Biblical Feast Days: New Testament Observance?

This is a continuation of the Biblical Feast Day series that started with an introduction and continued with an exploration of whose days they were and are.

Most Bible students know that the Savior kept the Biblical feast days.  We  can see lots of evidence of that in the gospels.

But did you know that decades after the death of the Savior, the disciples were still structuring their time around the Biblical festivals? They were still walking as He walked.

And even more interestingly, Paul (of all disciples!) was still walking as He walked, keeping the feasts.

Check out the following scriptures that survey New Testament feast day observance.

We’ll start in Acts, just after the Savior was resurrected.

Acts 2:1
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.

Just a few verses earlier (Acts 1:4-5), the Savior told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father. Isn’t it interesting that even the Savior Himself, after His resurrection, was ordering events around the feast days? He knew that the Spirit would be poured out on them on the day of Pentecost.  (We’ll look at the prophetic nature of this feast day in a later post.)

Acts 16:13
And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate [of Philipi] to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together.

Now some of you may be wondering why I’m making note of the Sabbath in a study about biblical feast days. Though many people don’t think of it as a feast day, it is actually the first one mentioned in Leviticus 23.  So, it is fitting to note that this weekly feast day continued to be observed even nearly two decades after the death and resurrection of Christ.

Another interesting thing to note about this passage is that the city of Philippi was primarily Gentile territory. Being such, there was no synagogue in it.  That’s why Paul and those with him looked around for Sabbath-keepers and found them meeting near a river.

So, not only is the Sabbath being kept nearly two decades after the Savior’s death and resurrection, but it is being kept by non-Jewish believers.

Acts 17:1-2
…they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.

Here we have another instance of Jewish and non-Jewish followers of Messiah keeping the Sabbath.  This was about 21 years after the cross.

Acts 18:4
And he reasoned in the synagogue [in Corinth] every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.

Again, Jews and non-Jews keeping the Sabbath.

After his time in Corinth, he went back to Ephesus, where he stayed about 3 years.  During this time in Ephesus, he wrote his first letter back to the Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 5:7-8
Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival [of Unleavened Bread], not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Then towards the end of this letter, he says:

1 Corinthians 16:7-8
For I do not want to see  you now just in passing.  I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened up to me, and there are many adversaries.

In summary of these two verses, he says to the Corinthians, “You keep the Passover without me, but do it in sincerity and truth to honor the Christ, our Passover sacrifice. After we have Pentecost here in Ephesus, I’ll resume traveling to you.”

Paul seems to be centering all of his plans around these yearly feasts. They are not insignificant, unimportant days to him.

Before we leave 1 Corinthians, there’s one more feast day reference we should note.

1 Corinthians 15:20-23
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.

In this passage, Paul references the ordered plan of time represented in the Lord’s feast days.  The feast of Firstfruits was celebrated on the day after the Sabbath of the Passover/Unleavened Bread week.  Not at all coincidentally, Christ was raised as the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” on the feast of Firstfruits. (Again, we’ll look more deeply into this when we look at the prophetic meaning of these days.)

Now, let’s get back to the travels of Paul in Acts.

Acts 20:6
But we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we came to them at Troas, where we stayed for seven days.

Remember that the Philippians were mostly Gentile.  They had no synagogue.  Yet Paul observed the feast of Unleavened Bread with them.

Sometime later, Paul writes back to church to at Phillipi and says:

Philippians 4:9
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

What did they learn and receive and hear and see in Paul that they were to practice?  Well, many things to be sure. But certainly among them was the observance of the Lord’s feast days.  Remember, Paul had just kept the feast of Unleavened Bread with them.

Now we’ll pick back up where we left off in Acts. Paul had just left Philippi and sailed to Troas. After spending a week in Troas, he’s ready to move on.

Acts 20:16
Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia, for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible,on the day of Pentecost.

Some time later, Paul ends up in Roman custody. While he was in custody, he made the following statement:

Acts 27:9-10
Since much time had passed, and the voyage was now dangerous because even the Fast was already over, Paul advised them, saying, “Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.”

Here Paul references the Day of Atonement, also known as the Fast.  This feast day occurs in the fall, when travel would be accompanied by heightened dangers.

Recap

In this survey of the New Testament scriptures, we’ve seen:

  • The Savior instructing His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they received the promised Spirit on Pentecost
  • Paul writing the church in Corinth to tell them how to keep the Passover
  • Paul delaying at Ephesus to keep the feast of Pentecost
  • Paul desiring to keep the Passover in Jerusalem
  • Paul keeping Passover and Unleavened Bread in Phillipi
  • Paul determined to get to Jerusalem in time to keep the next feast of Pentecost

In light of all this, we have new appreciation for what Paul might have been getting at when he said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1 Cor 11:1)

If there had been a discontinuation of the days after the Savior’s death and resurrection, wouldn’t we have seen a change in their observance by His disciples?  Was it simply a hard habit for the to drop or did they understand something we have missed?

Is it possible that we have misunderstood Paul?  Did he really believe (as we think he believed) that the feast days were “weak and worthless elementary principles of the world” (Gal 4:9-11)? Did he really believe these feast days were a yoke of slavery (Gal 5:1)?  Surely if he did he wouldn’t have practiced them and instructed others to do the same.  Either Paul is a liar, or he’s crazy, or we are missing something.

Conclusions

There is no Biblical evidence of the feast days coming to an end.

Though Christians don’t normally think about feast keeping as one of the ways we can walk as He walked, imitate our Savior, and become more like Him, I think it most certainly is included.  When my kids and I sing the song linked below, I am reminded that there are myriad ways for us to be conformed to His image.  It’s not limited to keeping the feasts, of course, but I  believe they definitely play a part.

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We’ve got more to consider ahead. For those up for the ride, we’ll take a look at scripture references for future feast observances next.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by JoAnn on January 23, 2017 at 9:09 pm

    Here it is 5 years after your post and I am hungry to hear more! I hope you receive my message and are encouraged to continue teaching. -JoAnn

    Reply

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