In the movie world, a preview is a high-spot, action summary of a coming feature film. It is but a brief look at some of its contents. It only gives you a slight foretaste — just enough footage to whet your appetite. The biblical feast days are no different. They are but a type of good things to come.
Many people have the so-called movie habit. Teenagers go because John Travolta is starring in a mod dance film. Their parents may attend the latest John Wayne epic. Or somebody just wants to get away from it all for a couple of hours. Whatever the reasons, moviegoing is a worldwide phenomenon. Even dyed-in-the-wool TV watchers go in for an occasional night at the cinema. Sandwiched somewhere in between the cartoon and the main film will be "Previews of Coming Attractions." Some feature films are cranked into definite dates. Others' running dates are more indefinite. They are sometimes introduced as "Coming Soon to This Theater." The events portrayed by the biblical holy days are in the latter category. We don't know when, but we do know whether. God's annual holy days are foretastes of major times and events yet to come to the theater of this earth! Notice what the apostle Paul told the Colossian church: "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come..." (Col. 2:16-17). A shadow is a representation or reflection made by a solid substance interposing between the sun and another body. The New Testament usage of this term usually reflects Greek rather than Hebrew thought. Colossians 2 uses the typically Hellenistic concept of a shadowy likeness which is but the counterpart of true reality yet to come. In a previous article ("These Are the Appointed Feasts...." The Plain Truth, December 1978), we covered the first two annual holy days and festivals in God's plan. We explained the vital significance of the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread. But five annual festivals remain to be expounded.
Pentecost — The Coming of the Holy Spirit
The term Pentecost means "fiftieth" in the Greek language. This is the only annual sabbath whose exact calendar date is determined by counting. The first New Testament Pentecost (see Acts 2) occurred on the fiftieth day after Christ's resurrection. However, the vital meaning is more important than the exact date. The very first Pentecost after Christ's death and resurrection marked the beginning of the New Testament Church of God. The Holy Spirit was then poured out on all repentant believers. In the Old Testament, this festival was termed the "Feast of Firstfruits." The Israelites observed it for some 1500 years before the name of the day was actually fulfilled. But with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the harvest of the first or the firstfruits began. Whereas God had only called a very few in Old Testament times, thousands received the Holy Spirit (the mark of conversion) in the first few weeks of the New Testament Church. Pentecost teaches us that this is not the only day of salvation. Many think it is. They believe that "probation shall be closed" at the second coming of Christ. Presumably this means that God will "burn up" the billions in Asia and elsewhere who have never even heard the name of Jesus Christ. The true meaning of the day of Pentecost runs counter to this false, paganized teaching. As Herbert W. Armstrong has written: "God gave this festival to His people in order to reveal, and to keep them continually informed, that the present dispensation is only the first, preliminary 'harvest of souls'" (Pagan Holidays - or God's Holy Days - Which?). All who have been called from the days of Jesus Christ until now represent the firstfruits of God's salvation. But they only constitute a minute portion of all who have lived from then until now. Pentecost is a festival of transition. It is in the midst of the three main festival seasons. Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread largely symbolize events now already past. All of the fall festivals represent things to come. Pentecost symbolizes that part of the process of fulfillment of God's plan which is underway right now — in this "Church age" — but also that function of the Holy Spirit which is both past and future. This day not only marks the coming of the Holy Spirit in A.D. 31, it also shows that there is a great fall harvest of salvation yet to come. Indeed, one of the present functions of the Holy Spirit itself is to reveal "things to come." Jesus Christ said to His disciples: "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come" (John 16:13). This same Holy Spirit has revealed the full meaning of God's annual holy days for, so far as we know, the first time in the history of the Church. Previous Church ages have not understood the fullness of their importance. But let's understand the vital significance of the first fall festival, the first annual autumn holy day.
The Feast of Trumpets
The Day of Trumpets pictures perhaps the greatest event in the history of this world: the second coming of Jesus Christ. A trumpet is a symbol of war (Joel 2:1). It is also a symbol of victory — in this case the victory of Christ at His second coming. The first day in the seventh month (Jewish calendar) points forward to the day when the last trumpet will sound (Rev. 11:15-19) and the dead in Christ will rise to meet Him (I Thes. 4:16-17; I Cor. 15:52). Christ will then conquer the angry nations who would presume to fight against Him. But remember, the title of this festival is the Feast of Trumpets (plural). When ancient Israel was wandering around in the wilderness, they became accustomed to the blowing of trumpets (plural) for many purposes: the calling of assemblies, the signal to march or halt, or as a warning. Those in Israel's army came to recognize various trumpet sounds as having specific meanings, just as various bugle calls do in the modern military. There is a parallel between the blowing of trumpets in ancient Israel and the Work of God today. There is a relationship between the angelic trumpet blast signaling the imminent return of Jesus Christ and the continual witness conducted by God's true Work today. We are preparing the way for the return of Christ. The successive angelic trumpet blasts and accompanying cataclysmic events on a worldwide scale will serve as God's final warnings to a sin-ravaged world! Then will come the great trumpet blast that will usher in the rule of the Kingdom of God on this earth. But first Christ must reconcile the world to Himself and exile the source of all sin. That is shown in the very next festival.
The Day of Atonement
The last war between Israel and Egypt is known as the Yom Kippur War. This is because it occurred on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, 1973. Yom Kippur is perhaps the principal festival of modern-day Judaism. The Egyptians and Syrians attacked at a time when the Jewish nation was least prepared to fight. It was a masterstroke which almost worked. The surprise attack occurred not on a national day of feasting but on a national day of fasting. The Worldwide Church of God also keeps the Day of Atonement. Of course the meaning of this observance is somewhat different from that of the Jews: It looks forward to some very important events to come. This world can never have peace as long as Satan is still about. Not even the universal conversion of all peoples to true Christianity could bring about a real, lasting peace as long as the Adversary is allowed to pump his thoughts and attitudes into people's minds. The Day of Atonement pictures the chaining of Satan for a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-3). No longer will he be allowed to work his will in the "children of disobedience." In symbolism, the sixteenth chapter of Leviticus describes this crucial event of future world history in great detail. Suffice it to say here that the live goat, upon whom all the sins of Israel were to be confessed, and which was led into the desolate wilderness, represents Satan the devil being kept in restraint for a period of a thousand years. It is he who is ultimately responsible for all angelic and human sin. There could be no millennium without his banishment. It is only after the devil is chained that a thousand years of peace and prosperity can commence.
The Festival of Tabernacles — Utopia at Last!
Turn to the twentieth chapter of Revelation. The beginning few verses document the thousand-year earthly reign of Christ. This period of idyllic peace and prosperity is pictured by the seven-day observance of the Feast of Tabernacles. It symbolizes the arrival of the Kingdom of God on earth — ushering in a period of peace and plenty such as this world has never seen. A new age will have begun! At last man will be ruled directly by immortal spirit beings. No longer will humankind be plagued by the Hitlers and Caesars of this world. Three of Christ's disciples were actually allowed to witness a preview in "Panavision" of this wonderful time to come — a vision of God's Kingdom shown two thousand years in advance. The account is known as the transfiguration. Notice it in the book of Matthew: "Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom" (Matt. 16:28). Here Jesus Christ guaranteed that some of His disciples would see a preview of the Kingdom of God before they died. Now continue in the next chapter: "And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias [Elijah] talking with him. Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias" (Matt. 17:1-4). A tabernacle is only a temporary dwelling place. But the Feast of Tabernacles pictures a time when the God family will dwell with men forever. At that time both Moses and Elijah will have been resurrected to rule with Christ. Luke's account of the transfiguration explains that both Moses and Elijah "appeared in glory" (Luke 9:30-31). That is, they are to become glorified spirit beings — no longer flesh and blood. They, along with all the other prophets of old and all true Christians, will constitute the firstfruits of the family of God headed by God the Father with Jesus Christ as second in command. This resurrected family of God will then rule the earth under Jesus Christ for one thousand years (Rev. 20:4-6). The Feast of Tabernacles is also called the "Feast of Ingathering" because of its fall harvest time setting, symbolic of the great harvest of souls at the time when the whole world will become full of the knowledge of God (Isa. 11:9). All will have their opportunity for salvation in the millennium. This is the time when God will finally set His hand to save the whole world. But what of those who have previously lived and died with no opportunity for salvation — most never even having heard of the name of Jesus Christ? A final one-day festival answers this question.
The Last Great Day
Right in the midst of the verses in Revelation 20 describing the thousand-year reign is a key statement depicting what is to happen immediately after the millennium. Notice it in verse 5: "The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended" (RSV). So here is a statement that actually tells us when "the rest of the dead" (those not raised in the first resurrection as spirit beings) will live. It is immediately after the millennium. Verses 11 through 13 give more detail: "Then I saw a great white throne and him [God] who sat upon it.... And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.... And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead in them, and all were judged by what they had done [or rather, as the Greek has it, according to their works (KJV)]." Here John describes a prophetic vision of a great resurrection and a "great white throne judgment" involving most of humanity who have ever lived on this earth. What is the true meaning of John's vision? Is this a resurrection to eternal life in hellfire? To eternal death? What is meant by the term "great white throne judgment"? What is the relationship between this general resurrection and the Last Great Day? Jesus stated: "... It shall be more tolerable [bearable, Moffatt version] for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city" (Matt. 10:15). This is the first veiled reference to the Last Great Day in the book of Matthew. Later verses will shed much more light on the meaning. In Matthew 11 Jesus returned to the same theme. Here Christ indicts three Galilean towns for their unresponsiveness to His marvelous miracles. "Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin! Woe unto thee, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable [bearable, Moffatt version] for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell [Greek, the grave]: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable [or bearable] for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee" (verses 20-24). Since the two ancient cities of Tyre and Sidon would have repented had Jesus performed the same mighty miracles in their heyday, it logically follows that this period of judgment will afford their peoples an opportunity to repent of their evil deeds and enter God's Kingdom. Otherwise God becomes a respecter of persons. Matthew's, account then jumps back in time from Tyre and Sidon to Sodom and Gomorrah. It was during the days of Abraham that these two cities reached the depths of homosexual degradation. God destroyed them by raining fire and brimstone upon them and their environs. Destruction was widespread and complete! That area became a desolate wilderness, and it remains so to this day. The spiritual point is this: If Jesus had come to even those two sin-filled cities as the humble carpenter of Nazareth, but performing mighty works and miracles, the ancient inhabitants would have repented of their hurtful and, unlawful perversions, and those cities would have been extant 2,000 years later. Again, it logically follows that God will give even those ancient sinners an opportunity to enter His Kingdom.
Nineveh To Be Reeducated
For the third time in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus returns to the same theme of "the day of judgment" (Matt. 12:36) in relation to the nonrepentance of His generation. "The men of Nineveh [an ancient Gentile city — the capital of Assyria] shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of — Jonas [Jonah]; and, behold, a greater than "Jonas is here" (verse 41). This scripture is highly significant and tells us much more than is readily apparent on the surface, Jonah's ministry occurred, in the reign of Jeroboam the 11-793-753 B.C. (II Kings 14:23), His warning to that ancient Assyrian city must have been sometime in the eighth century B.C. (The New Bible Commentary Revised, p, 747), At that time more than 120,000 people resided in the city of Nineveh (Jonah 4:11). Now let's ask a question: How much did these ancient Assyrians who heard Jonah know about Jesus' generation prior to their death? The answer is absolutely nothing. They lived hundreds of years prior to Christ's first coming! How much do they now know? Still absolutely nothing! "The dead know not anything" (Eccl. 9:5). How much will they know when they are resurrected after the millennial period? At that moment, nothing! Obviously they won't be able to condemn Jesus' generation immediately. It will require a substantial period of time for those resurrected Ninevites to learn the history of Jesus' generation. And soaking up that history will not, logically, be the first order of business after this great resurrection. Reorientation to the different conditions of life itself will take some little time.
The Queen of Sheba
But the story does not end with the Ninevites. Jesus caps off the subject with a final spiritual comparison. "The queen of the south [or, Sheba] shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it, for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here" (Matt. 12:42). Prior to this one, all the other examples in antiquity which Jesus gave were individually anonymous. Christ had reference to large groups of people — citizens of Sidon, Tyre, Sodom, Gomorrah, Nineveh — cities whose ancient inhabitants' personal names have long since been forgotten (except, of course, by God Himself). The Queen of Sheba was a Sabaean monarch who journeyed to Jerusalem in the tenth century B.C. to test King Solomon's wisdom. She went away very impressed, (The New Bible Dictionary, p, 1172). But at the time of her resurrection, the Queen of the South will not know a thing about the history of Jesus' generation, That she will learn over a period of time. All of these examples from the book of Matthew (people who lived in different generations) are compared to the citizens living in the cities and towns of Jesus' generation. Jesus tells us they are all to be resurrected with the generation that lived in Jesus' time. He gave enough word previews of generations of people living at widespread and different times in human history to substantiate the fact that most of humanity will be alive together at the same time on this earth. There will be pre-Flood men and women, all the Israelites (all twelve tribes, including the Jewish people; see Romans 9-11), those who lived during the Middle or Dark Ages, and everyone living even now who for whatever reason has not had an opportunity to accept Christ and grow toward salvation.
These Festivals and You
If you are a true Christian and you remain faithful unto death, you will be privileged to partake of a better resurrection (Heb. 11:35) at Christ's second coming. But what about your friends and relatives (living and dead) who have known little of Christ, His gospel, and the Kingdom of God? Here is your future legacy! After reigning and ruling with Christ for a thousand years (Rev. 20:3-6) in a world of generation after generation of new people who have never lived before, you will then be privileged to see the resurrection of your ancestors, kinfolk and acquaintances. You will help teach them God's way of salvation. These then are the vital meanings of the annual festivals kept around the globe by the Worldwide Church of God. Can you begin to see why its members observe these annual sabbath days year after year? When one observes these annual festivals, he or she is tasting the good powers of the age to come! He or she is actually acting out a preview of the wonderful world tomorrow!
RECOMMENDED READING The above article itself is but a short preview of a full-sized booklet explaining the whys and wherefores of these annual holy days and festivals. To the new reader, many questions probably remain unanswered: When do Christians observe these holy days? What are the exact calendar dates? All of these questions — and many others — are answered in the booklet entitled Pagan Holidays - or God's Holy Days - Which? It's free of charge!