FAQ: I know people who are teaching that we Christians today are required to observe the feasts and ceremonial holidays that the Jews in the Old Testament observed? Is that true?
Although that idea is not prevalent in what is known as mainstream, evangelical Christianity, it is prominent in “Messianic Judaism” and in certain other groups today. As usual, when it comes to the only source of truth regarding spiritual matters, we must ask “What does the Bible say?” But that vital question needs a qualifier: To whom?
The question must be: “What does the Bible say to christians?” Why? Because what God now says to Christians is in many respects different than what He said to the Jews of the Old Testament. The sad news is that too few Christians understand the differences, and, as a result, many are unnecessarily trying to live according to directives given by God to other people at other times. This leads at best to confusion about the things of God, and at worst to spiritual and emotional bondage.
And, as is so often the case in examining a biblical issue, we must consider the critically important subject of the administrations in Scripture. Unless we understand what parts of God’s Word are written to Jews, what parts are written to Gentiles, and what parts are written to Christians, we can neither understand nor apply its truths in our daily lives.
We are currently living in what the Bible calls the “Administration of the Sacred Secret” (Eph. 3:9), which began on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1 and following) and will conclude with the Rapture of the Church (all living and dead Christians meeting the Lord in the air—1 Thess. 4:13-18). The primary curriculum for Christians (i.e., people born again of God’s incorruptible seed by adherence to Romans 10:9) is found in the Church Epistles: Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and 1 & 2 Thessalonians. It is there that we must look to find God’s specific directions for us today.
When it comes to which parts of the Bible are written to whom, we must be sensitive to exactly “whom” is being addressed. Is it a group, such as Israel, Judah, the people of Jerusalem, the Babylonians, or the Christians, or is it to an individual, such as David, Solomon, Mary, or Paul? If we are ever going to separate what is written to us from what is written to others, we must first of all be aware that not everything in the Bible is written to us or even applies to us, and secondly, pay attention to what is written to whom. When it comes to the Church Epistles, they are written to Christians, those born again of the spirit of God, something that was not available to Old Testament believers because they lived prior to the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, and his subsequent exaltation as Lord.
Most folks readily see that the Old Testament is primarily regarding Israel, but what about the Four Gospels? Despite what most Christians today have been taught, Jesus was speaking to Jews, not Christians, because there were no Christians until the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. That is the first time anyone was “born again” of God’s spirit, His incorruptible seed. And there will be no Christians after the Rapture. As such, today’s “Administration of the Sacred Secret” (Pentecost until the Rapture) is the most unique time in history.
As the promised Messiah whose coming was heralded throughout the Old Testament, Jesus came to Israel, and, as he said, his message was specifically to them. Certain things, e.g., Luke 6:38 (“Give, and it shall be given to you…”), are pertinent to us today, but most of what he said is directly regarding Israel, and based upon what is written in the Old Testament, which is all they could understand. Much of that which was specifically addressed to Israel was superseded or changed in the Church Epistles, which are written specifically to Christians. “Uh-oh,” some people say, “you’re placing the words of Paul above the words of Jesus.” No, the Church Epistles are also the words of Jesus, as per Galatians 1:11. The question is: to whom was Jesus speaking?
The Greek word oikonomia appears nine times in the New Testament, and is best translated “administration,” that is, a way in which God relates to mankind, the “rules and regulations,” if you will, for the people on earth during a particular time. Let the record show that God is very clear in His communication to people about what He expects from them in each administration. This is much like presidential administrations in the USA. When a new president is inaugurated, some things remain the same and other things change, depending upon his decisions as to how things will be during his presidency. Then people choose whether or not to adhere to the rules.
It was during the administration of the Law (Exod. 20:1—Acts 1:26) that Jesus first came to the earth to Israel. He was born, lived, died, was resurrected, instructed his disciples about the coming gift of holy spirit, and ascended to heaven. As a Jew, he kept the ceremonial requirements of the Mosaic Law by observing the Sabbath, keeping the feasts of Israel, etc. But look at the instructions the Lord Jesus gave to Paul for the Christian Church:
Colossians 2:16 and 17
(16) 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.
(17) These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
In Colossians, the “you” is those born again of God’s holy spirit, for whom no such holiday observance is ever prescribed. In fact, the above verses are saying that there is no such thing that is relevant to the Church, the Body of Christ, Christians. Do the Church Epistles say that Christians should get together with others and celebrate, sing, praise, worship, pray, minister, hear the Word—and eat? Absolutely. But there is no prescribed day—or way.
Consider this: if Christians are to keep the feasts of Judaism, should they not keep the whole Law? In Galatians 5:3, Paul says just that, substituting “circumcision” as the part of the Law in question. Take a good look at verses 1-15 in order to get the whole context, and to see what Paul (writing by revelation from Jesus Christ) thinks about Christians being put under any part of the old Mosaic Law. If we are to keep the feasts, what about animal sacrifices to worship God? No, Christians are not required to keep these laws.
The epistle to the Hebrews is one of the earlier epistles, and was written primarily to ex-Jewish Christians, many of whom were still clinging to their old ways. In Hebrews 7-10, God works hard to show them that the ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic Law were no longer applicable. For example: (7:18 and 19) “The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless, (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God;” (9:9 and 10) “[The Tabernacle was] an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order;” (10:1) “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—and not the realities themselves…” Amen.
Some Christians who do not understand the administrations in Scripture, and who thus believe we should observe the Jewish feasts, etc., cite Matthew 5:17-19, where Jesus said that he had not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. First, to whom was he speaking? Jews. The Mosaic Law never did have anything to do with Christians. A key phrase in what Jesus said in Matthew 5:18 is that nothing would disappear from the Law “until everything is accomplished.” Jesus did accomplish everything he needed to relative to the Levitical Law, and that is why it is no longer in effect. Today, we have no Temple, no Levites, no Aaronite priests, no animal sacrifices, etc. For both Jews and Gentiles, adhering to Romans 10:9 is the only way to salvation. When either does so, he is then “neither Jew nor Gentile” (Gal. 3:28), but a Christian, a member of the Body of Christ.
Remember Hebrews 10:1 (above)? The Law was not the reality to which God looked forward. Then remember what Colossians 2:17 said about the festivals and holidays? “These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” In that light, consider the following verses:
1 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NKJV)
(6) Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?
(7) Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.
(8) Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
What’s the point? That because of the finished work of Jesus Christ, and his giving the gift of holy spirit on the Day of Pentecost, believers today (“Christians”) are unique in the annals of spiritual history. If you have made Jesus Christ your Lord and believed that God raised him from the dead, you are born again of God’s spirit and forever righteous in His sight. in Christ, you have been cleansed of sin from the inside out. The Redeemer to whom the Old Testament feasts and rituals pointed now lives in your heart. There is no ritual or work you need to do in order to stand approved before your heavenly Father. Knowing your standing as a son of God should make every day worth celebrating!