Old Testament Laws: Typology of Israelite Annual Festivals

The New Testament declares that Old Testament laws were “shadows” of Jesus Christ. Colossians 2:16-17 states this about the days of worship:

“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (NIV unless noted).

Hebrews 8:5 says this about the tabernacle:

“They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: ‘See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.’”

And in a discussion of sacrifices, Hebrews 10:1 says:

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming — not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.

The word shadow in these passages suggests that Old Testament laws were partial pictures or silhouettes of heavenly realities. Just as the tabernacle symbolized truths about heaven, so also the sacrifices and the days of worship symbolized “good things that were to come”—things realized in Jesus Christ. In theological terms, the Old Testament laws were types.

This concept of “shadow” lies behind the title of the book The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses,[1] which deals extensively with the typology of the tabernacle and the sacrifices. Unfortunately, that book says nothing about the new moons, festivals and the Sabbath as shadows of Christ. This subject needs further exploration.[2]

In popular literature about the festivals, a variety of speculations have been given for typological meanings.[3] However, assertions often exceed the evidence, and writers rarely distinguish between conclusions that have firm biblical basis and those that are more hypothetical. The New Testament gives a broad significance to Old Testament types without trying to press symbolic meaning out of all the details. (Similarly, a shadow gives only a silhouette—it does not reveal internal details.) This paper will therefore concentrate on those aspects of the festivals that have the most biblical evidence.

Colossians 2:16 mentions new moons, the annual festivals, and the weekly Sabbath. This paper will focus on the annual festivals, and new moons only tangentially. It not address the weekly Sabbath. Nor will it address post-Mosaic festivals such as Purim and Hanukkah. It will focus on how the festivals were shadows of Jesus Christ. Warren Wiersbe gives a simple introduction:

God gave Israel a calendar that…not only summarized what God had done for them in the past, but it also anticipated what God would do for them in the future. The salvation work of Jesus Christ, the founding of the church, and the future of the people of Israel are all illustrated in these seven feasts.[4]

Overview of the festivals

The ancient Israelites had three primary festival seasons. Exodus 23:14-17 lists them:

Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me. Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread; for seven days eat bread made without yeast…. Celebrate the Feast of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field. Celebrate the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field.

Exodus 34:18-23 lists the same three festivals, with a different name for the second festival:

Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread. For seven days eat bread made without yeast…. Celebrate the Feast of Weeks with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year. Three times a year all your men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord.

Deuteronomy 16:16 lists the three festivals, with a different name for the third festival:

Three times a year all your men must appear before the Lord your God at the place he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles.

These three festivals are also included in the festival lists of Leviticus 23 and Numbers 28-29. The Passover sacrifice, which was part of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, is detailed in Exodus 12, Numbers 9, and Deuteronomy 16. A ceremony of firstfruits was also done during the Festival of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:9-14). Leviticus 23 and Numbers 29 include two additional festivals: the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement. Detailed instructions for priestly rituals on Atonement are given in Leviticus 16.

We will examine all the festivals in the sequence they came in the calendar year, which is also the sequence recorded in Leviticus 23.


The Passover was instituted when the Israelites were still in Egypt; it coincided with the tenth and final plague on the Egyptians. Indeed, it was designed to protect the Israelites (and others who followed Moses’ instructions) from the tenth plague. The institution is described in this way in Exodus 12:3-14:

On the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. 4 If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. 5 The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats.

6 Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. 7 Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. 8 That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. 9 Do not eat the meat raw or cooked in water, but roast it over the fire – head, legs and inner parts. 10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. 11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.

12 On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn – both men and animals – and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. 14 This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord – a lasting ordinance. (Exodus 12:3-14)

Verses 21-23 give yet more details of the first Passover:

Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. Not one of you shall go out the door of his house until morning. 23 When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.

Verses 24-27 give instructions for future generations:

Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. 25 When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. 26 And when your children ask you, “What does this ceremony mean to you?” 27 then tell them, “It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.”

Verses 43-48 also give instructions, apparently[5] for future generations:

These are the regulations for the Passover: “No foreigner is to eat of it. 44 Any slave you have bought may eat of it after you have circumcised him, 45 but a temporary resident and a hired worker may not eat of it. 46 It must be eaten inside one house; take none of the meat outside the house. Do not break any of the bones. 47 The whole community of Israel must celebrate it. 48 An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the Lord’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat of it.”

Which of these instructions applied only to the first Passover, and which applied to subsequent commemorations? For example, the Israelites in Egypt were told to select a lamb on the 10th day of the month Abib. Did this commandment apply to future Passovers?[6] Did later Israelites use hyssop to put blood on the doorframes of their houses? Did they eat it with cloak in belt and staff in hand? The need for some of these commands applied only in Egypt, and they (unlike some other details) are not re-commanded in later passages.

However, for purposes of typological study it does not matter. The original setting—the plague of death—was not repeated in subsequent commemorations, but yet it is very significant typologically. Therefore other details, even if they applied only to the original Passover, may also have typological significance. On the other hand, they may have no typological meaning at all. Each detail needs to be investigated on its own merits.

Leviticus 23, although it gives lengthy instructions for all the other festivals, gives only a bare mention of Passover: “The Lord’s Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month” (verse 5). Similarly, Numbers 28, although it gives lengthy instruction for other festivals, does little more than mention the Passover: “On the fourteenth day of the first month the Lord’s Passover is to be held” (verse 16).

Numbers 9:2-5 tells us that the Israelites celebrated the Passover in the wilderness. However, some Israelites could not celebrate it at the commanded date because they were ritually unclean, and instructions were given in verses 11-12 for how these people might observe the Passover in the second month:

They are to celebrate it on the fourteenth day of the second month at twilight. They are to eat the lamb, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 12 They must not leave any of it till morning or break any of its bones. When they celebrate the Passover, they must follow all the regulations.

The “regulations” for the Passover appear to be those listed here: 1) the lamb is to be killed at twilight on the 14th, 2) no bones are to be broken, 3) the lamb is to be eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, 4) it must all be consumed or destroyed by morning. Exodus 12 included these regulations: 5) uncircumcised men may not participate and 6) the meat (and perhaps the people?) must remain indoors.

The last passage of Passover instructions is in Deuteronomy 16:1-7. Here the celebration is shifted from family dwellings (in Egypt and in the wilderness) to a central sanctuary in the land of Canaan:

Observe the month of Abib and celebrate the Passover of the Lord your God, because in the month of Abib he brought you out of Egypt by night. 2 Sacrifice as the Passover to the Lord your God an animal from your flock or herd at the place the Lord will choose as a dwelling for his Name. 3 Do not eat it with bread made with yeast, but for seven days eat unleavened bread…. Do not let any of the meat you sacrifice on the evening of the first day remain until morning. 5 You must not sacrifice the Passover in any town the Lord your God gives you 6 except in the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name. There you must sacrifice the Passover in the evening, when the sun goes down, on the anniversary of your departure from Egypt. 7 Roast it and eat it at the place the Lord your God will choose. Then in the morning return to your tents.

This passage, echoing Exodus 12:8-9, mentions one more regulation that applies to the annual commemoration: 7) the meat is to be roasted.

Typology of the Passover

Of all these details, which had typological significance? Let us begin with the detail that has the clearest biblical evidence—the lamb. Jesus Christ is called the “Lamb of God” and “the Lamb that was slain” (John 1:29; Revelation 13:8). More specifically, Paul says, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7). He clearly identifies Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the symbolism portrayed in the Passover rituals.

In what way did Jesus fulfill the role of the Passover lamb? Paul says that Christ was sacrificed, but he does not elaborate in 1 Corinthians 5:7. John the Baptist said that the Lamb “takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). However, the Passover lamb had no stated connection with sin. It is not called a sin offering.[7] When Jesus took away sin, he fulfilled the typology of sin offerings, but “sin” was not the typology portrayed in the Passover. Death was involved in both sin offerings and in Passover lambs, but death portrayed different things in the different rituals.[8] When we investigate symbols and meanings, we need to be as specific as possible. Different sacrifices and rituals picture different aspects of Christ’s work.

Since the Passover did not portray an atonement for sin, what did it portray? It pictured an escape from death (Exodus 12:27) and the escape from [slavery in] Egypt (Deuteronomy 16:1, 6).[9] And Christ achieves for us an escape from death and an escape from slavery (John 11:26; Rom. 6:14; Hebrews 2:15; etc.). That is the overall picture we are given. Wiersbe writes,

The firstborn Jews in Egypt weren’t saved from death by admiring the lamb, caring for the lamb, or loving the lamb. The lamb had to be slain, and the blood applied to the doorposts of each Jewish house. We aren’t saved by Christ the Example or Christ the Teacher. We’re saved by Christ the Substitute, who gave his life in our stead on the cross at the same hour the Passover lambs were being slain at the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. (pp. 103-4).

Whom does this death affect? In the first Passover, the death affected only the firstborn, of both humans and animals (Exodus 11:5). In the fulfillment, in Jesus Christ, the death affects humans regardless of birth order, but no animals. The detail about the firstborn does not seem to have typological significance. In order to portray the potential extent of the effectiveness of Jesus’ death, it would have been necessary to kill all Egyptians, which was not God’s intent. God choose to kill all the firstborn of Egypt because Egypt was refusing to release Israel, whom God called “my firstborn son” (Exodus 4:22-23). Jesus is a personal fulfillment of the entire Israelite nation, and Jesus is God’s firstborn Son, so there are several verbal connections here, but not a clear typology.

Now let us look at some details of the Passover sacrifice itself. First, it was done in Egypt. That was a geographical necessity, but perhaps it has symbolic meaning, too. If the promised land pictures our eternal inheritance in the kingdom of God (a thesis that I will not take space to defend), then Egypt can typify our mortal, unregenerate state. And it is while we are in that unregenerate state that Jesus died for us (Rom. 5:8); it is appropriate then that the original Passover take place outside of the promised land, in Egypt, typifying a state from which we need rescue.

Revelation 11:8 says that Jesus was killed in a city “figuratively called Sodom and Egypt.” Jesus was actually killed outside of Jerusalem (John 19:20; Hebrews 13:21), but for spiritual symbolism, he was killed in it. Revelation seems to be talking about a sinful condition, that Jerusalem was in captivity to sin. The first Passover saved Israelites from death when they lived in a sin-laden nation; Jesus saves us from death by dying in a sin-laden city; we are saved by participating in Jesus while we live in a sin-laden culture. Typology may exist here, though is seems held by slender threads. It is far enough removed from Scripture that I wonder whether it is more a demonstration of my ingenuity than something actually intended by God.

Second, the Passover lambs were selected by families (Exodus 12:3). Does this have spiritual significance? Families often believe together, or disbelieve together, but there are no guarantees in this. Each person must choose for himself whether to participate in the redemption offered by Christ. The family nature of the Passover, in addition to being an obvious way to observe a festival meal, seems to be based primarily on economic realities—the group was to be large enough to eat the lamb, as is shown especially by the fact that smaller families were to participate together (verse 4). The Passover had a family basis for practical reasons, not typological meanings.

Third, the lambs were selected on the 10th and killed on the 14th. Does the 10th of Abib have any connection with Jesus Christ?[10] Richard Booker suggests a parallel:

In John 12:1 we find that Jesus came to the town of Bethany six days before the Passover…. Since Passover was celebrated on the 14th, this would mean that Jesus came to Bethany on the ninth [counting inclusively, by Hebrew custom]…. It was the next day [the 10th] when Jesus rode into Jerusalem and was greeted by the cheering crowds…. Jesus entered Jerusalem to be set aside as the human lamb of God on the exact date that God told the Jews to set aside their lambs back in Egypt.[11]

The thought here is that the people shouting Hosanna were accepting Jesus as the Messiah, and thus the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. However, this was not the first time that the people acted as if they accepted Jesus as the Christ, and it is doubtful that they were accepting him as a sacrificial lamb. But it is an interesting parallel, if the chronology holds up.

Edward Chumney claims some significance in the time between the 10th and 14th:

The lamb was hidden for four days…. These four days were fulfilled by Yeshua during the Passover week…. He entered Jerusalem and went to the temple, which was the house of God, and went on public display there for four days from Nisan 10 to Nisan 14 (Matthew 21:1, 9-12, 17-18, 23; 24:1, 3; 26:1-5).

Eschatologically, these four days that the lamb was hidden…are prophetic of Messiah being hid from the world and not coming to earth for four days or 4,000 years from the creation of Adam.[12]

Chumney’s claims are not credible. First, Exodus says that the lamb was taken care of, not hidden (nor on public display). Second, the chronology of crucifixion week is not proven by Matthew. Third, the 4,000 years are not proven by anyone’s biblical chronology and are particularly doubtful because of archaeological data. Fourth, Jews customarily counted inclusively, and would have counted the 10th to the 14th as five days, not four. The Bible doesn’t even mention the time span as significant, and it is hazardous to try to make it significant. Chumney’s speculations, stated as fact, give typological analyses a bad name.

Fourth, the Passover lambs were to be one year old. I do not know the significance of this. I do not know of anything that builds on “one year.” Chumney says that the spiritual application is that “God distinguishes between the first or natural birth and the second or spiritual birth” (p. 27). The Messianic application, he says, is that Jesus “was the firstborn of Mary naturally, and the firstborn of God spiritually” (p. 28). Sadly, in both cases, Chumney has confused birth order with age.

Fifth, the lambs were to be males. Obviously, Jesus was a male, so this fits well. Chumney here offers a brief comment that is helpful:

It was through one man’s sin that sin came into the world (Romans 5:12; 1 Timothy 2:12-14). Because Adam, the first male, sinned, so a male, Yeshua, must die to atone for that sin (Romans 5:17-19). (p. 28).

Genesis notes that it was the woman who sinned first. Nevertheless, God held the man responsible for introducing sin into the world. He was the representative of all his descendants. God chose a male to be a representative, so it is fitting that the lamb be male. However, some other sacrifices could be females (Leviticus 4:28, etc.), so the point should not be pressed too far.

Sixth, the lambs must be without defect. For this detail, we have clear New Testament evidence. Peter says we were redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19). He was without sin (Hebrews 4:15).

Seventh, the animal for the first Passover could be either a lamb or a kid (Exodus 12:5). I do not see any spiritual significance to this.

Eighth, the animals were to be killed at twilight. The Hebrew says “between two evenings.” This has been interpreted to mean between sundown and dark, or between noon and sundown. Deuteronomy 16:4 says that the sacrifice took place on the evening that began the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread. This would have meant after sunset, and I agree with the translation “twilight.”

However, at some point in Jewish history, the lambs began to be brought to the temple for the priests to kill, and it was logistically impossible for even a large group of priests to kill all the Passover lambs between sunset and dark. So the lambs were killed between noon and sunset. Jesus died about 3:00 in the afternoon (Luke 23:44), when Passover lambs were being killed in the temple (inferred from John 18:28).[13] So Jesus’ death, fulfilling the Passover typologically, came at the time the Jews were observing the Passover, but not at the time the Bible had prescribed the Passover sacrifice. Thus we do not have a biblical typology concerning the time of day.[14]

Nine, the lambs were to be killed on the 14th (Exodus 12:6). And yet they were also to be killed on the 15th (Deuteronomy 16:4). This implies that they were killed at the end of one day and the beginning of another, in the twilight period when some might count it as one day and some as the next. Jesus died on the 14th, but not on the 15th. None of the biblical writers assigns much significance to the time or day of his death. They do not point out for gentile readers, for example, that lambs were being killed in the temple even as Jesus was shedding his blood. No one points out any symbolism in the number 14.

Ten: the blood was put on the doorframes. I do not know whether this was repeated in subsequent Passovers, or whether it has any Christian significance. For example, does Christian faith give physical protection to our households? Not always. It is interesting that the Israelites were also told to put God’s word on their doorframes (Deuteronomy 6:9). Perhaps this is a location that would serve as a frequent reminder; perhaps it was the place in that culture that anyone posted anything of importance. It served as a visible, external sign that the people were participating in the Passover. Typologically, the blood of the lamb corresponds to the blood of Jesus Christ. We are to accept his blood, but there is no ritual in Christianity that corresponds to putting blood on the doorframes. Christianity has different visible signs. The Lord’s Supper even has historical and symbolic connections with the Passover, but nothing in the Lord’s Supper corresponds to doorposts.

Although putting blood on the doorposts was important in the first Passover, it does not seem to have specific typological significance. Chumney, however, suggests “the only way into the house of God is through the shed blood of the Messiah Yeshua, who is the Door” (p. 31). Chumney’s suggestion ignores the role of the blood in the original Passover: It was a sign for the death angel, and there was no requirement that people had to pass through the doorway in order to be protected. In fact, people were to stay inside. Although some verbal connections can be made with Jesus Christ, the symbolism does not match well enough to say that this was actually being portrayed in the doorpost.

11: the blood was to be applied with hyssop. Hyssop was apparently associated with cleansing (Ps. 51:7), and cleansing has Christian significance, but I do not know of any typological connection of hyssop in Christianity.

12: the bones were not to be broken. This is the only OT sacrifice in which this was stipulated, so John is probably alluding to the Passover (as well as Ps. 34:20) when he writes, “These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken’ “ (John 19:33-36).

13: The meat was to be roasted rather than boiled. Again, I do not know of any typological fulfillment of this detail. Chumney says that “fire speaks of judgment, refining, and purification” (p. 32). Although this idea is relevant to Christians, it does not apply to Christ and therefore does not seem acceptable as a valid typological meaning.

14: The meat was to be eaten. Some sacrifices were to be eaten; others were not. We could probably imagine some significance in it either way. We are to (figuratively) eat of Jesus’ flesh (John 6:53)—but we are also to drink his blood (same verse), which has no counterpart in OT sacrifices. Indeed, blood was forbidden. This contrast casts doubt on whether there is significance in eating the flesh. Chumney sees significance in the body parts mentioned: “The legs speak of our walk (halacha)…. Those who believe in Yeshua must feed on the mind of Yeshua” (p. 32). This seems more like a word-association game than a reliable approach to typology.

15: The meat was to be eaten with bitter herbs. This is an interesting feature. The bitterness suggests that there is some aspect of Egypt or of deliverance that is unpleasant. The original participants did not need to be reminded of the bitterness of slavery, but it was appropriate for them to be mindful of the bitterness of the plague they were being rescued from. While the Israelites only ate bitterness, the Egyptians experienced much greater bitterness with the death of the firstborn. Jesus experienced bitterness with his death—great pain and forsakenness. Christian may also experience pain and ostracism when they accept Christ, and they are rescued from a bitter eternity. But these connections are more fanciful than persuasive. The OT does not tell us enough about the bitter herbs for us to be dogmatic as to what they represented.

16: The meat was to be eaten with unleavened bread. The meat was eaten on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, so that fact alone is sufficient reason to specify that the lamb was to be eaten with unleavened bread. Leavening was not permitted during the Feast as a reminded that the Israelites left Egypt so rapidly that they did not have time to let their dough ferment and rise (Exodus 12:39). This rationale, however, did not apply to the very first Passover, when the people were still in their homes in Egypt.

Unleavened bread has three possible symbolisms. It is called the bread of affliction (Deuteronomy 16:3), suggesting a meaning similar to the bitter herbs. But for the Israelites, it was a reminder of haste. This has possible connections both with Jesus, who was crucified in haste, and with Christians, who should be quick to accept Jesus and quick to forsake sin. But I am not sure that either of these suggestions is correct. Third, in the same context as Passover, Paul used leaven as a symbol of sin, and unleavened bread as a symbol of inner righteous (1 Corinthians 5:7-8). This symbolism seems more significant—the unleavened bread pictures the righteousness of Jesus (if this connection is accurate, it gives more credence to the idea that the bitter herbs represent his pain in crucifixion) and the righteousness we partake of when we accept Jesus as our Redeemer. This is an approach that does have some NT support.

17: The lamb was to be eaten in haste. The Israelites were to eat while dressed, ready to leave Egypt, with cloak in belt, sandals on feet, and staff in hand. This was helpful for the original Passover, since the Israelites began their journey that same night. Yet for practical purposes, the staff could have been left at the door. It was held in the hand as a reminder that the Israelites were to be ready to leave Egypt. Their redemption drew near. This was not a leisurely meal followed by a nice siesta. There was a feeling of urgency.

Urgency plays a role in Christianity, too. When God calls, we should drop everything and immediately follow Christ. When we accept him, he has work for us to do. We need to be willing and ready, with the expectation that marching orders will come at any minute. This might preach well, but is it valid typology? Perhaps. I do not see any contraindications, but neither do I see enough data in the Bible to be confident that this is the real meaning.

18: Uncircumcised foreigners were not permitted to participate. The Israelites were leaving a foreign nation to go to their own land, and it would be symbolically confusing for foreigners to picture leaving their own nation to go to Israel if they did not intend to become part of Israel. But this symbolism applies more properly to the Exodus than to the protection from the plague of death—i.e., to the Festival of Unleavened Bread than to the Passover.

Typologically, circumcision pictures a transformed heart (Rom. 2:29), which is achieved only by accepting Christ as Lord. The symbolism of circumcision symbolized obedience; participation in the Passover symbolized protection, but both rituals pictured the same people. It is appropriate that only people dedicated to God (which in old covenant times was shown by circumcision) would participate in a ceremony showing his protection and redemption of his people.[15] Only those who have accepted the cleansing of Christ can partake of his life. Wiersbe writes,

Those who have never trusted Jesus Christ can’t “feast” on Him through the Word and find the strength they need for the journey of life. Only somebody born into God’s family through faith in Christ, purchased by His blood and marked by the Holy Spirit as a child of the New Covenant, can appropriate Jesus Christ through the Word and “feed” on Him. (p. 104)

19: No one was to go out until morning. This was a need during the plague of death, but I do not know of a Christian counterpart to this. We are to remain in Christ forever, not just for a certain period of time.

20: Leftovers were to be burned in the morning. This is an interesting stipulation. Various portions of other sacrifices were sometimes burned up, but only here is a specific deadline given for the incineration. This ties in with the urgency of the evening, and yet it also conflicts with it. If the Israelites were fleeing as fast as they could, they would not take the time to burn their leftovers. (Nor would they have spoiled the Egyptians.) There is something in the symbolism that required it all to be completed in a short time. This corresponds in one way to the rapidity of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial, but the fulfillment happened in daytime, not at night, so it is less than certain that the connection is significant.

If God had wanted to typify the time of Jesus’ death and burial, a festival with those details could have easily been created (e.g., select a lamb one evening, lay your hands on it during the night. In the morning, wash your hands, and then sprinkle blood on the lamb. Kill it in the afternoon and eat it right away, burying all the leftovers by nightfall). But he did not. We should not expect every detail in the fulfillment to have specific typological precursors, and we should not expect every detail of the ritual to have significance in the fulfillment.

21: The observance was commemorated annually as a reminder of what God had done for the people (Exodus 12:26-27). Christians also have annual memorials of God’s acts of salvation, but this fact seems more like a practical religious need than a specific fulfillment of a typological precursor.

That completes this survey of the typology of the Passover. I have taken considerable space to do this because the OT gives us many details to work with, and the NT gives us details about fulfillment on several points. Thus the Passover provides a helpful test case for evaluating festival typology. I could have gone into more detail at points and been more exhaustive with a literature search (but what point is there in documenting all the erroneous ideas?), but I have done enough to explore the validity of various kinds of typology. Once this foundation has been laid, we can look more quickly at the other festivals.

When we review the list of Passover details, we find that most of them are not significant typologically. This reinforces the thought that the festivals are shadows of Christ rather than copies or reflections. They present only bare outlines, not internal details.

Unleavened Bread

Right after Passover is the Festival of Unleavened Bread. The two festivals are so closely associated that the entire week can be called Passover (Acts 12:3-4). But the symbolism is different and can be examined separately. Exodus 12:15-20 describes the introduction of this festival:

For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast. On[16] the first day remove the yeast from your houses, for whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel. 16 On the first day hold a sacred assembly, and another one on the seventh day. Do no work at all on these days, except to prepare food for everyone to eat – that is all you may do. 17 Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. 18 In the first month you are to eat bread made without yeast, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day. 19 For seven days no yeast is to be found in your houses. And whoever eats anything with yeast in it must be cut off from the community of Israel, whether he is an alien or native-born. 20 Eat nothing made with yeast. Wherever you live, you must eat unleavened bread.

Verses 31-42 describe what happened that first night, after the Passover lambs had been eaten:

During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord as you have requested. 32 Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.” 33 The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. “For otherwise,” they said, “we will all die!” 34 So the people took their dough before the yeast was added, and carried it on their shoulders in kneading troughs wrapped in clothing….

39 With the dough they had brought from Egypt, they baked cakes of unleavened bread. The dough was without yeast because they had been driven out of Egypt and did not have time to prepare food for themselves. 40 Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt was 430 years. 41 At the end of the 430 years, to the very day, all the Lord’s divisions left Egypt. 42 Because the Lord kept vigil that night to bring them out of Egypt, on this night all the Israelites are to keep vigil to honor the Lord for the generations to come.[17]

Exodus 13:3-10 then describes the command for commemoration:

Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the Lord brought you out of it with a mighty hand. Eat nothing containing yeast. 4 Today, in the month of Abib, you are leaving. 5 When the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Hivites and Jebusites – the land he swore to your forefathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey – you are to observe this ceremony in this month: 6 For seven days eat bread made without yeast and on the seventh day hold a festival to the Lord. 7 Eat unleavened bread during those seven days; nothing with yeast in it is to be seen among you, nor shall any yeast be seen anywhere within your borders. 8 On that day tell your son, “I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.” 9 This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that the law of the Lord is to be on your lips. For the Lord brought you out of Egypt with his mighty hand. 10 You must keep this ordinance at the appointed time year after year.

Leviticus 23:6-8 gives similar instructions:

On the fifteenth day of that month the Lord’s Feast of Unleavened Bread begins; for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast. 7 On the first day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. 8 For seven days present an offering made to the Lord by fire. And on the seventh day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work.

Numbers 28:17-25 details the sacrificial requirements:

On the fifteenth day of this month there is to be a festival; for seven days eat bread made without yeast. 18 On the first day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. 19 Present to the Lord an offering made by fire, a burnt offering of two young bulls, one ram and seven male lambs a year old, all without defect. 20 With each bull prepare a grain offering of three-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil; with the ram, two-tenths; 21 and with each of the seven lambs, one-tenth. 22 Include one male goat as a sin offering to make atonement for you. 23 Prepare these in addition to the regular morning burnt offering. 24 In this way prepare the food for the offering made by fire every day for seven days as an aroma pleasing to the Lord; it is to be prepared in addition to the regular burnt offering and its drink offering. 25 On the seventh day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work.

Last, Deuteronomy 16:3-4, 8 gives the overview again:

For seven days eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, because you left Egypt in haste – so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt. 4 Let no yeast be found in your possession in all your land for seven days…. For six days eat unleavened bread and on the seventh day hold an assembly to the Lord your God and do no work.

The Festival of Unleavened Bread had the following details: 1) avoidance of leaven, 2) eating unleavened bread, 3) avoiding most work on the first and seventh days, 4) holding a sacred assembly on those days, 5) on all seven days, two young bulls, one ram, seven year-old male lambs, ten grain offerings totaling 1.5 ephahs, and a male goat. The OT gives us the reason for this festival: because God brought them out of Egypt. It was a reminder of the Exodus. The unleavened bread was a reminder of the haste with which they left Egypt (Exodus 12:39).

Jesus used leaven as symbolic of sin (Luke 12:1), but he also used leaven as an illustration of righteousness (Matthew 13:33). Which symbolism is appropriate for this festival? Paul, in the same passage in which he calls Christ our Passover, treats leaven as a type of sin, and unleavenedness as symbolic of righteousness (1 Corinthians 5:7-8). It is sin that the Christian should avoid, and righteousness that the Christian should partake of.[18] That is something that we do. As Wiersbe says, “we must get rid of the ‘old life’ leaven.”[19]

But the festival is a shadow of Christ, not of us. We recognize that it is Christ in us who works righteousness. It is God who leads us to repentance and obedience. The festival pictures us only as we are in relationship with him. Herbert Armstrong writes that this festival

pictures the life and work of the risen Christ—who ascended to the throne of God where He is now actively at work in our behalf as our High Priest, cleansing us of sin—delivering us completely from its power…. We cannot keep the commandments in our own power and strength. But Christ in us can keep them! We must rely on Him in faith.[20]

What does avoiding work picture? Perhaps it is a recognition that it is not our efforts that achieve a right relationship with God. It could also show faith that God will provide sufficient for us without us needing to work every day. It is a recognition that humans do not live by physical things alone, but by worship of God. It is also a practical way to encourage people to attend the sacred assemblies. The avoidance of work was an annual equivalent of the weekly Sabbath, and Sabbath typology is beyond the scope of this paper.[21] Hebrews 4 uses the Sabbath as a type for our eternal inheritance, an inheritance we are already entering through faith in Christ. The rest points us away from ourselves both physically and spiritually and toward God as our Savior. John Hartley gives a brief analysis: “Rest, like that of the Sabbath, is the goal of one’s spiritual journey. It symbolizes the security and the blessings that a person has because of a relationship with God.”[22]

The unleavened bread reminded the Israelites of the exodus from Egypt, and by doing so, it reminds Christians that God rescues us and calls us out of the slavery of sin. The exodus connection motivates Juster to see a prophetic meaning for this festival, pointing to a great exodus in the millennium.[23] This seems to elevate the symbol as more important than the real event. It is the Exodus, not the annual festival, that typifies the greater exodus mentioned in Jeremiah 16 and 23. If this connection is valid, the festival points us forward only by pointing us backward to the original Exodus, which in turn points forward to a greater Exodus. However, the greatest exodus of all is the spiritual exodus, of people being rescued from the sin that enslaves us.

I do not know of any typological significance for the sacred assembly. It is simply a practical reality that the Israelites worshipped as a corporate body, not as isolated individuals.

Last, I do not know the typological significance of bulls, goats, rams, lambs, and grain, and I especially do not know of the significance of differing quantities of these sacrifices. I suspect that they did not have specific meanings. Certainly, various attributes of these animals might have a spiritual parallel, but the Bible never mentions those animal attributes as significant. For example, in some cases doves and lambs were interchangeable (Leviticus 5:1), so they presumably pictured the same thing. I conclude from this that the symbolism is not in external details, but in the simple fact of a life that was sacrificed. Thus this pictures Christ only in the broad picture, not in the minor details.

Firstfruits wave offering

There was an unusual ceremony during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. Only Leviticus 23:9-14 records it:

When you enter the land I am going to give you and you reap its harvest, bring to the priest a sheaf of the first grain you harvest. 11 He is to wave the sheaf before the Lord so it will be accepted on your behalf; the priest is to wave it on the day after the Sabbath. 12 On the day you wave the sheaf, you must sacrifice as a burnt offering to the Lord a lamb a year old without defect, 13together with its grain offering of two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil – an offering made to the Lord by fire, a pleasing aroma – and its drink offering of a quarter of a hin of wine. 14 You must not eat any bread, or roasted or new grain, until the very day you bring this offering to your God. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live.

Most festivals were held on a certain day of the month. This ceremony is unusual in that it is tied to a day of the week—“on the day after the Sabbath.”[24] A sheaf[25] was waved or lifted toward God, and only after that ceremony could the Israelites eat grain from that year’s harvest. This ceremony was accompanied by a lamb, more grain, and some wine, representing all aspects of Israelite agriculture. I will not seek typological significance for the lamb or wine, but will focus on the day and the wave offering.

I do not see significance in the quantity of grain, but in its quality as “first.” Unfortunately, translations have obscured the words and meanings. Two Hebrew words are involved. Re’shiyth refers to the very beginning of the barley harvest during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. But bikkuwr is used for Pentecost, near the end of the wheat harvest. It seems to refer to the first harvest—i.e. the entire spring harvest, grain as opposed to the fruit harvests that came later.[26] The problem is that the LXX used aparchē for both Hebrew words, and English translations often use “firstfruits” for both Hebrew words. Some translations (e.g. New King James) label Leviticus 23:9-14 as “Feast of Firstfruits” and English readers are quite unaware that this is not the same thing as “the Feast of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops” (Exodus 23:16) and not the same thing as the “day of firstfruits” (Numbers 28:26).

Corresponding to the two kinds of firstfruits, the New Testament uses the word aparchē for both Christ and Christians. I believe that the symbolism can be separated into the two kinds of firstfruits. Christ corresponds to the first kind, the very beginning of the spring harvest, and Christians correspond to the entire spring harvest. We will look at the evidence concerning Christ here, and that for Christians when we look at Pentecost. Paul calls Christ the firstfruits in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23:

Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep…. Each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.

Jesus Christ is the very first of the spiritual harvest. No one else could be harvested until he had been. Wiersbe writes, “God accepted the sheaf for the whole harvest, and because the Father accepted Jesus Christ, we are accepted in Him (Eph. 1:6).”[27] Armstrong says, “This pictured the resurrected Christ ascending to heaven to be accepted by His Father as…the firstfruit of the first harvest of souls.”[28]

The symbolism matches well. The ascension of Jesus corresponds to the first-ripe grain that was lifted toward God as an offering at the beginning of the harvest. This day during Passover week was, in symbol, the original Easter, the original celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. Juster concludes, “For us, it is a celebration of the resurrection.”[29]


Fifty days after the wave offering, on a Sunday, according to the Sadducee reckoning, was the Feast of Pentecost, celebrating the end of the harvest. Exodus 23:16 tells us simply that it is celebrated “with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field.” Similarly, Exodus 34:22 says “with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest.” Deuteronomy 16:9-17 gives a brief explanation:

Count off seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain. 10 Then celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the Lord your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the Lord your God has given you. 11 And rejoice before the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name.

Leviticus 23:15-21 gives more details about a special Levitical ritual:

From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering [i.e., the Sunday during Unleavened Bread], count off seven full weeks. 16 Count off fifty days [counting inclusively] up to the day after the seventh Sabbath [i.e., to a Sunday seven weeks later], and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord. 17 From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the Lord. 18 Present with this bread seven male lambs, each a year old and without defect, one young bull and two rams. They will be a burnt offering to the Lord, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings – an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. 19 Then sacrifice one male goat for a sin offering and two lambs, each a year old, for a fellowship offering. 20 The priest is to wave the two lambs before the Lord as a wave offering, together with the bread of the firstfruits. They are a sacred offering to the Lord for the priest. 21 On that same day you are to proclaim a sacred assembly and do no regular work. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live.

Numbers 28:26-31 gives details of additional sacrifices:

On the day of firstfruits, when you present to the Lord an offering of new grain during the Feast of Weeks, hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. 27 Present a burnt offering of two young bulls, one ram and seven male lambs a year old as an aroma pleasing to the Lord. 28 With each bull there is to be a grain offering of three-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil; with the ram, two-tenths; 29 and with each of the seven lambs, one-tenth. 30 Include one male goat to make atonement for you. 31Prepare these together with their drink offerings, in addition to the regular burnt offering and its grain offering. Be sure the animals are without defect.

To summarize the events of this festival (known by Christians by its NT name, Pentecost): 1) It was seven weeks or 50 days after the wavesheaf day, 2) it celebrated the spring grain harvest, 3) two leavened loaves were waved before the Lord, 4) seven year-old male lambs, one young bull, two rams,[30] one goat, grain offerings, drink offerings, 5) it was a sacred assembly and 6) most work was forbidden, and 7) a freewill offering was commanded.

The specific length of time, seven weeks, seems designed more for the realities of the harvest season than of typological significance. I will not comment further on the sacrifices, assembly, and the avoidance of work. The freewill offering, being unspecified, would have limited significance typologically. It is simply an appropriate worship response to the God who blessed the harvest. Most ancient religions had harvest festivals.

The unusual aspect of the Pentecost rituals, and the area in which we should focus our typological investigation, is the two leavened loaves. Leaven was not allowed in any other offering. This was odd, and it begs for explanation.

In terms of spiritual symbolism, a harvest represents salvation (Matthew 9:36-38, etc.). What aspect of God’s spiritual harvest is leavened, or with sin? Not Christ, but all of us people.[31] We are lifted to God to be accepted by him. James 1:18 calls us the firstfruits of God. Where is Christ in this picture? He is the high priest, the one who offers his people to the Father.

We might also ask, Why two loaves? Do they represent two groups of people being saved? Some commentators have suggested OT Israel and the NT church. However, this would leave patriarchs such as Noah unrepresented. Other commentators suggest Jews and Gentiles. This is the people dichotomy most commonly shown in Scripture. There is nothing about the loaves themselves to support either theory.

The Passover pictured the death of Jesus, and he died on the Passover day. It is tempting to look for the typology of Pentecost to be fulfilled on Pentecost day. Something tremendously significant happened on a Pentecost: The disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and the church began (Acts 2). Juster notes, “A great harvest of people were gathered into the new community of faith on this day.”[32] Gary Demarest says, “Pentecost has become a celebration of a different kind of harvest, a celebration of the gracious gift of God’s Spirit to the people of the first Christian community.”[33]

How might that correspond to the two leavened loaves? I do not know. Acts 2 was a significant moment in the spiritual harvest, but it was neither the beginning nor the end. The typological identity is not as certain as I would like.

Armstrong, building on the thought that the spring harvest was the first harvest, proposed that Pentecost pictured those who are being saved in this church age, as opposed to the millennium and afterwards.[34] But this idea does not seem to be based in any festival rituals. No matter when people are saved, they are symbolically leavened. Since no other festival has leavened loaves, Pentecost must represent all the saved, no matter when they are saved.

Jewish tradition connects Pentecost with the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai. A study of the chronology of Exodus shows that the Law was indeed given on or near that festival, but the Pentateuch makes no mention of such a connection. It was simply a harvest festival, not a commemoration of anything in history. It had no assigned meaning, not even a consistent name.

Christians see parallels between the giving of the Spirit on Pentecost and the giving of the Law. In Acts 2, Luke may have even made some allusions to Sinai. The old covenant was made at Sinai, but the new covenant was not made at Pentecost. The Bible does not say that the Law was given on Pentecost, so this is outside of the domain of biblical typology. We have enough uncertainties when we deal with biblical data; we have even more when dealing with Jewish traditions!

Chumney summarizes the message of the spring festivals: “They are historic to the nation of Israel; they are fulfilled in the Messiah Yeshua; and they describe how the individual believer is to walk (halacha) and live his life before God.”[35] The first two thoughts are biblical, but the third is questionable. True, unleavened bread pictures a life of righteousness, but the other festivals do not. It is in the search for halacha, practical application, that most unsubstantiated claims are made.


The next festival was more than three months later—the first day of the seventh month, Yom Teruah or Rosh Hashanah. It is commanded in only two passages. Leviticus 23:24-25 describes it like this:

On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts. 25 Do no regular work, but present an offering made to the Lord by fire.

Numbers 29:1-6 details the sacrifices required:

On the first day of the seventh month hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. It is a day for you to sound the trumpets. 2As an aroma pleasing to the Lord, prepare a burnt offering of one young bull, one ram and seven male lambs a year old, all without defect. 3 With the bull prepare a grain offering of three-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil; with the ram, two-tenths ; 4and with each of the seven lambs, one-tenth. 5 Include one male goat as a sin offering to make atonement for you. 6 These are in addition to the monthly and daily burnt offerings with their grain offerings and drink offerings as specified. They are offerings made to the Lord by fire – a pleasing aroma.

Here’s my summary: 1) like other festivals, it is a sabbath and a day of assembly. 2) It is a memorial of blowing (the word “trumpets” is not in the Hebrew text of either passage) 3) like other festivals and new moons, sacrifices include a bull, a ram, seven lambs, a goat, grain and drink.

The unusual feature, the focus of our study, is the “blowing.” Unfortunately, the OT does not assign any historical or religious significance to this day or its ritual. The blowing was not very unusual, since trumpets were blown on every new moon and festival (Numbers 10:10). Trumpets were blown both in time of war and in time of celebration. We do not know which mood was conveyed on the Festival of Trumpets.

Booker associates the festival with spiritual warfare. “The main purpose of the Feast of Trumpets was to announce the arrival of the seventh month in order to prepare the people for the Day of Atonement.”[36] Booker mentions that trumpets were blown at different times for different reasons, but he selects war without justifying his selection. He also claims that Jesus fulfilled this day (an excellent concept) by overcoming Satan’s temptations.[37] This seems fanciful. Since Trumpets comes after Pentecost, and Pentecost is associated with the Holy Spirit, Booker looked for something that Jesus did after the Holy Spirit descended on him. But the time interval and the time of year do not match, nor does the text use the term war in connection with the temptation.

Chumney gives several other speculations:

God’s goal is to awaken us!… God gave this festival to teach us that we will be judged on Rosh HaShanah and will be sealed…. The shofar we hear on Rosh HaShanah ought to also serve as a battle cry to wage war against our inner enemy—our evil inclinations and passions.[38]

I cannot accept these ideas, for there is nothing in the biblical text to commend them, or to tie them specifically to the Feast of Blowing rather than other trumpet times. Equally, I cannot accept Chumney’s association of the Wedding of the Messiah with this festival.[39] He has built a large edifice on a slender thread. Traditionally, the day is associated with repentance.[40] This is an attractive association, but it is not biblically proven.

The NT connects the blowing of trumpets with a tremendously important event: the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16). It is tempting to conclude that the Festival of Trumpets typifies these events. Juster says, “The Feast of Trumpets also reminds us of the return of Yeshua the Messiah to rule and reign.”[41] Armstrong also connects it with the return of Christ, noting that his return will be a time of war.[42]

However, there are three arguments against this: 1) This would mean that the typology of this festival has not been fulfilled, when Jesus said that he came the first time to fulfill both the Torah and the Nevi’im (Matthew 5:17). 2) Since trumpets were blown on every new moon, this would mean that the return of Christ was typified every month. This does not correspond to the other annual typologies. 3) Since the word “trumpets” is not in the text for this festival, it seems hazardous to build a typological meaning on a word association when the word isn’t even there!

Daniel Fuchs offers a different suggestion: Trumpets pictures the pre-tribulation rapture, Atonement pictures the Tribulation, and Tabernacles the return and reign of Christ.[43] These are also unconvincing. Indeed, the variety of suggestions indicates that none of them has enough evidence to carry the day. Does every new moon picture the rapture? Does this point primarily to Christ, or to a sequence of events? Is the Great Tribulation an agent of atonement, or was Jesus’ death sufficient? These questions show why I cannot accept Fuchs’ scheme.

Jewish tradition connects trumpets with a call to repentance before the Day of Atonement,[44] and repentance is certainly an appropriate thing to do before the return of Christ. But I am not convinced that this is what the Feast of Blowing is actually portraying. I find it even less believable that “the sounding of the trumpet arouses Yahweh’s remembrance of his past commitments to his people”[45] — as if we needed to wake God up!

However, I am unable to offer any other suggestion. Modern Christians may find something attractive in any of the above suggestions, but I am not convinced that any of them are really intended by the inspired text.


Ten days after Trumpets was a day of fasting—Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Leviticus 23:26-32 explains it:

The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves, and present an offering made to the Lord by fire. 28 Do no work on that day, because it is the Day of Atonement, when atonement is made for you before the Lord your God. 29 Anyone who does not deny himself on that day must be cut off from his people. 30 I will destroy from among his people anyone who does any work on that day. 31 You shall do no work at all. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live. 32 It is a sabbath of rest for you, and you must deny yourselves. From the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening you are to observe your sabbath.

Leviticus 16:30 also gives the instructions for fasting:

On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work – whether native-born or an alien living among you – 30 because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins. 31 It is a sabbath of rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance.

Numbers 29:7-11 lists the sacrifices required:

On the tenth day of this seventh month hold a sacred assembly. You must deny yourselves and do no work. 8 Present as an aroma pleasing to the Lord a burnt offering of one young bull, one ram and seven male lambs a year old, all without defect. 9 With the bull prepare a grain offering of three-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil; with the ram, two-tenths; 10 and with each of the seven lambs, one-tenth. 11 Include one male goat as a sin offering, in addition to the sin offering for atonement and the regular burnt offering with its grain offering, and their drink offerings.

The summary: 1) the tenth day of the seventh month, 2) a sacred assembly, 3) an extreme Sabbath—no work at all (other festivals allowed the work involved in preparing food), 4) a day of denying self, going without food (and water?), 5) a day picturing atonement and cleansing 6) even aliens were required to fast 7) sacrifices of a bull, ram, goat, lambs, grain and drink.

I do not see any significance in the day of the month, the tenth. Similarly, the severity of the Sabbath is easily explained by the fact that food preparation would be inappropriate for a fast day. It is interesting that even aliens were required to fast, though the text says only that atonement was made for the Israelites (Leviticus 16:19, 21, 34). It seems significant, but I do not know what it symbolized. Along with the repeated prohibitions of work and food, it emphasizes the seriousness of the day.

What does the fast picture? Traditionally, confession and repentance. “In this day the nation was to ‘afflict itself’ in repentance for sin.”[46] Fasting humbles us and reminds us that we dependent beings. Booker even connects the day with trials and suffering that test our faith.[47] This ties in well with fasting, but not well at all with the emphasis of the day, atonement. Booker acknowledges that the trials do not have salvific function. I add that they do not have Christological focus.

The text focuses on cleansing, not on repentance, which should come before atonement. The Glasers suggest that “the fall feasts…form a natural progression of thought: the feast of Trumpets teaches repentance; the Day of Atonement, redemption; and the Feast of Tabernacles, rejoicing.”[48] Wiersbe notes that Atonement came before the joyous Tabernacles celebration and says: “We must remember that joy always follows cleansing and that the Day of Atonement preceded this feast (see Ps. 51:12). People who want happiness without holiness are destined to be disappointed.”[49] The Glasers say, “It is necessary to pass through repentance and redemption in order to experience His joy.”[50]

The day did not have historical significance—only religious significance. It was a day of atonements [the text is plural] “when atonement is made for you before the Lord your God.” The reason given for the fast is that it was a day of atonement. All these rituals emphasized the significance of the day. Something very important was being symbolized. In terms of religious significance, there is nothing more important than atonement. The NT counterpart is justification—it is the heart of our relationship with God. How can we defective beings live with a holy God who is perfect?

The NT tells us that Jesus Christ effected atonement for us:

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. (Rom. 3:23-25)

If anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2)

He had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:17)

Jesus fulfilled the purpose of the Day of Atonement. The day pointed toward him. We can see more details by examining Leviticus 16, which details the unusual rituals for this day. The chapter starts off as though the priest could enter the Holy of Holies whenever he did these rituals, but verse 34 specifies it can be only once a year, and verse 25 specifies that it is the tenth day of the seventh month.

The Lord said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud over the atonement cover [the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant]. 3 This is how Aaron is to enter the sanctuary area: with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering…. 6 Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household.” (Leviticus 16:2-6)

Hebrews comments on the rituals of Atonement:

The priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. (Hebrews 9:6-8)

The high priest, an antetype of Jesus Christ, had to offer a bull for his own sin offering before he could perform the other rituals. He had to bathe and wear the sacred linen garments (Leviticus 16:4). Bathing pictures cleansing, and the priestly linens represent righteousness (Revelation 19:8).

Leviticus 16:5-10 then describes a strange ritual with two goats:

From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering…. 7 Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. 8 He is to cast lots for the two goats – one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat.[51] 9 Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the Lord and sacrifice it for a sin offering. 10 But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat.

Verses 12-14 describe a ceremony in the Holy of Holies:

He [the high priest] is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the Lord and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. 13 He is to put the incense on the fire before the Lord, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the Testimony, so that he will not die. 14 He is to take some of the bull’s blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover.

Next, the goat whose lot fell for the Lord is sacrificed:

15 “He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. 16 In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. (16:15-16)

Aaron was to ritually cleanse the Tent of Meeting and the main altar (verses 16b-19. Then he had a ritual with the azazel goat:

20 When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. 21 He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites – all their sins – and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert. (16:20-22)

The high priest was then to take off the linen, bathe again, put on his regular clothes and again offer a sacrifice for himself. The repeated rituals emphasize how important the day was. It is also emphasized by verse 1, which mentions that two of Aaron’s sons were killed for doing rituals in an incorrect manner. Special rituals were also prescribed for the man who led the live goat away (verse 26) and for the leftovers of the other offerings (verse 27), and the man who took care of the leftovers (verse 28).

What does all this detail typify? To me, it suggests that there is only one way of salvation. God is an exclusive God, and we cannot enter his presence casually, by whatever method we want. It is only through Christ that we can enter. Only he can be the high priest to enter on our behalf; only he can be the offering that atones for our sins; only he can carry our sins so far away that they will never be seen again.

Some commentators attempt to find prophetic significance to this day. Juster looks forward to an international time of mourning after the return of Christ.[52] Ritchie, since he assigns Trumpets to Christ’s return and Tabernacles to the millennium, looks for a fulfillment at the return of Christ. He says it is the inauguration of the redeemed as priests, and a judgment.[53] This has no basis in texts relevant to the Day of Atonement, and it illustrates the hazards of seeing the primary fulfillments of the fall festivals in the future. Booker also associates a future fulfillment in the last judgment.[54] But the OT imagery is that of removing sin and entering heaven, not of punishing sin.

Armstrong at least had a textual basis for associating Atonement with a post-return, pre-millennial event—the binding of Satan (Revelation 20:2). His textual link was the azazel goat, which he argued was representative of Satan. He said that Satan’s share of human sins would be placed on Satan and he would be sent to an uninhabited place.[55] But in response, I say that Satan’s share in human sin is already on his head, and Revelation 20 describes a binding, whereas Leviticus 16 describes a loosing.


Last, we come to a seven-day festival with an eighth day added on—the Feast of Ingathering (so named because it came near the end of the grape harvest) or Sukkoth, the Feast of Booths, or Feast of Tabernacles. Exodus 23:17 introduces it this way: “Celebrate the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field.” Exodus 34:22, instead of calling it the end of the year (which may imply an autumn-to-autumn calendar), calls it the turn of the year, what we call the equinox: “Celebrate…the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year.”

Leviticus 23:33-39 gives further details:

On the fifteenth day of the seventh month the Lord’s Feast of Tabernacles begins, and it lasts for seven days. 35 The first day is a sacred assembly; do no regular work. 36 For seven days present offerings made to the Lord by fire…. 39 So beginning with the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after you have gathered the crops of the land, celebrate the festival to the Lord for seven days; the first day is a day of rest.

The harvest is to be celebrated with booths, or tree-branch shelters:

40 On the first day[56] you are to take choice fruit[57] from the trees, and palm fronds, leafy branches and poplars, and rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. 41 Celebrate this as a festival to the Lord for seven days each year. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come; celebrate it in the seventh month. 42 Live in booths for seven days: All native-born Israelites[58] are to live in booths 43 so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 23:40-43)

Although the Festival of Booths is stated to be seven days long, commands are also given for the eighth day. This eighth day is not given a name of its own, but is clearly distinct:

36 …on the eighth day hold a sacred assembly and present an offering made to the Lord by fire. It is the closing assembly; do no regular work…. 39 and the eighth day also is a day of rest. (23:26, 39)

Deuteronomy 16:13-15 repeats the instructions, with two themes common to Deuteronomy—rejoicing together, and the focus on the central sanctuary:

Celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor[59] and your winepress. 14 Be joyful at your Feast – you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites, the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns. 15 For seven days celebrate the Feast to the Lord your God at the place the Lord will choose. For the Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete.

Numbers 28-29 details the sacrifices required for each day of the festivals (see Appendix). The requirements for Tabernacles are similar, but the number of sacrifices is more than doubled. On all previous festival days, seven lambs and one ram were sacrificed. During the Feast of Tabernacles, 14 lambs and two rams were required. On the eighth day, only seven lambs and one ram were required, showing the eighth day’s character as a festival day distinct from Tabernacles.

The number of bulls also show a distinction. Spring festivals required two bulls each day. Trumpets required one and Atonement two. But on the first day of Tabernacles, 13 bulls were required! This very large number was reduced each day until seven bulls, which is still a large number, were required for the seventh day.[60] But the eighth day is not in continuity with the gradual decrease—it drops to only one bull.

Tabernacles had two major themes: A joyful celebration at the end of the grape harvest, and living in booths as a memorial of the journey from Egypt to Exodus. The rituals include: 1) a sacred assembly and sabbath on the first day, 2) a seven-day festival, 3) offerings of animals, grain, oil, and wine 4) a festival explicitly timed to come after the harvest 5) tree branches used to construct booths or shelters 6) Israelites were to live in the shelters during the festival 7) the shelters were reminders that they lived in booths in the wilderness 8) the law was required to be read, as mentioned in Deuteronomy 31:10-13:

At the end of every seven years, in the year for canceling debts,[61] during the Feast of Tabernacles, 11 when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place he will choose, you shall read this law before them in their hearing.

I have already commented on the typology, or lack thereof, of points 1-3.

Harvest: Tabernacles was a harvest festival, a Feast of Ingathering. Typologically, what does a harvest portray? As mentioned when discussing Pentecost, the NT uses a grain harvest as symbolic of salvation at the end of the age. But a different focus may be seen for a grape harvest: the need to bear fruit in this age. John 15:1-8 is a good example:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful…. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

A parable in Matthew 21:33-41 ends with a similar thought: The owner of the vineyard “will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time” (verse 41). This builds on the OT imagery of Israel as a vineyard (Isa. 5:1-7). In vineyard imagery, the focus (in both OT and NT) is results in this life, not in the fate of people at the last judgment. The lack of results in this life will have consequences in the last judgment, but the imagery of fruit focuses on this life. Other imagery, such as the grain harvest, is used for the last judgment.[62]

Whether this has significance for Tabernacles is debatable. The OT does not focus on the harvest aspect of Tabernacles. Indeed, the festival was observed even in sabbatical years, when there was no harvest. Tabernacles was not a grape festival—it was a festival of booths.[63] Moreover, the NT does not anywhere connect its vineyard imagery with festivals or with tabernacles.

In most years, Tabernacles was a harvest festival, both for grain and for grapes (Deuteronomy 16:13). It did not focus on either one or the other. It was a recognition of the blessings God had given them in the land, not only of agriculture but also in fruit trees: “For the Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete” (Deuteronomy 16:15). Tabernacles was a celebration of the goodness of the land God had given them.

This brings up more symbolism, for the promised land itself typified the salvation we have in Christ.[64] We have been given better promises than the old covenant people were given (Hebrews 8:6), and our promises are primarily spiritual and eternal.

The only NT mention of this festival also connects it with salvation. John 7:2-10 tells us that Jesus went up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. During the Feast, he spoke about himself:

My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. 17 If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. 18 He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. 19 Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?…

I did one miracle, and you are all astonished. 22 Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a child on the Sabbath. 23 Now if a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath? 24 Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment….

You know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, 29 but I know him because I am from him and he sent me…. I am with you for only a short time, and then I go to the one who sent me. 34 You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come. (John 7:16-34)

The climax comes in verses 37-39:

On the last and greatest day of the Feast,[65] Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.

The NT focuses its message about the Feast of Tabernacles on Jesus Christ and, through him, the Holy Spirit. All who have spiritual need can come to Jesus Christ for what they need. The emphasis is on the Spirit, and salvation through Jesus Christ.

Hartley observes that Tabernacles, like the spring festival, combines a harvest celebration with a commemoration of Israel’s redemption:

These two points of orientation are not at odds with each other, for just like the dual purpose of the Sabbath these harvest celebrations both praise God the Creator and the Sustainer for the harvest and recount the great saving deed of God in praise of him as their Lord and Guide. These two pictures of God are intertwined in the Scriptures.[66]

The God of the Exodus, the God of past salvation, is also the God of the harvest, the God of the present and future. By connecting the harvest celebrations to Israel’s historical redemption, the law made it more difficult to dedicate harvest festivals to local deities or fertility cults.

Since Tabernacles celebrated abundance of the land, some[67] have suggested that it is a type of the millennium.[68] I see three arguments against this identification. First, the NT does not make any such connection. Jesus said little or nothing about the millennium, and passages in Revelation say nothing about the festivals.

Second, Tabernacles pictured abundant blessings, the best physical blessings that God gives. Typologically, then, the festival should picture the best spiritual blessings God gives, and that would be the post-millennial reality, the new heavens and the new earth. Eternity is a better blessing than a physical millennium. If Tabernacles typifies the millennium, then it would leave the best blessing without any typological precursor, and that seems inappropriate.

Third, the millennium is a time period, and the festivals are shadows of Christ. They should focus on him, not on phases or dispensations of human history. (Other dispensations are not typified in the festivals.) The millennium can have a Christological focus if we emphasize Christ’s role as King, but his role as King is not restricted to the millennium. It will continue eternally, and if Tabernacles points toward the future, it should look further than the millennium, both for Christ’s role as King and for the blessings we receive from his kingdom.

Booths: Although Tabernacles is a harvest festival, the text seems to put more focus on the booths, for they were the unusual part of the festival, the part that distinguished this festival from any other. The OT explains the purpose of the booths: “so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt” (Leviticus 23:43).

However, the Israelites lived in tents during the exodus, not in tree-branch booths. The wilderness did not have “trees, and palm fronds, leafy branches and poplars,” at least not enough for all the Israelites. The word for “booth” must have had a broad enough semantic range to include tents, perhaps any sort of temporary, portable or substandard housing. The Greek word skēnē is used to refer either to tents or to tree-branch shelters.

Tabernacles involved some mixed metaphors. While the people celebrated an abundant harvest, they also lived in crude shelters, as if they were very poor. While they commemorated dwelling in the desert, they were using materials from the promised land. The festival pictured the past, when the land was still a promise, and the present, when they enjoyed the fulfillment of that promise.

The booths reminded everyone that the same God who brought them out of Egypt was also the God who gave them the harvests in the Land of Canaan. The God who provided their needs in the desert was still providing their needs in the promised land. The people enjoyed the blessings of the land only because God had given them the land. They enjoyed permanent homes on other weeks only because God had given them a permanent place to live.

The NT uses the term tabernacle (or tent) as a spiritual metaphor. Perhaps these allude to the festival, or perhaps they simply build on the ordinary meaning of “tent” as a temporary dwelling. Paul compared his body to a tent, and eternal life to a permanent building:

We know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:1-6)

Paul had a mortal body, with aches and pains, and he eagerly desired to move into his permanent home, the promised inheritance. Peter used a similar figure of speech (1 Peter 1:13). A similar picture is given in Hebrews with an example that came 400 years before the Israelites’ journey through the desert:

By faith Abraham…made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God…. They were longing for a better country — a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:9-16)

In both these examples, we see this present life symbolized by a tent. This symbolism fits well with the Feast of Tabernacles.[69] Even after the Israelites lived in the promised land, they periodically pictured themselves as wandering in the desert. Just as the weekly Sabbath implied that the people had not yet come to their true Rest (Hebrews 4:6-8), so also the Festival of Booths implied that, even if they lived in the promised land, they were still on a spiritual journey. “Israel was reminded that they were still pilgrims on the march from birth to death.”[70]

The re-enactment of the wilderness dwellings showed that there is more to God’s promise than meets the eye. They lived in the promised land, but did not yet have all of God’s promises. There was something better yet to come for them, just as it was for Abraham. They were mortal, and needed the spiritual promises, not just the physical and temporary blessings. Wiersbe comments this about the Feast: “The best is yet to come; for we shall be together with the Lord and His people, every stain washed away, rejoicing in His presence.”[71] By commemorating the wilderness journey, the booths pointed toward a spiritual promise, salvation and eternal life. The booths pointed to our Savior by emphasizing our need for a Savior.

The book of Revelation uses the word for tabernacle in two passages of salvation. The 144,000 are said to

serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent [skēnē] over them. 16 Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. ( Revelation 7:15-17)

The Glasers say, “We would be remiss not to mention the ultimate and eternal significance of the feast of Tabernacles.”[72] They then quote Revelation 21:3-4:

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling [skēnē, tent or tabernacle] of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

“Ultimately, the whole earth will become the sukkah booth of God…. What greater joy can there be than to be in the presence of God forever?”[73]

The identification of booths with mortality is not proven by NT scriptures, but it is consistent with themes that the NT does develop. Our own bodily dwellings are like tents, and we desire a better dwelling, with God. Although the typology is not proven, it is likely. Like ancient Israelites pictured with their booths, we have a mixture of blessing and poverty, joy and pain, righteousness and sin, already and not yet.

When the Israelites went from Egypt to Canaan, they acted out a large-scale drama of the Christian life. They began in physical slavery, and Christians begin life in spiritual bondage and in need of salvation. It is only through God’s intervention that we can escape. The Israelites escaped the plague of death by sacrific­ing Passover lambs. Christians are rescued from death through the sacrifice of Jesus, our Pass­over. The Israelites left Egypt by crossing the Red Sea. Christians pass from slavery to freedom with the symbolism of baptism.

Although we have been given a down payment guaranteeing the promise, we do not yet have all the promises. We are forgiven, yet still struggling with sin. We are still en route, just as the Israelites in the wilderness were on a journey. We are mortal, groaning, desiring our heavenly dwelling. We pray for our eternal needs, and we pray for our daily needs. The God who provides one also provides the other. The same God who has brought us this far can be counted on to bring us to the completion of our journey—the heavenly country.

During the 40 years that the Israelites traveled through the wilderness, God supplied their needs. He led them, protected them, taught them, and provided food and water.[74] The food he gave had a spiritual meaning. He gave manna “to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3). Centuries later, Jesus revealed himself as the bread of life (John 6:31-58). He fulfilled the picture given by manna. He also fulfilled the typology of the water, as we saw in John 7:37, and as we see in 1 Corinthians 10:4. Jesus Christ is the Rock that gave them water. These physical details symbolized spiritu­al truths.

These details also remind us that God tabernacled with the Israelites in the wilderness. He was with them the entire way, in the pillar of cloud and fire, in the tent of meeting, and in the tabernacle. He tabernacled with them in a physical way, but what we need is to live with him in a spiritual way. That is the completion of our spiritual journey; that is what we yearn for, and that is what Revelation 21 promises, that God will tabernacle with us forever. Kasdan writes, “Of all the feasts of the Lord, Sukkot best illustrates the fact that God would dwell in the midst of his people through the presence of the Messiah.”[75] John 1:14 uses the verb form of skēnē to tell us that the Word was made flesh and lived among us.[76]

Kasdan also says, “God will ultimately build his habitation with his people when the kingdom is established under Messiah’s rulership…. Sukkot is said to be the premier celebration of the Millennium.”[77] However, he also cites Revelation 21:1-3 as relevant, and yet that text is post-millennial. It is also more “ultimate.” Such internal inconsistencies, and the contradictions between interpreters, cast doubt on the correctness of the identification of Tabernacles with the millennium.

As reminders of human mortality, booths remind us of our need for faith in God. That is why the Glasers write:

The impermanent, vulnerable, leafy shelters were to remind the Israelites of God’s faithfulness during their forty years of wandering in the desert. The booths symbol­ized man’s need to depend on God for His provision of food, water, and shelter. This is true in the spiritual realm as well…. Our world is a spiritual desert.[78]

Similarly, Juster writes:

To dwell in tents is a vivid reminder of God’s grace. When Israel dwelt in tents they remembered that, although they might have homes and land and other measures of wealth, their lives were just as dependent upon God. Security was not to be found in possessions.[79]

The eighth day

Last, we should consider the meaning of the eighth day. However, it is difficult to assign meaning when the day does not have any distinctive features. The Bible does not assign any reason for the day; it does not have any rituals different than other festivals. It was a sacred assembly, on which sacrifices were made, just like other annual festivals. It is distinctive only in that it is the day after Tabernacles.

If one believes Tabernacles to typify a future millennium, the eighth day may be seen as portraying a time after the millennium. Armstrong said the eighth day pictured the great white throne judgment of Revelation 20:11-12.[80] He speculated a role in salvation for this judgment, and said the eighth day typologically pointed toward those details. But this means that the best blessings of salvation, living with God and his tabernacle forever, are completely unpictured by the festivals, and this seems inappropriate. It also means that Christ is not the focus of the festival. I have listed above other reasons that I do not think it correct to associate Tabernacles with the millennium.

Ritchie said that the eighth day points to “a period beyond millennial times…the dawn of the eternal day…the long Sabbath of Eternity.”[81] Perhaps this is what Chumney alludes to when he says that it is “the day after time.”[82] Booker says that the eighth day “corresponds to the new heaven and new earth.”[83] It would certainly be fitting that eternal joy would be pictured by a festival, but there is nothing in the symbolism of the eighth day to suggest that its joy supersedes all other days. Indeed, there is nothing in the symbolism, for there is no symbolism!

Colossians 2:16-17 says that the festivals point to Christ, but the eighth day remains a mystery. I do not have any suggestions as to why the closing assembly was on the eighth day rather than the seventh.

Jews traditionally call the ninth day Simchat Torah, rejoicing in the law. This connects with the requirement that the law be read during Tabernacles every seventh year (Deuteronomy 31:10-11). But this does not connect with the fact that Tabernacles is explicitly stated to be only seven days long, and Simchat Torah is the ninth day.

Conclusion and practical application

Christians are not required to observe the annual festivals. However, we should not ignore them. Paul says that all Scripture is profitable for our instruction (2 Timothy 3:15-17). The festivals pointed toward Jesus Christ and the salvation we are given through him. Some (e.g., Armstrong) have used this as a reason that Christians should be required to observe the festivals. The festivals have important meanings, and most churches ignore those meanings and ignore the festivals. Thus some people conclude, illogically, that the festivals must be observed to preserve their good meanings.[84] But this is like saying that we must observe sacrifices in order to remember the ways in which they point toward Christ.

It is understandable that groups who observe the festivals also explore their typological meanings. Most literature on this subject is written by people who advocate the keeping of the festivals. Unfortunately, the exegesis in such literature is often unreliable, and it sometimes presents well-meaning Christians with a false dichotomy: either observe the festivals and appreciate their meaning, or ignore them entirely. It is my hope that Christians will address this subject in a responsible way to enrich their understanding of OT inspiration and salvation history. God had planned the work of Christ long before he brought it to pass.

There is great meaning in the festivals, but it is disguised in shadow pictures. We can be thankful that the meanings have been revealed in Jesus Christ. We can be thankful that he has redeemed us, lives in us, leads us to righteousness, atones for our sins every day of every year, and promises yet more blessings in our future. The festivals have an interesting variety of meanings, from describing the pre-conversion state as slavery, to picturing our spiritual rescue through the death of a lamb, to picturing a spiritual journey toward an eternal inheritance. John Wenham says,

Nowhere is the continuity between the testaments so clear as in the calendar…. Recognition of the OT background to these Christian festivals could perhaps give greater depth to Christian worship. When we celebrate Good Friday we should think not only of Christ’s death on the cross for us, but of the first exodus from Egypt which anticipated our deliverance from the slavery of sin. At Easter we recall Christ’s resurrection and see in it a pledge of our own resurrection at the last day, just as the firstfruits of harvest guarantee a full crop later on (1 Corinthians 15:2023). At Whitsun (Pentecost) we praise God for the gift of the Spirit and all our spiritual blessings; the OT reminds us to praise God for our material benefits as well.[85]

Demarest exaggerates when he writes, “The meaning of Christ’s death can only be understood in the light of the meaning of the Passover,”[86] but he is correct when he writes:

Our understanding and experience of the full meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection can only be heightened and enhanced by growing in our knowledge of these beautiful celebrations in Israel’s annual worship cycle.[87]

The typology of the OT festivals is made clear by the NT. Application should never be derived from the OT alone. Christian behavior should not be based on typology, but on clear scriptures. The OT necessarily plays a secondary role, instructing us in righteousness through illustration, not command. It enriches and broadens the picture, but is not a reliable basis for the picture.

If Christian application is more solidly based on NT teaching, why delve into festival typology at all? Not as proof of how we ought to live and be saved, but as illustrations that God had designed both Scripture and Jesus’ work from the very beginning. The festivals provide interesting sermon illustrations, but they must be used cautiously. We are delving into foreign cultures. Rather than playing fanciful word-association games, the exegete must stick as closely as possible to the text, seeing how Scripture itself uses the imagery. This provides a helpful example for the way lay Christians themselves should approach the Scriptures. We should be quick to acknowledge speculation as such, and slow to be dogmatic.


[1] Vern Poythress, The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1991). Typology of the sacrifices is covered in Andrew Jukes, The Law of the Offerings (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel, 1986; originally published in 1877).

[2] None of the encyclopedia articles I have seen reference any scholarly investigation into this subject. Perhaps there is none. Most scholarly works ignore typology altogether. Popular literature about the festivals usually has more speculation than scholarship, and it is often theologically flawed.

[3] Typological analyses are often speculative. Christians sometimes wax eloquent on parallels between the ancient Jewish sacrifices and the sacrifice of Christ. Some of the speculation may be true, but much of it cannot be proven biblically. Plausible “meanings” can be suggested both for sacrifices that are eaten and those that are not. Perhaps the suggestions are more indicative of our ingenuity than they are of eternal truths. The Bible does not give us many details about typology. For example, it does not spell out how grain offerings symbolize the sacrifice of Christ.

[4] Be Holy (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor, 1994), 102.

[5] It is unlikely that the Israelites in Egypt, who were in slavery, would have been able to purchase slaves of their own. This indicates that these instructions were for later generations, even though they are here given in the context of the first Passover. Also, this passage refers to an alien, yet all the Israelites in Egypt were aliens, and calling others “aliens” would be odd. Similarly, the term “native-born” suggests a setting in the land of Israel rather than in Egypt.

[6] It would be interesting, but inconclusive, to find out whether the Jews traditionally maintained details such as selecting the lamb on the 10th day of the month. The Passover was neglected at several times in Jewish history, and first-century Jewish practices are not always based on biblical commands. Our concern is how the festivals as described in the Pentateuch were types of Jesus Christ. Jewish customs varied, and cannot form a secure foundation for our study. Their customs might shed light on how the rabbis understood the Torah, but their readings are not authoritative for Christians. Because of the limited role that tradition can play in this study, and due to limits of time and space, I have not explored this angle. I am focusing on what the text says.

[7] As further evidence that the Passover lamb was not a sin offering: Jesus, as an observant Jew, would have obeyed the command to kill Passover lambs each year. The sacrifice was not for sin, but for obedience.

[8] Different sacrifices (sin offering, peace offering, etc.) portrayed different aspects of Jesus death. Jesus’ death achieved several things simultaneously, and it would be erroneous to try to read them all into any one Old Testament type.

[9] I assume here that the significant thing about Egypt is not the geographical location, or even the idolatry found there, but the slavery the Israelites escaped from. This seems to be the emphasis of the book of Exodus.

[10] In an interesting parallel with uncertain significance, Passover lambs were selected on the 10th day of the first month, and Atonement goats were selected on the 10th day of the seventh month. There are similarities in what these festivals portray, but also differences, such as in the day of sacrifice (14th vs. 10th). John Ritchie (1857-1930) brings out some parallels in Feasts of Jehovah (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 1982), 60-61.

[11] Richard Booker, Jesus in the Feasts of Israel: Restoring the Spiritual Realities of the Feasts of the Church (South Plainfield, N.J.: Bridge Publishing, 1987), 23.

[12] Chumney, Edward. The Seven Festivals of the Messiah. Shippensburg, Pennsylvania: Destiny Image, 1994, 25-26.

[13] There is a controversy concerning the chronology of the Synoptics and John, as to whether Jesus was killed on the day of the Passover, or after the Passover. I am attracted to Jaubert’s hypothesis, but I have not studied it well enough to base any conclusions on it. If Jesus observed the Passover at the Last Supper, and if that was the correct day, then the fulfillment did not occur at the “correct” time of day.

[14] It is tempting to argue at this point that Jewish practice (as distinct from biblical information) is a legitimate type, i.e., that God accommodated the fulfillment to match current practice. Whether this is true or not, it does not fall within the domain of biblical typology.

[15] A practical application of this symbolism might be to require that only baptized persons partake of the Lord’s Supper.

[16] Actually, leaven was to be removed before the first day. Work was prohibited on the first day, and even on the first day, no leaven was to be in the houses.

[17] The night of vigil was the same night the Passover was eaten and the same night the Israelites began to leave Egypt. This verse seems to indicate that subsequent generations were to stay awake that night, at least past midnight, as part of the commemoration. Jesus had a night of vigil, too, but it was before his crucifixion rather than after. Christians are to be vigilant, always alert for sin, always ready to leave sin, but I do not know if this is a valid typological connection.

[18] Daniel Juster, in his Messianic Jewish theology, writes, “Leaven also became a symbol of that indwelling evil which pervades and affects life” (Jewish Roots: A Foundation of Biblical Theology. Davar Publishing: Gaithersburg, Maryland, 1986, 201).

[19] Wiersbe, 104.

[20] Pagan Holidays or God’s Holy Days—Which? Pasadena, Calif.: Worldwide Church of God, 1987), 12, 14). The booklet never dealt with pagan holidays, but did argue that Christians ought to keep the annual festivals.

[21] Unleavened Bread was seven days long. It would take a lengthy paper to examine the number seven. Although the number seven is significant throughout the Bible, signifying completeness, I do not think that it has typological significance. Some have said that the seven-day week indicates that God’s plan for humanity will be completed in 7,000 years, but this speculation does not seem defensible.

[22] John Hartley, Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 4: Leviticus (Dallas, Texas: Word, 1992), 390.

[23] Juster, viii.

[24] Sadducees interpreted this as the weekly Sabbath, Pharisees and modern Jews as the first annual Sabbath in the festival. The Essenes may have used a calendar in which the days of the week always fell on the same days of the month. I have used the Sadducee view here, but I will not take the space to defend it.

[25] The Hebrew word is ‘omer, which refers to a quantity rather than a sheaf. Jews traditionally used flour ground from a sheaf of barley, which was the first grain to ripen.

[26] Barney Kasdan makes a similar distinction: “From the context of the chapter, on Sfirat Haomer, we know that this name [bikkurim] refers to the latter fruits of the spring harvest. Previously, the early first fruits (barley) were brought in and waved before the Lord. Fifty days later, the latter first fruits (wheat) were offered to the Lord” (God’s Appointed Times, Baltimore, Md.: Lederer Messianic Publications, 52). Some other interpreters seem to confuse the two terms and/or the two festivals.

[27] Wiersbe, 106.

[28] Armstrong, 20.

[29] Juster, 202.

[30] Numbers says two bulls and one ram. They may be in addition to the two rams and one bull of Leviticus, or they may be instead of. The seven lambs and one goat are the same in both lists.

[31] R. Laird Harris favors the suggestion of Allis, that the leavened loaves represent the daily food of the Israelites, the way that a Hebrew housewife would normally prepare the wheat (“Leviticus,” Expositor’s Bible Commentary, volume 2, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1990, 626). However, grain offerings throughout the year used ordinary foods of the Israelites, but leaven was forbidden. Allis’s “ordinary” meaning hardly seems to do justice to the extraordinary, only once a year, nature of the leavened offerings on Pentecost.

Hartley says that the leavened loaves are “symbolizing that this day is a joyous occasion” (p. 385), but he gives no rationale for his idea. Were not all the festivals joyous?

[32] Juster, 203. He says, “How significant it is that God providentially gave His Spirit on this day, for only through the power of the Spirit can we actually harvest God’s will” (203). His play on the word harvest is not a convincing explanation of typology.

[33] Mastering the Old Testament, Volume 3: Leviticus (Dallas, Texas: Word, 1990), 250.

[34] Armstrong, 24-25.

[35] Chumney, 91.

[36] Booker, 77.

[37] Ibid., 80.

[38] Chumney,100-101.

[39] Ibid., 115-127.

[40] Mitch and Zhava Glaser, The Fall Feasts of Israel (Chicago: Moody, 1987), 43.; Victor Buksbazen, The Gospel in the Feasts of Israel Fort Washington, Penn.: Christian Literature Crusade, 1954, 1992), 37.

[41] Juster, 204.

[42] Armstrong, 27-28.

[43] Daniel Fuchs, Israel’s Holy Days in Type and Prophecy (Neptune, N.J.: Loizeaux Brothers, 1985), 48, 71.

[44] Juster, 204.

[45] Hartley, 392, 387; Buksbazen, 37.

[46] Juster, 205.

[47] Booker, 94-95.

[48] Glaser and Glaser, 16. Kasdan has a similar view: “What was started on the first of Tishri, namely, repentance and self-evaluation, was completed on the tenth of month with atonement and regeneration” (p. 78).

[49] Wiersbe, 110.

[50] Glaser and Glaser, 16.

[51] Some commentators believe that the scapegoat (in Hebrew, azazel) represents Satan. Azazel was supposedly a name of a desert demon, and the goat was sent into the desert for Azazel, just as the other goat was sacrificed for the Lord. Others, including myself, believe that the scapegoat typified a different aspect of Christ’s atonement. He is the one who carried our sins away from us (Glaser, 88-89). The goat was released, just as in a few other Levitical rituals birds were released alive without any hint that they are for demons.

[52] Juster, 16.

[53] Ritchie, 63.

[54] Booker, 98-99.

[55] Armstrong, 30-38.

[56] Since the first day was a rest day, the branches were gathered and the shelters were built before the festival. The phraseology is similar to that used for Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:15), as noted earlier.

[57] If “fruit” is meant in the broader sense of something produced, them the “fruit” from the trees may be the branches themselves. Although Jews traditionally use fruits in their Sukkoth celebrations, the text does not give any special use for fruits. It does specify a use for tree branches.

[58] Aliens were commanded to fast during Atonement, but they apparently were not required to participate in Tabernacles. Since their ancestors were not rescued from Egypt, they did not need to re-enact that event.

[59] Tabernacles celebrated both the spring and the summer harvests. The threshing would be completed about the time of Pentecost; the grape harvest would be completed just before Tabernacles. The olive harvest could begin before Tabernacles, but would not be completed until November (Oded Borowski, Agriculture in Iron Age Israel, Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1987, 37). See appendix 1.

[60] The large number of sacrifices illustrates the fact that our spiritual blessings come at a tremendous price, but I doubt that that is the real message of the numbers, particularly the decreasing sequence.

[61] The year for cancelling debts was the sabbatical year, in which harvesting was forbidden (Leviticus 25:1-7). The sabbatical year and the jubilee year (Leviticus 25:8-17) may also have typological meaning. It is interesting that the Festival of Tabernacles, which was a harvest festival, was also held in years in which there was no harvest. This puts the focus of the festival on the booths.

[62] Ritchie connects the grape harvest with the judgment of God’s enemies, with Revelation 14:18-19 as a connecting link (p. 68). But in the original festivals, people rejoiced at the harvest of the grapes, not at the destruction of weeds! Grapes were good, not bad.

[63] However, booths were used during the grape harvest – people stayed in them to protect their crops (Gary Burge, Jesus and the Jewish Festivals [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan], 71). This connection may have been so evident to the original Israelites that it did not need to be mentioned in the text. Nevertheless, the text is taking a pre-existing custom and diverting the symbolism away from the grape harvest and toward Israel’s history in the wilderness.

[64] This is developed by Elmer Martens, God’s Design (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1994), 283-291.

[65] Some commentators believe that this last day is the seventh; others say it is the eighth. Either way, since the text says it is part of “the feast,” it is proper to associate Jesus’ teachings here with Tabernacles.

No matter which day is meant, Jesus was alluding to the Jewish water-pouring ceremony, a custom that is not mandated in Scripture. While the priests were pouring out water, Jesus was shouting, in effect, “If you want water, come to me. I have water that is better and more abundant than what the priests have.” We are again dealing with a nonbiblical typology, in which Jesus is the fulfillment of a Jewish custom that was not required in Scripture.

[66] Hartley, 390.

[67] E.g., Armstrong (pp. 40-41), Booker (p. 111), Chumney (p. 159), Juster (p. x). Fuchs portrays it as the “reign of our Lord” (p. 71), and on 79 also cites Revelation 21:3-6, a post-millennial scripture. Thus he may say it portrays both the millennium and the eternal beyond, which answers some of my objections.

[68] Zechariah 14, a millennial prophecy, says that nations will keep the Festival of Tabernacles. However, other millennial passages mention other old covenant practices, such as Sabbath-keeping, circumcision, avoidance of gentiles, sacrifices, etc. The simple mention of a worship practice in a millennial prophecy does not mean that the ritual typologically points toward the millennium. Nor does it prove that the ritual will actually be required in the millennium.

[69] Chumney summarizes the picture: “Our earthly physical body is only a temporary tabernacle. At the coming of Messiah, we will receive a new and heaven­ly house, a glorified body” (p. 163).

[70] George Knight, Leviticus. Daily Study Bible (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965), 144.

[71] Wiersbe, 111.

[72] Glaser and Glaser, 212.

[73] Ibid., 213.

[74] Hartley says, “These shelters…are not to recall the hardship of the wilderness, but the grace of God in providing for his people in so many ways in such an austere environment” (p. 389, citing Keil and Delitzsch).

[75] Kasdan, 96.

[76] Chumney (pp. 178-183) and Kasdan (pp. 95-97) argue that Jesus was probably born during Tabernacles. However, I think it unlikely that the Romans would tell all citizens to go to their own cities at the same time as the local religion told everyone to go to Jerusalem.

[77] Kasdan, 98, 100.

[78] Mitch and Zhava Glaser, The Fall Feasts of Israel (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, 1987), 157.

[79] Juster, 207.

[80] Armstrong, 43-44.

[81] Ritchie, 70-71.

[82] Chumney, 188.

[83] Booker, 112.

[84] The sacrifices show that it is not necessary to observe rituals in order to remember their meaning.

[85] The Book of Leviticus. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1979), 306.

[86] Demarest, 248.

[87] Ibid.

Author: Michael Morrison


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