Can We Keep the Feasts Without the Jerusalem Temple?

Christians know that the temple and sacrificial system of the Old Testament would come to an end. The Bible tells us this …

Before it happened: Daniel 9:24

When it happened: Luke 23:45

And after the fact: Hebrews 9:8-14

PAST  PRESENT  FUTURE

In light of this knowledge, when the discussion of the Biblical Feast Days arises, some people can’t help but ask,

How can we keep the Feasts without the Jerusalem temple or the animal sacrifices? And if we continue to keep the Feasts after the Cross, is this an insult to Christ’s selfless sacrifice?

These questions become especially confusing in light of texts that combine the sacrifices with the Biblical holy days, such as this one, “These are the feasts of the Lord which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, to offer an offering made by fire to the Lord, a burnt offering and a grain offering, a sacrifice and drink offerings, everything on its day?” (Lev. 23:37)

Yet there was also a special offering called for on each Sabbath day (Numbers 28:9-10) and we don’t seem to have a problem omitting the sacrificial offering from our worship on the seventh-day. So we obviously know how to worship without killing a lamb. Why then do we think that no one can keep the Biblical Feasts without the sacrifice of an animal? And why are we unable to separate the Feasts from the sacrificial system?

One reason is because we have learned well that the Passover sacrifice prefigured the death of Christ as the Lamb of God. We have long believed that this was the only purpose for the Feasts. And once Christ came and gave that offering, we no longer saw the need for the lesson—we no longer needed the Feasts. Or so we thought.

We may wonder what is wrong with all these Christians who are now insisting on returning to the Biblical holy days. Do they have some devilish agenda? Have they so soon forgotten Christ? Are they under the spell of the Man of Sin? Will they be discarding the weekly Sabbath next? Or are they trying to work their way to Heaven with a list of laws? Don’t they realize that Mrs. Ellen White said that “this national festival of the Jews was to pass away forever?”

What we don’t realize is that the end of the sacrificial system on earth did not signify the end of the Biblical Feasts as well. These are two separate and distinct institutions from God. By discarding God’s holy days along with the Jerusalem temple and its services, we are throwing out the baby with the bathwater. And why did the baby go out? Because we have overlooked some very important truths.

The importance of the Biblical Feasts goes well beyond our limited understanding of the Passover sacrifice. If we were to look at these statutes more carefully, the Bible would show us that they are the core of God’s covenant with mankind. They are written on the Tables of Stone as part of God’s Law. They teach us a greater faith in God. They contain timeless lessons that will endure until the New Earth and beyond. They are the foundation of the Everlasting Gospel that is proclaimed by the Three Angels of Revelation 14. And most profoundly, they are eternal memorials of the blessed sacrifice of our Saviour, honoring Him and elevating Him in the minds of the people.

Not only can we keep the Feasts without the Jerusalem temple and sacrifice, but we should! The following Scriptural evidence may be helpful in sorting out the truth on this topic.

Without The Jerusalem Temple

Jesus had a conversation with a Samaritan woman who asked Him about the proper place to worship.

     “The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.’”

This was His answer:

     “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father.…  But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:19-24

If we don’t worship God in Jerusalem, nor on that mountain in Samaria, where do we worship Him?

Jesus answered the woman’s question by saying that a change was coming in which the worship to God would be transferred from the physical world into the Spiritual realm. Scripture thoroughly answers the question about where God is to be worshiped.

The temple was the place where God could dwell together with men.

“And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.” Exodus 25:8 (Exodus 15:17; Ex. 29:45-46; Zech. 2:10-13)

When the men were commanded to appear before the Lord, it was not commanded that they should appear in Jerusalem specifically, but rather, they were to appear in the place where He chose to place His name.

“Thou shalt therefore sacrifice the passover unto the Lord thy God, of the flock and the herd, in the place which the Lord shall choose to place his name there.” Deut. 16:2

“Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the Lord thy God in the place which he shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles: and they shall not appear before the Lord empty.” Deut. 16:16 (also Deut. 12:5, 11, 13-14; Deut. 14:23-24; 1 Kings 11:32, 34)

 Just as we see that the throne of God is mounted on wheels so that it can move, God’s dwelling place among men is also moveable. Scripture shows that God set His name in Shiloh and from there He moved it to Jerusalem. (Jer. 7:12, 14) Today, when we seek Him with all our heart, we shall find Him in a different location.

    • “Where two or three are gathered together in My name I am there in the midst of them.” (Matt. 18:20)
    • “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:24
    • We also see in Revelation 14:1 that the place where the Father chooses to write His name is in the foreheads of His servants.
    • In Jeremiah and Ezekiel we read, “I will write My laws in their minds and in their hearts.” (Jer. 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:26-27) No longer will we seek God in Jerusalem because, by His Holy Spirit, God is coming to us.
    • The Lamb’s throne is no longer in Jerusalem, but in Heaven. Isaiah 66:1 says, “Heaven is My throne and earth is My footstool. Where is this temple that you build unto Me?” (Hebrews 10:12-13; Rev. 12:5; Rev. 7:15-27; Rev. 5:13; Dan. 7:13; Rev. 11:16-19)
    • And then finally, we read that one day God and man will be reunited and will dwell together.

“And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.’” (Revelation 21:3)

In that day, the place to worship God will be no longer in an earthly temple, for when we are in the New Earth the Lamb will be our temple. (Rev. 21:22)

At what point did God’s worship transfer from the Jerusalem temple to the Lamb?

We have these texts to show it happened at the Cross:

    • John 4:23. “The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.”
    • Haggai 2:6-9. “For thus says the Lord of Hosts, ‘Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory. … The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘And in this place I will give peace. …’”
    • Mark 14:58. “Destroy this temple made with hands and within three days I will build another made without hands.”

New Symbols

But how do we know that the desolation of the earthly temple did not mark the end of God’s Feasts as well as the sacrifices?

This is shown best in the story of Jesus eating the Passover with His disciples (Luke 22:14-20) and in God’s purpose behind the Feasts.

  1. First note that Jesus repeatedly said that He was anxious to keep the Passover Feast with His disciples. “With desire I have desired to keep this feast with you before I suffer…” [“With fervent desire…” NKJV]

Then also note that He ate the Passover with them the day before the actual day appointed for the Passover meal. How do we know this? An entire night transpired between their supper and His death and we know He was precisely on time for His appointment at the Cross.

Why was He so anxious to keep this feast with His disciples that He expressed His desire so vehemently and hastened the meal?

For one thing, He knew that He would be busy at the exact time of the Passover sacrifice. And He also knew that the temple service and sacrifices were about to come to a sudden end, but He had not yet given them any instructions about how to keep His memorials without the temple and sacrifices. What if He didn’t get a chance to show them before He was killed? So He initiated the preparation of the Passover meal a day early so that He could show them how the symbols would be changed at His death.

Then He changed the sacrificial symbols. The symbol of the lamb’s body would be changed to the bread. “This is My body which is broken for you.” The symbol of its blood would be changed to the wine. “This is the new covenant in My blood.”

In these few words Jesus showed how He wanted to continue to use symbolic memorials within His Feasts. ALL the past Sacrificial Offerings pointed forward to His death, the Bread and Wine point backwards to His death. From that time forward, the disciples understood that they would use the symbols of the Bread and Wine to honor Him within their memorials as they used to do with the animal sacrifices.

  1. Second, Jesus said He would not eat the Passover again until He eats it together with us in His Father’s kingdom. Though He would not drink the wine, nor any other produce from the vine, until we are reunited, He did not tell us to abstain. He was taking a Nazirite vow that would signify His dedication to the Priesthood. (Num. 6:1-21; Lev. 10:9-10) If He had any intention that the Feasts would come to an end at the Cross, this would have been the ideal time and place to explain this.

The Passover was not only to continue, but it would become a memorial of Christ’s accomplishment at the Cross. This is shown in Paul’s comment as he quotes Jesus:

“‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. 1 Cor. 11:24-26

Paul again shows that the Passover was continued after the Cross by using the Feast of Unleavened Bread as an analogy for removing the sin from the church in Corinth. (1 Cor. 5:1-8) A metaphor is only useful if it is common knowledge. Thirty years after the Cross, Paul shows that the believers in Corinth were not only keeping God’s Feasts, but they had sufficient knowledge of the Passover to understand Paul’s counsel. And Paul makes no attempt to condemn or correct their practice. In fact he says, “Therefore let us keep the feast…”

Celebrating the Passover is not a denial of Christ. Jesus specifically gave the command to continue celebrating the Passover with its new symbols in order to remember His sacrifice!

In God’s timeless manner, before the Cross He declared His set appointed meetings are “rehearsals” of something that is yet to come [holy convocations, miqra]. And then after the fact He wanted them kept as memorials [zikron] of what He has done in the past. God has given us the bread, the wine and His Feasts to keep Christ present in our minds.

The Psalmist said, “He has made His wonderful works to be remembered.” (Psalm 111:4) He does this through His memorial Feast Days. And Scripture shows that far into the New Earth the Redeemed will still remember Christ’s offering as all flesh comes to worship before Him in the place where He has set His name. (Isa. 66:22-23)

Future Significance

  1. Third, after the Cross, notice how all the symbols, the sacrifice, the Passover and the Feasts did not actually end? After all, Christ is our sacrifice, there is still a temple where Christ is ministering, the heavenly temple continues until Rev. 11:19 and Christ said the Passover is not fulfilled until the Kingdom of God. It was merely the earthly sacrificial model that came to an end. God Himself tells us that His Feasts are to be kept forever. (Lev. 23:14, 21, 30, 40) And short of God telling us otherwise, He must have actually meant forever.

But why would we want to continue with the Feasts today when we know so much about Christ’s offering?

The Feast Days are a teaching tool used by God to show us all the aspects of Christ’s work of salvation. They are the road map to the entire Plan of Salvation beginning with Christ’s death on the Cross at the Passover and ending with His Second Coming and the resurrection of the saints on the Last Great Day. In this way God marks His calendar so that we can follow the Lamb wherever He goes and know what He is doing while He is absent.

The Hebrew nation was only able to see the Feasts as memorials of their heritage and experiences. While each Feast does have a historical lesson, they also show events that happened in Christ’s day, lessons that are pertinent to our development and growth today and future applications when Jesus will show His great power in our deliverance.

In this way, each Feast becomes a Christian holiday and each lesson becomes a faith-builder. As we look back and see what God has done in the past, He shows us how He is able to save us in the future. This makes each Feast rich with important lessons to increase our faith in God’s abilities. So, if we believe that the Feasts contained lessons that were designed to teach us about Christ’s death as the Lamb of God, are we not also interested to learn how He intends to pour out His Spirit on all flesh? To deliver us from the Death Decree? To cleanse the sanctuary of our sins? To shelter us under His wings while the plagues fall upon the earth? Or to resurrect us on that Last Great Day? These are enduring lessons that remain ours to cherish forever.

  1. Fourth, Christ’s act of changing the sacrificial symbols and establishing His memorial, clarifies Mrs. White’s statement about Passover.

“As He ate the Passover with His disciples, He instituted in its place the service that was to be the memorial of His great sacrifice. The national festival of the Jews was to pass away forever. The service which Christ established was to be observed by His followers in all lands and through all ages.” The Desire of Ages, p. 652.

In place of the symbolic act of killing the Lamb in the Jerusalem temple, Christ established the tokens of the bread and wine as memorials of His great sacrifice. No longer are we to eat the Passover as did the ancient Hebrews. “And thus you shall eat it: with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover.” (Exodus 12:11)

Instead, we are to gird ourselves for service as did our Master in the upper room and to boldly proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

What is the purpose of the Feast Days?

    • God’s set appointed meeting times are the calendar from which He is operating.
    • They are memorials of God’s work in the past.
    • They are rehearsals of His future acts.
    • They are God’s teaching tools for us and our children.
    • They increase our faith in God’s abilities and show His desire for our salvation.
    • They outline and explain Bible prophecy. Without them we cannot place events in their proper order.
    • They are the seal of God in our hands and in our foreheads. (Ex. 13:9, 16)
    • They are important safeguards against false gods and false worship.
    • Best of all, they are the true worship that God has asked for and earned through His marvelous works. Because of this, they are also the heart of the 3 Angels’ Messages as we are called back to the true worship of the true God.

For far too long have we been ignorant of the actual meaning of God’s set appointed times and how important they are to Him.  Thus it has been easy for us to make some assumptions about the Feasts becoming invalid without a Jerusalem temple, being only useful for the Jewish nation or denying Christ’s sacrifice as if He had never made it. But as we step into the waters by faith and begin to look at the lessons contained within God’s memorial Feasts, we will see that they were never intended to be restricted to the Hebrew nation. And what would be the purpose of them ending at the Cross? Nor are they a denial of Christ, but are rather a glorious lesson plan designed to bring us closer to God—especially today as He draws near the completion of His work. As the author of Hebrews said,

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day [of Atonement] approaching.” (Hebrews 10:23-25)

Each Feast contains lessons that extend beyond the scope of the Old Testament—many projecting far into the New Earth. And each one contains symbolic lessons that are simple enough for our children to understand and take part in. God meant the Feasts to be a growth experience for the youth as well as for the learned man of many years. (Ex. 13:8, 14-16)

We do not need a Jerusalem temple in order to clean out the leaven from of our homes or to learn how to remove the sin from our lives. We do not need the temple in order to practice building a wilderness shelter from beautiful branches and rejoicing before the Lord with thanksgiving. Nor can the temple teach us how to set apart a day to come before God in reverent humility and anticipation of the great Day of Atonement. Without a Jerusalem temple, we can still come to worship before God in spirit and truth.

God says, “These are My set appointed meetings.” He has sent out the invitations. He wants to meet with us. How can we refuse so gracious an invitation? And wherever we are gathered in His name, Jesus will be there in our midst.

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