Eighteen-year-old Kerri Strug heard a snap. It was her left ankle. She immediately felt pain and fell backward, failing to stick the landing. It was her first vault attempt in the final all-around women’s team gymnastics event at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. The United States women’s team had never won a gold medal before. All they needed was for one of their team members to score a 9.493.
It came down to Kerri. She had one more vault attempt left. With two torn ligaments in her ankle, she flew down the runway, sprung over the vaulting horse, and stuck the landing with a 9.712 score. The thousands in the Georgia Dome, heartsick over Kerri’s injury, immediately burst into euphoria!
In biblical days, Mary Magdalene must have had a similar yet greater sweep of emotions when she first found the empty tomb and then heard her risen Master’s voice behind her (John 20:11, 16; Matthew 28:8). She went from weeping to incredible joy!
From Sorrow to Joy
The same emotions pervade the fall feasts of Israel—Rosh Hashanah (Feast of Trumpets and Civil New Year), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles). Within a 15-day period during September and/or October, observant Jewish people pass from great solemnity to great rejoicing.
Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the eight days in between are called the Ten Days of Awe. Jewish observers see these days as the time when God sits in judgment, determining who will live and who will die in the coming year. In ancient days, Yom Kippur in particular was a day of self-searching humility as the nation of Israel’s sins were being atoned (Leviticus 23:27, 29). Nevertheless, five days after the national cleansing, a seven-day period of national rejoicing took place (v. 40).
As Yom Kippur was a time of national cleansing, so, too, after the Messiah returns, Israel as a nation will receive a national cleansing, a new heart, and a new spirit.
Prophetically, the fall feasts of Israel foreshadow events surrounding the Second Coming of Jesus the Messiah that impact the nation of Israel. When Jesus returns, Israel will mourn greatly over its pierced Messiah (Zechariah 12:10). Following that, as the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah gathered the people together to prepare them for judgment, so the blowing of the trumpet after the return of the Messiah will be for the same purposes—to gather Israel together (Isaiah 27:12–13; Matthew 24:31) and to prepare them for a final judgment (Ezekiel 20:33–38).
As Yom Kippur was a time of national cleansing, so, too, after the Messiah returns, Israel as a nation will receive a national cleansing, a new heart, and a new spirit (36:24–27; Zechariah 13:1; Isaiah 4:4).
Finally, as Sukkot was a reminder of God dwelling with His people Israel when they lived in booths in the wilderness, so, too, will the Messiah dwell with His people Israel during the Millennial Kingdom (Isaiah 4:5–6; Ezekiel 43:7; Zechariah 14:16)—another example of going from weeping to great joy!
Taking all of this into account, some Christians might ask the question, “Should Christians celebrate the fall feasts of Israel?”
The feasts of Israel “are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Colossians 2:16–17).
The operative word here is should. If you mean should in the sense of obligation, then, no, Christians should not celebrate the fall feasts of Israel. The reason is that Christians are no longer under the Law, but under grace (Romans 6:14). If you have a Law-keeping mindset that says you must do good deeds in order to earn God’s favor, then you’ve nullified the grace of God, and Jesus Christ went to the cross needlessly (Galatians 2:21).
The same is true if you think you should keep the fall feasts of Israel for your personal, progressive spiritual growth into the image of Christ. The fact is, the feasts of Israel “are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Colossians 2:16–17). The Law of God is good (Romans 7:16; 1 Timothy 1:8), but it has no power to justify or to sanctify (Galatians 3:21). Law-keeping is ineffective both for getting right with God and for becoming like God. We grow in Christ the same way we received Christ—by faith alone (Philippians 3:9–11; Colossians 2:6; 2 Corinthians 5:7). Like the rest of the Law, the fall feasts are worthy only to lead us, like a guide, to Jesus (Galatians 3:24).
Using the Feasts to Share the Messiah
With that being said, can Christians celebrate the fall feasts of Israel? Yes, of course, because in Christ we have that freedom (only be careful not to get entangled, Galatians 5:1). Jewish believers around the world, including in Israel, regularly keep the fall feasts, particularly Sukkot, but mostly as a cultural observance.
Therefore, if, as with other religious holidays, you want to use the fall feasts of Israel primarily for instructional purposes, as object lessons, to point participants to the Messiah, then I recommend four focuses for your teaching:
1. Make it simple. Stay away from the rabbinical requirements so that you don’t get twisted up in a lot of preparation minutiae.
2. Make it biblical. Emphasize the themes of the fall feasts—God gathers His people, cleanses His people, and dwells with His people.
3. Make it Christ-centered. Focus on what He has done and/or what He will do in the future. Don’t just linger in the shadows. Move on to the substance: Christ.
4. Make it neighborly. Use it as an opportunity to reach out to those who do not know Jesus.
The fall feasts of Israel are wonderful reminders of God’s Messiah, of what He has done for us, and of what He will do for Israel in the future. Our emotion-packed response is like King David’s:
“Sing praise to the LORD, you saints of His, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name. For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:4–5).