Understanding the Spring Feasts and Why They Point to What’s Ahead
By: Karen Engle, ICEJ USA Managing Editor
“Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” —1 Corinthians 15:20
The school I attended from second to eighth grade included Bible as part of the curriculum, and I fondly remember pulling out my small paperback Bible from my desk and reading through several pages daily with my teacher. One year as Easter approached, she planned a simple Passover Seder after we read about Jesus’ death and resurrection. Each student received a little dixie plate with a green herb, a slice of radish, and a cracker. As we tasted each item, she told us they would help us remember Israel’s exodus from Egypt.
I never truly understood why until I was in my 30s when God nudged me to learn more about Passover and all the feasts. And the more I dug into Scripture and read about each, the more God revealed their significance—and my Bible turned from black and white to technicolor.
Though there are seven Feasts (four in the spring and three in the fall), the spring Feasts—Passover/Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, and Pentecost—are unique. Through them, thousands of years before Jesus walked this earth, God revealed the significance of His Son’s death, resurrection, ascension to heaven, and promised gift of the Holy Spirit in His plan of redemption.
God’s Spring Feasts
The spring Feasts, or mo’edim (“appointments”), were meant to point the children of Israel to their messiah and illustrate the truth of God’s plan of redemption and its fulfillment through this promised savior. They were set-apart, divine rehearsals of the steps the children of Israel needed to take to be reconciled to their heavenly Father. Rather than mere holidays to be celebrated, like we might celebrate Valentine’s Day or the Fourth of July today, the Lord’s Feasts reveal a pattern of His plan of redemption for all mankind from creation to eternity—and can teach us truths about what’s to come.
Passover and Unleavened Bread
The first feasts on God’s calendar are Passover and Unleavened Bread, and in them, God has revealed profound realities of His plan of redemption.
The story of the Exodus—specifically Exodus 12—provides details about this feast. After almost 400 years of slavery in Egypt, God told Israel to take a perfect lamb into their homes. They were to care for the lamb for five days, slaughter it at twilight, and put its blood on the lintels of their doors. Passover, or Pesach in Hebrew, means “to skip over,” and indeed, that is what happened. The blood was a “sign” to God: when He saw the blood, the angel of death passed over the house, and the people inside were protected. That same night, God struck all firstborn males in homes without the lamb’s blood on the doorposts, bringing judgment on the gods of Egypt. As a result, Pharoah relented and allowed the children of Israel to leave.
However, the act of sacrificing the lamb and putting its blood on the doorposts was only a “shadow” of a profound reality to come: Jesus’ death on the cross. Just as Israel sacrificed a perfect lamb—its blood over the doors protecting those inside from physical death—so, too, the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, protects or “saves” those who trust in Him from eternal, spiritual death.
The seven days of unleavened bread also point to Jesus and the significance of His death and resurrection for those who believe. God told the children of Israel to eat the lamb they had slain that same night before leaving Egypt, along with bitter herbs and bread without leaven. Later, when Israel was in the desert, God told them that for seven days after Passover, they were to continue to abstain from bread with leaven:
On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the Lord’s Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; seven days you must eat unleavened bread. (Leviticus 23:5–6)
“Leaven,” or yeast, causes dough to rise, and in the Mosaic law, represents sin or corruption. Paul alluded to this in his letter to the Corinthians. He pointed believers to the Feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread, saying, “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” and called them to “purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:6–7; see also Galatians 5:9). Like the tiniest speck of yeast in a batch of dough, sin can “puff up” or poison a whole person—physically and spiritually.
Israel’s release from Egypt is a beautiful depiction of our own deliverance from sin and freedom from bondage won by the blood of the Lamb of God. Jesus’ death on the cross removes our sin as far from us as the East is from the West. We are set free and made new—without sin, like an unleavened lump of dough.
The Feast of Unleavened Bread is a full week long, and therefore, always includes a weekly Sabbath. The day after the Sabbath, the priest took barley sheaves, the firstfruits of the spring harvest, and waved them before the Lord, acknowledging God’s provision and sovereignty over the earth. Like Passover and Unleavened Bread, this incredible feast, too often overlooked, resounds with profound significance for Christians.
Paul wrote that just as Christ was raised to life, the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20), so too, in Christ, will we be made alive. There is an order of things: “each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him” (v. 23 NIV). As Jesus was resurrected to life, those who trust Him will also be resurrected.
In these verses, Paul was alluding to the Feast of Firstfruits, and the lesson was clear: if God was faithful to bring about an early barley harvest, He would be faithful to provide the rest of it. But that was just the “shadow.” The reality (fulfillment) of Firstfruits is Jesus: His resurrection life was an “acceptable offering” to the Lord on the same day the priests presented Israel’s barley firstfruits to God. And just as those first sheaves of barley guaranteed the fullness of the harvest, so, too, Jesus’ resurrection guarantees a greater “harvest” of believers.
Starting the same day God required Israel to bring the sheaf of barley as an offering, Israel was to count off 50 days, called “counting the omer.” (An omer is an ancient measurement of grain.) On day 50, they were to present before Him another firstfruits offering, this time of the latter firstfruits (wheat). In Hebrew, this Feast is called Shavuot, meaning “weeks,” and in Greek, Pentecost, meaning “50.”
Pentecost was a time of thanksgiving and celebration for God’s faithfulness in providing the spring harvest, and it solidified hope for an abundant fall harvest. Today the Jewish community connects this Feast to the day God descended Mount Sinai in fire and made a covenant with His people, giving them His instruction for living as a set-apart people. Traditionally, Ezekiel 1 is read in Jewish synagogues on Shavuot, which describes Ezekiel’s dramatic vision of God’s glory in a whirlwind and a great cloud, the brightness of which was “like the color of amber” (v. 4).
On Pentecost, God’s very presence descended Mount Sinai on His people. But again, that was only the shadow of this feast! Luke tells us in Acts 2—exactly 50 days after Jesus had ascended to heaven, as all the believers were together—God’s presence once again descended on His people. This time, however, it was as “tongues of fire,” and each person was filled with God’s Spirit. On that day, what the first-century Jewish believers understood in the physical realm—God’s giving of His Word, His instruction—was made manifest in the spiritual realm. Jesus, God’s spoken Word, now dwelt within His people.
This firstfruits “offering” has become the most famous: the early fruits have come in, and the implicit promise is that the latter “fall” harvest will one day come in too: “The hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe” (Revelation 14:15 ESV).
The Feasts are like a skeletal structure upon which God’s story of redemption and the truths of the Bible hang. In Passover and Unleavened Bread, we see Jesus, the perfect, sinless Lamb of God who provides forgiveness from sin through His once-for-all death on the cross. In Firstfruits, Jesus is the acceptable offering for sin. And those who believe in Jesus have His Spirit dwelling in them, the fulfillment of Pentecost: their broken relationship with the Father is reconciled.
Because Jesus perfectly fulfilled the spring Feasts, painting a picture of the work of Christ at His first advent—“Act 1” of His story of redemption—we can confidently trust and look forward with excitement to the three unfulfilled fall feasts, knowing He will complete His story and fulfill them too.
Below is additional information that helps bring a deeper understanding of the Feasts. In the next article in our 12-part series on God’s Appointments, we’ll explore more details of Passover.
Agricultural Cycles in Israel and the Feasts
For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing. (Deuteronomy 8:7–9)
The entire Feast system was closely linked to the agricultural cycle in ancient Israel. In the spring, the most important crops were barley and wheat, both planted in the fall and producing ancient Israel’s main food staple. Legumes and various herbs were also harvested in spring.
Barley was the first to mature (in our March/April), followed by the wheat harvest (May/June). The children of Israel could not eat the barley until the firstfruits of grain had been offered on the “day after the Sabbath” during the Festival of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:9–14)—the Feast of Firstfruits. The Feast of Pentecost (also called the Feast of Harvest in Exodus 23:16) occurred 50 days later at the end of the barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat harvest (Leviticus 23:16–17). Israel’s fruit harvest, including grapes, olives, dates, figs, and pomegranates, ripened and were ready June through September. Olives were picked beginning in September through November.
Israel’s Dependence upon Rain
Unlike Egypt, which was irrigated by the freshwater Nile River, much of Israel was dry and arid, making Israel’s harvests entirely dependent on rainfall. Moses affirmed this, saying the promised land “drinks water from the rain of heaven,” (Deuteronomy 11:11). Without rain, there would be no harvest, and the children of Israel would not survive.
Interestingly, rain in the Bible is symbolic of the spiritual refreshment, renewal, and blessing God provides: “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants” (Isaiah 44:3). Rain is often used as a metaphor for God’s Word and its role in nourishing and sustaining our spiritual life:
For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10–11)
Just as Israel needed rain to produce a harvest, the world needs Jesus, the Bread of Life, Living Word, and Living Water, to produce His harvest of believers. He sustains and nourishes those who trust in Him and brings growth and fruitfulness, accomplishing His purpose in our lives.