If Jesus Christ were here in person, He would still be observing the same customs He observed when He was on earth as the "Son of man." Believe it or not, He would keep the Passover just as He kept it with His disciples, observe the Feast of Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles! For decades the Church of God has been keeping the annual holy days ordained by God in the time of Moses. It is another unique practice, clearly setting God's Church apart from all others. But why are these festivals still observed in this modern age of space travel and advanced technology? Here is the answer, made plain, from your Bible!
WHEN I was only a small boy in the thirties, and the Western world was struggling out of the worst depression in economic history, I remember so well my father, Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong, and my mother observing God's annual holy days alone. Though my memories are vague concerning the beginning years of Church attendance — I remember very vividly the annual trips to a nearby Oregon resort for the observance of the "Feast of Tabernacles" every fall! To me, it was a marvelous opportunity for fishing along one of the most beautiful of Oregon's mountain streams, walking along thickly forested paths in Oregon's mountains, and experiencing joy and excitement as only a nine, ten, or eleven-year-old boy can know. When I was discharged from the Navy in 1952, a small group of approximately 400 of God's people were observing the Feast of Tabernacles at a mountain resort in Northern California. By the next year (1953), I had been converted and baptized, and I attended my very first Feast of Tabernacles as a member of God's Church. That was twenty-one years ago. What had started as one determined family, observing God's annual holy days alone, had, by 1953, become a truly national festival, observed by almost 1,000 people. As God's Work and His Church grew, so did the festivals. Today, God's Church observes the annual holy days of God in literally hundreds of locations all around the world. This fall we will be observing the Feast of Tabernacles in twelve sites in the United States alone, and many, many more in other countries all over the world (including thousands of brethren meeting together in two sites in Canada).
Why Holy Days?
One of the most unsettling and shocking biblical revelations to my father, in his very early research, was (as he has so thoroughly covered in his autobiography) the discovery that God's Sabbath day is still holy, and must be observed by God's people today! There is a great Sabbath PRINCIPLE in God's Word, which transcends and supercedes the mere observance of a particular span of time — though it is overlooked by most. The entire question revolves around whether one is of a willing and obedient spirit, and really desires to OBEY His God and Creator, who gives him every breath of air he breathes, or whether one wishes to be a pharisaical "nitpicker" and must be, like a balky mule, forced or dragged with the threat of a whip into doing every simple task set before him. It is a matter of conversion, and of ATTITUDE! The question revolves around whether or not we are willing and eager to do all our heavenly Father commands us, as well as being instantly responsive to even those things which He may suggest for our good — or whether we are always carefully approaching the study of His Word from the point of view of "Just how much MUST I do?" Obedience to God is the perfect example Jesus set. Jesus Christ of Nazareth is the SAME yesterday, today and forever! (Heb. 13:8.) He set us an EXAMPLE that we should walk in His steps (I Peter 2:21). And Jesus KEPT the weekly Sabbath, and called Himself the Lord of the Sabbath day (Mark 2:28). He plainly SAID He had kept His Father's commandments (John 15:10), and commanded His true disciples to teach all nations to observe all things whatsoever He had commanded them (Matt. 28:19-20). Jesus kept the Passover throughout His entire life. One very beautiful and meaningful passage of Scripture (Luke 2:41-47) relates the account of Jesus astounding the doctors of Levitical law in the Temple following the observance of the Passover with His parents in Jerusalem. A great deal of space is used by the Gospel writers recounting almost moment by moment the events surrounding Jesus' final Passover, where the changing of the Old Testament Levitical symbols into bread and wine as the symbols of His broken body and His shed blood took place. The Apostle Paul clearly COMMANDED Gentile Christians to DO exactly as Jesus had said: "... This DO in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19). Compare with I Corinthians 11:24 where the exact same scripture is repeated. It is plain from MANY scriptures that Jesus Christ of Nazareth observed the annual holy days as well as the weekly Sabbath! It is very clear that the Apostle Paul observed such annual holy days, and urged Gentile Christians to do so. (I will explain and expound some of these scriptures a little later in this article.)
More Understanding Follows
My father was stunned to find that his pet argument — "But all these churches can't be wrong" — made no sense whatever! When he discovered there was no biblical authority whatsoever for Sunday observance, it was only a matter of a few years before his thorough Bible studies naturally led him in direct confrontation with Jesus' plain example of the observance of God's ANNUAL Sabbaths, as well as the weekly one. It had been casually assumed by my father, having been brought up as an average Protestant, with the generally accepted teachings of fundamental "Christianity," that the New Testament "did away with" all of God's "Old Testament" laws. It was another shocking experience to find Jesus Christ of Nazareth observing ANNUAL holy days and plain commands to Gentile Christians to do so! Through the years, God's Church has grown in the understanding of the true meaning of these annual holy days. While pagan holidays show no purpose or plan in human existence — and generally revolve around human lust and greed (such as exchanging of gifts among each other, new clothing, trips, social obligations, etc.) — God's annual holy days reveal the full scope and depth of God's great purpose for all of mankind.
"Feasts of the Lord"
The "festival chapter" of the Bible is Leviticus 23. Here the ANNUAL Sabbath days are listed right after the weekly Sabbath. This chapter is absolutely vital in understanding just which days God intended man to keep holy — in fact, the only chapter where all of God's festivals are listed! Notice carefully the wording in this important chapter: "And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, Concerning the feasts of the Lord, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts" (Lev. 23:1-2). These are not the "feasts of the Jews" as some have mislabeled them — they are God's feasts! Like the weekly Sabbath, they were made for man (Mark 2:27), not just a single nation. The annual holy days of God are seven in number. They are kept during the first seven months of the sacred calendar. In the first month is the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread (verses 5-6). Fifty days later is the Feast of Pentecost (or Feast of Weeks). It is described in verses 9-21. (The June issue of the GN had a full explanation of this important holy day.) This feast day always falls on a Sunday immediately following the Sabbath day. Later, in the seventh month (Tishri), there is a festival called "Trumpets." Verses 23-25 describe the observance of this festival. Each of these holy days is a Sabbath day, as you can see from the aforementioned verses. On the tenth day of the seventh month, the people were instructed to observe a day of atonement (verses 26-32). This was a day of fasting — no food or water was to be taken. (The term "afflict your souls" is a reference to fasting. Compare Psalm 35:13.) Following the Day of Atonement, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, the greatest festival of the year was to begin — the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:33-44). It was also called the "feast of ingathering" (Ex. 23:16), because this important seven-day festival fell during the great fall harvest season. The whole nation gathered in the main harvest of the year at that time. On the eighth day there was a special Sabbath also. It became known as the "Last Great Day" (compare Lev. 23:39 and John 7:37). It was the very last annual Sabbath in the seven-month holy day season. Each of these annual Sabbaths was a day of sacrificing. The people had to come to the Tabernacle and offer an offering on each holy day. Of course, my father realized that we don't have to observe these sacrifices today. There was no Temple, no Levitical system functioning, and no way to offer such sacrifices. Hebrews 9 clearly shows that the sacrificial ablutions and ceremonies of the Old Testament are no longer necessary today in the New Testament Church. Christians need not offer any sacrifices except that of their own person (Rom. 12:1). Christ was the sacrificial Lamb of God. He fulfilled those Old Testament types and thus rendered them unnecessary. But what about the holy days themselves? Were they too done away? There is no New Testament evidence that these annual festivals were ever rescinded. On the other hand, there is abundant evidence that Jesus Christ and the New Testament Apostolic Church kept those very same days! Further, those who would argue against God's plain commands need to realize once and for all that God is ALIVE; that Jesus Christ is ALIVE;
Many people refer to Acts 12:4 as proof that Luke, the author of the book of Acts, mentioned Easter in his narration. The King James Version says that Peter was taken (arrested) and put in prison "to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people" (verses 3-4). The word "Easter" is a mistranslation. The original Greek word — the word Luke wrote — is "Pascha," which should always be translated " Passover. " In every other place in the New Testament where "Pascha" is used, it is always rendered "Passover." Examples are found in Matthew 26:2, 17-19; Mark 14:12 and I Corinthians 5:7. Virtually all other Bible versions faithfully render this verse in Acts 12 as " intending after the Passover to bring him forth to the people."
that God's Holy Spirit is living and powerful, and the Bible is a living witness! No one should assume that unless you can read a SPECIFIC COMMAND somewhere in the New Testament, God's expressed and implied will (and His desire in our lives, as well as the examples of the "holy men of old") is automatically obliterated! God does not need to speak to His children twice! If God dearly expresses His will, BLESSES His people for observing His ways and His laws, and we see a New Testament example of God's Church doing the very same thing, then we ought to obey our God. People begin to assume that unless the New Testament carefully itemizes and catalogs every centillionth of required Christian behavior, that it is no longer obligatory; that unless you can find some place or reference in the New Testament to something in the Old Testament, then you are not required to keep it. The point is, there is no New Testament evidence that the festivals were ever rescinded. On the other hand, there is abundant evidence that the first-century Church kept these very same annual holy days. God and Christ are just as alive today; the Church is alive and the Bible is a living witness. God's expressed will can be determined and given to mankind through human instruments and through inspiration today, based upon the fundamental Scriptures in the Old Testament, just as easily as it could have been during the writing of the New Testament.
Jesus Observed the Passover
Jesus Christ of Nazareth — who was and is our perfect example — observed these annual festivals throughout His earthly life. For instance, He was in the habit of observing the Jewish Passover from infancy. Luke preserved the vital details: "Now his [Jesus'] parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days [plural]..." (Luke 2:41-43). Here is the important proof that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus also observed the Days of Unleavened Bread following the Passover. So Jesus had been keeping the Passover all His life.
Christ Institutes the New Testament Passover
Now, in His very last Passover, on the very evening of His murder, Jesus left some definite and specific commands. Notice them in John the 13th chapter: "And supper being ended [Greek: during supper], the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him; Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; he riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. "After that he poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded" (verses 2-5).
Colossians 2:16 was written as a warning to the Gentile Christians at Colosse to protect them from false teachers — teachers who were subtly perverting the message Paul taught. Notice what Paul wrote: "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink [margin — for eating or drinking], or in respect [any part or portion connected with the observance] of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days" (Col. 2:16). The Greek in verse 16 for "meat, or in drink" — "en broosei" and "en posei" — means "in eating and in drinking." There is no mention of the abolition of God's law or His holy days. Nothing is done away in these verses. In fact, it is just the opposite. The very criticism the Colossians were receiving about their observance of these days proves they were keeping them, How could they be criticized "with regard to" days they were not keeping? The once-pagan Colossians never kept these holy days of God before! They were heathen prior to conversion. Now that they had learned the gospel, they were keeping holy the days God made holy. And Paul is warning them not to return to or be influenced by their old pagan ways — the ways of those who hated God's law and His festivals. "Let no man therefore judge you..." (verse 16) in these matters, said Paul, "but [rather] the body of Christ" (Col. 2:17). This verse has troubled many. Yet it should not. Notice that the word "is" in the King James Version is in italics. It does not appear in the original. The original Greek says only, "... but, the body of Christ." What is the body of Christ? How does Paul use this expression in Colossians? Turn to chapter 1. In verse 18 we find that Christ " is the head of the body, the church." See also Colossians 2:19. The true Church' of God is the body of Christ. Just as the Spirit of God once dwelled in the earthly body of Jesus Christ, so now the Holy Spirit dwells in each member of the Church and together the members constitute one body, doing the very work Christ did. The Church is therefore Christ's body today! And Christ is the Head as the husband is the head of the wife (Eph. 5:23). Paul is declaring in Colossians that no unauthorized person is to sit in judgment of a true Christian's conduct. Man does not determine how we should live. But it is the responsibility of the Church — the body of Christ — to determine these matters! The Church is to teach how to observe the festivals — to explain the meaning of self-control in eating and drinking, etc. So these little-understood verses ought to be translated clearly: "Let no man therefore judge you... but [rather let] the body of Christ [determine it]." Let Christ's Body judge these Church matters. Greek scholars recognize the last clause "but [rather] the body of Christ" demands that a verb be added, but have often not seen that the missing verb should be supplied from the most logical and grammatically parallel clause so as to read properly "Let the body of Christ judge [these matters]"!
Notice! This ceremony of the washing of the feet of the disciples had nothing whatsoever to do with the Old Testament observance of the Passover. It was being instituted for the first time by Jesus Christ Himself. He was taking this last-minute opportunity to institute an observance which He commanded His disciples of all ages to keep (Matt. 28:19-20). Jesus, after washing the disciples' feet, "said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet" (verses 12-14). He went on to say: "For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.... If ye know these things, happy are ye if you do them" (verses 15-17). To a really converted Christian, who literally "trembles" at God's Word (Isa. 66:2), a plain statement of Jesus Christ of Nazareth (who is very God, soon-coming King and RULER of this entire universe, and to have the say-so over your eternal life, as well as your day-to-day physical existence) would be tantamount to a gigantic ear-splitting, thundering, multimegaton, explosive ORDER! To avoid, in some way, doing what Jesus says DO is "unthinkable" to a converted Christian, who really loves, adores, WORSHIPS, and wants to OBEY His Saviour and soon-coming King, as well as his present High Priest in heaven. Again, the entire principle of God's annual holy days is summed up in whether a person wishes to be totally subservient and obedient to His God who gives him his every breath — or whether he wishes to construct some humanly devised "theology," carefully and intricately weaving himself a web of satisfactory pseudo-sentimental intellectualism which is nothing more than the very same "ordinances of men" which Jesus Himself came to obliterate! When Jesus says He has given us an example that we should DO as He has done, it would seem to any converted Christian there is no argument left! Now turn to Luke's account and notice that Jesus commanded us to do something else in connection with observing the Passover. "And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come" (Luke 22:17-18). Jesus took wine, the fermented "fruit of the vine," and divided it among the disciples, He explained: "This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you" (verse 20). Jesus showed that the wine was to symbolize His shed blood. Also, "He took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me" (verse 19). Here again, in instituting the new symbols of the wine and the bread, showing His shed blood and broken body for the forgiveness of our spiritual and physical sins, Jesus gave a command. He said, "This do — in remembrance of me." Very shortly afterward, Jesus had to literally act out the real meaning of the New Testament symbols. He was led like a dirty criminal, made to carry His own stake, until He fell under the weight of it — and then was hauled roughly up and had to feel huge spikes being pounded mercilessly through the flesh, pinning His hands and feet to the wood. He had to suffer a merciless beating which tore His flesh open, disfiguring Him, causing Him to bleed from dozens and even hundreds of open gashes and cuts! He was beaten and whipped with a "scourge," which was a whip of many leather thongs, with bits of lead and metal tied in the ends of them. Then, after having to feel his own body weight ripping and tearing at the flesh where the nails had been driven through, without any relief in sight, Jesus had to feel a huge, sharp metal spear jamming into His side, cutting open His stomach! Christ died a hideous, merciless, depraved, brutal death — such as a normal man would not think of inflicting upon a rabid dog. Christ, through His tremendous sacrifice, has willingly become our Passover "Lamb" that the filth of the world, the diseases of the world, the sins of the world, and the ultimate death of the world will pass over us! But the Passover was far from the only annual festival that Jesus continually observed.
The Feast of Tabernacles
Notice Jesus' example during the Feast of Tabernacles — the last one of His earthly ministry. "Now the Jews' feast of tabernacles was at hand. His brethren [physical brothers] therefore said unto him, Depart hence, and go into Judaea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest.... Then Jesus said unto them, My time is not yet come.... Go ye up unto this feast: I go not up yet unto this feast; for my time is not yet full come. When he had said these words unto them, he abode still in Galilee. But when his brethren were gone up, then went he [Jesus] also up unto the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret" (John 7:2-3, 6, 8-10). Because of continually mounting persecution, Christ wisely chose not to travel openly in Judaea (verse 1). But verse 10 does definitely show that He did risk His life to keep God's Festival of Tabernacles. Verse 37 tells of yet another festival that your Saviour observed: "In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying...." This Last Great Day is a one-day festival (Lev. 23:39).
The Acts of the Apostles
The Apostle Paul wrote: "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ" (I Cor. 11:1). One way in which Paul continuously and consistently imitated Christ's example is by observing (and teaching others to observe) the very same set of festivals Jesus did. He wrote in verse 2: "Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered [taught] them to you." What ordinances? The rest of chapter eleven relates several. But for our purposes, note verse 23: "For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you [now comes one vital ordinance Paul taught these Corinthians — this is exactly how Paul followed Christ], That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread...." And then follows a repetition, a reiteration, of just exactly how Jesus taught His disciples (future apostles) how to keep the Passover with the New Testament symbols (verses 24-28). So the Apostle Paul taught Gentile Christians to observe the Passover in a New Testament manner. Unless you are fully educated concerning the life of the Apostle Paul, seeing it in the perspective of the day in which he lived, perhaps you cannot realize how absolutely, tremblingly and perfectly dedicated he was to the expressed will of Jesus Christ — and how carefully he strove to obey His Saviour in all things! After all, the Apostle Paul himself had to confess that he acted above and beyond any requirement of his own government or religion at the time, in obtaining written permission to PERSECUTE early New Testament Christians, even to the point of DEATH — apparently causing some to curse God, and to renounce their salvation, before he brutally put them to death! Only if you realize the name of Saul was beginning to be whispered with alarm and fear in the private homes of many a New Testament Christian during that day as being a great and bloody persecutor of God's Church, can you get the true picture of the fantastic change in his very character, personality, and nature as you read many of the deeply spiritual, moving passages written by this man who formerly had caused Christians to be KILLED! By no amount of human reasoning can anyone ever accuse the Apostle Paul of formulating some New Testament Pharisaism of do's and don'ts in striving to do ONLY that which was absolutely required of him. He obeyed his God and his Lord with real zeal and fervor! The Apostle Paul not only FOLLOWED every example of Jesus Christ he humanly was able to, but powerfully and insistently taught all of those who would listen to his preaching (or who read his moving letters) to do the same! Paul was human — he was frail, weak, and openly lacerated himself for his humanity by calling himself a "wretched man" (Rom. 7:24). He said he was the "offscouring of all things" (I Cor. 4:13); he said he was the chief of sinners (I Tim. 1:15); he said that he was the very least of all the apostles, and was not fit to be called an apostle because he persecuted the true Church of God (I Cor. 15:9). Paul was not without his deep humility — but Paul was striving with all his being to be completely OBEDIENT to God's law! Paul plainly commanded Gentiles to observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread immediately following the Passover! Notice I Corinthians 5:7: "Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened." How could they be "unleavened" and yet still be commanded to "purge out the old leaven"? This would be a complete contradiction of terms, unless the obvious meaning is understood: the Apostle Paul is urging them spiritually, to get rid of sin still dwelling in their lives, EVEN AS they already had swept out the bread and the crumbs containing leaven from their homes! "For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast [of Unleavened Bread], not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (verses 7, 8). Paul told them they were unleavened physically (verse 7) — not spiritually, because they were knowingly harboring an incestuous fornicator in the Church (verses 1-2). But these Gentile Christians were clearly keeping the Days of Unleavened Bread according to the literal instruction given in Leviticus 23:6 and Exodus 12:18-20.
Pentecost and the Day of Atonement
Only fifty days after Jesus' ascension, God sent His Holy Spirit to a select few repentant men during a New Testament annual holy day. "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come..." (Acts 2:1). And then Luke goes on to detail the utterly unique activities of that vitally important day (verses 2-41). Later, the Apostle Paul "... hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost" (Acts 20:16). Now notice yet another New Testament festival connected with the historical account of Paul's activities in taking the gospel to the Gentiles. Concerning Paul's perilous sea voyage to Rome, we read: "... When sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was now already past..." (Acts 27:9). Directly adjacent to verse 9 in some editions of the King James Version, there is a marginal reference which reads: "The fast was on the tenth day of the seventh month (Lev. 23:27; Numbers 29:7)." Almost all biblical scholars (conservative and liberal, ancient and modern) agree that "the fast" spoken of in Acts 27:9 is the Day of Atonement (c/, The New Testament and Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 483; Critical and Experimental Commentary, vol. 6, p. 179; Clarke's Commentary, vol. 5, p. 890; Whedon's Commentary — Acts and Romans, p. 264; The New Bible Commentary Revised, p. 1008; Peake's Commentary on the Bible, p. 924; Jamieson, Fausett and Brown Commentary on the Whole Bible, p. 1132).
But Which Festivals Today?
The religious holidays (i.e., Easter, Christmas, Valentine's Day, Halloween, etc.) now observed by Christendom are nowhere found in the New Testament. (The word "Easter" in Acts 12:4 — King James Version — should be translated "Passover." See box on page three for full explanation.) These holidays simply were not kept by the Apostolic Church. The Encyclopaedia Britannica states: "Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church..." (vol. 5, p. 641, 14th edition). "There is no indication of the observance of the Easter festival in the New Testament, or in the writings of the apostolic Fathers. The sanctity of special times [current religious festivals] was an idea absent from the minds of the first Christians, who continued to observe the Jewish festivals [of Leviticus 23], though in a new spirit, as commemorations of events which those festivals had foreshadowed" (vol. 7, p. 859, 14th edition, emphasis mine). But perhaps even more important than just the proof of the first-century observance of God's holy days is the poignant meaning that is packed into each and every one of them.
The Meaning of God's Holy Days
The New Testament states that "Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us." Jesus was the Lamb of God (John 1:29). The Passover, originally commanded in Exodus 12 (before the Ten Commandments were given at Mt. Sinai!), pictures in advance the great sacrifice of Christ. After A.D. 31, it became a memorial of Christ's death. It depicts the shed blood of Christ on behalf of all human beings. It is also obvious, from a study of I Corinthians, that the Days of Unleavened Bread picture the putting away of sin. Leaven is a type of sin (I Cor. 5:7, 8). Other scriptures come clear as the pattern unfolds. The Festival of Pentecost or Firstfruits pictures the first small "spring" harvest of lives for God's Kingdom. James likens Christians of this age to firstfruits for the Kingdom (James 1:18). It was on the Day of Pentecost, A.D. 31, that God first gave His Spirit to the original apostles and disciples (Acts 2). Thousands were then added to the true Church as God called them. This was the very first typical harvest of God's children. The Day of Trumpets depicts the triumphant return of the powerful, living Christ to set up the Kingdom of God on earth. Following Jesus' return, the world will be united with God. He will put His Spirit into people's hearts and minds and the world will be at one with God — reconciled to the Father through the blood of Christ. Satan will be bound and his evil influence removed from the face of the earth. He will be cast into the lake of fire, as a symbol of his unrepentant condition. Then he will be banished to outer darkness for a thousand years, after which he will be released for a short time. My father and mother had kept these annual holy days by simply observing them as they would the weekly Sabbath. They did no servile work, but would study God's Word, especially those sections which applied to the days which they were observing. Several years later, during the fall festival — Tabernacles — they would often go off to a desert place such as Siegler Springs in California for the full eight days of the feast. Only the first and last days were Sabbaths, but the whole festival period was eight full days.
How Would We Observe God's Festivals?
Later, when God began to add members to the Church, the problem of how to observe the festivals in the physical sense arose. How should such festivals be financed? Should they be kept locally or at distant sites? Since the Church no longer observed the Levitical, sacrificial laws, there was no need to go to Jerusalem to keep the feasts! That much was obvious. But the word "tabernacle" means a "temporary dwelling place." Since the festival pictured the world of tomorrow, it seemed logical that that feast should be kept at some temporary site away from the home environment. In ancient Israel the people had made temporary "booths" of leaves and other materials as a means of shelter for the eight days of the fall festival. But how did they finance the trek to Jerusalem from all the distant borders of Israel? God had provided a way — the second tithe! In Deuteronomy 14:22-26, God commanded: "Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year. And thou shalt eat [it] before the Lord thy God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there [the Tabernacle and later the Temple in Jerusalem], the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herds and of thy flocks; that thou mayest learn to fear the Lord thy God always. And if the way be too long for thee, so that thou art not able to carry it [the tithe]; or if the place be too far from thee, which the Lord thy God shall choose to set his name there, when the Lord thy God hath blessed thee: Then shalt thou turn it into money, and bind up the money in thine hand, and shalt go unto the place which the Lord thy God shall choose: And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after [desires], for oxen [i.e., steak, prime rib], or for sheep [leg-o-lamb!], or for wine, or for strong drink [liquor], or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the Lord thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household." Now obviously, there had to be some newer understanding of these verses that would fit in with modern society. We do not live in a basically agrarian society as did the ancient Israelites. The average person just doesn't have any sheep or oxen on which to tithe. And you can't buy gasoline with corn, grain or wine. It became apparent to my father that a simple monetary tithe was the way to finance these important festivals. So the Church members were then asked to save a second tenth of their own income for themselves for use at the annual festivals. This amounted to a prepaid vacation each fall for every member of the Church at some of the choicest resort areas in the country.
As I mentioned earlier, in the early years the fall festival was kept at places like Belknap Springs, Oregon, and Siegler Springs, California. But once the Church began to really grow in numbers, it became necessary to find a larger festival site that would potentially accommodate thousands of brethren. Big Sandy, Texas, the site of one of the three campuses of Ambassador College, was chosen. As that site grew, people came from all over the United States and Canada to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. A giant steel "tabernacle" was erected — but before many years that too was outgrown. The Church was growing in such numbers as a result of the preaching of the gospel, that a new site simply had to be found. The second site was beautiful Squaw Valley, which opened up to us in 1961. Located 40 miles from Reno, in the scenic Donner Pass region of Northern California, Squaw Valley provided a beautiful and inspiring festival site. Thousands were diverted to that site from Canada, the northern and central United States, and even far-away Hawaii. Many more feast sites were to follow, both in the United States and other countries. Before long it was necessary to begin a festival site development division headquartered in Pasadena, but later shifted to Big Sandy, Texas. This division took care of the purchase of properties and buildings, and arranged accommodations and housing for tens of thousands of festival keepers annually. The festival operation for the Church ran into the multiple millions of dollars every year. It was — and still is — a giant operation involving the time and effort of hundreds of people. Today about 100,000 brethren attend the festivals around the world. Feast sites exist in far-away Australia, Great Britain, the Philippines, France, Germany, South Africa, Canada, Hawaii, and many other countries around the world. These festivals have been an enormous success! Each year the great master plan of salvation has taken on new and deeper meaning to all those who have attended these annual festivals. Thousands look forward, each fall, to a fantastic vacation of good food, fine recreation and spiritual rejuvenation. Tens of thousands of God's people will tell you there is no possible way to describe the emotional IMPACT and the deep THRILL of journeying to a place where thousands of others (of like belief) are assembled together, and gathering as one family in one place for the observance of God's annual holy days! The first sound of 12,000 or more voices lifted in song for the very first opening meeting of the Feast of Tabernacles is always an exciting, thrilling, and never-to-be-forgotten experience! God has providentially made it possible for my father and me to be at every feast site in the United States and Canada, with the exception of Alaska and Hawaii. But it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so with each year that God adds to His flock. This may well be the last year my father and I will have the opportunity to appear before all of our major festival sites in the United States and Canada. Actually, since we are already designating the Ambassador College Pasadena Campus as the "headquarters feast site" for approximately three thousand people, it is ALREADY impossible for us to be at all sites even in the United States. This year, both my father and I shall have to speak ten times at ten festival sites in eight days — before a combined audience of approximately 83,000 in the United States and Canada. This year, we are looking forward to the greatest and most inspiring Feast of Tabernacles of all! There will be literally thousands of "little ones in Christ" in our midst; thousands, to whom every single moment of the Feast of Tabernacles this fall will be a never-to-be-forgotten experience which they will cherish for the rest of their lives! All of us, as we think of the approaching Feast of Tabernacles, and the wonderful opportunity of visiting and fellowshipping with literally thousands of others in whom is the very Spirit of God; attending inspiring, uplifting, dynamic services and hearing meaningful sermons; attending the many special activities scheduled, such as seeing the exciting films of Mr. Armstrong's Manila campaign, films of our television specials, excerpts of television broadcasts, and many other films of exciting aspects of the Work; participating in Bible studies, family occasions, recreational activities such as boating, water skiing, picnicking, hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, fishing, or just relaxing with one's family around the pool with a group of friends — it fills us with a combination of nostalgia for the many past festivals that many of us have known, and sharpens and hones our anticipation of looking forward to this coming Feast of Tabernacles and season. For me, and for my father (who jokingly says he is only thirty-nine, at age eighty-two), it is a time of a grueling pace — of dashing from one festival site to another. But, though it is physically exhausting, it is so spiritually uplifting and deeply rewarding to speak before so many tens of thousands the words of God and the words of life itself, that I can only say it quickens the pulse and inspires us as we look forward to such a great opportunity with real anticipation. By the way, even if you are not yet a baptized member of the Worldwide Church of God — you are MOST WELCOME to attend the Feast of Tabernacles with God's people, and see and observe with your own eyes all that happens there, realizing we are human, and that we do make mistakes. While it is human to err, it is divine to forgive. We are human, and we certainly hope there is enough of God's Holy Spirit to add to us the tolerance and forgiveness that makes us the kind of human beings it is just plain good to be around!