Last night, as I was getting ready for bed, one of my fellow brethren in Southeast Asia, a young leader being trained up to spread the Gospel there, came to me with a request for the passages of the New Testament that deal with the High Holy Days of God, which are found in Leviticus 23. This person had forgotten the more relevant passages to use in discussion about these matters, and in a part of the world where the Seventh Day Adventists have been active, there is more awareness of the biblical Sabbath than there is of the biblical Holy Days. Since the discussion of biblical passages relating to the festivals of God is a matter that may interest more people than only the person who requested this list of passages from me, I thought it would be appropriate to share the fruits of my research to all who are interested in reading it and adapting it to their own worthwhile purposes.
Therefore, what follows is a set of passages that are organized by the order of the festivals as they occur in the Hebrew Calendar, starting from Passover and the Days of Unleavened and continuing through the Feast of Tabernacles. There is even one reference in the Bible included to a non-biblical festival that was a historical festival not ordained but not forbidden by God that is still kept today by many practicing Jews, the Festival of Dedication, also known as Hanukkah . I have not included the many references in the New Testament where Jesus Christ observes the Sabbath, or where the apostles preached on the weekly Sabbath, or where it was stated to remain observed by Christians who are looking forward to the future fulfillment of the Sabbath in the millennial rule of Jesus Christ and the new heavens and new earth that are to follow , since this was not part of the request made of me. The following material is a compendium organized in the following fashion: the main headings are each of the high holy days or the holy days in general as discussed by a particular New Testament author. Then the passages under this heading are given and quoted in the New King James Version, and a short paragraph after each passage discusses at least some of the relevant notes for how this passage helps us understand the importance of the biblical holy days to the early Church of God. At the end of the compendium the passages are organized by holy day for easy future reference. With that said, let us begin.
General Holy Day Passages
“So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God. Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations—“Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.”
This passage, taken in context, makes it clear that no one is to condemn believers for keeping the Sabbath or the festivals of God, and that believers are not to confuse the commandments and doctrines of men, which often oppose the keeping of biblical Holy Days on the grounds that they appear too Jewish, with the obedience to God’s commandments and following the example of Jesus Christ and the Apostles, who faithfully and loyally kept the Holy Days during their entire lives, without any understanding that these observances had been done away with in any fashion. Truly, obeying man-made doctrines and commandments, like the anti-biblical Hellenism of much of so-called Christianity, has an appearance of righteousness, but is not holding fast to Christ.
“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”
This passage gives a succinct (unlike my writing) account of two of the three aspects of the New Testament Passover, namely the eating of the unleavened bread which is broken like the body of Jesus Christ for our sins, and the wine that is symbolic of the blood that Jesus Christ shed to atone for our sins. These two parts of the ceremony followed the footwashing (see John 13:1-17 below) ceremony, and after they were done the believers sang a hymn and departed, which is frequently a part of the contemporary observance of this day according to the model that Jesus Christ set for the disciples.
“His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.”
This particular passage is important for a number of reasons, including the precocity of Jesus Christ in showing His biblical knowledge just before the age of accountability at thirteen, where He would have faced judgment (as He eventually did) for some of the truth He was compelled to tell about the Bible and Himself. It is also important in demonstrating the somewhat lax monitoring of parents of children in an age where large kinship groups and close relationships with neighbors meant that a lot of people were looking out for children, making parenting less stressful and demanding, unless something went wrong. Of course, this passage also demonstrates that Jesus’ family were observant Jews who kept God’s Holy Days as well.
“Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. And supper being ended, the devil having already put it 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 had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You washing my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.” Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, “You are not all clean.” So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.””
This passage demonstrates the importance of the footwashing ceremony as part of the New Testament Passover, by which brethren wash each other’s feet in the example of Jesus Christ, who humbled Himself to serve even though He was the Lord of all creation. As this ceremony is limited to those who are circumcised of heart through baptism, washing the feet of believers is symbolic of the fact that even though we have been cleansed of our sins through baptism and repentance, and even though we have the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands, we still have our feet dirty through walking in this world, and therefore our feet need to be cleansed yearly as a reminder of the ongoing forgiveness for our faults and errors as we undertake the Christian walk.
1 Corinthians 11:17-34:
“Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you. For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world. Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come.
This particular passage recaps the narrative of the Gospel John (see John 13-17) concerning the Passover, and instructs believers in Corinth as to the proper way of keeping the New Testament Passover, decently and in order, with the bread symbolizing Jesus’ body broken for our sins and the wine symbolizing the blood of Jesus Christ shed in atonement for our sins. The passage reminds believers to examine themselves prior to the Passover and to take the ceremony seriously, not as an opportunity for drunkenness and disorder. This lengthy passage, in a letter that was written dealing with the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread as a whole, is a reminder of their importance to the early Church of God, as Paul found it necessary to go at length about the celebration of this practice, which is often taken much less seriously and practiced unbiblically, with leavened bread and grape juice in many situations, in many churches.
Days Of Unleavened Bread
1 Corinthians 5:6-8:
“Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore 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. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
While writing a corrective letter and at the end of a passage that gives the punishment of disfellowshipment for a man living in open sin by cohabiting with his stepmother, Paul makes a comment about the fact that it was the time of the Days of Unleavened Bread and reminding them that part of the responsibility of keeping the Days of Unleavened Bread was to do so in sincerity and truth. It is perhaps obvious, but ought to be recognized as well, that this passage presupposes the fact that believers are keeping the Days of Unleavened Bread by avoiding leavened bread and eating unleavened bread, in the manner prescribed by Exodus 12 and Leviticus 23, among other places. Again, this passage is clear evidence of the continued practice of the Holy Days by the early church.
“Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread. So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover.”
Here we see at least two important facts about the Holy Days, pretty clearly demonstrated. One of them is that just as is the case among contemporary Jews, the authors of the Bible often combine the adjacent celebrations of the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread together as one larger unit. The other important fact to note here regarding the Holy Days is that Luke takes it for granted that a Gentile believer would understand the time marker of the Days of Unleavened Bread as a biblical observance, something that could not be taken for granted for most people who consider themselves Christians today.
“After the uproar had ceased, Paul called the disciples to himself, embraced them, and departed to go to Macedonia. Now when he had gone over that region and encouraged them with many words, he came to Greece and stayed three months. And when the Jews plotted against him as he was about to sail to Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia. And Sopater of Berea accompanied him to Asia—also Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians, and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy, and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia. These men, going ahead, waited for us at Troas. But we sailed away from Philippi after the Days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days joined them at Troas, where we stayed seven days.”
As is Luke’s habit, the Holy Days are referred to as being both celebrated by the Apostle Paul and his associates and the brethren he serves, and also are considered fairly ordinary markers of time. Luke does not refer to heathen holidays at all, but makes it clear to remind His readers of the Sabbath or Holy Days as the way that time is organized, a clear sign that these days were so important that they formed the way that time was organized in Luke’s mind, and thus natural to express even when writing to relatively new Gentile believers like the eminent Theophilus, to whom he dedicated his two books.
Feast Of Weeks/Pentecost
“When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “Whatever could this mean?””
This passage, indeed, all of Acts 2, is one of the most noted aspects of the Holy Day observance of the New Testament church. This passage is important for several reasons. For one, it points out that God often acts in history during His appointed festivals, such as delivering Israel from Egypt and in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ at the time of the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread, and in the giving of the law at Sinai and the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Additionally, this miracle, in reversing the curse of Babel by bringing believers from a wide variety of peoples and languages into unity of thought and purpose and identity as part of the Israel of God makes the Pentecost a festival of great memorial importance for believers. Small wonder that it was a festival that Paul was anxious to keep in Jerusalem (see Acts 20:13-16 below).
“Then we went ahead to the ship and sailed to Assos, there intending to take Paul on board; for so he had given orders, intending himself to go on foot. And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and came to Mitylene. We sailed from there, and the next day came opposite Chios. The following day we arrived at Samos and stayed at Trogyllium. The next day we came to Miletus. For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost.”
As is the case with the Days of Unleavened Bread and the Day of Atonement, Pentecost too is referred to as an important time marker mentioned in a matter-of-fact way as part of a travel narrative, and the fact that Paul is hurrying to be at Jerusalem for Pentecost signifies the importance of Holy Day observance for Paul, which ought to be an example for us.
1 Corinthians 16:5-9:
“Now I will come to you when I pass through Macedonia (for I am passing through Macedonia). And it may be that I will remain, or even spend the winter with you, that you may send me on my journey, wherever I go. For I do not wish to see you now on the way; but I hope to stay a while with you, if the Lord permits. But I will tarry in Ephesus until Pentecost. For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.”
Here we see that as Paul is discussing his own travel plans with regards to the Corinthians, that he notes that he will remain in Ephesus until Pentecost to keep preaching the Gospel there in the Roman province of Asia (today the western part of Turkey). As is the case in the similar passages in Acts, where Luke is recording these temporal markers, Paul assumes that his audience knows what Pentecost is and that they will keep it as well, and that they too structure their time around the biblical festivals.
Feast Of Trumpets
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:
“But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
This passage reminds us that the Feast of Trumpets looks forward to the trumpet blast that will raise the dead in Christ as well as those believers who are alive at the time of the return of Jesus Christ into eternal life in an incorruptible body (see also 1 Corinthians 15). Given the widespread interest in the return of Christ, it is little surprise that trumpets should be mentioned so prominently both here and in Revelation in connection with that day.
Day Of Atonement
“Now when much time had been spent, and sailing was now dangerous because the Fast was already over, Paul advised them, saying, “Men, I perceive that this voyage will end with disaster and much loss, not only of the cargo and ship, but also our lives.” Nevertheless the centurion was more persuaded by the helmsman and the owner of the ship than by the things spoken by Paul. And because the harbor was not suitable to winter in, the majority advised to set sail from there also, if by any means they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete opening toward the southwest and northwest, and winter there.”
This passage demonstrates that even thirty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that the Day of Atonement marked such a prominent element in the mindset of the Apostle Paul, and his Gentile companion Luke, that it was used as a casual temporal marker to point out when sailing in the Mediterranean became dangerous. Sadly, Paul’s sound advice was neglected, but all the while, it is telling that the Day of Atonement is marked here by its most prominent feature, namely the fasting from food or water for a full day, and that Luke expected his audience to understand the reference from their own observance of this festival.
“Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance; the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience—concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation.”
Proper understanding of this passage requires an understanding of the practices of the Day of Atonement in the earthly tabernacle and temple as based on Leviticus 16, where the washing and sacrifices and entrance of the High Priest into the Holy of Holies only this one time during the year demonstrated the fact that apart from the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, mankind can only seek to be close to God rarely and with extreme danger as a result of our corrupt and sinful nature. In keeping the Day of Atonement, we do so in honor of Jesus Christ, whose atoning sacrifices reconciles us to God in a way that the blood of sheep and goats never could.
Feast Of Tabernacles/Last Great Day
“After these things Jesus walked in Galilee; for He did not want to walk in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill Him. Now the Jews’ Feast of Tabernacles was at hand. His brothers therefore said to Him, “Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” For even His brothers did not believe in Him. Then Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready. The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil. You go up to this feast. I am not yet going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come.” When He had said these things to them, He remained in Galilee. But when His brothers had gone up, then He also went up to the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret. Then the Jews sought Him at the feast, and said, “Where is He?” And there was much complaining among the people concerning Him. Some said, “He is good”; others said, “No, on the contrary, He deceives the people.” However, no one spoke openly of Him for fear of the Jews. Now about the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught. And the Jews marveled, saying, “How does this Man know letters, having never studied?””
Here we see that Jesus Christ kept the Feast of Tabernacles, and we also see that the Feast of Tabernacles was a matter of stress for Him as well. Despite the fact that the Jewish leadership was trying to kill Him, as they would later succeed in doing, for three days and three nights at least, He still considered it important enough to attend the Feast of Tabernacles that he risked death and traveled in secret to attend in such a way that He was able to teach and would avoid trouble. Few people show this sort of dedication in attending the Feast despite difficulties and troubles nowdays, even among those who actually know about the Feast of Tabernacles.
“On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, which* those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”
Repeating for the audience at the Feast of Tabernacles the same thing He said to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well earlier in the Gospels, Jesus invites the Jews to believe in Him and to be given the Holy Spirit, which a few thousand would in the not-too-distant future (see Acts 2). As is common in Jesus’ ministry, He used the traditions of the Jews, in this case the water ceremony of the Last Great Day, to point to a greater truth that most of His audience did not then understand. Of course, it is impossible to understand such practices without observing and practicing the biblical Holy Days as commanded either.
Festival Of Dedication/Hanukkah
“Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch. Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.””
This passage is a demonstration that Jesus not only kept the commanded Holy Days, as previously seen, but He also took the opportunity to celebrate historical festivals that showed how God cared for the preservation of His chosen people, as they provided an opportunity to preach spiritual truth about the eternal life that was provided to those who were called and chosen of God. Ironically enough, in this passage Jesus uses a festival which was celebrated as confirmation of the chosen aspect of Judah during the Second Temple period to demonstrate that a belief in Jesus Christ is required to be given eternal life.
General Holy Day Passages:
1 Corinthians 11:17-34
Days Of Unleavened Bread:
1 Corinthians 5:6-8
Feast Of Weeks/Pentecost:
1 Corinthians 16:5-9
Feast Of Trumpets:
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Day Of Atonement:
Feast Of Tabernacles/Last Great Day:
Festival Of Dedication:
 I have written about Jesus Christ’s observance of this particular festival elsewhere, so I will refer to my previous writing about this topic:
 For those who wish for a discussion of biblical passages relating to the Sabbath and its continuing relevance for believers today, please look at the following material I have already written on this subject:
*The NKJV says “whom,” but as the Greek text refers to the Holy Spirit as a thing and not a person, this has been changed in the quotation above to make it grammatically and doctrinally correct.