Leviticus is largely about directions for sacrificial ceremonies and worship, and might seem hard for the modern reader to relate to. However, the New Testament reveals the great extent to which the entire Tabernacle enterprise symbolizes eternal truths that are as relevant to the New Testament believer as to the Old.
In particular, the New Testament book of Hebrews says that all the Tabernacle items are copies of the real thing in heaven. It further discusses the meaning of the priesthood and sacrifices, all of which look forward to Jesus Christ’s ministry on behalf of a fallen race.
Chapter 23 of Leviticus outlines God’s appointed times also known as the Feasts of Israel. Each of God’s appointed times has a literal or historical context as well as a prophetic or messianic fulfillment to which it is pointing—like a shadow reflects the real thing. The Apostle Paul speaks of this messianic fulfillment in the following manner:
“Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day, things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17)
It is important not to confuse a shadow for the object casting it. Shadows are useful as a representation of something real. Leviticus 23 provides a convenient list of God’s appointed times in chronological order, however it does leave out certain details that are given elsewhere in the five books of Moses. For instance, Exodus 12 gives additional details for Passover and Numbers 29 gives additional details for the fall feasts.
Chapter 23 begins with the only weekly appointed time, the sabbath day, and then moves on to the yearly recurring appointments. The Lord’s yearly recurring appointments are typically divided into two parts:
It seems clear from the New Testament that Jesus fulfilled the spring feasts in His first coming. Fulfilled prophecy that occurred in the past is easier to look back upon and see God’s plan. The fall feasts, many believe, will be fulfilled in His second coming. Future prophecy, no matter how detailed in the scripture, is difficult to see clearly. While we are interpreting the fall feasts to point to specific messianic events yet to be fulfilled, and will speculate on their nature, it is wise to hold all interpretations of future prophecy with an open hand. The Pharisees knew and believed the Bible, but missed Jesus in part because He did not fit their mental model of His coming.
God places the fall feasts in the seventh month. Seven is a number signifying completeness in the Bible. This fits with the idea that the fall festivals represent events that will complete the predicted events that will wrap up the current age. Paul and the 1st century Jewish believers continued to practice God’s appointed times taking place in the daily temple worship and being “zealous for the law” (Acts 21:20). The festivals were a constant reminder to keep the law. The main way we are to obey the law is by loving and serving our neighbor. New Testament believers can learn from the principles found in these festivals and apply them to “the substance” of the underlying principles “that belongs to Christ,” as Paul stated in Colossians.
These feasts are presented as appointments for times to fellowship with God as well as fellow neighbors. The three pilgrimage feasts (Passover, Weeks, and Tabernacles) were like big barbecues for God’s people to rejoice in His presence. Later in Leviticus we will see the Jubilee appointed time which occurs every fifty years and the sabbatical seventh year in which the land had an appointment to rest. All of God’s “appointed times” are called “perpetual statutes” that are to be observed “in all your dwelling places throughout your generations.” Human memories are brief, and we need constant reminders of what is important.