Is “Forever” forever?

Back to Cindy’s questions:

4.  If the feast days were given to be celebrated “forever” and for all generations, why do we not celebrate them now?  Granted, there were sacrifices involved, but God never actually said to stop celebrating them.  All of the Adventist arguments for the Sabbath not being “nailed to the cross” could be used for the feast days as well.

You may get tired of this, but the first step in responsible interpretation is alwasy “exegesis,” which can be reoughly described  as answering the question, “What did the author (the human author) think he was saying?”

And that always has to take his culture and historical setting, the situation into which it was written, into account. Their is a fancy theological term for this — as if exegesis wasn’t bad enough!– but it’s German and I’ll let it go.

What did the original author, and his audience, think it meant? In one way, they thought of it as ‘unending,’ just as we do. But Jude tells us that Sodom is an example of ‘eternal’ fire. Well, with Google Earth we should be able to get nearly real time images of the area around the southern end of the Dead Sea, where Sodom is thought to have been. No fire and smoke are still burning there.

So there’s a sense of ‘forever,’ ‘eternal,’ or ‘unending,’ which means, ‘as long as its purpose remains.’ Sodom’s fire was ‘never’ put out– it continued until everything flammable was consumed. In that way it was eternal. And everything regarding the Israelite cultus (that’s a technical term, not a slam) was to continue. . . as long as its purpose remained. That’s why Matthew tells us that the curtain between the Holy and Most Holy places in the Temple was torn “from the top down” — a supernatural declaration that the purpose of the the Temple no longer remained.

So all those feasts were to continue, “for ever in your generations.” that is, “to keep the purpose fresh in everyone’s minds,” until the ultimate purpose, the life and death of Jesus, made the feasts unnecessary. The pointed forward to His great work. Once He had done that work, the work spoke for itself.

Someone has said the Old Testament can be summarized by Isaac’s question at Mt. Moriah, “Where is the lamb?” and that the New Testament be summarized by John the Baptist’s answer: “Behold the Lamb of God.”

Another way of looking at it would be this.  Three years ago, BOTH my daughters got married within a 5 month period. Our calendars were full of dates in preparation; dates for the gowns, dates for measuring for tuxes (you should see me in a tux!), dates for bridal showers, dates for relatives arriving, and finally — the date for the wedding.

Well, now that they’re married, we don’t keep looking back at all those dates, all those tasks. They were preparing us for the wedding, so now we look at– the wedding pictures, of course! Why focus on the preparations, when the real event has come and gone?

That leaves the question of the Sabbath, and what was nailed to the Cross in Colossians. As it happens, I was blessed in my Seminary days to have taken a class from Dr. William Johnsson, the recently retired editor of the Adventist Revies. It was titled, “Law, Grace, and Freedom.” We went through every passage in the NT related to the law, and spent some time on what was nailed to the cross. I’ll share that next time.

P.S.

Believe it or not, there is one sense in which the feasts continue. I’d like to direct your attention to the book of Revelation, chapter 21, which has these somewhat puzzling words:

1And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.

2And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

3And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men. . . .

This, of course, is describing what happens after the end of sin. But it seems strange, the part about ‘no sea.’

There are two things that come into play here. In the Old Testament, water repeatedly got in the way of God’s people as they sought to reach the Land of Promise. First the Red Sea, and then the Jordan had to be parted, to let the people reach their promised home.

I believe that ‘no more sea,’ in this passage, indicates that with sin and death destroyed, there will never again be anything to separate God from His people, nothing to keep them from possessing their promised home. And, in this passage the New Jerusalem is being described.

The second part is this: All the feasts except one were celebrated before the Israelites took possession of Canaan. Only one, the feast of the Tabernacles, was saved until later. During that feast, they lived in ‘booths,’ or ‘tabernacles,’ to remember their time in the wilderness, and thus celebrate their possession of the land of Promise.

But look at the beauty and majesty of Revelation. For after the saints take possession of the New Jerusalem “the tabernacle of God is with men.” I almost cannot type the words for the awe I feel. Revelation 21 depicts God as celebrating His return to us. Exodus 25:8 has been fulfilled–He now dwells among His people. Our sins had separated us from Him–but Sin had prevented Him from fully dwelling with us. And Rev. 21 shows us the final, everlasting celebration of the feast of the tabernacles–Immanuel, God with us!


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