Introduction. In Leviticus 23 and Numbers 28, God describes the sacrifices of the seven major Jewish festivals. To understand these festivals, it is important to read both chapters together. All of these festivals foreshadowed Christ (Col. 2:16-17; Heb. 10:1). Each festival was a “holy convocation” or rehearsal for Christ (Lev. 23:2). We are freed from any legal obligation to follow these festivals (Col. 2:16-17). Yet, like the Sabbath, God meant for His people to celebrate Him during these festivals as an act of devotion, not obligation. As a “holy priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6), we should still honor Christ during each of these festivals.
Jesus the Passover Lamb1
The Passover. Passover was the first of three festivals that happened over one week beginning at sundown on the day of the first new moon after the spring equinox, sometime in March or April. This was the beginning of the first month (called “Nisan”) of the religious calendar. In addition to the normal daily sacrifices, the sacrifices described below were repeated on seven consecutive days (Nu. 28:16). The purpose of the Passover was to remember that, during the tenth plague, the shed blood of the lamb allowed each family who acted in faith to have death “pass over” their firstborn son (Ex. 12:12-13, 22-23). God also gave the blood of his firstborn son to allow judgment to “pass over” us (Isa. 53:7; Jo. 1:29; 1 Pet. 1:18-19). On the 10th day of the month of Nisan, the Jews selected the Passover lamb (Ex. 12:3). On the 10th day of Nisan, Jesus also entered Jerusalem. On the 14th day of Nisan, the Passover lamb was to be slaughtered on the ninth hour (3:00 pm), counting from 6:00 am (Nu. 28:16; Lev. 23:5; Ex. 12:6). On the 14th day on the ninth hour Jesus also died (Matt. 27:45-50; 28:1; Mk. 15:29; Jo. 2:19). The Passover lamb was to be killed outside the gates of Jerusalem (Dt. 16:5). Jesus also died outside the gates of Jerusalem on Calvary Hill (Jo. 19:16-19; Heb. 13:10-13). The Passover lamb could have no broken bones (Ex. 12:46). Jesus also died without any broken bones (Jo. 19:32-36). The “people of the community of Israel” were to slaughter the Passover lamb (Ex. 12:46). Jesus was also put to death by the people of the community of Israel (Matt. 27:17, 20-22, 25). The exact year that the Messiah would be “cut off” was also predicted 483 years earlier in the book of Daniel (Dan. 9:24-26 – “69 weeks” with each “day” representing 7 years).
The Feast of Unleavened Bread / Jesus’ Time in the Grave. The hasty departure of the Jews did not afford the time required to bake leavened bread (Ex. 12:34, 39). To celebrate God’s deliverance, the Jews celebrated the Feast of Unleavened Bread (a life without sin). Jesus was in the grave during part of this festival. Through Christ, we are freed from our old sins.
The Feast of First Fruits/ Jesus’ Resurrection. On the last day of this week, the 17th of Nisan, God saved the Jews at the Red Sea (Ex. 3:18; 5:3, 14). On this same day, God also saved Noah by bringing him to dry land in the mountains of Ararat (Gen. 8:4). On this day, God also saved the Jews by having Haman hung for plotting to have the Jews killed (Esther 3:12; 4:16; 5:4). On this day, Jesus also rose from the grave and became the “first fruits” for those who were once dead (1 Cor. 15:20). In response, out of gratitude, the Jews brought their “first fruits” or their best offerings to God.
The seven sacrifices for this week included two bulls, a ram, seven lambs, flour, oil, a goat, and wine. The meaning of each of the sacrifices reflects some aspect of Christ’s life and three other things: (1) our new beginning in Christ, (2) leaving our old sins behind, and (3) our gratitude toward Christ. The seven consecutive days of sacrifices should reflect an intense devotion.
(1) Christ’s death gives you new strength and washes away your dead and sinful flesh. (the Two Bulls). The first offering was the two bulls (Nu. 28:19). The bull symbolizes strength. The flesh of the bull was cut up in pieces and burned (Lev. 1:6). The entrails and legs of the bull, however, were washed in water and then burned as a soothing aroma to God (Lev. 1:9; Jo. 13:10). Christ gave all His strength and His life for us (Mk. 14:24; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 1:18-19; 2:24; Isa. 53:4-5, 10, 12). Nothing would be possible without this. In response, this sacrifice directs us to do three things. First, we must wash our insides with holy water. To do this, we must read and wash with the Word to expose our sins (Eph. 5:26). Second, for the blood of the bull to cleanse us, we must confess our sins (1 Jo. 1:9). Third, we must empty ourselves of pride and let Christ be our strength (Phil. 4:11-13).
(2) Seek God’s forgiveness and forgive others. (the Ram). The ram was the second offering (Nu. 28:19). The ram was the trespass offering for sins against God (Lev. 8:18; 5:15). Abraham offered the ram as a substitute for Isaac (Gen. 22:8). Jesus became our trespass offering (Is. 53:10-11). If we confess our sins, God is faithful to forgive us (1 Jo. 1:9). Yet, to be forgiven, we must forgive others (Lk. 6:37; Matt. 6:14; Mk. 11:25). Thus, during this week, there are three things we must do. First, we must ask God each day to forgive us our trespasses. Second, we must correct the wrongs that we have done to others. Third, we must also forgive others.
(3) Christ submitted Himself unto death and we should submit to Him. (the Seven Lambs). The third offering included seven lambs (Nu. 28:19). Christ submitted to become the Passover lamb so that judgment could “pass over” us (Isa. 53:7; Jo. 1:29; 1 Pet. 1:18-19). The seven lambs symbolized the completeness of His work (Heb. 10:14). The lamb’s blood was a “soothing aroma” to God (Nu. 28:1, 6, 8; 18:17, Lev. 1:9, Ex. 29:18). Christ’s sacrifice later became that soothing aroma (Eph. 5:2). Any person (Egyptian or Jew) was free to put the blood of the lamb on the door posts of their home. The blood of Christ is also a free gift for whoever wants it (Rom. 6:23). The Jews were to eat the Passover dinner or Seder the “same night” that they were to eat the meat that was roasted over a fire, and they were to eat the entire body (Ex. 12:8-10). They needed to eat quickly because of the promise that God would quickly free them from the land of bondage for the promised land. These sacrifices tell us that we should do four things. First, we must also be vigilant for the Messiah’s return to take us to the Promise Land (Rev. 3:3; Matt. 25:1-11). Second, we must also consume Christ’s entire body by accepting all of His Word (Ex. 12:8-10). Third, we must give thanks for what Christ did for us (Ps. 18:49). Fourth, just as Christ submitted to the Father to die for us, we should submit completely to Him (Rom. 12:1). Finally, we can create a soothing aroma to Him through our prayers (Ps. 141:2; Rev. 5:8; 8:3). Nine lambs were actually sacrificed each day, seven plus the two daily sacrifices. Nine is a number representing the fullness of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). The nine lambs suggest multiple prayers each day during the Passion Week. If you are like most Christians who only attend a Resurrection Sunday service, these sacrifices should cause you to stop and ask if you are worshiping God during the Passion Week the way God would like to be honored.
(4) Remove the sin from your life. (the Flour) (Nu. 28:20). On the first day (Palm Sunday), believers were to purge their houses of leaven (Ex. 12:15). By tradition, this was done by the wife of the family. Leaven is a symbol of sin (1 Cor. 5:6-8). Leaven is the baking ingredient that causes bread to rise. If we leave any hidden sin our lives, it will rise like leaven in bread. The rabbis taught that if a Jew had to wait for the bread to rise before they could join God’s people, their heart was still in bondage of Egypt. Today, we are the bride of Christ (Rev. 22:2, 17). The house or temple where the Holy Spirit dwells is in our bodies (1 Cor. 3:16-17). We should therefore be looking to purge sin from our bodies to celebrate the festival of unleavened bread (1 Cor. 5:7; 6:13-15, 18-20). If you long for the things of the world, this is the time to remove those things from your life. Each day of the Passion Week, look at the things you do or watch to see where to remove the leaven.
The daily matzos. Christ directed His believers to take communion in remembrance of Him (1 Cor. 11:24-26). He made this request during the Seder / Last Supper: “Take, eat; this is My body, which is broken for you; this do in remembrance of Me.” (Lk. 22:15-19). Christians have different interpretations regarding how often we should normally take communion. Yet, during the Passion Week, there was no ambiguity as to how often the bread of Christ was to be eaten; it was done daily (Nu. 28:24; Lev. 12:8). Jews still eat wafers of unleavened bread, called matzos, on each of the seven days. The Seder dinner also includes three matzos. These unleavened wafers are pierced and striped during the baking process. The piercing and striping process symbolize Christ. When the Seder dinner ends, the host tells the children to find a buried or hidden matzo. Once it is found, the host breaks the matzo into small pieces for everyone to eat. When Jesus performed this ceremony during the Last Supper, He told the disciples that the bread was His body broken for them (See Lk. 22:19). During the Passion Week, is there any reason why (out of devotion and not obligation) you cannot eat matzos each day to remember Christ?
The two Sabbaths. On the first day (Palm Sunday) and last day (Resurrection Sunday), the Jews were not to work (Nu. 28:18, 25). These were “holy convocations” or “rehearsals.” A convocation or rehearsal also required that the people gather together. We are freed from any legal obligation to observe these Sabbaths (Col. 2:16; Ro. 14:5-6). Yet, Christ says that if we love Him we will keep His commandments (Jo. 14:15; 15:10). Is there any reason why (out of devotion and not obligation) you cannot observe these two Sabbath days by worshiping Christ with others in church and reflecting on what He did for you?
(5) Be guided by the Holy Spirit. (the Oil). The grain (life) offering also came with oil (Nu. 28:20). Oil symbolizes the Holy Spirit (1 Sam. 16:13). For the Spirit to come upon us, our own will must first be crushed (2 Cor. 4:8). God does not want our life offerings if our selfish motives guide our actions (Prov. 5:8; Is. 1:13; Jer. 7:21-24; Amos 5:21-24). We must instead act out of love (1 Cor. 13:13). During this week, ask for the Spirit to reveal where you are acting out of selfish desires. Ask Him to direct your actions through love.
(6) Casting off our sinful desires. (the Goat). The last sacrifice was that of a goat, which symbolizes the devil (Nu. 28:22). Jesus will one day separate the goats from the lambs (Matt. 25:31-46). The goat was driven away to cover the sins of the people (Lev. 16:7-8). For us, Christ took away our sins (Jo. 1:29; Acts 3:19; 1 Jo. 2:2). When we are born again, our old self and our old desires should pass away (Rom. 6:6). Yet, there are times when our old selves will appear (Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:9). God cannot accept our works when we act out of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21). Yet, He can rescue us from our temptations (2 Pet. 2:9). If you have become yoked by sin, this is the week to reflect and cast them off. Flee from the temptations of the world with the same haste that the Jews fled from Egypt.
(7) Be in communion with Christ. (the Drink Offering). The final offering was the drink offering (Nu. 28:24). During the Seder dinner, the Jews serve four cups of wine. The first is called the cup of sanctification. With it the following blessing is given: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.” Jesus was the true vine who gives life (Jo. 15:1). The fourth wine-goblet was called “the cup of Elijah.” It sits next to an empty chair for Elijah waiting for his return (Mal. 4:5-6). During the Seder dinner, the children make a ritual of going and looking closely at the cup to see if Elijah has come and sipped some. At the end, one of the children goes to the door, opens it, and looks for Elijah. Everyone then says, “Blessed is he who cometh in the name of the LORD.” This foreshadowed the coming Messiah. Like the wise virgins who kept their lamp oil ready for the groom’s unannounced return, we are to live our lives in communion with Him waiting for His return (Matt. 25:1-13). When we drink the cup of communion, we remember what He did for us (Mk. 14:24; Jo. 6:53; Lk. 22:14-22; 1 Cor. 11:17-34). When we are in communion with Christ, we will never be spiritually hungry or thirsty (Jo. 6:35). Like Paul, our “drink offering” should be filled with joy in our life for others to see (Phil. 2:17). Your joy should also be a light for others to see (Matt. 5:14). During this week, examine your daily walk to see if the joy of Christ is shining for others to see. Are you also living your life ready to be taken by Christ at any moment? (Matt. 25:1-13).
The Feast of Weeks/Pentecost. Exactly 50 days after He saved His people at the Red Sea, Jesus, the great “I AM”, revealed His will through the Ten Commandments (Lev. 23:15-17; Dt. 16:9-10; Ex. 19:20-25; 20:1-21; Jo. 8:58; Ex. 3:14). This became the “Feast of Weeks.” It was also the birth date of modern Judaism. The Ten Commandments also made up God’s wedding contract with His bride. Yet, the wedding has not yet been finalized. The bride broke the wedding vows when she worshiped the golden calf. Yet, before Jesus left, He promised that He would leave us with a Helper to teach us His will and to restore the bride (Jo. 14:26). Exactly 50 days after Jesus’ death, God revealed His will for our lives by pouring out the Holy Spirit unto His believers (“Pentecost”) (Acts 2:3). This was the birth of the Church. Jesus wrote the original Ten Commandments with His finger on stone (Ex. 31:18). This time, He wrote “not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Cor. 3:3; Heb. 8:10).
Celebrating Pentecost today. We are under no legal obligation to celebrate the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost. God does not want worship done out of obligation. If you do not care about the Holy Spirit, ignore the day. Yet, if you are grateful for the Holy Spirit, this is the day God appointed to celebrate Him. If you want to worship Him in the manner that God suggests, God again lists seven sacrifices or offerings to help guide our devotion on this day.
(1) The Spirit cannot come upon us without the blood of Christ. (the Two Bulls). The feast of weeks also began with the sacrifice of two bulls (Nu. 28:27; Lev. 1:6). This foreshadowed Christ’s “blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” (Mk. 14:24; 2 Cor. 5:21). The Holy Spirit cannot come upon us without Christ’s blood to purify us: “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you . . . ” (Jo. 16:7). The life of the Spirit is evident in the Bible. When the Jews broke the Law and worshiped the golden calf exactly 3,000 died (Ex. 32:1-8, 26-28). Yet, after Christ’s death when the Holy Spirit fell upon His people, He saved 3,000 people (Acts 2:38-41). Thus, when we seek to be filled with and celebrate the Spirit on this day, we must begin by thanking Christ for shedding His blood to make us pure enough for the Holy Spirit to come upon us.
(2) Seek God’s forgiveness and forgive others. (the Ram) (Nu. 28:27). Jesus became the ram, our trespass offering (Is. 53:10-11; Lev. 8:18; 5:15). This sacrifice requires that we do four things to be filled with and led by the Spirit. First, we must confess our sins to God (1 Jo. 1:9). Second, we must also make restitution for our wrongs to others as was required with the ram sacrifice (Lev. 5:15). Third, we also cannot be led by the Spirit until we forgive others (Lk. 6:37; Matt. 6:14; Mk. 11:25). Much of the bitterness that believers carry stems from a failure to forgive others. If you forgive, the fruit of the Spirit awaits (Gal. 5:21-22).
(3) God’s revelation requires submission to His will. (the Seven Lambs) (Nu. 28:237). Christ submitted Himself unto death (Isa. 53:7; Jo. 1:29; 1 Pet. 1:18-19). His blood was a “soothing aroma” to God (Eph. 5:2; Nu. 28:1, 6, 8; 18:17; Lev. 1:9; Ex. 29:18). To be led by the Spirit, we must first submit to Christ (Rom. 12:1). We must also submit to one another (Eph. 5:21). Imagine yourself as being like a glass. If you are filled with yourself and with pride, you can’t also be filled with the Spirit. Only when we are meek like the lamb can the Spirit fully come upon us. Finally, to be led by the Spirit, we also must create a soothing aroma with our prayers (Ps. 141:2; Rev. 5:8; 8:3). A total of nine lambs were slaughtered, seven lambs for this celebration along with the two as part of the daily offering. The number nine is associated with the nine fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). Thus, your prayers on this day should be both frequent and consistent with the nine fruits of the Spirit.
(4) Let God purify your life offering. (the Flour) (Nu. 28:28). Like the feast, the priest was told to use only “fine flour.” (Lev. 23:17; same Lev. 2:1, 7). Fine flour has to be continually refined. The offering was also burned by fire. God sits as a “refiner and purifier of silver, and He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.” (Mal. 3:3). How is that true as well with our walk with God? What does God use to remove sin in our lives? (1 Cor. 3:13-15; 1 Pet. 1:7).
The leavened loaves. With the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, no yeast was used because leaven is a symbol of sin (1 Cor. 5:6-8; Gal. 5:9). For the Jews, this symbolized an attempt to make a symbolic break from the sins of their past. By contrast, the Feast of Weeks / Pentecost was observed with leavened bread (Lev 23:17). This festival celebrated God’s church. Yet, the church cannot rid itself of sin on its own. Indeed, Jesus once referred to believers as being “mixed with leaven” (Matt. 13:33). Knowing that sin will always be amongst us on earth, what should that motivate us to do?
The two loaves. The feast involved two loaves (Lev. 23:17). The number two in the Bible is a number of confirmation. The Bible also says that out of two mouths a matter is confirmed (Dt. 19:15; Matt. 18:19-20). Jesus’ Ten Commandments were written on two stones (Ex. 31:18). And Jesus said that His Ten Commandments could be observed through two commandments (Matt. 22:34-40). The receipt of the Ten Commandments was considered the birth of Judaism. Thus, it was the first loaf. Jesus’ Church of the New Covenant is the second loaf.
The Sabbath. The Jews were not to work during the “holy convocation” or “rehearsal.” (Nu. 28:26). Although we are not required to celebrate the birthday of the Church and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Col. 2:16), why not do so out of devotion?
Wheat Flour. The Feast of Weeks was the second of the three major agricultural harvests. The Feast of First Fruits was the first. Barley was used with the first feast, and wheat was used with the second feast. Fruit was used with the final harvest during the Feast of Tabernacles. Each harvest represents a stage in a believer’s walk with God: (1) barley = justification, (2) wheat = sanctification, and (3) fruit = glorification. Symbolizing the first feast, Jesus fed the masses with “barley loaves” (Jo. 6:9). Even though they were not committed believers, their belief was enough for Jesus to instruct his disciples, “Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.” (Jo. 6:12). As believers, even if they were not strong in their walk, they had overcome death through Christ. Symbolizing the second feast, John the Baptist refers to the “wheat” harvest: “He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire . . . He will thoroughly purge His threshing floor and gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with fire that cannot be put out.” (Matt. 3:11-12). As a new believer who has not set himself apart from the world, the fruit you have to offer God is barley. Although it has nutrition, it does not taste good. Wheat bread is much more enjoyable to eat. Yet, the baptism of fire to create wheat can sometimes be a painful process of purification. Thus, a believer is given a choice. Do you want your life offering to God to be like a new believer, who is not set apart from the world and tastes like barley bread? Or, are you willing to be purified of sin by the Holy Spirit to taste like wheat bread to God?
(5) Be guided by the Holy Spirit. (the Oil) (Nu. 28:28). Jesus wrote the Ten Commandments on stone tablets (Ex. 24:12). In the New Testament, He wrote His commandments on our hearts (Jer. 31:33; Ps. 40:8; 37:31; Is. 51:7; Ez. 11:19-20; 36:26-27; 2 Cor. 3:3). The Holy Spirit must lead us in all that we do. The Holy Spirit is also God’s administrator of the Church. As a body, it is important for churches to honor the Holy Spirit on this day and to ask for His guidance for the Church as a whole.
(6) Casting off our sinful desires. (the Goat). The last sacrifice was again the goat (Nu. 28:29). The goat was driven away to cover the sins of the people (Lev. 16:7-8). For us, Christ took away our sins (Jo. 1:29; Acts 3:19; 1 Jo. 2:2). To be filled with the Spirit, we must cast off our old self and our old desires (Rom. 6:6; Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:9).
(7) Be in communion with Christ. (the Drink Offering) (Nu. 28:31). Finally, the believer made a drink offering (Nu. 28:31; Lev. 23:13). Jesus is the vine of life that we drink (Jo. 6:53). Our life should be in communion with Him. What we do should honor Him. Our drink offering should also be filled with joy in our life for others to see (Phil. 2:17). Is your joy a light for others to see? (Matt. 5:14).