Years ago in Tulsa, Oklahoma I ministered to a group of people who taught me a great deal about one's love for Christ. On the podium where I taught every Sunday was a plaque with these words enscribed on it: "Sir, we would see Jesus."
Few western evangelicals realize that time (from a human perspective) is measured differently in the Bible than the way we measure it today. When the One who transcends time establishes a calendar for man's sake, He does so according to the moon, not the sun. The biblical was a lunar calendar, whereas our calendar in the United States is a solar calendar. The Jews measured months by the moon's rotation around the earth. Today, we measure time by the earth's rotation around the sun. Until you have a basic understanding of the biblical lunar calendar, it will be easy to miss some wonderful truths regarding the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus the Christ. This post, modified and reprinted from three years ago, fulfills for the Easter season of 2013 the injuction: "Sir, we would see Jesus."
The Biblical Calendar and the Moon
A calendar is a system of organizing units of time for the purpose of measuring time over extended periods. The word "calendar" is from the Latin and means, “to call attention to the new moon.” The Biblical calendar revolved around the people of God eyeballing the moon as it rotated around the earth and keeping track of the four seasons on earth (spring, summer, fall, winter). We know that the seasons are the result of the effects of the sun upon the earth--hot, cold and mild--but the Jews only measured "days" by the sun (from sunset to sunset). Their months and seasons, prescribed by God, were counted off by eyeballing the moon.
The Biblical months began with the new moon, and there were "new moon festivals" to celebrate the dawning of a new month. The Jews worshipped God in a prescribed way during these new moons. "Whenever burnt offerings are presented to the Lord at the new moon.... the people are to serve the Lord in the proper way prescribed for them" (I Chronicles 23:31). The worship of God by the Jews was prescribed for them by God because everything they did pointed to Jesus Christ, as we shall see.
Since it takes 29 ½ days for the moon to complete her cycle around the earth the Biblical calendar consisted of 12 or 13 lunar months in a year, with the odd number months consisting of 30 days and the even number months consisting of 29 days. The years that have an additional month, the thirteenth month, are the years 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17, and 19 in a nineteen-year cycle. The reason a thirteenth month had to be added to the biblical calendar seven times during a nineteen year span is because the lunar year is shorter than the solar year by 11 days. If the Hebrews had not added a thirteenth month every few years, the winter season would eventually move on the calendar and occur in the summer months, and vice versa! Though this all may sound complicated, to the Jewish priests, it was as simple as waching the sky for a "new moon" (i.e. the time the moon disappears in darkness), knowing the agricultural seasons, and blowing the trumpets to mark the beginning of a new month.
God told Moses to Alter the Lunar Calendar
When God delivered His people Israel from Egyptian bondage, He told Moses to make the month in which the Passover occurred (the Abib) "the beginning of months" (Exodus 12:2). This one verse alone should indicate to you that God has a purpose for "the lunar calendar." Every act of worship in the Old Covenant was a type or shadow of the reality to be fulfilled in the coming Anointed One. "It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin" (Hebrews 10:4), but the One to whom the bulls and goats point in picture form does precisely this--He takes away our sin. The feasts of Israel, the animal sacrifices of the Jews, and the ritualistic worship of God's people all point to what Jesus did on our behalf.
There were seven major feasts prescribed by God in the Old Testament. Each of these Seven Feasts of Israel (sometimes called Festivals) were celebrated at God prescribed times according to the lunar calendar. When God incarnated Himself and walked among us His birth, His death, His resurrection, His ascension, and His gift of the Holy Spirit all occurred precisely the same time as the Feasts that foreshadowed Christ. The type (a particular Feast) was fulfilled in the anti-type (Jesus Christ).
In other words, the God who transcends time, keeps time for us, in order that as we measure time, He comes to us precisely "in the fulness of time." History is His Story. Let me show you.
The Feasts of Israel
The seven biblical Feasts or Festivals prescribed by God for the nation of Israel can be broken down into three major groupings.
(Grouping Number 1) --- The Three Spring Festivals
The Feast of Passover, The Feast of Unleavened Bread, The Feast of the Waving of the Sheaf of Firstfruits.
These three Feasts took place all within a few days of each other and occurred in the first month of the Biblical lunar (Nissan, also called "The Abib"), which corresponds to our March and April. These feasts were often lumped together as “Passover” or “The Feast of Unleavened Bread.”
“When I see the blood, I will pass over you and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt” (Exodus 12:13). The Hebrew phrase “Passover” is in the Greek “pascha” thus the Passover lamb is the Paschal lamb, and all that pertains to the appointed lamb (a lamb without blemish, in the prime of its life, its blood shed for the family, etc...) pertains to the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Paschal Lamb of God. We know this to be true because of several events prophesied by the prophets regarding the Messiah’s death:
(1). Genesis 49:10 describes the precise age in which the Messiah would come.
(2). Daniel 9:26 describes the precise year in which the Messiah would die.
(3). Amos 8:9-10 describes the exact day on which the Messiah would die.
These three prophecies point us directly to the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ on behalf of sinners as our Paschal Lamb. Jesus died precisely at the time the Jews were slaying their lambs for the celebration of The Feast of Passover, on the 14th day of the Abib (also called Nissan). The Abib (notice the definitive article 'the') in Hebrew means "the act of parching by burning" and is it any wonder that when Jesus Christ died on the cross on the 14th day of the Abib, the fires of God's holiness and righteous judgment parched the life of His Son, the very One who became sin for us? The Passover was established and prescribed by God for Israel 1400 years before the death of Christ. In the fulness of time, Jesus fulfilled what the Passover represented. The Lamb was slain that the righteous judgment of God might pass over those who trust Him. Jesus could not have died at any other time, during any other day, for His death was prescribed by God and pictured in the Feast of Passover. When people sought to kill Jesus earlier in His ministry, He simply walked through them saying, "My time has not yet come" (John 7:30). A person may think he escapes God's judgment apart from the cross, but that kind of thinking is foolish and contrary to the explicit teaching of Scripture.
In love for sinners, God swept away the sin of His people through the death of His Son. This sweeping away of sin is pictured in the second feast of the Jews called The Feast of Unleavened Bread. The Feast of Unleavened Bread was observed for centuries the seven days after Passover. The Jews were to sweep out all leaven in their homes. This typifies all our sins being carried away by the Lamb of God. In the fulfillment of The Feast of Unleavened Bread, God does the sweeping. He removes our sins from us "as far as the east is from the west." It is an act of grace, a work of God, and it is accomplished by removing our sin from us, placing it on Christ, and pouring out righteous judgment on the Son for us.
The wages of sin is death. Every person, even believers in Christ, will one day die! Every person, even believers in Christ, still struggle with personal sins. What is our assurance that God, from His perspective, has removed judgment from us for our sins, and we have His unconditional love, favor and acceptance? The answer is found in The Feast of the Waving of the Sheaf of Firstfruits. Jesus Christ rose from the grave on the very day the Jews were celebrating this feast. This feast was prescribed by God to be celebrated "on the morrow after the Sabbath" during the week of Passover (Lev. 23:9-14). The Jews were told by God to go to the Temple on the "morning after the Sabbath" (Sunday morning) during the week of Passover and wave a "sheaf" of the first fruits of their grain harvest before the Lord. As they waved their first fruits of grain before God and gave it to the priests, they were told that God would prosper and bless "their entire harvest" in the same manner He had blessed the "firstfruits."
When Paul writes of the resurrection in I Corinthians 15:20 he calls Christ "the firstfruits" of the resurrection--pointing out that God accepts and blesses all those whom Christ represents in His death and resurrection. In other words, your life--your eternal life--of blessing, favor, and prosperity from God is based upon the blessings of the firstfruits--Jesus Christ. You are guaranteed God's favor because Christ rose from the dead and you wave His life, His death, His resurrection before God by faith and acknowledge that any blessings you receive from your Creator are due to His obedience on your behalf. The death of Christ would have no meaning if it were not for the resurrection of Christ. God raised “His cursed son” (Galatians 3:13) from the dead as proof of His pleasure in His Son’s sacrifice! (Eph. 1:15-23). Those who trust in Christ will be raised to eternal life in the same manner.
(Grouping Number 2) --- The One Summer Festival
Pentecost -- the Greek name for "The Feast of Weeks"
It is known by various other names including “The Feast of Harvest” and most commonly as “The Feast of Weeks "(or Pentecost) A week in Scripture represents the number seven (either days or years). In the case of this feast it represents days. Seven weeks (49 days) from the “Festival of the Sheaf of the Firstfruits” (on a Sunday) with Sunday being day one. When you get to the 49th day you arrive at a Saturday (The Jewish Sabbath). On the “morrow after the sabbath” (Lev. 23:15-21) you arrive at “The Fiftieth Day” (thus the Greek “Pente” meaning 5). Just like the day of Resurrection (The Festival of the Sheaf of Firstfuits) the fourth major Jewish festival occurs on a Sunday (the morrow after the Sabbath)
The number 50 is used throughout Scripture to represent liberty, freedom or deliverance. Every 50th year was the year of Jubilee for the nation of Israel. When Christ died in 30 A.D. the people of Israel were celebrating a year of Jubilee; 50 days after Christ died the disciples were in the upper room when the Spirit of God fell and empowered them. This day of Pentecost is the anti-type of the Old Testament Pentecost -- 50 days after Passover.
*Compare the differences between the Old Covenant Pentecost vs. New Covenant Pentecost. On the 50th day after Passover and leaving Egypt (Old Covenant), God gave Israel the law written on stone. On the 50th after the Passover of Christ’s death (New Covenant) God gave His people the law written on their hearts. On the day of Old Covenant Pentecost--recording in the Old Testament as the fiftieth day after leaving Egypt--3,000 people died at the giving of the Law, for the Law the law condemns. However, on the day of Pentecost in the New Testament--fifty days after the resurrection of Christ--3,000 people were saved, for the Spirit gives life. The glory of God shone on the face of Moses in the Old Covenant, but the glory of God lives in the hearts of His people through the Spirit in the New Covenant. The Old is the letter of the law, but the New is life in the Spirit. It is a tragedy when God's people seek to live by the letter of the Law when Christ fulfilled the Mosaic Law and abolished it. The church that acts like it is a Temple, the pastor who acts like he is a priest, the people who act like they owe God a tithe and sacrifices, and the kind of Christianity that emphasis the Law more than the Spirit is more suited to the Old Covenant order. When the Spirit fills Christ followers with the power of God, then God's people begin to focus their lives on fulfilling the Royal Law of God - loving others as Christ has loved us--and pay scant attention to little else.
(Grouping Number 3) --- The Three Fall Festivals
The Feast of Trumpets, The Day of Atonement, and The Feast of Tabernacles.
These three feasts took place within the seventh month of the lunar calendar (Ethanim or also called Tisri). This month corresponds to our September/October. It was this month in which the fruit harvest (mostly grapes) occurred.
These Fall festivals correspond to the two "comings" of Christ to earth--His first coming (Bethlehem) and His Second Coming (to establish His eternal kingdom). His birth in Bethlehem is pictured in The Feast of Tabernacles, when God came to earth and tabernacled among men (John 1:1). The intercession of Jesus as the High Priest for His people is pictured in the Feast of Atonement. His Second Coming is pictured in The Feast of Trumpets. Time does not permit to show the signficance of these three Jewish feasts, but needless to say, all three of them, like the other four feasts, all point to Jesus Christ and were fulfilled by Him precisely.
So, in summary, Jesus Christ came to earth during the Feast of Taberacles. He died on the Feast of Passover and was buried in the tomb during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Jesus rose on the day of the Feast of the Waving of the Sheaf, and He sent His Spirit as a gift on the Feast of Pentecost. He now intercedes on our behalf as our Great High Priest in fulfillment of the Feast of Atonement, and He will one day come to establish His eternal kingdom and judge the world in fulfillment of the Feast of Trumpets.
Next time you read the Bible, remember that is is not written as a self-help manual. It is the meta-narrative of the only Savior this world will ever see. This Easter 2013, take a little time to thank God that time is measured in terms of His Son, and when you do, you will never waste a day by neglecting to think of and praise your Savior.