by Hannah Jordan
Content last updated 16 January 2017
Written by a local fellowship of The Philadelphia Church, this article reflects one disciple’s understanding at a point in time. The ideas arise from our study of Homer Kizer’s re-reading of prophecy. While he lived, Homer encouraged us to write, publish, and revise as understanding grows with study. For a deeper exposition, please read Homer Kizer’s original writings.
This article introduces topics that pertain to all the Biblical festivals of God, how the Philadelphia Church understands and celebrates the festivals, and why. Subsequent articles on the individual festivals will presume an understanding of this basic material.
What are the Festivals of God?
In the Old Testament, God commanded the people of Israel to remember the Sabbath day – the seventh day of each week – to keep it holy. In addition, God defined eight festivals (also called high Sabbaths or high holy days) to be observed annually:
- Feast of Unleavened Bread
- Wave Sheaf Offering
- Feast of Trumpets
- Day of Atonement (Yom Kipporim)
- Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot)
- The Last Great Day
Disciples choose to observe the high Sabbaths as a result of understanding – or because they want to begin understanding – how these festivals all point to Christ Jesus and where we stand in the plan of God. Observing God’s festivals can reinforce and deepen our understanding of God’s plan.
This article is organized as follows:
- The Key of David unlocks scripture
- Some examples (night and day)
- Another typology example: “Christ, the last Adam”
- Multi-level interpretations coexist
- Traditions given for remembrance
- God’s festivals – shadows of Christ
- No such commandment (Christmas, Easter)
- Understanding God’s calendar
- Determining the spring equinox
- To whom does this apply?
1. The Key of David Unlocks Scripture
Human language has no way to directly express that which is spiritual, e.g. God, eternal life, heaven’s timelessness, and so forth. The Bible circumvents this limitation by using words in a metaphoric or symbolic way, painting pictures and making allegories and analogies.
Note that Jesus said,
“I have said these things to you in figures of speech.”
The Apostle Paul expressed this same principle when he wrote: “…first the natural, and then the spiritual.” I Corinthians 15:46. Paul taught disciples how to take meaning from the Bible when he said that the invisible things of God are made plain by what can be seen, and the physical things of the world precede the spiritual things of God. “Visible” means physical; “invisible” means spiritual.
Thus, the Bible’s Hebraic poetry is structured in couplets. A couplet’s first phrase expresses something physical and its second phrase expresses something spiritual. The same design principle may embrace more than one couplet, sometimes extending to pairs of couplets, and even pairs of pairs, yielding multiply-nested structures within structures.
physical → spiritual
Figure 2. Structure of Hebraic poetry, called the “Key of David”
The Key of David structure appears prominently in the Psalms of David. But after discerning its presence there, thereafter one finds it throughout the Bible. Examine the couplet in Psalm 1:3:
1: He [the righteous man] is like a tree planted by streams of water
2: that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.
Line 1 is physical. It depicts a tree growing alongside a creek – a tangible scene, familiar to all.
Line 2 is spiritual. Fruit refers not to physical fruit like apples or walnuts, but spiritual fruit – the results of a person’s thoughts and deeds. Unwithering leaves will not be found hanging from the branches of an actual physical tree; rather, they describe a righteous person who continues to grow. A physical tree’s leaves do wither and drop off in the cold season; in contrast, the psalm describes a spiritual “tree” (righteous person) who does not enter a dormant state or succumb to a seasonal changes.
When we realize that a couplet’s second phrase pertains to a spiritual idea, we gather a critically-important extra layer of meaning from scripture. We can then begin to comb the physical narrative for spiritual concepts, which are revealed through patterns, types, mirror images, allegories – what Jesus called “figures of speech”.
Sometimes these patterns can be applied by overlaying one narrative on top of another while stretching or compressing the time scale (this is allowable, since God’s perspective is one of timelessness) to achieve a smooth fit by matching corresponding inflection points or milestones. Engineers refer to such points that must be measured and checked to ensure a precise fit “witness points”. Indeed, the Bible is brimming with witness points that serve to align one part with another part.
Jesus’s expression throughout the New Testament “He who has ears to ear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:15) also offers a clue. It suggests that language that would superficially seem to describe physical objects and events should also be examined for spiritual meaning(s) revealed by the Key of David principle. The physical reveals the spiritual.
This approach brings huge swathes of scripture into sharp focus with a brilliant clarity, consistency, and cohesion not found in other methods of Bible study. Through this clarifying lens, all of the inspired word of God conveys related parts of a single story, from God’s eternal and unchanging vantage point of timeless heaven.
This is the approach used by the Philadelphia Church to take away meaning from the Bible. This principle was uncovered by Homer Kizer, and he has written very extensively about it. It will be seen that prophecy – the earthly shadows of heavenly things – is present throughout the entire Bible, not just in the books known as “The Prophets” or in Christ Jesus’s parables.
2. Some Examples
A few short examples will show how this principle works. Let us begin with the simple idea that a Biblical day consists of a period of darkness followed by a period of light. This simple pattern also carries allegorical meaning.
God Defines a “Day”
And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
The Bible defines a physical day as beginning at sunset and continuing to the following sunset. Is this arbitrary, or does the sequence matter? Apparently, it does.
The Sabbath always starts at sunset, giving physical expression to a spiritual principle. A Biblical month also starts at sunset; so does each festival of God, except the Wave Sheaf Offering’s morning observance.
In a spiritual sense, dark can signify something’s absence, and light its presence.
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
So the “dark followed by light” imagery can also express a spiritual idea, for example, Christ’s (as the light of the world) absence or presence in the world:
- A period when Christ is not inside of creation
- E.g., after the crucifixion when Christ preaches to imprisoned spirits while His physical body lies in the grave
- A period when Christ is inside of creation
- E.g., during the Tribulation on day 1260 (when dominion is taken from the Adversary and given to the Son of Man), the outset of the period called The Kingdom
Interestingly, dark followed by light also conveys the very idea that the physical (absence of light) precedes the spiritual (light). Light is an effective metaphor for the spiritual because light itself is not visible; only what it illuminates is visible. Yet light exists as a familiar invisible force that is nevertheless capable of manifesting its presence.
Seven Days of Creation and the Sabbath
Consider the analogy between the seven days of creation and the seven days of the week culminating in the Sabbath.
Genesis 1:1–2:3 recites God’s activities during six periods (“days”) of creation. On the seventh day, God finished His work and rested.
God blessed the seventh day – the Sabbath – and made it holy; thus God established the Sabbath as a day of rest for Israel. He commanded Israel to observe the Sabbath as a covenant forever. Exodus 31:16
The Sabbath is, therefore, a type of heaven – eternal rest.
Natural and Spiritual Israel
Natural Israel refers to the physical descendants of the Biblical Hebrew tribes.
However, natural Israel also has a spiritual counterpart. A person becomes part of spiritual Israel by demonstrating his or her belief in God – by keeping God’s commandments. The disciples who collectively form spiritual Israel aim to keep all of the commandments, although there is no legal requirement for them do so, because they love God. They also choose to celebrate the festivals of God in ways that commemorate what the Key of David reveals in scripture.
Creation Modelled as a Biblical Day
The seven-“day” period of creation embodies the same structure as a single Biblical day: a dark portion followed by a light portion.
Prior to the fourth day, light had not yet been created. As illustrated in Figure 4, during the fourth day (Genesis 1:16), God creates a greater light to rule the day (the sun – a light source), and a lesser light to rule the night (the moon).
Consider these physical lights from a spiritual perspective. The greater light can symbolize Christ Jesus’s entry into creation when incarnated as the Son of Man.
Thus, the entire first half of creation can also represent history from the beginning through Christ Jesus’s birth. Using this longer timeline, the second half of creation spans the remainder of history through the tribulation, Millenial Reign, Judgment, and New Jerusalem. In this way, the creation account can also be read as prophecy.
This example showed how the dark-followed-by-light structure of a single day can be meaningfully overlaid on a longer period of time.
3. Another typology example: “Christ, the last Adam”
This section will provide another example of how to draw meaning from scripture using the Key of David.
In Romans 5:14, the Apostle Paul writes of “Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” And in I Corinthians 15:45, “Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.”
First, who is “the one who was to come?”
Doesn’t this refer to the Messiah spoken of in Isaiah (chapter 53), Zechariah (12:10), Psalms, and other Old Testament prophets? So Paul has called the first man, Adam, a type of Christ. This may seem a strange comparison, yet Paul’s use of the word “type” is precise and intentional.
How then is Adam a type of Christ?
The Lord God formed the man of dust [Adam] of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
Adam received physical life when the Lord’s breath animated the man of dust. Thus Adam received physical, but not spiritual, life.
Luke 3:38 calls Adam “the son of God” in Jesus’s geneology, and (while we quibble with the book of Luke) this statement is true in the sense that the first man, Adam, was created and given physical life by God.
The man Jesus of Nazareth became the Son of God upon his baptism. “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” Matthew 3:16-17. The Greek phrase rendered in English as “spirit of God” (or holy spirit) is πνεῦμα τοῦ θεός. Πνεῦμα means literally current of air, breath, or breeze; figuratively, it means spirit. In other words, Jesus was confirmed by God as the Son of God after receipt of the breath of God.
God’s breath is what made the unliving man created from dust, Adam, physically alive.
God’s breath is what made the physically living man, Jesus of Nazareth, spiritually alive.
Continuing the analysis of I Corinthians 15:45, how then is the “last Adam” a “life-giving spirit”? The “last Adam” means Christ Jesus. I Corinthians 15:22 “As in Adam all die” [all of Adam’s physical descendants will suffer physical death], “so also in Christ shall all be made alive” [all of Christ’s spiritual descendants shall be made spiritually alive in the same way that the man Jesus of Nazareth received spiritual life to become the Son of God].
Spiritual life is conferred via the holy breath of God, πνεῦμα τοῦ θεός. See John 20:22 describing the brief reunion between the risen Christ and the disciples:
“‘As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit [πνεῦμα Ἅγιον]. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.’”
The last quoted sentence giving the disciples the power to forgive sins confirms that receipt of the holy spirit or divine breath conferred a profound spiritual change upon the disciples, empowering them with a spiritual power – to forgive or withhold forgiveness – that they did not formerly have.
Christ transmitted God’s holy breath – having the power to grant spiritual life – to the disciples, thereby transferring spiritual life to them in turn. This is indicated by Christ’s words: ‘As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’
That is how “in Christ all shall be made alive” and how “the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.”
Many additional witness points aligning the first and last Adam can be found; for brevity’s sake (as this article seeks merely to illustrate uses of typological exegesis), we cite just one more. Consider what happened to the first Adam: because of Adam’s disobedience, God ejected him from the Garden of Eden and sentenced him to toil and work the ground. Eden is a type of heaven where Adam had walked with God, had been in God’s presence.
Adam’s ejection forms an opposite-handed (chiral) mirror image of a key event in Christ Jesus’ timeline. Christ was without sin, was fully obedient to the Father. Upon His death and resurrection, the Son was reunited with God the Father in heaven in perpetuity – the exact opposite of what happened to Adam.
If the first Adam is physical, the last Adam (Christ) is spiritual. Physical aspects in Adam’s story precede and reveal spiritual aspects of Christ’s story – crucially, the role of the breath of God in transforming spiritually non-living disciples by giving them spiritual life: “Also in Christ shall all be made alive.”
4. Multi-level interpretations coexist
That is not to say that this is the only possible or only valid interpretation. The example in Section 2 illustrates how one very simple, physical idea – dark followed by light – can unlock spiritual ideas in scripture, when seen through the Key of David’s lens.
A certain kind of abstract thinking characterizes Philadelphia’s approach to scripture. It allows parallel, multi-level (fractal) meaningful interpretations to coexist without contradiction.
The structure shown in Fig. 4 – mapping the dark-followed-by-light idea to a longer timeline – does not contradict or negate the one in Fig. 3. Both understandings are valid.
The writer makes this point explicitly because Bible study using traditional Christianity’s methods often leads disciples to expect, and to seek, one sole “correct” meaning. A pastor, priest, or rabbi may have taught one specific interpretation of scripture, different from Philadelphia’s. Students from other Christian traditions may initially feel quite uncomfortable with our notion that multiple interpretations – layers of meaning – can and do validly coexist, or that the Bible’s physical/historical narrative is equally (or even primarily) allegorical. If you, the reader, feel this way, but are nonetheless intrigued by Philadelphia’s approach, the author suggests abiding the cognitive dissonance a bit longer and, through examples given throughout Homer Kizer’s writing, gradually you may come to see that his assertions are quite true, and, with patience, will reveal a much deeper understanding of God’s plan for mankind.
Now that a method of typological exegesis has been introduced, it is time to circle back and discuss the festivals of God specifically.
5. Traditions given for remembrance
In Moses’s time, besides the important weekly Sabbath, God gave Israel some seasonal festivals to observe. Festival observance caused the people of Israel to perform physical activities that foreshadowed future spiritual events when they made sacrifices at the temple, gathered in Jerusalem for certain holy days, and so forth. In their relationship with God (obeying, or at times disobeying, Him), the Hebrew people’s physical actions unwittingly depicted future milestones on God’s spiritual timeline – i.e. prophecies. Or said another way, future spiritual events cast physical shadows backwards in time that can be seen in Bible accounts of physical events.
For example, the first Passover, at the time of the Exodus when God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt – foreshadows Christ’s sacrifice as the Passover lamb some 1480-1580 years later – circa 31 C.E.
It also foreshadows the Second Passover, a future event seen plainly in prophecy, when all uncovered firstborns will perish – an event that has not yet occurred.
All of God’s high Sabbaths and feast days (physical) contain shadows of Christ Jesus (spiritual). But their meaning and observance is, and should be, context-dependent. It changed in the past, and will change again as the plan of God unfolds.
The Sabbaths and festivals of God are observed by those who believe God. Interestingly, even if a disciple initially has little understanding, observance by faith alone will produce greater understanding. Anyone can conduct this personal experiment.
6. God’s festivals – shadows of Christ
The Apostle Paul understood the festivals given by God to Moses for observance by Israel as shadows of Christ Jesus, when he wrote:
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you… with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
Webster’s Dictionary defines substance as “That which underlies all outward manifestations; the permanent cause of phenomena.” Thus, Paul is saying that the festivals of God are all about Christ Jesus.
Disciples should determine the time when each Sabbath begins and ends, and establish the yearly calendar of God’s festivals at their own location, based on their personal observations there – not based on somebody else’s location, or on a standard location chosen by a committee of learned rabbi, or on a rabbinical calendar having fixed dates.
7. No such commandment (Christmas, Easter)
The Bible contains no commandment to celebrate Christ Jesus’s birth or resurrection with a festival. On the contrary: the early church invented Christmas and Easter, and even changed the dates to fit with existing pagan customs. This was done to gain converts.
God commanded Israel:
“And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them.”
And in Deuteronomy 6:14:
“You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you…”
The early church gravely erred in assigning the dates of pagan holidays to annual commemorations of events in Christ Jesus’ life, while turning away from the festiovals of God that His people were commanded to observe as a statute forever.
Early Christian leaders created Christmas – supposedly commemorating Jesus of Nazareth’s birth – from the Roman Saturnalia, a winter festival of lawlesness.
And they created Easter – supposedly commemorating Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection – from pagan springtime worship of the Babylonian fertility goddess Ishtar. (Ever wonder why Easter celebrations prominently feature the fertility symbols of eggs and bunnies?)
Disciples should avoid (and reject) these traditions of men as faulty, because:
- At their core is worship of creation, rather than Creator
- They center on the physical – birth/death/resurrection of a body – not the spiritual
- They hybridize the sacred with the profane, subverting and diluting the true meaning of important sacred events.
However, God’s word does command disciples to observe the festivals of God, which are: Passover, Unleavened Bread, Wave Sheaf Offering, Pentecost, Trumpets, Atonement, Tabernacles, and the Last Great Day.
When analyzed by the Key of David, these festivals all point to Christ Jesus, teaching and reminding us of where we are in the plan of God. This will be shown in subsequent articles for each festival.
8. Understanding God’s calendar
So, if we are going to celebrate the festivals of God – with the understanding that our celebrations are symbolic in nature, and not on the fixed dates specified by mankind’s faulty traditions – when should we celebrate them?
And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years.”
There are some Sabbatarian Christians who do observe the festivals, but on Palestine’s date and time, or on dates calculated by a fixed scheme, rather than their local time.
Philadelphia disciples, however, use God’s way of reckoning the calendar, just as He set forth in the Bible. As Sections 2 and 4 showed, God’s definition of a day – a period of darkness followed by a period of light – has symbolic meaning and prophetic significance. And, observing God’s festivals because we love Him, why wouldn’t we want to follow God’s instructions as best we can?
God’s calendar is an agricultural calendar, based on new moons and the ripening of produce. These timing signs require our personal observation of local conditions. In God’s calendar,
- Days and months always begin at sunset
- Month means a lunar month; each month starts with a new moon (the slimmest crescent)
- The year always begins in spring
- The first month, called Abib or Aviv in Hebrew, starts on the first new moon on or after the spring equinox. At this time, the earliest barley – “firstfruits” – is about 2-3 weeks from being ready for harvesting in a partially-ripe green state for a “wave sheaf offering”.
9. Determining the spring equinox
Perhaps you will say, “I am not an astronomer; I do not know how to determine the spring equinox.” Or perhaps you are satisfied to use calendars calculated by people at other locations.
But recall that without modern technology, people in antiquity were able to accurately reckon the equinox and other calendar milestones by observation and record-keeping. We can do it today with similar methods.
The spring equinox is the date in spring when the day and the night are of equal length – twelve hours.
At that time of year, the sun rises and sets in the direction nearest to due east and due west, respectively. To make this observation, one needs a good view of both eastward and westward horizons, unobstructed by terrain obstacles or clouds. Of course there are many places where it is not possible to see the horizon at the exact moment of sunrise or sunset, so this method will not work for everybody.
One could also to monitor the ripening of the earliest grains (or seed-heads of wild grasses) for the onset of spring, in which detailed equinox observations should be made.
The spring equinox occurs about three lunar months after the winter solstice. The winter solstice is the date having the longest nights and the shortest days. On the winter solstice, the length of the sun’s shadow at high noon hardly changes from one day to the next. The shortest shadow of the day, when the sun has ascended to its maximum elevation at solar noon, is slightly longer than the previous day or the following day. A count of lunar months (each beginning with a new moon) starting from the winter solstice can also help establish the date of the spring equinox.
In practice, all these methods can be used, in case it is cloudy when it is time for a sunrise or sunset observation, or in case the sky is obscured on the date of the new moon.
Or disciples could consult mankind’s secular calendar for the approximate date of the spring equinox, then monitor the sky around that time to make any local adjustments that may be necessary. Should human institutions fail, disciples should be prepared to count days and months, and possibly do a little astronomy.
One reason why it is not sufficient to simply rely on a calendar or ephemeris (table of future astronomical events) is that at some point(s), God will show signs in the heavens, which believers ought to observe. Consider that God made the sun and moon stand still for “about a whole day” to assist Joshua when he led Israel’s forces against the Amorites:
At that time Joshua spoke to the LORD in the day when the LORD gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, “Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and moon, in the valley of Aijalon.” And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day. There has been no day like it before or since, when the LORD obeyed the voice of a man, for the LORD fought for Israel.
This indicates that God’s schedule is flexible, so our calendar must flex accordingly.
10. To whom does this apply?
God’s dictate to observe the His festivals applies to Israel, meaning both natural and spiritual Israel. It applies to everyone who wants to accept God’s promise of entering into His rest – eternal life – heaven – symbolized by the Sabbath and the Promised Land.
Some Christian traditions teach that God’s covenant with Israel ended with Christ Jesus and the new covenant.
We beg to disagree over this crucial point. In Philadelphia’s understanding, the New Covenant has not yet taken effect. According to scripture, evidence that it has been implemented will manifest as follows:
The Law will have been written on minds and hearts of all who are “Israel” (Hebrews 10:16), describing a future time when Christian evangelism will be totally unnecessary, because all persons will have been taught by God. At that time, it will be perfectly evident that the Law has become part of each person’s character. Paul describes this condition as “circumcision of the heart” (Romans 2:29), which means voluntarily limiting one’s behavior and thoughts to virtue, goodness, and righteousness.
Paul did not invent this concept. He was alluding to Torah where the Lord told Israel: “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn” and “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” Deuteronomy 10:16 and 30:6.
Manifest love for the Lord and for one’s neighbor, by all persons at large, will be the primary evidence that the New Covenant has taken effect. Plainly this is not the case with the population of planet earth today.
After the New Covenant’s implementation, it will be belief in God (what’s in a person’s heart – his or her spiritual nature) that matters rather than a person’s physical actions per se (although belief in and love of God produces obedience to God). While a person’s actions may be the same, belief in God will have transformed the motivation underlying the person’s actions. As Abraham was before the Law was given to Moses – Abraham’s faith in God was such that he acted upon his belief – that is the kind of faith-that-produces-action that spiritual Israel will display after the New Covenant has taken effect.
Meanwhile, God’s original covenants with Israel still stand!
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Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
All bolding within scripture quotations is emphasis added by the author.