Thursday, April 21, 2016

Do Christians need to Keep the Jewish Feasts?

by Diane M. Hoffmann

There continues to be a lot of buzz going around regarding the keeping of the Jewish Feasts by Christians -- particularly around the Passover.

In listening to some of the talks on the subject, there are a couple of things I am concerned with which I need to cover here today.

First of all, some people in their response to support this theory say that because Jesus kept the Jewish Feasts, we should also … don't we want to be like Jesus?

That is fine, of course we want to be like Jesus... but this statement is not applicable here to the context of Christians keeping the Jewish feasts.

The Jews kept the Feasts, not the Gentiles. And at that, the Jews only kept them until they received the message of Jesus Christ and His ultimate sacrifice on the cross.

Some quote Paul as saying, “let us therefore celebrate the feast, not with the old leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:8). 

This also is out of context because he was then speaking of the new feast celebration. It was now some 30 years after the first preaching of Christ’s work on the cross. The Corinthians were well aware of the meaning. They were not keeping the Old Testament Feasts. The context of this letter is all about the moral character of the church at Corinth and the problems of divisions, covering subject after subject -- the most serious to do with Judaists in the church. It was not within a context of the keeping of the Jewish Feasts.

The second item is about the interpretation of the statement of Jesus in Luke 22:19. 

Referring to the line, some say that when Jesus told His disciples, "whenever you do this, do it in remembrance of me.  What was "this"?  These people say that it was the celebration of the Passover, coming out of Egypt...

However, this was not about the Old Testament Passover. Jesus was bringing about for the first time the institution of the last supper which became our communion observance today. “This” was the new liturgy of the last supper which was about His broken body that was just less than a day away at the time He spoke it. 

This was not, as some teach wrongly, referring to the celebration of the Old Testament Passover of coming out of Egypt... but it was referring to the New Covenant for which Jesus was giving His body that took the Jews (and the world) out of 4,000 years of law keeping.

This is exactly the same thing that I heard a local radio talk show host teach in his radio program just a couple of weeks ago his whole issue of Christian having to keep the Sabbath and Jewish Feasts.

The problem is that this individual is a British-Israel believer, which means that he believes in keeping the Old Testament Jewish Sabbaths and Feasts because he believes that he is an Israelite – all Anglo-Saxons and Americans are the lost tribes of the Northern Kingdom, according to this theory, who went up to Ireland and Britain and America as Ephraim and Manasseh respectively. This is contrary to what the Word of God teaches. They stand on misinterpretations of some scriptures that don’t mean Ireland, Britain and America. I’ve written about that on my post of January 27, 2016)

Here’s what took place at the last supper:

"And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer:
"For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.
"And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves:
"For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come.
"And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying,
"This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.
"Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you."

Notice He did not make that statement when He took the cup… He said it when He broke the bread which was about His body being broken for us. It was clear that He was the Matzo, the unleavened bread of the Passover. He was fulfilling that feast at this time. And of course that also pertained to the next line where He said, “Likewise” also the cup which He proclaimed as “the new testament in my blood which is shed for you.”

The teaching of the meaning of the Old Testament to the work of Jesus on the cross is fine for the most part. The problem is that some present it within the context of defending the theory that is going around now about the need for Christians to keep the Hebrew Feasts… this is very confusing for people and actually wrong…

…because that theory also contains the keeping of the Sabbath on Saturday by Christians. A lot of people are asking questions. Some people even use these kinds of confusions as an excuse to stay away from the Church. If we have to keep the Jewish Feasts and Sabbaths, then we have to keep the circumcision and all the rest of the ordinances.

This whole thing is from the enemy who wants to create divisions in the Church. We should not support or defend it ever as being scriptural.

As for the Sabbath which many people bring into this picture, this is part of the Ten Commandments and is to be kept. We Gentiles call it The Lord’s Day and keep it on Sunday, based on the triumphant Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour. It is interesting to see that among the old writings of earlier fathers of Christendom, many called it 'our Sabbath'.

We can teach the meaning of the Feasts in the Old Testament, that’s good. Most people know about it, except of course the new babes in Christ. This would be a good topic for a Bible study, or a discipleship program -- but not, in my humble opinion, a preaching message connected with this erroneous theory that plagued even the Christians in the early Church.

Acts 15:10 says: “Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?”

Acts15:19 wraps up the council meeting at Jerusalem with, “Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.”

Jesus kept the Sabbath, yes, and other Holy Days as well. He was a Jew, living among the Jews… His atoning death had not yet been consummated. Remember on the cross He cried out “It is finished”. That’s when His ultimate sacrifice became in effect.

When Jesus said, "It is finished", wow this was the whole of the Old Testament He was referring to. Four thousand years of spiritual hardship and temporary animal sacrifices. The old shadows of things to come finally came to the promised reality of being changed into the promised New Covenant.

“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
“And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;
“To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.
(11 Corinthians 5:17-19, KJV)

If you have a contract about a house sale, and in a span of time, the house breaks down, and begins to fall apart, the roof leaking, the patched up fixes coming undone, etc... and you’re stuck with this signed contract, you are bound by it…

…But, on seeing this, the previous owner, who has now become a Christian, has compassion and says, I will tear up the old contract I gave you and make a new one with a brand new house, never been lived in before…

… You move in the new house. Do you continue celebrating the old one? Of course not. It's done, it's gone, it's past, forgiven and forgotten. The previous owner does not say, let's drink to this new day and remember what I have done to you in the old house. No, he wants you to remember the sacrifice, the kind action he did for you and your family, not the old selfish malice he had done previously.

Jesus said in an earlier statement, one does not put old wine into new skin. He was speaking of the old and the new testaments -- the new is totally new and overtakes the old fully and completely. The shadows in the feasts were temporary until the cross. Even the book of Hebrews covers that clearly. One should not emphasize the Old Testament ordinances, but use it in passing into the explanation of the New.

Re the statement by many that, "Early Christians continued to observe God's feasts, but with a new spirit and a sense of Christ's death as the true Passover Lamb."

Actually the Christians did not continue to observe God's feasts. Acts 2:42 says, "and they continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers". Not "and continued steadfastly in the keeping of the Jewish Feasts".

The apostles did go into Synagogues, and to Feast events where Jews were gathered, but it was to bring them the good news of Jesus Christ and to ‘contend for the faith’. The Christians began to keep Sunday – Resurrection day – immediately (after Christ returned to heaven), and especially, later on, after they were forbidden to come into the synagogues.

The Jews did keep the Feasts until they got saved by the belief in Jesus Christ’s work. And the Gentiles were never asked to keep the law after they came to the Lord – this was actually a big problem for Paul having to deal with the Jews who wanted to impose the old rules on the new Christians.

The original Holy Days are still on for the Jews as long as the New Covenant is not accepted individually… that’s why Jews still observe them, however they observe them in vain for they still need to receive Christ as their personal Saviour. If all 7 billion + individuals today received the free gift of salvation, there would be no more observing.

During His ministry, Jesus was constantly attacked on the issue of the Sabbath where He responded that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath and that He was even the Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8). But they didn’t understand this yet, for He was going to give His life for that “fulfilment” of the law requirements later on at the end of His ministry on earth.

Jesus not only “liberalized” but He actually fulfilled all the demands of the law in His death and Resurrection. Otherwise, if He did not, why did He die a most humiliating death before His whole Creation.

As for Zechariah 14, which some people point to as support to keep the Sabbath now… the observance of the feast of Tabernacles will be kept as a reminder of what happened in the end times of the previous era before Jesus’ second coming.

This feast is the last of the yearly feasts that were observed by the Jews for the whole of Israel’s history. It was the most joyful and colourful of all and lasted 7 days. It represented the coming out of Egypt and the future return of Messiah. In the new millennium which Zechariah speaks about, it will be rolled over as the one Feast that will continue for that final 7th millennium until its end, when Satan will rise up again and lead people to disobey and turn away from God’s commandments once more (Rev.20:7-8 – that’s when the Gog and Magog battle will take place).

But that will be the last and final time (Rev.20:10). Then the whole universe will be rolled up as a scroll, as predicted in Rev.6:14), and everything will be renewed (Rev. 21:1) as it was at the beginning of Genesis, where God pronounced His creation that “it was good”. And then the new Jerusalem will come down from God out of heaven prepared as a bride adorned for her husband… (Rev.21:2). Wow, something to look forward to.

“Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy-day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:  Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17)

To the scriptures used to support that the law was given as "a sign for ever" or a "perpetual covenant" as being the interpretation for believers today to still have to keep the feasts, a search of the word “perpetual” and "forever" shows that the Hebrew word used is ‘olam’ which means a thing concealed, a vanishing point, used as in continually, lasting, long time, etc.  It does not always refer to forever in the sense of never ever ending throughout eternity.

However in some scriptures, the same words, perpetual and forever, are from another Hebrew word. Based on the context of the scripture we can tell what the sense of it is. For example, when a scripture refers to God's eternal glory as in Psalm 104:5, the same word is used and we know that it means eternal, because He is eternal.

In Isaiah 57:15 where it speaks of God as the "lofty one that inhabits eternity"; here, the word in Hebrew for eternity is 'ad' which means a duration, everlasting, perpetuity throughout God’s eternity. And in another scripture, Isaiah 60:15, speaking of Zion, the Hebrew word for 'eternal' is 'olam'.

In the Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, there is a whole page-and-a-half spent to explaining the varieties of meanings for this one word 'olam'.  One portion of it I quote: "(2) It more often refers to future time, in such a manner, that what is called the terminus ad quem (the goal, the object) is always defined from the nature of the thing itself. When it is applied to human affairs, and specially - (a) to individual men, it commonly signifies all the days of life, as a perpetual slave (not to be discharged as long as he lives)... poetically used as a beast, Job 40:28..." etc. The Lexicon goes on to show a multitude of examples to this effect.

 So, the scriptures referred to in the book of Exodus, in context, is actually saying:

 “Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual (olam) covenant.” (i.e.: for a time concealed, till a vanishing point, always as in continually every day for a long time, etc. during their life time).

When did that time come to an end?  In the New Covenant when God, through the death of Jesus Christ His Son (God in the flesh) gave His life on the cross, as the ultimate sacrifice that the previous ordinances could not permanently cover.

This had been promised for over four thousand years, through the prophets and the shadows of the feasts and sabbaths of things to come.  To the people living at that time, that four thousands years was an eternity!  The explanation of all of this is given in the many books of the New Testament, especially Romans, Hebrews and others that specifically refer to the books of the Law in the Old Testament.

"God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” (Hebrews 1-3).

Atonement is received by faith and grace, “lest any one should boats”, not by grace + works.

The problem is that some people are stuck in the Old Testament still. We need to know it but we need to move into the full grace and mercy of the New Covenant promised in the Old -- otherwise what we’re saying is that Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice and His resurrection is not enough and was in vain. It is an insult to our Lord and Saviour who came to give Himself a ransom for our sin.

“For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect. Because the law worketh wrath.” (Romans 4:14-15)

“… ye are not under the law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:14)

Romans 7:7-12 tells us that the law cannot help us be good, perfect or holy.

 “And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Burried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.” (Colossians 2:10-12).

“Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” (Colossians 2:15).

“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” (Galatians 3:13)

And there are many other scriptures that show the law no longer has a hold on those who are saved by grace, through faith and repentance.

The key is that our preaching of the feasts has to be clear that we are no longer under the law that required the keeping of the ordinances until the time of Jesus’ final sacrifice. 

We do not need to keep any of the Feasts that were there to point to that ultimate sacrifice of our God for His Creation -- because that is now done. We celebrate Good Friday and Easter.  \dmh


Diane M. Hoffmann, B.Th., M.Th., Ph.D./Th.
Author of "24 Hot Potatoes in the Church Today"
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