What Most Christians Overlook,..Where Did the Holy Days Come From?

By Ronald D. Kelly


Ask almost any professing Christian about the Passover, Days of Unleavened Bread or the Feast of Tabernacles, and chances are he or she will say, "Oh, those are Jewish holidays."

But are they? Are they just for the Jews?

Since Jesus and the early New Testament Church observed them, should Christians observe them today? How did they come to be in the first place?

The beginning of a nation

Almost everyone who reads the Bible knows that God told faithful Abraham that he would father a great nation (Genesis 12:1-2). Some 200 years after, the descendants of Abraham numbered about 75. Drought forced them to move to Egypt. By that time, the clan had taken on the title of the aging patriarch Jacob, whose name God had changed to Israel. They would be known as Israelites.

After nearly a hundred years in Egypt, they were forced into slavery. Yet in spite of all the hardships the Egyptians imposed, the population of Israel multiplied to more than three million. For more than a century they suffered under the Egyptians.

But God had not forgotten them. He prepared Moses to lead His people to the promised land.

Centuries later, when one of God's servants rehearsed this story in New Testament times, he called the people of Israel God's "church." Notice it in Acts 7:38: "This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness" (King James Version).

Here, the Greek word for "church" is ekklesia. It means called-out ones. God indeed was calling out His people. Old Testament Israel was His Church.

Called out for the Holy Days

The Exodus story is well known. But have you ever noticed, when God sent Moses to Pharaoh for the the first time, it was for permission to keep a feast?

"Afterward Moses and Aaron went in and told Pharaoh, `Thus says the Lord God of Israel: "Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness" ' " (Exodus 5:1).

Of course Pharaoh did not let the Israelites go. So God performed a series of miracles that finally resulted in the Egyptians thrusting the Israelites out of the country.

In Exodus 12, God instructed Moses to have all Israel prepare for the departure. He was going to slay all the firstborn of Egypt. But if the Israelites would sprinkle the door posts of their dwellings with the blood of a lamb, the death angel would pass over them. The Israelites did this. God then began to lead them to the promised land.

To be kept forever

So they would never forget this momentous day in history, God said: "This day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance" (Exodus 12:14).

This was not given as a feast to the Jews only. It was for all Israel-for all of God's people. Judah was just one tribe out of 12. And did you notice? God said this day should be observed as an everlasting ordinance.

Because Israel had to leave Egypt at a moment's notice, God instructed them not to even take time to leaven their bread-that for the next seven days they should eat unleavened bread.

The Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread were to become the first two of an annual set of festivals the nation of Israel should observe.

Several weeks later, when Israel had camped near Mount Sinai, God called Moses to the mountaintop where He gave the tablets of the sacred law, the Ten Commandments. God's covenant with Israel, the basis of which is God's law, was ratified on what later came to be called Pentecost.

In the autumn of the year, God gave His people the harvest-season festivals, the Day of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles.

There were three festival seasons that included seven High Day Sabbaths called Holy Days. They were to be observed much as the weekly Sabbath. They were days of rest and worship.

The Holy Days were to also be festive family occasions, with family dinners and fellowship.

In other words, the Sabbath and Holy Days were to be the heart and core of the Old Testament Church of God.

Inheriting the promised land

After 40 years in the wilderness, God chose Joshua to lead the Israelites into the promised land.

They crossed the Jordan River and set up their first camp. Let's again read the biblical account: "So the children of Israel camped in Gilgal, and kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight on the plains of Jericho. And they ate of the produce of the land on the day after the Passover, unleavened bread" (Joshua 5:10-11).

God led His people out of Egypt, establishing them as His own nation, during the first Holy Day season ever observed. Forty years later, they entered the holy land during that same spring Holy Day season.

Years passed. Israel struggled through many ups and downs. For 400 years they were ruled by judges. But they wanted a king. So God allowed them to have a monarchy. First Saul, then David, then Solomon ruled over Israel. After Solomon, the kingdom was divided into two separate nations-Israel in the north, Judah in the south.

Throughout many of these centuries, the Israelites did not diligently apply God's laws. They brought in pagan idols from surrounding nations. They lost sight of the Sabbath and Holy Days.

God sent His prophets, one after another, to warn Israel and Judah that unless they returned to God, they would suffer war, famine and captivity.

Few listened.

By 721 B.C., the northern 10 tribes of Israel were defeated by the Assyrians. They had given up the Holy Days of God. They had not properly kept the Sabbath for more than 200 years. They plunged into paganism. Even in the captivity they did not repent and turn to God. And they never returned to the holy land. In history they became known as "the lost 10 tribes."

However, they were not really "lost." Over many centuries they migrated to northwestern Europe, then later to England, the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and to other parts of the globe.

Meanwhile, in the Middle East, Judah followed the pagan ways of her northern sister. But from time to time, a zealous king came to the throne who led Judah in religious reform.

When God's people did turn to Him, it was through the Holy Day seasons that

they repented from sin and learned.

A time of reform

One such king was Josiah, who ruled Judah about 100 years after the northern nation of Israel fell to the Assyrians. He set out to do what was right in the sight of God. The beautiful Temple had fallen into disrepair, so Josiah commissioned a renovation.

During the reconstruction, the builders found the long-forgotten book of the law.

Josiah was moved to repentance. He ordered the Scriptures read to the people. And he led Judah back to God's laws. But have you ever noticed when and how this occurred? Notice the first act of repentance in II Kings 23:21: "Then the king commanded all the people, saying, `Keep the Passover to the Lord your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.' "

And the next verse is even more shocking: "Surely such a Passover had never been held since the days of the judges who judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah."

When God's people did turn to Him, it was through the Holy Day seasons that they repented from sin and learned.

However, the reform was short-lived. After Josiah, Judah drifted away from God's Holy Days again. So beginning in 604 B.C., God allowed the Babylonians to defeat and carry away Judah into captivity.

The return to the Holy Land

Nearly a century later, after the Persians defeated Babylon, the Jews were permitted to return to their homeland. Under Zerubbabel and Joshua, then Ezra and Nehemiah, the Jewish nation was reconstructed with the Sabbath and Holy Days as the center of worship.

The Jews were the only people keeping those days. And that is why so many today think they are Jewish holidays. But from the time they were first given by God, they were given to His nation His Church-to be observed as sacred festivals to worship Him.

The time of Christ

By the time Jesus of Nazareth came to establish the New Testament Church, the Holy Day festivals were an integral part of Jewish life. And the Holy Days were to play a very important role in the life of Jesus.

When He was about to enter His teen years we read: "His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast" (Luke 2:41-42). It was at this time, we find, Jesus understood who He was, the Son of God, and that He had a work yet ahead of Him (verse 49).

And it was on the Passover in A.D. 31 that Jesus, our Savior, died for the sins of the world. In fact, the Passover lamb that had been offered throughout the centuries was a type of the sacrifice Jesus Christ made for all mankind. His blood was shed for the forgiveness of sins. Before He died, Jesus told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem till He sent the holy spirit from God to imbue them with God's mind, character and power.

Establishing the New Testament Church

Jesus had told Peter and the apostles, "I will build My church" (Matthew 16:18).

Remember, Old Testament Israel had been God's Church since He called them out of Egypt. All that remained in the holy land of the original 12 tribes was the southern union of Judah. But when Jesus came to establish His New Testament Church, it was not to be a physical nation. The Gospel He brought was to be preached in all the world. Out of all nations and peoples, God would call a few humans into His Church for special purposes. But just as the Old Testament Church was founded on a Holy Day, so would be the New. Read it in Acts 2:1: "Now when the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place."

Only 120 families really had comprehended what Jesus' message was. They had followed His instructions. They waited in Jerusalem.

On the Holy Day of Pentecost, as those faithful gathered to worship God, the holy spirit imbued them with the power and love of God to carry out the great Work to which they had been called.

So are the Holy Days Jewish? By no means. Are they just for Old Testament times? No!

Prophesied for the future

Bible prophecy reveals one of the first orders of business after Christ returns to establish God's government on earth will be a return to the Holy Days.

Notice it in Zechariah 14:16: "And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles."

How important will it be? "And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, on them there will be no rain.... This shall be the punishment of ... all the nations that do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles" (verses 17-19).

Sounds pretty important to God, doesn't it? It is!

Shouldn't we observe those Holy Days today? We indeed should. We do. Shouldn't you?

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