Today at sundown began Rosh Hashanah, or the Feast of Trumpets, (Lev. 23:23-25), which marks the Jewish new year. This is a month of holy days for the Jewish faith, as Rosh Hashanah also begins the 10 day countdown to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Both are high holidays, although Yom Kippur (Lev. 16) is probably the most holy of all Jewish holidays. Yom Kippur is a day of affliction and atonement. It is filled with fasting (25 hour), work of any kind is prohibited (including sexual encounters), and it also includes a variety of cleansing rituals (from the Talmud).
Why is it that Christians no longer practice these things? They are in our Bible after all.
Christians allow God’s second covenantal, revelatory, Scripture define and interpret itself. These holidays are now either obsolete, or even sinful before God. What used to be Law is now offensive, and as Christians, we ought to be incredibly thankful for this.
God, in His Word, has revealed something very important about these Old Covenant Jewish ceremonies: God has defined their purpose, and revealed their purpose has been realized.
When Paul deals with the Judaizers in the book of Galatians, he is dealing with people within the Christian church externally trying to impose Jewish ceremonial practices on the Christian people for justification; they were teaching a faith and works “gospel”.
Clearly, their primary issue was circumcision (2:7; 5:2-12). However, Paul mentions another issue he has with these false-converts. Galatians 4:8-10,
“Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years!”
In Paul’s discussion of the weak and worthless principles, which make those who follow them slaves, he mentions, not circumcision, but the observance of the Jewish holy days. Paul describes, along with circumcision, the following of these Old Covenant ceremonial rituals, along with circumcision, as being yolked to slavery (5:1). He also describes it as being a false gospel (1:6-8; 2:5; 3: 10-14; 5: 1-6). This is the most serious of any charge. This is a big deal.
Paul, a Jewish man and former Pharisee, continues this condemnation of Jewish ceremonies in his letter to the Colossians.
After teaching about Jesus’ death atoning for our sins, canceling our debt, and providing us with a spiritual circumcision, and a spiritual resurrection (2: 8-15), Paul concludes this way. Colossians 2:16,
“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.”
Paul explicitly tells us these things are no longer over us, we are no longer bound to them, and no one can tell us otherwise. Why is this the case? Paul answers that in the very next verse (17),
“These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”
These rituals, feasts, and ceremonies had a purpose, and that purpose was to point us to Christ. Christ is the substance of these shadows, now that we have Christ, we no longer need these ceremonies. They are obsolete.
Imagine a husband who has been long gone for many months at war, and upon returning home to his wife and children, he has come home to find out that his wife has fallen more deeply in love with the pictures of him on her phone than with her husband himself. She has no interest in intimacy or fellowship with him; she prefers the pictures.
That is the very thing happening in Judaism today: the types and shadows are exalted over the substance.
There is no better place to turn to for this discussion than the book of Hebrews. The entire book is about the transition from the Old Covenant to the New. I would encourage all Christians to read through the book of Hebrews this month as a reminder of why we no longer need the Jewish faith. Hebrews 10: 1-18,
“For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.’ Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’ When he said above, ‘You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings’ (these are offered according to the law), then he added, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will.’ He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,’ then he adds, ‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’ Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.”
Christ is better. Christ is the realization of Old Testament; He is the substance of these types and shadows. He is what the entire thing is about, and we have Him now.
The New Covenant is better (Hebrews 7: 22). Jesus is now our permanent High Priest (Hebrews 8: 1-9). Heaven is His Holy of Holies (Hebrews 9: 11), He is our Sacrificial Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7), and His sacrifice is actually effectual (Hebrews 10: 1-18). Unlike the Old Testament ceremonies, Jesus actually saves.
Jesus came to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17) and, as a new and better Moses, mediate a better Covenant accompanied with better promises to His people (Hebrews 8: 5-13).
We need not cleansing rituals; we have been spiritually washed (Titus 3: 4-6). We need not circumcision, we have been spiritually circumcised (Colossians 2:11), and we especially do not need an annual Day of Atonement. We have had our day of atonement, and it took place over 2,000 years ago on a Roman cross.