Can You Keep the Festivals Outside of Jerusalem and the Temple?

What is going to be presented is not meant to offend anyone trying to keep the festivals now, but it is given to inform you of some concepts that you may not have been presented with for consideration from God’s word. If the Lord has spoken to you to keep the festivals, then do it. But, we are going to look at the evidence from Scripture. The first thing we need to do is define the phrase “keep and observe.”

This phrase means “to guard and to incorporate the Torah (Word of God) into our lives, and to stay in line with the “tavnit” (meaning blueprint) that God has laid down in the Torah by doing certain things, at certain times, at certain places, by certain people.”

In Lev 10.1-5, Nadab and Abihu found out the hard way that they could not change the services from the blueprint God had commanded. It was the eighth day of their consecration as a priest and offered “strange fire” before the Lord. They tried to offer incense at an unauthorized time that was not part of the service God gave, and God never said two people could do it, either. Did they consult their teachers, Moses and Aaron? Independant thought and inspiration must be channeled through the Word of God. The ordinances of God, like the services in the Mishkan and Temple and the festivals, cannot be changed by any human authority, not even the sons of the High Priest.

They did what was right in their own eyes and they died. What should have been a happy occasion became a day of grief. Aaron had lost two of his sons in one day because they did not “keep and observe” what the Lord commanded them to do. What makes people think they can “keep and observe” the festivals outside of the Temple, a functioning priesthood and Jerusalem today!

In 1 Sam 15.22 it says, “And Samuel said, ‘Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice and to heed than the fat of rams.'” Sadly, this is the problem today with people who think that they can keep the biblical festivals and to ignore what the Lord has said about them. Israel still refuses to listen to the Lord and keeps certain festivals, like Passover, while ignoring the fact that there is no Temple, holy vessels or functioning priesthood. Israel hasn’t followed Moses for over two thousand years.

The Book of Deuteronomy will refer to the Temple as the place that God will select to establish his name. When the Torah refers to the Temple as the place where God’s name will be established, it is a telling statement of the Temple’s purpose: the Temple is a house for God’s name and symbolizes a public declaration of God’s sovereignty (“The Temple: Its Symbolism and Meaning Then and Now” by Joshua Berman, p. 63).

Deut 12.26-27 says, “Only your holy things which you may have and your votive offerings you shall take and go to the place which the Lord chooses and you shall offer your burnt offerings, the flesh and the blood, on the altar of the Lord your God; and the blood of your sacrifices shall be poured out on the altar of the Lord your God, and you shall eat the flesh.” This verse clearly states that the offerings can only be brought to the place where the Lord chooses to place his name, and that became the Temple in Jerusalem.

Deut 12.5-8 says, “But you shall seek the Lord at the place which the Lord your God shall choose from all of your tribes, to establish his name there for his dwelling, and there you shall come. And there you shall bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the contribution of your hand, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the first-born of your herd and of your flock.” Again, that became the Temple in Jerusalem.

Every festival involved these offerings and if you can’t have the offerings because there is no Temple, altar and priesthood, then there is no festival as the Lord prescribed. For example, why don’t people kill a lamb for Passover today (or offer any of the korbanot)? They will say, “Because there is no Temple.” Exactly! So if you can’t have a lamb because there is no Temple, how can you keep any of it? The lamb WAS Passover, and even called “the Passover.”

Where is this place that God has chosen? 2 Chr 6.6 says “but I have chosen Jerusalem that my name might be there, and I have chosen David to be over my people Israel.” Then in 2 Chr 7.16 it says, “For now I have chosen and consecrated this house (the Temple in Jerusalem) that my name may be there forever, and my eyes and my heart will be there perpetually.”

Deut 16.1-2 says that the Passover lamb can only be slain “where the Lord chooses to establish his name.”
We know this was at the Mishkan once they entered the land (Lev 23.10; Josh 4.19 through 5.11), and eventually in Jerusalem at the Temple. Deut 16.16 says that all males were to appear before the Lord “in the place which he chooses” three times a year, at the festivals of Hag Ha Matzah (Unleavened Bread), Shavuot (Pentecost) and Sukkot (Booths). When a person could not keep the Passover at the time prescribed by the Torah, you could do it a month later (Num 9.10-11). But they still had to come to Jerusalem and the Temple.

One of the reasons given for being able to do this a month later was that you were “on a distant journey” and could not be in Jerusalem. However, if you could keep the festival in some other place like people do today, there would have been no reason to give this commandment, they could just keep it wherever they were. But the Lord said they could not do that. Why do people think they can do it today? Because they are doing what is right in their own eyes.

This not only applied to Passover, but the three pilgrim festivals (three “foot” festivals called the Shelosh Regalim because you walked to Jerusalem to keep them) of Unleavened Bread, Shavuot (Weeks) and Sukkot (Tabernacles) as well (Deut 16.16).

When Hezekiah wanted to keep the Passover, he sent a message to all the tribes that they should come to the house of the Lord in Jerusalem and celebrate (2 Chr 30.1). Again, if you could celebrate it anywhere, there would have been no reason to do this. But, Jerusalem and the Temple was where the Lord chose to put his name and that is the only place a festival could be kept. Josiah did the same thing when he gathered the people to Jerusalem for his Passover (2 Chr 35.1).

In the Book of Esther, Esther calls for a three day fast. The fast went from Nisan 13 through Nisan 15. Her first banquet was on the 16th, and the second one was the 17th. Now, that means they fasted through Passover (Nisan 14) and the first day of Hag Ha Matzah because they were not keeping Passover or Unleavened Bread outside the land, Jerusalem or the Temple. There is not one verse that says captive Israel kept the festivals in Babylon.

In Neh 8.1-18, the people have returned from captivity and they were gathered as one man in Jerusalem, in front of the Water Gate, to hear Ezra the scribe read from the Torah on Tishri 1, or Yom Teruah (Rosh Ha Shannah). After he was done the people wept when they heard the words of the Torah because they had not been doing what was commanded while in Babylon. Then Ezra and Nehemiah calmed all the people and told them that “this day is holy to the Lord” (Lev 23.23-25) and told them not to grieve. They had not been keeping the festivals in captivity and they thought they may be in trouble again. But the Levites calmed the people, and they went away to eat, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival because “they understood the words which had been made known to them.”

The next day (Neh 8.13), or Tishri 2, the “heads of the fathers’ households of all the people, the priests, and the Levites were gathered to Ezra the scribe that they might gain insight into the words of the law.” They found that it was written in the Torah that the Lord had commanded through Moses that the people should live in booths during the feast of the seventh month (Sukkot-Lev 23.39-44). They did not even know they were supposed to do that, which means they weren’t doing it in the Babylonian Captivity because they were not in Jerusalem and there was no Temple, priesthood or holy things. But now they were back in the land, and Jerusalem, and the Temple site, so they proclaimed and circulated a proclamation in all the cities and in Jerusalem that the people were to go out into the hills and make booths, and come to Jerusalem because that was the only place the festival could be kept (John 7.2-14). So, they obeyed and did so, and it says the entire assembly that had returned from captivity made “sukkot” (booths) and lived in them. Ezra also read from the book of the law daily, from the first day to the last day and they celebrated the festival seven days, and on the eighth day (Lev 23.33-36).

In Acts 18.21, Paul said “I must by all means keep the feast that comes in Jerusalem” and we know that feast was Shavuot (Pentecost). It says in Acts 20.16 that “he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.” So, even Paul understood that you could not keep the festivals outside of the Temple in Jerusalem. Why didn’t he just stay where he was? Why the big hurry to get to Jerusalem for the festival? Can you keep the festivals outside the land? Can you keep the festivals with no Temple, altar or priesthood? Paul didn’t think so because it is impossible to fulfill, and it was contrary to the Tanak. 

The Torah requires that the people go to the place that the Lord chose to place his name (Deut 16.16). Not only must there be a place where he put his name (Jerusalem), but there must be a functioning Temple, altar and priesthood there (Lev 23.1-44; Ex 12.24-25; Deut 12.5-9; 14.22-23; 16.2-6; 2 Chr 30.1-27). If you were in Jerusalem and there was no Temple, altar or priesthood, you still couldn’t keep the festivals. If that is true, why do people think they can keep the festivals outside of the land! If there was a functioning Temple, altar and priesthood and you were outside of the land, you still could not keep the festivals where you were, like in the case of Paul. You would still need to come to Jerusalem where the Temple was.

Gathering together in far off places to keep any festival was never allowed, and if you did, you were not fulfilling the commandment. A “memorial” is acceptable as long as it is not an attempt to keep the festival, so don’t dress them up in those terms. People can begin to think they are doing the right thing when in fact they are disobeying the Lord, like Saul did. We would try and “keep the festivals” in the past outside of the land and after awhile the Lord began to show us this was right in our own eyes, but not right in the eyes of the Lord. By going to other places to “keep the festivals” we realized that it profaned Jerusalem and the Temple as the place where God dwelt and put his name (Deut 12.11; 2 Chr 6.6) and it was not what Israel did in the past.

In a classic example of Replacement Theology, Jeroboam feared that if the people went up to Jerusalem to the house of the Lord for the festivals, their hearts would return to Rehoboam and they would begin to serve him. So, he did three things. He set up a substitute place of worship, a substitute priesthood and a substitute time for festivals (1 Kings 12. 25-33). This is exactly what the problem is today. People have Sukkot celebrations in Oklahoma or other places, thinking they are keeping that festival, but they really aren’t. But if they stop doing that many ministries would lose money, especially the people organizing it. So, just like Jereboam, they make a substitute.

Another example of this can be found in the book “Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations”, pages 175-176, where it says, “First-century Judaism was thus very varied, but one assumption shared by all types of Jew was that Jerusalem was the ideal sanctuary for the worship of God. It was the denial of this one tenet that ensured that the Samaritans were not Jews, either in their own eyes, or in the eyes of other Jews. On the Samaritan side, the issue was simple. They never called themselves Jews (“ioudaioi” in Greek, “yehudim” in Hebrew). They were the ‘Israelites who worship God on Mount Gerizim.’ For them, yehudi meant ‘Judaean’, denoted someone from the province of Judea, or “Yehud”, which was distinct in the Persian and Hellenistic periods from Samaria to the north. But for Jews, it was their devotion to their rival sanctuary on Mount Gerizim in Samaria that put the Samaritans beyond the pale. The issue seems to have been that the Samaritans were believed to be breaking biblical commands by preferring to offer sacrifices to God in places other than Jerusalem.” In other words, the Samaritans believed that their temple was a “legitimate replacement” and “Mount Gerizim, not Jerusalem, was the place where God had chosen to be worshiped.” Now, if you can keep the festivals anywhere, like many Jewish, Messianic, Jewish Roots and Sacred Name people do, then why was this a problem? People who believe they can keep the festivals outside of Jerusalem are making the same mistake the Samaritans did!

Many believers in Yeshua follow man-made rabbinical traditions and they are making the same mistake Jeroboam and the Samaritans did. You cannot celebrate and keep the festivals outside of the land, outside of Jerusalem and outside of the Temple with a functioning priesthood. The Temple does not exist today, so one cannot keep the festivals. End of story. We have seen some rationalize that they can, but that is how men think, not God.

Some will say that Israel kept the Passover in the wilderness, but that was one time and they had Moses (who talked with the Lord face to face) guiding them. They also had the Mishkan, the altar and a functioning priesthood. They kept Passover once because the festival ceremony had changed and the Lord was giving them new instructions about how to keep it, and they did this at the command of the Lord, but they did not do it again until they crossed the Jordan and entered the land with Joshua. The Mishkan was where the Lord chose to put his name at the time. This would be true for Shiloh and any other place where the Mishkan stood before the Temple was built. But later, when Israel disobeyed the Lord he said in Hos 2.11 that “I will put an end to all her gaiety, her feasts, her new moons, her Sabbaths, and all her festive assemblies (festivals).” If you can keep the festivals anywhere, how could the Lord “put an end” to them? This eventually came true and Jerusalem and the Temple was destroyed and the people went into the Babylonian Captivity. There is no scripture that says that the people kept the festivals in Babylon or any other place. 

Eventually, the city was rebuilt and a new Temple was erected, and new priests were consecrated and the festivals and Temple worship were reinstituted. That was the context in our passage in Nehemiah mentioned earlier. In 70 A.D. however, the city and Temple were once again destroyed and all of this stopped again (Dan 9.26) because you can’t keep the festivals without a Temple, holy vessels or functioning priesthood.

There was a time when sacrifices began in Jerusalem with an altar but no Temple yet because it was being built (Ezra 3.1-6), but they were being guided by true prophets of God and were in Jerusalem at the site of the Temple. We have none of that today and to think one can keep the festivals without these conditions is to be guilty of Replacement Theology and the sin of Jeroboam and the Samaritans.

We know that there is a Temple, an altar, holy vessels and a priesthood coming, and the festivals and sacrifices will begin again, but these will be stopped by the False Messiah (Dan 9.27), but that will only be for the last three and a half years of the Birth-pains. When Yeshua returns, Ezekiel’s Temple will be built and the Lord will put his name on that place and the festivals will be reinstituted again in their fullness. Zech 14.16-18 says that any nation that does not come to Jerusalem to worship at Sukkot will be judged. Again, these nations will need to come to the Temple in Jerusalem, not Oklahoma.

Today, you cannot keep the festivals outside of Jerusalem because there is no Temple, functioning priesthood or holy things. The environment that is needed in order for man to meet with God has to have a certain level of kedusha. The land of Israel did not have it by itself for God to be in their midst, why do people think their city or campground in America (or wherever) has that kedusha? It has even less kedusha than the land of Israel. That is why God made a place of kedusha called the Mishkan, and eventually the Temple.

But, that is not to say that we can’t be aware of the each festival and what day of the year each one falls on according to the biblical religious calendar. We are to be watchful and aware of the times and seasons so that the Day of the Lord does not come upon us like a thief in the night (1 Thes 5.1-5). We should know the phrases, themes, concepts and idioms of each festival and how they fit into the plan of God. We should know and understand the Temple service associated with each festival and what was done. It would be right and appropriate to gather on each festival to study these things, but it should be emphasized that we are not “keeping” the festival nor should we judge others who don’t wish to do so. 

The key issue here is obedience to what the Lord has said concerning these festivals and how to keep them. Can you keep and observe these things according to the pattern God has laid down in the Torah by doing certain things, at certain times, by certain people, at certain places that God has commanded?
No, but the heart of the matter is this. People not only can’t keep the festivals today, it is impossible, and it has everything to do with a concept called “Kedusha.” The definition of kedusha is “to designate or set apart for the service of God by formal, legal restrictions and limitations. The kedusha of periods of time are marked by limits on man’s activities of work and construction.” People think they can keep the festivals today because they have been taught incorrectly about this, follow Jewish tradition, or these concepts are unknown to them.

Hopefully, we have presented some new things to evaluate for you to consider on this issue, and how you can apply them in your life.

Posted in Articles, Idioms, Phrases and Concepts, Prophecy/Eschatology, Questions, The Feasts of the Lord, The Temple, Understanding the New Testament

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