Leviticus 23 (entire passage)
But now after ye have known God, or rather are known by God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements unto which ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days and months and times and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain. (Galatians 4:9-11)
"And behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth. And ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the LORD your God spoke concerning you: all have come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof." (Joshua 23:14)
"O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter?" saith the LORD. "Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in Mine hand, O house of Israel. At the instant I shall speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up and to pull down and to destroy it, if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at the instant I shall speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, if it do evil in My sight, that it obey not My voice, then I will repent of the good wherewith I said I would benefit them. Now therefore go to speak to the men of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, `Thus saith the LORD: Behold, I frame evil against you and devise a device against you. Return ye now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good.'" And they said, "There is no hope; but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart." Therefore thus saith the LORD: "Ask ye now among the heathen: Who hath heard such things? The virgin of Israel hath done a very horrible thing." Therefore deliver up their children to the famine, and pour out their blood by the force of the sword; and let their wives be bereaved of their children and be widows; and let their men be put to death; let their young men be slain by the sword in battle. Let a cry be heard from their houses, when Thou shalt bring a troop suddenly upon them; for they have dug a pit to take me, and hid snares for my feet. Yet, LORD, Thou knowest all their counsel against me to slay me; forgive not their iniquity, neither blot out their sin from Thy sight, but let them be overthrown before Thee; deal thus with them in the time of Thine anger. (Jeremiah 18:6-13, 22-23)
At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth; and I have come to show thee, for thou art greatly beloved. Therefore understand the matter, and heed the vision: "Seventy weeks are determined concerning thy people and concerning thy holy city to finish the transgression and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy." (Daniel 9:23-24)
For all the promises of God in Him are "yea"; and in Him "amen" unto the glory of God by us. (2 Corinthians 1:20)
"Remember ye the Law of Moses, My servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD." (Malachi 4:1-6)
Verily I say unto you, among them that are born of women, there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist; notwithstanding, he that is least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elijah, who was to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. (Matthew 11:11-15)
"Think not that I am come to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or one tittle shall in any wise pass from the law until all be fulfilled." (Matthew 5:17-18)
"The Law and the Prophets were until John. Since that time the Kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it. And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than one tittle of the law to fail" (Luke 16:16-17)
Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth in nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all. But he is under tutors and governors until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. (Galatians 4:1-5)
"And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch and find them so, blessed are those servants. And this know, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not have suffered his house to be broken into. Be ye therefore ready also, for the Son of Man cometh at an hour when ye think not." (Luke 12:38-40)
After a long time the lord of those servants came and reckoned with them. (Matthew 25:19)
He who testifieth these things saith, "Surely I come quickly." Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. (Revelation 22:20-21)
After ascending to the peak of Grace Mountain (Isa. 25:6-10) in the previous studies of this series, why pause at this glorious moment to study the issue of sacred times? Well, it is a crucial step in understanding the covenants. We have been looking at all of the things that the New Covenant is 'not'. There are many elements of the law-covenant that people will fight like dogs to bring into the grace-covenant. No doubt there are other perversions that this series will fail to expose.
'Sacred times' in this study refers to proposed times of inherent or mysterious significance in the history between the two advents of Christ. There is no question that the Bible refers to moments in history that have special significance above others. The first advent of Christ into the world fulfilled all of Old Testament prophecy (see Dan. 9:24 and 2 Cor. 1:20 above). That was surely a time of great prominence. The final eschaton and the events surrounding it will also be a special time. What is disturbing is the speculative obsession with events in the current historical process-- deemed to have special prophetic significance.
There are two ways in which mankind has attempted to bring sacred times into the New Covenant:
In reality, both of these practices are going back to the Old Covenant. The first is a return to the principle of required feasts in order to obtain holiness. This is a method of performing works in order to obtain blessing from God. The second is a denial of the fulfillment of the Old Testament in Christ. It returns to the forward-looking mentality of the old era.
The major focus of this study will be on the second of these two distortions of the gospel. It is the one that is the worst 'offender' in our day. However, let us briefly consider the first of these errors.
The Sabbath (whether 7th or 1st day) is not the only sacred time of the former covenant that men have attempted to impose upon Christians. A number of sects have tried to restore many of the other feast days. This has not been limited to cultic groups, either. Some 'evangelical' pastors today are actually preaching that we should be observing a form of the Day of Atonement. How should this be practiced? Well, one is supposed to write down all the sins of the past year that can be remembered. It is best to do this in some sort of code--so that if anyone ever finds the 'list', they will not know what it is. Then the list of sins is attached to a helium balloon and released in ceremonial fashion. How wonderful! We can see our sins being removed from us in that fading balloon--just like the people in former times watched the scapegoat being led away!
Many would dismiss all of this as a harmless exercise. But the challenge is this: if our sins were removed from us once-for-all-time in Christ, why do we need a new crutch to 'visualize' that reality? It seems that an insistence on this practice actually betrays a level of unbelief. The gospel ends the law-covenant of imperfect consciousness of forgiveness of sin--period! Gospel believers don't want teachers saying that we need to observe any day, month, season, or year from the old era. Practices like this will harm us spiritually--by removing our meditation from the finished work of Christ and directing it toward pale imitations.
What about the 'church calendar'? Isn't this a harmless attempt to make the reality of New Testament events come to life? No, it isn't. The Christmas and Easter seasons are wonderful times of refreshment. God has often blessed the teaching of his Word at these times. But the blessings come in spite of the foolish inventions of men, not because of them. The sacred calendar was established as one of many tests of submission to ecclesiastical authority. It was modeled after the Jewish calendar of sacred days. When the ekklesia and koinonia of the New Testament were replaced with the one-bishop rule, clergy/laity distinction, and sacred house; it was essential to also establish a new system of holy days. The new 'priesthood' would not have been complete without these observances. All of the new 'Christian laws' were motivated by a spirit of dominion and control over the minds of Christians. Without them the new hierarchy of priestly rule would not have survived. Whenever humans claim to have authority to impose a system of beliefs or practices not mandated by Christ or the apostles, we should opt out in jealousy for the gospel.
There were no annual festivals in the congregations established by Paul. Instead of an annual remembrance of Christ's resurrection, the agape festival on every first day of the week was a celebration of the resurrection. This does not mean that the resurrection day was considered inherently sacred. It was simply the day chosen for gathering together in a special way (Acts 20:7). No doubt the early Christian gatherings and 'breaking of bread' also took place on other days.
We will now consider the issue of sacred times as it relates to prophetic interpretation.
It is extremely difficult to confine a study of prophecy to a brief discussion of the error of bringing sacred times into the New Covenant. Bible prophecy is a subject that cannot be adequately covered in a short summary. The following exposition will only scratch the surface on this critical matter.
Leviticus 23 describes the eight festivals that comprise the 'sacred times' of the Lord. This passage of scripture will be used as a catalyst to attempt a reasonable and Spirit-filled meditation upon God's purposes in history.
All of the Old Testament is forward-looking. The final day of the Lord is the subject of all prophecy before Christ. Although there is a focus upon the immediate fulfillment of certain predictions, in a variety of circumstances, the broader emphasis is concentrated on the final day of God's eschatological salvation. It is almost impossible to distinguish between the advents of Christ when reading the Old Testament. God's last-day action is comprehended as a single event. However, with the greater light of the New Testament shining upon us, we can sort out the real meaning of the prophecies of former times. The day of the Lord is not a single event occurring at one point in time. It was inaugurated at Christ's first advent and will be consummated at his final advent. The division of all men and women according to the gospel takes place in the interim. So the end of the world comes in three dimensions: Passion, Pentecost, and Parousia.
Note this point very carefully: Jesus did not come into the world to fulfill only the law. He came just as importantly to fulfill the prophets. The dispensational system of prophetic interpretation loves to emphasize the fulfillment of law in Christ. Hallelujah! However, it is bankrupt on the matter of fulfillment of the prophets in Christ. In the most popular system of prophetic interpretation today, the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy is viewed as almost completely future. Dispensationalists ignore the fulfillment of prophecy in Christ as surely as many Reformed theologians ignore the fulfillment of law in Christ. The error of J. N. Darby and all of his followers is on the same level as the sin of 1st or 7th day sabbatarians.
A crucial observation should be injected here. It is easy for some to make fun of the dispensational approach of interpreting the Bible. However, in the past 10 or 20 years, a huge number of opposite interpretations have become prominent. Many of these are as bad or worse than the views of Darby and his unknown predecessors: Lacunza, Irving, and MacDonald.
Some Calvinist denominations have changed in the last 15 years from being mostly premillenial or amillennial to a strange and new postmillenial theology called 'reconstructionism.' The new theology harmonizes with evangelical triumphalism--which is considered sacrosanct. So, speaking foolishly, man has changed God's timetable of the future! The arrogance of this metamorphosis is something that cannot be logically fathomed. It is amazing and incomprehensible! The political landscape has motivated individuals to completely abandon former convictions and adopt totally new convictions. Suddenly, man has attempted to completely rewrite God's future! The purpose is to advance a sick and destructive theology of dominion. The notion behind this theory is that Christians are destined to convert the majority of the world through evangelical and governmental force. Nothing could be further from the truth as it is in Jesus. His kingdom is not of this world, period!
Another strange development in recent years is the popular resurgence of the Gnostic form of 70 A. D. eschatology. Although the eschatological view known as 'Preterism' contains some truth, extreme Preterism is pure and simple Gnosticism. This is the same position as that of Hymenaeus, Philetus, and Alexander the coppersmith--who were partly responsible for the first great apostasy in Christendom (read 1 and 2 Timothy). The teaching proposes that the final resurrection is 'spiritual' only and has already taken place in 70 A.D. There is no ultimate, cosmic destruction of sin, death, and the devil. We need to be on guard against smooth words and fine-sounding interpretation! It is inevitable that most professed Christians will be confronted by this innovative and humanly convincing system of prophetic interpretation in the next 10-20 years.
What is the meaning of the 8 feasts (sacred times)? The first is the Sabbath. We have considered this festival in an earlier study of the covenant series. The Sabbath pointed forward to the gospel and our final rest in Christ as a result of believing (Hebrews 4). It is finished in Christ's salvation obtained at the cross, so the day has no authoritative claim on us today.
Virtually all of Christian interpreters agree on the fulfillment of the Passover, unleavened bread, and wave sheaf festivals. These were consummated in Jesus Christ and the events surrounding his first coming. The events portrayed in the 3 spring festivals were fulfilled in the Passion of Christ--not only with regards to meaning, but also with regards to the time. Jesus was crucified at Passover. The days of unleavened bread followed with the disappointment experienced by the disciples. The wave-sheaf festival was fulfilled at the resurrection of Christ (the morrow after the Sabbath). With the atoning death and resurrection of our Lord, the redemption of a lost world was completed.
Pentecost was fulfilled at the outpouring of the Spirit recorded in Acts and has continued ever since. The least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John the Baptist. He did not receive the Pentecostal baptism of the Holy Spirit that all believers since the resurrection experience. We must remember, too, that there is a dark side to Pentecost: the sin against the Holy Ghost. As the gospel goes forth to the whole world, mankind is divided into two separate groups. Believers in Christ receive the promised Holy Spirit (in actual time, even before believing--since no one can acknowledge Jesus as Lord except by the Holy Spirit). Unbelievers commit the sin against the Holy Spirit--which is eternal and will result in eternal judgment (Heb. 6:2).
The reality of Pentecost is what Jesus described as the 'mystery' of the kingdom of God. It is the gospel. It does not reach full fruition in a single moment of time, rather, it is a principle that leavens the world over a 'long time.' There is no promise of an early final advent of Christ in the New Testament. Men often confuse the various ways in which Jesus 'comes' to man. Suffice it to say that there are many comings of Christ. He came in Bethlehem. He came to his Father after the resurrection. He came to his disciples then also: both in person and even more intimately in the outpouring of the Spirit. He came in judgment upon the nation of Israel (the 'end of the age' in Matthew 24). He comes in redemption to all believers on the day of their departure from this world (John 14:3). He comes in judgment to all unbelievers on the day of their death. Finally, he will come in great power and glory at the cosmic end of the age to reconcile all things to God.
We must occupy the present time with devotion to Christ and his gospel and ignore all speculative interpretation of our age. This is what men should have done in all previous centuries. In the history of Christendom, there has been a continuous stream of wild-eyed speculation about the end. It started in the days of the Thessalonians. The Montanists revived it well in the second and third centuries. The year-day principle was used as a basis of false prediction for many centuries after that. It was finally exhausted in the last century and will probably not be resurrected again. However, the restoration of the Jewish State in 1948 is the baseline of a whole new generation of confident end-time predictions. Looking back to 'millennial milestones,' 1000 and 2000 A. D. were also major disappointments for those who love prophetic fables.
Those who work in the software industry suffered a lot of grief from the Y2K lie. It was well-known to be a lie from the beginning (designed to bolster the fortunes of politicians, preachers, salesmen, and renegade analysts), but who would believe it? Picture building a home that has been desired all of one's life and planned immaculately. A thief comes along and gets away with the building materials and tools. Then he sells them back through a middleman at a major price increase. Once the house is finished, the thief has the audacity to claim that he built the house himself! That is the reality of what happened with the ridiculous and absurd Y2K lie. Politicians and preachers triumphantly proclaimed: "If we hadn't warned the world of this coming disaster, it would have gone to hell. We saved the day." The reality is that their false predictions made a lot of people very miserable. The Y2K logic problem in computer programs was a simple bug with a straightforward and reasonable solution (like any other software bug). But it was proclaimed as the beginning of the end of the world! At a minimum, it was surely going to bring about God's wrath upon an impenitent nation that was ripe for judgment! As a result of this nonsense, incompetent companies promising great solutions were hired to fix the phantom 'problem.' If the truth were to be known, some of the 'prophets of doom' probably had a financial stake in the companies promising great solutions at the right price. These swindlers wrecked huge quantities of good software that was mostly solvent before they got hold of it. The aftermath: many months of tireless hours had to be spent in recovery. Competent analysts were not scrambling to fix Y2K bugs until the last minute. They were scrambling to fix the damage done by charlatans and swindlers. Billions of dollars worldwide were completely wasted on worthless 'solutions.' Yet the geniuses who 'alerted' us to the problem and caused the demolition of good software claimed that they were responsible for fixing it! They averted world disaster! The 'evangelical' leaders who promoted this lie have never repented in humility and truly apologized to those whom they deceived. The truth was readily available from a legion of competent sources in advance and they would not hear it! They willingly chose to believe and promote fables.
Many other examples would no-doubt illustrate the same point with equal force. The above event is one of the best examples in recent history of how far people will go in defending apocalyptic lies. Humans with a certain bias toward the spectacular love a great tale! It has been so ever since Eve believed the original lie of Satan. Some people with the wrong motives really get excited about this type of thing.
Most of us have often been asked this question: how would your life change if you knew that Jesus was coming today? A very different question is also equally important: how would your life change if you knew that Jesus wasn't coming for a long time? How would you occupy the time left in the days allotted to you by God?
We have looked at the first two dimensions of the end of the world: Passion (foretold in the Passover, unleavened bread, and wave sheaf) and Pentecost. What about the last three sacred times: Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles? Interpreters throughout the Christian age have understood that these festivals point to the final reconciliation of all things at the Parousia of Jesus Christ. Some even point to the fact that the last three feasts occur at an entirely different season of the year (autumn) than the first four do (spring). That point has caused a lot of speculative interpretation of prophecy; including the systems of British Adventism, American Adventism, and Dispensationalism. But all of the fanciful positions have one thing in common. They place the Trumpets and Day of Atonement before the final advent of Christ! They also interpret the Feast of Tabernacles as a millennium before the last judgment, instead of the final redeemed state of those who are in Christ. It goes like this:
What is the NT alternative to these interpretations? The book of Revelation uses the imagery of the autumn feasts to describe the final reconciliation of all things. The New Testament also emphasizes that the last 'day' (future) is already unfolding in the last 'days' (present). Final judgment, however, is contained in the last three festivals that follow each other 'quickly'--as they do in the Jewish calendar
There are some historical precursors to the above feasts. For example, there are trumpets of judgment and deliverance in Revelation prior to the last trumpet. The Feast of Tabernacles was celebrated in a preliminary sense on Palm Sunday. The final banquet of God (portrayed in the Tabernacles feast) is celebrated in an inaugural sense in the Lord's Supper.
It is crucial to note that the last judgment is a Day of Atonement only for the wicked. The ungodly have no mediator and must therefore atone for their own sins. The Day of Atonement for the righteous has already been fulfilled in the Passion of Christ. They will be exempt from having to suffer for their sins in the judgment. See Hebrews 8-10, Rom. 3:24-26, and all of the New Testament references to the suffering & death of Christ for his people.
The Day of Atonement involved not one but two goats bearing iniquity. One was slain in suffering and the other was kept alive and led away into the wilderness. Judging from the rest of scripture and the light of the New Testament, these goats portray the twin hells to be experienced by the unrighteous. The Lord's goat portrays the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13) and the goat of Azazel portrays the curse of the gospel (Heb. 10:28-31). Christ has borne away both of these judgments for his people. He has borne away the curse of the law by actually experiencing it in place of those who deserve it. In suffering the curse of the law, Jesus has also borne away the curse of the gospel on behalf of his people. This is not because Christ experienced eternal, conscious rejection from God in our place. Those believing in him will never reject the gospel eternally, so a nonexistent sin needs no substitutionary atonement. In dying for their sins, Jesus purchased for the elect the Advent of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit creates faith in the gospel, thus making a denial of Christ and final rejection of God impossible.
As we continue this study, the scriptures cited at the beginning of part 1 should be kept in mind.
Where are we in the stream of prophetic history? We have seen that the Passover, Unleavened Bread, Wave Sheaf, and Day of Atonement (for believers) were all fulfilled in Christ's Passion. The festival of Pentecost was fulfilled starting 7 weeks after the resurrection and will continue to unfold till the final Advent of Christ. The Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement (for unbelievers), and Feast of Tabernacles will be fulfilled in the Parousia, final judgment upon sin, and eternal state of the righteous in the New Earth. What other special times in Christian history are the focus of Bible prophecy?
The judgments of God have been manifest in all previous centuries. They will continue to occur in the remainder of temporal history. Judgment refers to both the positive and negative acts of God. Why do people want a timetable of prophetic events? One reason is because they do not see how God is acting now. If there is a theme to the book of Revelation, it is that God's power and purposes determine the meaning of all history. The world is full of judgment. Look around and see. God is continually acting to save mankind through the gospel; also to pour out his wrath on the unrepentant.
There are only a few special events between the initial apostolic age and the final Advent of Christ that are mentioned in the New Testament:
These are the only three interpretations that 'stuck' for a long time. All of them had good reasons for what they espoused. But all lack certain NT characteristics. From what the Christ and the apostles said we can conclude certain things about the antichrist:
None of us have any idea of when the man of lawlessness will appear. He will come suddenly in God's own time. He will also be destroyed at the final Advent of Jesus Christ. The coming of antichrist will result in the final maturity of God's people promised in Ephesians, so there is reason to look forward to this event in God's plan. Christ will come for a bride that is ready for marriage. But for now, we can only occupy the time God had given us with faithfulness to the gospel.
In conclusion, the times between the comings of Christ are to be occupied with gospel witnessing to the lost. Our own generation is not special in history. We are no different than any other generation of Christians. While we certainly hope that God will perform a great work of revival, there is no promise that this will happen. God saves many in some generations and few in others.