The last feast of the Christian church


By Jeffery Smith

PREVIEW Columnist

The Christian faith finds vivid pictures of its major beliefs in the seven prescribed feasts of ancient Israel (Leviticus 23), found in the Hebrew Bible or what Christians call the Old Testament. 

These pictures foresaw the basic steps needed for the Christian to become like Christ Himself. What should intrigue the student of both scripture and history is this: After the Reformation, when Protestants broke from the Catholic Church and embraced “Scripture Alone” as their guide, there has been a march of Church movements that follow the same pattern. This series of events gives us an idea of what lessons can be learned from our past, where we are today and what we need to do soon as we ready ourselves to rule with Him when He returns. Let’s look at those feasts. 

Passover, unleavened bread and first fruits were combined into a week-long event in the spring and were centered on the barley harvest. Pentecost was centered on the wheat harvest in mid-summer and the fruit harvest in the fall was paired with a three-week Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles. While not taking away from the sacred task of an ancient people to be thankful for their food, these seven feasts are enlarged upon by Jesus and the writers of the New Testament into pictures of the Messiah’s death, burial, triumph over death, the birth of His Church and His return.

For instance, the springtime feast of Passover observed the painting of lamb’s blood over Israel’s doorways so the angel of death would pass over them and strike only their Egyptian slave masters (Exodus 12:11-13, 22, 23). Jesus enlarged on this meaning when He came to free human beings from the greater bondage to sin (John 8:34). This is our common, inborn, proneness to do wrong. It lures us, then enslaves us. Jesus became our Passover lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7). His blood paid the debt God required for sin (1 John 2:2) and with His help we keep His commands (verse 3).

Unleavened bread started that same evening and pictured the hasty bread Israel needed to leave Egypt the moment they were given leave by Pharaoh. Yeast or leaven, often pictured as sin (1 Corinthians 5:8), could not be used, but had to be removed from the house (Exodus 12:15). In the same way, the dead body of Jesus was removed and buried. Paul taught Jesus “became sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21) at that moment and those who follow Him are also “buried with Him” when they are baptized (Colossians 2:12). It is the Christian way of telling ourselves and the world we are “dead” to the old life we used to live (Colossians 3:3) and have started our new journey to be like Him.

In the Feast of First Fruits, the priest waved the first buds of the grain harvest before the Lord (Leviticus 23:9-11). Likewise, Jesus was the “first fruits of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 15:20) when He rose from the dead on the third day. His rising pictured a future harvest of those who would be “made alive” (verse 22) or have the same nature He had. Paul describes this new risen life as a “walk” or a journey (Romans 6:4) where those faithful to Christ are no longer controlled by sin (verse 6).

Fifty days later was the feast of Pentecost. Here the priest waved two loaves of bread before the altar, thanking God for the wheat (Leviticus 23:18). Paul pictures bread as a symbol of oneness (1 Corinthians 10:17) and the two loaves foresaw the union of all (Galatians 3:28) who would “eat bread in the kingdom of God” (Luke 14:15).

After Jesus arose, He remained for 40 days and taught about the Kingdom of God. He returned to Heaven and, 10 days later, the spirit “fell” on His faithful remnant. This was not a meeting with a phantom-like presence. “Tongues” of fire rested on their heads. A “wind” filled the room with a “violent” noise, loud enough to draw a large crowd outside (Acts 2:1-4).

This Jewish feast drew pilgrims from distant regions. They then heard the message of Jesus from common and unlearned converts in 12 other languages (Acts 2:5-11), showing the new faith would go beyond the confines of Judea. The Apostle Peter was later sent to the house of a gentile. The spirit “fell” in the same manner and the new faith received their first, known gentile convert, a Roman soldier, and his household (Acts 10). 

In the 16th century, Protestants broke from the Catholic Church based on the ideas that “Scripture Alone” (“Sola Scriptura”) and not church teaching should guide them and “Christ Alone” (“Sola Christus”) without pope or priest would save them. To explain this fracture, Martin Luther returned to the image of the Passover lamb: “Either sin is with you, lying on your shoulders, or it is lying on Christ, the Lamb of God.” 

Jesus came to free us from sin, so it made sense to see Jesus as the lamb who was all we needed. This began the Reformation and a march of major Protestant Christian movements, and Protestant thinking, each growing the church in numbers and leading to the many worldwide denominations we see today. But it began with the images found in feast No. 1. 

Early in this tumult, conflict arose over when to baptize and the fury aimed at the Anabaptists was heartbreaking. They refused to baptize infants because there was no conscious choice. Instead, they wanted to be baptized again as adults, hence the Greek term ana or “again.” This idea opposed both state church and king and, though small in numbers, the Anabaptists were huge in martyrs. 

Today, most Protestant churches accept the Anabaptist idea as the better one. Baptism tells the world we are leaving our sinful ways, the way the Jews left Egypt with their bread unleavened, never to return to that form of slavery. But all players now agree to just disagree on the best way to do this. Jesus said certain matters have more “weight” than others (Matthew 23:23). This issue did not deserve the “weight” it was given and the price for learning this lesson on tolerance was high. Feast No. 2. 

The Holiness Movement finds its roots in the 18th century preacher John Wesley.

Often preaching “in the open air,” Wesley traveled 4,000 miles a year and preached 40,000 sermons in his lifetime, drawing converts from the new factory-based working class. Wesley set the standard for Christian social action, taking the Judeo-Christian ethics of Jesus into the public square. He spoke out against the slave trade, child labor, a corrupt British justice system, a cruel prison system and for the idea of women preachers and schools for children. His teaching and his Methodist Church did much to pull England back from the chaos of the French Revolution and foresaw a harvest of worldwide social action yet to come. Feast No. 3.

Much like the events in the book of Acts, the Spirit “fell” on what the Los Angeles Times called a “tumbled down shack” on Azusa Street in Los Angeles in 1906. Thus began a recent, major church movement, unique to Protestant Christians, starting in America of all places; the other post-Reformation movements came from Europe. Speaking in “tongues,” faith healings, a “gold” to the air best described as “Shekinah,” a mixing of the races in worship, a black leader partnered with a white writer, “spirit led” services — these moving parts of a larger engine broke new ground for the larger Christian Faith in many areas in the same way Pentecost did in the early church. They even described themselves as Pentecostal. Feast No. 4.

In the book “They Told Me Their Stories” by Edward Morris and Cindy McCowan, eyewitness accounts recalled the man who came in who had lost both arm and shoulder years before. The shoulder and limb were restored, and the man returned several weeks later with about 200 others. Also, he had gotten his old job back. It’s hard to fake an account like this and these kinds of healings were common in a way not found in prior movements. Jesus said His miracles were a sign (John 3:2), so Azusa Street’s miracles were also a sign, placing this movement at a nexus or crossroads of both scripture and history.

As with all Christian movements, the latest one was denounced by the former. The season of glory and miracles at Azusa Street waned after 10 years or so. Members withdrew to their race-based churches. Scholars were raised up to ground their growing numbers in scripture and curb some excesses. In 2011, the Pew Research Center placed the number of Pentecostals at 270 million and its sister Charismatics at 305 million. Wikipedia pegs the current, combined number at 644 million.

The Hebrew Feast of Pentecost in the Book of Acts is the last feast linked to an event in the new church. It is also now linked to a recent, major Christian movement, but the feast remains only No. 4, a midway point on a list of seven. The remaining three feasts and their larger meanings are yet to come. This allows us to at least guess what that might mean. 

The blowing of trumpets was to gather Israel (Exodus 19:13, Leviticus 23:4, Jeremiah 4:5) for the final two feasts. One can now see the pressure from a hostile Western culture driving diverse, faithful, Protestant groups, some Catholics and even parts of Judaism towards common ground. Doctrines may differ, but the ethics are much the same. 

But the final, larger meaning of those last three feasts is best found, in their proper order, in the New Testament’s Book of the Revelation. The blowing of seven trumpets (Revelation 8-11) brings seven partial judgments on a rebel human race. Judaism also links the blowing of trumpets with the return of Messiah (Zechariah 9:14). The New Testament portrays the final triumph of the Christian faith at the “last” trumpet (1 Corinthians 15:52). 

The Day of Atonement was when the high priest cleansed himself and, at risk to his own life (Exodus 33:20, Leviticus 16:13), entered through the large, thick veil into the Holy of Holies (Leviticus 16:1,2). There he brought in the blood of a slain bull and a goat to atone for his sins and the sins of Israel each year (Leviticus 16:15,16). In the Revelation, this veil is gone and the ark is exposed (Revelation 11:19), so there is nothing to protect a sinful world from a Holy God. From this most Holy place come seven angels with bowls in their hands (Revelation 15:7). Once used to carry blood in (Exodus 24:6), these bowls now carry out seven worldwide judgments. The prayers of a holy people for justice (Revelation 5:8; 6:10; 8:3-5), though long delayed (Revelation 10:6), are answered.

This last Feast of Tabernacles foresees the tabernacle, or dwelling of God, coming to earth and the nations healed at the close of the age (Revelation 21). 

Critics have long scoffed at the many Protestant denominations, often still hostile to each other. Their scorn is correct. Seeing that pattern through this lens brings sense to it. It sees the basic ideas of “Christ alone” and “scripture alone” from which these factions were launched as being good, even though, for now, they conflict with the oneness Jesus also requires (John 17:21).

Christians who accept “solo scriptura” are being moved to unite. This is the rightful end to a long journey. Like a couple in a good marriage, building on their shared strengths while they shed their flaws, we can pool our common, good ideas and strengths, respect the lesser issues, and maybe shed a few things that never should have been there in the first place. This will allow us to speak with one voice to our once noble culture now fractured by gross sin; a culture, perhaps, on the cusp of great judgment.

Let’s invite them to a feast. 

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