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The prophetic calendar of Israel

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Archives / 1979 / January

 

 

The prophetic calendar of Israel

Desmond Ford
Desmond Ford, Ph.D., is currently serving as professor of religion at Pacific Union College, Angwin, California.

 

Commentators have long recognized that the ancient feasts of Israel constitute a grand prophecy of God's mighty acts, from the cross to the second coming of Christ. Israel's holy year progressed from Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (or First Fruits) in the first month, through Pentecost (also called the Feast of Weeks) in the third, to the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles in the seventh month. The New Testament applies the series as types of the cardinal events affecting the church in the Christian era.

On the fourteenth day of the first month came Passover, the celebration of deliverance from Egyptian bondage and the pledge of a greater redemption from the slavery of sin. Tradition tells us how the Passover lamb was roasted. A rod passed from its throat to its vent so that it could be rotated. The chest cavity was spread open with another stick at right angles to the first rod. Thus for centuries before Calvary the symbolic paschal offering was stretched out on a cross of wood. Not a bone was broken, and the meat was eaten with bitter herbs, unleavened bread, and wine. Paul admonished the early Christians: "Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Cor. 5:7, 8, R.S.V.).

Every reader of the New Testament knows how emphatically the gospel writers point out that our Lord died at the time of the Passover. God's appointed Lamb shed His blood without a bone being broken, and now all who will may eat and live forever. The Saviour said, " 'Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you'" (John 6:53).

On the third day of the Passover week a sheaf of barley was presented in the tabernacle as the first fruits of the grain harvest. On that very day in A.D. 31 our Lord was raised from the dead as the first fruits of them that sleep, the guarantee and pledge that one day all the dead shall rise (see 1 Cor. 15:22, 23).

After a week of weeks, or forty-nine days, came the Feast of Harvest, which we know more familiarly as Pentecost. This day marked the completion of the grain harvest, when the wheat and the barley had been gathered in. To signify the blessings that the season brought, the special offering was not unprocessed grain but loaves of bread. The Passover and the preceding days of harvest activity represented God's special working season in the matter of redemption, but Pentecost pointed to man's participation in the benefits of the divine accomplishment. Christ, by His life, death, resurrection, and ascension to the heavenly sanctuary, was at once the provider and provision of God's feast, but the fruits of grace must then be turned into the bread of life for famishing multitudes. Pentecost, with its bestowal of the Holy Spirit just fifty days after Christ's resurrection, represented the worldwide application of the benefits of redemption. On this day the preaching of the cross by Peter gathered out 3,000 from all nations to feed on the bread of life as a pledge of similar gatherings through the centuries to come.

Following the Feast of Harvest (or Weeks) came a gap of months with no special festivals. During this time the summer heat prepared the fruit of the earth for its coming harvest. On the seventh month, the climactic period in the ecclesiastical year, came the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles. These were equally as significant and impressive as the opening festivals of the year. What did they mean to Israel and what do they mean to us?

Centuries ago Sir Isaac Newton, in his commentary on the Bible's last book, Revelation, wrote: "The Temple is the scene of the visions, and the visions in the Temple relate to the feasts of the seventh month, for the feasts of the Jews were typical of things to come. The Passover related to the first coming of Christ, and the feasts of the seventh month to his second coming: his first coming being therefore over before this prophecy was given, the feasts of the seventh month are here only alluded to." 1

Many others have written similarly. Dr. S. H. Kellogg, in The Expositor's Bible, writes: "We have already seen that the earlier feasts of the year were also prophetic; that Passover and Unleavened Bread pointed forward to Christ, our Passover, slain for us; Pentecost, to the spiritual ingathering of the firstfruits of the world's harvest, fifty days after the presentation of our Lord in resurrection, as the wave-sheaf of the firstfruits. We may therefore safely infer that these remaining feasts of the seventh month must be typical also. . . . Inasmuch as the feast of trumpets, the day of atonement, and the feast of tabernacles all belong to the seventh and last month of the ecclesiastical year, they must find their fulfillment in connection with what Scripture calls 'the last times.' " 2

Even more recently McKelvey has declared: "The imagery of the concluding section of the Apocalypse (chap. 21:1-22) is based upon the Feast of Tabernacles. . . . Many of these elements we shall find reappearing in the vision of the New Jerusalem, where the Feast of Tabernacles is clearly in mind. That John should have selected the Feast of Tabernacles for his imagery is not surprising. As the symbol, on the one hand, of the presence of God with his people, and, on the other hand, of the vindication of God's people and their triumph over their enemies and the conversion of the nations to God (Zech. 14:16-19), the feast was peculiarly suited to his purpose." 3

Undoubtedly the feasts of the seventh month point to events in connection with the end of time, but it should be pointed out that they also included symbols of Calvary and the ratification of the new covenant, which established the kingdom of grace. Recent insights into the relationship between inaugurated and consummated eschatology show us why such should be.

The Old Testament had spoken of the age to come and all its blessings as a single unit, called the kingdom of heaven, which would be ushered in by the Son of man, who would destroy death and justify His people in the judgment. Then eternal life was to be be stowed upon the righteous. The Messiah was to pour out the Spirit of God on all flesh and restore everything in the great jubilee.

When Christ came preaching that "the kingdom of God is at hand," those who heard expected the immediate and complete fulfillment of all the things anticipated and promised in the Old Testament. Calvary at first proved to be a tremendous disillusionment, though Christ had affirmed not only that in Him God's kingdom had dawned but that it was also to have a glorious fulfillment and second coming. At Pentecost, Peter declared after the effusion of the Holy Spirit, "This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel" (Acts 2:16). But where was the great and dreadful day of the Lord, which had been predicted would accompany the outpouring of the Spirit? Thus both Calvary and Pentecost left many questions in the minds of the disciples. Only the inspired writings of the New Testament led them gradually to understand that the kingdom of grace had come in the dispensation of the Spirit, and that this kingdom of grace would ultimately be displaced by the kingdom of glory at the Lord's return in the flesh.

All the Old Testament promises of the end time have indeed met their initial fulfillment in Christ. Thus in Christ it is true to say that Satan has been defeated, eternal life has come, the kingdom is here, and all who believe in Christ have received His ultimate verdict—justification, the anticipated decree of the last judgment. Evidence of the new age is to be found in the presence of the Spirit within every believer, although the ultimate fulfillment awaits the kingdom of glory.

Looking at the festivals of the seventh month in this light, we can see applications to the events of both inaugurated eschatology (the first advent) and consummated eschatology (Second Ad vent). The blowing of trumpets at the beginning of the seventh month pointed to the original proclamation of the gospel by the apostolic church, as well as to its final proclamation in fulfillment of Mat thew 24:14. The Day of Atonement prefigured our Lord's great sacrifice and ascension into the presence of God, where He sprinkled, so to speak, the mercy seat above the law with the evidence that all the law's demands had been met and that salvation was now accomplished. Hebrews, chapters 6-10, says much in this regard. But we find that the closing book of Scripture also uses the imagery of the Day of Atonement in connection with last-day events, particularly the final judgment (see Rev. 11:19; 8:1-4; 15:5; 20:1-3).

Scholars for centuries have pointed out John's repeated reference to elements of the Day of Atonement ritual in connection with the events of judgment at the end of time. He speaks of the ark being seen as it was on the Day of Atonement; of the much incense offered by the high priest from his censer while all the camp ceased its activities except for prayer; and of the leading away of Azazel into the wilderness—all of which preceded the last scene of the Day of Atonement, a heap of ashes in a clean place, prefiguring the emergence of=-the new earth after the cleansing of the old by the fires of judgment (see Lev. 16:27; 6:11; Mal. 4:1-4; Rev. 20:10; 21:1).

The rejoicing connected with the Feast of Tabernacles fittingly represents the joy of the Spirit, which is the fruit of Christ's finished work. Since Pentecost the church has seen itself as a pilgrim people dwelling in tents around ' 'Jerusalem *s" church until the day when at earth's last harvest we shall all be taken to dwell in the heavenly Jerusalem (see Matt. 13:43).

Meanwhile, as joyous pilgrims, let us keep the Christian feast with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, rejoicing in Christ our Passover and First Fruits. Let the gospel trumpet sound to all the world the Spirit's call,"Who soever will, let him take the water of life freely" (Rev. 22:17). Our Lord promises that ' 'him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37).

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Notes:

1 Sir William Whitlaw, Sir Isaac Newton's Daniel and the Apocalypse, pp. 308, 309.

2 S. H. Kellogg, The Expositor's Bible The Book of Leviticus, p. 468.

3 R. J. McKelvey, The New Temple, p. 163 f

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