Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Did the New Testament Church Observe God's Annual Festivals?

God initiated seven annual festivals and sabbaths in the Old Testament. These days represent steps in God's plan to save mankind through Jesus Christ. Ancient Israel never understood the meaning of those days, but God's Church is able to keep those days with understanding of their true meaning as ancient Israel was not able to do. Yet most of traditional Christianity has rejected God's holy days and feast days that are given in the Bible in favor of days based on the traditions of men, such as Christmas and Easter, with the fertility symbols of the evergreen tree, rabbits, and eggs so common among pagan religions in ancient times. You can look up those symbols and rituals in any encyclopedia to see where they come from. And God clearly tells us not to worship Him imitating the way pagans worship their gods, but to worship God exactly the way He tells us to worship Him (Deuteronomy 12:29-32).

In rejecting God's ordained annual festivals in favor of man-made religious festivals, man is following the same pattern of choosing the traditions of men as he has followed in substituting Sunday for God's seventh-day Sabbath.

Some ministers teach that to keep the annual holy days of God is to deny the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Is this true?

We can look to the New Testament Church of God to see what they practiced. Did the first century Church of God keep these festivals?

The New Testament Church of God kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Was it only the Jewish Christians who kept this feast? No. Paul was apostle to the gentiles, and he taught the Church of God at Corinth to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

The description of this festival is in the Old Testament. Notice: "On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the Lord's Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; seven days you must eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it. But you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord for seven days. The seventh day shall be a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it" (Leviticus 23:5-8). Now notice how Paul likens leavening to sin in 1 Corinthians 5:1-8, and he compares unleavened bread to sincerity and truth. Notice especially verses 6-8. After talking about the sin of sexual immorality in that congregation, he says, "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." This helps us understand the meaning and lesson of this feast, that is, we put leavening out of our houses for seven days and this represents the lesson that we are to put sin out of our lives, or in other words, the lesson of repentance (Acts 2:38).

Notice especially Paul's statement, "let us keep the feast" (1 Corinthians 5:8). This shows that Paul instructed and commanded the Corinthians to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread, one of the seven annual feasts of God, for there is no other feast that would fit this context.

Does keeping God's annual feast days invalidate or deny the sacrifice of Christ? No, because Paul would not have instructed the Corinthians to keep the feast if that were the case.

However, since the Levitical priesthood has been replaced by the priesthood of Jesus Christ, there is no Levitical priesthood to offer animal sacrifices, so those are omitted.

For more information on this festival, see The Days of Unleavened Bread - Repentance.

For those who might be interested in observing this festival, but don't know the dates, the Days of Unleavened Bread in 2009 are seven days starting Thursday, April 9 through Wednesday, April 15. The first and last days are Sabbath days of rest. God counts days from sunset to sunset, so from sunset Wednesday, April 8 till sunset Thursday, April 9 I will observe a sabbath rest and likewise from sunset Tuesday, April 14 till sunset Wednesday, April 15. During the entire seven day festival I will refrain from eating any products with leavening in them (yeast, baking soda, baking powder), and I will make sure I do not have leavening or products with leavening in my house or personal space if I am living in someone else's house. I will also eat some kind of unleavened bread each of those seven days, such as matzos.

Taking the time to clean my space before these days start and making sure I get rid of any leavened products reminds me each year of my personal responsibility to examine my life and get rid of sin wherever I find it. Being careful to not forget and accidentally eat leavened products like donuts at work or anyplace during this time reminds me of the lesson that I have to be diligent to not sin by breaking God's commandments in the letter or spirit. Eating unleavened bread each day reminds me of my need to seek the righteousness that is from God and to seek God diligently each day in prayer and Bible study.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

God's Annual Holy Days and Festivals

Many Sabbath-keeping Christians are not aware that besides the weekly Sabbath day, God instituted seven annual sabbaths in the Old Testament. Just as the weekly Sabbath provides the opportunity to draw closer to God and learn more about His ways and His plan for mankind, so the annual Sabbath days and festivals help to illustrate God's plan for mankind in more detail. Here is a listing of these annual days:

- Passover (not a sabbath, but a feast day): Represents the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

- First Day of Unleavened Bread and Last Day of Unleavened Bread (sabbaths and feast days): Leaven is used as a symbol of sin in the New Testament - 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 - and the festival of unleavened bread represents repentance and putting sin out of our lives, an important step in becoming a Christian (Acts 2:38). Also, this verse in 1 Corinthians shows that the churches raised up by Paul among the gentiles kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because Paul said, "Therefore, let us keep the feast...".

- Pentecost (sabbath and feast day): Represents the gift of the Holy Spirit and the founding of the New Testament Church of God (Acts 2:1-4). It is the Holy Spirit dwelling in a person that makes that person a Christian (Romans 8:9-11). In the Old Testament, it is called the feast of first fruits, and reminds us that Christians today are the early harvest of what will be a far greater spiritual harvest in the future.

- The Day of Trumpets (sabbath and feast day): Represents the second coming of Christ to rule the earth and the resurrection of the saints. This happens at the last trumpet (1 Corinthians 15:50-57, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18, Revelation 8:2, 11:15-19).

- The Day of Atonement (sabbath and a day of fasting): This represents the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, but also the putting away of Satan into a condition of restraint after the return of Christ (Leviticus 16:1-34, Revelation 20:1). In the passage in Leviticus 16, the goat that is killed represents the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins, and the goat that is released in the wilderness represents Satan and his responsibility for deceiving mankind and temping men into sin. Christ pays the penalty for our share of the responsibility for our sins, but Satan must bear his own blame for his share of the responsibility for mankind's sin. Compare Revelation 20:1-4 with Leviticus 16:21-22.

- The Feast of Tabernacles (first day is a sabbath and feast day): Represents the millenial reign of Jesus Christ and the peace, prosperity, and happiness that mankind will experience (Deuteronomy 16:13-15).

- The Last Great Day (a sabbath and a feast day): Represents the general resurrection and the white throne judgment when salvation will be made available to all who have lived and died and never had the opportunity to hear and understand the true gospel before (John 7:37-38, Ezekiel 37:1-14). Compare John 7:37-38 with Ezekiel 37:12-14. The book of life will be open and men's names can be written in it (Revelation 20:11-15).

I have observed these days by resting and attending church services, and their observance has helped to teach me and remind me of God's wonderful plan for salvation of all mankind.

For more information about these days, see my section entitled The Annual Holy Days and the Plan of God in my book Preaching the Gospel. You can page down to find the particular holy day or festival you want more information about. Or you can go to the book Table of Contents for a listing of the holy days in chapter two and click on the link for the one you are interested in.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Keeping the Seventh-day Sabbath Expresses Love Towards God

Jesus was asked, what is the great commandment of the Law.

"Jesus said to him, 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40). In answering, Jesus was quoting the Old Testament scriptures (Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18). "The Law and the Prophets" is a reference to the Old Testament scriptures, which are composed of the "law" (the books of Moses, the first five books of the Bible), the "prophets" (books such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel as well as the other prophets), and the "writings" (such as Psalms). Jesus is saying that the Old Testament scriptures are based on love towards God and love towards neighbor.

The two great commandments are further defined by the ten commandments. The ten commandments fill in details about HOW to love God and love our neighbor. The first four of the ten commandments teach us how to love God, and the last six teach us how to love our neighbor. Then the whole rest of the Bible further teaches us how to practice the way of love and how to keep God's commandments in their practical application in our lives.

The fourth of the ten commandments teaches us to observe the seventh day Sabbath. As God counts days from sunset to sunset (Genesis 1:2, Leviticus 23:32), this would be from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset. During this time we are to refrain from work (Exodus 20:8, Deuteronomy 5:12) and not pursue our own entertainment (Deuteronomy 5:13-14). This is a time for drawing closer to God and assembling with other Christians for fellowship and instruction (Leviticus 23:3).

How does observance of the seventh-day Sabbath express love towards God? By obeying the Sabbath command, we are acknowledging God as our Creator and as our Lord who has authority over us. We acknowledge God's authority by believing and obeying what He commands in the fourth commandment. "Lord" means ruler, one who has authority. Many people call God "Lord", but it is those who really strive to believe and obey what God says who are acknowledging by their actions that the true God is their Lord (Luke 6:46). The fourth commandment has been called by some a "test" commandment, because it tests our willingness to believe God and obey Him (Exodus 16:4-5, 22-30). It is also a sign between God and his people (Exodus 31:12-13). A sign identifies. The Sabbath helps to identify to Christians who the true God is, that is, the God who created the earth, because the Sabbath day is a memorial of creation (Exodus 20:8-11). The Sabbath also identifies to God who His people are, because it is God's people who are willing to believe and obey what God says by keeping the Sabbath. Throughout the Bible, obedience to God's commandments is equated with love (John 14:21, 1 John 5:1-3).

The weekly Sabbath also illustrates the 7,000 year plan of God, for as the Sabbath follows the six days of work, so the millenial rule of Christ for 1,000 years will follow 6,000 years of man's rule over himself (2 Peter 3:8, Revelation 20:1-4, Daniel 12:4).

The Sabbath provides time for people to rest from the burdens and concerns of the week and draw closer to God in prayer and Bible study. Taking time to learn about the things of God and to draw closer to Him is also an expression of love towards God.

Keeping the Sabbath can also be a test of faith. Many people can figure out that it is wrong to murder, steal, commit adultery, etc. Even societies that do not have a culture based on the Bible can recognize that those things are wrong. But man cannot figure out on his own that it is wrong to work on the seventh day of the week. Man can only know that by believing what God says, and it takes faith to believe what God says, as Abraham did (Romans 4:3, James 2:23, Genesis 15:4-6, Isaiah 51:1-2), and faith is one of the weightier matters of the law (Matthew 23:23). In our day, it can be a test of faith for a man or woman to keep the Sabbath, especially if that man or woman has not grown up in a Sabbath-keeping tradition. Sometimes people can lose their jobs for refusing to work on the Sabbath, and it takes faith to trust God to provide.

Here is an index to some recent posts in this blog about the Sabbath:

A Question and Answer about the New Covenant

Are the Ten Commandments Part of the New Covenant?

When Was the Sabbath Made?

The Ten Commandments, the Sabbath, and Animal Sacrifices

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Is Elijah in Heaven?

Is Elijah in Heaven?

The Bible says that Elijah was taken up by a whirlwind into heaven. "Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven (2 Kings 2:11).

But the Bible also says that no man has ascended into heaven! "No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven" (John 3:13). Moreover, Peter said in the book of Acts that David has not ascended into heaven. "Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day" (Acts 2:29). "For David did not ascend into the heavens..." (Acts 2:34). Yet David is called a man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22). Is Elijah in heaven, but David is not in heaven? But if Elijah is in heaven, that would contradict John 3:13 which I just quoted.

Is the Bible contradicting itself?

No. The Bible cannot contradict itself. All scripture is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and God cannot lie (Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:18). Therefore, the Bible is true and every part of it is true. The Bible cannot contradict itself.

Is the Bible inspired by God? Yes, and that can be proved to an open mind by fulfilled prophecy, which I have done.

A skeptic might ask, can you prove that God is not lying when He says He cannot lie? No, I cannot prove that the same way I can prove that God inspired the Bible. But faith means believing what God says and there is an element of choice involved in faith. God requires faith of those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6, John 5:46-47, Romans 4:3, James 2:23). Jesus called faith one of the three weightier matters of the law (Matthew 23:23), and since sin is the transgression of the law ("Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law" - 1 John 3:4, King James Version), this means that it is a sin to choose to disbelieve what God says. This is confirmed by the examples of ancient Israel whom God punished because they did not believe Him (Deuteronomy 9:23, Hebrews 3:18-19).

God requires that we believe what He says.

That is a choice each individual must make. I choose to believe God and to believe that God cannot contradict Himself. Some choose differently.

The Bible says that scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35). I believe that. Or in other words, by faith I know that is true.

So I know that the Bible cannot contract itself.

Therefore I know that there is no contradiction between 2 Kings 2:11 and John 3:13. Even if I never researched it or did not know the answer, I know by faith there is no contradiction.

Some things in the Bible seem to be contradictions. I do not claim I know the answer to all of these difficult scriptures. When I see what may seem to me to be a contradiction, I know that there can be a misunderstanding on my part or a mistranslation of some kind. I make mistakes in the way I understand scriptures or put scriptures together, and translators make mistakes in translating the Bible from the original Greek or Hebrew or Aramaic into English. But God who inspired the Bible does not contradict Himself. So when I see what appears to be a contradiction, I know that it is not really a contradiction even before I research it and before I know the answer.

In the case of Elijah going into heaven, there is actually a clear explanation.

Here is a quote from my book Preaching the Gospel. This is from chapter two, section The Day of Trumpets - the Second Coming of Christ:

"Some may refer to Elijah as one who was carried into 'heaven'. But in the Bible, the term 'heaven' can refer to this earth's atmosphere, or outer space with its planets, stars, and galaxies, or the heaven that is God's throne. Notice the phrase 'birds of heaven' in Job 35:11 and Jeremiah 16:4 referring to the heaven that is this earth's atmosphere. These verses refer to birds flying in the atmosphere of the earth.

"2 Kings 2:1 says, 'And it came to pass, when the LORD was about to take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal.' Then in 2 Kings 2:11: 'Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.' But did Elijah go into the heaven that is God's throne, or just into the air to be set down someplace else where it would not be known where he was? It is clear that Elijah's work as the prophet in that area for that time was finished, and it was God's time that Elijah be removed and Elisha take Elijah's office and carry on his work (1 Kings 19:16). But was it time for Elijah to die? Or was Elijah to be taken to the heaven that is God's throne? If so, it would contradict John 3:13 which says that no man has ascended into heaven.

"Those with Elisha after Elijah ascended did not assume that Elijah went up to the heaven of God's throne. 'Now when the sons of the prophets who were from Jericho saw him, they said, "The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha." And they came to meet him, and bowed to the ground before him. Then they said to him, "Look now, there are fifty strong men with your servants. Please let them go and search for your master, lest perhaps the Spirit of the LORD has taken him up and cast him upon some mountain or into some valley." And he said, "You shall not send anyone." But when they urged him till he was ashamed, he said, "Send them!" Therefore they sent fifty men, and they searched for three days but did not find him. And when they came back to him, for he had stayed in Jericho, he said to them, "Did I not say to you, 'Do not go'?" ' (2 Kings 2:15-18).

"Some time after this, a letter came from Elijah to the king of Judah, proving that Elijah was still alive and someplace on the earth. Notice that Elisha was already prophet in place of Elijah while Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, was still alive. 'But Jehoshaphat said, "Is there no prophet of the LORD here, that we may inquire of the LORD by him?" So one of the servants of the king of Israel answered and said, "Elisha the son of Shaphat is here, who poured water on the hands of Elijah." And Jehoshaphat said, "The word of the LORD is with him." So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him' (2 Kings 3:11-12). The fact that the servant said that Elisha 'poured' water on the hands of Elijah, past tense, shows that Elisha was not still serving Elijah. This occurred AFTER Elijah went into the atmosphere by a whirlwind and Elisha received his office. Now, AFTER Jehoshaphat died, his son Jehoram became king of Judah in his place. 'And Jehoshaphat rested with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the City of David. Then Jehoram his son reigned in his place' (2 Chronicles 21:1). And it was to Jehoram, AFTER Jehoshaphat died and AFTER Elijah was taken into 'heaven' by a whirlwind, that a letter came from Elijah, proving Elijah was still alive and on the earth. 'Jehoram was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned eight years in Jerusalem. And he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, just as the house of Ahab had done, for he had the daughter of Ahab as a wife; and he did evil in the sight of the LORD' (2 Chronicles 21:5-6). 'And a letter came to him from Elijah the prophet, saying, Thus says the LORD God of your father David: Because you have not walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat your father, or in the ways of Asa king of Judah, but have walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and have made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to play the harlot like the harlotry of the house of Ahab, and also have killed your brothers, those of your father’s household, who were better than yourself, behold, the LORD will strike your people with a serious affliction—your children, your wives, and all your possessions; and you will become very sick with a disease of your intestines, until your intestines come out by reason of the sickness, day by day' (2 Chronicles 21:12-15)."

What about the appearance of Elijah and Moses speaking with Jesus that Peter, James, and John saw? It was a vision of the future. It was a vision of the Kingdom of God when the saints would be resurrected, yet in the future. It was a vision just as the prophets of the Old Testament had prophetic visions, just as the apostle John had the vision of future events which he wrote of in the book of Revelation. Notice Matthew 17:9: "Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, 'Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.'" Peter perhaps did not know it was a vision when it was happening, but he must have understood when Jesus told him it was a vision.

Elijah is not in heaven now, nor is any man who has ever lived in heaven now, except Jesus Christ. Elijah, David, and all the faithful men of God in the Bible are asleep in the grave, waiting for the return of Jesus Christ when they will be resurrected to immortality to be with Christ forever.