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Pilgrim festivals were special religious celebrations that commemorated God’s great acts of salvation. In accordance with the law of Moses in the OT there were pilgrim festivals when all Jewish males were required to make a pilgrimage, or journey, to the temple in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices and bring offerings from their fields. Women and children usually accompanied their husbands and fathers, making the journey a family event. People traveled in large groups for safety, and the roads became very crowded as the groups neared Jerusalem. Scholars estimate that during the time of Jesus there would have been hundreds of thousands of pilgrims making the journey to the temple.

The three major pilgrim festivals of Judaism were:
the Feast of Unleavened Bread – the first and most important of the three pilgrim festivals
the Feast of Weeks
the Feast of Tabernacles

the Feast of Unleavened Bread (the Feast of Passover)

[The Feast of Unleavened Bread is a feast that is generally mistaken for Passover. Passover however is only the one 24 hour period that begins the Feast of Unleavened Bread which itself then lasts for seven days.]

Passover commemorates the Israelite’s deliverance from bondage in Egypt. The name comes from Ex 12 13, where God promises that if they sprinkle the blood of a lamb on the doorposts and lintel of their houses “I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt”. By Jesus’ time, Passover had been combined with the Feast of Unleavened Bread. During the seven day festival immediately following Passover only unleavened bread (that made without yeast) was to be eaten.

the Feast of Weeks

The Feast of Weeks was a joyous occasion celebrated 50 days (seven full weeks) after the beginning of the barley harvest (i.e. of the Feast of Unleavened Bread) in late spring or early summer. Thus, in the NT it came to be known as Pentecost, from the Greek word for fiftieth. It marked the end of the harvest, and was celebrated with the offering of leavened bread. It was celebrated as a Sabbath day with rest from work. Pentecost marked the beginning of the wheat harvest. The first fruits of the harvest were brought to the temple and two loaves of bread made from the new wheat were offered.

Jewish Pentecost later acquired even deeper significance by being related to the Exodus. It was seen to coincide with the Israelites’ arrival at Mount Sinai and was the occasion on which the giving of the Law was commemorated.

the Feast of Tabernacles (the Feast of Booths)

The Hebrew name is sukkoth (succoth, sukkot), meaning huts. This joyous, autumnal thanksgiving harvest festival began five days after Yom Kippur (= the Day of Atonement). It commemorated and reminded the people of Israel of God’s protection during their ancestors’ wanderings in the wilderness in their long journey from Egypt to the promised land of Canaan following the Exodus. It also reminded them of the symbol of God’s presence among them in the tabernacle. During their wanderings the people had lived in temporary homes called booths, which were simple lean-to structures made of branches.

This Feast of Booths was celebrated for eight days each September and October, during which time the Jewish people were also required to live in booths and to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving for the harvest for seven days. Each family hung samples of their fall crop in their booth in order to acknowledge God’s faithfulness in providing for his people.

The ordinances regarding this feast are found in Le 23 34-36, 39-44; Dt 16 13-15; 31 10-13. Jn 7 tells us of Jesus’ activities during this feast. By his time, the feast included triumphal processions with the people carrying branches and palms.

the NT significance of the pilgrim festivals

These pilgrim festivals have great significance in the NT. Jesus fulfilled every requirement of the law of Moses by becoming our sacrificial Passover Lamb and by giving us the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The Feast of Tabernacles reminds us that God is truly present with us in a new way, revealed to us in his Word and Sacraments.

This paragraph and chart found in ‘pilgrim festivals’ in definition folder. If change one, change both.

There are 8 great festival times that the people of Israel celebrated, festivals which focus on the God of liberation. Not only do the people of Israel have their liturgical worship within the tabernacle and then later in the temple, and they had detailed instructions for that, but they also had a liturgical or worship year. They were to celebrate certain days and festivals throughout the year.

The Israelite Festival Calendar (Le 23)

Festival

Jewish name

Reference

Celebrates/Remembers

1. Passover / Unleavened Bread

Pesach

Le 23 58

Liberation from Egypt

2. Firstfruits

Le 23 914

Beginning of harvest

3. Feast of Weeks (Pentecost)

Shavuot

Le 23 1521

Beginning of wheat harvest

4. Feast of Trumpets (New Year)

Le 23 2325

5. Day of Atonement

Le 23 2632

Israel’s need of forgiveness

6. Feast of Tabernacles (Ingathering)

Sukkot (Succoth)

Le 23 3336

Wilderness wanderings

7. Feast of New Moon (monthly)

8. Sabbath (weekly)

Le 23 3

= The Three Great Pilgrimage Festivals (ie, numbers 1, 3 and 6)