LCG Article

“Three Times a Year”: God’s Plan for His People

sunset over a hilly field

You must first go through the meaning of the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread in order to take part in the meaning of the Day of Pentecost, which makes possible the meaning of the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Last Great Day.

Dexter B. Wakefield

The phrase “three times a year” is repeated several times in the Bible, referring to three seasons during the year. For instance, on each of the annual Holy Days, we read a particular scripture prior to making a financial offering: “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God in the place which He chooses: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Tabernacles; and they shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed” (Deuteronomy 16:16). From the example of Leviticus 23:4–8, members of God’s Church today make a financial offering each time we come before God in each of the seven sacred assemblies that occur during the annual three seasons.

But why did God put His seven sacred assemblies into three groups? He could have said “seven times a year,” right? Is there a particular meaning to the way He grouped them into three particular seasons? God’s annual Holy Days “are a shadow of things to come” (Colossians 2:17)—so why “three times a year”?

These three seasons have great meaning for God’s Church, and there is a profound relationship between them.

The “Spring” Holy Days: God’s People Made Innocent

The first season, occurring in the spring of the Northern Hemisphere, is that of Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread. At that time, what should we be doing and thinking about? As we approach Passover, we hear sermons about removing leaven from our homes and how that relates to removing sin from our lives. In the Bible, leaven often pictures sin, as in Jesus’ admonition, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:11). As we approach Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread, we examine ourselves and ask God for true repentance. The Apostle Paul instructed the Gentile Church in Corinth, Greece, regarding the spirit of keeping the Feast of Unleavened Bread: “Therefore let us keep 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). We come to Christ in true repentance, which is pictured by removing leaven from our homes before the Days of Unleavened Bread.

A scripture in the book of Acts provides a good summary of the Holy Days that occur in the spring of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. It instructs all who would come to Christ to do something. The Apostle Peter preached a powerful sermon, and concluded it, “‘Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.’ Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:36–38).

If you succeed in putting out leaven from your home, do you still need to keep the Passover? Of course you do. Does repenting of breaking God’s commandments remove the penalty of your sins? Of course not. As Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong often said, “Repentance means change”—but repentance can only change what you are going to do. It cannot change what you did already. Only one thing can remove the guilt of your past sins—the sacrifice of Christ. We remember that each year with a memorial to His death called the Passover. The Passover reminds us of the forgiveness we are to seek year-round.

And then we are to lead repentant lives. Sometimes people say, “You can’t keep God’s commandments perfectly,” suggesting that we no longer need to keep them at all. The answer is, “That’s why we need Christ’s sacrifice.” With the sole exception of Christ, every human being has sinned (Romans 3:23), and we still make mistakes. God knows that, so He gives us His Holy Spirit to live in us in order to enable us to keep His commandments. And He also makes provision for our forgiveness when we err and sin.

The Apostle John explained this in his first general epistle. Keep in mind that he was addressing baptized, converted Christians:

But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses [in the present tense, ongoing] us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins [in repentance], He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us (1 John 1:7–10).

My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked (1 John 2:1–6).

We need Christ’s sacrifice to cover our past sins, and then, as we go through life, we continue to put sin out. We must lead repentant lives.

We act this out every year in the season of Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread! In an important sense, the annual Festivals are a seven-act play that God has us go through every year so that we do not forget what He is doing. They picture God’s plan of salvation, which begins with Christ, our personal Passover: “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7). Therefore, we are “baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.”

De-leavening our homes pictures repentance and coming to Christ in a repentant state of mind. Keeping leaven out of our homes and diet during the Days of Unleavened Bread pictures our continued repentant life—keeping sin out.

Passover pictures the blood of the Lamb of God—our Passover, Jesus Christ—washing away our sins. This unmerited pardon is by grace—our repentance does not earn it. As Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong put it, a man who is on death row for murder cannot save his life by being law-abiding in prison. He is guilty for what he already did. He can only live if he is pardoned, and a person who is so pardoned would indeed be grateful and joyful. After we come to Christ in repentance, we undergo baptism and rise up out of our “watery grave,” completely cleansed of our sins—guiltless and reconciled with the Father. The Passover that pictures this begins with the evening of Nisan 14 (Leviticus 23:5; 1 Corinthians 11:23–66).

The Apostle Paul wrote the Church in Rome, “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin” (Romans 6:3–6).

Once we are cleansed of our sins and reconciled to the Father—in effect made “unleavened” and guiltless in His sight—we go through life striving always to remain “unleavened” and to avoid sin. “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (vv. 1–2).

It begins with having your eyes opened to be able to see and understand things you could not understand before. People who are new to the Church often exclaim, “I can understand the Bible for the first time!”

Then, you look at yourself in the mirror of God’s word (James 1:22–25)—and you do not like what you see. But that remorse leads to true repentance. After the Apostle Paul had written the Church in Corinth a corrective letter (1 Corinthians), he wrote to them again, noting their change. “Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:9–10).

When we realize that we are profaned by the guilt of our sins, it leads to a strong desire to be cleansed of the guilt. We come to Christ in a repentant state of mind to be “baptized for the remission of sins” by one of God’s true ministers. After baptism, we feel great gratitude to our Father who made all this possible through the sacrifice of His Son, who suffered so much for us. We are determined to never go back into the bondage of this world’s way of life—and there is great joy at being freed from it.

The Days of Unleavened Bread, occurring on Nisan 15–21, picture our unleavened state in Christ and our keeping further “leavening”—sin—out of our lives. God’s people lead repentant lives. The Days of Unleavened Bread begin with a joyful Holy Day, the First Day of Unleavened Bread. We begin that day with a joyful feast called “The Night to Be Much Observed,” and we have a commanded holy convocation during the daylight portion. The last day, Nisan 21, is also a Holy Day celebrated with a holy convocation.

Just as ancient Israel came out of slavery in Egypt “with boldness” (Exodus 14:8), God’s people are also joyful at being cleansed, made just, and reconciled with the Father. The “Spring” Holy Days picture God’s people made innocent.

Only after a person has obeyed the spiritual meaning of the first season of the year—repentance and baptism for the remission of sins—is he or she ready to receive the meaning of the second Holy Day season. The meaning of the first season makes the meaning of the second season possible.

The Day of Pentecost: God’s People Made Holy

Recall that Peter said in Acts 2:38, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” That brings us to the second season of the year, and the next great part of the Holy Days—Pentecost.

On the Holy Day of Pentecost, God founded His Church by giving of His Holy Spirit, beginning His Church and setting His people apart—sanctifying them. So how are God’s people set apart? The Bible mentions God’s Holy Spirit, God’s truth, and faith in that truth. Israel was described as a holy nation, but with the giving of the Holy Spirit, the promises were made available to the Gentiles as well—“that I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit”(Romans 15:16).

Also, God’s truth sets us apart. We are in this world, but not of it. Christ said, “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:15–18).

When we hear God’s truth, it is essential that we have faith in that truth and act on it. The Apostle James wrote, “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17).

And that living faith sets us apart. “I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me” (Acts 26:17–18).

When we say “holy” and “sanctified” what do we mean? “Sanctified” means “set apart,” and something that is holy is set apart for a divine purpose. That purpose may be for His divine presence or for His divine use. It is God who defines holiness—not humankind. For instance, when God said, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8), He sanctified a particular day, the seventh, and human traditions cannot change that.

God’s Spirit in you makes you holy to God. Speaking of the Church of God, the Apostle Peter wrote, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

The holiness of God’s people is extremely important—it leads to eternal life. “But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life” (Romans 6:22).

How does this work? Consider this verse: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Let’s look at this more closely, because this statement is literally true. If you die profaned by your sins, you cannot be in the first resurrection—the resurrection to life. All who are in that resurrection are immortal members of the God Family—and are holy. Those who are still profaned by the guilt of their sins can be resurrected physically, but they will still die. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’” (John 14:6). Christ, through His resurrection, is the way—the only way.

God commands us to be holy—for a most important reason. “But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15–16). No profaned person will be in that holy family and government—God’s holy mountain.

Pentecost pictures God’s people made holy. The holiness that God gives His people—as pictured by the Holy Day of Pentecost—is essential if we are to come to the meaning of the next holy season and Holy Days.

The “Fall” Holy Days: God’s People Glorified

Put simply, unless you are cleansed of your sins and reconciled with the Father, you cannot receive His Holy Spirit and be made holy. God does not put His Holy Spirit into someone while they are profaned by their sins and not reconciled with the Father—that is why “baptism for the remission of sins” comes before the laying on of hands. And unless you are holy and set apart, God will not resurrect you to immortality into the Holy God Family. But if you are sanctified by His Spirit and remain so, something very wonderful and very dramatic happens at Christ’s return.

The Apostle Paul explained to the Church in Thessalonica, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:13–17).

So what will this true life be like? Glorious—we will be like Christ in our corporeal nature. “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:20–21).

The Apostle John affirmed this promise: “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).

What is His glorious body like? John described what he saw: “His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters” (Revelation 1:14–15).

In God’s Kingdom, the righteous will actually shine like the sun! Christ Himself taught us, “The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matthew 13:41–43).

But do we hear what Christ is describing? He had glory with the Father before the creation of the cosmos. And on the Passover, before He was crucified, He prayed to the Father, “O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was…. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one…. Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory” (John 17:5, 22, 24).

How are a father and son one? As a family. It is not a question of whether there is one God, but how. The oneness of God is the oneness of a divine Family, which we can enter as sons of God. God’s great plan is to give “eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality” (Romans 2:7).

One of the things we remember about this third season of the year is the exciting truth of what we will become. We will become God’s redeemed, holy children, glorified with eternal life—like Jesus Christ, who is the firstborn of many!

What will we do in this glorified state?

“And have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:10). The kings in God’s holy mountain will exercise righteous government, and one of the things that priests will do is teach:

Now it shall come to pass in the latter days [our time] that the mountain of the Lord’s house [the kingdom and government of His holy Family] shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore (Isaiah 2:2–4).

And again: “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, [Why?] for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).

If you overcome to the end, you will be among those who bring about this great outcome.

God has us act out a wonderful, extraordinary plan in three seasons of the year. You must first go through the meaning of the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread in order to take part in the meaning of the Day of Pentecost, which makes possible the meaning of the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Last Great Day. These three seasons are profoundly connected. And the end of this great plan is a new beginning. As the Evangelist John Ogwyn once described it, God’s Holy Family stands at the threshold of eternity.

God’s glorified family will shine forever. Daniel prophesied a message for our time when he recorded the following:

At that time Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, every one who is found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever (Daniel 12:1–3).