Essay: Should Christians keep the Days of Unleavened Bread?
The writer and his wife, Joyce, are hosts of the Living Church of God video group in Arroyo Grande. Dr. Thiel publishes a variety of doctrinal articles, as well as information about the split of the Global Church of God and Living Church of God, at his Web site, http://members.aol.com/cogwriter/home.htm.
By Robert J. Thiel
ARROYO GRANDE, Calif.--Leviticus 23:5-6 states: "On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the Lord's Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; seven days you must eat unleavened bread."
Similarly, Exodus 12:19-20 states: "For seven days no leaven shall be found in your houses, since whoever eats what is leavened, that same person shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a stranger or a native of the land. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your habitations you shall eat unleavened bread."
Are these Days of Unleavened Bread to be kept now? Why would Christians want to keep them? What happens if they don't?
The Bible shows that the Days of Unleavened Bread are connected to Passover (Leviticus 23:5-6; Exodus 12:19-20; 1 Corinthians 5:7-8). Although most professing Christians are aware that 1 Corinthians 5:7 teaches that "indeed Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us," they do not seem to literally observe the verse that follows:
"Therefore let us keep the feast, not with the old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (verse 8).
Actually, most professing Christians do not seem to be aware that they are supposed to keep any biblical feast. We can find many scriptural reasons, though, to so do.
Romans 3:25 states that "in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed." Does this mean we are to continue in sin?
A few verses later Paul wrote: "On the contrary, we establish the law" (verse 31). So, while most understand that the Passover pictures a remembrance of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice (1 Corinthians 11:24-26), many seem not to understand that we are not to continue in sin. Why? Maybe one of the reasons is that they do not observe the Days of Unleavened Bread.
In the world, leaven is all around. Not only is it in baked goods, it is now in many other products. Leaven spreads, and most of the items it becomes part of crumble.
In the Bible leaven normally pictures malice, wickedness and hypocrisy (1 Corinthians 5:8; Matthew 16:6, 12; Luke 12:1), while unleavened bread pictures sincerity and truth (1 Corinthians 5:8).
Leaven pictures the teachings of the Pharisees (Matthew 16:6, 12; Luke 12:1), whom Jesus called hypocrites (Matthew 23:23, 25, 27, 29).
According to Strong's, the Greek word Jesus used that was translated "hypocrite" means "an actor under an assumed role." The Pharisees were false religious leaders who pretended to keep God's law but really did not (Matthew 15:3-9).
Jesus further described the Pharisees: "You also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness" (Matthew 23:28). Jesus thus tied leaven (the Pharisees' teachings, Matthew 16:12) to false religion (being hypocrites) and sin (since "sin is lawlessness," 1 John 3:4).
Exodus states that the Days of Unleavened Bread "shall be a sign to you on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the Lord's law may be in your mouth" (Exodus 13:9). Keeping seven days of unleavened bread pictures that we are to live in sincerity and truth by keeping God's law: that we are not to continue in false religion, not to continue in sin.
Seven shows completeness
Why seven days? In the Bible God seems to use the number seven to show completeness. Seven days are in a week (Exodus 20:6), there were seven days of creation (Genesis 1), seven churches in Revelation 2-3, seven candlesticks (Revelation 1:20), seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:34), etc.
The seven days of Unleavened Bread seem to picture that, after our sins have been forgiven through the sacrifice of Jesus (Romans 3:25; 1 Corinthians 5:7), we are no longer to continue in the old ways but walk in the true ways of the Bible (verse 8).
The Days of Unleavened Bread help us to understand that sin is to be put out of our lives; throughout the year it reminds us that false religion is all around and needs to be avoided. People who do not keep the Days of Unleavened Bread are not reminded about false religion and sin through this symbol during the year; maybe they do not want to be.
It is interesting that Jude warned: "For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ" (Jude 4).
This is interesting because in the next verse he ties this problem with deliverance (from Egypt) during the Days of Unleavened Bread (which should be kept as an annual reminder of sin and deliverance; Exodus 13:3-10; 1 Corinthians 5:8).
"But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe" (Jude 5). In like manner, because of the sacrifice of Jesus, "God had passed over the sins that were previously committed" (Romans 3:25), and He may afterward destroy "those who did not believe."
How do you know if you truly have faith and believe? You know if you do what God says. James warned: "You believe there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe--and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?" (James 2:19-20).
In a similar way Paul wrote, "For not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified" (Romans 2:13). He also warned, "For if we sin willfully after we have received knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation" (Hebrews 10:26-27).
Like the Old Testament (Exodus 12:19), the New Testament teaches us, "Therefore purge out the old leaven" (1 Corinthians 5:7). From a physical standpoint it is easy not to obey these teachings. Physically it is easier not to purge or remove all the leaven from our dwellings.
But, spiritually, by not keeping the Days of Unleavened Bread many fail to understand they have to live the way of life that Jesus taught. Many accept a false outward religion!
"If you love Me, keep My commandments," said Jesus (John 14:15). By not keeping the Days of Unleavened Bread, many have fallen for a religion based upon traditions of men instead of God's commands.
Believe it or not, Jesus ran into the same problem in His day. The religious rulers (the Pharisees) were condemned because "you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition" (Matthew 15:6).
Although traditions of men say that Jesus condemned the Pharisees for keeping the law, the opposite is true. Remember that Jesus said to them that "inside you are filled with lawlessness and hypocrisy" (Matthew 23:28). Actually, they pretended they believed the Bible but taught that their understandings (hermeneutics, in modern terms) were more important than the literal commands in the Bible (Mark 7:8-9).
This problem exists in our day. Many professing Christians believe God's laws and feast days are no longer in effect, even though all the Ten Commandments are specifically enjoined in the New Testament, and all the annual sabbaths and feast days are mentioned after the crucifixion of Jesus.
The Worldwide Church of God officially taught and kept the Days of Unleavened Bread. But no longer. In the February issue of its member newspaper, The Worldwide News, it imparted the following information in an article written by Don Mears, pastor of the Big Sandy WCG congregation:
"We knew that Jesus commanded us to 'eat his flesh and drink his blood' by taking the bread and wine of communion. And we understood that in doing so we were partaking of the Lamb of God. We did it annually because we saw the Lamb of God as being the Passover lamb, and we knew that the Passover was an annual observance. But Jesus is more than just the Passover lamb . . .
"The author of Hebrews pointed out that we Christians 'have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.' His implication is that just as they had their altar to eat from, we have our own altar to eat from. And by extension, as freely as they ate from theirs, we may eat from ours.
"This points us to the conclusion that Christians, who, under the new covenant, are a nation of priests (1 Pet. 2:9), may eat of the sacrificial Lamb of God just as freely and frequently as did those priests of the old covenant. We are not restricted to eating the Lamb of God only once a year, any more than they were. Jesus is always our sin offering; he is always our guilt offering; he is always our peace and thank offering . . . Thank God our Father for the communion he gives us with himself in his beloved Son!"
Although the preceding quote suggests otherwise, priests ate the Passover only once per year.
If the Days of Unleavened Bread were always kept in conjunction with Passover (which they always are in the Bible), then the sort of logic in the WN article would be shown to be false. If every time one consumed the symbols representing body and blood of Jesus he also had to keep seven days of Unleavened Bread, and this was done weekly, then those so doing would never consume regular bread.
Now, for those that argue that keeping the Days of Unleavened Bread is just a physical thing, consider two points: The point of purging leaven out is to have sin out of our life (which is spiritual), and consuming the "Lamb of God" is also physical (with spiritual implications).
Doing one without the other reminds me of certain Asian religions that teach that spinning a prayer wheel is equivalent to spending hours in prayer. Those followers probably at least think about some deity before they spin the wheel, but is that how God really wants to be worshiped? Does He approve of other "traditions of men" over His Word?
It is true that leaven is not always shown to be bad. Jesus even stated, "The kingdom of God . . . is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures till it was all leavened" (Luke 13:20-21).
This parable seems to illustrate that, even though the leaven was at first hidden, in the future all will know the true religion. This is consistent with Habakkuk 2:14: "For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea."
Thus leaven may be a symbol of false religion now but a symbol of true religion in the future.
Although the Days of Unleavened Bread are first mentioned in the Old Testament, it is in the New Testament that we learn more fully that today's leaven pictures false religion and sin. The New Testament shows the connection between Jesus' Passover sacrifice and the removal of sin from our lives. By keeping the Days of Unleavened Bread, Christians picture that they have heard the Word of God, accepted the sacrifice of Jesus, try to put the Word of God into practice and symbolically put false religion and sin out of their lives.
By keeping the Days of Unleavened Bread, Christians show they are willing to obey God over the traditions of men.
In conclusion, as 1 Corinthians 5:8 says, "Therefore let us keep the feast."
© The Journal: News of the Churches of God