The Symbolism of Biblical Holydays
by Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D., 1995
Edited by David Sielaff, March 2005
The festival periods given to ancient Israel at Mount Sinai and at other crucial times in their history are some of the most informative symbols to provide a prophetic scenario for Israel and the world in the years just ahead of us. With the majority of these festivals and holy times, God mirrors and elaborates the plain and simple teachings of the prophets and the apostles regarding future events. They also highlight the prophetic doctrines presented by Christ Jesus to the Israelites and the world.
The apostle Paul called these holy periods “shadows of things to come” (Colossians 2:17). His reference was to a time future to him when he made his statement in 63 C.E. And indeed, the application of Paul’s evaluation is as valid now at this end of the age as it was when the apostle gave us his teaching about the usefulness of these holy periods to give Christians information about the future and the coming Kingdom of God.
While this is true, it must be understood that Paul was specific in his teaching that all mature Christians are not required to observe the holy-days of Israel in the manner they were given to Moses and others in the past. The observance of such times are of no advantage whatever in granting a spiritual salvation to Israel or to other humans on earth. This is why Paul commanded the Colossians not to let any man judge them on such matters as foods and drinks that one might imbibe for spiritual purposes, or what holy periods one should observe to please God.
In spite of this teaching of the apostle Paul about the non-essential character of observing these holydays in matters pertaining to salvation, they do provide the Christian with a great deal of figurative teaching about the prophetic plan that God has for Israel throughout their history and this necessarily includes Gentile nations as well. It will reward us handsomely to comprehend the fullness of prophetic teaching if we heed the symbolic meanings attached to these Holydays. Let us see how this is shown to us.
The calendar in both the Old and the New Testaments is a Lunar-Solar one. This means that the motions of the Moon control the beginning of its years as well as the Sun. When the apostle Paul included “new moon” days in his list of times over which Christians were not to be judged, he was referring directly to the months and years of the Hebrew calendar which are essentially governed by the Moon and secondarily by the Sun. Understand that our modern calendar we use today is influenced strictly by the motions of the Sun, and it has nothing to do with activities involving the Moon.
As far as the holydays are concerned which are found in the Law of Moses, we find that all of symbolic teachings that they contain center in one way or another on Christ Jesus (either the importance of His person or His role in prophetic and doctrinal history). Remember, Paul taught plainly that Christ was the “end of the Law” (Romans 10:4). This means that all principles of the Law, including the intent of the holydays, focus squarely on the person of Christ. All factors are primarily directed to Him. There are several ways to show this and they are important for Christians to understand and to apply in their studies regarding the meaning of the Holy Scriptures.
The first thing we should recognize is the fact that there were two beginnings for the New Year in early Israel and this is shown in the Scriptures. One was in the Springtime. This is known as the Ecclesiastical Year and all matters dealing with the Temple and the priesthood were related to this Springtime New Year. The other New Year began six months later near the Autumnal Equinox. This was known as the Civil Year and all matters of state such as the rule of kings and the age of all Israelites were reckoned from the start of this New Year which is the Day of Trumpets, or as the Jews call it, Rosh Ha-Shanah.
In the Bible, all age lengths of Israelites were elevated one year on the same day of the year, the Day of Trumpets. In whatever civil year a person was born, the whole of the year was reckoned in the genealogical records in the Temple as belonging to the person just born even though (as often was the case) some portion of the year was in existence before the person was actually born. Let us see how this works.
Though my birth day was April 20, 1932, the biblical manner of counting years of my life and the day in which I become one year old for all civil purposes was the previous Day of Trumpets in the year 1931. My birth date legally commenced over seven months before I was born. That day began at sundown on September 11th in 1931 on the Roman calendar that we use today. So, for all people born from that day onward to the next Day of Trumpets a year later, the evening of September 11th and the daylight portion of September 12th would be reckoned to be their birthdays. All would have the same birthday on the Hebrew calendar. Indeed, if a person were born just one day before the Day of Trumpets, that person would have started his or her year number 2 on the following day, just as all other people would be advanced one year in age on the same Day of Trumpets.
Look at the symbolic meaning of this. This focuses everyone’s birthday to one day of the year — to the Day of Trumpets. And this very day was the exact time when Christ was born into the world in 3 B.C. This means that all people in Israel (and in the world for all those who will accept this manner of reckoning birthdays) are identified precisely with Christ Jesus Himself who was certainly born on that very day. As a matter of fact, I proved in my book The Star That Astonished the World, that Christ Jesus was actually born when the Sun was mid-bodied to the Virgin (Virgo) and the Moon was located in the heavens under the feet of Virgo (Revelation 12:1–5). This answers to a New Moon day, and that day has to be the Day of Trumpets — the day on which all people in Israel celebrated their birthdays.
So, if people today wish to keep in honor the day when Christ was born, then the Nativity celebrations should always occur on the Day of Trumpets each year, and at the same time every person would celebrate their civil birthdays. We all identify with Christ. This is one way in which Christ is “the end of the Law” (Romans 10:4) The whole Law, and the symbolic factors associated with the holydays, point directly to Christ in a real way.
This principle of reckoning birthdays and years of reign for kings is sustained consistently in the Bible when one follows the history of the Kingdom of Judah. Yes, it relates to the year length of kings as well as the birthdays of individual people. There is one difference with kings, however. With kings, the last king may die within any given year, but the next king cannot reckon his time for beginning his rule until the next Day of Trumpets. With birthdays, though, it was different in early Israel. The whole of the year in which the person was born was reckoned to the person in matters regarding civil affairs.
Indeed, when the apostle Paul in the Book of Hebrews gave illustrations of how Jesus fulfilled many of the symbolic teachings associated with the animal sacrifices and the holydays, Paul garnered together symbols that were connected with the Day of Atonement (which occurred in the Autumn of the year) and applied them to the crucifixion of Christ which happened at Passover time in the Spring of the year (Hebrews chapter nine). This was perfectly proper to do because in prophetic and doctrinal teachings, all of the events of any year, even those events which are sequential from a chronological point of view, are allowed their fulfillment at any time within the year because the whole of any year is given to the person under discussion. In the case of the Book of Hebrews, the person being discussed was Christ Jesus and how He fulfilled all the Law and its symbols.
No matter if the holydays themselves and their prophetic significance may have an Autumn theme to them (such as the Day of Atonement), they still find a spiritual fulfillment at the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ at the Passover season in the Springtime. In a word, it was quite common to apply events throughout a festival year to one day within the year because the whole of the year was awarded to the person in a prophetic sense. This is an important point to understand in recognizing some essential prophetic fulfillments which Christ Jesus accomplished as mentioned in the Book of Hebrews and other prophetic books of the Bible.
The Temple and Priesthood reckonings for the length of the year were all based on a Spring to Spring standard. This type of year began with the Hebrew month Nisan. 1 The first holyday of this type of year was the Passover on the 14th of the month. Jesus celebrated His Last Supper on the evening of this day which was a day before the normal Jewish Passover of the 15th (the first day of unleavened bread). At the Passover either a sheep or goat (Exodus 12:5) could be killed and eaten by the Israelites.
The first Passover was in Egypt, a Gentile Land of their captivity, but once the Tabernacle was established at the beginning of the second year of the Exodus (Exodus 40), the Passover lamb or goat had to be killed and eaten within the place that surrounded the Tabernacle (within a 2000 cubits radius) (Deuteronomy 16:1–8). At this time, all Israelite males (at least ten had to be gathered for one lamb or goat) were able to offer this sacrifice as a type of peace offering. (The Passover was not a sin offering.) They could perform the killing and eating of the animal without any priests.
This was a time when the whole nation of Israel ate their Passover meals near the Tabernacle, and later in the vicinity of the Temple in Jerusalem. They were all reckoned to be in a priesthood relationship with God. Israel was then accounted a nation of priests no matter what tribe of Israel the people were from.
It is this priesthood type of association of the people of Israel with God that prompted the apostle Peter to show the early Jewish Christians that they had become a new type of Israel on a permanent basis, and that what was once reckoned a priesthood connection, permitted for fleshly Israel once a year at Passover time was now accounted in Christ as a permanent one. This Passover theme is clearly what Peter had in mind when he said: “You are a chosen generation [race], a royal priesthood, an holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9). Israelites who would accept the New Covenant relationship with God would be a permanent priesthood to God in matters concerning the nations of the earth. And later, redeemed Israelites are allowed to be kings and priests and they would have rule over the earth in the Millennium after Christ returns (Revelation 5:10).
Christ established this first phase of the New Covenant relationship with the bread and the wine at His Last Supper. Though the full New Covenant will not be made with Israel and Judah until Christ returns, some of the redeemed Israelites who found themselves in Christ could begin to exercise some of the responsibilities of that relationship even now. It was no accident that Christ introduced the emblems of the New Covenant at the Passover season — the beginning of the holyday season of the Israelites.
This Passover theme is found in the doctrinal teaching of how Jewish people under a New Covenant relationship could be saved in Christ, and also how Gentiles who wanted to join Israel in this covenant connection could also be saved in Christ. Such people were asked to
This made them eligible to partake of the bread and the wine which were the New Covenant emblems given by Christ at Passover time and this ceremony was associated with a Passover theme.
Just as the Israelites had the blood on their doorposts which saved them in Egypt from the death angel, so too, New Covenant people had the blood of Christ (symbolized by the wine) and His body (figuratively indicated by the bread) to save them from spiritual death and from the wiles of the world (that Egypt symbolized). This is why the Bread and the Wine ceremony for New Covenant Christians should be associated with Passover because it indicates the start of their spiritual life in Christ and what He did for them on the tree of crucifixion.
After this Passover ceremonial theme, the first Day of Unleavened Bread occurs which signifies to the New Covenant people that they were to be taken out of sin (Egypt) for seven days, which symbolically meant complete deliverance over sin through the actions of Christ Jesus. The last Day of Unleavened Bread (the 7th day) was the time the Israelites crossed the Red Sea to leave Egypt behind completely. To the New Covenant people this answered to their baptism which signified their complete deliverance over sin that Christ afforded to them. “And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:2).
That did not end the doctrinal and prophetic story, however. Once they were delivered from Egypt (a symbol for this world) by the blood of Christ and delivered from sin and its effects through baptism (indicated by the 7th Day of Unleavened Bread), the New Covenant Israelites — along with the Gentiles who joined them — were led finally to Mount Sinai. This is when the Law of God was given to the new nation of Israel and when Israel became fully “married” to God in a Covenant relationship with Him. Jewish tradition has always associated Pentecost with the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. With Christians, Pentecost became the time fifty days after Christ’s resurrection when the Holy Spirit was dispensed to those at Jerusalem at the preaching of the apostle Peter and others (Acts 2).
The truth is, “Pentecost” is a well known festival mentioned in the Law of God given to Moses which indicates prophetically a time of “firstfruits” for the people of God. This means a time for the beginning of the firstfruits harvest for those who understand its prophetic significance. And what kind of “harvest” are we talking about? It is a harvest in which God begins in a spiritual sense to reap those individuals He has selected to do a job for Him. In the first Pentecost of the Christian ekklesia mentioned in Acts chapter two, this was when the apostle Peter stood up some 50 days after the resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead and told the whole of the Jewish community in the Temple at Jerusalem that they now had a savior named Jesus Christ who would rescue them from their sins if they would repent and be baptized in His holy name (Acts 2:37–40). At first, 3000 people responded to Peter’s call, and later that number was increased to 5000 (Acts 2:41; 4:4).
Not only that, did you know that even Christ Himself waited to the crucial day of Pentecost to begin His teaching of the Gospel with miracles and signs that astounded the Jewish world of the 1st century? That is right. In the original Greek, Christ waited until “the Day of the Sabbaths” (or, Weeks) to commence His teaching of the Gospel in Nazareth of Galilee (Luke 4:16). In the original Greek Christ did not simply go into the synagogue at Nazareth “on the Sabbath day” as the King James Version renders the Greek. Luke was actually giving his readers a chronological date that all people in the 1st century would have understood. He was saying that Christ waiting until the precise Day of Pentecost (called the Day of the Sabbaths or Weeks) to start His ministry.
And note this important point. On the two other occasions when this phrase just mentioned above “The Day of the Sabbaths or Weeks” is used (Acts 13:14 and 16:13), it is used in a technical Greek sense to mean the Day of Pentecost, and not an ordinary Sabbath day which was the seventh day of the week. I have written before on this matter to show that this evaluation is true. What we find is the fact that the first time the apostle Paul began to teach in the central and main area of Galatia (at Antioch) and the first time Paul taught on the continent of Europe in Philippi, he began his teaching on “the Day of the Sabbaths or Weeks” which phrase in Greek meant the festival Day of Pentecost. It was the “day of beginnings” for teaching the Gospel in these critical and significant areas of the 1st century world. These teachings began on that particular festival day.
There is no doubt that the early apostles and Christians in the 1st century saw great significance in the symbolic teaching of the Day of Pentecost And for proof of this, note that the apostle Paul said his first teaching of the Gospel in Philippi (which was the first time he taught on the continent of Europe) was a time called by him “the beginning of the Gospel” (Philippians 4:15). More than that, the apostle Paul called that particular experience of teaching the Gospel for the first time in Europe, the very time when “a door was opened unto me of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 2:12). This allowed Paul to teach the Gospel to a brand new group of people, and in a whole new area of the world (to Europe itself).
The prophet Jeremiah commanded the Jews to read the Book of Lamentations on the 10th of the month Ab, the fifth month of the Ecclesiastical Calendar. The Jews from that time have fasted on that day. It commemorates the day on which the Temple was destroyed by fire by the king of Babylon, and amazingly it was on the exact same day of the year that the Temple went up in flames in the Roman/Jewish War in 70 C.E. This day of fasting has figured prominently throughout Jewish history as a day of infamy. For the symbolic significance of the Day and how even the books of the Old Testament are arranged to accommodate this important time, see my work on the canon Restoring the Original Bible.
One thing should be pointed out, however, and it is highly important from a prophetic point of view. Just as Pentecost (a day of beginnings) occurs 50 days after the first day of the week within the Days of Unleavened Bread in the Springtime, the 10th of Ab is positioned in the calendar to be 50 days before the Day of Trumpets. It represents (in contrast to Pentecost) a type of day denoting the start of the end-time for the Jewish people. It is a day denoting “endings.”
It symbolically refers to the start of the end of the age — this present age in which we now live. It represents in prophetic themes the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jeremiah 30:7). One can find a description of it in Zechariah 13:7–9 which shows a time just before the Second Advent of Christ back to the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:3–4). As the 50 days leading up to Pentecost show a period emphasizing “beginning,” so too the 50 days from the 10th of Ab to the Day of Trumpets emphasize the start of the time of the end — it “endings” are emphasized.
The Day of Trumpets in the biblical and Jewish calendars is New Year’s Day for commercial and royal reckonings. It signifies the “end of the year” regarding festival matters dealing with the Temple and priesthood of Israel, but it is the “beginning year” for kingship (or royal) matters and for all civil themes. It denotes the beginning of a New Age for Israel and mankind. This is when the Last trump was sounded to signal the seventh or last month for the Ecclesiastical Year and the beginning month for the Civil and Royal Year. The last trump is a time in the New Testament that symbolizes the Second Advent of Christ and the resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17).
This New Year’s Day signified a time of “new beginnings” to all those in Israel who accept the teachings of the Bible. The book The Complete Artscroll Machzor, Rosh Hashanah gives some chronological details that the early Jewish theologians and scholars worked out from indications in the Old Testament to show when important individuals were born or major events happened in association with their lives. And what an array of significant things occurred on the Day of Trumpets and the month of Tishri! The book gives a summary of accounts found in the Jewish Talmud. 2 Let us notice some of these major happenings in the earlier history of the Jews that occurred on the same day that Jesus was born.
“The Patriarchs Abraham and Jacob were born on Rash Ha-Shanah. Abraham was a new beginning for mankind after its [mankind’s] failure to realize the promise of Adam and Noah. Jacob was a new beginning for the Jewish people, for it was with him that Jews advanced from the status of individuals to that of a united family on the threshold of nationhood.”
Complete Artscroll Machzor, p.xvi
underlining and bracketed words mine 3
The Machzor does not stop with Abraham and Jacob. Look at the following quote:
“On Rash Ha-Shanah God remembered three barren women — the Matriarchs Sarah and Rachel, and Hannah the mother of the prophet Samuel and decreed that they would give birth. Not only was Rash Ha-Shanah a turning point in the lives of these great and worthy women, but the births of their children were momentous events for all Jewry, because they were the historic figures Isaac, Joseph, and Samuel”
Complete Artscroll Machzor, p.xvi,
If the Jewish people would realize that the New Testament in the Book of Revelation (chapter 12:1–5) also places the birth of Christ Jesus on the very same day, they might begin to understand just how important Jesus is to them, as well as to the world. Indeed, He is the Messiah and He shares many similarities with the births of Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, Joseph, and Samuel. It is time that people in the world begin to realize the significant coincidences of the birthdays of these prominent men. Indeed, all Israelites had their birthdays legally reckoned to this holyday.
This holyday also denotes a prophetic scenario of the time of the end and the beginning of a New Era. It shows the banishment of Satan the Devil from society. What we see recorded in Revelation 19:17 through 20:3 is the apostle John’s commentary on the ritualistic teachings of the Scapegoat on the Day of Atonement ceremonies (Leviticus 16). The symbolism of this event will occur after Christ returns to earth. Satan will not influence nations at that time.
The Feast of Tabernacles began a seven day period of festivity for Israel and it denotes a time in the future when all the world will be in harmony with God and Israel will be the top nation. Within this seven day period, 70 bullocks were offered on the altar in the Tabernacle (starting with 13 the first day, 12 the second day, 11 the third day, etc. until 7 the seventh day). These 70 bullocks according to Jewish testimony represent the 70 nations ideally mentioned in the Table of Nations in Genesis 10 and their beginning to serve God. This Feast also describes the 1000 year “Sabbath rest” (Hebrews 4:9, Greek). It denotes a time when Christ will be on earth and ruling the earth under the New Covenant relationship that God will have with Israel.
It should be noted that the Feast of Dedication mentioned in John 10:22 was actually a Second Tabernacles period (see 2 Maccabees 1:18) based upon an allowance in the Law to have a Second Passover (Numbers 9:9–11). All the figurative teachings attached to Tabernacles are to be transferred to Dedication.
This day is called “the eighth day” of the Tabernacles’ period (Leviticus 23:39). It is a separate holyday from Tabernacles but it continues with a Tabernacles’ theme. It denotes prophetically the time of the Great White Throne judgment period after the Millennium (Revelation 20:7–15).
On the Ecclesiastical Calendar this is the last of the biblical holydays though it is not mentioned by Moses (Esther 9:12–32). This festival denotes the full salvation of the Jewish people in the final dispensation of the fulness of times. Paul referred to this Purim significance when he said that “all Israel shall be saved” (Romans 11:26).
In a word, these festival and fast days give an overall prophetic plan for Israel and the world. The end or completion of them is found in Christ Himself. That is why it is important for Christians to know of their significance and to appreciate the teaching of these “shadows of things to come,” though it is not necessary for Christians to observe them today (Colossians 2:17).
Ernest L. Martin,
Edited by David Sielaff, March 2005
1 The older name for the month of Nisan was Abib, the “springing up” or “father” month. ELM
3 The Complete Artscroll Machzor, Rosh Hashanah, ed by Nosson Scherman, Artscroll Mesorah Series (Artscroll, 1985).
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