The biblical Holy Days found in Leviticus 23 are not a part of the modern, mainstream Christian tradition. Instead, they have been replaced with the holidays most are more familiar with, like Christmas and Easter. Most ministers and churches will say, “Whatever we do is fine, as long as we do it to worship Jesus.”
But what does God say? What does He expect His Church to do? Should the Church of God that Jesus founded observe the biblical Festivals, or traditional holidays? In this article, we’ll examine the days God commanded to be kept Holy, see from Scripture that Jesus Christ and the New Testament Church observed those days, and briefly examine how these biblical Festivals reveal the incredible plan of God. Finally, we’ll explore what all of that means for the Church of God today.
What Are the Biblical Festivals Commanded by God?
The biblical Festivals, or Holy Days, are specific days of the year that God commanded to be kept as Holy. There are seven of them, and each one has profound meaning, which we’ll explore later in this article. These days are listed in order in Leviticus 23. Some have called these days, “Jewish Feasts,” but we see in Leviticus 23 that God calls them His Feasts. “The feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts…. These are the feasts of the LORD, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times” (Leviticus 23:2–4). The rest of the chapter goes on to list them and explain when in the year each one is to be observed.
The commanded biblical festivals are:
- The Passover (v. 5)
- The Days of Unleavened Bread (vv. 6–8)
- The Feast of Weeks, called the Day of Pentecost in the New Testament (vv. 15–22)
- The Feast of Trumpets (vv. 23–25)
- The Day of Atonement (vv. 26–32)
- The Feast of Tabernacles (vv. 33–39)
- The Eighth Day Feast, called the Last Great Day in the New Testament (v. 39)
But these days weren’t only to be kept by ancient Israel or the Jews—all of God’s people throughout history were to keep them. He states in Leviticus 23:21, “It shall be a statute forever in all your dwellings throughout your generations.” These days are to be observed by all who worship the true God. That is why Jesus Christ observed them.
Jesus Christ and the Early Church Observed the Seven Annual Holy Days
It is not disputed among those who know their Bible that Jesus kept the biblical Festivals described in Leviticus. The record shows that He kept these days from an early age. “His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast” (Luke 2:41–42). Of course, He not only observed the Passover with His family in His youth; He continued to keep it until His death, even teaching His disciples to observe it with new symbols (John 13:1–7; Luke 22:14–23). It is also recorded that they observed the Days of Unleavened Bread (Matthew 26:17; Mark 14:1, 12; Luke 22:1, 7), the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:1–24), and the Last Great Day (John 7:37–39). But observance of these Feasts did not stop when Jesus died.
The book of Acts and the letters written by the apostles of the first-century Church leave us a record showing that they continued to keep the biblical Feasts for decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection. In the letter to the Corinthians, Paul reiterated instructions regarding how to keep the Passover with wine and unleavened bread (1 Corinthians 11:17–34). In the same letter, speaking of the Days of Unleavened Bread, he commanded the congregation, “let us keep the feast” (1 Corinthians 5:8), and went on to help them understand the meaning of those days. This was over 20 years after Jesus died, and the Church at Corinth was largely made of Gentiles, not Jews.
Act 2 records the first Day of Pentecost after Jesus died. Here we see Peter, after receiving the Holy Spirit, giving a message on the meaning of that day (Acts 2:1–39), causing many to come to repentance, be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit. While this was only a few weeks after Jesus died, we also see that Paul was still talking about and observing Pentecost—even among Gentile congregations—more than 25 years later (Acts 20:16; 1 Corinthians 16:8). We see a reference to the Day of Atonement (Acts 27:9). Finally, we read Paul’s words in Acts 18:21, “I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem….” The biblical record is clear: The biblical Feasts were still kept by the Church of God well after Jesus died and were an active part of the Church’s culture, for both Jews and Gentiles.
It is also revealing that the Bible shows that the Holy Days will be observed during the future millennial reign of Jesus Christ. “And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, on them there will be no rain. If the family of Egypt will not come up… they shall have no rain…. This shall be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles” (Zechariah 14:16–19).
It is clear that the Bible shows that these days are to be kept—but what do they mean?
The Holy Days Reveal God’s Incredible Plan for Mankind
While these days were kept by ancient Israel and the Jews, for millennia their meaning was not fully revealed until Jesus Christ Himself preached on these days and the Holy Spirit was given to those in His Church on the Day of Pentecost in 31 AD. Here is a very brief overview of the meaning of each of these Festivals and some associated passages, of which Jesus Christ is the focal point. Together, they illustrate, in order, the steps in God’s plan of salvation for humanity.
- Passover points to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins (1 Corinthians 11:23–34; Luke 22:14–23).
- The Days of Unleavened Bread point to removing sin and pride from our lives and taking on the obedience and mind of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 5:6–8; John 6:4, 31–58).
- The Day of Pentecost points to the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Church of God (Acts 2).
- The Feast of Trumpets points to the Day of the Lord described in the book of Revelation—the year preceding the return of Jesus Christ, during which the seventh seal will be opened and the seven trumpets of God will be blown (Revelation 6:17; 8:1–13; 9:1–21; 11:15; Isaiah 34:8; 63:4).
- The Day of Atonement points to the day when Satan the devil will be imprisoned for 1,000 years and no longer able to influence mankind (Leviticus 16:6–10, 21–26; Revelation 20:1–3).
- The Feast of Tabernacles pictures the 1,000 year reign of Jesus Christ and His saints on planet Earth (Revelation 20:4–6; Zechariah 14:16–21; Isaiah 11:1–16).
- The Last Great Day pictures the Great White Throne Judgment that will occur after the Millennium, when all of those who have ever lived and died without knowing the truth will be given their first genuine opportunity to know Him and practice His way of life (John 7:37–39; Revelation 20:11–13; Matthew 11:21–24; 12:41–42).
The above passages are just a small handful of many, many more that expound in incredible detail the meaning of these days. God not only provided His word to mankind; He also provided these annual Festivals, which are meant to remind His Church, each and every year, of His plan—the big picture from His perspective.
The Record and Meaning of Traditional Holidays
Simply put, most of the traditional holidays we’re familiar with, such Christmas, Lent, and Easter, are not in the Bible. These holidays can’t be found in the Bible (besides one mistranslation in the King James Version using the word “Easter,” which scholars recognize should have been “Passover” as shown in other translations). Additionally, it is not a secret that these days have never been rooted in Scripture. Rather, they are rooted in pagan customs and the worship of pagan gods. You can prove this with your Bible, and our publications Is Christmas Christian? and Easter: The Untold Story can help with that.
Professing Christians began keeping these holidays instead of God’s Holy Days because they were instituted by the Roman church, often hundreds of years after Jesus established His Church. This was done in an effort to make it easier for pagan worshipers to “come into the fold,” since it did not require them to change their ways of worship—only the name of the god. In other words, God’s form of worship was abolished, while pagan worship was adopted and called “Christian.”
The meanings of the traditional holidays are deceptive. They do sound good, because they claim to be about our Savior. It is claimed that Christmas is about His birth and Easter is about His resurrection. However, the reality is that these ancient days of worship were originally designated for the sun god, in the case of Christmas, and the ancient fertility goddess called Ishtar, in the case of Easter. Any apparent “Christian” meaning exists only because the leaders of the Roman church attached the name of Jesus Christ to these pagan days, long after the record given in the book of Acts.
What Does This Mean for the Church of God?
Many ministers and churches will argue that holidays originating in paganism are okay “because now we do it to worship Jesus.” They can believe that—but we’ll believe the warning God gave to His people when they came out of Egypt and were about to take over the Promised Land: “Do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way…. Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it: you shall not add to it nor take away from it” (Deuteronomy 12:30–32). Later, the prophet Jeremiah warned, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Do not learn the way of the Gentile’” (Jeremiah 10:2). Additionally, Jesus said, “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men” (Mark 7:6-8). The true Church of God, founded by Jesus Christ, has continued and will continue to obey the God of Heaven and worship Him the way He prescribed, as is recorded in the book of Acts and the entire New Testament.
In fact, as we learned in the article about the Sabbath, both the weekly Sabbath and the annual Holy Days are a sign between God and His people. “I also gave them My Sabbaths [plural], to be a sign between them and Me, that they might know that I am the LORD who sanctifies them… hallow My Sabbaths [plural], and they will be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the LORD your God” (Ezekiel 20:12, 20). In other words, observance of the weekly Sabbath and annual Holy Days is one of the signs of God’s true Church, which genuinely seeks to obey Him.
What does this mean for you? And what are some of the other signs of the true Church of God?