God’s Feasts in the Book of Acts: Mere Time Markers — or to Be Observed?
Most people who have read the Christian Bible believe that “the Feasts” mentioned in Leviticus 23 are the feasts of — and for — the Jews and the Israelites. These people consider these feasts a part of obsolete rules meant only for Israelites but not for Gentile converts to the faith of Jesus of Nazareth. The seventh-day Sabbath and the annual Sabbaths or holy days, listed in this chapter of Leviticus, are summarily classed as “ceremonial” and are tossed out the window, as have been circumcision and the sacrificial system of Israel. [See: Freed From Bondage.]
Many people would often quote, as proof for these feasts being no longer necessary, Isaiah 1:13-16, “…the New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies — I [God] cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; they are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them.” There, say they, God hates those feasts of the Jews and Israelites! Therefore, the conclusion goes, God no longer wants Christians to keep those holy days. In fact, some have promoted the idea that Christians should also hate those feasts!
Thus, when we come to the New Testament — especially in the Book of Acts, which chronicles the “acts” of the Holy Spirit in the history of the Christian Church — the mention of a number of these Old Testament feasts, many Bible students believe, is merely to mark time. According to this belief, this reference to the feasts does not prove that they are occasions to be kept by Christians in the New Testament era as well as Christians up to this our time.
But whose feasts are these?
If we go back to Leviticus 23:1 and read it carefully, we will know and understand whose, truly, these feasts are. God speaks through Moses: “The feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts.”
How come, then, that God tells Israel (in Isaiah 1:14), “Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates?” How do we explain this seeming discrepancy?
Have you never noticed how a husband might say to his wife, about their son who does something bad or displeasing, “your son” or “this son of yours“? Has the son suddenly become no longer the husband’s son, just because he tells his wife that the son is “your son”? Of course not! The husband, from anger or disappointment, momentarily disavows his connection with the erring son.
God engages in this too!
Angered by the Israelites’ idolatrous abandon while Moses was up with Him on the holy mount (Horeb), God told Moses: “Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves” (Exodus 32:7). Did the Israelites suddenly become no longer God’s people by God saying so? Did God disown Israel?
Moses, in what comes across as some kind of humor, “got back” at God by pleading with Him: “LORD, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand” (Exodus 32:11)?
Moses explained to God that His destroying the whole Israelite nation in His wrath would bring reproach on His name among the Egyptians (and other surrounding Gentile nations, for that matter). “Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, ‘He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’?” (verse 12). In other words, the Egyptians could fault God for freeing His people, only to destroy them after all. Deuteronomy 9:28 elaborates on what the Egyptians could say, “Because the LORD was not able [did not have enough power] to bring them to the land which He promised them, and because He hated them. He has brought them out to kill them in the wilderness.”
With his wise words Moses convinced the LORD, and “So the LORD relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people” (verse 14).
Centuries later, God did “disown” the Israelites as His people because of their sins — and will do so again. The prophet Hosea was told by God to take for himself “a wife of harlotry” — a whore! And he was to have, with her, “children of harlotry” (Hosea 1:2). This was to picture “the land” — Israel — having “committed great harlotry by departing from the LORD.” Hosea’s third child by this harlot was a son, who God told Hosea was to be named “Lo-Ammi,” meaning “not My people” (verse 8). Yet, in the end, God still had love and mercy for Israel (Hosea 3:1). He mercifully led Israel out of her spiritual harlotry (idolatry) and reclaimed the children of Israel as My people” (Hosea 1:10-2:1, 16-23). [To understand more about God’s on-and-off relationship with Israel, see: God’s Kingdom and Israel.]
In His parable about the “prodigal son,” Jesus depicted the elder brother as saying to his father, concerning his younger, “prodigal” brother: “But as soon as this son of yours…” (Luke 15:30). This elder brother was disavowing his connection with his father and his brother. But his merely saying this did not reverse the fact that he still was his father’s son and his brother’s brother. The father explained to his elder son: “Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found” (Luke 15:31-32).
The attitude, not the feast
God is saying a similar thing to Israel about His feasts. Although He told the Israelites that He hated their feasts, God did not actually disown these feasts as His. God’s feasts are still God’s feasts even though He tells Israel that these are “your appointed feasts.” The reason God censured Israel about “your appointed feasts” was that He had become weary of the way and the attitude in which the Israelites were keeping the feasts of God.
God took the Israelites to task because of their “iniquity” (sin) while attending their “sacred meeting” (Isaiah 1:13). God shows what some of Israel’s iniquities were: “Your hands are full of blood” (verse 15) — violence. They were doing evil, not good. They were not seeking justice, not rebuking the oppressor, not defending the fatherless nor pleading for the widow (verse 16). They had gone into harlotry (spiritual adultery — idolatry), thievery and accepting bribes (verses 21-23).
Jesus kept the “Israelite” feasts
Granting, then, that God — after all of Israel’s on-and-off relationship with Him — still claimed ownership of the feasts and holy days of Leviticus 23, did He really mean for Gentiles to observe those days as well? True, Jesus evidently observed these feasts (Luke 4:16; John 5:1; 7:1-2, 10, 37-38; 13:1-23, etc.). Well, reason many who profess belief in Christ, Jesus was a Jew under the old covenant and therefore had to undergo also what every other Jew had to — including circumcision on the eighth day (Luke 2:21) — and His parents observed, on His behalf, the sacrificial ordinances of the Old Testament.
But since circumcision is now no longer required of Christians (as Acts 15 decidedly shows), so also — continues the reasoning — those statutes that distinguish Jews from other races, nations or religions such as the Sabbath and the Holy Days are no longer required of Christians today. [See: No Walls, No Ceiling?]
If such is the case, why are God’s Feasts such as Pentecost, the Passover, the Days of Unleavened Bread, and the Day of Atonement (the “Fast”) mentioned in the Book of Acts (Acts 2:1; 12:4 [“Easter” is better translated as “Passover” as the NKJV has it]; 27:9)? Ah, reason these people, these are mere time markers!
God’s feasts mere time markers?
Now the question is, why would the writer of the Book of Acts (Luke) use these feasts of God, and not some dates according to the widespread Roman calendar of the day, to mark time? After all, Luke wrote the account for the benefit of one “Theophilus” (Acts 1:1) as he did the gospel by his name (Luke 1:1-4).
Theophilus, like Luke (the “beloved physician,” Colossians 4:14), has been presumed by many Bible students to have been a Greek convert to the Christian faith. (By Paul specifying that only Mark and Justus among his traveling fellow-workers were “of the circumcision” [that is, the Jews, Colossians 4:10-11], he is plainly saying that Luke was not a Jew.) Even if Luke meant to address a “generic” Theophilus — all lovers of God (as the name means) — it is more reasonable to suppose that Luke wrote primarily to Gentile rather than Israelite or Jewish, converts. [Of course, being now part of the Scriptures, Luke’s writings apply to all human beings regardless of race (2 Timothy 3:16-17).]
Therefore, if his target readers were mostly Gentile Christians, why did Luke refer to the feasts of God if it was merely in order to mark time? Why did he do so if these feasts were supposed to not mean anything anymore to Gentile converts? Why even “remind” them of these feasts if God meant for these converts to lay aside and forget about the feasts — even hate them?
Feast observance commanded in the New Testament
Paul exhorted both Jewish and Gentile members of the church at Corinth: “…For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast [of Unleavened Bread] not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).
Gentile Christians knew about God’s Feasts and were presumably observing them along with the Jewish Christians, as Paul exhorted about the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread. In this way it makes sense that Paul’s traveling companion “Dr.” Luke would refer to the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread in Acts 12:3-4. The same may be said of Pentecost (Acts 2; 20:16) and the Day of Atonement (Acts 27:9).
Paul told the brethren in Ephesus: “I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem…” (Acts 18:21). Acts 20:16 confirms that the feast was the Day of Pentecost. Paul set the example of observing God’s Feasts and exhorted the brethren to follow his example as he also followed Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).
And why would the Feast of Trumpets and the Feast of Tabernacles not be included for observance, just because these are not mentioned by Luke in his account? One cannot simply argue from silence of the New Testament on the matter that these other feasts of God are no longer to be observed.
All of God’s feasts actually embody the gospel of salvation very beautifully! Why have many who profess to believe in Christ laid these feasts aside for something else? [See: God’s Feasts and the Jews — Part 1, God’s Feasts and the Jews — Part 2 and God’s Feasts and the Jews — Part 3.]
How God’s feasts have been laid aside
The clue may be found in Daniel 7:24-25, where a king or leader (of a movement or church) would arise who would “speak pompous words against the Most High, and shall intend to change times and law.” Today’s English Version of the Bible, interestingly, translates this verse as “…he will try to change their [the Jews’] religious laws and festivals.” That movement or church is prophesied as continuing until the return of Jesus (Daniel 7:26-27). [See: “I Never Knew You!”]
It’s time God’s true people came out of today’s religious confusion, today’s spiritual “Babylon” (Revelation 18:1-5, etc.)! May those who truly care for their salvation return to God and obey His holy ways! [See: “Your Eyes Will Be Opened!”]
God’s feasts to be observed worldwide!
God’s Sabbaths and feasts are going to be observed by all nations — not just Israel — when Jesus returns to establish God’s kingdom here on earth. As long as there are still humans in the “flesh” (mortals) — as is the case in our world today — they will be required to observe God’s feasts!
- “For as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make shall remain before Me,” says the LORD, “So shall your descendants and your name remain. And it shall come to pass that from one New Moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, all flesh [all mankind, not just Israel] shall come to worship before Me,” says the LORD (Isaiah 66:22-23). [See: What If the Sabbath Is Still Holy?]
- “And it shall come to pass that everyone who [after Christ returns to this earth] is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, on them there will be no rain (Zechariah 14:16-17).
Luke’s references to God’s feasts in the Book of Acts were not meant merely to mark time. These feasts were observed by Christians in those apostolic times, as they are to be observed by God’s true people down through the centuries — even until Christ returns. These are God’s commanded feasts.
So, to paraphrase the apostle Paul, if we are truly the people of God, let us keep all of God’s feasts! God promises abundant blessings in keeping them (Deuteronomy 16:15)!
Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.