It is increasingly common for Gentile Christians to celebrate the biblical, Jewish holidays, and there are many commendable reasons for doing so. Here are a few:
(1) The biblical holy days are infused with spiritual and prophetic significance. Passover corresponds to Yeshua’s death (1 Corinthians 5:7-8), Firstfruits to His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20), and the Festival of Weeks (Shavu’ot, or Pentecost) corresponds to the giving of the Spirit (Acts 2:1-4). Trumpets points to the Lord’s return with the sound of the trumpet (see Matthew 24:31; 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; Revelation 11:15), the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) points to Israel’s final cleansing (Zechariah 13:1, which follows from Zechariah 12:10 ff.), and Tabernacles (Sukkot) points to the final ingathering of the nations (see Zechariah 14:16-19; see also Revelation 7:9 and Leviticus 23:40, for palm branches and Tabernacles).
(2) The biblical holy days have great historic significance. Although the Messianic significance of the biblical holy days is certainly of greater significance to Christians than is the historical significance, the origin and meaning of these holy days in Israel’s history is also important. So, if it is okay to celebrate Thanksgiving and July 4th in America and to remember the events connected with those days, how can it be wrong to remember Israel’s deliverance from Egypt in the Passover? When connecting this season to the death and resurrection of Yeshua, it can be very powerful.
(3) Celebrating the biblical holy days is a good way to teach about God’s acts of redemption. Paul freely made reference to the holy days when writing to the Corinthians, making a spiritual application of Passover in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 and possibly referencing Firstfruits directly in 1 Corinthians 15:20; notice also how Luke casually made reference to Yom Kippur (the Fast) in Acts 27:9, assuming his readers would understand. Yet many Christians today do not understand these references, being so divorced from the Jewish roots of the faith. Celebration of the holy days-or at the least, annual teaching about them-is a good way to educate a whole congregation, from the young to the old.
(4) Celebrating the biblical holy days is a good way to recover the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. It is absolutely clear that everything that God does is summed up in His Son Jesus, that our Messiah and King is to have centrality in every way, and that our fullness is found in Him rather than in celebrating holy days or observing special seasons. That being said, the Church has become so Gentilized, so detached from its biblical, Jewish origins, that an appreciation for the biblical, Jewish calendar-the calendar of Yeshua and the apostles-is certainly helpful. To give one example, think of the positive benefits of calling churches to fast and pray for the salvation of Jewish people worldwide on the Day of Atonement, a day when millions of Jews are fasting and asking God to forgive their sins. What’s wrong with doing that?
Having said all this, it is important to emphasize that many believers do get caught up in unhealthy practices associated with the celebration of the feasts, and there are some direct warnings in the New Testament. In light of this, it is important to remember that: (1) Celebration of the biblical feasts is not a means for a Gentile believer to “become Jewish.” Jews and Gentiles have equal standing in the Lord, and Jews are not called to become Gentiles nor are Gentiles called to become Jews. (2) Jesus must be central in everything we do (this cannot be overemphasized.) (3) Celebration of the feasts is not commanded in the New Testament and should not be practiced in a binding or legalistic way.
This was addressed by Paul when expressing his concern about the Galatians: “You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you” (Galatians 4:10-11). What was the problem? While commentators point out different nuances of the text, it seems clear that the Galatians thought that they were required to observe “special days and months and seasons and years,” and, worse still, they thought that in doing so, they would increase their spiritual standing in the Lord. Neither of these is true!
Paul addressed a related phenomenon in Colossians 2:16-17 (NLT): “So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality.” (When Paul called on the Corinthians to “keep the Passover” in 1 Corinthians 5, he was clearly speaking of this in spiritual terms.)
So, let everything we do as believers find its fullness in Yeshua, let no celebration or observance be done in a binding way, let no believers judge one other based on their observance or non-observance, let no one feel “unspiritual” if they get nothing out of the celebration of the feasts-and if the Lord puts it in your heart to celebrate the feasts, then be blessed in that celebration.
As for Jewish believers in Jesus, it is my view that similar principles apply, since we are not required by God to follow the biblical calendar as new covenant believers. (I’m sure some of you differ with me here, so feel free and email me with your differences, bearing in mind that in the course of a short article like this, I cannot get into lengthy theological and exegetical discussions to back up every point I make.)
That being said, many Messianic Jews do feel a calling to follow the biblical calendar for the purposes of covenantal solidarity with the Jewish community, preservation of their heritage, Jewish outreach, and family life cycle, among other things. I would only urge my fellow Messianic Jews to reflect on the previous paragraphs, regardless of their particular convictions, since it is God’s will that “in everything [Yeshua] might be preeminent” (Col 1:18, ESV). Therefore whatever we do must ultimately glorify Him.