Every event on God’s calendar is very important to all Believers in Yeshua. Despite the fact that most Christians have consigned the biblical festivals to a long-forgotten history of the Jewish people, these festivals are just as vital to Christian identity today as they were in Bible days. The festivals which Yeshua and the apostles celebrated as they joined their Jewish families and communities in worship of the God of Israel still have profound significance for the Messianic Jewish community and for all Christians today.
Pictures of the Messiah
The greatest value of the festivals for Believers in Yeshua is that they reveal truths about the Messiah, just as Paul, the Jewish rabbi and Christian apostle, pointed out in Colossians 2:16–17: “These [Sabbath and festivals] are a shadow of things to come, the reality of which is the Messiah.” All of the seven festivals outlined in Leviticus 23 are prophetic pictures of the Messiah.
There could not be a more perfect picture of the person and work of Yeshua HaMashiach than the three spring festivals. Yeshua was recognized as the Lamb of God who would remove the sin of the world by no less a prophet than John the Baptizer ( John 1:29), so it should have surprised no one when Yeshua was crucified on the very day of Passover. The Savior was also the personification of matzah (unleavened bread) in that he never succumbed to the leaven of sin (1 Peter 2:22). In fact, he was the bread of life who came down from heaven to give everlasting life to all who would believe upon Him ( John 6:33, 41, 50). Finally, Yeshua was also the firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:23) who was resurrected on the very day of the Festival of Firstfruits following His crucifixion.
Just as surely as God fulfilled the spring festivals by filling them with the grace of Messiah, so the fall festivals will also be fulfilled by Yeshua at the end of the age. Without a doubt, God “will send Yeshua Messiah” who for the present “must remain in heaven” until the time comes “for God to restore everything as He promised long ago through His holy prophets” (Acts 3:20–21). When the Messiah comes, moreover, He will fulfill all the events in the fall festivals that God has promised throughout Holy Scripture.
Rosh Hashanah: Trumpeting the End of the Age
The High Holy Days of the Fall Festivals begin with the celebration of Rosh Hashanah, which is described in Scripture as Yom Teruah, “the day of blowing [of shofars]” (Leviticus 23:24). The penetrating sound of the shofar (ram’s horn) harkens back to the day when Abraham, at God’s bidding, offered Isaac in the Akedah (“binding”) on the altar on Mount Moriah only to discover that God had provided the sacrifice, a ram caught by his horns in a thicket (Genesis 22:8, 13). The shofar blasts that are sounded on Rosh Hashanah to initiate the Ten Days of Awe are designed to call God’s people to introspection and to repentance.
Rosh Hashanah is filled with prophetic insight, foretelling the future time when, as the end of the age approaches, God has ordained a great day of awakening. The divine shofar will be blown on Yom Teruah (Rosh Hashanah), and this clarion call will be designed to summon Israel, the Church, and the world to repentance and restoration. Joel 2:1 speaks of this Yom Teruah: “Blow the shofar in Zion...let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the Lord is coming; surely it is near.”The importance of this event cannot be overemphasized, for Scripture declares that it will be God Himself who will blow the shofar to signal the end of the age (Zechariah 9:14), just as tradition maintains that God Himself blew the shofar in the beginning of time in order to initiate the creation of the universe on Rosh Hashanah (Talmud: Rosh Hashanah 27a). The last shofar sound will issue forth this proclamation: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever”(Revelation 11:15).
Yom Kippur: A Final Day of Atonement
In biblical times, Yom Kippur was the culmination of the Ten Days of Awe that began on Rosh Hashanah. It was the one day on the divine calendar when God annually summoned His people to repentance and renewal. This was a day of fasting and soul-searching in which the people of Israel examined themselves “to see that they were in the faith,” a practice that carried over into the nascent Messianic community of the first century (1 Corinthians 11:28). Again, what Israel did for centuries was designed by God to be prophetic of what would occur at the end of the age.
Subsequent to the prophetic Rosh Hashanah blowing of the shofar in Zion to awaken all people, Yom Kippur speaks of another profound End-Time event when “all Israel will be saved,” when “the Deliverer will come out from Zion and will remove ungodliness from Jacob” (Romans 11:26). This will be a time of restoration during which Israel is destined to recognize the Messiah and to be reconciled to Him (Zechariah 12:10). It will be the ultimate fulfillment of Israel’s final Day of Atonement when God Himself will open a “fountain for sin to the house of David” (Zechariah 13:1), proclaim all of those who obey the sound of His shofar to be righteous (Isaiah 60:21), and inscribe their names in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Revelation 21:27).
Sukkot: The Messiah Is Coming
The Festival of Sukkot is the final Torah festival on God’s calendar. This festival celebrated the end of all the harvests, but it also required the Israelites to remember their journey from Egypt to Canaan by living for seven days in sukkot (booths or huts). Sukkot was described as “The Season of Our Joy” (Zeman Simchatenu) and was the greatest time of celebration on the calendar. In fact, the first- century celebration of Sukkot in Jerusalem was beyond spectacular. While recalling the transitory nature of human existence, this festival also featured time to search the heavens for signs of the Messiah’s coming.
In Scripture, Sukkot is called both “Tabernacles” (Leviticus 23:34) and “Ingathering” (Exodus 23:16). Interestingly, when it is called “Ingathering,” it is said to occur “at the end of the year” or “at the turn of the year.” This correlates perfectly with Yeshua’s declaration that “the harvest is the end of the age” (Matthew 13:39). The second coming of Yeshua, therefore, corresponds to Tabernacles, the prophetic time when the Messiah will “send his angels with a great shofar and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other” (Matthew 24:31). In that Sukkot speaks of of the age, both Jews and Gentiles—all the righteous of the earth— will be gathered together in Jerusalem to celebrate the last great festival (Tabernacles).“ingathering,” it also predicts that at the end of the age, both Jews and Gentiles—all the righteous of the earth— will be gathered together in Jerusalem to celebrate the last great festival (Tabernacles).
This Sukkot will celebrate the inauguration of the universal kingdom of the Messiah in God’s capital city, Jerusalem. This was the event of which Paul spoke, the time when in an administration “suitable to the fullness of the times,” God Himself will “bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Messiah” (Ephesians 1:10). At that time, the righteous will rule with Yeshua HaMashiach (Revelation 20:6), and together they will “possess the everlasting kingdom of God forever and ever” (Daniel 7:18).
For many centuries, millions of Jews around the world have prayed for the coming of the Messiah. Likewise, for two millennia Christians from every nation of the Earth have awaited the return of the Messiah. In the fullness of time, the expectations of both Jews and Christians will finally come to fruition. God’s Word of promise is certain: “Until heaven and earth pass away, not one yud or crown will pass from the Torah until all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18). What Yeshua HaMashiach began 2,000 years ago when He fulfilled the spring festivals will be completed when He returns to fulfill the fall festivals.
Messianic Believers—and, indeed, all Christians— still have the same opportunities that the earliest apostles had to remember the most important events in salvation history when they celebrate Pesach and Shavuot. Likewise, they can hear the sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, challenging them to pray on Yom Kippur for repentance and for the redemption of Israel and of the whole world. They can also join together in celebrating Sukkot, anticipating the return of Yeshua HaMashiach in what will be the climactic event of all human history— the time when God will again tabernacle with humanity (Revelation 21:3) and all the people of the Earth will live in harmony as God spreads over them His universal sukkah shalom (Luke 2:14; 19:38).