The holidays contain more divine information of spiritual and prophetic value than any subject of scripture. Why aren’t we taught these marvelous lessons in church? The answer is found during the first through to the fourth centuries.
First Century Church
In the first century there were literally hundreds of thousands of believing Jews (Acts 2:41, 47, 4:4, 6:7, 9:31, 21:20). Scripture tells us the apostles and the early church continued to celebrate the holidays with the new realization of the symbolism of Christ.
Very few Gentiles converted before Peter and Paul were sent out. When God miraculously showed the believing Jews that Jesus was the Messiah for both Jew and Gentile alike, then Gentiles from every nation began to pour into this Jewish faith. The followers of Christ, whether Jewish or Gentile, were seen as one family. Both considered themselves part of Israel.
The Gentiles saw themselves as grafted into Israel (Romans 11), not replacing Israel. The word Christian was not used until a.d. 42 in Antioch (Acts 11:26). Later it was adopted to set apart Jews believing in Jesus and unbelieving Jews. Ultimately it became an identity for the entire Church.
>Paul makes it clear that Gentiles who trust in Jesus become children of God, are equal partners with believing Jews in the Body of the Messiah, and are declared righteous by God without their having to adopt any further Jewish distinctives (Rom. 3:22ÿ23, 29ÿ30; 4:9ÿ12; 10:12; 11:32; 1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 2:11ÿ22; 3:6; Col. 3:11) (Stern, 1992).
Second Century Church
By the second century the Gentiles had taken control of the church, and there started the process of removing Jewish influences referred to as de-Judaizing. There was a growing spirit of resentment of the non-believing Jews and all Jewish customs. The first seeds of anti-Semitism were sown. As the church grew, it became increasingly Hellenized (Greek) and Latinized (Roman). The Gentile-dominated Church celebrated the Lord’s resurrection, but to distance Christianity from Judaism they changed the resurrection date from the Jewish calendar from the third day of Passover, to Sunday this is how Easter became separated from Passover.
By the time of the Council of Nicea (325 a.d.), Constantine, Emperor of Rome, claimed conversion to Christianity and considered himself the leader in the Christian church.
Things changed drastically for the Gentile believers. Gentile believers were no longer persecuted. It became an economic advantage to be a Christian. Constantine also supported paganism with Christianity. In 314 he placed the symbol of the cross on his coins with the marks of Sol Invictus and Mars Conservator. Constantine retained the title of chief priest of the state cult until he died.
Under Constantine things got better for the believing gentiles; however, now the Christians persecuted the Jews. The Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah were forced to give up all ties with Judaism, Jewish practices, Jewish friends and anything Jewish. Constantine issued laws forbidding Jewish believers to keep Saturday as Sabbath, circumcise their children, celebrate Passover, etc.
The punishments included imprisonment and even death. Constantine replaced the Biblical Holidays with alternative forms of celebrations adopted from other religions.
The Jewish New Testament Commentary reports that the Jewish believers were told to ignore the way commanded by Moses or they could not be saved! “You Messianic Jews should not separate yourselves from us Gentile Christians by having Messianic synagogues!
Don’t you know that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek? So be like us, give up your Jewish distinctives, stop observing the Torah and the Jewish holidays, put all that behind you; and worship with us in our Gentile-oriented congregations, living our Gentile lifestyle. The misuse is in concluding that because there is no distinction in God’s sight between the forensic righteousness of believing Gentiles and of believing Jews, therefore Jews are prohibited from observing God-given commandments. Such a conclusion defies both logic and the practice of the early believers.
During the Middle Ages, bands of Crusaders destroyed many Jewish communities. The raiders demanded the Jews convert but the majority preferred to die for their faith. In the late thirteenth century half of the world’s Jewish population were living in Western Europe, over five hundred thousand. By 1500 there were no more than 150,000 Jews in this region due to riots, plagues and expulsions.
Two Peoples, One Church
Galatians 3:28 says, There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
This isolated verse has been misinterpreted to say a Jew must give up his heritage. It really explains that Jewish and Gentile believers must treat each other as equals before God, of equal worth as human beings. Notice how Paul ends the chapter. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise (v. 29).
[The sentence in the verse above] contains three parallel pairs: Jew — Gentile, slave — freeman, male — female. Obviously there are still observable physical, psychological and social distinctions between male and female and between slave and freeman (even today there remains in the world tens of millions of slaves), even though in union with the Messiah Yeshua they are all one, so far as their acceptability before God is concerned. The same is true of Jews and Gentiles: the distinction remains; the verse does not obliterate it (Stern 1992).
The Bible does teach differences between Jews and Gentiles and between other groups. There are different commands for men and women, husbands and wives, parents and children, slaves and masters, leaders and followers, widows and other women as well as special requirements for offices such as pastors, elders, deacons, and evangelists (1 Cor. 11:2-16, 14:34-36; Eph. 5:22-6:9; Col. 3:18-4:1; Titus 3:1-13, 5:3-16; 1 Peter 3:1-7).
Much of the Church continues to insist on this view that once a Jew is saved he is no longer a Jew. Christians can be a better witness to a Jew once they understand how a religious, non-believing Jew thinks. For example, an invitation to Sunday church or to a ham dinner for Christmas would not be the best way to win Jewish converts.
Unfortunately, while trying to separate from the non-believing Jews the Church threw out the baby (Biblical holidays) with the bath water (un-Biblical customs)! There was no reason to stop the Holidays. These days did not bring bondage they brought people closer to God. Jesus and Paul both celebrated the holidays. The holidays should be analyzed according to the Bible ÿ not whether or not they are Jewish.
A non-Jew may choose voluntarily to conform to certain observances, celebrations, or customs which are both Jewish and rooted in Scripture. Such practice is not Judaizing. Following a Biblical custom is far different from being bound by a required practice (Wilson 1989, 26).
Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection, has made it possible for all believers, Gentiles and Jews, to maintain the righteous principles of the law without being encumbered with all the cultural baggage of Talmudic Judaism (Judaizing).
The Reformers put great stress on sola scriptura (Scripture as the soul and final authority of the Christian). The consequent de-emphasis on tradition brought with it a return to the biblical roots. Accordingly, during the two centuries following the Reformation, several groups recognized the importance of once again emphasizing the Hebraic heritage of the Church. Among these people were the Puritans who founded Pilgrim America.
The Puritans came to America deeply rooted in the Hebraic tradition. Most bore Hebrew names. The Pilgrim fathers considered themselves as the children of Israel fleeing “Egypt” (England), crossing the “Red Sea” (the Atlantic Ocean), and emerging from this “Exodus” to their own “promised land” (New England). The Pilgrims thought of themselves as all the children of Abraham and thus under the covenant of Abraham (Feingold n.d., 46).
Thus, the seeds of religious liberty for the American Church did not come from New England leaders like Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson as noble as they and others were. Rather, it came from the Hebrews themselves, whose sacred Writings inspired the Puritans.
The Jewish New Testament Commentary says, “The Puritans, who took the Old Testament more seriously than most Christians, modeled the American holiday of Thanksgiving after Sukkoth” (Stern 1992).
The Puritans wanted to abolish pagan religious ceremonies that had crept into the Roman Catholic church from Babylonianism. To rid the church of all pagan superstitions, the Puritans did away with all the calendar days. Christmas was outlawed in England in 1644 by an act of Parliament, for it was a lingering pagan element of the papal calendar, and they considered it disobedient to God’s Word (Deut. 12:30, 31; 1 John 5:18-21; 2 Cor. 6-14-7:1). By 1659, Massachusetts had passed a law fining anybody who celebrated Christmas. Under the influence of puritanical thought, America suppressed the celebration of Christmas well into the nineteenth century.
By doing away with all the calendar days, the Puritans also threw out the baby (the Biblical holidays) with the bath water (pagan festivals such as Halloween, which is the ancient Samhain Festival of Death).
Today, God is Doing a Marvelous Thing
Richard Booker said it so well in Celebrating the Lord’s Holidays in the Church:
But in these last days, God is doing a marvelous thing. He is breaking down the walls of misunderstanding that have divided the Jew and Gentile believers. [Just as He is tearing down the walls between black and white and other discriminations.] He is sovereignty pouring out His Spirit on thousands of Jews to prepare them for the coming of the Messiah. At the same time, God is stirring in the hearts of Christians a holy love for the Jewish people and awakening them to the Jewish roots of their Christian faith. Many Christians are realizing that the origin of our faith is Jerusalem, not Athens, Rome, Geneva, Wittenberg, Aldersgate, Azusa Street, Springfield, Nashville, Tulsa, etc. As a result, Christian Churches around the world are reaching out to the Jewish people in their communities, singing songs from the Old Testament, rediscovering their Jewish roots and celebrating the Jewish Holidays as fulfilled in Jesus. It is clearly God’s appointed time to reconcile Jew and Gentile, binding us together by His Spirit in the Messiah (Booker 1987).
The Bible is One book
The Bible is not a composite of two books nor sixty-six books with conflicting concepts and teaching. It is, rather, one book recording the acts of God under two primary covenants (Old and New Testaments). Doctrinally there is no conflict between the two. They are altogether compatible and in mutual agreement.
We believe literally that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works (2 Tim. 3:16-17) (Wilson 1989, 26).
The themes in the Old and New Testaments are the same: God’s holiness, righteousness and mercy; and man’s alienation and estrangement from God through disobedience. It might surprise you to know that the Jewish people do not rely on works for salvation they know the only way to salvation is through the Messiah.
The basic significance of the New Testament is uniquely a Jewish one: the fulfillment of the messianic hope. The New Testament writers, with perhaps the exception of Luke, are all Jews. The early Apostles and followers of Jesus are also Jewish. There is nothing in the New Testament that is non-Jewish or anti-Jewish. Quite the contrary, Jesus’ entire message taught that:
Only the merciful were to receive mercy, only the forgiving could expect forgiveness and that love would be the sign of His true disciples.
Let No Man Judge You
Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. Col. 2:16-17.
This passage refers to God’s Holy Days as shadows. When Jesus came the first time He fulfilled the first three holidays. This does not mean the days are now irrelevant, unnecessary, and should not be kept. Wedding anniversaries are not irrelevant, unnecessary. They are set times to remember a special day. We don’t mistake the anniversary as the reality of marriage. The anniversary is a symbol of the marriage. It can be a special time set aside to focus on the meaning of the marriage and maybe to speak of memories over the years. The anniversary is not a substitute for the marriage.
The Holidays days are set apart special times to remember, to look ahead, and to look at our spiritual walk. The Holy Days and their observance, incorporating all five of our senses, give us a better understanding of God.
Just as God asked His people to remember the Exodus by observing Passover. Jesus, on the night He was betrayed (during Passover), asked us to remember Passover. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 For I received from the Lord…that He took bread and blessed it and said take and eat, this is my body which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me. Also 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. The taking of the bread (His body) and drinking of the wine (His blood) is a special set apart time to remember just like an anniversary.
But what about this verse? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain (Gal. 4:10-11).
Here is a classic example of faulty interpretation of scripture. This reference has nothing to do with Biblical memorial days. Paul’s statement to the Galatians is concerning their returning to former pagan or heathen practices. Clearly he is not speaking of Biblical celebrations, which is borne out in the very structure of the letter itself. Notice that this was something they were reinstituting which they had been practicing when they worshiped false gods (see verse nine). The Galatians had never celebrated Biblical (Jewish) holy days, because they were Gentiles (Somerville 1995).
There is a revival in the land! Many are turning away from man-conceived concepts of worship to Biblical patterns. The motive for celebrating the holidays should be as God originally intended; a memorial, a remembrance and honor for what He has done. We don’t need to be concerned with ancient ritualism customs, but we should focus on the basic principle of the holidays prophetic and spiritual meanings as is revealed under the New Covenant (Rom. 7:6).
Anyone can celebrate the holidays if they do it for the right reasons. But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you (Gal. 4:18).
The above is an excerpt from “A Family Guide to the Biblical Holidays“ available in searchable ebook or giant 600 page paperback.