb: mow'ed). If we fail to note this difference we will run into a contradiction of our own making.
By reading Exodus 23:14-17 and Deuteronomy 16:1-17 together we get a holiday schedule that looks like this:
1. Unleavened Bread
2. Harvest of First Fruits / Feast of Weeks
3. Feast of the Ingathering / Feast of Booths
These are the Pilgrimage Festivals (chag or chagag). The Pilgrimage Festivals are a special type of Appointed Times (mow'ed). They require an appearance before the LORD.
Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord GOD.
Three times in a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses, at the Feast of Unleavened Bread and at the Feast of Weeks and at the Feast of Booths, and they shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed.
Leviticus 23 outlines eight appointed times. They are as follows:
3. Feast of Unleavened Bread
4. First Fruits (Day after Sabbath)
7. Day of Atonement
8. Feast of Tabernacles
The first of these, the seventh-day Sabbath, does not require a pilgrimage. It can be celebrated and kept wherever you are. The other seven appointed times coincide with the Pilgrimage Feasts. They were commanded to be celebrated according to the Jewish calendar. Here they are, clumped together by pilgrimage and in the order they were to be celebrated each year.
1. Passover - Nisan 14
2. Unleavened Bread - Nisan 15-22
3. First Fruits - Nisan 16
4. Pentecost - Sivan 6
5. Trumpets - Tishri 1
6. Atonement - Tishri 10
7. Tabernacles - Tishri 15
The first three appointed times coincide with the first pilgrimage in the month Nisan. The second pilgrimage was appointed in the month Sivan. The final pilgrimage occurred in the month Tishri.
As these festivals and appointed times are celebrated these days become "Sabbaths." They are holy days. They are not the seventh-day Sabbath but special Sabbaths that can occur on any day of the week. They are like your birthday, which is a special day that is celebrated at a particular time each year. It always falls on the same date but not on the same day of the week.
These appointed times of the Lord, including the pilgrimage feasts, were commanded to be kept by the nation of Israel.
Fulfillment in ChristThe New Testament makes it explicit that Christ has fulfilled the first four of these appointed times covering the first two pilgrimage feasts. The final pilgrimage and coinciding appointed times have not yet been fulfilled.
The first pilgrimage feast of Unleavened Bread entails the three appointed times of Passover (Nisan 14), Unleavened Bread (Nisan 15-22), and First Fruits (Nisan 16). This was dramatically fulfilled in the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
Christ was buried on the beginning of Unleavened Bread (John 19:41-42).
On the third day, the day of First Fruits, Christ rose from the dead. Paul uses this terminology explicitly:
But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.
(1 Corinthians 15:20-24, underline added)
The second pilgrimage festival was to be celebrated fifty days after First Fruits. In Exodus and Deuteronomy it is referred to as the Harvest of First Fruits or the Feast of Weeks. It is called Pentecost (pentecost literally means fiftieth) in the New Testament. Leviticus 23 explains:
'You shall also count for yourselves from the day after the sabbath, from the day when you brought in the sheaf of the wave offering; there shall be seven complete sabbaths. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh sabbath; then you shall present a new grain offering to the LORD.'
(Leviticus 23:15-16, underline added)
Pentecost was the reason Jews from all throughout the Roman Empire had assembled in Jerusalem. God poured out the Holy Spirit on this day. You can read all about this dramatic fulfillment in Acts 2. God inaugurated the beginning of the church in accordance with His appointed times. The pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost is in keeping with God's eternal purpose in Christ to reconcile a people to Himself from every tribe, tongue, nation, and people.
The Final PilgrimageThe final pilgrimage festival and corresponding three appointed times have not yet been fulfilled. We must be careful any time we attempt to look into the future with certainty. However, we can have some confidence by noticing that just as Paul used the language of the appointed times from the Law in describing Christ's incarnation and death, burial, and resurrection, he likewise uses the language of the final appointed times to look forward to Christ's return.
Jesus used the language of the trumpets to describe the gathering of His people at the last times.
"And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other."
(Matthew 24:30-31, underline added)
Paul also uses this language.
Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
(1 Corinthians 15:51-52, underline added)
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
(1 Thessalonians 4:16)
After the Trumpets is the Day of Atonement. The language of the Old Testament festivals could easily be understood to foreshadow the Final Day of Judgment. After this appointed time, the final celebration is the Feast of Tabernacles. The language of "tabernacles" points to a dwelling. The consummation of all things is when God dwells among His people.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away."
(Revelation 21:3-4, underline added)
ConclusionWhile I would not be willing to guarantee that Christ's return will coincide with the appointed times from the Law, it would be unwise to miss the fact that God has already orchestrated the First Coming of Jesus and the Beginning of the Church age according to this prophetic schedule.
Are you ready? If you are, are you proclaiming the glorious truth of the gospel and urging those who are not ready to be reconciled to God the Father through His Son?