The Biblical Calendar
God established certain days each year that He asked His people to observe for all generations. This is what is referred to as the Biblical Calendar. The Sabbath and the Appointed Times (Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Pentecost, Trumpets, The Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles) are YHWH’s special days that he asks his people to remember. These days celebrate God’s plan of salvation for his people through His Son, the Messiah.
Appointed Times Calendar
Here are the dates for the Appointed Times for years 2016-2021. I understand there is a discussion about what dates are correct, but I believe that these most likely follow the Biblical calendar that would have been used when Scriptures were written.
Download Appointed Times Dates: Appointed Times Dates 2018-2021
A beautiful full color calendar using these same dates for all the appointed times can be found at Love And Instruction. I HIGHLY recommend this wonderful calendar. A PDF version can be downloaded for free. You can also purchase a nicely printed paper version.
Download 2017-18 Calendar: 2017-18 Biblical Calendar Revised
Download 2018-19 Calendar: 2018-19 Biblical-Calendar Draft
The Biblical calendar used here is not the traditional Jewish (Hillel) Calendar based on a formulation developed in the fourth Century. Instead this calendar is based upon starting each month when the first crescent moon could be visible with the naked eye in Israel. This is most likely how the people of Israel determined the start of each month in Biblical days. Also, the beginning of the year (Day 1 of Month 1) is established by the requirement that the beginning of Passover (the sunset beginning Day 14 of Month 1) must follow the time of the spring equinox in Israel. While this is not prescribed in Scripture, there is some evidence that the Sanhedrin required the presence of the full moon (at Passover) to occur after the equinox. So there is perhaps some ancient tradition to support this. Also, it seems to be a logical way for the people of Israel to have established the new year, even during their time in the wilderness when they didn’t plant barley. The spring equinox is easily observable (the day when the suns shadow falls on an east-west line all though-out the day), and would have been something familiar to the Moses and people of Israel. As a result of the above, this Biblical calendar can occasionally vary by as much as one month from the traditional Jewish dates, which are based on calculations developed in the fourth century, rather than on observation of the crescent moon the vernal equinox.
Also note that the dates for the feasts for Firstfruits and Shavuot also differ from traditional Jewish reckoning since it seems the most natural reading of Scripture is that Firstfruits falls on the day after the regular Sabbath, which is always on a Sunday. Since the entire section is talking about the week of Unleavened Bread, the natural assumption would be that the Sabbath referred to must fall during the week of Unleavened Bread. (The current Jewish interpretation is that Firstfruits falls on the day after the first day of Unleavened Bread, placing it on Nisan 16 each year.) The choice of date for Firstfruits also affects the date for Shavuot, since Shavuot falls exactly 7 weeks after Firstfruits. Following this calendar, Shavuot, like Firstfruits, always falls on a Sunday.
Knowing and celebrating the correct dates is important, since these are (and will be) very important dates in the history of God’s creation. It is no coincidence that Yeshua was crucified on the exact day of Passover, buried on the first day of Unleavened Bread, and raised on the day Firstfruits. And it is also no coincidence that the Holy Spirit was given on the exact day of Pentecost (Shavuot). Likewise, we expect the return of the Messiah on the day of Trumpets, the day of Judgement to be on the day of Atonement, and the millennial reign of the Messiah to begin at the feast of Tabernacles. These dates are very significant. We are told in Scripture specifically which days to celebrate for a reason.
The Sabbath Day
YHWH instructs his people to keep the Sabbath day as a special day. Contrary to popular belief, the Sabbath was first set apart at Creation, not with the giving of the Torah to Moses:
Genesis 2:2–3. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
The Sabbath day is the seventh day. We call it Saturday in English. It is the seventh day of the week. Shabbat come from the Hebrew word shaba’ “seven”. At creation, God made the seventh day holy. And many centuries later, when he gave the Torah to Moses, he instructed his people to also keep the seventh day holy. It is even one of the Ten Commandments:
Exodus 20:8–11. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to YHWH your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days YHWH made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore YHWH blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Later still, when the details of the Torah are explained to the people, YHWH instructs his people to keep His mo’edim “appointed times”, often translated as “appointed feasts”. There is one weekly appointed time and seven annual appointed times. The very first one on His list is the Sabbath:
Leviticus 23:1–3. YHWH spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, These are the appointed feasts of YHWH that you shall proclaim as holy convocations; they are my appointed feasts. “Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to YHWH in all your dwelling places.
The Sabbath day is an appointed time of YHWH. It is not an appointed time of the Jews, or of any group of people. It is His day, His appointed time. It is to be a say of rest. No work is to be done. And we are have a holy convocation, or holy gathering. In other words we are to gather together with other believers on this day. Furthermore it is to be done “in all our dwelling places”, regardless of where we live.
There are dozens upon dozens of Scriptures which communicate the heart of the Father regarding this special day of His. Consider His words through the prophet Isaiah:
Isaiah 58:13–14. If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of YHWH honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in YHWH, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of YHWH has spoken.
Those who think that keeping the Sabbath is just for native-born Israelites should consider this passage in Isaiah:
Isaiah 56:6–8. And the foreigners who join themselves to YHWH, to minister to him, to love the name of YHWH, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant— these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” YHWH God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.”
If you read Scriptures carefully you will see that Yeshua never broke God’s law regrading the Sabbath. If He would have broken even one of the commands of Torah, he would have sinned. We know He is sinless. Therefore, he could not have broken any of God’s commands regarding keeping the Sabbath holy. What he did break was Jewish tradition regarding what could be done or not done of the Sabbath. But these were man-made traditions, not commands of God.
Yeshua taught us to live the Torah, including how to keep the Sabbath holy. Here are just a few examples:
Matthew 12:9–13. He went on from there and entered their synagogue. And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other.
Luke 13:10–17. Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.
In another incident, when the leadership was angry that Yeshua had healed on the Sabbath, he answered their rebukes with this:
John 7:21–23. Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well?
And later Yeshua heals an invalid by the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath:
John 5:6–17. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’ ” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”
Yeshua taught that is was right to do good on the Sabbath. It was right to help others in need on the Sabbath, even if that took some effort on our part. In a sense, God has been “working” ever since He since He finished His creation. He has been working to restore what sin has destroyed. In same way Yeshua was working to restore what sin had destroyed. And He is teaching us to “work” in the same the same. Spreading God’s love to others in a tangible way is not breaking God’s commands for the Sabbath, it is fulfilling them.
This is why Yeshua also teaches that the Sabbath was “made for man” and not vice versa. It is a day for us to rest, and to help others rest. A day to enjoy and help others enjoy the blessings of the Father. It is not a day for which we are to develop all manner of legalistic rules that we then force others to conform to. Hear the words of Yeshua:
Mark 2:27–28. And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
When Yeshua said this, he was reminding them of the Torah, where YHWH said that the Sabbath is “for you“:
Exodus 31:14. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you.
Then He says that the He is Lord of the Sabbath. In other words he is the Master of the Sabbath. He created it. He and the Father are one. Recall that in the beginning He was with the Father, and all things were created in Him and by Him:
John 1:1–3. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
All things were made through Him. This includes the Sabbath. Yeshua is Lord of the Sabbath. He kept the Sabbath holy and showed us to keep it as well.
Scriptures about the Sabbath
There are MANY references that show how important the Sabbath was to YHWH. Just a few of these passages are listed below. You may wish to read these as you contemplate the significance and relevance of the Sabbath to our lives:
General Sabbath Scriptures:
- Genesis 2:2-3
- Exodus 16:21-20
- Exodus 20:8-11
- Exodus 31:14-17
- Exodus 35:2-3
- Leviticus 19:30
- Leviticus 23:3
- Leviticus 26:2
- Numbers 15:32-36
- Deuteronomy 5:12-15
- Isaiah 56:1-8
- Isaiah 58:13-14
- Isaiah 66:22-24
- Jeremiah 17:21-27
- Ezekiel 20:12
- Ezekiel 20:20
- Ezekiel 22:8
- Nehemiah 9:14
- Nehemiah 10:31
- Nehemiah 13:15-22
- Nehemiah 9:14
- Nehemiah 9:14
- Matthew 12:1-12
- Mark 2:23-28
- Luke 13:10-16
- Luke 14:1-5
- John 5:1-17
- John 7:14-24
- Acts 13:44
- Acts 15:21
- Acts 18:4
- Colossians 2:16
- Genesis 2:2-3
- Matt 11:28-30
- Hebrews 4:1-13
- Matthew 5:14-16
- John 1:6-12
- John 8:12
- John 12:35-36
- John 12:46
- Deuteronomy 8:3
- John 6:31-35
- John 6:47-51
- Matthew 26:26
- 1 Corinthians 10:16-17
- 1 Corinthians 11:23-24
- John 15:1-5
- Matthew 26:27-29
- 1 Corinthians 10:16-17
- 1 Corinthians 11:25-26
Blessings for the Sabbath
The Sabbath is a picture of our rest in the Messiah. Jewish tradition also sees it as a picture of the Messianic age, when their Salvation comes – that 1000 period when the Messiah will reign. At that time we will enjoy complete rest under the kingship of the Messiah. Just as the Sabbath is a shadow of the complete rest that is to come with the returning Messiah, the Passover meal reminds us of His provision of the ultimate sacrifice, which allows for that life and rest that we have in Him. The bread and wine that is enjoyed on the Sabbath, is not unlike the bread and wine of the Passover meal, which is the same bread and wine of communion that believers celebrate today. Therefore the Sabbath meal is a small picture of the life and rest we have with Messiah, and just as communion does, it proclaims his return to usher in that time of complete life and rest.
The traditional elements of the Sabbath include lighting of candles, eating the bread, and drinking the wine. Before each a traditional blessing is said. In addition, often the father of the house also have a Sabbath blessings for his sons, daughters, and wife. This is not a command of Scripture, so if one wants to do this, there is no reason that the blessings have to worded in any special way. I have included an example of each of the blessings below. These blessings are based off of the traditional Jewish blessings, but modified to reflect our understanding that the Messiah is reflected in all these aspects of the Sabbath meal.
Blessing for the Lighting of the Candles
Blessed are you, YHWH Our God, King of the universe, for giving us light and for sending Yeshua as as the light of the world.
Blessing for the Bread
Blessed are you, YHWH our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth, and who gave us Yeshua as the Bread of Life.
Blessing for the Wine
Blessed are you, YHWH our God, King of the universe, who created the fruit of the vine, and gave us Yeshua to be the vine with us as His branches.
Blessing for Sons
May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh, leaving behind the sins of the past and becoming doubly fruitful as you follow the Messiah.
This comes from the blessing of Jacob to Joseph’s two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim:
Genesis 48:17-20. When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head he was displeased; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. Joseph said to him, “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.” But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.” He blessed them that day and said, “In your name will Israel pronounce this blessing: ‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’ ” So he put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh.
Joseph and his Egyptian wife, Asenath, had two sons, Manasseh “forgetful” and Ephraim “doubly fruitful”. Therefore these are children of a gentile woman. And they become two of the 12 tribes. They are a portent of things to come, when the gentiles would be grafted in to the nation of Israel.
Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh “forgetful” because it was symbolic of his new life, acknowledging that his former past was gone and forgotten. Likewise, the sins and injustice of the past are gone when God makes us new creatures and gives us a new life. Then He gives us new value and new purpose, so we can forget the sins of the past as He did.
Why was his second son named Ephraim “doubly fruitful”?
- double because he was the second born
- double because now Joseph forgets the past twice (with each son)
- Ephraim eventually gets the double blessing of the firstborn from his grandfather Jacob
- Ephraim becomes an additional “second tribe” of Joseph. Both Ephraim AND Manasseh are adopted as sons by Jacob and therefore get their own tribal allotments. So Joseph was doubly blessed through this act of adoption.
Every Sabbath many Jewish fathers bless their sons by saying “May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh”. In doing so, they were wanting their children to be “free” from their past persecutions, to be blessed with a new life where their offspring could forget their people’s past injustices. But also, this blessing seems to be suggestive of the fact that gentiles are to be grafted in to the people of Israel through Yeshua. Because of our adoption as sons, we get the same blessing as do the natural born Israelites.
Blessing For Daughters
May you be like Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah, who learned to depend on YHWH and wait for His blessings in His time.
These great women were blessed, but only in God’s timing. As they and their husbands learned to depend on God, He miraculously provided for each by opening their wombs. The prayer of every father is that his daughters would wait upon God and in so doing be blessed with a fruitful life.
Blessing for Wife
May you always be like the virtuous woman of Proverbs, whose character reflects that of the Father, and who is a blessing like none other to her husband and family.
This blessing comes from Proverbs 31:
Proverbs 31:10-12. A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.
A godly husband acknowledges the great blessing he has been given through the wife that God has given to him. He desires to ask that God continue to develop his character in her, and prays that as a husband he would be diligent in doing his part to enable and encourage her in this path.
How to Celebrate?
Scripture instructs that on the Sabbath we are to have a holy gathering and do no ordinary work. It is to be a day of rest. So above all, we should meet together with other believers on that day, and make it a day of rest by not doing any ordinary work. Other than that, we don’t have specific instructions. There are MANY Jewish rules and traditions about what not to do on the Sabbath but these are not specifically in Scripture. So within the bounds of our Scriptural instructions, we are free to develop our own Sabbath traditions. We want to make this day about the Messiah as well.
The Sabbath begins at sunset on Friday evening. So in our home, the Friday evening meal is a special one. We always start by lighting two Sabbath candles, then sharing bread and wine together. Here is what we do, as an example for you to consider:
- We have two candles which my wife lights to begin the Sabbath. She then says a blessing “Blessed are you YHWH our God, King of the Universe, for giving us light and for being the Light of the World.”
- Then I take the loaf of bread (we usually make or buy a “twisted” loaf of challah bread) and break in two (representing the two tablets of the ten commandments). Each person breaks off a piece, and I say the blessing “Blessed are you YHWH our God, King of the Universe, for giving us bread, and for being the Bread of Life”. And we eat that first piece bread without butter or anything on it, since it represents the pure word of God.
- Then I pour the wine (we prefer Welches red sparkling grape juice) into everyone’s wine glass and I say the blessing “Blessed are you, YHWH our God, King of the Universe, for giving us the fruit of the vine and for giving us Yeshua as our Vine and making us His branches.” We then toast each other saying “Shabbat Shalom” and drink the wine.
- Then I pray giving thanks for the blessings of past week, for the Sabbath, and for the special Sabbath meal we are about to enjoy.
- We enjoy our meal.
- If I remember, I also pray at the end of the meal, since Scripture says after you have eaten remember to give thanks.
- In some families, the father gives a special Sabbath blessing to his wife and to each of his sons and daughters. This could be done either before or after the meal.
- If we have guests sharing the Sabbath meal with us, especially if the Sabbath is new to them, I will read some Scriptures about the Sabbath, such as Genesis 2:2-3, Deuteronomy 5:12-15, Exodus 20:8-11, Isaiah 56:1-8, or Isaiah 58:13-14.
The rest of the evening the following day we enjoy our Sabbath together. We avoid ordinary work, doing as little as possible in terms of cooking and cleaning up after the meals. We typically read Scriptures, relax, or spend time doing things with family or friends. We have decided not to do emails, shopping or online buying, or any activity that feels like work. It’s hard to define, so you have to prayerfully seek direction from the Father regarding what would be pleasing to Him.
We usually meet with other believers on Saturday afternoon for fellowship and Scripture reading. We read the Sabbath scriptures for that week out loud together (see Sabbath Readings 2016-2018 on the Bible Study Materials page), and then have an informal discussion about these passages. Along with prayer time and some singing that lasts about 3 to 4 hours. After that we share a carry-in meal together and fellowship until later in evening.
On days that we are unable to meet together with other believers, we read the Sabbath scripture passages out loud at home together by ourselves. And sometimes we go for a walk or bike ride together, go to park, or invite family or friends for a picnic. We relax and enjoy the Sabbath day, trying to make sure it remains a day of thankfulness and praise to YHWH.
How did the Sabbath get changed?
For some excellent articles on this topic, check out the files in the download tab. In summary, here is what happened:
During the first Century Roman persecution of Jews was increasing. Then the First Revolt Christians were motivated to separate themselves from the Jews in the minds of the populace and rulers.
Te early believers were Jewish, but they believed Yeshua their Messiah had come. They were a sect of Judaism. But in the decades that followed Yeshua’s death the traditional Jewish leadership was increasingly viewing this sect of Messianic Jews (called followers of The Way, Nazarenes, or Christians) as heretics. They were upsetting the status quo, not following all the traditions of the Jewish leadership. Worst of all, they were inviting the Gentiles to join them, fellowshipping with them, even without requiring them to go through the ritual conversion procedures. As a result, these early Christians were being forced out of the synagogues. Their leader, James (Jacob, brother of Yeshua) was killed. Eventually, the 19th benediction of the Amidah (daily Jewish prayer) was added as a curse against Christians and any who would not pray it were expelled from fellowship.
Also, during the first century Roman persecution of all Jews was increasing. This persecution was against all Jews, regardless of whether or not they believed in Yeshua as the Messiah. Jews were fed up with Roman rule and there was increasing talk of a revolt, which made Rome tighten her fist even more. Eventually in 66 AD the Jewish revolt against Rome began. Of course Rome was the victor and the temple was destroyed in 70 AD. This made life even more difficult for the all Jews. Persecution increased.
During this period more and more Gentiles were being added into the faith. These people were trained in the way of Greek philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle and Socrates. They had no background and very little understanding in the Torah of Moses. As the Gentile Christian population increased, the leadership, especially in places like Rome that were far from the influence of those in Jerusalem, began to drift away from their Jewish roots. And in light of the growing persecution against them from the traditional Jewish branch, they developed a anti-semitic attitude and began to take steps to distance themselves from the non-believing Jews. A big part of this to find ways to worship that differentiated themselves from the Jews. The Sabbath was a prime target.
In about 100 AD, one of our esteemed Church fathers, Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch in Syria writes to the churches of Asia Minor: “Let us therefore no longer keep the Sabbath after the Jewish manner, and rejoice in days of idleness…But let every one of you keep the Sabbath in a spiritual manner…not in relaxation, not in eating things prepared the day before, not in finding delight in dancing and clapping which have no sense in them.” (Epistle to the Magnesians)
This shift from Sabbath to Sunday began around the beginning of the 2nd Century in both Rome and Alexandria, however in many other areas keeping the Sabbath persisted. A big factor in this was syncretism. The planetary week was in common use in ancient Rome from the beginning of the Christian Era. The days of the week were named from the heavenly bodies as follows: Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn. The day of the Sun began the series and was regarded as the most important day. Christian converts from paganism tended to cling to their veneration of the Sun and, therefore, of Sunday. In early Christian art and literature the image of the Sun was often used to represent Christ, the true “Sun of righteousness.” Christians began to cease praying facing Jerusalem and Instead prayed facing the sunrise (East).
A significant event happened in 135 AD. The second revolt of the Jews against Rome began. They were lead by man (Bar Kochba) who was hailed as the Messiah. This forced another wedge between non-believing Jews and those who believed Yeshua was the Messiah. Christians could not fight under the banner of a false Messiah. When Rome squashed the revolt they imposed harsh taxes and other restrictions on the Jews. The “Christians” argued that they were not Jews and that these penalties should not apply to them. Much debate ensued over who was a Jew and who was not. Rome determined that anyone who “acted like a Jew” was a Jew. This was huge push for Christians to avoid looking like a Jew in any way, which included keeping the Sabbath.
A few years later ~150 AD, one of the most famous of the early church fathers, Justin Martyr, from Rome, condemned Sabbath observance and provided the earliest account of Christian Sunday worship services: “And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen. . . . But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn; and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.”
Things continued over next couple Centuries with a growing shift toward Sunday worship, but still with believers in many areas keeping the Sabbath. Then in the early 4th Century the Roman emperor Constantine “became a Christian”. He sought to eliminate paganism and mandated that all his people worship the God of Christianity. However, Constantine himself had been a big sun worshipper, and couldn’t help but incorporate his lifelong beliefs into his new-found religion. Sunday was “the venerable day of the Sun.”
Constantine’s famous Sunday law of March 7, 321 reads as follows: “On the venerable Day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. In the country, however, persons engaged in agriculture may freely and lawfully continue their pursuits; because it often happens that another day is not so suitable for grain-sowing or for vine-planting; lest by neglecting the proper moment for such operations the bounty of heaven should be lost.”
A few decades later in 364 AD, the church Council of Laodicea there was a ruling made concerning the Sabbath. Canon 29 stipulated: “Christians shall not Judaize and be idle on Saturday but shall work on that day; but the Lord’s day they shall especially honour, and, as being Christians, shall, if possible, do no work on that day. If, however, they are found Judaizing, they shall be shut out from Christ.”
The fact that the church council of Laodicea had to make this ruling in 364 AD is clear proof that there remained significant groups of Christians that were keeping the Sabbath. However with the strong force of the leadership directing the movement, the shift from Sabbath to Sunday could not be stopped.
Around 600 AD, Pope Gregory demanded that all secular activities should cease on Sunday so that the people could devote their time to prayer. By the twelfth century, Sunday had become quite fully the church substitute for the seventh day.
I am reminded of the words of Yeshua in Mark 7:
Mark 7:6–13. And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “ ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban” ’ (that is, given to God)— then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
Files to Download
Here are some excellent resources on the relevance of the Sabbath and the history of how the church changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday:
- From Sabbath to Sunday – Bacchiocchi (pdf). Samuele Bacchiocchi is well known for his extremely detailed and rigorous documentation of the historical reasons the Sabbath was changed to Sunday. This book is his PhD thesis, which he did at the Vatican. There is no better document to help study and understand the various factors that contributed to the Christian change to Sunday worship.
- Sabbath in the New Testament – Bacchiocchi (pdf). Samuele Bacchiocchi studies the New Testament references to the Sabbath. He looks at Yeshua’s teaching and practice of the Sabbath as well as Paul’s view of both “the law” and the Sabbath.
- Sabbath Under Crossfire – Bacchiocchi (pdf). Samuele Bacchiocchi presents answers to questions typically asked today by those who feel the Sabbath is no longer applicable to believers.
- Sabbath changed to Sunday – Gane (pdf). Erwin Roy Gane wrote this excellent, relatively-short article summarizing “how, when and why the Sabbath changed from Saturday to Sunday.”
- The Sabbath and the New Covenant – Gane (pdf). This journal publication by Erwin Roy Gane examines whether or not keeping the Sabbath is relevant to believers under the “new covenant”.
- Ideas on How to Keep the Sabbath – Kasdan (pdf). This is a chapter, “The Sabbath”, excerpted from the book “God’s Appointed Times: A practical guide for understanding and celebrating the Biblical holiday“, by Barney Kasdan.
- Historical Quotes on how the Sabbath was changed to Sunday (pdf). This is short list of interesting historical quotes by the church fathers and other historical figures regarding the changing of the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday.
What is Passover?
Passover (Hebrew Pesach “to pass over, pass by”) is the first of the seven annual Appointed Times of YHWH.
Leviticus 23:4–5 These are the appointed feasts of YHWH, the holy convocations, which you shall proclaim at the time appointed for them. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight, is YHWH’s Passover.
Nearly 3500 years ago YHWH delivered His people from bondage as slaves in Egypt through the blood of a sacrificial Passover lamb. He asked His people to celebrate that day every year, throughout all generations. 1500 years later, on that very same day, Yeshua sacrificed His life to deliver us from the bondage of sin as the perfect Passover Lamb. The plan of Salvation, prepared by the Father since creation, would be set into action on this very day. It was foreshadowed by what happened in Egypt some 3500 years ago. Today, just as then, Passover is day we want to remember!
Most of us know that Passover remembers the last plague of Egypt, when the Father sent the Destroyer to kill the firstborn of the whole land, except for the households of the people of Israel. The Destroyer was to pass over all their households, IF AND ONLY IF they sprinkled the blood of the sacrificed lamb on their doorposts. And then the Father said to his people, I want you to always remember what I did for you on this day. So for 3500 years, the Passover has been celebrated. Why? Because that’s what the Father asked His people to do:
Exodus 12:3-6 Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb… Your lamb shall be without blemish… and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.
Exodus 12:7–8 Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it.
Exodus 12:12–14 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am YHWH. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to YHWH; throughout your generations, as a statute forever.
The sacrifice – blood of the lamb – saved them from death. And the Father brought them out of Egypt and gave them a new beginning in the promised land. That happened on the day Scripture calls Passover.
Every year faithful followers of YHWH would celebrate this special day, just as the Father instructed them to do. About 1500 years after this first Passover in Egypt, on the very same day, Yeshua told his disciples to prepare for the Passover meal.
Matthew 26:18–19 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My [appointed] time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’ ” And the disciples did as Yeshua had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.
They would have eaten lamb, with unleavened bread, and would have had wine to drink. This is what we call “the last supper”, since it was the final meal Yeshua would eat before he arrested and then crucified. It was at this Passover meal that Yeshua shared the bread and wine with his disciples:
Luke 22:19–20 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.
Just hours later, still on the day of Passover, Yeshua, the Lamb of God, would be crucified to become the perfect and complete sacrifice for our sins.
Luke 23:44–47 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!”
Yeshua celebrated Passover with his disciples in the evening that began Passover, just as the people of Israel did some 1500 years earlier. And before the day was over, He was killed, becoming the Passover Lamb. Just as Israel was saved from physical death by the blood of the Passover lamb, so it is that all believers (past, present and future) are saved from eternal death by the blood of Yeshua, THE Passover Lamb.
When is the Passover meal?
Scripture says that Passover is on the 14th day of the first month of the year. The first month is Abib, or alternatively, Nisan. While we it is clear that Passover is on Abib 14, what is not so clear is when the Passover meal is really to be eaten. Part of the problem is that in the Hebrew calendar a new day begins with the evening. So sometimes when Scripture refers to the evening of a certain day, it is not clear if it is the evening that begins that day or the evening that finishes that day.
There is a lot debate and confusion over the question of whether to eat Passover meal in the evening that begins Passover or in the evening at the end of Passover. In fact, traditional Judaism currently celebrates the Passover meal in the evening following Abib 14 (which is actually the beginning of Abib 15, and therefore not even on Passover day). Based on Scripture, I believe the strongest argument can be made for eating Passover in the evening that begins Abib 14.
The main problem in understanding when to celebrate stems from the fact that we don’t clearly understand the meaning of the Hebrew words translated as “twilight” in our English Scriptures:
Leviticus 23:5 In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight, is the YHWH’s Passover.
The word translated as “twilight” is in Hebrew ben ha’arbayim literally meaning “between the two evenings.” Each verse of the Hebrew Scriptures that refers to the time of Passover uses this same exact phrase “between the two evenings” on the fourteenth day of the first month (see Ex 12:6, Lev 23:5, Num 9:3, Num 9:5, and Num 9:11). Most people think this phrase means twilight, but others think that it may refer to the period between late afternoon and twilight; still others that it means the midpoint between noon and sunset.
To get a better understanding of what this phrase means, it is helpful to look at the other instances where it is used. In addition to the verses surrounding the time of Passover, the phrase “between the two evenings” is used when the people of Israel were complaining of being hungry and YHWH promised them quail:
Exodus 16:12–13 “I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight [literally, between the two evenings] you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’ ” In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp.
YHWH promised they would be eating meat “between the two evenings”, and then he sent the quail in the “evening”. So “between the two evenings” must either occur after “evening”, or least it must include “evening”, since they quail had to arrive prior to the people eating them. This account, however, does not really add more clarity to the period time referred to by “between the two evenings”. In fact it points to even more ambiguity, since we really don’t know for sure what time of day “evening” refers to in Biblical Hebrew. It is not uncommon for languages to use a single term that encompasses mid-to-late afternoon as well as early evening. So if the Hebrew for “evening” itself is unclear in meaning, how much more so is the term “between the two evenings”.
Perhaps the one passage of Scripture that provides the most help in understanding the meaning of the phrase is the following:
Exodus 30:7–8 And Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it. Every morning when he dresses the lamps he shall burn it, and when Aaron sets up the lamps at twilight [literally, between the two evenings], he shall burn it, a regular incense offering before YHWH throughout your generations.
Here we see that Aaron sets (or lights) the lamps the Holy Place of the Tabernacle “between the two evenings”. It makes most sense for this to be done at twilight, after the sun is set but before it became dark.
If we assume that the most probable meaning of “between the two evenings” is twilight, it is still not clear from Leviticus 23:5 (or Numbers 9:3-5) whether the Passover passages refer to the twilight at the beginning of Abib 14, or at the end of Abib 14 (which would be just before the beginning of Abib 15). To clarify this, it is helpful to look at the original Passover in Exodus.
The Exodus passage states the lambs are to be killed “between the two evenings” on the Abib 14, which seem to indicate around twilight at the beginning of Abib 14:
Exodus 12:6–8 and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight [literally, between the two evenings]. “Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it.
This passage also indicates that the meat was to be eaten “that night, roasted on the fire”. So it seems that in the original Passover, the lambs were killed around twilight at the very beginning of Abib 14. They were immediately roasted on the fire, and eaten later that very night.
One would assume that the day of Passover would be the day of the actual Passover meal as well as the day that the messenger of death “passed over” the people in Egypt. We know from Scripture that the meal was eaten at “night”. Later that same night the messenger of death “passed over”. So it seems logical that the Passover meal was to be eaten at the beginning of Passover. Just after sunset as Abib 14 was beginning (that is at twilight, “between the evenings”) the lamb was slain. It was roasted and eaten a couple hours later. And then around midnight, the messenger of death passed over. All these events would have taken place on Passover, Abib 14.
The Exodus account is in complete harmony with “New Testament” Scriptures, where it seems evident that Yeshua ate the Passover meal with his disciples at the beginning of Abib 14, and then as crucified later on Abib 14, becoming the Passover Lamb for us all.
So in summary, even though there is some uncertainty as to the exact meaning of “between the two evenings”, it seems that both the Exodus Passover meal and the Passover meal of Yeshua and his disciples in the Gospel accounts took place in the evening beginning Abib 14. That would have been Wednesday evening, according to the timeline suggested above for the Passover associated with the crucifixion of Yeshua.
A more in-depth article discussing the Timing of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits can be found under the download tab above.
How to Celebrate?
This is YHWH’s day for us to remember the Father’s physical deliverance of His people from slavery in Egypt as well as what that foreshadowed — the spiritual deliverance of His people through the death of our Messiah.
There are many traditions involving Passover, both Jewish and Christian. Not all traditions are bad. In fact some can be very helpful. But we should know what is Scripture and what is tradition. And we should be careful to avoid traditions that have their roots in pagan rituals and beliefs. A good example of that is the use of eggs, which are symbols of fertility, that have crept into Jewish Passover traditions as well as other popular Christian traditions.
For many of the Appointed Times, Scriptures instruct us to hold a “holy gathering” and to not do any “ordinary work”, like a Sabbath. However, Passover is not one of these days. We are not instructed to rest on Passover, nor are we instructed to have a “holy gathering on this day”. We certainly may, but Scripture does not instruct us to do so.
Scripture says we are kill a lamb and eat it with our family, along with unleavened bread:
Deuteronomy 16:1–3 Observe the month of Abib and keep the Passover to the Lord your God, for in the month of Abib YHWH your God brought you out of Egypt by night. And you shall offer the Passover sacrifice to the Lord your God, from the flock or the herd, at the place that YHWH will choose, to make his name dwell there. You shall eat no unleavened bread (lit. “yeasted food”) with it.
Although the ESV and other translations say “unleavened bread”, the Hebrew word is “chametz” which means “anything leavened, or any yeasted food”.
Since there is no temple, we can no longer make sacrifices, but we can still celebrate Passover by eating lamb, unleavened bread, and nothing yeasted or leavened. By the time of Yeshua’s day, there were clear traditions in place, and it seems the traditional cups of wine and bread dipped in herbs was already practiced. It can fun and meaningful to do that as well.
We make this evening a festive occasion, with a beautifully set table, candles, and a wonderful meal, the centerpiece of which is a roast leg of lamb. We also try and celebrate it much like Yeshua and His disciples would have. The entire meal is combination of Scripture readings and explanations which explain the history and meaning of Passover as well as some of the traditions of celebration that perhaps Yeshua and His disciples would have observed.
We often print out a booklet for each participant, with an outline of the evening and all the verses and blessings that we will be using. That is available for you to use or modify, along with my teaching notes which are slightly expanded from the participant booklet. Find them on the download tab above.
An excellent book with instructions for helping parents teach their children about all the Appointed Times is:
- “Celebrations of the Bible: A Messianic Children’s Curriculum.” Ed. Lin Johnson. Clarksville, MD: Lederer Books, A division of Messianic Jewish Publishers, 2004.
Scriptures to Study
Here are some scriptures to read and study in preparation for Passover:
- Exodus 12-15. This is the original Passover, when YHWH delivered His people out of slavery in Egypt. God also instructs His people to remember this day every year “throughout your generations as a statute forever” (Exodus 12:14).
- Leviticus 23:1-4. The Father gives instructions regarding keeping his Appointed Times, the first annual Appointed Time being Passover.
- Deuteronomy 16:1-3. YHWH repeats His instruction regarding the keeping of Passover, saying specifically that no “leavened food” should be eaten on Passover.
- Matthew 26-27. This is the account of the events of Yeshua’s last Passover, when He ate the Passover meal with his disciples, and was then crucified and buried that same day.
- Luke 22-23. This Luke’s account of Yeshua’s last Passover.
- Mark 14-15. This is Mark’s account of Yeshua’s last Passover.
- John 13, 18, 19. Here we have John’s account of Yeshua’s last Passover.
- 1 Corinthians 5:6-8. Paul speak to the largely Gentile group of believers in Corinth, instructing them on how to keep the festival of Passover.
Files to Download
Here is some Passover resources to help you celebrate Passover at home with your family and friends. There is a booklet to print for every participant, an expanded version with notes for the leader, Passover coloring pages for the kids, and some suggested recipes for your Passover meal.
- Passover meal leader notes: Passover Leader Notes (pdf)
- Passover meal booklet for participants: Passover Participant Booklet (pdf)
- Passover coloring pages: Passover Coloring Pages (pdf)
- Passover recipes: Passover Recipes (pdf)
- The Plaques and the Egyptian gods: What Yahweh Revealed Through the 10 Plagues (pdf)
- Entire Passover Packet (w/ Word documents to modify): Passover Packet (zip)
The timing of the Passover, Unleavened Bread & Firstfruits in relation to Yeshua’s death and resurrection:
- Timing of Passover Paper: Timing of the Death and Resurrection of the Messiah
- Timing of Passover Chart: Timing of the Death and Resurrection of the Messiah Chart – pdf
Here is another excellent article about the meaning of Passover and why Christians should want to celebrate it:
Unleavened Bread (Matzot)
What is unleavened bread?
The day following Passover begins of a seven-day period called Unleavened Bread This is the second annual Appointed Time of YHWH. The Hebrew word for “unleavened bread” is matsah.
Leviticus 23:6–8. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to YHWH; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work. But you shall present a food offering to YHWH for seven days. On the seventh day is a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work.”
Exodus 12:19. For seven days no leaven is to be found in your houses. If anyone eats what is leavened, that person will be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a sojourner or a native of the land.
The people of Israel originally took with them unleavened bread when they left Egypt. This appointed time remembers that great deliverance, when they walked through the parted Red Sea, that valley of death, and emerged into freedom from slavery on the other side. Then, 1500 years later, on the very same day they began their deliverance journey, the first day of Unleavened Bread, our Messiah Yeshua, spent his first night and day in the tomb, beginning the journey of our deliverance from the slavery of sin. Unleavened bread represents the sinless Messiah, Yeshua, the bread of life. His body was broken for us, buried like a seed in the ground, that it might sprout forth new life again. He literally went through the valley of death, to emerge into new life on the other side.
With each of appointed times there is a historical significance, a present-day (annual) application, and a future fulfillment. With Unleavened Bread, the historical significance is that the people of Israel hurriedly prepared unleavened bread as their sustenance for their journey of deliverance from slavery to the promised land. The day after the Passover Lamb was killed and the firstborn was killed in all the homes that didn’t wipe the blood on their doorposts, on Nisan 15, their journey began. Their journey took them through the red sea where death swallowed their enemies and delivered them miraculously into a new life of freedom on the other side. According to Jewish tradition, the Red Sea was parted on the seventh day of Unleavened Bread.
The present day (annual) application of the appointed time of Unleavened Bread is that God’s people are to eat unleavened bread for seven days, have no leavened food in their house, and on the first and last days of Unleavened Bread they are to have a holy gathering and not do any ordinary work. The first and last days were special days that were “like a Sabbath”. Although the Hebrew Scriptures never speaks of these days as a Sabbath (which was always the seventh day of the week), by the first century these days were actually referred to as “a Sabbath” or sometimes as a “high Sabbath”.
In Scripture the Hebrew word translated as leaven is chametz which is actually “something that is leavened” rather than leaven itself. For convenience, the term leaven is usually used for chametz, even though it is technically not quite correct. From Scripture, we can see that leaven is sometimes used to symbolize sin, as in several teachings of Yeshua:
Luke 12:1–2. [Yeshua] began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known”.
Mark 8:15. And [Yeshua] cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”
Matthew 16:11–12. “How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Paul also encouraged the gentile believers in Corinth (Greece) to keep festival of Unleavened Bread with the “unleavened bread of sincerity and truth”, rather than with the “leaven of malice and evil”.
1 Corinthians 5:6–8 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
Note first of all that Paul was encouraging these gentile believers to keep this festival. This was not just ofr for the Jews. The appointed times are YHWH’s appointed times for all his people to keep. Furthermore, Paul was reminding the people to celebrate with lives that are free of sinful behavior. These sins were symbolized by leaven. Thus, the present day application for the week of Unleavened Bread includes ridding our house of anything leavened, in order to remind ourselves to also rid our bodies (His house) of all sin.
The week of Unleavened Bread is all about deliverance from the slavery of sin. Historically, the Israelites were delivered out from Egypt, freed from their life of slavery to Pharaoh. Presently, we are told to keep the week of Unleavened Bread by ridding our house of leaven and by eating only unleavened bread, thus reminding us to live a life that reflects being delivered from sin. And in terms of the future fulfillment, this week of Unleavened Bread points toward Yeshua’s work of delivering us from the slavery of sin.
Much (but not all) of the future fulfillment of Unleavened Bread is seen in what happened to Yeshua in the days immediately after his death. At Passover, Yeshua became the unblemished sacrificial Lamb. Just as those in Egypt who were covered by the blood of the Lamb were saved from death, so too those of us who are covered by the blood of Messiah are saved from death. At the end of Passover day, as the week of Unleavened Bread was about to begin, just prior to sunset of the first evening, Yeshua was buried in the tomb. It was done hurriedly since the first day of Unleavened Bread was about to begin, and that day (Abib 15) was “like a Sabbath.” According to Jewish tradition, no burial could take place on a Sabbath – neither on a regular weekly Sabbath nor on a special “high Sabbath.”
Yeshua was put in the tomb probably just minutes prior to the sunset that began the first day of Unleavened Bread. Therefore, that first day of Unleavened Bread became the first day of his “burial”. His body was broken, and placed in the ground, like a seed of grain, planted which must be broken before new life can sprout forth again.
Yeshua said “I am the bread of life”. He was unleavened bread. Leaven represents sin, but He had no sin. Yeshua, as unleavened bread, is the only sustenance we need for our deliverance. It is no coincidence that on the first day of Unleavened Bread, Yeshua, our unleavened “Bread of Life”, was buried, as a seed of grain planted, only to bring forth new life again.
Manna and Unleavened Bread
The cakes of unleavened bread that the Israelites hurriedly made to give them sustenance on their journey from Egypt were soon eaten. No doubt, whatever grain they had brought with them on their journey was also soon used up. So very quickly they ran out of food. Then, exactly one month after they left Egypt, on the 15th day of the second month, YHWH provided them with another type of unleavened bread. Manna.
Exodus 16:14–15. And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that YHWHhas given you to eat.
Exodus 16:31. Now the house of Israel called its name manna. It was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.
The manna was “bread that YHWH had given”. They baked it or boiled it. The manna was not leavened grain. It had no leaven. Therefore this “bread that YHWH had given” was unleavened bread.
Exodus 16:35. The people of Israel ate the manna forty years, till they came to a habitable land. They ate the manna till they came to the border of the land of Canaan.
Just as the cakes of unleavened bread hurriedly made by the Israelites would be their sole sustenance for their journey out of Egypt, so too the manna, the unleavened bread YHWH had given, would be their sole sustenance during their 40-year journey to the promised land.
Joshua 5:10–12. While the people of Israel were encamped at Gilgal, they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening on the plains of Jericho. And the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.
One the first day of Unleavened Bread (the day after the Passover), they ate unleavened bread and parched grain made from the produce of the land. Until this time, they had been sustained by manna. This day, the first day of Unleavened Bread, was the last day that manna was given to them. They had entered the promised land. There was no longer any need for the unleavened bread given by YHWH.
In Capernaum, just before the time of Passover and Unleavened Bread (John 6:4), Yeshua and his disciples were talking about manna and bread. Yeshua teaches them about the meaning of the feast of Unleavened Bread:
John 6:30–35. So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
John 6:48–51. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Just as unleavened bread gave provided physical life to the Israelites during their journey to the promised land, so too Yeshua, the Bread of Life, the Living Bread that came down from heaven, is the spiritual food that provides eternal life. This is all we need to sustain us until we reach our final destination, our Promised Land.
When we eat unleavened bread during the week of Unleavened Bread, we are reminded that it is Yeshua that provides us with life. He is one that sustains. Nothing else is needed.
Yeshua drives his point home further with teaching that confused many Jews in His day as well as some people today.
John 6:53–58. So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
This teaching is all related to the account of the people of Israel eating manna to keep them alive. The manna was a picture of the Messiah, a shadow of what He would do and the life he would sustain.
Why is it seven days long?
The appointed time of Unleavened Bread lasts for seven days. Both the first day and the seventh day were special days in which a holy gathering was to take place and no ordinary work was to be done. Historically, we see that this seven-day period began with the hurried preparation of unleavened bread. On the first day the people began their journey out of Egypt. Their deliverance had begun! They were now freed from slavery and on their way to the promised land. This is a day to celebrate!
The first day of Unleavened Bread also began deliverance in other way. Immediately after Passover, the crucified Messiah was put in the tomb. His first day in the tomb was the first day of Unleavened Bread. The process of our spiritual “deliverance from slavery” had begun. Yeshua’s body was broken and buried, as a seed of grain, which would later rise to sprout forth new life. This too is a day to celebrate!
And at some point in the middle of the week of Unleavened Bread (specifically, on the first Sunday after Passover) was the day of Firstfruits, when the first sheaf of newly-harvested barley would be offering to YHWH. The firstfruits of the harvest would be lifted up as an offering to the Father. Likewise, on the very same day the Messiah would rise from the tomb. in a sense lifted up to the Father, as the firstfruits of those who would be raised from the dead at the final harvest to also dwell with their Father.
But what about the rest of week of Unleavened Bread? What is it seven days long? And why is the seventh day another special day to be celebrated like the first?
Scripture does not specifically say why the seventh day is special, but according to Jewish tradition YHWH parted the Red Sea on this day:
Warn Israel that just as I, who created the world, commanded them to observe the Sabbath as a memorial of the work of Creation, as it says: ‘Remember the Sabbath day (Exodus 20:8), so also do you remember the miracles I performed for you in Egypt and the anniversary of the day of your departure,’ as it says: Remember this day, in which ye came out from Egypt (Exodus 13:3). Why? For by strength of hand the Lord brought you out from this place (Exodus 13:9). And there shall no leavened bread be seen with you (Exodus 13:7) for seven days, corresponding to the seven days which intervened between the redemption and the dividing of the Red Sea. Just as there were seven days of creation at the beginning, and just as the Sabbath is observed at the end of seven days, so shall these seven days be kept each year, as it says: Thou shalt therefore keep this ordinance in its season from year to year (Exodus 13:10). Midrash Rabbah Exodus 19:7
While we don’t know for certain that the Red Sea was parted on the seventh day, it does seem quite plausible that this could have been the case. We know the Israelites began their journey on the first day of Unleavened Bread. Given that they were a large group, with hundreds of thousands of people, and that they traveled with all their flocks and herds, they wouldn’t have been able to cover very much ground in any given day. Even considering that they would have been fleeing Pharaoh, no doubt concerned that the Egyptian army may pursue them, they could probably not have covered much more than 10 to 15 miles a day. The point of their crossing the water is totally unknown – some suggest it was the near Bitter Lakes just north of the Red Sea while others believe that it was the actual Red Sea itself. A rough estimate of the route from their home city of Rameses to the Bitter Lakes would suggest it may have been around 60 miles, whereas the route farther south to the Red Sea may have been nearly 100 miles. Therefore, it does not seem unreasonable to suggest that the Israelites could have crossed through the parted waters on day seven. Perhaps this tradition stems from historical truth. We don’t know, but if it does, it leads to so some interesting thoughts.
Picture the Israelites just given their eviction notice from the Pharaoh. They can’t believe it is true! They have been set free slavery! Deliverance has begun! They hurriedly prepare and leave, taking with them only unleavened bread since there was no time to bake loaves of bread. They flee as fast as they can with all their children and animals and belongings. They don’t trust Pharaoh since he has changed his mind and gone back on his word many times before. They were right not to trust him. Word comes that they are being pursued by his army. Moving as quickly as possible they reach the Red Sea, which we assume to be on day seven. Miraculously YHWH parts the sea, and the people walk through the divided waters on dry ground. Pharaoh’s army follows and ends up perishing as the waters swallow them into its darkness. On day seven, deliverance is complete. This is a day to celebrate!
Not only is deliverance complete on this day, but once on the other side of the sea the people can now rest! Their pursuers have been destroyed. They no longer have to flee. Beginning on the very next day they can enjoy a change of pace. They can slow down and even take time to bake loaves of bread with the grain they brought with them. The week of Unleavened Bread is over.
If day seven celebrates the parting of the Red Sea, which was the completion of their deliverance from slavery under Pharaoh, what might the future fulfillment of this be in terms of our spiritual deliverance? Messiah initiated our deliverance on day one when he was buried in the tomb. The process continued as He was raised from death on Firstfruits. But our deliverance is not yet entirely complete. We continue to be pursued by the evil one who wants to overtake us and bring us back into slavery.
However, there will come a time when our deliverance is complete. That will be when Messiah returns and gathers his people together, and the evil one will be bound and sealed in the abyss for 1000 years.
Revelation 20:1–3. Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.
On that day when the evil one is sealed in the pit, we can finally rest. Our deliverance will be complete. We can finally enjoy life knowing that Satan is no longer seeking to devour us. The one who was pursuing us will have been swallowed up into darkness.
I suggest therefore that perhaps the seventh day of Unleavened Bread is a portent for that day when Satan is bound and thrown into the abyss for 1000 years. After that the Millennial reign of Messiah can begin. Our deliverance has been completed. The evil one has been bound and is no longer a concern. That is a day to celebrate!
The seven day period represents the period of our complete deliverance – deliverance from the slavery of sin. We are currently living in the last part of the “week of Unleavened Bread”. We are in the period after the Messiah has been resurrected but before Satan is bound and sealed in the abyss. We are being currently being pursued by Satan who wants to engulf us in our sins again. He desires that we be swallowed up into death by the collapsing waters of the Red Sea, along with him.
How then do we live? Knowing that the evil one desires us to return to a life of slavery to sin, we must keep striving to remove all seeds of sin within us. This is not a time to rest. We must be active in fleeing the temptation to sin:
1 Timothy 6:11. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.
Leaven is often used to symbolize sin. We are still living in this period of unleavened bread. We are living in times when we need to be constantly reminded that the evil one desires for us to fall back into sin. When our Messiah returns we desire to be a prepared and pure bride. We know that purity is only accomplished through the work of the Messiah, but at the same time we endeavor to live a way that pleases our Father. We desire to live in accordance with his commandments, because this is how we show Him our love.
1 John 5:3. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
How to Celebrate?
Unleavened Bread (Hebrew matsah) starts at the sunset beginning Abib 15 and finishes at the sunset ending Abib 21. It begins the day after Passover (Abib 14), and lasts for a full seven days.
It is a good idea to start preparations on Abib 14 by ridding your home of anything leavened. Note that the Hebrew word that is usually translated as “leaven” is chametz. The meaning of chametz is actually “something leavened” as opposed to the leaven itself. So plain yeast is not chametz, yeast is merely a leavening agent and not “something leavened”. Adding yeast to something will cause it to be leavened. But yeast by itself not leavened.
As you rid your home, remember that chametz represents sin. This is a time to think of all the little corners or hidden places in your life where sinful thoughts, actions or habits might still linger. Rid your life of sin as you rid your house of leavened food.
Make it a fun family activity. Read labels together to see if anything leavened is included. Do some research to find out the contents. As you are doing so, talk to your family members about needing that same type of scrutiny to look for hidden sins in our lives.
Make your own unleavened bread, and then make sure and eat some every day as Scripture instructs. It is especially good when still warm with a little butter and honey on it! Don’t buy the tasteless stuff at the store! Here is my favorite matsah recipe:
Ingredients: 1 1/2 cups flour 2/3 cup water 1 1/2 tsp. salt 2 tsp. olive oil
Directions: Preheat oven to 475. Mix all ingredients together in bowl to form dough. Knead dough adding flour or water to make a soft but not sticky consistency. When formed and not sticky separate dough into four equal balls and flatten each ball slightly. Then roll out on flat surface into very thin circles. Then prick each piece multiple times with a fork to prevent bubbling while baking in the oven. Place on either greased baking sheet or baking sheet with parchment paper and bake in the preheated oven 2-2.5 minutes then flip the bread. Time depends on the oven and also on which rack it is on. Bread should be slightly soft when done.
Maybe you could have a Unleavened Bread contest. Have people bring their homemade matsah and then blindfold the judging panel for taste tests.
On the first and seventh days of Unleavened Bread (Abib 15 and 21), we are told to have a “holy gathering” and do no ordinary work. So gather together with friends and family for a time of fellowship and worship. Perhaps you can read and discuss some of the Scriptures pertaining to Unleavened Bread.
An excellent book with instructions for helping parents teach their children about all the Appointed Times is:
- “Celebrations of the Bible: A Messianic Children’s Curriculum.” Ed. Lin Johnson. Clarksville, MD: Lederer Books, A division of Messianic Jewish Publishers, 2004.
Scriptures to Study
The following Scriptures are helpful to read and reflect upon during the week of Unleavened Bread:
- Exodus 12:14-20. YHWH gave Moses instructions for the very first week of Unleavened Bread.
- Leviticus 23:4-14. YHWH gives His instruction regarding Unleavened Bread to his people.
- Numbers 28:16-25. YHWH gives additional instruction regarding Unleavened Bread to his people.
- Deuteronomy 16:1-8. YHWH gives further instruction regarding Unleavened Bread to his people.
- Deuteronomy 29-30. The people renew their covenant with YHWH as they prepare to enter the promised land. Likewise, as we prepare for Messiah’s return when we enter our ultimate promised land, we too should renew this covenant with our Father.
- Joshua 4:19 – 5:15. Joshua and the Israelites crossed the Jordan river and entered the promised land on “lamb selection day”. They celebrate Passover and Unleavened Bread in the promised land, and from that day on the manna (the unleavened bread from heaven) stopped.
- Matthew 26-27. This is Matthew’s recording of the events of Yeshua’s final Passover and the first day of Unleavened Bread.
- Luke 22-23. This Luke’s account of Yeshua’s final Passover and the first day of Unleavened Bread.
- Mark 14-15. This is Mark’s account of Yeshua’s final Passover and the first day of Unleavened Bread.
- John 18-19. Here we have John’s account of Yeshua’s final Passover and the first day of Unleavened Bread.
- John 6:25-59. Yeshua teaches that He is the Living Bread, the Manna sent from heaven to give life for the world.
- Acts 12:1-18. This is an account of a miracle with Peter during the days of Unleavened Bread.
- 1 Corinthians 5. Paul writes to the gentile believers in Corinth about their sinful lifestyle, urging them to celebrate the festival “with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
- 1 Corinthians 11:17-29. Sharing the bread and wine as Yeshua did on Passover is the way we proclaim His death until He returns.
- Hebrews 4. The Sabbath rest is a picture of the seventh day of creation. This God’s day of rest. It is also a picture of our arrival in the promised land (the millennial kingdom of Yeshua as well as “the new heaven and new earth” after that). The Sabbath rest symbolizes our ultimate rest in the Father when we reach that ultimate promised land.
- Revelation 18:1 – 20:6. This passage tells of the destruction of the evil one. Without the evil one seeking to devour us, we can at last enjoy life with Messiah in his earthly kingdom. The seven days of Unleavened Bread remind us of the ultimate promised land, when we are completely freed from the slavery of sin and Satan is bound and sealed in the abyss for 1000 years.
- Exodus 13:17-15:26. The people of Israel cross the Red Sea leaving Egypt and their lives of slavery behind. According to Jewish tradition, this crossing took place on the seventh day of Unleavened Bread.
- 2 Samuel 22. This is the song of David when he was delivered from the hand of Saul who was trying to kill him. It has imagery that reminds us of the waters of the Red Sea and God’s deliverance of His people, which traditionally took place on the seventh day of Unleavened Bread.
Files to Download
The article below presents a good discussion of the Feast of Unleavened Bread for the believer in Messiah:
- Unleavened Bread – HoshanaRabbah.org (pdf). This is an overview of the Feast of Unleavened Bread by Natan Lawrence.
What is Firstfruits?
Firstfruits is the third Appointed Time of YHWH. This day is sometimes referred to as Yom Habikkurim, which means “day of the firstfruits” in Hebrew, however the Hebrew Scriptures actually refer to this Appointed Time as Re’sheet Katzir meaning “the first of the harvest” as given in Leviticus 23:10.
Leviticus 23:10–14. Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest, and he shall wave the sheaf before YHWH, so that you may be accepted. On the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it… It is a statue forever throughout your generations.
The context of this passage is that the verses just prior to this are describing Passover and the week of Unleavened Bread. So these verses are the continuation of the description of week of Unleavened Bread. While there is some controversy regarding which particular Sabbath is referred to in this passage, the most straightforward reading of the Scripture, based on the immediate context, would suggest that “the day after the Sabbath” must occur during the week of Unleavened Bread that has been the topic of discussion. It is on that “day after the Sabbath”, that is, the Sunday during the week of Unleavened Bread, that the priest shall wave the offering of firstfruits to YHWH. In other words, it is on the Sunday that occurs between Abib 15 and Abib 21. Since Passover occurs on Abib 14, we can therefore say that Firstfruits occurs on the Sunday immediately following Passover.
This was the beginning the barley harvest, which was the first of all crops to be harvested in the year. So the first sheaf of the first harvested barley crop of the year was to be offered to YHWH on this particular day. This was a day of Thanksgiving offering in advance of the full harvest which was yet to come.
Each of the Appointed Times has a future fulfillment that is in some way related to YHWH’s plan of salvation for mankind. In the case of Firstfruits, we can see that the future fulfillment of this day came when the Messiah was resurrected.
The Messiah was crucified on Passover (Abib 14), and on the following Sunday (Abib 17), the day of Firstfruits, He was resurrected:
Matthew 28:1–6. Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Yeshua who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.
On the day of Firstfruits, Yeshua became the Firstfruit offering — the first of those resurrected from the dead. As followers of Messiah, we will eventually join him at his return when the harvest is completed. This is what Paul writes to the Corinthian believers:
1 Corinthians 15:20–23. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
This day, the day of Firstfruits, is the day that YHWH gave us to celebrate the resurrection of His Son. This is resurrection Sunday!
It is also interesting that the resurrection of the Messiah took place on the first day of the week. The first day of the week is sometimes referred to as the eighth day. Just as the number seven often symbolizes completeness, the number eighth sometimes symbolizes the beginning of something totally new. Yeshua’s resurrection, on the first day of the week, marked something totally new. It marked the initiation of the New Covenant. The old would now begin to fade as the new begins to be implemented. Although it seems that the completion of this transition will not be until the Messiah returns and establishes his earthly kingdom, the initiation of this new covenant began on “the eighth day” – the day of Firstfruits. Resurrection Day.
Is Firstfruits the same as Easter?
No. Traditional Christianity has moved toward celebrating “Easter” instead of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits. If you study the history of Easter, you will find that both the name and date, as well as many of the associated traditions, are pagan in origin.
The name “Easter” is a derivation coming from Oester or Ostara, names of pagan goddesses having to do with fertility.
Easter, in Old High German Ôstarâ, in Anglo-Saxon Eostre, was the name of the goddess of spring. It is derived from the word Aust, Ost, East, and signified the morning light in the East. The Teutonic Christians immediately transferred the name to the festival of the rising of the Sun of righteousness. (Pullan, L. 1904. The Christian Tradition.)
Actually, the name Easter is connected not just to Eostre and Ostara, but also more ancient pagan goddesses including Ishtar, Astarte, Ashara, Ashtaroth, Venus, Aphrodite, and Semiramis. Each of these was viewed as a “mother goddess” offering fertility to her followers.
Over the centuries, the Easter holiday has merged the events of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits with the various springtime fertility rituals associated with these pagan gods. Springtime brings rain and new life, as well as days with more sunlight hours. The spring equinox typically marks the beginning of this time, beginning a period in which many cultures would celebrate new life and seek blessings from their goddesses of fertility. The hare was specifically associated with the goddess the Ostara, but rabbits in general were widely viewed as symbols of fertility since they were noted for their prolific reproduction. Similarly, eggs have commonly been associated with fertility, and have often played a part in pagan fertility rituals. These elements of pagan worship have become integrated in a holiday that many Christians regard as Biblical.
Regarding the date, Scripture designates the first new moon of springtime (apparently the first new moon after the spring equinox) as the beginning of the first month of the year. Firstfruits is the first Sunday that occurs after the 14th day of that first month (in other words, the first Sunday after Passover). After much argument, the church in 325 AD declared that they would celebrate “Easter” on a different day – on the first Sunday after the first full moon that occurred after the spring equinox. While the days are sometimes close, they are not the same. The church adopted a new method of calculation that was entirely different from the instructions given in Scripture.
The date was changed from that in Scripture in an attempt by Christians to separate themselves from what they called “the detestable company of the Jews.” In other words, since Jewish people were keeping Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits, the Christians wanted to choose something different just to be increase there separation, regardless of what Scripture said. Actually some of the eastern Christians at the time were celebrating the resurrection in accord with Scripture, but the western Roman church was not. The church council at Nicea in 325 AD addressed this issue and voted that both east and west must keep same day – not the day according to Scripture, but rather a day that they would set to be purposely different in order to separate themselves from what Jewish people were doing. The historian Eusebius records these events from the church council and quotes a letter from the Roman Emperor Constantine:
And first of all, it appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast we should follow the practice of the Jews, who have impiously defiled their hands with enormous sin, and are, therefore, deservedly afflicted with blindness of soul… Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd; for we have received from our Saviour a different way… Since, therefore, it was needful that this matter should be rectified, so that we might have nothing in common with that nation of parricides who slew their Lord… it has been determined by the common judgment of all, that the most holy feast of Easter should be kept on one and the same day.” (Eusebius of Caesaria. 1890. The Life of the Blessed Emperor Constantine. In P. Schaff & H. Wace. Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine. Vol. 1, p. 525)
There is a reason the Father said when you go into the promised land you are to keep His Appointed Times, and not mix with the pagan culture. He commanded that not even the names of their gods should be spoken:
Exodus 23:13. Pay attention to all that I have said to you, and make no mention of the names of other gods, nor let it be heard on your lips.
Joshua 23:6–7. Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them,
Why did the Father instruct us in this way? He knew that our natural tendency would be to incorporate the pagan practices around us into our worship of Him. Sadly we have done that just that.
The Day After Which Sabbath?
Scripture says that the sheaf of firstfruits was to be offered “on the day after the Sabbath“, but it’s not entirely clear which Sabbath this instruction refers to:
Leviticus 23:10–11. Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest, and he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, so that you may be accepted. On the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.
Much controversy exists over which Sabbath is being referring to. We know that even in the days of Yeshua there was disagreement over this. Given that this passage immediately follows the instructions for the week of Unleavened Bread, there are really only three possibilities for which Sabbath this could be:
- The regular weekly Sabbath that occurs during the week of Unleavened Bread.
- The “special Sabbath” that occurs on the first day of Unleavened Bread.
- The “special Sabbath” that occurs on the last day of Unleavened Bread.
The first and last days of Unleavened Bread are sometimes called “special Sabbaths” or “high Sabbaths” because the instructions for these special days sound a lot like the instructions for keeping the regular weekly Sabbaths. Compare these instructions:
Leviticus 23:3 Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the Lord in all your dwelling places.
Leviticus 23:6–8. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work. But you shall present a food offering to the Lord for seven days. On the seventh day is a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work.”
Since on the first and last days of Unleavened Bread, we are commanded to have a “holy gathering” and not do any ordinary work, these days have sometimes been considered to be “like a Sabbath”. In fact, by the time of Yeshua, it is evident that Jewish people did in fact refer to these days as “special Sabbaths” or “high Sabbaths.” We even have evidence of this in the Apostolic Scriptures (New Testament), where John writes that Yeshua was crucified on preparation day before the Sabbath that was “a high day”:
John 19:31. Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away.
There is historical evidence that by the 1st Century there were sects within Judaism that were proponents of each of the three options for interpreting “on the day after the Sabbath”. It seems that the Qumran sect favored interpreting the Sabbath as the last day of Unleavened Bread. Thus for them, Firstfruits would always fall on Abib 22. The Pharisees (and modern Judaism) take the view that the Sabbath is the first day of Unleavened Bread. So for them, Firstfruits would always fall on Abib 16.
One big problem with either of these interpretations is that although these special days were referred to as Sabbaths by Jewish people during the 1st Century, nowhere do the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) ever refer to these special days as a Sabbath. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the Sabbath day is always the seventh day of week. This is without exception. The Hebrew Scriptures never refer to a day other than the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath. There is one Appointed Time, the day of Atonement, which Scripture says is “like a Sabbath”, but note that Scripture does not say this day “is a Sabbath”. Therefore, if we are to understand the instructions for the Appointed Times in the terms defined by the Hebrew Scriptures (rather than later the traditions of man), then the Sabbath referred to in this passage can only refer to the regular weekly Sabbath.
Another argument in favor of understanding the Sabbath to be the regular weekly Sabbath is that Scripture does not give a specific date for Firstfruits (or for Shavuot which follows 49 days later). For all the other Appointed Times, specific dates are given: Abib 15 (Passover), Abib 15 (first day of Unleavened Bread), Tishri 1 (Trumpets), Tishri 10 (Atonement), and Tishri 15 (Sukkot). If Firstfruits always occurred the day after the first or last day of Unleavened Bread, then it would always occur on Abib 16 or Abib 22, respectively. If that were the case it would have been much more straightforward for Scriptures to simply instruct people celebrate on that particular date. Since Scriptures does not do it this way, one must assume there is a reason for it. The logical conclusion is that Firstfruits does not occur on a set date each year, but rather occurs the day after the regular weekly Sabbath.
Just to complicate things a bit more, what would happen if Passover falls on a regular weekly Sabbath? In that case the last day of Unleavened Bread also falls on a regular weekly Sabbath. So which Sabbath would Firstfruits follow? Again, Scripture is not clear on this, but it would seem that the Firstfruits offerings are to be made within the context of the celebration of Unleavened Bread. Therefore the most natural assumption is that the day of Firstfruits must fall within the week of Unleavened Bread. So when Passover falls on a Sabbath, we celebrate Firstfruits on the following day, which is the very same day as the first day of Unleavened Bread.
We can summarize all the above by saying that the most natural reading of the Text would indicate that Firstfruits falls on the first Sunday following Passover. Do we know for sure? No. Is it worth arguing over? No.
What is “Counting the Omer”?
Perhaps you have heard of a Jewish tradition called “counting the omer”. The Hebrew word omer means “sheaf” and refers to the sheaf of barley that is offered as the firstfruit of the harvest on the day of Firstfruits. Scripture says to count seven full weeks (49 days) from the day the omer is offered to YHWH until the day of Shavuot:
Leviticus 23:15–16. You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf (Hebrew omer) of the wave offering. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to YHWH.
One could either count seven full weeks (49 days) beginning on the day of Firstfruits, or 50 days if your count includes the first day, as was sometimes done in Hebrew culture of that time. The Jewish tradition that has developed counts 49 days, with the count beginning in the evening at the end of Firstfruits, and finishing with 49 in the evening that begins Shavuot.
Some see this verse as an actual command to count the days between these two Appointed Times. Where it is an actual command or not, it seems that Scripture is purposely linking together Firstfruits with Shavuot. Rabbinic teaching (from Maimonides) is that this links together the deliverance from Egypt to the giving of the Torah, and that this suggests that after their freedom from slavery it was as if they were now waiting for the arrival of their most intimate friend (the Torah). They were therefore counting down the days before their friend arrived, when the Torah was given to them on Shavuot.
For us as believers in Messiah, we can see the additional connection between the resurrection of the Messiah and the giving of the Holy Spirit, both of which were the key elements in the initiation of the new covenant. After he was resurrected Yeshua told his disciples to wait for Holy Spirit to come:
Luke 24:46–49. [Yeshua] said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
Acts 1:4–5. And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
Yeshua said this to his followers during the time they were “counting the omer”. When they reached the end of their count, celebrating the arrival of “their most intimate friend”, the Torah, they now received the Holy Spirit who had come to write the Torah upon their hearts. (See Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:26-27.)
Our most intimate friend just became even more intimate!
How to Celebrate
He is risen! He is alive! The Firstfruit of those raised from the dead to be with the Father. And what’s more, we will soon be joining him as the rest of the harvest. This is a day to celebrate!
Get together with family and friends and read and discuss the Scriptures about the resurrection of the Messiah. Sing songs of praise and worship. Explain this miracle to your children. Talk about why you celebrating this way rather than with bunnies and eggs like many of their friends.
Maybe share a meal together with others. But remember, this is still during the week of Unleavened Bread, so make sure and have some unleavened bread (I love the homemade kind with some honey on it). Also, avoid anything that is leavened (nothing leavened should even be in your house during this week). And of course, avoid the traditional “Easter ham”! Substitute that with one of your favorite dishes. Mine would be a juicy beef roast, slow cooked with potatoes, carrots and onions.
An excellent book with instructions for helping parents teach their children about all the Appointed Times is:
- “Celebrations of the Bible: A Messianic Children’s Curriculum.” Ed. Lin Johnson. Clarksville, MD: Lederer Books, A division of Messianic Jewish Publishers, 2004.
Scriptures to Study
The Scriptures below may be useful in your celebration of Firstfruits:
- Leviticus 23:4-14. Here YHWH gives instructions on when to make the Firstfruits offering.
- John 12:20-36. Yeshua teaches that the time has come for him to lifted up, as a grain of wheat that is buried – to die before it can bear fruit.
- Matthew 28. This is Matthew’s account of the resurrection of the Messiah, and the other events that took place on this day.
- Mark 16. This is Mark’s account of the resurrection of the Messiah, and the other events that took place on this day.
- Luke 24. This is Luke’s account of the resurrection of the Messiah, and the other events that took place on this day.
- John 20. This is John’s account of the resurrection of the Messiah, and the other events that took place on this day.
- 1 Corinthians 15:1-28. Paul explains that Yeshua was raised from the dead as the Firstfruit of those of who have died.
Files to Download
The following articles may be helpful as you study fhe Feast of Firstfruits:
- Reishit Katzir – Hebrew4christians.com (pdf). This is a helpful article describing the feast of Firstfruits and it’s meaning for believers in the Messiah.
- Counting the Omer – HoshanaRabbah.org (pdf). Here is a very good article discussing the significance of “Counting the Omer”.
- Rome & the Easter Controversy – excerpt (pdf). This is an excerpt from an excellent book “From Sabbath to Sunday” by Samuele Bacchiocchi. This except discusses the history of the Roman church fixing the date of “Easter”.
What is Shavu’ot ?
Shavu’ot is a Hebrew word which means “weeks”. The feast of Shavu’ot (in English, the Feast of Weeks) gets its name because God command His people to count seven full weeks after Firstfruits, and mark that particular day as His appointed time. It is also sometimes called the Feast of the Harvest (based on Exodus 23:14). God gives instructions regarding all His Appointed Times in Leviticus 23.
Leviticus 23:15–16, 21. You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to YHWH… You shall hold a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work. It is a statute forever in all your dwelling places throughout your generations.
Firstfruits was the day that the first harvested sheaf of barley was offered before YHWH. The day of the Firstfruit offering was specified as the day after the Sabbath during the week of Unleavened Bread – in other words, the Sunday immediately following Passover. From this day, seven full weeks are to be counted to Shavuot.
Another way of counting is to count days rather than weeks. If one counts days starting with the day of Firstfruits as day one, then day fifty will be the day of Shavu’ot. It may seem strange to us to count the starting day as day one, but in first-century Judaism this was not uncommon. So the fiftieth day from Firstfruits is Shavu’ot. For that reason, the Greek word pentecoste “fiftieth” is used for Shavu’ot in the New Testament. This is the origin of our English word Pentecost. In English, this Appointed Time is often written either as Shavuot or Pentecost.
God instructed his people to hold a “holy convocation”, that is a special gathering or assembly of believers for the purpose of remembering this Appointed Time of YHWH. We are told to do no ordinary work on this day. In other words, this day should be a day of rest from our work, as would a Sabbath day. And God instructed his people to present an offering of new grain.
The new grain this time of year would have been wheat. The barley harvest began seven weeks earlier at Firstfruits. By the time of Shavu’ot, the barley is all harvested, and wheat is now ripe. Shavu’ot takes place at the beginning of the wheat harvest. And God instructs his people to take the newly harvested grain and make two loaves of bread from solet, which is fine flour ground from the inner kernel of the wheat. These two loaves of bread, along with number of animals, were to be offerings to YHWH on the day of Shavu’ot.
The command regarding Shavu’ot is also given in Deuteronomy:
Deuteronomy 16:9–12. You shall count seven weeks. Begin to count the seven weeks from the time the sickle is first put to the standing grain. Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to YHWH your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give as YHWH your God blesses you. And you shall rejoice before YHWH your God, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite who is within your towns, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are among you, at the place that YHWH your God will choose, to make his name dwell there. You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt; and you shall be careful to observe these statutes.
Here we are told to “rejoice before YHWH”. It was the beginning of the wheat harvest – a day to rejoice and praise the Father for his abundant provision! We are also told specifically that the observance of this day applies to everyone “among you”, including the foreigners (sojourners) who were living among them.
Together with the instructions about Shavu’ot, God also gave some special instructions about how to harvest the grain in order to be generous to others who may be in need:
Leviticus 23:22. And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am YHWH your God.
For this reason, the time of Shavu’ot is also a time to show generosity by sharing with those in need.
Receiving the Ten Commandments
Other than the fact that this day marked the beginning of the wheat harvest, Scripture doesn’t say exactly why this day was to be remembered. Traditionally, however, Jewish teaching hold that this day marked the day that Moses received the Ten Words (Ten Commandments) on Mt Sinai. A careful counting of events, beginning with the people of Israel arriving at Mt Sinai on the first day of the third month (Exodus 19:1) indicates that this tradition is quite possibly correct. The Ten Words were either given on Shavu’ot, or a day or two from it. Thus, Shavuot has always been a time to celebrate the gift of the Torah, God’s word to His people.
Every year at Shavu’ot, Exodus 19 and 20 is read, and we are reminded of the circumstances and miraculous way in which God spoke. And we are also reminded of the incredible gift of having God’s word – the very essence of who He is – available to us. On this day, the Father gave us His Word, His Torah, His instructions for life. The Scriptures are more than just a book. They are the recorded words of YHWH – His personal communication to us. His Word is holy just as He is holy. His Word is who He is. And He gave it to us, it seems, on Shavu’ot.
Another passage that is also traditionally read on Shavu’ot is Ezekiel 1-2, which records the vision of Ezekiel when, as he puts it, “the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.” The experience of Ezekiel was not unlike the experience of the people of Israel at Mt Sinai. There were many similarities, including fire, smoke, lightening, sounds (literally, voices). Furthermore, as YHWH spoke to Ezekiel in the midst of all the fire, smoke, lightning, and sounds, we are told that the Spirit entered him. God’s Spirit, like His Word, is the very essence of God himself. It is who He is. His Word and the Spirit are intimately connected.
The Holy Spirit
Every year for hundreds of years as Shavu’ot was celebrated God’s people read these passages in Exodus and Ezekiel. People would travel from countries far away to gather in Jerusalem at the temple on Shavu’ot to celebrate the giving of the Torah – the giving of the Word of God Himself to his people. They would gather in a “holy assembly”, as commanded in Scripture, and they would read these passages. This was the case the year that Yeshua was crucified. He arose on Firstfruits, and exactly 7 weeks later, on Shavu’ot, Acts 2 records what happened:
Acts 2:2–4. When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
It was God, communicating again with his people. Giving his instructions for life to His people. This time they were not words of instruction to be recorded on tablets of stone, but rather an Instructor, HIS SPIRIT, to live within us, and to write His Torah upon our hearts.
Jeremiah 31:33. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares YHWH: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Ezekiel 36:26–27 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
This Appointed Time, Shavu’ot, is a day God told his people to set apart and observe for all generations! His Word given 1500 years earlier, and now His Spirit, intimately connected, are given on the very same day.
As with Firstfruits, it is interesting that this took place on the first day of the week. The first day of the week, sometimes referred to the as the eighth day, marks a new beginning. At Firstfruits, Yeshua’s resurrection, on “the eighth day” was a new beginning since it marked the initiation of the New Covenant. Shavuot, also on “the eighth day”, marks a new beginning in that first the Torah was given, and then Holy Spirit was given. Both of these events were definite new beginnings. The giving of the Holy Spirit together with the resurrection of the Messiah are the two primary events marking the beginning of the new covenant. The old would begin to fade as the new begins to be implemented. The completion of this new covenant will not be until the Messiah returns and established his earthly kingdom.
The First Shavu’ot
According to Jewish tradition, the day of Shavu’ot marks the very day YHWH gave his Word to Moses and the people on Mount Sinai. This is the day He gave His Ten Words (Ten Commandments). But is that true? Although Scripture doesn’t specifically state it this way, a careful look at the events of Scripture seems to indicate it to be very likely.
Exodus 19 records this event. The people of Israel have just been delivered from Egypt. There were the 10 plagues, and then Passover, and the Red Sea was parted and the people were set free. And after traveling for about seven weeks, they finally arrive at Mt Sinai. There the God of Israel, YHWH, speaks to His people. Exodus 19:1 tells us the exact day this happens:
Exodus 19:1. On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai.
“On the third new moon… on that day” means that they arrived at Mt. Sinai on the first day of the third month. Looking at the rest of the chapter, we can postulate a likely timeline as follows:
- DAY 1 – The people arrive at Sinai on the first day of the third month.
- DAY 2 – Moses goes up the mountain the first time and hears promises from YHWH. He goes down and tells the people. They say we will obey. We don’t know for sure which mountain this is, but it was likely a big mountain. If it is the traditional location of Mt Sinai then it takes about 6 hours to climb up. Thus is seems likely that would have taken a full day to go up and down the mountain.
- DAY 3 – Moses goes up the mountain a second time to tell YHWH people will obey. YHWH says prepare the people today and tomorrow, for on the third day I will come down. So Moses probably goes down immediately, that very same day. This is also counted as the first day of preparation.
- DAY 4 – Second Day of preparation
- DAY 5 – Third day of preparation – the people gather at base of Sinai. Moses goes up for the third time. YHWH covers Sinai in smoke and fire and thunder. YHWH sends Moses back down to tell people not to come close, and to bring Aaron back up.
- DAY 6 – Moses and Aaron go back up, and YHWH gives the Ten Words So they arrive at Sinai on day 1 of the third month, and it seems likely that it would have been on day 6 at the soonest that YHWH first spoke to the nation of Israel.
The following chart helps to visually show these events, in relation to the Appointed Times of the first month:
We know that Passover is always on the 14th of the first month, and that the week of Unleavened Bread starts the following day, on the 15th. Somewhere during that week of Unleavened Bread a regular Sabbath day will occur. The day of that Sabbath day is the day of Firstfruits.
We have no way of knowing when the Sabbath day occurred within that the week of Unleavened Bread that particular year. But for the sake of argument, lets assume it was the same as the year when Yeshua was crucified. That year, we know that Firstfruits was 3 days after Passover. Yeshua was crucified on Passover, and 3 days later on Firstfruits he was resurrected. In that case, Firstfruits would have been on the 17th, and exactly 7 weeks later would be Shavuot. If we count the days, we see that in this case Shavuot falls right on Day 6 of month 3, the very day we estimate the Father gave the Ten Words to His people.
Little wonder that YHWH told His people to remember this for all generations. On Shavu’ot, it seems, He gave his Torah to His people. And then, nearly 1500 years He also gives His Holy Spirit to His people. Now His Torah will be written on our hearts.
How to Celebrate?
Based on the instructions of Scripture, we are told to:
- Do no ordinary work, as on a regular Sabbath
- Gather together with other believers (a holy gathering)
- Rejoice before the Father
It is a day to praise Him for:
- His Provision – crops growing in the field, our jobs, home, family, etc.
- His Word – the Ten Commandments, the Torah, and the rest of Scriptures which are his gift of life to us
- His Spirit – YHWH’s Spirit dwelling within us, to guide us, instruct us, comfort us, and help us truly desire to keep His Torah.
It’s also a day to remember those in need, and to share generously from the abundance of our blessing.
Often believers gather together for praise and worship, including reading and discussing the scriptures relevant to Shavu’ot. Some of the Scripture passages associated with Shavu’ot are listed under the Scripture tab above.
Scripture to Study
The following Scriptures may be useful to read and discuss as you prepare for or celebrate Shavu’ot:
- Leviticus 23:15-22. God gives instructions to His people concerning the Appointed Time of Shavu’ot.
- Deuteronomy 16:9-12. God gives additional instructions to His people concerning Shavu’ot.
- Numbers 28:26-31. Another passage containing God’s instructions regarding Shavu’ot.
- Exodus 19-20. YHWH speaks to his people at Mt. Sinai when He gives the Ten Words (Ten Commandments), probably on the very day of Shavuot.
- Ruth 1-4. The entire book of Ruth is traditionally read on Shavu’ot since it took place during the grain harvest time and also demonstrates the Biblical principle of leaving the corners of your field for those in need to glean. This book is reminder of our responsibility to be generous to others in need.
- Ezekiel 1:1-3:15. Ezekiel receives a vision from God as the heavens are opened up to him. This passage is traditionally read on Shavuot since many of the elements of Ezekiel’s vision are similar to the events at Mt. Sinai when the Ten Words were given.
- Jeremiah 31:23-34. This prophesy promises the “new covenant” in which God will write His Torah upon the hearts of His people.
- Ezekiel 36:22-32. This prophesy, with similar aspects to that of Jeremiah 31, promises that God will put His Spirit within His people us and cause them to “walk in my statues and be careful to obey my rules.”
- Matthew 3. This passage tells of John the Baptist teaching that the Messiah would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Then Yeshua is baptized and the Spirit of God came upon Him.
- John 1:1-34. The apostle John explains how the Word of God is Yeshua, then he gives testimony to Yeshua receiving the Holy Spirit at his baptism. We know that God’s Word is the essence of who He is. Now John tells us that Yeshua is the embodiment God’s Word. Yeshua is the Word in the flesh. The Father first gave His Word on tablets on stone, then He gives us His Word in the flesh through Yeshua. And finally He writes His Word on our hearts with His indwelling Holy Spirit.
- John 14:15-31. Yeshua speaks to his disciples, promising to them that the Holy Spirit would come and to help them and instruct them.
- Acts 2:1-12. Exactly seven weeks after Yeshua is resurrected, the Holy Spirit that was promised by Yeshua (and John the Baptist, Jeremiah and Ezekiel) came upon those believers gathered to celebrate Shavu’ot in Jerusalem.
- Acts 10. Several years later, the Holy Spirit is given to Gentile believers of Cornelius’ household, as God shows that He is the one who declares which people are clean. The Gentiles are made clean by their faith in Yeshua and not by undergoing Jewish conversion rituals as taught by the Jewish leadership of that time. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit was proof to everyone that faith in Yeshua, not man-made ritual, allowed people to become a part of the covenant community of YHWH.
Files to Download
Here is a message I gave on Shavu’ot along with my notes, PowerPoint, and chart:
- Shavuot Message Audio (MP3)
- Shavuot Message Slides (PPT)
- Shavuot Message Notes (pdf)
- Shavuot and Ten Words Chart (pdf)
I have also added a few articles by other authors that I have found helpful in considering the various aspects of Shavu’ot::
Day of Trumpets (Yom Teruah)
What is Yom Teruah?
Each of the first four annual Appointed Times have corresponded to harvest times and have also been a prophetic picture the Messiah or the Holy Spirit. The first three Appointed Times are in the spring at the beginning of the barley harvest. The fourth Appointed Time, Shavuot, is in the early summer at the beginning of the wheat harvest. All four appointed times have had a future fulfillment with key Messianic events in the history of the world. Furthermore, these events have each occurred in chronological order – the Crucifixion, Burial, Resurrection, and the giving of the Holy Spirit, corresponding to Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, and Shavuot, respectively.
The final three annual appointed times are in the fall, and occur at the end of the annual harvest season when the harvest of grapes, olives, figs, dates, and pomegranates has finished. Since the first three appointed times each foreshadow in chronological order, the key events of the first coming of the Messiah and the giving of the Holy Spirit, it would seem logical that the last three appointed times may also point us toward future events related to the Messiah in the latter days. Since the next major Messianic event we anticipate is the return of the Messiah, it would seem plausible that the next (fifth) appointed time points to this event.
The fifth appointed time is Yom Teruah, the Day of Trumpets. It is sometimes called Rosh Hashanah (New Year), however Scripture designates this day as Yom Teruah. As discussed above, it seems likely that this day foreshadows the second coming of the Messiah.
Leviticus 23:24–25. Speak to the people of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of solemn rest, a memorial proclaimed with blast of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work, and you shall present a food offering to YHWH.
Scripture never says WHY we are to blow the trumpet on this day – only that we are to blow it. It is to be a day of rest (like a Sabbath) in which we gather together with other believers and with the sound of trumpets proclaim this day as a special day of celebration. We are left to ponder what it may signify. Historically, the blowing of the trumpet was something done to:
- Gather people together for an appointed time or special event.
- Gather people to prepare for battle.
- Proclaim the crowning of a king
- Proclaim the anointing of a high priest,
- Announce the arrival of a bridegroom as he comes to claim his bride
When Yeshua returns, will he not be fulfilling each of these things associated with the trumpet blast? He returns as both King and High Priest, as a Bridegroom to claim his Bride, to gather his people together in preparation for final battle. This is clearly one of the most special events of all time. Scriptures often links the return of the Messiah to the sound of the trumpet. While we don’t know the day or hour of His return, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if we see Him return on the very day His people are celebrating Yom Teruah.
How to Celebrate?
Yom Teruah begins at sunset, on the first evening of the month when the first crescent of the new moon becomes visible (assuming it’s a clear night). This is a special new moon — a time to celebrate by blowing the trumpet. If you have a shofar (a ram’s horn normally used as a trumpet in Biblical times) or a metal trumpet or noisemakers of any kind, this would be a great time to use them with the family. Go outside as the sun is setting, and look for the crescent moon just above the western horizon. When you see it, blow the shofar or make noise with your other instruments. Traditionally the shofar was blown by sounding in sequence:
- 1 long blast
- 3 medium blasts
- 9 staccato blasts
- 1 extra long blast
It is not unusual for the trumpet to be blown all day long – 100 times or more before the following sunset when Yom Teruah ends! So let your kids have fun on this day. And who knows? Maybe this is the day our Messiah will return!
Scripture also says we should do no ordinary work on this day. In other words, it should be a day of rest from our work, like a Sabbath. And we are told to hold a “holy assembly”, so we should gather together with other believers to celebrate this special day. It’s a time for family and friends to celebrate together this Appointed Time of YHWH. This is a great opportunity to read and discuss Scriptures related to Yom Teruah. Some relevant Scriptures are listed on the Scripture tab.
One Jewish tradition that can be fun as well as meaningful is called Tashlikh “Casting Away”. After reading Micah 7:19-20, each person throws something like a stone or a piece of bread into a body of water, to illustrate how our Father “hurls our iniquities into the sea”. Our sins are gone forever, for those of us that follow the Messiah.
Another tradition, in anticipation of the Day of Atonement which follows ten days after Yom Teruah, is called Yomim Nora’im “The Days of Awe”. These ten days are observed as days of intense prayer and self-evaluation, asking the Father to reveal areas of sin in one’s life so that all things can be made right. During these days relationships are restored, forgiveness is offered, and reconciliation is sought. In this way we prepare to come before the Father on Yom Kippurim with nothing to hinder us from having an intimate relationship with Him.
Scriptures to Study
In preparation for, or in celebration of, Yom Teruah you may want to read and discuss the following Scriptures:
- Leviticus 23:23-25. YHWH gives his people instructions on keeping Yom Teruah.
- Numbers 29:1-6. More instructions from YHWH on keeping Yom Teruah.
- Numbers 10. Some important times when the trumpet was blown.
- Genesis 21-22. According to Jewish tradition, it was on the day of Yom Teruah that God “remembered” Sarah and allowed her to miraculously conceive Isaac, and then many years later on the very same day when Isaac was to be sacrificed by his father Abraham. However as a substitute, God provided a ram, caught in the thicket by his horns (trumpet = shofar = ram’s horn). This account foreshadows YHWH’s provision of the Messiah who would give his life as a substitute for ours. The shofar played a key role in this account, making it a symbol of our salvation, and correspondingly, a symbol of Yeshua.
- 1 Samuel 1.1 – 2:10. According to Jewish tradition, it was on the day of Yom Teruah that God “remembered” Hannah and allowed her to miraculously conceive Samuel. 1 Samuel 2 is also seen to be a prophetic chapter pointing us to the return of the Messiah. Hannah’s prayer speaks of her “horn” (honor, dignity) being exalted as she rejoices “in your Yeshua”. And the prayer ends with YHWH “will exalt the horn of his Messiah.”
- Psalm 81. This psalm seems to have been written with Yom Teruah in mind. “Blow the trumpet on the new moon, in the time appointed, on our solemn feast day.”
- Jeremiah 31:1-19. Here is a prophetic description of YHWH regathering his people from among the nations. Note that the latter part of this chapter (Jeremiah 31:31-40) foretells of the implementation of the New Covenant.
- Isaiah 27:6-13. This passage prophesies of the time when YHWH will regather his people from the nations. “In that day a great trumpet will be blown.” (Isaiah 27:13)
- Nehemiah 8. On Yom Teruah, Ezra reads the newly discovered “Book of Torah” to all the assembly of people. A great revival takes place.
- Zechariah 9:9-17. In the prophetic passage, the Messiah’s first and second comings are both foretold. On the day that “YHWH will sound the trumpet,” he will save his people.
- Micah 7:18-20. This passage is traditionally read by Jewish people on Yom Teruah as it indicates God will again have compassion on His people. When he regathers His people, He will no longer remember our sins. From this passage comes the tradition of “Tashlikh” (casting away), where people throw small objects like pieces of bread or stones into the water as symbolic of God “casting away” their sins.
- Matthew 24. Yeshua describes the end of days, and links it to what will happen when the trumpet sounds (Matt 24:31).
- 1 Corinthians 15:50-58. Paul speaks about the return of the Messiah when “the last trumpet will sound.”
- 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Paul speaks about the return of the Messiah at “the sound of the trumpet of God.”
- Revelation 11:15-17. John writes his revelation of the events that will take place in the end times at the blowing of the final (seventh) trumpet. This is the announcement that the Messiah has returned and “has taken his great power and begun to reign”. It seems that Yom Teruah foreshadows this very event in Revelation.
Files to Download
A few articles related to Yom Teruah are listed below. I don’t necessarily agree with all that the author’s write or with all that is on their website, but I have found these articles interesting and useful in thinking through various aspects of Yom Teruah.
Day of Atonement (Yom Kippurim)
What is Yom Kippurim?
The sixth of the seven annual appointed times is The Day of Atonement. Although it is often called Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, the Scriptures refer to it as Yom Kippurim – literally “day of atonements” (plural). The root word translated “atonement” is the Hebrew kippur which can mean “to wipe clean, to cover, or to ransom”.
Unlike all the other Appointed Times, this day is not a day of feasting. It us usually a solemn day of fasting and repentance – a day that we prayerfully recognize our sinful nature and our unworthiness to stand before the Father; a day that we examine our lives and repent of any unconfessed sin within us. In Leviticus 23:27 we are instructed to “afflict ourselves” on this day:
Leviticus 23:27 “Now on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be for you a time of holy convocation, and you shall afflict yourselves and present a food offering to the Lord.
The Hebrew literally says “afflict / humble your soul”. The Hebrew word translated here as afflict or humble is ‘anah and means to humble oneself or deny oneself, or cause to endure hardship in some way. This word ‘anah is clearly linked to fasting in Isaiah 58:3, Isaiah 58:5, Ezra 8:21, and also Ps 35:13. For example,
Isaiah 58:3 Why have we fasted and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves (‘anah) and you take no knowledge of it?
Because of these Scriptures, fasting seems to be at least a part of what is covered by the term ‘anah. As a result fasting has traditionally been an important part of observing Yom Kippurim.
Notably, Yom Kippurim is the one and only day of the year when the high priest could enter into very presence of YHWH. No one else was ever allowed to do this — only the high priest, only on this one day of the year, and only after very special preparations. On this day the high priest would pass through the curtain and enter the holy of holies, coming into the very presence of YHWH himself, to atone for (kippur = wipe away / cover) the sins of the people. Presumably if he didn’t prepare properly, and entered the holy of holies in a sinful or unclean state, he would have incurred death.
There will come a day when all us will stand before the Father. But we know that no sin can be in His presence. Thankfully our sins have been atoned for, once and for all, by the sacrifice of Yeshua our Messiah. It is because of Him that we can, effectively, go through the curtain into the holy of holies, into the very presence of YHWH, without incurring death.
It seems that Yom Kippurim foreshadows that day, often referred to as judgment day, when we will all stand before the YHWH to account for our sins. Those of us whose sins have been atoned for (kippur = wiped away / covered) by the blood of the Messiah will be able to stand before him pure and spotless. The rest must pay the penalty for their sins with death. When we realize the power and majesty of the Almighty, and we know how undeserving and sinful we are, we tremble in awe at the thought of standing before him.
On Yom Kippurim we fast and pray in anticipation of meeting our Heavenly Father, thankful for His grace through the Messiah, and at the same time knowing that we don’t deserve it. It is a time to search deep within our souls asking the Father to reveal any unconfessed sin, and then doing whatever it takes to make it right.
What Are The Two Goats?
In Leviticus 16, YHWH gives instructions to Aaron, the first high priest, regarding what is to be done on Yom Kippurim (the Day of Atonement). This is an extremely interesting passage describing how two goats were to be used in a ceremony which symbolically showed how sin is to be dealt with.
One goat is designated as the goat for YHWH, to be used as a sin offering to YHWH. This sin offering is specifically for the people. The high priest brings the blood of the sin offering inside the holy of holies and sprinkles it on the ark of the covenant, as well as around the tent of meeting and the altar. Thus, the blood from the sin offering of the goat for YHWH cleanses the entire area from the sins of the people of Israel.
We see in this a picture of how Messiah became a sin offering for the sins of man. Only through the atonement provided in the blood of His sacrifice can we enter the presence of YHWH without incurring our death.
But what happened to those sins that were atoned for? This is seen symbolically in the second goat, designated as the goat for Azazel. Much controversy exists over the name “Azazel” and the symbolism of this goat, but what is most important is what actually happens to the goat. First the high priest lays his hands on the head of the goat and confesses over it all the sins of the people. The goat, now bearing all the sins of the people, is then taken out the camp “by a man in readiness” and released in a remote part of the desert. Presumably the goat, now bearing all the sins of the people, is left to die in the desert. Thus, the goat for Azazel symbolically shows how our sins are permanently eliminated. They are removed from both our presence and God’s presence, never to return.
Is the goat for Azazel another picture of the Messiah, or is it actually picture of Satan? This is a question around which there has been much discussion. It is often suggested that both of these goats represent the Messiah, since the Messiah atoned for our sins once and for all time with his blood (like the goat for YHWH used as a sin offering), and He also bore our sins on the cross when he was crucified (like the goat for Azazel). This is certainly true. Messiah did bear our sins upon himself, and was effectively banished from the presence of the Father during those three days of death in the tomb. But the Messiah was not banished forever. Unlike the goat for Azazel, He did not remain outside the camp to die and never return.
Others have suggested that the goat for Azazel represents Satan, who is forced to take back all the sins of mankind that truly originated with him. He is ultimately banished, forever to remain outside the presence of God. One of the factors supporting this argument comes from the word Azazel. The Hebrew word Azazel, although translated as “scapegoat” is some English Bibles, was actually a name used to refer to a demon, if not to Satan himself. With this in mind, it would seem strange that a goat bearing the name of a demon would be used primarily as a symbol for the Messiah.
Evidence that Azazel was used as the name of a demon is seen in Arabic mythology as well as in other middle-eastern cultures. But what is more important to our understanding of Scripture is the view of ancient Judaism during Biblical times. The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Book of Enoch are two important ancient sources which shed light on this.
One of the Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts offers a description of events that seem to be related to the following passage in Genesis:
Genesis 6:1–2. When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose.
The Dead Sea Scroll manuscript 4Q180 Frag 1 links “Azazel” to these “sons of God” that took “daughters of man” as their wives, and further states that Azazel will “inherit evil for all the age”. While the fragment is not complete, there is enough to see that Jewish thinking of the day made a connection between Azazel and the Genesis 6 account.
Interpretation concerning the ages which God has made: An age to conclude [all that there is] and all that will be. Before creating them he determined [their] operations [according to the precise sequence of the ages,] one age after another age. And this is engraved on the [heavenly] tablets [for the sons of men,] [for] /[a]ll/ the ages of their dominion. This is the sequence of the son[s of Noah, from Shem to Abraham,] [unt]il he sired Isaac; the ten [generations …] […] Blank […] [And] interpretation concerning ‘Azaz’el and the angels wh[o came to the daughters of man] [and s]ired themselves giants. And concerning ‘Azaz’el [is written …] [to love] injustice and to let him inherit evil for all [his] ag[e …] […] (of the) judgments and the judgment of the council of […] DSS Study Edition 4Q180 Frag 1.
So Azazel was viewed as being one of, if not the head of, these fallen angels who interfered with YHWH’s earthly creation. Therefore it seems that the judgment that will befall him is that he will “inherit evil for all his age.” This aligns with Scripture in Leviticus 16 where the goat for Azazel bears the sins of man and is exiled away from of God’s presence forever.
The Book of Enoch also provides some insights into ancient Judaism’s understanding of who Azazel was:
Enoch 9:6. Thou seest what Azazel hath done, who hath taught all unrighteousness on earth and revealed the eternal secrets which were preserved in heaven, which men were striving to learn.
Enoch 10:4. And again the Lord said to Raphael: ‘Bind Azazel hand and foot, and cast him into the darkness: and make an opening in the desert, which is in Dudael, and cast him therein.’
Enoch 13:1. And Enoch went and said: ‘Azazel, thou shalt have no peace: a severe sentence has gone forth against thee to put thee in bonds.’
Enoch 54:5. And he said unto me: ‘These are being prepared for the hosts of Azazel, so that they may take them and cast them into the abyss of complete condemnation, and they shall cover their jaws with rough stones as the Lord of Spirits commanded.
Enoch 55:4. Ye mighty kings who dwell on the earth, ye shall have to behold Mine Elect One, how he sits on the throne of glory and judges Azazel, and all his associates, and all his hosts in the name of the Lord of Spirits.
So in the Book of Enoch it is said that Azazel “taught all unrighteousness on earth” and that he would be bound and cast into the desert. Furthermore Azazel, along with all his hosts and associates, will be judged by YHWH. Again we see remarkable agreement here with the events of the goat for Azazel described in Leviticus 16.
In view of the above, it also interesting to consider the timing of these symbolic events. Yom Kippurim takes place just before Sukkot, which celebrates the Messiah’s earthly reign for 1000 years (the Millennium). What happens just before that Millennial reign? Satan is bound for 1000 years:
Revelation 20:1–3. Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.
Just prior to Sukkot, Satan is bound and sent into exile. This is consistent with the symbolism of the Azazel goat at Yom Kippurim. It seems that part of the symbolism of Yom Kippurim foreshadows the binding of Satan and his exile into the bottomless pit.
Although Azazel seems to have been used as the name of Satan, it is really not correct to say that the “goat for Azazel” symbolized Satan. I suggest that the “goat for Azazel” neither represented Satan nor the Messiah. Rather, the “goat for Azazel” was a personification of the sins of the people. The goat was not named Azazel; the goat was FOR Azazel. The sins of the people, as personified by the goat, were to be sent to Azazel, the originator of sin and rebellion against God. A very similar picture of how the Father deals with sin is seen in the prophesy of Zechariah 5:5-11.
Zechariah 5:5–11. Then the angel who talked with me came forward and said to me, “Lift your eyes and see what this is that is going out.” And I said, “What is it?” He said, “This is the basket that is going out.” And he said, “This is their iniquity in all the land.” And behold, the leaden cover was lifted, and there was a woman sitting in the basket! And he said, “This is Wickedness.” And he thrust her back into the basket, and thrust down the leaden weight on its opening. Then I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, two women coming forward! The wind was in their wings. They had wings like the wings of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between earth and heaven. Then I said to the angel who talked with me, “Where are they taking the basket?” He said to me, “To the land of Shinar, to build a house for it. And when this is prepared, they will set the basket down there on its base.”
The land of Shinar is another name for Babylon, the place which represented the origin of evil. So in this Zechariah passage the sins of Israel are personified as a woman who is locked in a basket and then taken to Babylon, the seat of evil. In Zechariah 5 as well as Leviticus 16, the sins of man are personified (in one by a goat and in the other by a woman), bound and sent away to the point of origin, never to return.
In summary, the two goats of Yom Kippurim show how God deals with the sins of His people. The goat for YHWH seems to represent the Messiah whose blood was a sin offering providing complete atonement for the sins of those who believe in Him. The Father completely wipes away (atones for) those sins. What happens when they get wiped away? Through the work of the Messiah, these sins are banished from God’ presence, sent out to fall upon the evil one, the originator of all sin and rebellion, who is to be bound in exile and total separation from the Father. The sins of the people are personified by the goat for Azazel. This goat symbolically bears the sins of the people, and is taken into the desert to await final destruction.
All this happens on Yom Kippurim, representing the day we enter into the presence of the Father, to stand before Him as the high priest was allowed to do only on this special day. After the Messiah returns at the last trumpet to gather His people for battle against the evil one (as foreshadowed by Yom Teruah), we then stand before the Father, either to receive His judgment or to be welcomed into His presence. As we stand before Him on that day, we can only avoid death because our sins are both atoned for and eliminated. Our sins are atoned for by the blood of the Messiah, as symbolized by the goat for YHWH. Furthermore, these sins, personified by the goat for Azazel, are completely removed from the Father’s presence and sent back to the evil one, from whom sin itself originated.
How to Celebrate?
Traditionally, the ten days after Yom Teruah are spent in preparation for Yom Kippurim. These ten days are called Yomim Nora’im “The Days of Awe“. They are days of intense prayer and self-evaluation, culminating in Yom Kippurim, where we asking the Father to reveal areas of sin in our life so that all things can be made right. During these days relationships are restored, forgiveness is offered, and reconciliation is sought. In this way we should be prepared to come before the Father on Yom Kippurim with nothing to hinder us from having an intimate relationship with Him.
The day of Yom Kippurim (beginning at sunset the evening before) is usually a day of fasting and denying ourselves from indulging in worldly pleasures. Instead we fast and pray, focusing with great anticipation on meeting our Heavenly Father, thankful for His grace through the Messiah, and at the same time knowing that we don’t deserve it. It is a time to search deep within our souls, again asking the Father to reveal any unconfessed sin, and then doing whatever it takes to make it right. This is a day that we recognize that we are nothing in comparison to God, and apart from His grace, we deserve nothing except death and eternal hell. We recognize our lowly humanness, and how far we fall from truly living the life He created us to live. Only in recognizing the depth of our depravity, can we truly appreciate the unmerited, bountiful blessing of eternal life with Him that we have been given.
Scriptures tells us to hold a “holy assembly” on this day and to do no regular work, as on a Sabbath. Therefore it is important to meet together with family and friends. Often Scriptures pertaining to Yom Kippurim are read and discussed together. Some relevant Scriptures are listed in the Scriptures tab at the top of this page.
Sometimes people choose to get together for a meal prior to sunset (before the fast of Yom Kippurim begins), and then read and discuss Scriptures after sunset. Other times people get together the afternoon of Yom Kippurim to read and discuss Scriptures, fellow-shipping together until sunset when the fast can be broken by sharing a meal.
Scriptures to Study
When you gather together to remember Yom Kippurim, you may want to read and discuss the following Scriptures:
- Leviticus 16:1-34. YHWH gives instructions to Aaron, the first high priest, on what to do on the Day of Atonement. This is an interesting passage describing two goats which symbolically show how God deals with our sin – one goat is for YHWH and one for Azazel. There is some disagreement over the symbolism of the goat for Azazel (sometimes translated “scapegoat”). Some suggest this goat represents the Messiah, taking the sins of the world upon himself. Others suggest it represents Satan being banished and receiving back the sins of mankind that truly originated with him. Elements of both are true. It seems that the goat for Azazel is the personification of all sin, which through the work of Messiah is eliminated forever from God’s presence and cast upon the evil one, the originator of sin, who will be exiled apart from the Father forever.
- Leviticus 23:26-32. YHWH gives instruction to Moses regarding what the people are to do on the Yom Kippurim.
- Numbers 29:7-11. YHWH’s instructions for the people are again recorded. This time the sacrifices they are to offer are specified.
- Isaiah 57:14 – 58:14. This passage is traditionally read on Yom Kippurim since it speaks of the Father healing those with a contrite heart, and also speaks of proper way to fast.
- Jonah 1-4. The entire book of Jonah is traditionally read by Jewish people on Yom Kippurim since it shows the result of true fasting and repentance. As evil as the people of Nineveh were, after they fasted and repented before the Father, they received His salvation.
- Matthew 25:31-46. Yeshua speaks of that final day of judgment when all people will stand before the Father.
- 2 Corinthians 5:10-21. Paul writes that we must all stand before the judgment seat of Messiah, and teaches how we should live as a result.
- Hebrews 4:14 – 5:10. Yeshua is now our high priest. It is through Him that we draw near to the Father.
- Hebrews 7:11 – 8:13. Yeshua, as our High Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, has initiated a newer, better covenant, based on his perfect and complete sacrifice.
- Hebrews 10:11-25. Because of Yeshua, our High Priest, we can now enter the holy place through the curtain, which is his body sacrificed for us.
- Revelation 11:18-19. The seventh trumpet is sounded and Yeshua begins his reign (Rev 11:15-17). Immediately following that is the day of judgment. The heavens are opened revealing the throne of the father and the ark of the covenant. It seems that Yom Kippurim foreshadows the very same event we see in Rev 11:18-19.
Files to Download
A few articles related to Yom Kippurim are listed below. I don’t necessarily agree with all that the authors write or with all that is on their website, but I have found these articles interesting and useful in thinking through various aspects of Yom Kippurim.
What is Sukkot?
Sukkot is the seventh (and last) of the annual Appointed Times. It is a time of great rejoicing – a seven day thanksgiving festival – as we celebrate the presence and provision of our Heavenly Father. In English it is called the Feast of Booths, Feast of Tabernacles, Feast of Shelters, or sometimes the Feast of the Ingathering (Exodus 23:14). In Hebrew the word sukkot is the plural form of sukkah. A sukkah is a temporary dwelling or shelter. It could be a tent, a cave, a lean-to, a shack, a make-shift building… really any place where people or livestock could take shelter on a temporary basis. So the name of this Appointed Time is Sukkot, meaning tents, temporary shelters, booths, or in old English “tabernacles”.
Here is one passage of Scripture that speaks about celebrating Sukkot:
Leviticus 23:39–44 “On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of YHWH for seven days. On the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest. And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before YHWH your God seven days. You shall celebrate it as a feast to YHWH for seven days in the year. It is a statute forever throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am YHWH your God.”
Thus Moses declared to the people of Israel the appointed feasts of YHWH. We read that for seven days, God’s people were to live in Sukkot (temporary shelters).
When? The week begins on the 15th day of the seventh month, when all the produce of the land has been gathered. In other words, this festival takes place at the very end of the harvest time. The beginning of the first period of harvest, the barley harvest took place during Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits. The second harvest period, the wheat harvest, was celebrated at Shavuot (Pentecost). The final harvest of the year, that of the grapes, figs, dates, olives, and pomegranates, is completed just prior to Sukkot. So Sukkot becomes the major thanksgiving festival of the entire year. It was a week long celebration of God’s provision for the year.
Why? In addition to celebrating our thanksgiving to God for provision during the year, we are told this is a reminder of how the Father had His people dwell in Sukkot when he brought them out of Egypt. Remember that for 40 years they lived in tents (temporary dwellings or Sukkot). What do we remember about those 40 years? He provided everything we needed. He gave us water in the desert, manna to eat, and our sandals never wore out. And His presence was visibly with us, to lead us, guide us, and teach us – a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. So reflecting back on the 40 years in the desert, we are given a clear reminder of God’s PRESENCE and PROVISION.
What? We are told that the first and last days are to be days when we gather together with other believers (a holy convocation / gathering) and where we don’t do regular work (like a Sabbath). We are also told that for the entire week we are to live in temporary shelters (sukkot) since God’s people lived in tents for 40 years. And we are told to take fruit and branches of leafy trees and willows and “rejoice before YHWH” for seven days. Scripture isn’t clear on what to do with these things, but traditionally they were used both to decorate the sukkah and wave in praise and worship to the Father.
Who? Scripture says that all native Israelites shall live in booths. Does that mean this is not for believing Gentiles? Other Scriptures speak about the Torah being applicable not just to Israelites but also to the “foreigner who dwells among you [Israel]”. This refers to Gentiles who choose to believe in YHWH, the God of Israel, and want to be a part of His covenant community. For example, regarding celebrating Passover, Scripture says:
Exodus 12:49 “There shall be one law for the native and for the foreigner who sojourns among you.”
And Paul teaches in Romans 11 that Gentiles who believe in the Messiah are like wild branches of a wild olive tree that have now been “grafted in” to the cultivated olive tree that Israel. In other words, Gentiles have become an integral part of God’s people, Israel. Paul makes this same point even more clearly in his letter to the Gentiles of Ephesus:
Ephesians 2:11–19 “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles… [were] separated from Christ, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise… But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ… So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”
Gentiles, because of their faith in Messiah, are counted as part of Israel – “fellow citizens” of Israel, Paul teaches. In other Scriptures, Paul says we Gentiles are Sons of Abraham. So we have been given the same privileges and responsibilities as the rest of God’s people. God sees believing Gentiles as citizens of Israel, sons of Abraham, and part of His covenant with them. So whether Jew or Gentile, it is our privilege and our responsibility to celebrate Sukkot.
Also note that God commanded His people to keep sukkot as a “statute FOREVER throughout your generations”. This wasn’t just to be done for a while… or until Yeshua came, or until Pentecost, or until the temple was destroyed, or until any other time. It was FOREVER. In fact Zechariah 14 tells us that in the end times all nations will gather to celebrate Sukkot. The reason is that Sukkot just as much a picture of YHWH’s presence and provision in the future as it is of His presence and provision in the past. YHWH’s presence and provision is timeless. It is never ending.
Just as Sukkot reminds us to look back at the 40 years in the desert, when YHWH provided our every need and dwelt physically in our midst, so we are reminded that in the future He will again dwell in our midst. Just as the 40 years was a time of preparation to enter the promised land, so too our time now is a time of preparation to enter that ultimate promised land. In that day, we will experience the fullness of life, experiencing the fullness of His presence and the completeness of His provision. And just as we celebrate this annual day of thanksgiving for His blessings of the past year, we also look forward to that time of ultimate blessing and provision when we dwell with our Messiah as His people in the promised land. Scripture describes a period of 1000 years, when after the Messiah returns, Satan is bound and the people of God dwell on earth in the new kingdom established by the Messiah. This 1000-year reign of the Messiah is often called the Millennium.
It is interesting that Sukkot is the seventh Appointed Time, occurring in the seventh month, and lasting for seven days. That’s a lot of sevens, and not by accident. Seven usually symbolizes completeness, as in seven days of creation, seven days in a week, seven years in a sabbatical, seven decades in a jubilee, etc. Likewise Sukkot symbolizes completeness — the completion of God’s plan. This plan was God’s plan from the very beginning. We know that because it was foreshadowed, chronologically, step by step, in His Appointed Times:
- Passover – The Messiah becomes the perfect and final sacrifice for the sins of mankind, initiating the new covenant between YHWH and His people.
- Unleavened Bread – Messiah is buried, separated from YHWH, as he takes on our punishment.
- Firstfruits – Messiah is raised from the tomb, overcoming death, becoming a Firstfruit offering to YHWH.
- Pentecost – The Holy Spirit is given to comfort, guide and direct YHWH’s people, and to write the Torah on their hearts.
- Trumpets – The Messiah returns to gather His faithful followers – the Bride of Messiah – and to prepare them for battle against the Evil One.
- Atonement – Mankind will stands in the presence of YHWH on judgment day. Those who are sinless because of Messiah’s sacrifice are blessed to dwell in His presence. All others will suffer eternal separation from YHWH.
- Sukkot – The 1000 year reign of Messiah begins. He dwells again in the midst of His people in the promised land. His people experience the fullness of His PRESENCE and His PROVISION.
So Sukkot foreshadows the millennium – when we reign with the Messiah for 1000 years, and we can fully and completely experience His PRESENCE and PROVISION. His perfect plan for mankind comes to completion as we finally live in peace and unity and the fullness of joy with Him. It is a JOYFUL time — the most JOYFUL time of the entire year. For an entire week, God’s people gather together, and celebrated, with food, with worship, with fellowship. Why? He is living among us! He is providing for us! Yesterday, today, and forever!
What is the Eighth Day of Sukkot?
Scripture says in Lev 23:34, “for seven days is the feast of Sukkot to YHWH”. But then in Lev 23:36 it says, “On the eighth day you shall hold a holy assembly…” So there are seven days of Sukkot, and then there is also another eighth day that Scripture asks us to keep. Thus, the Eighth Day of Sukkot is not really a part of the actual week of Sukkot, but it is an additional, special day of extra celebration. It is sometimes called “The Last Great Day”.
What does the Eighth Day of Sukkot represent? Just as the number seven often symbolizes completeness, the number eight often marks the start of a new cycle — new beginning, a new aspect of life, or a new era. For example, there are seven days in a week, and then eighth day starts a new weekly cycle. The Sabbath is the seventh day, and while Sunday normally is referred to as the first day, sometimes in the early writings of the church fathers we see this day also referred to as the eighth day. This is especially true when referring to the resurrection of the Messiah, probably since it points to the fact that it was not just the first day of the week, but the first day of something totally new, following the culmination of something that was completed. The resurrection of the Messiah began a new era on the eighth day.
Also if one counts seven weeks after Firstfruits, then next day (the beginning of the eighth week, day 50) is Pentecost. Likewise, there are seven years in a sabbatical cycle and the next year, referred to as the eighth year in Lev 25:22, begins a new cycle. And there are seven sabbatical cycles (49 years) in a jubilee cycle and the next year (the beginning of the eighth cycle, year 50) is a jubilee year, in which all slaves are freed and all property reverts back to its original owner. So the number eight often marks the start of a new beginning or a new era.
If Sukkot symbolizes the 1000 year reign of Messiah (the Millennium), then what happens immediately following the Millennium that the eighth day of Sukkot might represent? In Revelation 20-21 we see that after the 1000 year reign of Messiah ends, Satan is loosed for a spell, and then defeated in a final battle, after which a new heaven and a new earth appears, and God will dwell with man there for all eternity. So it seems that the Eighth Day of Sukkot foreshadows eternity with the Father.
The Eighth Day of Sukkot marks the beginning of an entirely new era – a new heaven and a new earth in which we shall live in the presence of the Father forever and ever. It is little wonder Scripture calls this day “the last and greatest day of the feast” (John 7:37). This day marks the new beginning of eternity with the Father. The old heaven and the old earth are gone. At last all has been fulfilled. And for the rest of all eternity we can enjoy living with YHWH and our Messiah, experiencing the fullness of His presence and provision for all time. That day will truly be the greatest day in the history of the universe. That day is the focus of the Eighth Day of Sukkot.
How to Celebrate?
Make it a week-long thanksgiving celebration to the Father, for His Presence and Provision – past, present, and future!
Scripture says that both the first and eighth days are special days in which no ordinary work is to be done (like on a Sabbath), and that we should gather together in a “holy assembly”. In other words, meet together with other believers and celebrate, at least on these two most special days.
Scripture also says to live in “sukkah’s” – such as tents or other temporary dwellings during this week, and to wave branches and rejoice before God. You could camp out every evening in your back yards. Or you may want to get together with others and camp out together, perhaps at a park. Wherever you celebrate, make it a time to rejoice over God’s presence and provision this past year. You may want to sit around the campfire and each take turns recounting some of the blessings of the past year, or sharing how God has provided for you as you have journeyed through the desert.
You may also want to read Scripture passages related to Sukkot and then discuss them together. A number of Scripture passages are listed under the Scriptures tab.
Scriptures to Study
The following Scriptures are suggestions for you to study with family and friends during the celebration days of Sukkot:
Sukkot – Overview
- Leviticus 23. God gives instructions regarding the Sabbath and all His Appointed Times. Note that Scripture says these are “the Appointed Times of YHWH”, and not “Jewish” holidays or man’s holidays. The Feast of Sukkot (Booths / Shelters / Tabernacles) is the last Appointed Time of the year.
Sukkot – The Desert
- Numbers 9. The Tabernacle is set up and the very presence of God comes to dwell there in the midst of the people.
- Numbers 13-14. Moses sends out 12 people to spy out the promised Land. The spies come back with their report, and the people respond with fear rather than faith. As a result they faced God’s discipline and for 40 years He taught them how to walk in faith and obedience.
- Deuteronomy 29. At the end of the 40 years, the people of Israel have learned many lessons, and are finally ready to enter the promised land.
Sukkot – The Birth of Messiah
- Luke 1:26 – 2:52, Matthew 1:18 – 2:23 and John 1. The Messiah, the very presence of God comes to earth to sukkah (temporarily dwell) with His people. He was born in a sukkah (a temporary shelter used for animals that was probably a cave) most likely very close to the time of Sukkot. The Word becomes flesh, and Messiah dwells with man at His first coming. This is the time to celebrate the birth of the Messiah!
Sukkot – Our Bodies as a Sukkah
- Acts 2 and 2 Corinthians 4:7 – 5:21. The Holy Spirit of God is given to dwell (sukkah) in the hearts of believers. We have this Gift in our fragile, temporal bodies. Though we are burdened in this life, we look forward to our eternal dwelling with God in heaven.
Sukkot – The Millennium
- Revelation 14. After the Messiah returns, the time of judgment will come. This passage describes the final harvest of the earth.
- Revelation 19-20. This is a vision of the Day of the Lord, when after the great battle Satan is bound and the Messiah will reign on earth with all His people for 1000 years.
- Zechariah 14. Zechariah prophesies about the Day of the Lord in the end times. After the defeat of the Enemy, all the nations will worship the true God, and will celebrate Sukkot.
Sukkot – Solomon’s Temple
- 1 Kings 8 and 2 Chronicles 5-7. Solomon dedicates the newly built Temple at Sukkot. The Presence of God fills the temple and the nation celebrates Sukkot like never before.
Sukkot – Jerusalem Rebuilt
- Nehemiah 8-10. After the wall of Jerusalem is rebuilt, Ezra reads the Scriptures to the all the people just before Sukkot. There is a great Sukkot celebration, followed by true spiritual revival as the people respond with a renewed commitment to obey His Word.
Sukkot – Living Water
- John 7. The Messiah celebrates Sukkot in Jerusalem and on the last and greatest day of the feast He speaks about Living Water. In connection with this, also read some of the articles on the great “Water Ceremony” of Sukkot.
- John 8:12-31. Yeshua teaches that He is the Light of the World, probably also during Sukkot. In connection with this, read some of the articles on the “Illumination of the Temple Ceremony” at Sukkot.
- Ezekiel 47:1-12. In Ezekiel’s vision of the future temple he sees a growing river of living water bringing life to places of total death.
Sukkot – The Eighth Day
- Revelation 21-22. After Messiah’s thousand year reign Satan is loosed and then defeated in a final battle. Then a new heaven and a new earth appear, in which God will dwell with man for all eternity. Compare the river of living water in this “new heaven and new earth” to that of Zechariah 14 and Ezekiel 47 which seem to depict the millennial reign on this earth.
Files to Download
Various articles, messages, and PowerPoints related to Sukkot are listed below:
- Sukkot – Appointed Times (MP3) Sukkot – Appointed Times (PPT)
- Sukkot – Desert Life (PPT) Sukkot – Desert Life (MP3)
- Sukkot – Rebuilding the Temple (MP3) Sukkot – Rebuilding the Temple (PPT)
- Sukkot – The Eighth Day (MP3) Sukkot – The Eighth Day (PPT)
- Sukkot – New and Old Covenants (pdf)
- Sukkot – His Presence and Provision (pdf)
- Sukkot – Messiah & Appointed Times (pdf)
- Sukkot -The Late Sukkot (pdf)
- Sukkot – Messiah’s Birth (pdf)
- Thanksgiving, Christmas & Sukkot (MP3) Thanksgiving, Christmas & Sukkot (pdf) Thanksgiving, Christmas & Sukkot (PPT)
A number of good articles on Sukkot are listed below:
- Sukkot – HoshanaRabbah.org (pdf). This is a good overview of Sukkot written by Natan Lawrence.
- John 7-9. Water and Light at Sukkot (pdf). This is an excellent article by Bruce Satterfield describing the teachings of Yeshua on living water and light in connection with the great Water Ceremony and the Illumination of the Temple Ceremony during Sukkot.
- Miracle at Sukkot – Issues 15-01 (pdf). This is published by Jews for Jesus and describes the Illumination of the Temple Ceremony and the Water Ceremony in relation to Yeshua’s teaching in John 7-8.
- Feast of Tabernacles – Chapter 14 (pdf). This is an excerpt from the book “The Temple: Its Ministry and Services” by Alfred Edersheim.
What is Hanukkah?
Hanukkah, a Hebrew word written as חֲנֻכָּה and variously spelled in English as Hanukkah, Chanukah and Hanukah, literally means “dedication.” Hanukkah is often called the “Feast of Dedication” or alternatively, the “Feast of Light.” It is an eight-day celebration that begins on the 25th day of Kislev (the ninth month of the Biblical calendar), which usually corresponds to sometime in December.
Hanukkah celebrates the historical event in which Jewish solders fighting in what is called the Maccabean Revolt were victorious in overcoming the ruling Greek Seleucid Empire. On Kislev 25, 167 BC, the hated Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes IV desecrated the altar in the temple by erecting an idol of Zeus on top of it, and there sacrificing a pig. That began a revolt which lasted exactly three years. It ended on Kislev 25, 164 BC, when the temple was reclaimed, the altar cleansed, and sacrifices to YHWH resumed. On this day the temple was again dedicated to the God of Israel, and an eight-day thanksgiving celebration was instituted.
As part of the temple dedication the menorah in the holy place was lit. Only specially and blessed olive oil could be used for this menorah. According to tradition, they had only enough holy oil to last one day, and it would take a week to properly prepare a new batch. Miraculously the one-day supply of oil lasted all eight days until the new was ready. For this reason Hanukkah is often called the “Festival of Lights.”
Hanukkah is usually considered to be a Jewish tradition so some would not think Christians should celebrate it. And it is true that nowhere in Scripture does God instruct his people to commemorate Hanukkah, as He does for the annual appointed times in Leviticus 23. The event that Hanukkah commemorates takes place after the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) were written, so we would not expect to find any commands there for us to celebrate this day.
But what about the Apostolic Scriptures (New Testament)? While there is no specific command to celebrate Hanukkah, we do see that Yeshua apparently kept the feast, in accordance with the tradition of the day:
John 10:22–23 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon.
It may be argued that Scripture doesn’t state that Yeshua was keeping the Feast of Dedication; only that he was in the temple at that time. However, the Feast of Dedication was specifically to commemorate the dedication of the temple. The temple was where the big celebration would be taking place. To say that he was there at that time but not actually keeping the feast, would be like saying someone went to a birthday party but didn’t really join in celebrating the birthday. Everyone at the temple that week would have been celebrating that very special event.
So if Yeshua, whom we Christians openly state is our example of how to live on earth, celebrated the Feast of Hanukkah, at the very least it would not be wrong for us to do so as well. And perhaps it would be appropriate for us to keep it if for no other reason than that our Lord and Savior Himself did so.
However there are other reasons that it would be good for Christians to celebrate Hanukkah. These have to do with not only the event that is commemorated by Hanukkah, but also with the past events in Scripture it relates to as well as the future events related to the return of the Messiah that it prophetically hints at. Among other things, the Hanukkah celebration should help us to offer thanksgiving to God for:
- Hanukkah reminds us of how God leads his people to unlikely victory over seemingly unconquerable oppressors.
- As the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah reminds us that the Messiah is the Light of the World.
- In the miracle of the oil, Hanukkah reminds us that God always provides just enough, when we trust Him to do so.
- Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the temple and the presence of God dwelling in their midst, reminding us that He now dwells in each of us as well.
- Yeshua celebrated Hanukkah. As our Rabbi, He is our example to be emulated
- Hanukkah, like Sukkot, reminds us of God’s presence and his provision, even in difficult times, as He leads us to the Promised Land.
- Hanukkah foreshadows the victorious return of the Messiah, when He will lead His people to victory over all evil, and establish his millennial reign on earth.
- Hanukkah reminds us that the future temple will once again be dedicated, and that all the nations will gather there to worship YHWH at Sukkot, celebrating the fullness of His presence and His complete provision.
These and more become evident as the details of Hanukkah are understood. Why wouldn’t Christian’s want to celebrate these things? It is all about giving glory and thanksgiving to God, and expectantly looking forward to the return of the Messiah. There is certainly no reason not to celebrate these things, and every reason we should!
The History of Hanukkah
After Solomon, king of Israel, died there was a civil war in Israel. Only two of the tribes of Israel, referred to as the Southern Kingdom (or the house of Judah), following the legitimate kingship of Solomon’s son. The ten tribes of the north, called the Northern Kingdom (or the house of Israel or Ephraim) followed an illegitimate king and lived in disobedience to the covenant with YHWH. Eventually God had enough, and in 723 BC He sent Assyria to invade the Northern Kingdom. The Israelites of the north were largely dispersed and intermingled with their conquerors.
Meanwhile the Southern Kingdom was also drifting farther away from their adherence to God’s Torah. Finally, in 587 BC YHWH allowed the Babylonians to conquer them as well. The Israelites of the south were mostly deported to Babylon as slaves.
In 539 BC Persia conquered Babylon, and shortly after King Cyrus of Persia issued a decree allowing Israelites to return to their homeland of they so desired. Many returned and repopulated the area around Jerusalem, rebuilding the temple as well as the city itself. However, the Israelites remained under the control of Persia and served the king of Persia as their master. That changed in 331 BC when Alexander the Great took over Persia. Now all the lands and peoples that had been under Persian control, including Israel, came under Greek control. But Alexander the Great died just a few years later in 323 BC, and his empire was divided into four pieces, each ruled by one of his generals. Cassander took Greece and Macedonia. Lysimachus took Thrace and Asia Minor. Seleucus got Syria, Mesopotamia and regions farther east. Ptolemy got Egypt to the south. Israel, on the border between Seleucus and Ptolemy, was under the control of either one or the other at various times. However by 197 BC the Seleucids (sometimes called the Syrians) retained solid control of Israel.
In 175 BC the most infamous of all Seleucid kings began his reign: Antiochus IV, also called Antiochus Epiphanes. The word “epiphanes” means “God manifest.” Antiochus believed himself to be Zeus incarnate. His rule was brutal, and he used it to force the assimilation (Hellenization) of the Jewish people into all ways of Greek life and religion. Many called him Antiochus “Epimanes”, meaning Antiochus “the Madman”. The historical books of 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees each record these events. (Note that these two books are two entirely separate accounts covering much of the same history, rather than a sequential two-part historical account as the naming could imply.) First Maccabees gives some detail on the rule of King Antiochus Epiphanes:
1 Maccabees 1:41–50 Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, and that all should give up their particular customs. All the Gentiles accepted the command of the king. Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath. And the king sent letters by messengers to Jerusalem and the towns of Judah; he directed them to follow customs strange to the land, to forbid burnt offerings and sacrifices and drink offerings in the sanctuary, to profane sabbaths and festivals, to defile the sanctuary and the priests, to build altars and sacred precincts and shrines for idols, to sacrifice swine and other unclean animals, and to leave their sons uncircumcised. They were to make themselves abominable by everything unclean and profane, so that they would forget the law and change all the ordinances. He added, “And whoever does not obey the command of the king shall die.”
Second Maccabees records this additional information:
2 Maccabees 6:1–11 Not long after this, the king sent an Athenian senator to compel the Jews to forsake the laws of their ancestors and no longer to live by the laws of God; also to pollute the temple in Jerusalem and to call it the temple of Olympian Zeus, and to call the one in Gerizim the temple of Zeus-the-Friend-of-Strangers, as did the people who lived in that place. Harsh and utterly grievous was the onslaught of evil. For the temple was filled with debauchery and reveling by the Gentiles, who dallied with prostitutes and had intercourse with women within the sacred precincts, and besides brought in things for sacrifice that were unfit. The altar was covered with abominable offerings that were forbidden by the laws. People could neither keep the sabbath, nor observe the festivals of their ancestors, nor so much as confess themselves to be Jews. On the monthly celebration of the king’s birthday, the Jews were taken, under bitter constraint, to partake of the sacrifices; and when a festival of Dionysus was celebrated, they were compelled to wear wreaths of ivy and to walk in the procession in honor of Dionysus. At the suggestion of the people of Ptolemais a decree was issued to the neighboring Greek cities that they should adopt the same policy toward the Jews and make them partake of the sacrifices, and should kill those who did not choose to change over to Greek customs. One could see, therefore, the misery that had come upon them. For example, two women were brought in for having circumcised their children. They publicly paraded them around the city, with their babies hanging at their breasts, and then hurled them down headlong from the wall. Others who had assembled in the caves nearby, in order to observe the seventh day secretly, were betrayed to Philip and were all burned together, because their piety kept them from defending themselves, in view of their regard for that most holy day.
This situation escalated further in the month of Kislev, usually corresponding to our December:
1 Maccabees 1:54–63 Now on the fifteenth day of Kislev, in the one hundred forty-fifth year, they erected a desolating sacrilege on the altar of burnt offering. They also built altars in the surrounding towns of Judah, and offered incense at the doors of the houses and in the streets. The books of the law that they found they tore to pieces and burned with fire. Anyone found possessing the book of the covenant, or anyone who adhered to the law, was condemned to death by decree of the king. They kept using violence against Israel, against those who were found month after month in the towns. On the twenty-fifth day of the month they offered sacrifice on the altar that was on top of the altar of burnt offering. According to the decree, they put to death the women who had their children circumcised, and their families and those who circumcised them; and they hung the infants from their mothers’ necks. But many in Israel stood firm and were resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food. They chose to die rather than to be defiled by food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die.
Note that the 145th year refers to the number of years since the establishment of the Seleucid kingdom, which began in 312 BC. This would place these events in 167 BC. What happened next would result in the beginning of a massive grass-roots revolt:
1 Maccabees 2:15–28 The king’s officers who were enforcing the apostasy came to the town of Modi’in to make them offer sacrifice. Many from Israel came to them; and Mattathias and his sons were assembled. Then the king’s officers spoke to Mattathias as follows: “You are a leader, honored and great in this town, and supported by sons and brothers. Now be the first to come and do what the king commands, as all the Gentiles and the people of Judah and those that are left in Jerusalem have done. Then you and your sons will be numbered among the Friends of the king, and you and your sons will be honored with silver and gold and many gifts.” But Mattathias answered and said in a loud voice: “Even if all the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him, and have chosen to obey his commandments, everyone of them abandoning the religion of their ancestors, I and my sons and my brothers will continue to live by the covenant of our ancestors. Far be it from us to desert the law and the ordinances. We will not obey the king’s words by turning aside from our religion to the right hand or to the left.” When he had finished speaking these words, a Jew came forward in the sight of all to offer sacrifice on the altar in Modi’in, according to the king’s command. When Mattathias saw it, he burned with zeal and his heart was stirred. He gave vent to righteous anger; he ran and killed him on the altar. At the same time he killed the king’s officer who was forcing them to sacrifice, and he tore down the altar. Thus he burned with zeal for the law, just as Phinehas did against Zimri son of Salu. Then Mattathias cried out in the town with a loud voice, saying: “Let every one who is zealous for the law and supports the covenant come out with me!” Then he and his sons fled to the hills and left all that they had in the town.
Thus, the Jewish revolt against the Greek Seleucids began, led by Mattathias. Unfortunately Mattathias soon died, apparently of natural causes, after which the leadership was passed to his son Judah, called Judah “the Maccabee”, meaning Judah “the Hammer”. It is from Judah Maccabee that the revolt is called the Maccabean Revolt. Three long years of fighting ensued. But it seems that God was with them.
2 Maccabees 8:1–7 Meanwhile Judas, who was also called Maccabeus, and his companions secretly entered the villages and summoned their kindred and enlisted those who had continued in the Jewish faith, and so they gathered about six thousand. They implored the Lord to look upon the people who were oppressed by all; and to have pity on the temple that had been profaned by the godless; to have mercy on the city that was being destroyed and about to be leveled to the ground; to hearken to the blood that cried out to him; to remember also the lawless destruction of the innocent babies and the blasphemies committed against his name; and to show his hatred of evil. As soon as Maccabeus got his army organized, the Gentiles could not withstand him, for the wrath of the Lord had turned to mercy. Coming without warning, he would set fire to towns and villages. He captured strategic positions and put to flight not a few of the enemy. He found the nights most advantageous for such attacks. And talk of his valor spread everywhere.
It is incredulous that a small, untrained band of Jewish men should ever be victorious against the highly-trained, professional army of the Greek Seleucids that vastly outnumbered them, but with God’s miraculous help victory was indeed won. And upon receiving victory, their very first act was to purify the temple.
1 Maccabees 4:36–40 Then Judas and his brothers said, “See, our enemies are crushed; let us go up to cleanse the sanctuary and dedicate it.” So all the army assembled and went up to Mount Zion. There they saw the sanctuary desolate, the altar profaned, and the gates burned. In the courts they saw bushes sprung up as in a thicket, or as on one of the mountains. They saw also the chambers of the priests in ruins. Then they tore their clothes and mourned with great lamentation; they sprinkled themselves with ashes and fell face down on the ground. And when the signal was given with the trumpets, they cried out to Heaven.
1 Maccabees 4:41–51 Then Judas detailed men to fight against those in the citadel until he had cleansed the sanctuary. He chose blameless priests devoted to the law, and they cleansed the sanctuary and removed the defiled stones to an unclean place. They deliberated what to do about the altar of burnt offering, which had been profaned. And they thought it best to tear it down, so that it would not be a lasting shame to them that the Gentiles had defiled it. So they tore down the altar, and stored the stones in a convenient place on the temple hill until a prophet should come to tell what to do with them. Then they took unhewn stones, as the law directs, and built a new altar like the former one. They also rebuilt the sanctuary and the interior of the temple, and consecrated the courts. They made new holy vessels, and brought the lampstand, the altar of incense, and the table into the temple. Then they offered incense on the altar and lit the lamps on the lampstand, and these gave light in the temple. They placed the bread on the table and hung up the curtains. Thus they finished all the work they had undertaken.
1 Maccabees 4:52–58 Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, which is the month of Kislev, in the one hundred forty-eighth year, they rose and offered sacrifice, as the law directs, on the new altar of burnt offering that they had built. At the very season and on the very day that the Gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals. All the people fell on their faces and worshiped and blessed Heaven, who had prospered them. So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and joyfully offered burnt offerings; they offered a sacrifice of well-being and a thanksgiving offering. They decorated the front of the temple with golden crowns and small shields; they restored the gates and the chambers for the priests, and fitted them with doors. There was very great joy among the people, and the disgrace brought by the Gentiles was removed.
So on Kislev 25, three years to the day that Antiochus Epiphanes sacrificed to Zeus on the altar and defiled the temple with pig blood, the house of YHWH was purified and the temple sacrifices to YHWH were resumed.
1 Maccabees 4:59 Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev.
Thus, the festival of Hanukkah “dedication” was proclaimed as an eight-day celebration to be kept every year beginning on Kislev 25.
A further tradition regarding the menorah at the dedication of the temple is recorded in the teachings of the Talmud:
What is Hanukah? The rabbis taught: “On the twenty-fifth day of Kislev Hanukkah commences and lasts eight days, on which lamenting (in commemoration of the dead) and fasting are prohibited. When the Hellenists entered the sanctuary, they defiled all the oil that was found there. When the government of the House of Hasmoneans prevailed and conquered them, oil was sought (to feed the holy lamp in the sanctuary) and only one vial was found with the seal of the high priest intact. The vial contained sufficient oil for one day only, but a miracle occurred, and it fed the holy lamp eight days in succession. These eight days were the following year established as days of good cheer, on which psalms of praise and acknowledgment (of God’s wonders) were to be recited. (b. Shabb. 2:1, IX.14)
For this reason a special nine-branched menorah, rather than the standard seven-branched menorah, is used to celebrate Hanukkah. The center branch of the menorah represents the Light of YHWH, while the other eight branches represent each of the eight days of celebration during which the holy oil miraculously continued to burn.
Hanukkah and Sukkot
The eight-day Hanukkah celebration was not the first eight-day dedication of the temple. It just so happens that almost 800 years earlier, when the temple was first build by King Solomon, it was also dedicated with an eight-day celebration.
2 Chronicles 5:1–3 Thus all the work that Solomon did for the house of YHWH was finished. And Solomon brought in the things that David his father had dedicated, and stored the silver, the gold, and all the vessels in the treasuries of the house of God. Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the fathers’ houses of the people of Israel, in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of YHWH out of the city of David, which is Zion. And all the men of Israel assembled before the king at the feast that is in the seventh month.
2 Chronicles 7:1–10 As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of YHWH filled the temple. And the priests could not enter the house of YHWH, because the glory of YHWH filled YHWH’s house. When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of YHWH on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to YHWH, saying, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” Then the king and all the people offered sacrifice before YHWH. King Solomon offered as a sacrifice 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep. So the king and all the people dedicated the house of God… At that time Solomon held the feast for seven days, and all Israel with him, a very great assembly, from Lebo-hamath to the Brook of Egypt. And on the eighth day they held a solemn assembly, for they had kept the dedication of the altar seven days and the feast seven days. On the twenty-third day of the seventh month he sent the people away to their homes, joyful and glad of heart for the prosperity that YHWH had granted to David and to Solomon and to Israel his people.
So Solomon dedicated the temple at the feast that is the seventh month. They held the feast for seven days and then held a special assembly on the eighth day. What is this feast? None other than the appointed time of Sukkot, which was a seven-day feast in the seventh month, followed by a special assembly on the eighth day. YHWH gave instructions for keeping this appointed time in Leviticus:
Leviticus 23:39–43 On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of YHWH seven days. On the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest. And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before YHWH your God seven days. You shall celebrate it as a feast to YHWH for seven days in the year. It is a statute forever throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am YHWH your God.
God told His people He wanted them to remember the time He took them from Egypt. This was a time when His people were living in tents in the desert. Tents or booths or any kind of temporary shelters are called sukkot in Hebrew. So this festival of Sukkot is often called the Feast of Booths or Shelters or Tabernacles.
Sukkot is really an eight-day thanksgiving celebration. It is a time to celebrate God’s presence, as He was dwelling with them as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. And it is a time to celebrate God’s provision. During 40 years of living in a harsh desert, they always had food and water. Their sandals never wore out. And their numbers did not decrease.
When the temple was built, Sukkot was a natural time to dedicate it. God had provided. And God’s presence would dwell in the temple, in the midst of his people. And 800 later, when the miraculously Maccabees won their revolt, and the temple was again purified and rededicated, it would only seem natural to have another eight-day celebration of Sukkot. It wasn’t the seventh month, but that didn’t stop them. The account in 2 Maccabees makes it clear that they had Sukkot in mind when they instituted this Hanukkah celebration:
2 Maccabees 10:1–8 Now Maccabeus and his followers, the Lord leading them on, recovered the temple and the city; they tore down the altars that had been built in the public square by the foreigners, and also destroyed the sacred precincts. They purified the sanctuary, and made another altar of sacrifice; then, striking fire out of flint, they offered sacrifices, after a lapse of two years, and they offered incense and lighted lamps and set out the bread of the Presence. When they had done this, they fell prostrate and implored the Lord that they might never again fall into such misfortunes, but that, if they should ever sin, they might be disciplined by him with forbearance and not be handed over to blasphemous and barbarous nations. It happened that on the same day on which the sanctuary had been profaned by the foreigners, the purification of the sanctuary took place, that is, on the twenty-fifth day of the same month, which was Kislev. They celebrated it for eight days with rejoicing, in the manner of the festival of booths, remembering how not long before, during the festival of booths, they had been wandering in the mountains and caves like wild animals. Therefore, carrying ivy-wreathed wands and beautiful branches and also fronds of palm, they offered hymns of thanksgiving to him who had given success to the purifying of his own holy place. They decreed by public edict, ratified by vote, that the whole nation of the Jews should observe these days every year.
The Maccabees had not been able to celebrate the prior Sukkot because they were fighting a war “wandering in the mountains and caves like wild animals.” They realized that God had delivered them from the Seleucids just like He had delivered their fathers from the Egyptians. Furthermore, they recognized their wandering in the mountains and living in caves (temporary dwellings) were not unlike the wandering of the fathers in the desert and their living in tents during that time. So now it would only seem natural to have a thanksgiving celebration of Sukkot, to thank God for His miraculous provision and for His presence that would once again fill the temple.
Since they weren’t able to celebrate the prior Sukkot, this delayed celebration at Hanukkah became extra special. It was not only a “late Sukkot” due to the war; it was also a thanksgiving for their new independence and freedom — something they had not had for over 400 years. It was independence day! God had truly provided. They were finally free, and His presence would once again dwell within their midst in this newly dedicated temple.
It is interesting that the annual celebration of Sukkot not only recalls the presence and provision of YHWH during the exodus from Egypt, but it also has a future significance as well. Just as during the exodus the Israelites were being led to the Promised Land, even now God’s people are being led to the true Promised Land. This true Promised Land is the future kingdom of the Messiah, which he will establish upon His return. When the Messiah returns He will establish His kingdom, throw Satan into the bottomless pit for 1000 years, and then reign with His followers in the very land YHWH had promised to Abraham so long ago. So Sukkot recalls the past events of the Exodus and at the same time points toward the future fulfillment when the Messiah return to establish his kingdom on earth.
Could it be that the events surrounding Hanukkah, which were celebrated “in the manner of the festival of Sukkot,” may also prophetically foreshadow future events relating to the return of the Messiah?
Hanukkah and Prophesy
While Scriptures don’t specifically refer to Hanukkah (other than in John 10:22 where we see Yeshua at the temple during the feast), there are several prophetic passages of Scripture which do refer to some of the events surrounding Hanukkah, most notably those relating to Antiochus Epiphanes IV.
In the sixth century BC, Daniel was in exile in Babylon, which was at that time still under Babylonian rule. Daniel had a vision of a ram with two horns trampled by a goat with one large horn. Then the large horn broke and four horns grew in its place. Out of the one of those four horns came a little horn which grew very great, even to challenge the authority of the Prince of the host (YHWH), and make desolate His sanctuary, stopping the burnt offerings there.
Daniel 8:3–14 I raised my eyes and saw, and behold, a ram standing on the bank of the canal. It had two horns, and both horns were high, but one was higher than the other, and the higher one came up last. I saw the ram charging westward and northward and southward. No beast could stand before him, and there was no one who could rescue from his power. He did as he pleased and became great. As I was considering, behold, a male goat came from the west across the face of the whole earth, without touching the ground. And the goat had a conspicuous horn between his eyes. He came to the ram with the two horns, which I had seen standing on the bank of the canal, and he ran at him in his powerful wrath. I saw him come close to the ram, and he was enraged against him and struck the ram and broke his two horns. And the ram had no power to stand before him, but he cast him down to the ground and trampled on him. And there was no one who could rescue the ram from his power. Then the goat became exceedingly great, but when he was strong, the great horn was broken, and instead of it there came up four conspicuous horns toward the four winds of heaven. Out of one of them came a little horn, which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the glorious land. It grew great, even to the host of heaven. And some of the host and some of the stars it threw down to the ground and trampled on them. It became great, even as great as the Prince of the host. And the regular burnt offering was taken away from him, and the place of his sanctuary was overthrown. And a host will be given over to it together with the regular burnt offering because of transgression, and it will throw truth to the ground, and it will act and prosper. Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to the one who spoke, “For how long is the vision concerning the regular burnt offering, the transgression that makes desolate, and the giving over of the sanctuary and host to be trampled underfoot?” And he said to me, “For 2,300 evenings and mornings. Then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state.”
The interpretation of this vision is given in verses that followed:
Daniel 8:20–26 As for the ram that you saw with the two horns, these are the kings of Media and Persia. And the goat is the king of Greece. And the great horn between his eyes is the first king. As for the horn that was broken, in place of which four others arose, four kingdoms shall arise from his nation, but not with his power. And at the latter end of their kingdom, when the transgressors have reached their limit, a king of bold face, one who understands riddles, shall arise. His power shall be great—but not by his own power; and he shall cause fearful destruction and shall succeed in what he does, and destroy mighty men and the people who are the saints. By his cunning he shall make deceit prosper under his hand, and in his own mind he shall become great. Without warning he shall destroy many. And he shall even rise up against the Prince of princes, and he shall be broken—but by no human hand. The vision of the evenings and the mornings that has been told is true, but seal up the vision, for it refers to many days from now.”
In hindsight we can see that the goat with one large horn refers to Alexander the Great. The four horns that grow from the one refer to Alexander’s four generals that divided up his empire. From one of those four horns, the Seleucid kingdom, comes a little horn, Antiochus Epiphanes IV, who grew to be very great, declared himself to be god, desecrated the Sanctuary of YHWH and stopped the burnt offerings (regular morning and evening offerings each day) for just over three years. Note that Scripture implies that the power of Antiochus Epiphanes IV comes from Satan. Therefore he is to be defeated by the power of God rather than man.
A further prophetic discussion of Antiochus Epiphanes is found throughout the entire chapter of Daniel 11. The mighty king of Daniel 11:3 is Alexander the Great. His kingdom is short-lived and then divided into four:
Daniel 11:3–4 Then a mighty king shall arise, who shall rule with great dominion and do as he wills. And as soon as he has arisen, his kingdom shall be broken and divided toward the four winds of heaven, but not to his posterity, nor according to the authority with which he ruled, for his kingdom shall be plucked up and go to others besides these.
What follows are prophesies of the kings of the north (Seleucids) battling with the kings of the south (Ptolemies). And then we are again told about the rise of Antiochus Epiphanes IV:
Daniel 11:21–24 In his place shall arise a contemptible person to whom royal majesty has not been given. He shall come in without warning and obtain the kingdom by flatteries. Armies shall be utterly swept away before him and broken, even the prince of the covenant. And from the time that an alliance is made with him he shall act deceitfully, and he shall become strong with a small people. Without warning he shall come into the richest parts of the province, and he shall do what neither his fathers nor his fathers’ fathers have done, scattering among them plunder, spoil, and goods. He shall devise plans against strongholds, but only for a time.
Daniel 11:31–36 Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate. He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action. And the wise among the people shall make many understand, though for some days they shall stumble by sword and flame, by captivity and plunder. When they stumble, they shall receive a little help. And many shall join themselves to them with flattery, and some of the wise shall stumble, so that they may be refined, purified, and made white, until the time of the end, for it still awaits the appointed time. And the king shall do as he wills. He shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak astonishing things against the God of gods. He shall prosper till the indignation is accomplished; for what is decreed shall be done.
While it is clear from the context that these prophesies apply to events surrounding Antiochus Epiphanes IV, as the prophesy continues it becomes evident that the latter days are also symbolically being portrayed.
Daniel 11:31–36 Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate. He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action. And the wise among the people shall make many understand, though for some days they shall stumble by sword and flame, by captivity and plunder. When they stumble, they shall receive a little help. And many shall join themselves to them with flattery, and some of the wise shall stumble, so that they may be refined, purified, and made white, until the time of the end, for it still awaits the appointed time. “And the king shall do as he wills. He shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak astonishing things against the God of gods. He shall prosper till the indignation is accomplished; for what is decreed shall be done.
Thus Antiochus Epiphanes IV (recall the name means “God manifest”) is seen as an evil ruler whose power comes from Satan and who pits himself against the Prince of Princes. He is the one who desecrates the holy place, the abomination of desolation. But this prophesy that starts out so clearly speaking of Alexander the Great and the generals that succeed him, and then speaks of Antiochus Epiphanes IV, ends up just as clearly speaking about the end times just prior to the Messiah’s return:
Daniel 12:1–4 At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.
So it seems from this prophesy in Daniel that Antiochus Epiphanes IV is a type of the anti-Messiah to come in the end times. This is also evident from the similar prophesies of Daniel 7 and Revelation 13 (see also Revelation 20) in which it seems the anti-messiah is symbolized by the beast with ten horns out which a “little horn” grows. These visions seem to indicate that the anti-messiah will come from the later Roman Empire, although there are clear similarities with the prophesies of Daniel 8 and Daniel 12 which link similar events to Antiochus Epiphanes growing out of the Greek Empire. While all this can get complicated and be hard to understand, the main point is that it all lends support to the view that the events surrounding Antiochus Epiphanes are in some ways parallel to what we expect to see in the end times with the anti-messiah, only on a larger scale.
This is also supported by the words of Yeshua, almost 200 years after Antiochus Epiphanes IV, when he warns people about the tribulation of the end times:
Matthew 24:15–20 So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath.
So, if the actions of Antiochus Epiphanes IV in some way foreshadow the time of tribulation during the latter days, when believers will be deceived, mislead, and forbidden to keep God’s law, then it would seem likely that the Maccabean victory over Antiochus and the subsequent cleansing and reopening of the temple are also likely to foreshadow the end times. Based on other end-time prophesies in Scripture, it seems that after the anti-messiah (the beast in Revelation) appears and deceives many, the true Messiah will return to battle against him. For example in Revelation we read:
Revelation 19:11–20 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.
And immediately after this great victory, we have the beginning of the thousand-year reign of the Messiah, called the Millennium:
Revelation 20:1–4 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
We also see this end-time battle prophesied the Zechariah:
Zechariah 14:3–9 Then YHWH will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward. And you shall flee to the valley of my mountains, for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal. And you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then YHWH my God will come, and all the holy ones with him. On that day there shall be no light, cold, or frost. And there shall be a unique day, which is known to YHWH, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light. On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea. It shall continue in summer as in winter. And YHWH will be king over all the earth. On that day YHWH will be one and his name one.
“Living waters flowing out of Jerusalem” recalls the end-times prophesy of Ezekiel 40-47, I which Ezekiel is given a vision of a very large, future temple, filled with the glory of YHWH, and out of which a river of Living Water would flow. This future temple is also prophesied about in Zechariah, What is interesting is that just after Zechariah speaks of the final battle end-time battle resulting in YHWH as “king over all the earth,” we see that all the nations will now gather at the restored temple to celebrate a certain festival:
Zechariah 14:16–19 Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, YHWH of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths. And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, YHWH of hosts, there will be no rain on them. And if the family of Egypt does not go up and present themselves, then on them there shall be no rain; there shall be the plague with which YHWH afflicts the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths. This shall be the punishment to Egypt and the punishment to all the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths.
We conclude from these (and other) prophesies that when the Messiah returns and destroys the Beast (the anti-messiah), the temple will be rebuilt and people from all nations will come and celebrate Sukkot (the feast of Booths). And how fitting to celebrate Sukkot, since Sukkot itself is the appointed time that foreshadows the millennial reign of the Messiah. It is the ultimate Promised Land, where His people can live with Him, totally in His presence, experiencing His full provision.
It is therefore little wonder that Hanukkah was celebrated “in the manner of the Festival of Booths” (2 Maccabees 10:6). The event that Hanukkah celebrates is the victory over Antiochus Epiphanes IV, the rededication of the temple, and the freedom to again worship apart from the oppression of evil rule. This foreshadows the events surrounding the return of the Messiah, who will win victory over the anti-messiah, reestablish the temple, and bring a reign of worship to YHWH that is finally free from all oppression. This is exactly the future fulfillment we look forward to as we celebrate Sukkot.
Hanukkah and Christmas
At first glance it would seem that Hanukkah and Christmas have nothing in common with each other, other than that they are usually celebrated in December each year. However, these two holidays may actually share common roots. How is that?
Recall that Antiochus Epiphanes “God manifest” considered himself to be Zeus incarnate. And on Kislev 25 according to the Biblical calendar (usually December in the Gregorian calendar) he offered sacrifice to Zeus on the altar he erected in the temple of YHWH. But why did Antiochus chose this particular time, Kislev 25, for his worship of Zeus?
We can’t be sure which date in December corresponded to Kislev 25 during the year 167 BC, but we do know that it often comes late in December. Some years Kislev 25 is actually the same as December 25. This date, in ancient times, corresponded to the time of the winter solstice. The winter solstice is the time when daylight is shortest. Beginning with the winter solstice, each subsequent day has progressively more and more minutes of sunlight. To those who worshipped pagan gods, this was seen as the beginning of victory for the sun god. The sun god was now gaining control over the darkness! It was also seen as the day of the sun god’s rebirth each year. For this reason, it was not uncommon for the winter solstice to be a day of special importance in pagan worship, and especially when worshipping a god of the sun, such as Tammuz, Ra, Zeus, or Mithra. Each of these gods was worshipped on their special day, the winter solstice, as their annual day of rebirth, considered to be their birthday.
For Antiochus, as a worshipper of Zeus, there would have been no better time to offer sacrifice than the winter solstice, celebrated as the day of Zeus’ birth. Therefore it seems reasonable to assume that the infamous sacrifice of Kislev 25 may have been on that very day.
In addition to the celebration of the birthday of the sun god Zeus (and later Mithra) on Dec 25, there was another public holiday that by the time of Messiah’s birth was growing in popularity. This was the Saturnalia festival, beginning on Dec 17, and eventually lasting 7 days, culminating at the time of the winter solstice. This week long festival grew to become the most popular festival of the entire year. It seems to have been practiced throughout the Roman Empire.
It wasn’t until the 4th Century AD that we see any evidence of Christ’s birth being celebrated on December 25. At that time, the choice of this date incorporated the winter solstice, the culmination of the Saturnalia, and the birthday celebration of Mithra. Mithra worship had by that time grown to largely replace that of Zeus. We know that the roman Emperor Aurelian (270-275 CE), proclaimed December 25 as the Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun, Mithra. This was long before any evidence shows that Christians celebrated the birth of the Messiah on that day. It was not until about 100 years later that Christians were being told to celebrate the birthday of Christ on this same day. The earliest source that gives us a reason why is in the writings of the Bishop Chrysostom (398-403):
“On this day also the Birthday of Christ was lately fixed at Rome in order that while the heathen were busy with their profane ceremonies the Christians might perform their sacred rites undisturbed. They call this (Dec. 25th or viii. Kal. Jan, as the Romans wrote it), the Birthday of the Invincible One (Mithras); but who is so invincible as the Lord? They call it the Birthday of the Solar Disc; but Christ is the Sun of Righteousness.”
So it seems clear from this earliest source that the church at that time sought to counter the growing influence of paganism by giving Christian meaning to the most popular pagan celebration of the year. The Celebration of Messiah’s birth on December 25 came first from Rome, but eventually spread to most of Christianity. Interestingly, the church in Jerusalem was one of the last to accept it, holding out until the middle of the sixth Century.
Thus, through totally different circumstances, the roots of both Hanukkah and Christmas appear to be linked to the winter solstice. Antiochus likely sought to worship Zeus on that day, and three years later to the very day the temple was rededicated and Hanukkah instituted. Then, about five hundred years later, leaders of the Christian church decided to proclaim the day of the winter solstice as the day of Christ’s birth, apparently in an attempt to sway the populace away from celebrating pagan rituals of sun worship and saturnalia and point them instead to a Christian purpose.
How to Celebrate?
Since Scripture does not instruct us to celebrate Hanukkah, there is really no right or wrong way to do it. We do know that originally it was celebrated “in the manner of Sukkot”, so that tells us that this was a huge thanksgiving festival which included much rejoicing and waving of leafy branches before YHWH.
In addition to the festivities associated with Sukkot, there are two important elements special to Hanukkah: light and oil. Lighting lamps or candles has been a significant tradition associated with Hanukkah, and there is a special nine-branched menorah (lampstand or candelabra) called a Hanukkah menorah that is different from the standard seven-branched menorah. The center branch on the Hanukkah menorah represents the Messiah, and is called the “servant” (in Hebrew shammash). It is used to light the candles on each of the other eight branches, which represent the eight days that the oil miraculously continued to burn while the new oil was being prepared. Each evening at sunset, just before the candles are lighted, a blessing is normally prayed. Our family prays a blessing something like this: “Blessed are you YHWH our God, king of the universe, for giving us light, and for being the Light of the World.” Traditionally, on the first evening of Hanukkah, the center candle is first lighted and then used to light the first candle farthest to the right. The remaining candles are not lighted. The second evening the burned candles are replaced with new, and again the center candle is first lighted, and then used to light the two candles farthest to the right. Each day one additional candle is lighted. In this way it takes 44 candles all together to cover the eight days of Hanukkah. The lighted menorah is usually placed in the front window so those passing by can see it.
Since oil is also a special part of Hanukkah, typical foods during the festival include things made with oil. Fried potato pancakes called latkes are common fare, as are deep-fried, jelly-filled donuts called sufganiyot. These are just some traditions which you may want to consider trying.
There is also a children’s gambling game in which a four-sided top, called a dreidel is spun to win gold coins of chocolate. The four sides of the tap have the Hebrew letters Nun, Gimel, Heh, and Shin, which stand for a Hebrew phrase meaning, “A Great Miracle Happened Here.” Presumably this is a reminder of the games Jewish people pretended to play when it was illegal for them to keep their special days of celebration. Anytime a government official or possible informer came close, they would quickly spin the top and pretend to be gambling instead.
If you have children, you can make the candle-lighting ceremony each evening a fun family activity, and use that time not only to explain the history of what God for his people, as also the related it to what God is doing for your family today. A book that you might enjoy reading to your children is:
“Alexandra’s Scroll: The Story of the First Hanukkah” by Miriam Chaikin, 2002.
You might also have friends over for a Hanukkah party and play a game of Hanukkah Charades (see my list of charade words and phrases in the download tab).
Files to Download
- What about Hanukkah.pdf – A document basically containing all the information about Hanukkah posted on this website.
- 1 Maccabees (NRSV).pdf – As easy-to-read version of the book of 1 Maccabees (New Revised Standard Version).
- 2 Maccabees (NRSV).pdf – As easy-to-read version of the book of 2 Maccabees (New Revised Standard Version).
- 1 Maccabees Commentary (Lange).pdf – Translation and commentary of 1 Maccabees by J.P. Lange, 1880.
- 2 Maccabees Commentary (Lange).pdf – Translation and commentary of 1 Maccabees by J.P. Lange, 1880.
- Hanukkah Recipes.pdf – How to make latkes and sufganiot.
- Hanukkah Charades.pdf – A list of words and phrases to use for family charades at Hanukkah.
- Rules to Play Dreidel.pdf – How to play the traditional top-spinning game of Hanukkah.