Leviticus 23 - The Feasts of the Lord
A. Listing of the Feasts.
1. (1-3) The Sabbath.
a. The feasts of the Lord: This chapter introduces us to the seven annual feasts Israel was to celebrate; feasts rich with symbolic and prophetic significance.
b. The Sabbath was not properly a feast, but like the feast days, it was a day set apart unto the Lord, and so a reminder regarding the Sabbath is here.
2. (4-5) The feast of Passover.
a. On the Jewish ceremonial calendar, the first month was known as Nisan; Passover was held on the fourteenth of Nisan each year.
b. Passover was meant to commemorate Israel's deliverance from Egypt, and with the sacrifice of the lamb for each family, show how the blood of the lamb averted the judgment of God for each Israelite family.
3. (6-8) The feast of unleavened bread.
a. The feast of unleavened bread was a week-long celebration the week immediately following Passover (from Nisan 15 to Nisan 21); it showed the purity Israel was to walk in (illustrated by eating only bread without leaven, a type of sin) after the blood-deliverance of Passover.
4. (9-14) The feast of firstfruits.
a. The day following Passover's Sabbath was a time to give the firstfruits of the harvest to God. The idea was to dedicate the first ripened stalks of grain to God, in anticipation of a greater harvest to come.
b. "The firstfruits at Passover would be barley, which ripens in the warmer areas as early as March." (Harris)
5. (15-21) The Feast of Pentecost (also called the Feast of Weeks).
a. Fifty days after the feast of firstfruits, at the completion of the wheat harvest, Israel was to celebrate the feast of Pentecost by bringing a new grain offering to the Lord; and by waving two loaves of leavened bread unto the Lord.
6. (22) Generosity to the poor and stranger.
a. This repeats the command of Leviticus 19:9-10; this was a law to provide a means for the poor and the stranger to eat by working for themselves and gleaning what was left behind - and, a appropriate reminder right after the law concerning the harvest feast of Pentecost.
7. (23-25) The Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah).
a. On the first day of the month Tishri on the Jewish ceremonial calendar, the feast of trumpets was held; trumpets were blown to gather together God's people for a holy convocation.
8. (26-32) The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).
a. On the tenth of Tishri, the people gathered again for a holy convocation; but this was not a celebration feast, but a day to afflict your souls in humble recognition of one's sin and need for atonement.
b. The specific priestly procedures for the Day of Atonement were described in Leviticus 16; here is the command for the people of Israel to set that day aside as a solemn day of reflection.
9. (33-44) The Feast of Tabernacles (Succoth).
a. On the fifteenth day of the Jewish month Tishri (on the Jewish ceremonial calendar); the Feast of Tabernacles was a time to rejoice in God's deliverance and provision for Israel during the time of wilderness wandering; a time when having come into the promised land, looking back with gratitude on all God had done to deliver and provide in the tough times of the wilderness.
b. On the first day there shall be a sabbath-rest, and on the eighth day a sabbath rest: The Feast of Tabernacles began and ended is rest; it was all about celebration and rest and refreshment.
i. We see here also the great social good God intended in the Sabbath and in the Feasts; in other ancient cultures, there was no day off, and there were no holidays. Here, God commands both holidays and "vacation days" - all centered on Him!
B. The prophetic significance of the feasts of Leviticus 23.
1. Structurally, the first four feasts are linked together, and the last three feasts are also linked - and there is a separation of time between these two groups of feasts.
2. The group of the first four feasts relate to the work of Jesus in His first coming, of His earthly ministry.
a. The feast of Passover clearly presents Jesus as our Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7), the Lamb of God who was sacrificed, and whose blood was received and applied, so the wrath of God would pass us over.
b. The feast of Unleavened Bread relates time of Jesus' burial, after His perfect, sinless sacrifice on the cross, during which He was received by God the Father as holy and complete (the Holy One who would not see corruption, Acts 2:27), perfectly accomplishing our salvation.
i. We may regard the burial (or actually, entombment) of Jesus as a small thing in God's redemptive plan; but it was an essential part of Paul's gospel: For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
c. The feast of Firstfruits relates to the resurrection of Jesus, who was the first human to receive resurrection; He is the firstborn from the dead (Colossians 1:18) and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep . . . Christ the firstfruits, afterwards those who are Christ's at His coming. (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23)
d. The feast of Pentecost obviously is connected with the birth of the Church and the "harvest" resulting (Acts 2); significantly, in the ceremony at the feast of Pentecost, two unleavened loaves of bread are waved as a holy offering to God, speaking of the bringing of "unleavened" Gentiles into the church.
3. Between the first set of four feasts and the second set of three feasts, there is a significant time gap - almost four months, which, significantly, was a time of harvest in Israel; even as our current age is a time of harvest for the church, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. (Romans 11:25)
4. The second group of the last three feasts relate to events connected with the second coming of Jesus.
a. The feast of Trumpets speaks of the ultimate assembly of God's people at the sound of a trumpet - the rapture of the Church (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17), and of the gathering of Israel for the special purpose God has for them in the last days.
b. The Day of Atonement not only speaks of the ultimate, perfect atonement Jesus offered on our behalf, but also of the affliction - and salvation - Israel will see during the Great Tribulation.
i. It will truly be a time when the soul of Israel is afflicted, but for their ultimate salvation; as Jeremiah 30:7 says regarding that period: Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it, and it is the time of Jacob's trouble, but he shall be saved out of it.
c. The feast of Tabernacles speaks of the millennial rest of comfort of God for Israel and all of God's people; it is all about peace and rest, from beginning to end.
i. Tabernacles is specifically said to be celebrated during the millennium (Zechariah 14:16-19).
5. Significantly, there is good evidence that each of the four feasts relevant to the first coming of Jesus saw their prophetic fulfillment on the exact day of the feast.
a. Jesus was actually crucified on the Passover (John 19:14); His body would have been buried, and His holy and pure sacrifice acknowledged by God the Father during the Feast of Unleavened Bread following, and He would have risen from the dead on Firstfruits, the day after Passover's Sabbath. Additionally, the church was founded on the actual day of Pentecost.
b. For this reason, many speculate it would be consistent for God to gather His people to Himself at the rapture on the day of the feast of trumpets - on the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah. Certainly, a possibility!