While writing on blood moons for September of this year, I ran into an idea that I had heard before, but have not paid much attention to recently: the Old Testament feasts foretell in some detail the course of salvation history. More specifically: the spring feasts were fulfilled in Christ’s first coming; the fall feasts will be fulfilled in or around his second coming. Really? This makes me curious. The idea enjoys a fair level of popularity especially in charismatic circles, and consequently it is worth an issue of Create a Learning Site. So here I go.
I will first take a brief look at the feasts we are talking about, as the Bible itself presents them. Then I will attempt a summary of the teachings that builds on this (sometimes extensively) with a prophetic angle or interest. And finally I will offer a critical assessment of this approach and propose an alternative way of looking at it.
I limit myself to the seven feasts introduced in Leviticus 23 (see also Ex. 23:12-19, 34:18-26, Dt. 16:11-17, and Nu. 28-29). I will not deal with Purim (although it is also a biblical feast, see Esther 9), Hanukkah (commemorating the rededication of the temple 164 BC), and other holidays.
Israel’s Feasts in the Leviticus 23
1. Passover commemorates the night in which Egypt’s firstborn were slain while Israel was spared. It is celebrated on the 14th day of the first month. In a larger sense it celebrates the exodus from Egypt. Jesus refocused this feast on himself by instituting the Lord’s Supper. He died on the cross on the day the Passover lambs were being slaughtered in Jerusalem.
2. The Feast of Unleavened Bread lasts seven days and immediately follows Passover. The Israelites were not to eat any leavened bread or even leave any leaven in their homes to commemorate their hasty departure from Egypt. There is an interesting symmetry with the Day of Atonement, which is followed by the Feast of Booths, also one week long. In both cases, the second feast is what Israel does in response to what God has done. Paul draws a parallel between these first two feasts and the life of believers after their conversion:
Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Cor. 5:7f; notice that this is no longer about a festival that takes place once a year; it has become a continuing reality)
3. The Feast of Firstfruits marks the beginning of the barley harvest by presenting a sheaf before the Lord. This is an act of thanksgiving and of acknowledging dependence on God. It coincided with the day of the resurrection of Christ, whom Paul calls “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20).
4. The Feast of Weeks, also known as Pentecost (from the Greek word for 50) takes place 50 days after Firstfruits, so late spring or early summer. This is also a harvest feast; it marks the end of the wheat harvest. In later Jewish tradition it became associated with the giving of the law and with covenant renewal, but there is no clear biblical foundation for this. It was on the day of Pentecost that the Holy Spirit was first poured out, beginning the great harvest of the redeemed.
5. The Feast of Trumpets (Heb. Yom Teruah) takes place on the first day of the seventh month. Little is said about this feast, other than that it is to be a day of rest and that trumpets are to be blown. This relative silence is noteworthy, especially in light of the fact that so much is made of it in prophetic speculation, as we will see. And no, it is not called Rosh Hashanah, it does not mention a shofar, and it is not even called the beginning of the new year or a New Year’s Festival. All of this is extra-biblical Jewish tradition. Its proximity to the next feast does suggest it is a call for preparation and repentance.
6. The Day of Atonement (or Purgation; see the issue on Leviticus; Heb. Yom Kippur) takes place on the 10th day of the seventh month. It is the one day in the year that the high priest may enter the Holy of Holies in order to cleanse the sanctuary and the people of moral and ritual impurity. The Epistle to the Hebrews provides us with the New Testament perspective on how Jesus fulfilled this feast.
7. The Feast of Booths, also known as the Feast of Tabernacles (Heb. Sukkot), begins on the 15th day of the seventh month. For seven days, Israel is to live in huts made of branches. It is both a harvest feast, celebrating the completion of the harvest and the agricultural cycle, and a feast to commemorate the wilderness wanderings, when the Israelites lived in tents.
Prophetic Feasts: What Might They Mean?
I do not find it easy to summarize the view (or better, views) that the fall feasts have clear and specific prophetic significance. There is considerable diversity on what a particular feast means or predicts, and explanations offered are not always clear. A few of the websites I looked at were downright confusing, especially those that make extensive reference to later Jewish traditions and ceremonies (for instance Jewish wedding rites and customs applied to the Messiah), and combine these with popular end-time speculations.
As a result, I now know this is a subject big enough for a doctoral dissertation; I cannot possibly do justice to all this diversity in one post or letter. However, I will try to give you a general idea.
1. Distinction between the spring feasts and the fall feasts. As we have seen, four of the feasts took place in the spring and early summer. There is general agreement that these were fulfilled by Jesus in the events of Easter and Pentecost. The remaining three feasts took place in the seventh month. The innovative insight of this approach is that these three are prophetic and are yet to find their fulfilment:
The spring feasts were the pattern for God’s plan of redemption in the first century. The autumn feasts are the pattern for God’s plan of restoration in the last century. (Juster & Intrater 1991:116)
That leaves us with the last three (fall) Feasts which are yet to be fulfilled in the life and work of the Messiah… Because Yeshua (Jesus) literally fulfilled the first four feasts and did so on the actual feast days, we think it is safe to assume that the last three will also be fulfilled and that their fulfilment will occur on the actual feast days. (Sanders & Sander 2013)
The first four feasts were fulfilled by Jesus, both symbolically and literally, at His first coming … Since the first four feasts were fulfilled on the very days God commanded His people to celebrate them, it is reasonable to conclude that the remaining three feasts will also be fulfilled on the actual feast days as well. (Brooks n.d.)
The concluding assumption in the last two quotes that the fulfilment will occur on these exact feast days is certainly not shared by everyone (as there is no reason why God would have to repeat himself!), but otherwise this illustrates the basic assumption of the approach: the three fall feasts look forward to the second coming of Christ and the end of the age.
2. Dispensational varieties  tend to identify the Feast of Trumpets with the rapture of the church. The Day of Atonement prefigures the visible return of Christ and the conversion of Israel. Some will point to the ten Days of Awe (in Jewish tradition the days preceding the Day of Atonement, an opportunity for soul searching, repentance, and seeking forgiveness) as signifying the seven years of the great tribulation (so Hommel n.d.). The Feast of Booths may be equated with the millennial reign of Christ.
3. Other (non-dispensational) varieties may see the Feast of Trumpets as the second coming of Christ. Alternatively, this feast can be taken more generally as the beginning of a final phase in which repentance is still possible and therefore urgent (at times pointing to the Days of Awe tradition just mentioned; so Brooks). It can therefore also be understood as prefiguring a great end-time revival (for instance Finley 2003; this expectation is widespread in the charismatic movement). In this case, the trumpet marks a kind of last call, and the Day of Atonement may be understood as judgement day. For others, the Day of Atonement represents the second coming or the day of salvation for Israel (so Sanders & Sander 2013; Nadler 2015).
4. The Feast of Booths has several different interpretations. Don Finto (2001:59) takes it as “the time of the final ingathering of the harvest, anticipating the immense harvest of souls prior to Yeshua’s return” (similar Nadler 2015: an ingathering of all nations). It is sometimes linked with the marriage supper of the Messiah (Juster & Intrater 1991: 272f). For some it simply marks God’s presence ‘tabernacling’ with his people. For yet others it prefigures or looks forward to the coming kingdom of the Messiah .
The following quote is somewhat typical for the combination of present and future significance recognized by this approach in these Jewish holidays:
Rosh Hashana, known more accurately as the Feast of Trumpets or Day of Judgment, should be welcomed, not dreaded. The biblical name for the holiday is Yom Teruah, literally meaning Day of Blasting. It is a day to blow trumpets, awakening God’s people from spiritual slumber. Yom Teruah sounds an alarm to prepare us for reckoning and judgment ten days later on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement or Day of Covering). It is God’s gracious call to judge ourselves so that He needn’t do so. As we turn to Him we rejoice in His righteous judgments that will restore all things. We rejoice in the atoning sacrifice of His Son, Messiah Yeshua. We celebrate His dwelling with us forever, foreshadowed in the Feast of Tabernacles five days later (1 Corinthians 11:31). (Teplinsky 2015)
Does This Hold Water? A Few Questions
When did this view originate? I am not sure, but I do know it is new. I am not aware of anyone saying this before the 1970s or even later. I have only found references to it from the 1990s onward, but that may be a deficiency in my sources. I am therefore uncertain when this approach first arose, but by all appearances, it is a recent development. Of course Christians have always believed the feasts have typological significance, but not that the fall feasts are predictive and relate to the second coming in the specific and precise ways described here.
Are the feasts prophecies or types? This is not quite the same thing. For several of them it certainly is not the feast itself but the event it commemorates that has indeed prophetic significance, but in the second sense: it is a type or a pattern with a counterpart in the New Testament, but not a prophecy in a more narrow sense. The same applies to some of the rituals. There may not be much predictive information to gain from such typological relationships. Insights yes, but predictions? Types are usually related to Christ and his work, and are therefore largely or entirely fulfilled in the past.
So what about the feasts is unfinished and as yet unfulfilled? The reference to firstfruits and its application to the resurrection of Christ calls for a further resurrection. The idea of a harvest or ingathering also suggests a future point of completion. There is therefore a prophetic element remaining in these feasts. This is a far cry from some of the highly embellished expositions of Jewish feasts I have been looking at. It is hard to see in them any specific predictive content.
It is often pointed out that in the New Testament, a trumpet is blown at the return of Christ and at the resurrection (Mt. 24:31, 1 Thess. 4:16, 1 Cor. 15:52) – but which trumpet is this? Is it related to the Feast of Trumpets? Or is this the trumpet blown at the beginning of every 50th year on the Day of Atonement to proclaim the Year of Jubilee (Lev. 25:9)? The statement of Jesus in Matthew 24:31 seems to reach back to Isaiah 27:13. This is the moment of the ultimate salvation and ingathering of God’s people. This fits the Year of Jubilee much better than the Feast of Trumpets, seeing that the latter was a call to attention rather than a proclamation of freedom. It is therefore the Year of Jubilee and not the Feast of Trumpets that still contains an unfulfilled element, even though Jesus clearly and substantially (but not completely) fulfilled the Jubilee (most clearly in Luke 4:16-19) as well. From a Christian perspective, all the blessings of Jubilee are available in Jesus.
Trumpets are at times associated with theophany, an appearance of God as on Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:16ff). But the Feast of Trumpets is not meant as an announcement of God’s arrival or appearance, and therefore does not prefigure the second coming.
What is all this buzz about Rosh Hashanah? This Hebrew phrase meaning the head (the beginning) of the year does not appear in the Bible, with one exception: Ezekiel 40:1. In this verse it simply marks the date and does not refer to a feast. It is only in later Jewish tradition that this became the standard phrase for the beginning of the new year.
I have already pointed out that the Bible is relatively quiet about this feast, which makes it all the more remarkable how much is written and spoken about it today.
In context, it is not even clear that the blowing of the trumpet marks the beginning of a new year. After all, this is the first day of the seventh month, and why would the year begin in month seven? This, too, owes more to Jewish tradition than to the Bible. The seventh month marked the end of the agricultural cycle; soon, the rainy season would begin. It therefore became the beginning of the agricultural or civic year. The first month, the month of Passover, marked the beginning of the religious year. This is similar to for instance our calendar year and our school, church, or tax year today – they all have different beginnings.
There is some biblical support for the seventh month as a beginning. Exodus 23:16 places the Feast of Ingathering (a different name for the Feast of Booths) at the end of year, corresponding with the end of the agricultural cycle. Based on Leviticus 25:9, it seems that the Sabbath Year and the Year of Jubilee are to begin in the seventh month: the trumpet announcing the Jubilee is to be blown on the Day of Atonement. This makes sense, because such a year had to be based on the natural and agricultural cycle, and therefore could not start in April. It still does not turn the Feast of Trumpets into a biblical equivalent of New Year’s Eve.
All of this is interesting, but hardly justifies the excitement in some circles today about the Jewish feast called Rosh Hashanah.
Why the shofar? Here is another curiosity: it is not the shofar, the Hebrew word for a ram’s horn, which is to be blown on OT holidays. According to Numbers 10:1-10, Moses was to make two silver trumpets (a different word is used in Hebrew), and it was these that were to be blown “on the day of your gladness also, and at your appointed feasts and at the beginnings of your months” (Nu. 10:10, ESV; interestingly, the proclamation of a year of Jubilee on the 10th day of the seventh month did take place by blowing the shofar; Lev. 25:9).
So where does the shofar come from on Rosh Hashanah, when the Law prescribes a different trumpet? One answer I read states: “The blowing of Trumpets was a memorial of God’s grace to Abraham when He substituted a ram to be sacrificed instead of his son Isaac (Gen. 22). Therefore the Jewish people today blow a ram’s horn on Rosh HaShanah” (Sanders & Sanders, 2013). With all respect to Jewish tradition, I don’t think this makes sense, at least not as an interpretation of Scripture.
Alternative Approach: Jesus Fulfilled All the Feasts
I have mixed feelings about writing critically about these things. On the one hand, I have deep respect and appreciation for Jewish history and tradition. On the other hand, the mixing of Jewish and Christian beliefs and practices, topping it off with miscellaneous prophetic speculations (either of a dispensational variety or of a newer, messianic-charismatic kind) as documented in this issue strikes me as odd and less than helpful. And I see no good reason for the key distinction between spring and fall feasts in which the fall feasts have yet to be fulfilled at and around the second coming.
Let me propose an alternative view, that of Jesus fulfilling all the feasts, including the Autumn ones. This is most clearly the case with the Day of Atonement, as extensively documented in Hebrews . If Jesus fulfilled any feast, it is this one! (This alone is enough to destroy the premise that the fall feasts are as yet unfulfilled and forward looking.)
The Feast of Trumpets is more difficult to interpret, since, as noted, we have so little to go by. As argued above, I am assuming the NT trumpet is based on Isaiah 27 and Jubilee, and does not help us here. We therefore need to look elsewhere. In context, the close link with the Day of Atonement sets us on the right track. Repentance was and is a prerequisite for enjoying the benefits of the special atonement sacrifice, both under the old and under the new covenant. Jesus certainly preached repentance, so we don’t have to wait for a trumpet to heed this call. This call is always there, and it is always urgent.
So what about the Feast of Booths? Remember the parallel between on the one hand Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and on the other the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Booths. We respond to Jesus as our Passover lamb by putting away sin. We respond to his great atoning sacrifice with exodus from Egypt and Babylon, entering the wilderness on our journey from this world to the world to come (our promised land); as a result we live on this earth as foreigners and exiles in temporary dwellings.
So in one sense these two feasts are not fulfilled by Jesus, but by us.
At the same time, John 1:14 states that Jesus “tabernacled” among us. In addition to this, later in the Gospel of John Jesus takes decisive action in Jerusalem during this feast. At that time, it had become part of this week-long celebration in remembrance of the wilderness wandering to perform a water pouring ritual; after all, God had miraculously provided water in the desert. It had also become customary to light the city of Jerusalem with torches, commemorating the pillar of fire travelling with the Israelites (see Keener 1993 on John 7:37 and 8:12).
It is in this context of the Feast of Booths (John 7:2) that Jesus stands up and makes two of his grandiose self-declarations:
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37f, ESV)
I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. (John 8:12, ESV)
Is it too much to say that Jesus fulfilled this feast also?
Which Feasts Should We Celebrate?
One last question: Which feasts should we as Christians celebrate? Well, there is no law on this in the Bible, at least not one that applies to believers in Christ (Col. 2:16f; cf. Gal. 4:10), so you are free to do whatever you want. But the worldwide Christian movement mostly lives with different agricultural cycles from the ones existing in Israel. It looks back to a different (even if related) set of events that sum up its salvation. In my opinion, it makes perfect sense that it follows the example of Israel in marking the year by commemorating the central events of its history and origin, but that the actual events commemorated are different ones: those centred on Christ, not the exodus.
Therefore: merry Christmas, and if you are so inclined, happy Hanukah! But don’t let anyone “pass judgment on you … with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath” (Col. 2:16, ESV)!
 Dispensationalism is a theology with many features. Relevant here is that it tends to distinguish Israel from the church and that it believes in the rapture of the church before (or in some versions, in the middle of) what is called the great tribulation, usually a period of seven years immediately preceding the visible return of Christ. In such a scheme it is of course possible to interpret the Feast of Trumpets as a type of the rapture, because still more is to happen between the rapture and the second coming, just as more feasts are to happen in the seventh month of Israel’s calendar. In popular versions of this scenario there is substantial speculation on the details of what will happen just before and during the great tribulation. I don’t think this dispensational scenario is defendable, but that is a different subject.
 From a purely biblical perspective, it is not clear to me why the Feast of Booths would prefigure or look forward to the messianic kingdom. The feast is mentioned in Zechariah 14:16-19, but this passage simply states all nations will come and celebrate this feast with Israel. (As an aside, I don’t think this word will have a literal fulfilment; look at Zech. 14:20f: this is old covenant language for new covenant realities; or do you think we will go back to the sacrificial temple cult?) Zechariah 14 does not explain the feast.
I assume the equation of Booths and messianic kingdom builds on seeing the wilderness wanderings of Israel as a type for the present stage of the church, and Israel celebrating it in the land as a type for Israel and/or the church celebrating it in a future kingdom of God. But by all appearances, this feast is backward looking, not forward looking; it does not predict or anticipate anything, but commemorates.
 Some therefore argue that it is only on a future Day of Atonement that Jesus will enter the Holy of Holies in heaven with his blood (so Brooks n.d.; this forces her into a desperate attempt to explain away Hebrews), but I doubt this is a common feature of the views in discussion here.
Standard Bible Society (2001), The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Standard Bible Society)
Carol Brooks (no date), “The Feasts of Israel” http://www.inplainsite.org/html/seven_feasts_of_israel.html
Gavin Finley (2003), “The Feast of Trumpets” http://endtimepilgrim.org/trumpets.htm (accessed 27 Oct. 2015)
Don Finto (2001), Your People Shall Be My People (Ventura, CA: Regal Books)
Jason Hommel (no date), “Summary of reasons why Christians expect to see the rapture happen on the Feast of Trumpets / Rosh Hashanna” http://www.bibleprophesy.org/introtrumpets.htm (accessed 29 Oct. 2015)
Dan Juster & Keith Intrater (1991), Israel, the Church and the Last Days (2nd edn) Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers)
Craig S. Keener (1993), The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press)
Sam Nadler (2015), “For All, Here is God’s Redemptive Plan in the Feasts of Israel” http://www.charismanews.com/opinion/standing-with-israel/51612-for-all-here-is-god-s-redemptive-plan-in-the-feasts-of-israel (accessed 27 Oct. 2015)
Alf & Julie Sanders (2013), “The Fall Feasts of the Lord” http://www.pray4zion.org/thelast3fallfeastsofthelord.html ( 29 Oct. 2015)
Sandra Teplinsky (2015), “5 ‘To-Dos’ For Fall Feast-Related Events” http://www.charismanews.com/opinion/standing-with-israel/51666-5-to-dos-for-fall-feast-related-events (accessed 29 Oct. 2015)
Chart: Gavin Finley, http://www.endtimepilgrim.org
Matzes: joshbousel, https://www.flickr.com/photos/joshbousel/136221616/ CC BY-NC-SA
Shofar: Fonzie’s cousin, https://www.flickr.com/photos/89927155@N00/2200241358/ CC BY-NC-SA
Rosh Hashanah: Templar1307, https://www.flickr.com/photos/healinglight/3931327293 CC BY-NC-ND
Shofar: YaelBeeri, https://www.flickr.com/photos/yaelbeeri/3928393920/ CC BY-NC