As we move into the Holiday season, I want to address the issue of Christians keeping the Jewish holidays.
I am not planning on defending my interpretation of the passages that talk about Gentiles keeping the Feasts of Israel, also called God’s appointed times, and the Feasts of the Jews in the Gospel of John. They were God’s appointed Feasts for Israel. They are still central to Jewish tradition and Jewish identity and have been celebrated continuously even with the destruction of the Temple and the scattering of the Jewish nation in the first and second centuries. They are all national holidays in Israel.
I read Romans 14, Galatians 3, and Colossians 2 straightforwardly. I know that there are arguments that the passages do not really mean what they at first glance, in almost all translations, seem to say. Romans 14 states that keeping specific days is according to the conscience of the person who keeps does so. He does not enjoin their keeping. In context, of course, Paul knows that Israel was and is enjoined to keep the Feasts and the Sabbath, but the context is that Gentiles are not so required. Colossians states that the Feasts are a shadow of the realities that are in Yeshua, who is the substance of the feasts. The Colossians are exhorted to allow no one to judge them with regard to a Feast, New Moon or Sabbath day. The New Testament scriptures do not explicitly require the observance of the Holy Days by Gentiles, so we want to avoid making any requirement that Gentiles observe these days in the same manner that are incumbent upon the Jewish people. Yet, the sentiment that all scripture is useful for teaching (2 Tim 2:15-16) portrays that it is possible for Gentiles, both K’rovei-Yisrael (those who have been led by the Holy Spirit to join Messianic Communities for the sake of Jewish witness) and other Gentile believers who wish to participate with Jewish congregations as guests, may experience spiritual enrichment and greater revelation of Yeshua as a result of a deepened understanding of, and participation in observances of the biblical feasts and Holy Days.
However, the conclusion that the Biblical Feasts are irrelevant is foolish and incoherent. The Feasts of Israel are revelatory and teach us about God’s provision for our needs, the work of the Messiah Jesus, and are prophetic for the end of this Age and the Age to Come. Understanding the Feasts is part of understanding the Bible. Why did Yeshua die during Passover? Why was he raised from the dead on First Fruits? Why does the book of Hebrews interpret the atonement of Yeshua on the basis of the Day of Atonement (Heb. 7-9) and the meaning of our spiritual life through the Sabbath (Heb. 4)? When we understand this, then Gentiles can be supportive of Jewish people who keep these special days.
I think one of the very good ways that I encourage is that the churches would teach on the Feasts during the seasons that Jewish people celebrate them. This brings out the reality that the Church is an international people joined to Israel. Understanding Israel through the Biblical patterns of Israel is greatly helpful. Of course, a picture is worth a thousand words. Joining with Messianic Jewish congregations for celebrations can be a great way of bringing out the meaning; a key teaching tool. Many do Passover Seder Demonstrations for churches.
Must Christians keep the Feasts, and take particular days of the year as Sabbath Feast days? No, in my view the Bible is clear. But should Christians connect to the meaning of the Feasts in various ways? Yes, if we are to understand the Bible better and be more in tune with rooting in Israel.
Dr. Daniel Juster, founder and director of Tikkun International, has been involved in the Messianic Jewish movement since 1972 and currently resides in Jerusalem, Israel, from where he serves and supports the Messianic movement worldwide.