How to Observe the Feast Days
Dr. Stephen E. Jones
We have done many studies on the prophetic meaning of the feast days. But these studies have left open the question as to whether or not one ought to observe them as holidays, and if so, how to observe them. Should a person kill a lamb at Passover and put blood on the door of his house? Should a person bake two loaves of bread at Pentecost? Should a person camp out in a booth during the week of the Feast of Tabernacles?
Many today simply hold conferences during those times of the year, doing hardly any of the things specified in the law. Some organizations even mandate that their members attend those special conferences at designated locations, teaching that one must attend them in order to be obedient to God.
What does the law say?
Keeping the Feasts for the Duration of the Age
In the law God said that the feasts were to be kept “for the age.” Many translations render it “for ever” or “perpetual,” but the word used in the Bible is olam, an indefinite period of time, or an age. In regard to Passover and the seven days of Unleavened Bread, Exodus 12:17 says in the NASB,
17 You shall also observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt; therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations as a permanent ordinance.
The word translated “permanent” is the Hebrew word olam. The New American Standard has its own Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, and it gives the meaning of olam as “long duration, antiquity, futurity.” So I find it just a bit puzzling that they would render the word “permanent” in the above verse. Why not render it, “You shall observe this ordinance this day throughout your generations for a long duration into the future”?
The word does not mean “permanent” any more than it means “for ever” in the sense of infinite time. If it did, then we would have to kill lambs and put blood on the door posts every year for ever. But we know that Jesus Himself was the Passover Lamb, and that His sacrifice does not need to be repeated yearly (Heb. 10:10-14).
The other feasts were also to be kept continually for the age, including the Wave-sheaf offering (Lev. 23:14), Pentecost (Lev. 23:21), the Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:31), and the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:41). But the duration of this form of the law was limited by the Cross. When Jesus died on the cross, he ended not only many outward forms of the feasts, but also the other animal sacrifices that God had said to perform “for the age” (i.e., olam in Lev. 7:36). A Jew might argue that these things were to be done perpetually, and indeed, they are even now preparing to restore the sacrificial system as soon as they are able to occupy the old temple site in Jerusalem. But a Christian bases his justification upon the true Lamb of God, not upon the blood of animals.
And so the biblical use of the term olam cannot be used to prove that the feast days must be observed permanently—at least not in the manner prescribed in the law. The form of the law changed insofar as it deals with our justification, even as we have been given a new order of priesthood—the Melchizadek Order.
So if the form of the law has changed, how should we observe the feasts today?
The Lawful Place to Keep the Feasts
The key to understanding how to keep the feasts today is to understand the law that specifies the location that the feasts must be observed. This law is found in Deut. 16. About the Feast of Passover, Deut. 16:2 says,
2 And you shall sacrifice the Passover to the Lord your God from the flock and the herd, in the place where the Lord chooses to establish His name.
We find the same terminology used in regard to the other feasts. About the Feast of Pentecost, we read in Deut. 16:11,
11 and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God. . . in the place where the Lord chooses to establish His name.
About the Feast of Tabernacles we read in Deut. 16:15,
15 Seven days you shall celebrate a feast to the Lord your God in the place which the Lord chooses . . .
Hence, the law is clear on this subject. The only question is this: Where has God chosen to place His name?
God Changes Locations in History
When Israel first went into the land of Canaan, the Ark of the Covenant was placed in the Ephraimite town of Shiloh. Joshua 18:1 says,
1 Then the whole congregation of the sons of Israel assembled themselves at Shiloh, and set up the tent of meeting there; and the land was subdued before them.
After a few hundred years, the priestly family of Eli at Shiloh had become totally corrupted. His sons were seducing the women (1 Sam. 2:22) and stealing the offerings (1 Sam. 2:16). So God sent a prophet to Eli who told him (1 Sam. 2:27-36) that God was going to remove Eli's family from holding the position of the high priesthood. He would instead give it “a faithful priest” (1 Sam. 2:35).
The Bible then tells how the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant, and how Eli and his corrupt sons were killed the same day (1 Sam. 4:11, 18). The Philistines then destroyed the town of Shiloh and killed the priests there (Ps. 78:64). Although the Ark was returned seven months later (1 Sam. 6:1), it never went back to Shiloh. It was taken to the house of Abinadab in the town of Kirjeath-jearim (1 Sam. 7:1, 2) for the next twenty years.
The priestly center itself was relocated to the town of Nob (1 Sam. 21:1). David later moved the Ark to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6:17), and when his son, Solomon, built the temple, the Ark was placed in it (1 Kings 8:6). Psalm 78:67-69 says,
67 He also rejected the tent of Joseph, and did not choose the tribe of Ephraim, 68 But chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion which He loved. 69 And He built His sanctuary like the heights, like the earth which He has founded forever.
In other words God took His name out of the tribe of Ephraim when He removed the Ark from the Ephraimite town of Shiloh. His name and presence had been entrusted to this son of Joseph first, because Joshua had been from this tribe. However, after the priesthood of Shiloh was rejected, He moved the Ark to Jerusalem in the tribe of Judah.
This was not merely the transfer of the Ark; it was the transfer of His name, as the prophet Jeremiah tells us later. The temple of Solomon stood for over three centuries before the Babylonian army destroyed it in 586 B.C. God allowed that temple to be destroyed because the priesthood of that place had also corrupted itself.
But before its destruction, Jeremiah prophesied that His name would be removed from that place like it had been removed earlier from Shiloh. Jeremiah 7:9-15 says,
9 Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and offer sacrifices to Baal, and walk after other gods that you have not known, 10 then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, We are delivered—that you may do all these abominations? 11 Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your sight? Behold, I, even I, have seen it, declares the Lord. 12 But go now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I made My name dwell at the first, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel. 13 And now, because you have done all these things, declares the Lord . . . 14 therefore, I will do to the house which is called by My name, in which you trust, and to the place which I gave you and your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. 15 And I will cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out all your brothers, all the offspring of Ephraim.
This makes it clear that Shiloh had been the first place where God had placed His name. Thus, the law that commanded the people to observe the feasts also mandated that they assemble at Shiloh in those days to keep the feasts.
Years later, when the Ark was moved to the temple in Jerusalem, the same law mandated that the people assemble three times in the year (Ex. 23:17) at Jerusalem to observe the feasts.
But then the priests in Jerusalem corrupted themselves as much as the house of Eli had done earlier in the Ephraimite town of Shiloh. They, too, had turned the house of God into a den of robbers. A robber den is a hideout where robbers can be immune from the law's prosecution. By violating the law, the priests in Jerusalem had turned the temple into a place where the law could be violated with immunity.
Their excuse, Jeremiah says, was that “We are delivered.” The word “delivered” comes from the Hebrew word natsal, which means “to snatch away.” In other words, to be exempt. The priests claimed to be exempt from following the law. This is not much different from the excuses we often hear today.
The prophet Ezekiel records seeing in a vision the glory of God depart from the temple in Jerusalem. Ezekiel 10:4 says,
4 Then the glory of the Lord went up from the cherub to the threshold of the temple, and the temple was filled with the cloud, and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of the Lord.
Verse 18 continues,
18 Then the glory of the Lord departed from the threshold of the temple and stood over the cherubim.
In Ezekiel 11:22, 23 the prophet saw the glory depart to the Mount of Olives:
22 Then the cherubim lifted up their wings with the wheels beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel hovered over them. 23 And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city, and stood over the mountain which is east of the city.
Ezekiel's vision ceased with the glory hovering over the Mount of Olives to the east of Jerusalem. This was to be the place where Jesus was crucified, for the top of the mount was precisely 2,000 cubits outside of the city walls. Jesus was crucified “outside the camp” (Heb. 13:11-13), where also the ashes of the red heifer were kept (Num. 19:9) for the purification of the people as they came to the temple at Jerusalem.
This was also the place where David made his sacrifice when his throne was usurped by Absalom with the help of Ahithophel, David's friend that had betrayed him. 2 Sam. 15:30 says,
30 And David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, and wept as he went, and his head was covered and he walked barefoot. Then all the people who were with him each covered his head and went up weeping as they went. 31 Now someone told David, saying, Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom. And David said, O Lord, I pray, make the counsel of Ahithophel foolishness. 32 It happened as David was coming to the summit [Heb. rosh, “head, skull”], where God was worshiped. . . .
Ahithophel was David's friend that betrayed him. He was a prophetic type of Judas who betrayed Jesus. When David wrote about Ahithophel in Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8, these passages were applied to Judas in Acts 1:20.
The summit, or “head” of the Mount of Olives was called in the New Testament Calvary, “the skull.” Luke 23:33 says,
33 And when they came to the place called The Skull [Greek: kranion, “head or skull”], there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left.
So even as David sacrificed on the top of the Mount of Olives, so also did Jesus offer up Himself as the Supreme Sacrifice for sin at the same location. This, as we have seen, was also the place where the glory of the Lord had been last seen by Ezekiel.
The Final Departure and Return of God's Glory
After Jesus' death and resurrection, He ascended to the Father. Acts 1:12 then tells us the location of His final departure:
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away.
Why is it important to know that it was “a Sabbath day's journey”? Because this was a distance of 2,000 cubits. It was the distance from the city gate to the top of the Mount of Olives. In other words, Jesus ascended from the place where Ezekiel had last seen the glory of God as it was departing from Solomon's temple. Jesus' ascension completed this departure to heaven.
He ascended on the fortieth day from His resurrection (Acts 1:3), the traditional time of Elijah's ascension. Ten days later at the Feast of Pentecost, the glory of God returned to earth. This time it filled not the temple in Jerusalem, but the 120 disciples in the upper room (Acts 2:1-3).
This was the third time the glory AND NAME of God had been fully transferred to another location. The first was at Shiloh; the second at Jerusalem; the third was the body of people known as the true temple of God. 1 Cor. 3:16 says,
16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
The glory of God—known most often in the New Testament as the Holy Spirit—now indwells us as people. God has moved from a tent at Shiloh to a temple at Jerusalem and finally now indwells a temple made of living stones (1 Peter 2:5). When He left Shiloh, He never returned. When He left Jerusalem, He said in Jer. 7:14 that He was going to leave Jerusalem like He did Shiloh.
In other words, He would never return to such mundane buildings made of wood, stone, gold, and silver. His chief desire from the beginning has been to indwell us. All other houses were inadequate to manifest His glory. The Jews may attempt to build God a new house in Jerusalem, but God is not interested in moving to a new address.
Where Has God Put His Name?
Revelation 22:4 makes it clear where God has placed His name,
4 and they shall see His face [presence], and His name shall be on their foreheads.
In the message to the Church of the Laodiceans, we read in Rev. 3:12,
12 He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name.
It is clear from this that God has now placed His name upon PEOPLE, not upon buildings, organizations, shrines, or holy real estate.
Remember that the only lawful place that one can keep the feasts, according to the law, is in the place where He has placed His name. When He placed His name at Shiloh, the people had to gather there to fulfill the law. When He removed His name from Shiloh and placed it in Jerusalem, the people were required to go to Jerusalem to fulfill the law. But now He has forsaken the old Jerusalem and has placed His name in a New Jerusalem and a New Temple made of living stones—Christian believers.
Hence, those organizations who compel their members to go to a certain location to observe a feast are technically in violation of the law. No matter where they may be required to go, that is NOT the place where God has put His name. It would be better if those organizations would tell their people that God has placed His name in them, and that wherever they go, it is only to assemble with others for fellowship.
The New Way to Observe the Feasts
In the New Testament context, one no longer is required to go to either Shiloh or to Jerusalem to keep the Feast of Passover. In addition to this, no one is required to kill a lamb and put blood on the door posts and lintels on the night of Abib 14. Our Passover Lamb is Jesus Christ, who was killed at Passover of 33 A.D. once for all.
When we acknowledge that gift of grace to us, having faith that His death on the cross was the full payment for our sin, we are said to be “justified” in the sight of God. That is a legal term indicating that law has been satisfied with the full payment for our sins. It therefore has no more authority over us, because it only has jurisdiction over sinners (1 Tim. 1:9). In like manner, the American legal system has no jurisdiction over me until I violate one of its laws. Only then can I be arrested and charged with a crime.
So also it is with God's law. It has no jurisdiction over me until I sin and thereby incur a debt, for all sin is reckoned as a debt. Once the debt has been paid by the blood of Jesus Christ, I have no more debt. I am free.
However, this does not mean that I now have the right to sin that grace may abound (Rom. 6:1). I have been redeemed, and that means I am a slave purchased by Jesus Christ who paid my debt. Romans 6:22 says,
22 But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome eternal life.
The law of redemption says in Leviticus 25:53 that the redeemed slave must serve his redeemer. Redemption does not end one's slavery; the slave merely changes masters from a tyrant to a near kinsman who loves him. In our case, Jesus is our near Kinsman, for He was not ashamed to call us brethren (Heb. 2:11).
So how does one now observe the Passover in a lawful manner? One keeps Passover by applying the blood of Jesus Christ—the Lamb of God—to the lintel of one's “house” (that is, one's forehead). That is how God's name is put upon our forehead. It is through the blood of the Lamb applied to our body, our “house.”
This is the only lawful way that one may keep Passover after the day of Pentecost in Acts 2.
How does one now keep the Feast of Pentecost? Read Acts 2 and see for yourself. The fire of God came down upon the heads of the disciples, for they were the two loaves of bread baked with leaven (Lev. 23:17) being offered to God. Take note that while this was happening at the third hour of the day (Acts 2:15), the priest was offering up the loaves of wheat bread in the nearby temple. But God did not accept his offering by fire. Instead, He accepted the offering of the 120 disciples in the upper room, for they offered their hearts to Him.
They themselves (representing us as well) were the loaves baked with leaven. They were not yet perfected, having leaven. But the offering was acceptable because they were willing to bake it in the fire to stop the leavening action. The fire was the action of the Holy Spirit, and it was a baptism of fire. Thus, Acts 2:3 says,
3 and there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit was giving them utterance.
The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the only way today that a person can lawfully keep the Feast of Pentecost. Since the place He has put His name is in our foreheads, this is why the tongues of fire were on the disciples' heads. Such visible fire is no longer necessary, of course. It occurred on that first Pentecost in order to show us that this was the place where God had put His name. And so it confirms the place where we must keep Pentecost.
Finally, how does one now lawfully keep the Feast of Tabernacles? Does one keep it by going to a certain location and building a booth made of tree branches, like they did in the Old Testament times? No, today this feast can only be kept in the place where He has put His name. The Feast of Tabernacles is the feast wherein we receive the glorified, immortal body. It is the feast where we leave this present mortal tabernacle, in which we “groan” (2 Cor. 5:4) and are transferred into that tabernacle “not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1).
The booths made of tree branches in the law were only types and shadows of the living house, or tabernacle, which is our inheritance.
This feast has not yet been fulfilled historically. Thus, some people like to camp out during the week of Tabernacles as a teaching tool, an illustration of the immortal body that shall soon be ours. There is certainly nothing wrong with camping out for a week. Such practices provide us with visual representations of biblical truths. As such, they are excellent teaching tools, especially for children, and can be very enjoyable. However, we should also make it clear that ultimately, the feast can only be “kept” by the actual transformation of the body that is prophesied in 1 Cor. 15:51-54,
51 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep [die], but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment [atomos, i.e., an atomic change] in the twinkling [wink] of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 But when this perisha ble will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.