Christianity and the Jewish Holy Days
By J.L. Robb
Should the Church observe the holy days and feasts that are outlined in the Old Testament?
This question has been asked and pondered for nearly 2,000 years. It was not pondered, however, by the earliest believers in Christ; because they were all Jewish. They kept the feasts and continued to attempt to follow the Law of Moses, which is pretty much impossible.
Messianic Jews continue to follow many traditions of their Jewish roots, and follow most traditional Jewish holidays. The most celebrated holiday is Shabbat.
Shabbat, the Sabbath day, is recognized and celebrated every week on Saturday, the seventh day, as described in the Bible.
Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. Genesis 2:3 NIV
Shabbat is also mentioned as the 4th Commandment:
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Exodus 20:8-11 NIV
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God… Hebrews 4:9 NIV
A day of rest each week may not seem like a big deal today; but in ancient times, time to rest was very elusive unless you were royalty. The other gods that people worshipped at the time did not have a weekly day of rest to recuperate, relax and think of God’s goodness. Of course, there wasn’t any goodness to Molech and Baal.
On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. 1 Kings 11:7 NIV
They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molek, though I never commanded-nor did it enter my mind-that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin. Jeremiah 32:35
Shabbat is the only day mentioned in the Ten Commandments, and it is significant.
Purim memorializes the salvation of the Jews from certain death during the reign of Queen Esther in Persia. Esther was married to King Xerxes, after the previous queen was dethroned. Xerxes did not know Esther was Jewish. At the insistence of Mordecai, the cousin who raised her after the death of her parents, she kept her Jewish ethnicity secret.
Esther’s story is interesting in that once again, there became a desire in the kingdom to kill every Jew, a story that has been repeated throughout Jewish history. Iran today is the Persia of yesterday, and the rulers of Iran still want to annihilate the Jewish people. Some things never change in God’s awesome play, and today the climax is near.
A decree was written by one of Xerxes’ right-hand men, Haman, that the Jews would be killed at a certain time. Haman was ticked that Mordecai refused to bow down to him in reverence.
Haman had a pole erected at his home, planning to have Mordecai impaled. The plan went amuck when Esther told her husband. Mordecai was made royalty, and Haman was impaled on the pole intended for Mordecai. Poor Haman never knew that Mordecai had uncovered a plot earlier to kill King Xerxes. The outcome: The Jews in Persia received unprecedented freedoms.
Passover is celebrated on the evening of the 14th of Nissan and precedes the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It occurs very near the annual Easter celebrations. Passover is revered as a most important Jewish holiday, celebrating the end of slavery of the Jews at the hands of Egypt in North Africa.
The straw that broke the camel’s back, convincing Pharaoh to free the Hebrew people, was the tenth plague of death to the first-born. The Hebrews painted lamb’s blood on the doorways of their homes, and the angel of death passed over their homes without killing their first-born children and animals.
This event is also symbolic. The blood of Christ was shared 2,000 years ago, and the reward is greater than even the escape from Egypt. Through Christ’s blood, the angel of death passes over all who believe that Jesus was who he said he was.
Shavuot (Feast of Weeks or Feast of First Fruits) celebrates the gift of the Torah from God to Moses on Mt. Sinai, about 3,500 years ago.
Many still appreciate the Cecil B DeMille movie of 1956, The Ten Commandments. Ahead of its time in special movie effects, one cannot forget the scene of the glowing Mt. Sinai and Moses walking down the mountain with two plaques in his hands.
The Ten Commandments and the Law were great gifts to the children of Israel, setting them apart from all other mankind, through their beliefs and their customs. When conquerors invaded Israel, they must have been amused by all the men with long hair and long beards.
Shavuot is called the Feast of Weeks. It follows the Passover Sabbath by exactly seven weeks, and Jews believe that God gave the Law to the people on the same date as Shavuot is celebrated. Shavuot, a pilgrimage feast, required every Jewish man to go to Jerusalem once per year for the celebration.
The first Shavuot after the death of Jesus is significant, because more than 3,000 Jews became believers in Jesus as the Messiah. This was the event when the Holy Spirit appeared as flames in the Upper Room; and the gathered Jewish men got to hear the Gospel of Jesus for the first time.
The Jewish men had come from many nations and often spoke different languages. In the Upper Room, the crowd suddenly saw tongues of fire appear with the Apostles. The Apostles, now filled with the Holy Spirit and fearless, preached the Gospel of Christ; and the men from different nations were astonished that they each understood in their own language. Those 3,000 Jewish men and the Apostles went out and spread the news, and many liked the news.
Tisha B’Av, or the Ninth of Av, refers to the ninth day of the Jewish month, Av. It is a day of mourning.
As amazing as it is, a lot of bad stuff has happened to the Jewish people on this specific date.
- Solomon’s Temple was destroyed on this date in 586 BC.
- The Second Temple was destroyed on this date in 70 AD by the Romans. As a result, 2.5 million Jews died, 1 million were exiled and 100,000 were enslaved.
- In 133 AD, the Romans plough the Temple site and build Aelia Capitolina, a pagan city.
- In 1492 on Tisha B’Av, the Spanish Inquisition expels all Jews from Spain and Portugal.
Tisha B’Av is a day of fasting and mourning, as it plainly should be.
Rosh Hashanah is also known as the Jewish New Year, the Feast of Trumpets and Yom Teruah. The Feast of Trumpets is described in Leviticus.
The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of sabbath rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts. Do no regular work, but present a food offering to the Lord.’” Leviticus 23:23-25 NIV
The Feast of Trumpets, the first day of Tishri, is believed by Jewish elders to be the day that God created the world. Rosh Hashanah is a time where the Jews make amends to one another and seek forgiveness for the past year.
Yom Kippur is also known as the Day of Atonement and is Judaism’s holiest day. It was the only day of the year that the High Priest entered the Temple’s Holy of Holies where he made a sacrifice for the atonement of sins for the previous year. There is no work on Yom Kippur and is a day of fasting and prayer.
Sukkot is also known as the Feast of Booths and Feast of Tabernacles. A booth was a type of tent in which the Israelites lived while spending 40 years in the wilderness before taking over the land that became Israel.
The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the fifteenth day of the seventh month the Lord’s Festival of Tabernacles begins, and it lasts for seven days. The first day is a sacred assembly; do no regular work. For seven days present food offerings to the Lord, and on the eighth day hold a sacred assembly and present a food offering to the Lord. It is the closing special assembly; do no regular work. Leviticus 23:33-36 NIV
Sukkot memorializes the protection that God provided for the Israelites on their journey to the Promised Land.
Chanukah begins on the 25th day of the month of Kislev on the Jewish calendar. It is the final Jewish holiday of the year and lasts 8 days and falls in November or December. Also known as the Festival of Lights, Chanukah celebrates the miracle of the burning oil. When the Maccabees regained the possession of the Temple, they attempted to light the Menorah. There was only a single day’s oil, but the Menorah burned for 8 days. The Jews celebrate the miracle, because God provided 8 days of light with only 1 day of oil.
Personally, I have thought about this subject, should Christians get back to the roots of the first Christians and continue the Jewish traditions in place after the death of Jesus. Though we, as gentiles, may not have biological roots to the Jewish people, we do have spiritual roots. Our foundation is based on the teachings and philosophies of the Jewish Jesus.
While the subject is contentious to some, the debate will go on; and while I will continue to celebrate Christmas and Easter for the cause they represent, I am going to my first Passover celebration this Spring.
There are many Christians, if not churches, gradually going back to their Jewish spiritual roots. It is an interesting phenomenon.