If the Ten Commandments are for Christians, why aren’t the feast days?
With many Christians, we view the Ten Commandments, summarized in the Great Commandment of Jesus to love God and neighbor, as God’s will for all people at all times. The Ten Commandments, written on stone, held a central place in the old covenant, and they hold a central place in the new also — written on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10). Often called the Decalogue, the Ten were distributed in Scripture before the old covenant was given to Israel at Mount Sinai. They may rightly be seen as a summary, or constitution, of God’s moral law under the old covenant, and they are reconfirmed in the New Testament after the old covenant ended at the cross.
Israel’s festival calendar is not like its moral law. The feast days belong to a group of old covenant ceremonial statutes. They were annual, seasonal pilgrimages to the temple in Jerusalem for sacrifice and offering, celebrating the present harvest and past mighty acts of God (Exodus 23; Leviticus 23). The festivals centered on this particular people, place, time, and manner of worship (Numbers 28-29). Full participation was reserved for circumcised members of the covenant people of Israel. This rule was there from the start (i.e., Passover, Booths, Exodus 12:48; Leviticus 23:42). The resident alien (“stranger”) could participate to some degree, but Jewish males were required, on pain of death, to make the three annual visits to the temple (Exodus 23:17; Deuteronomy 16:16; Numbers 9:13).
This same pattern is also seen early in the New Testament: The Jews went up to Jerusalem and the temple to keep festival (Luke 2:42; John 5:1; Acts 18:21). But the new covenant would soon end the old and replace this style of worship that was nation focused and temple centric. In a discussion on this very issue, Jesus said to the Samaritan woman: “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” (John 4:21, 23). Other references to a “feast of the Jews” and to Jesus in John (5:1; 6:4; 7:2) highlight the nationalistic nature of these times, and their fulfillment in Christ.
While the moral law remains intact for Jesus’ disciples, circumcision, pilgrimage, animal sacrifice, and the minutiae of the temple calendar are no longer required of the new covenant believer. Whoever and wherever we are, and whenever we meet, Christ is the center of our worship and obedience.
Christians who “keep” the feast days today admit that they are not keeping the details prescribed by Levitical law. Nor can they. Just locating the ancient Hebrew dates on any modern calendar is fraught with uncertainty — and often divisive. So we are cautious. The Church of God (Seventh Day) extends liberty to those who would celebrate annual Hebrew festivals, as long as their remembrance is Christ centered and not imposed as a requirement of faith.
New covenant believers have Christ’s final sacrifice to their credit and God’s moral law written on their hearts. The old ceremonial laws no longer bind believers for covenant faithfulness. Indeed, Passover and Pentecost in the New Testament are understood anew in Christ and the Spirit. Rightly celebrating any of God’s mighty acts and blessings in times of remembrance can be biblical and beautiful.
Nothing is inherently bad about a church calendar that includes these and other days of remembrance, provided that our highest joy is anchored in the fullness of Christ’s grace and truth, not in the types and shadows of old covenant festivals.
— Jason Overman
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