Deut 16:16-17, Ex 23:14-17 and II Chron 8:13 all inform us that three times in the year all the Israelite men had to appear before the Lord at the place which He would choose - this, initially, meant the place where the Tabernacle was pitched and where sacrifice was offered but, in time, it came to mean the city of Jerusalem.
The three compulsory festivals
That all Israel was commanded to afflict themselves on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:29) doesnít detract from the statements cited above that it wasnít compulsory for these have to do with attendance at a specific place rather than observance.
These three festivals are indicative of the requirements laid upon the believer when we consider the fulfilment of each one but thereís also an indication in why the remaining festivals arenít compulsory when considered from the viewpoint either of their past or future fulfilment.
The compulsory festivals
The first compulsory festival was Unleavened Bread into which the Day of Passover was integrated (notice that the three Scriptures cited at the beginning of this section all speak of the compulsory festival as being 'Unleavened Bread' and make no mention of Passover).
Itís been previously shown that Passover is inextricably bound up with the cross of Christ - Jesus died on the 15th of Nisan, the day when both the lamb was eaten (the Passover meal) and when the Biblical festival of Unleavened Bread began.
The command that all the Israelites were to appear before YHWH during this festival shows us that all men and women must also be participants in the provision of the cross of Christ which delivers them from bondage into freedom (Passover - a single day represents a single event) and their continuation in lives which are free from the pervading influences of sin and corruption (Unleavened Bread - seven days represents a continuing experience).
The second compulsory festival was Pentecost. This was the one at which the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the believers in order to equip them for the work that Jesus had called them to do. Like the Passover festival, itís necessary for all men and women to be recipients of the Holy Spirit - to be active participants in His power and provision - for them to be considered by God to be a part of Ďspiritualí Israel, the Church of Jesus Christ.
As it says in Rom 8:9
Ď...anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Himí
The reality of Pentecost, therefore, is necessary if one is to be owned by Jesus. The single day of its observance also points towards a specific experience in the believerís life but which, as is described in other NT documents, continues throughout their experience.
Finally comes the Festival of Tabernacles which looks forward to a fulfilment in the coming Kingdom that Jesus will return to establish after subjecting every power, authority, dominion and principality to His rule.
Participation in both the fulfilment of Passover and Pentecost qualifies the believer to be a participant in the reality of that coming Kingdom - subject to obedience and progression in the christian walk. Speaking of the final harvest having been brought in and of the one-time necessity of having to live in temporary accommodation, the resurrection of the dead is the fitting finale that seals for all time the salvation that Jesus secured through the cross and resurrection.
But, more than this, it says in Heb 6:5 that, even in this day and age before the visible and all-encompassing Kingdom is fully established, a believer is to experience the powers of that coming age by faith. Though Tabernacles looks forward, its reality can be experienced now to a certain degree, yet only through a continued participation in the reality of both Passover and Pentecost.
When the Law makes it plain that these three festivals were compulsory, itís looking forward to the work that would be accomplished in Christ and is foreseeing that each and every believer needed to experience their ultimate reality and of which they could only contain a shadow. They arenít optional extras for the way of salvation but integral parts of the purpose of God to unite believers in Him.
But why arenít the other festivals compulsory?
Donít they teach us about the Christ and what followers can experience now?
While they have a necessary and important tale to tell us, thereís good reason why they werenít considered to be compulsory upon all Israel.
The non-compulsory festivals
The Festival of First fruits was fulfilled by the resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ.
As such, thereís no fulfilment that applies to the believer in which heís called to participate at the time of its completion. Even though, if a disciple shares in a death like Christís now, they will also experience the resurrection power of Christ now, the receipt of that power is as a fulfilment of Pentecost as previously shown above.
The Festival of Trumpets is the first of the last three festivals which have yet to be fulfilled and, when it is, it will be seen to be the final salvation of the Jewish nation. As such, itís not universal in its application, referring, as it does, only to Godís people according to natural descent. The believing Gentiles are not obligated to participate in its fulfilment.
Finally comes Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. This festival must be the strangest ever to have been commanded and yet not to have been made obligatory for the entire nation, seeing that it deals with the sins of the nation, covering them so that they might continue in their relationship with God.
Neither can there be any doubt that itís already been fulfilled in the cross when Jesus dealt with sin once and for all time.
However, Yom Kippur is one aspect of the festival of Passover (deliverance from sin) - a very important aspect, itís true, but still only one part of the whole Ďdeliverance from bondageí that Jesus achieved. It doesnít stand on its own, therefore, but must be included in the first festival, and, being in the seventh month, talks about the fulness of the sin problem being dealt with once and for all time.
To participate in the fulfilment of Passover is, by consequence, to participate in the fulfilment of Yom Kippur. But Yom Kippur does have a future aspect for, even though to the christian the Ďday of coveringí is settled in Christ, to those who havenít availed themselves of the work of the cross, there remains a Ďday of reckoningí when their own offering for salvation (whether good works, false gods and the like) will be shown up for what it is - insufficient.
The festival, then, must look back to the cross and forward to the final judgment day, and means different things to different people. To the believer, he experiences the reality of the festival in the fulfilment of Passover but, to the unbeliever, thereís coming a specific time in earth history when an account must be made of the life lived on this earth.
For the reasons set out above, the person whoís in Christ needs to know the reality of the three compulsory festivals in his life - to be
Ďfilled with the Holy Spirití (Pentecost), and
Ďactively seeking the Kingdom of Godí (Tabernacles)