God's Festivals: Keys to Humanity's Future

Lesson 12, Part 7


The Last Great Day

The book of Revelation reveals that all people who have ever died without hearing of Christ or learning God's way of life are to be resurrected and given their opportunity to receive eternal life. This brings us to the concluding aspects of God's plan.

What is God’s seventh and last annual festival?

"Also on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep the feast of the LORD for seven days; on the first day there shall be a sabbath-rest, and on the eighth day a sabbath-rest” (Leviticus 23:39).

“Also day by day, from the first day until the last day, [Ezra] read from the Book of the Law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day there was a sacred assembly, according to the prescribed manner” (Nehemiah 8:18).

The seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles are followed by another high day, on which God commands an assembly. This eighth day is the Last Great Day of the fall festival season, and it represents the final, or seventh, step in God’s plan of salvation.

As Christ’s 1,000-year reign on earth (Revelation 20:4) is followed by other prophesied events, the Feast of Tabernacles is also followed by a concluding festival that represents the conclusion of those final events—the final aspects of God’s purpose and plan for humanity on our physical earth. The book of Revelation reveals that all people who have ever died without hearing of Christ or learning God’s way of life are to be resurrected and given their opportunity to receive eternal life. This brings us to the concluding aspects of God’s plan.

John writes: “And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:12-15).

This is the resurrection of “the rest of the dead [who] did not live again until the thousand years were finished” mentioned in Revelation 20:5. This resurrection of many millions of people back to physical, perishable life is graphically depicted in Ezekiel 37:1-12. In this resurrection, according to Jesus, the dead of all past ages—people such as the queen of the South (or Sheba) from Solomon’s time, the inhabitants of the ancient Assyrian stronghold of Nineveh from Jonah’s time and the people of Christ’s time—will all be resurrected together (Matthew 12:41-42).

This judgment will take place over time as these people hear and learn God’s truth for the first time. Those who rise in this resurrection and repent—and the Scriptures indicate that most of them will repent—will receive God’s Spirit. “Then you … will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live … Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD” (Ezekiel 37:13-14, NIV). In this resurrection God will give them their opportunity for salvation—an opportunity they never had before.

Did Jesus speak of a connection between the Last Great Day and the receiving of God’s Spirit? 

“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” (John 7:37-39). 

Most people cling to the notion that God sends those who die unsaved to an ever-burning hell to be tormented forever. This is one of the great deceptions Satan has foisted off on mankind. It is simply not true. Instead, the Scriptures consistently teach that each person who dies remains in his grave, having no consciousness or pain (Ecclesiastes 9:5; Psalms 6:5) until God resurrects him. (For detailed proof be sure to request the booklets Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach? and What Happens After Death? )

Jesus explained that everyone who dies will be resurrected from his grave, not from an ever-burning hell: “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs [‘graves’ in most translations] shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29, New American Standard Bible). Some translators incorrectly render this event as a “resurrection of condemnation.” Such translation does not accurately reflect what the Scriptures teach.

Humanity’s final judgment, according to the Scriptures, will not be in the form of a resurrection to automatic condemnation. Rather it will be the time when those who have never heard God’s truth explained will finally receive an opportunity to hear and repent—by being resurrected and taught God’s truth over a generously sufficient length of time to come to repentance and prove to God they really want eternal life and are willing to submit to Him.

Through God’s wondrous foresight, all people will enjoy the opportunity to learn His truth and come to repentance, because God “desires all men to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4). God will forgive those who repent (the biblical indications are that most will repent) and give them His Spirit and ultimately salvation in His Kingdom. Remember, “the Lord is … not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). He provides for everyone to have a genuine personal opportunity to have his name written in the book of life.

Finally, this time of judgment will conclude when the incorrigibly wicked—those who, after receiving their opportunity to repent, still refuse to accept God’s ways—are cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14-15).

What do the Scriptures describe as the conclusion of this final judgment period?

“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4).

What follows in Revelation 21:1-27; Revelation 22:1-21 briefly describes the community of those who have received salvation living peacefully and harmoniously with each other in the presence of God for eternity. In His wonderful Kingdom God will reveal the meaning of His promise, “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).

God’s festivals celebrate the seven stages of His wonderful, all-encompassing plan so we can have faith in Him and rest assured that He knows what He is doing. He has thought out every detail to bring us—all who are willing—to repentance and give us eternal life.

By keeping His festivals we remain focused on what is important in our view of the future and our role in it. Each time we keep them we deepen our understanding of prophecies throughout the Bible that fill in the details of God’s wonderful plan.

Members of the United Church of God, publishers of this Bible Study Course, gather every year in dozens of locations around the world in obedience to God’s command to observe the Feast of Tabernacles. In addition, they keep God’s other annual festivals in their local congregations. Visitors are always welcome.

In this lesson we cover only the highlights of what the Bible reveals about God’s Holy Days and their relationship to biblical prophecy. For more information about God’s festivals be sure to read and study our 64-page booklet God’s Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind . For a more-thorough understanding of God’s plan as revealed in Bible prophecy, also request the booklets Are We Living in the Time of the End? , You Can Understand Bible Prophecy and The Book of Revelation Unveiled . All will add to your understanding of God’s festivals and their relationship to His plan and to the prophecies that reveal many of its details.

How Sacrifices and Festivals are Related?

What is the connection between sacrifices and God's festivals?

Anyone who reads about God’s festivals in the Old Testament will notice that ritual sacrifices were intimately associated with sacred occasions. Why? What is the connection between sacrifices and God’s festivals?

First we need to understand that the sacrifices represented Jesus Christ. Notice this explanation in the book of Hebrews, written to Jewish Christians:

“… According to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission. Therefore it was necessary that the copies [that is, the earthly tabernacle and its sacrificial system] of the things in the heavens should be purified with these [animal sacrifices], but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:22-24).

In ancient Israel a physical tabernacle represented God’s presence among His people. But today, through His Spirit, God lives in—He dwells in—His people. Christians, therefore, as individuals (1 Corinthians 6:19) and as the Church, the “body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13), are to be regarded as the “temple” of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22).

As the Scriptures explain, “Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:11-14).

The lesson here is that the blessings of God’s plan of salvation, as pictured by His festivals, are available only to those whom He redeems through Jesus’ sacrifice. The necessity for us to have our sins covered by Christ’s sacrifice was symbolically represented to ancient Israel—though the Israelites lacked a full understanding of what they were doing—through the ritual sacrifices God required them to make, especially during the sacred festivals.

In an even greater way we should be aware that Christ’s sacrifice is the key to our participation in God’s great plan. His sacrifice will always be the key to our salvation—and the key to our being able to understand God’s plan for our salvation as revealed in His holy festivals. Therefore there remains a vital, though infinitely better, relationship between His eternal sacrifice and God’s sacred festivals. This link between sacrifice and festival has never been broken.

What Did Paul Really Say in Colossians 2:16?

The passage in Colossians 2:16, probably more than any other in the Bible, is interpreted by those who reject God's festivals as confirmation that the biblical feast days are unnecessary observances.

The apostle Paul wrote to the Colossian Christians, a gentile congregation: “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come …” (Colossians 2:16-17, King James Version).

This passage, probably more than any other in the Bible, is interpreted by those who reject God’s festivals as confirmation that the biblical feast days are unnecessary observances. Regrettably, such reasoning is based on poor scholarship and misleading translations from the original wording of Paul’s instructions.

From the context we see that Paul, in this passage, is countering a local heresy. In doing so he actually confirms and explains the value of God’s days to Christians. He explains that they foreshadow “things to come.”

In other words, the focus of God’s festivals is on the future, relating God’s plan directly to the commission Christ gave His Church. So let’s examine what Paul actually says about Sabbaths, new moons and “holydays” in this verse.

First we need to understand that Paul was confronting a heresy. False teachers had infiltrated the congregation in Colosse. These deceivers had influenced the Colossian Christians by introducing their own religious philosophy. This prompted Paul to warn the Colossians, “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit according to the tradition of men” (Colossians 2:8). Humanly devised tradition—not the revealed instructions of God’s Word in the Bible—was the problem Paul was countering. Earlier Jesus had taken the Pharisees to task over the same kind of problem. They also had elevated their traditions to greater importance than God’s commandments (Mark 7:8-13).

Paul tried to keep the Colossians focused on Christ as the head of the Church (Colossians 1:18; Colossians 2:10-19). But these false teachers were trying to persuade them to direct their worship toward angels (Colossians 2:18) and neglect their own bodies (Colossians 2:23). No such distorted ideas are taught anywhere in the Scriptures.

Paul characterized the Colossian heresy as “empty deceit” and “the basic principles of the world” (Colossians 2:8). The deceivers were persuading the Colossians to ignore plain biblical instruction in favour of “traditions of men.”

What type of deceitful regulations did Paul combat? “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle … according to the commandments and doctrines of men” (Colossians 2:21-22). The heretics advocated man-made regulations concerning physical things that “perish with the using” (verse 22).

Why is this important? The deceivers were probably forerunners of a major religious movement, gnosticism, that flourished in the second century. They did not represent the mainstream Jewish thinking of that day, nor were they faithful to the Scriptures.

They believed salvation could be obtained through constant contemplation of what is “spiritual”—to, as Paul explained, the “neglect” of the physical body (Colossians 2:23). It appears they believed in various orders of angels and in direct human interaction with angels.

Paul indicates they regarded all physical things, including the human body, as decadent. He explicitly states that the heresies he was countering “concern things which perish with the using [physical things] according to the commandments and doctrines of men” (Colossians 2:22). Paul tells us he was countering human commandments and doctrines—not the commandments of God.

The Colossian heretics had introduced various man-made prohibitions—such as “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle” (Colossians 2:21)—against the enjoyment of physical things. They especially objected to the pleasurable aspects of God’s festivals—the eating and drinking aspects—that are commanded in the Scriptures (Deuteronomy 12:17-18).

When Paul wrote, “… Let no one judge you in food …” (Colossians 2:16), he wasn’t discussing what types of foods they should or should not eat. The Greek word brosis, translated “food,” refers not to the kinds of foods one should or should not eat, but to “the act of eating” (Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1985, “Food”). The point is that the deceivers disdained feasting—any type of eating and drinking for enjoyment.

Paul instructed the Colossian Christians not to be influenced by these false teachers’ objections to eating, drinking and rejoicing on Sabbaths, feast days and new moons.

Perhaps we should, at this point, mention the relationship between new moons and God’s festivals. The dates for observing God’s festivals are determined by a lunar calendar. Therefore new moons—which mark the beginning of the months—are important for establishing correct festival dates. Unlike God’s Holy Days, however, new moons are not commanded observances in the Scriptures. In the Millennium the custom of making the arrival of each new moon a special occasion will again be restored (Isaiah 66:23), but no biblical command exists now that requires their observance.

Now back to Paul’s main point: The Colossian deceivers had no authority to judge or determine how the Colossians were to observe God’s festivals. That is why Paul said, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days …” (Colossians 2:16-17, King James Version).

Notice that Paul tells them to reject false human judgment, not the judgment of God found in the Scriptures.

At this point we should note another grammatical matter. The words “respect of” are translated from the Greek noun meros, which denotes a part of something. Therefore a more accurate rendering of what Paul wrote would be “Let no man therefore judge you … in any part of a holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days …

Paul is simply being consistent. Eating or drinking is an appropriate part of Sabbath and feast-day observance according to the Scriptures. Therefore Paul uses meros (“part”) to cover all parts or aspects of God’s Holy Days that these heretics might condemn or criticize. Nothing in this passage even suggests that God abolished His Sabbaths or Holy Days, nor authorized Paul to do so. Succumbing to the judgmental influence of those early gnostic heretics is what Paul condemns, not the observance of Sabbaths and feast days.

God’s festivals are times for joy and celebration. He commands us to attend them and rejoice with our children—our entire family (Deuteronomy 12:5-7; Deuteronomy 14:26). He wants us to delight in them. No wonder Paul condemns the misguided ascetic philosophy of the Colossian heretics with such vigor. Paul was defending the Christians’ right to enjoy feasting at God’s holy festivals.

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