The Three Great Feasts: A Picture of God’s Plan of Salvation

The Gospel Age and Forward

“Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the LORD thy God … in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles” (Deuteronomy 16:16).

by Harry Wildblood

God gave Israel commandments to observe feasts unto Him, associated with
the events of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. These feasts were reiterated several times and were to be kept when they came into the land of Canaan. Though these feasts are often approached as separate studies, we will consider them together as a unified whole. In this way, God’s entire plan of salvation can be seen through the sequence of these feasts and their relationship to each other. We will then review 1 Corinthians 15:22-23 to see how the progression of these feasts displays God’s entire plan of salvation.

The three great feasts and the laws concerning them are given in Leviticus 23:6-22, 33-43. These feasts were associated with holy convocations or solemn assemblies in which all the males were to appear before the Lord in
the place that God would choose to place His name (Exodus 23:14-17, Deuteronomy 26:2, 1 Kings 8:16,29). This location would be at the site of the tabernacle, and later at the site of the temple. During the solemn assemblies, they were to do no servile work. In other words, they were to cease from their day-to-day tasks and focus on the object of these feasts,
and the one true God who provided all their blessings. God was essentially
commanding them to pay attention to what God was doing for them. They
were to cease from their own works and do the works of God.

These feasts were associated with the results of Israel’s agriculture and
had to do either with the firstfruits of specific crops or with ingathering of
their entire fruitage at the end of the year. Since agriculture was their source of physical sustenance, they were to thank God for his watch-care and blessing of their labors. In Leviticus 26:3-5, God tells them that if they would walk in His statutes, then they would have rain, bountiful harvests,
be safe in their land, and God would protect them. Israel knew they had no control over the elements. God wanted them to acknowledge that all of their blessings came from Him, contingent upon their observance and obedience to His statutes. So, properly, these feasts were not merely celebrations for successful farming, but were feasts unto God himself, as the source of all their blessings. “Three times thou shalt keep a feast unto me in the year” (Exodus 23:14).

The First Feast

First is the Feast of Unleavened Bread, in Leviticus 23:5-6. The Passover occurs on the fourteenth day of the first month, followed by the feast of unleavened bread for seven days, beginning on Nisan 15 and continuing through Nisan 21 (see chart below). The first and last days of this feast were Sabbaths and holy convocations. But note that Nisan 16, the second day of the feast of unleavened bread was specifically not a holy convocation.

Harvesting the barley crop, the earliest crop of the year, began while this feast of unleavened bread was being observed. The priests waved a sheaf of firstfruits of the barley on Nisan 16 and sacrificed a lamb for a burnt offering before any new grain could be eaten in Israel (Leviticus 23:10-14). Waving the barley sheaf pictured the resurrection of Jesus on “the morrow after the Sabbath” (Leviticus 23:11), Nisan 16. This day was not a holy convocation. It had no special observance or meaning to Israel other than indicating the point after which the newly harvested barley could be eaten.

This seems to indicate that the resurrection of Jesus on Nisan 16 was unexpected in Israel, even by Jesus’ closest followers. And this is what
we find. The women who went to Jesus’ tomb on Nisan 16 were going to anoint Jesus’ body with spices. Others who heard the resurrection news ran with excitement and amazement to see for themselves. Christ was “risen from the dead and become the [first of the] firstfruits of them that slept” (1Corinthians 15:20).

The resurrected Christ revealed himself to his apostles several times, including the remarkable discussion on the road to Emmaus, preparing them for the wonderful events of Pentecost. He had told them to “tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49), but really, they had no idea what this meant.

The Second Feast

The Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost, the second feast in Leviticus 23:15-21, was also a holy convocation and Sabbath. It took place on the fiftieth day, counting from Nisan 16 as day one, and Sivan 6 as day fifty (see chart, next column). On this day, the priests would wave two wheat loaves, baked with leaven, from the firstfruits of the wheat crop (Leviticus 23:17). These were accompanied by various animal sacrifices, meat offerings, drink offerings, etc.

These loaves represented the acceptance of the Little Flock and Great Company through the merit of Christ’s sacrifice, which would first be possible at Pentecost, 33 AD, as indicated by the Anointing of the holy Spirit. This was the “power from on high” (Luke 24:49) and the “Comforter” (John 14:26, 16:7). It takes the entire age of sacrifice to fully gather all of these
two classes, also referred to as “firstfruits.”

As Pentecost 33 AD approached, devout Jews of all nations made the long and expensive trip for this special holy convocation, swelling Jerusalem’s population to between one and two million (Acts 2:5). As they arrived in Jerusalem, it is likely that Jesus was the talk of the town. He had healed the sick, raised the dead, taught the people, cleansed the temple, denounced the Pharisees, and in all of this, appeared to be invincible. Then he was taken, crucified, offering no resistance, while his closest followers fled. Afterward, it was rumored that Jesus had been resurrected and had appeared to his followers on several occasions. These devout men, the best of the best of Israel, felt compelled to find out what was really happening. Peter spoke to them with clarity and resolve. The result was that 3000 transferred from Moses to Christ, begotten of the holy Spirit, beginning the opportunity for
the body of Christ and Church of the firstborn.

In the type, the counting cycle of fifty days, beginning with the waving of the barley sheaf on day one and the two loaves on day fifty, all considered “firstfruits,” shows the association of these classes, who in the antitype, were all begotten of the holy Spirit.

These feasts could not happen until Israel had “come into the land” (Leviticus 23:10). (In the wilderness, they ate manna and raised no crops.) When Israel entered the land, they drove out the Canaanites and possessed the land. From Reprint 5705, “We believe that the expulsion and destruction of these sinful nations by Israel was a type of how the people of God today, Spiritual Israel, are to take possession of their human bodies. We are, as
New Creatures, to conquer, to destroy, these tendencies of the flesh … and fill the place of the former occupants with holy, pure thoughts, desires, ambitions, purposes, habits.” So, this “coming into the land” pictures the availability of the holy Spirit to transform our characters in ways that were never before possible.

The Third Feast

The third feast is the Feast of Tabernacles, Feast of Booths, or the Feast of Ingathering (Exodus 23:16, Leviticus 23:33-43), five days after the Day of Atonement. It began on the 15th day of month seven (Tishri), exactly six
months from the Feast of Unleavened Bread (see chart, next column). This eight-day observance was a feast unto God for the results of all of Israel’s agriculture of the year, “when thou hast gathered in thy labors out of the field” (Exodus 23:16). The feast began with a holy convocation, or Sabbath, and ended eight days later with the “Great Day” of the feast, another Sabbath. On this eighth day Israel would sing the Great Hallel, the songs of praise to God in Psalms 113-118.

During this feast, the priests would read the whole law to the children of Israel. “At the end of every seven years, in … the year of release, in the feast of tabernacles. Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the LORD your God, and observe to do all the words of this law: And that their children, which have not known any thing, may hear, and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as ye live in the land whither ye go over Jordan to possess it” (Deuteronomy 31:10-13).

This is a picture of when the holy Spirit will be poured out on all flesh (Joel 2:28) and mankind will finally be able to “come into the land” and rid themselves of their sinful tendencies, the “Canaanites” in the “breast,” and become fully reconciled to God. “This warfare of Israel against their enemies may also be a picture of conditions in the Millennium. During the Millennial Age, the world, under the guidance of Christ and the Church, will be brought into a condition which will fit them to have possession
of the whole earth” (Reprints 5707).

The reading of the Great Hallel on the Great Day of the Feast pictures mankind appreciating the blessings of full reconciliation to God. “Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time forth and forevermore” (Psalms 113:2).

God also shows the unified purpose of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Feast of Booths, and how they commemorate God’s plan of salvation from the bondage of sin and death through ransom and restitution:
Exodus 12:17, “And ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt: therefore shall ye observe this day in your generations by an ordinance for ever.”
Leviticus 23:43, “That your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”

Paul’s Summary

Paul’s two-verse summary of God’s plan of salvation relates directly to this lesson: “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming” (1 Corinthians 15:22, 23). Brother Russell comments, “The Common Version rendering is obscure. Verse 23 should read: But every man in his own order: the anointed Firstfruits; afterward, they that are Christ’s in His presence” — during His Parousia — the thousand years of Christ’s Reign” (R5965).

So, these three great feasts, all to be observed by Israel in one complete growing season, picture God’s complete plan of salvation of ransom and restitution. This plan will produce the Christ, Head and Body, the “anointed firstfruits,” and then enable the “ingathering,” the reconciling of all mankind to God.

The eighth or Great Day of the Feast is the fulfillment of God’s promise in Numbers 14:21, “But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD.”

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