CONTEXT MATTERS

a blog by David S. Jesse

The Feast of Tabernacles, Hanukkah, and…Christmas? (Part 8: Signs in the Heavens)

Revelation 12

 

And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:

Genesis 1:14

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

Matthew 2:1-2

And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars:  And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.

Revelation 12:1-2

Many Christians have speculated over the past two thousand years what the star the wise men followed was.  But with today’s advances in science, we are finally able to see exactly what the skies of Jesus birth looked like.  And the story told in the stars is fascinating.

The vision of John written in the Book of Revelation is a powerful clue indicating where we should begin looking in the heavens.  The constellations are powerful signs in the heavens that God ordained as indicators of His prophetic plan for humanity. God ordained the stars, named each one of them, and planted a story in the heavens that tells of His overwhelming love for mankind and His plan for redemption and restoration.  John’s vision in Revelation 12 is seen in the heavens at the precise timing that we have been looking at for the birth of the Messiah – in September of 3 B.C.  At that very moment in time, Jupiter (which is known in every ancient language as the King Planet), came into perfect conjunction with Regal (also known in every ancient language as the King Star).  This conjunction takes place directly above the constellation, Virgo (meaning Virgin), when it is clothed in the Sun, with the moon at its feet.  John connects this vision with a clear prophecy of the Birth of the Messiah.  This is a powerful sign!  We may be close to discovering the birth date of the Savior.

The moon in this vision gives us a better picture.  The Hebrew calendar was based upon the phases of the moon.  The beginning of the new month was determined by the sighting of the first sliver of the new moon.  And in the sky that September night, we find the first sliver of the new moon being sighted.  Combine this with the fact that this would not only indicate the beginning of a new month, but that moon indicated the sighting of the seventh moon of the Jewish religious calendar.  This moment is the very start of the Feast of Yom Teruah, also called the Feast of Trumpets: the Day of the Awakening Blast.  Trumpets are sounding in the Heavens!

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.  His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.

Psalm 19:1-6

The conjunction between Jupiter and Regulas – the King Planet and the King Star – is also very significant.  Again, if you refer to the above picture, you see that Jupiter is moving in retrograde motion (appearing to move back and forth in the sky) between the feet of Leo – the Lion.  The symbol of the tribe of Judah, which is the tribe that Jesus was from, is the Lion.

The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.

Genesis 49:10

Some key words in this prophecy by Jacob over his son, Judah, unlock the meaning of this passage.

First, the word “scepter” in Hebrew is “shebet”.  Below is the meaning of the Hebrew:

Shevet

The second important word is “feet”, which in Hebrew is “regel”:

Regel

The third important word is “Shiloh”:

shiloh

“Shiloh” is understood as being a Messianic title. (Click Here for further explanation).

With a closer look at these three Hebrew words, we see a curious picture taking shape.  A “branch, which indicates rule” will remain between the “feet” of Judah (which we know is represented by the lion) until “Shiloh”, or the Messiah, comes.

The Messiah is referred to numerous times in the Old Testament as “the Branch”.  But if you look at the last description of “regel”, or “feet”, it indicates the importance of the number three.

This unlocks the vision of John in Revelation 12!  Due to the optical illusion known as retrograde motion, Jupiter – the King Planet – comes into conjunction with Regulas – the King Star – within the feet of Leo – the Lion of the Tribe of Judah – three times beginning on September 11, 3 B.C. – the Feast of Trumpets! 

Is there any wonder that the Magi, upon seeing this sign in the heavens, made their way to Jerusalem looking for the newly born Messiah!

It’s as if the Father is screaming from the heavens that His Son is being born!  It is time!

But it is very possible that this moment in the heavens is only the beginning of the celebration to come.  The next clue is in John 1:

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

John 1:14

Again, we have to look at the root meaning of one of the words in this verse: dwelt.

Skenoo

So this verse could very correctly be translated, “And the Word (a reference to Jesus) became flesh and tabernacled among us…”

Since the Feast of Tabernacles begins just fifteen days following the Feast of Trumpets, and it is during this time that Jupiter is coming into conjunction with Regulus between the feet of Leo, could this be another indication of the birthday of the King?

IF the Feast of Trumpets was September 11, 3 B.C., and that began the prophecy of the scepter remaining between the feet of the Lion until Messiah comes, and IF the Messiah was born on Feast of Tabernacles, what would be that date?

September 25, 3 B.C.

Theoretically, the signs in the heavens, along with the beautiful symbolism of the Feasts of the LORD, seem to indicate that Jesus was born on September 25, 3 B.C.

There is precedence for this theory.

It is clear from Scripture, and from historical evidence, that Jesus was crucified on the Feast of Passover.  He was buried, and carried away the sin of mankind, on the Feast of Unleavened bread.  He was resurrected on the Feast of First Fruits.  The Holy Spirit was sent, initiating the New Covenant and writing the Torah on the hearts of God’s people, on Shavuot.  Wouldn’t it only make sense that God would send His Son, to dwell among mankind, on the Feast of Tabernacles – the day that celebrates the dwelling of God among His people?

I believe that this is the case.  Scripture points to the fact that Jesus was born in August or September. Historical evidence indicates that He was born between 3 B.C. and 2 B.C.  The signs in the heavens, which the Magi followed looking for the birth of the Messiah, suggest that he was likely born during the Fall Feasts of 3 B.C.  And John tells us that the Word “tabernacled” among us.

So if we go back nine months from the Feast of Tabernacles, September 25, 3 B.C., what date do we come to for the Immaculate Conception?

We come to December 25, 4 B.C.  Could this be the first Christmas?

They celebrated it for eight days with gladness like Sukkot
and recalled how a little while before, during Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles),
they had been wandering in the mountains and caverns like wild animals.
So carrying lulavs …they offered hymns of praise
to God who had brought to pass the purification of His own place.

II Maccabees 10: 6-7

In Jewish tradition, this time in December of 4 B.C. would be celebrated with lights and gifts.  It was Hanukkah.  It was the remembrance of the Maccabees rising up against the tyrants who were commanding them to reject the Torah and forcing them into idol worship.  The Temple was desecrated, and on the Hebrew date of Kislev 25, Judah Maccabees and his soldiers amazingly conquered the mighty Greeks and reclaimed the Temple.  Because the Temple had been desecrated, Israel had been unable to observe the Feasts of the YHWH.  It is believed by Jewish historians that the Maccabees commanded that the Feast of Tabernacles be celebrated after the Temple was rededicated.  An annual tradition continued called the Feast of Dedication, and the Temple courts were illuminated so greatly that the lights could be seen for miles around Jerusalem.  The people sang songs and waived lulavs (palm branches).  It was a joyous time, which was celebrated throughout Israel.  It is also called the Festival of Lights.

We know that Jesus celebrated Hanukkah.

Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.

John 8:12

As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.

John 9:5

And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication (Hanukkah), and it was winter.  And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch.

John 10:22-23

Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world.

John 11:9

Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth.  While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light…

John 12:35-36a

The Light of the World – a clear reference to Jesus – was prophesied by Isaiah to arrive in the Galilee, where Nazareth is:

Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations.  The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.  Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.  For thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian.  For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

Isaiah 9:1-7

The Light of the World – Jesus – was conceived of the Holy Spirit during Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights.  He was born, nine months later, during the Feast of Tabernacles, when He “tabernacled” among us.  The symbolism is simply stunning.

I believe that Jesus was conceived on what has become known as “Christmas Day,” which was also during Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights.  I believe He was born on Feast of Tabernacles.  The connections between these three celebrations – in both ancient Israel, and among modern Jews and Christians, shows once again that God’s heart is passionately trying to reveal itself to mankind.

But there is one more piece to our puzzle.

The Feast of Tabernacles, Hanukkah, and…Christmas? (Part 7: What Year Was Jesus Born?)

The earliest church fathers all agreed that Jesus was born from 3 B.C. to 2 B.C.  The challenge though, is that the ancients didn’t use our dating system.  We must infer when events happened, mostly by the lives of leaders and the writings about them.  The ancient Jewish historian, Josephus, wrote that Herod died shortly after a total lunar eclipse.  With modern astronomy software, we can determine the time and date of every lunar eclipse in history.  But a transcription error with Josephus’ writings has caused historians to incorrectly determine which lunar eclipse Josephus connected with Herod’s death.

Every Josephus manuscript dated after 1544 has the same error, stating that Herod died in 4 B.C. This has forced Christian historians to speculate that Jesus must have been born prior to that, as the Scripture is clear that Herod was alive at the time of Jesus’ birth and for some point afterward.  But recent historical scholarship has discovered that every single manuscript of Josephus’ writings prior to 1544 is in agreement that Herod died in 1 B.C.  This is a very important clue in our discovery of which year Jesus was born.  We are now able to consider the possibility that he was born in 3 B.C. or 2 B.C., just as the ancient church fathers claimed.

The Feast of Tabernacles, Hanukkah, and…Christmas? (Part 6: Dating the Birth of Messiah)

As we’ve already seen, Christian scholars have attempted to give a date to the birth of the Messiah as early as the second century A.D.  Scripture is considered to be silent on this issue.  But there are some important clues in the Bible that can lead us to a very interesting conclusion.  These clues begin with the birth of the forerunner of Jesus: John the Baptist.

The Course of Abiah

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.

(Luke 1:5)

And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course, According to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.

(Luke 1:8-9)

Again, no specific date is given to the birth of Jesus, or to the birth of John for that matter.  But the entire timeline of the events listed in Luke chapters 1 and 2 is based upon the conception of John. Therefore, it would stand to reason that if we can identify the general timing of that event, we can work from it to determine when Messiah was born.  The key is in verse 5, when Luke tells us that Zechariah, the father of John, was serving in the Temple according to the timing of the course of Abia.

Now the first lot came forth to Jehoiarib, the second to Jedaiah, The third to Harim, the fourth to Seorim, The fifth to Malchijah, the sixth to Mijamin, The seventh to Hakkoz, the eighth to Abijah, The ninth to Jeshuah, the tenth to Shecaniah, The eleventh to Eliashib, the twelfth to Jakim, The thirteenth to Huppah, the fourteenth to Jeshebeab, The fifteenth to Bilgah, the sixteenth to Immer, The seventeenth to Hezir, the eighteenth to Aphses, The nineteenth to Pethahiah, the twentieth to Jehezekel, The one and twentieth to Jachin, the two and twentieth to Gamul, The three and twentieth to Delaiah, the four and twentieth to Maaziah.  These were the orderings of them in their service to come into the house of the LORD, according to their manner, under Aaron their father, as the LORD God of Israel had commanded him.

1 Chronicles 24:7-19

But David, being desirous of ordaining his son king of all the people, called together their rulers to Jerusalem, with the priests and the Levites; and having first numbered the Levites, he found them to be thirty-eight thousand, from thirty years old to fifty; out of which he appointed twenty-three thousand to take care of the building of the temple, and out of the same, six thousand to be judges of the people and scribes, four thousand for porters to the house of God, and as many for singers, to sing to the instruments which David had prepared, as we have said already. He divided them also into courses: and when he had separated the priests from them, he found of these priests twenty-four courses, sixteen of the house of Eleazar, and eight of that of Ithamar; and he ordained that one course should minister to God eight days, from sabbath to sabbath. And thus were the courses distributed by lot, in the presence of David, and Zadok and Abiathar the high priests, and of all the rulers; and that course which came up first was written down as the first, and accordingly the second, and so on to the twenty-fourth; and this partition hath remained to this day.

— Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 7, Chapter 14, Paragraph 7.

According to the Biblical record, and the writings of the Jewish historian, Josephus, we learn that the priestly course of Abia that Zechariah was a part of, was the eighth out of twenty-four groups of priests that ministered in the Temple.  The Jewish religious calendar begins in the Spring.  So the first of the twenty-four divisions of priests would begin serving in the time before Passover, in the Jewish month of Nisan.  All of the priests would have been required to serve in the Temple during the Spring Feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits and Shavuot, as well as during the Fall Feast of Tabernacles.  Therefore, the time frame that Zechariah’s turn to serve in the Temple would have been in the period around May/June.  The below chart will help to clarify this.

1st Month 2nd Month 3rd Month
Abib – Nisan
(March – April)
Zif – Iyyar
(April – May)
Sivan
(May – June)
First
Week
Jehoiarib (1) Seorim (4) All Priests
(Pentecost)
Second
Week
Jedaiah (2) Malchijah (5) Abijah (8)
Third
Week
All Priests
(Feast of Unleavened Bread)
Mijamin (6) Jeshuah (9)
Fourth
Week
Harim (3) Hakkoz (7) Shecaniah (10)

This gives us a reasonable starting point to build off of when we begin to puzzle through the possible date of the birth of Jesus.

And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house. And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.

Luke 1:23-25

The next clue tells us that Zechariah completed the course of his service in the Temple, and returned home.  The Scriptures seem to indicate that Elizabeth conceived John at that time, and then hid herself for a period of five months.  If the time that Zechariah served in the Temple was in May/June, then that five month period leads us to October/November of the same year.

And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.  And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.   And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.  And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.  And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.  He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.

Luke 1:26-33, 36

The context of verse 26 refers back to the fifth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy in verse 25, and in verse 36 the angel confirms that this is the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.  Therefore, we understand that Mary was visited by the angel, Gabriel, in the time frame of November/December of the same year that John was conceived by Elizabeth.

We move forward with Mary travelling to Judea to confer with her cousin, Elizabeth.  The Scriptures are clear in telling us how long Mary stayed with Zechariah and Elizabeth.

And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.

Luke 1:56

All we need now is to calculate some simple math.  Mary was visited by the angel when Elizabeth was six months pregnant.  She then traveled to her cousin and spent three months with her.  This means it’s possible that Mary was present at the very birth of John!  And we will see that John’s birth is something that every Jewish home reenacts at Passover each year.

Every year a special place is set at the Passover table.  It is for the prophet, Elijah.  At one point the children even open the door of the home to look for Elijah to arrive.  What is the purpose of this tradition?

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:  And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

Malachi 4:5-6

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD’S hand double for all her sins. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see [it] together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken [it].

Isaiah 40:1-5

Jewish tradition teaches that Elijah precedes the arrival of Messiah, declaring that He is coming.  It is also believed that this event will take place at Passover, resulting in the tradition of reserving a place at the Passover table for Elijah.

But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.  And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.  For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.  And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.  And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

Luke 1:13-17

And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?  And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things.  But I say unto you, that Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them.  Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.

Matthew 17:10-13

The angel, Gabriel, proclaimed that John the Baptist was the Elijah that would precede the arrival of Messiah.  Jesus confirmed that John the Baptist did this.  We know that John was born in February or March.  Passover often takes place in March.  Could John have been born on Passover itself, fulfilling the traditional Jewish belief that Elijah would arrive on Passover?

So let’s review.  Zechariah was serving in the Temple, in the months of May or June, when he’s visited by Gabriel and told his wife who is barren will finally have a son.  Elizabeth hides herself for five months.  Six months into Elizabeth’s pregnancy, around November or December, the same angel visits a virgin in the Galilee and tells her that she will bear the Son of God.  Mary, being a virgin, has reason to question how this can happen.  The angel gives her a sign, telling her that her cousin is six months pregnant.  Mary goes to see this for herself, and stays with her cousin for about three months, taking us to February or March.

Again, if we move forward six months from this date, we learn an approximate timing of the birth of Jesus: August or September.  This dating makes perfect sense, as the shepherds would still have been in the fields with their flocks in the late summer and early fall.

But this is only the beginning of the story.

The Feast of Tabernacles, Hanukkah, and…Christmas? (Part 5: The Birthday of the Gods)

No argument is more forcefully made against Christmas than that the date of December 25th is the birthday of all the pagan deities of ancient religion and was chosen as Christ’s birthday in an attempt to synchronize these religions with Christianity.  So to effectively deal with this argument, we must address two questions: First, is December 25th the traditional date of birth for the pagan gods? Second, how did December 25th become recognized as the date of Christ’s birth?

The claim that the gods of ancient paganism were all born on December 25th is common.  Any web search looking for this information will result in hundreds of thousands of hits.  But, as we saw earlier, the quantity of argument doesn’t prove its validity.  No matter how many scientists swore that the universe rotated around the earth, Copernicus was still right in his theory that the earth revolved around the Sun.  So is there any truth to the belief that December 25th was chosen as the date for Christmas because it was the birthday of the gods?

It seems that this belief stems from the truth that numerous pagan religions had religious celebrations that were centered on the Winter Solstice.  Since the Winter Solstice is December 21st, and the calendar was not firmly set at the time, it is theorized that these celebrations were held on December 25th.  But there is no proof that the pantheon of gods were claimed to have been born on December 25th.

One site I visited in researching this claimed – without any source information – that Adonis, Apollo, Attis, Baal, Bacchus, Buddha, Dionysus, Freyr, Helios, Hercules, Horus, Jupiter, Krishna, Mithra, Nimrod, Osiris, Perseus, Saturn, Sol Invictus, and Tammuz were knowingly celebrated as born on this date.  But by researching scholarly sites and books, I’ve come to the following conclusion: this claim is rubbish.  There is no scholarly evidence that this is the case.

First, the claim that the gods were born on December 25 is absurd.  Most of these gods were imagined centuries before there ever was a December 25th (The Julian calendar was not developed until the 1st century B.C.).    Again, this argument is creatively twisting the fact that SOME of these gods were either said to be born at the winter solstice (only to die at the summer solstice and to continue the cycle every year), or that some of these pagan religions had festivals around the winter solstice.  From that twisting, the claim is made that the gods were born on this date.  Again, there is no evidence for this theory.  The sole foundation of the argument that Christianity based the dating of Christmas on December 25th in an attempt to synchronize itself with paganism, is the belief that Sol Invictus was born on this date.

The only evidence that this date had any significance, whatsoever, to the worship of the pagan god, Sol, was that the claim that the Roman emperor, Aurelian, established a festival on December 25th, whereby a series of chariot races were held.  Again, that’s it.  The rest is conjecture, mostly driven by an attempt to criticize and demonize the Roman Catholic Church.  In fact, consider this quote by the widely respected professor of Roman Art and Archaeology from the University of Alberta, Steven Hijmans:

…it must be stressed that… December 25 was neither a long standing nor an especially important official feast day of Sol.  It is mentioned only in the Calendar of 354 and as far as I can tell the suggestion that it was established by Aurelian cannot be proven.  In fact, there is no firm evidence that this feast of Sol on December 25 antedates the feast of Christmas at all.  The traditional feast dates of Sol, as recorded in the early imperial fasti, were August 8, August 9, August 28, and December 11.  Of these, only August 28 is still mentioned in the Calendar of 354, along with October 19 and October 22, the latter being the most important, judging by the 36 chariot races with which it was celebrated.

To read, CLICK HERE

So if early Christianity didn’t choose December 25 in an attempt to synchronize Christianity with paganism, how did this date become associated with the birth of the Messiah?

Interestingly enough, the celebration of Christmas on December 25 may be tied to ancient Jewish tradition found in the Talmud.  Consider the following from Biblical Archaeology Review:

The notion that creation and redemption should occur at the same time of year is also reflected in ancient Jewish tradition, recorded in the Talmud. The Babylonian Talmud preserves a dispute between two early-second-century C.E. rabbis who share this view, but disagree on the date: Rabbi Eliezer states: “In Nisan (the first month of the Jewish religious calendar, during which Passover is observed) the world was created; in Nisan the Patriarchs were born; on Passover Isaac was born…and in Nisan they [our ancestors] will be redeemed in time to come.” (The other rabbi, Joshua, dates these same events to the following month, Tishri [The first month of the Jewish civil calendar, during which the Fall Feasts are observed].) Thus, the dates of Christmas and Epiphany (a celebration of Christ’s birth observed in most Eastern Christian traditions) may well have resulted from Christian theological reflection on such chronologies: Jesus would have been conceived on the same date he died, and born nine months later.

To read, CLICK HERE

This further connects with ancient Christian writings that suggest that Jesus was crucified on March 25 – nine months before December 25.

Around 200 C.E. Tertullian of Carthage reported the calculation that the 14th of Nisan (the day of the crucifixion according to the Gospel of John) in the year Jesus died was equivalent to March 25 in the Roman (solar) calendar.  March 25 is, of course, nine months before December 25; it was later recognized as the Feast of the Annunciation—the commemoration of Jesus’ conception. Thus, Jesus was believed to have been conceived and crucified on the same day of the year. Exactly nine months later, Jesus was born, on December 25.

It is important to understand that we have no firm evidence for the reasons that the early Church chose to celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th.  While it is widely believed that Sol Invictus was born on December 25th and a celebration of his birth took place each year, historical evidence doesn’t back this up.  It is important to realize that the facts on this issue make it clear that this date wasn’t chosen because of pagan festivals or the birth date of pagan deities.  The evidence simply doesn’t support this claim.

Another common objection related to the date is the ancient festivals of Brumalia and Saturnalia.  It is commonly said that these festivals were celebrated on December 25th, but the evidence contradicts this as well.  Brumalia was never celebrated on December 25th, and Saturnalia was celebrated on December 17th.

So in the end, the evidence against the celebration of Christmas – from the Christmas tree to December 25th – is in essence creative theory and misinformation.  The only common thread between these objections is the wild story of Nimrod and Semiramis, as told by Alexander Hislop. This theory has been greatly discredited, and no reputable historian accepts Hislop’s story.  (The evidence refuting Hislop’s claims is so extensive that I won’t go into it here. If search online for it, you will find it in abundance.)

But the story of the Feast of Tabernacles, Hanukkah, and Christmas is firmly fixed upon December 25th.

The Feast of Tabernacles, Hanukkah, and…Christmas? (Part 4: Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree)

There are two major directions that the argument against the use of Christmas trees takes: one is to reference Jeremiah 10:3-4; the other is to connect the Christmas tree to the pagan religions of ancient Babylon, Egypt, Greece and Rome.  We’ll look at the Jeremiah passage first.

For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.  They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.  (Jeremiah 10:3-4)

While this is the most commonly heard argument against the use of Christmas trees, it is also the easiest to disprove.  The prophet, Jeremiah, is speaking clearly of the worship of idols, and drawing a contrast between the flagrant stupidities of idol worship versus the worship of the True Living God. While looking at the surface of the verses above, it could be interpreted that this describes a Christmas tree.  But it is important to recognize that the idea of a Christmas tree was not even in existence at the time this was written.  There is no reasonable proof from this passage or from history, that this passage is referencing a Christmas tree or anything that even resembles it.  Reading the entire context of the passage plainly describes the pagan custom of the cutting down of a tree by a craftsman, that tree being carved into an idol, plated with gold and silver, clothed with purple and blue cloth, and being carted around to be worshiped.  This is a wooden, carved idol plated with gold, in the image of whatever false deity was being worshiped.

The climax and primary focus of the passage is verse 10:

But the LORD is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king: at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation.

We diminish the power of this passage when we allow ourselves to reduce it to a discussion about Christmas trees, especially when we understand that Christmas trees weren’t used until nearly 2,000 years after this Scripture was written.  By taking these two verses out of the greater context, we lose the truth that our God is living and powerful.  The point of the passage is that these idols are powerless, as stated in verse 5: “Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.” Jeremiah is making the argument that these idols are pointless.  They are simply wood and gold and silver.  There is nothing to them.  This isn’t exactly a damning condemnation of a Christmas tree as we are led by some to believe.

Context is important.  Here’s an example:

Ephraim shall say, “What have I to do any more with idols?  I have heard him, and observed him.”  I am like a green fir tree.  From me is thy fruit found. (Hosea 14:8)

In this verse, we have God, in His own words, describing Himself as a green fir tree.  Other translations even use the word “evergreen” tree.  This passage, on the surface, would indicate the opposite of what those opposed to the Christmas tree argue.  God is saying that the evergreen tree is symbolic of his very nature.

I would never use Hosea 14:8 to argue in favor of Christmas trees.  Doing so would force me to take it out of context.  The context is making the same argument as Jeremiah 10: the idols of the pagans are worthless and vain and have no ability to affect the lives of those who worship them.  Both passages are calling God’s people back to worshiping Him as the Living God.

I’ve never seen anyone treat a Christmas tree in a manner that can be perceived as worshiping it. These trees are thrown into the garbage heap after Christmas, or in the case of artificial trees, stored in a dusty attic until the season comes along the following year.  I’ve never seen anyone kneel before a Christmas tree and pray to it.  When one separates themselves from the emotion of the discussion, the absurdity of the whole notion of the Christmas tree being an idol is immense.  There’s simply no validity to it.

But what about the argument that the Christmas tree is the remnants of an ancient Babylonian myth regarding Nimrod and Semiramis and an evergreen tree and presents?  That sounds a whole lot like a Christmas tree.

This argument is found all over the internet.  It is summarized well by Herbert Armstrong, the founder of the Worldwide Church of God:

After Nimrod’s untimely death, his so-called mother-wife, Semiramis, propagated the evil doctrine of the survival of Nimrod as a spirit being. She claimed a full-grown evergreen tree sprang overnight from a dead tree stump, which symbolized the springing forth unto new life of the dead Nimrod. On each anniversary of his birth, she claimed, Nimrod would visit the evergreen tree and leave gifts upon it. December 25th was the birth of Nimrod. This is the real origin of the Christmas tree.

The Plain Truth About Christmas, 1970, p. 10

If this were to be found true it would, in my opinion, be a fatal blow to the use of the Christmas tree. The idea that a false god was said to have visited an evergreen tree on December 25th each year and leave presents underneath would be devastating.  The problem is there’s no truth to this statement.

First, we have to uncover where Herbert Armstrong, and those who make this claim, discovered this legend.  When attempting to source this story, the link of chains always ends up with the claims of a nineteenth century Free Church of Scotland minister named Alexander Hislop.  Hislop wrote a pamphlet (which was later expanded into a book) called The Two Babylons, which claims that the “Mystery Babylon” of the Book of Revelation is actually the Roman Catholic Church.  Hislop attempts to connect all the pagan religions of the world into a common source of the Nimrod of Genesis.  But are these connections valid?

If Nimrod is such an important figure in the great, cosmic battle between the Living God and Satan, one would think that the connections between Nimrod and idol worship would be plain in Scripture. They are not.  Below, I’ve included every Biblical reference to Nimrod:

And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the LORD. (Genesis 10:8-9)

And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be mighty upon the earth. (1 Chronicles 1:10)

And they shall waste the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod in the entrances thereof: thus shall he deliver us from the Assyrian, when he cometh into our land, and when he treadeth within our borders. (Micah 5:6)

If Nimrod is the central figure in all the pagan idolatry of the world, one wouldn’t find that from a reading of the Bible.  This is a rather auspicious start to verifying Hislop’s argument.  But Hislop argues that not only is Nimrod the central figure in all idolatry, but that there is direct connection between the Christmas tree and the pagan idolatry that allegedly started with Nimrod.  I’ll address the issue of Nimrod in much greater detail in a later post, but let’s continue to look at the supposed pagan roots of the Christmas tree.  Here is the direct quote from Hislop:

The Christmas tree, now so common among us, was equally common in Pagan Rome and Pagan Egypt. In Egypt that tree was the palm tree; in Rome it was the fir; the palm-tree denoting the Pagan Messiah, as Baal-Tamar, the fir referring to him as Baal-Berith.

The Two Babylons, 1858, p. 97

So, according to Hislop, trees of various kinds have been central to the worship of pagan deities throughout history.  There may be some validity to this.  But there are some real problems with the above quote.

First, there is no evidence that the Egyptians worshiped a god called “Baal-Tamar.”  Baal-Tamar was a location in Israel, more specifically in the area given to the tribe of Benjamin.  In Hebrew, the name does mean “Lord of the Palms.”  But the Egyptians didn’t speak Hebrew.  Second, the Hebrew word Baal-Berith means “Lord of the covenant,” with no connection to a fir tree.  At least with Baal-Berith, we have Scriptural proof that there was a god worshipped under that name.  But again, this is the whole source of the argument by both Armstrong and Hislop.  That’s it.  There is no further proof given.  Essentially, Armstrong references Hislop (as does almost every resource that attempts to prove that the Christmas tree has a pagan origin), and Hislop basically says, “trust me.”  No connection is made.  No further documentation.  No historical validation.  Just an error-filled theory and conjecture based upon the imagination of a pastor who clearly is attempting to promote an agenda against Catholicism.  There is absolutely no historically verifiable evidence that the Christmas tree traces its origin to pagan worship, or that the story that Armstrong summarizes, based upon Hislop’s The Two Babylons, is anything more than conjecture and speculation, based upon a disproven theory that the Nimrod of the Bible is the source of all the pagan idolatry of the world (more on that later).

So where did this story come from?  It is simply a theory that sprung from a sketch, drawn by Hislop, of an ancient coin from Tyre, with an engraving of serpent coiled around a tree stump, with a palm tree next to it.

Still, there is significant evidence of the use of greenery in pagan worship.  But is this evidence enough to move us to reject the use of the Christmas tree?  What does God have to say about this?  Here is where we make our first link to the birth of Jesus and the connection to the use of greenery in the recognition of it.

Also in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered in the fruit of the land, ye shall keep a feast unto the LORD seven days: on the first day shall be a Sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a Sabbath.  And we shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and ye shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days. (Leviticus 23:39-40)

And they found written the law which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month: and that they should publish and proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and pine branches, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written.  So the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves booths, every one upon the roof of his house, and in their courts, and in the courts of the house of God, and in the street of the water gate, and in the street of the gate of Ephraim. (Nehemiah 8:14-16)

We will look at the Feast of Tabernacles in much greater detail in the second grouping of posts later to come, but two points must be made right now: first, the theme of the Feast of Tabernacles is “God dwelling among man”; second, God commands the use of greenery in the celebration associated with this feast.  A very common argument against the use of the Christmas tree is that pagan peoples worshipped idols using greenery and trees, therefore, Christians should reject this practice.  One Scripture used to make this argument is found in Deuteronomy:

When the LORD thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee, whither thou goest to possess them, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their land; take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou inquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? Even so I will do likewise.  Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD they God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods. (Deuteronomy 12:29-31)

The argument made by Christmas tree opponents, is that the worship of the pagans involved greenery and trees, and God clearly commands that His people should not adopt pagan practices and integrate them into their worship of the One True God.  Therefore, the use of Christmas trees is forbidden.  Does this argument stand up to a critical evaluation, based upon Scripture?

Let’s circle back around to what I mentioned in a previous post is the “heart of the matter.”  Scripture is clear that God will use whatever He can to reveal His character to His people.  In fact, He even has a history of using pagan religious symbols to communicate eternal truths.  Two powerful examples can be seen in the life of Abraham.

There is significant historical evidence proving that the practice of circumcision was commonplace in the worship of pagan deities in the Ancient Near East, prior to the initiation of the covenant of circumcision with Abraham in Genesis 17.  Why did God use circumcision to seal His covenant with Abraham?  He used circumcision because Abraham could relate to it.  Abraham understood the power of that ritual.  That is why we never read of him questioning why God commands this.  Ancient Egyptian circumcision is believed to have been used as symbol of fertility.  In Genesis 17 Abraham is being reminded, for the second time in Scripture, that God will provide him a son in his old age (at the time of Genesis 17, Abraham is 99 years old).   God uses this pagan practice to communicate to Abraham – in a way that Abraham can comprehend – that God would make Abraham fertile, and that he would have a son, in spite of his age.  This is a perfect example of God using what Abraham could understand to communicate His promise.

The second example is child sacrifice.  During the time of Abraham, child sacrifice was a part of the religious culture of the Ancient Near East.  The idea of child sacrifice was such a common part of religious observance that we see Abraham accepting God’s request without question.  Yes, Abraham’s faith is seen in his belief that God would raise Isaac from the dead, but his willingness to sacrifice Isaac suggests that he found nothing unusual in this request.  So God used a religious practice that he would later call deplorable – child sacrifice – in order to effectively reveal a powerful eternal principle.  Abraham’s willingness to submit to God’s command allowed God to reveal the ram as a substitute for Isaac – a foreshadowing of God Himself sacrificing His only Son as a the “…Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

In both of these examples, we see God using a pagan religious observance to communicate a powerful truth to Abraham in a way that Abraham can understand.

The use of greenery is no different.  Greenery was used in pagan worship, and converted to a symbol within the worship of the One True God to communicate a powerful truth which we will, later in this study, see more fully revealed.

So where did the Christmas tree come from?

Not until the Renaissance are there clear records of trees being used as a symbol of Christmas—beginning in Latvia in 1510 and Strasbourg in 1521. Legend credits the Protestant reformer Martin Luther with inventing the Christmas tree, but the story has little historical basis.

The most likely theory is that Christmas trees started with medieval plays. Dramas depicting biblical themes began as part of the church’s worship, but by the late Middle Ages, they had become rowdy, imaginative performances dominated by laypeople and taking place in the open air. The plays celebrating the Nativity were linked to the story of creation—in part because Christmas Eve was also considered the feast day of Adam and Eve. Thus, as part of the play for that day, the Garden of Eden was symbolized by a “paradise tree” hung with fruit.

These plays were banned in many places in the 16th century, and people perhaps began to set up “paradise trees” in their homes to compensate for the public celebration they could no longer enjoy. The earliest Christmas trees (or evergreen branches) used in homes were referred to as “paradises.” They were often hung with round pastry wafers symbolizing the Eucharist, which developed into the cookie ornaments decorating German Christmas trees today.

(http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/thepastinthepresent/storybehind/whychristmastrees.html)

So the most credible, verifiable evidence points to the Christmas tree originating out of a Christian play that celebrated “Paradise”, or “Eden”, where God walked in the cool of the evening with Adam and Eve in a perfect world.  Now, if we recall that the Feast of Tabernacles – which commands the use of greenery as part of the symbolism – is a celebration focused squarely on God dwelling among man, then we see another connection to the Christmas tree.  I don’t have a problem with having that in my home.

The Feast of Tabernacles, Hanukkah, and…Christmas? (Part 3: The Meaning of the Word “Christmas”)

It doesn’t take a language scholar to recognize what the word Christmas came from.  It’s clearly a compound word meaning “Christ-mass”.  This is one of the common arguments against celebrating Christmas.  We know that the word “Christ” refers to Jesus and His position as Messiah or “Anointed One.”  Those opposed to the celebration of Christmas teach that the word references the Roman Catholic Church’s celebration of the Mass, which they claim means “sacrifice.”  Thus, every time we speak the word “Christmas” we are speaking of the bloody crucifixion of the Messiah, that opponents to Christmas claim is reenacted at every Mass .  Some even describe the horror they feel when an unknowing person wishes them a “Merry Christmas.”  How can anyone think of the sacrifice of the Christ as a “merry” thing?

There’s a problem with this logic: the word “mass” doesn’t mean “sacrifice.”  If you Google the etymology of the word, it is easily found.  “Mass” comes from the Latin word “missa” which means “dismissal.”  The Roman Catholic service has come to be known as the “Mass” because in the Latin version of the service, at the close, the priest says, “Ite, missa est,” meaning “Go: it is the dismissal.”

Really?  Why the controversy?

Even if you accept the position that the word took on additional meaning over time, it is important to note what the Roman Catholic Church defines as that additional meaning.   In Christian meaning, the word has come to imply “mission”.   So Christmas, in traditional Catholic usage, would simply mean “Christ’s mission.”  This isn’t exactly the horrifying word that the opponents to Christmas describe.  In reality, it seems a very appropriate word for recognizing the Birth of the Messiah.  It immediately brings to mind the mission (again, think of the Christian understanding of the Latin word “missa”) of Christ described by the Apostle Paul in Philippians 2:5-11:

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.  Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

I see Christmas – Christ’s mission – written all over that passage.  Still, there are sincere, Jesus loving Christians who refuse to even use the word “Christmas” because they have been taught that it means something evil and pagan.  If you search the internet for the pagan origin of the word “Christmas,” you will find countless references to this word meaning “Christ’s sacrifice.”  But if you try to source these claims, you will spend hours digging through site after site without finding a single scholarly source that backs it up.  It is, unfortunately, a testament to the power of rumor.  Once a statement is made that backs up a point, the statement takes on a life of its own.  How many millions have heard this lie – just like I did – and have become horrified by what they believe is a pagan origin of the word?

This leads to an important point that must be made:  there is so much information on the Internet that we must be willing to look beyond the quantity of an argument, and look for the quality of that argument.  Just because one can find hundreds of documents, books, sermons and websites that reference a point, if the point being referenced is invalid, the argument is invalid.  A perfect example of this is seen in the fraud The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.  This document is easily found in thousands of books and on countless websites, and is referenced in hundreds of thousands more.  It claims that a vast conspiracy of wealthy Jews is attempting to take over the world.  Its lies were commonly used by Adolf Hitler and other anti-Semites.  But the document has been proven an invalid forgery numerous times.  The facts are wrong, no matter how many people refer to them.  This is also seen in the controversy over the word “Christmas.”

In its more liberal interpretation, the word “Christmas” means “Christ’s mission.”  I don’t have a problem with that word, or with anyone celebrating the inauguration of that event at Messiah’s birth.

The Feast of Tabernacles, Hanukkah, and…Christmas? (Part 2: The Heart of the Matter)

As I mentioned in the previous post, my journey into understanding Christmas more fully was a part of a larger quest that began in the Spring of 2008, upon my return from Israel.  While in Israel, I felt a strong prompting from the Spirit of God to shed 2,000 years of Church history and understand my Savior, Jesus, as He was in the context of the land, culture and history of 1st Century Israel.  Even now as I write this, I have a painting behind me that was made from a photo taken of me while I was in Israel.  It was the critical moment of the trip.  I sat in the Garden of Gethsemane and read Matthew 26.  At that moment I was flooded with God’s presence, and I realized that the very core of our Faith was demonstrated in that very garden: the Father loved me so much that he ignored the pleas of His only Son in order to redeem me.  Stop, for just a moment, and think about that statement.

That’s the heart of the matter, isn’t it?  Love.  The New Testament Scriptures make this point over and over again.  The Father’s love for us is what drives everything He does.  So before we even begin the process of debating whether or not the origins of Christmas are pagan, let’s agree that the Father’s love is central to the argument.  He literally moved Heaven and Earth time and time again because of that love.  Everything He does is motivated by His passionate desire to reveal Himself and His Salvation, Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew means “YHWH’s salvation”) to mankind.

The Feast of Tabernacles, Hanukkah, and…Christmas? (Part 1: Introduction)

For the majority of the world, the Christmas season is a time of joy and wonderment as decorations are put up in homes and stores and on city streets; attitudes change as strangers who would normally ignore another passerby, instead wish each other a “Merry Christmas!” and families gather together to exchange presents.  And for about a month, secular radio stations that would normally only utter the name of the Savior as a curse, amazingly play songs that sing of His birth and redemption.  The world pauses, and for a short time, the Messiah is recognized.

One of my favorite traditions around the Holidays is to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas on TV with my family.  My wife is a HUGE Snoopy fan, so this has become a much looked forward to event in our home.  The highlight of the show is when Charlie Brown has finally had enough of the commercialism and decorations and pageantry and exasperatedly cries out, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”  It is then that Linus – blue blanket and all – calmly says, “Sure, Charlie Brown. I can tell you what Christmas is all about.”  Linus asks for the lights to come down, and he recites Luke 2:8-14 – the story of the shepherds and the angels.  Then he walks back to Charlie Brown and says, “And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”  Linus’ statement pretty much sums it up for most Christians.

But for many of the most devout and passionate Messiah-followers, Christmas is considered a time of pagan worship; of celebrating evil; of recognizing idolatry.  These Believers are forced to take a stand against the evil that they wholeheartedly believe is the foundation of the Christmas season.  They talk of Christmas trees as idols; of celebrating Messiah’s birth as contrary to the Bible; of the name “Christmas” as a bloody reference to the crucifixion; of December 25th as the birthday of false gods.  This desire to reject idolatry and accept truth compels these Believers to shun everything associated with the Christmas holiday.  Families are divided and feelings are hurt.  In some cases, well-meaning people on both sides of this issue are deeply wounded.

I understand.  After returning from Israel in the Spring of 2008, I began a journey of Biblical study that compelled me to reject the lies and distortion that has so permeated the foundations of Christianity.  After I was exposed to the overwhelming amount of information on the “pagan origins of Christmas,” my family made the decision to forgo celebrating the day, and instead began to observe the Jewish festival of Hanukkah.

For you to fully grasp the intensity of this decision, you need to understand the connection my family has to Christmas and December 25th.  My wife’s name is Christy (short for Christina).  Christy was born on December 25th.  She was given the name Christina because she was born on Christmas.  Her identity is tied up in Christmas.  When we chose not to observe the day, I was overwhelmed by Christy’s willingness to surrender her traditions because of the concerns we had about the paganism in Christmas.  It was her love for her Savior, and for me, that compelled her to do this.

Early in the Christmas season the next year, Christy hit me with a bombshell: she really wanted to celebrate Christmas.  I stood my ground.  I began pummeling her with Scripture and information about paganism and arguments against Christmas.  And I broke her heart.  It was in that moment that I heard a still, small voice say:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith than can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give all I posses to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

(1 Corinthians 13:1- 3)

The Spirit spoke to my heart and said, “She loves you enough to give up Christmas.  Do you love her enough to celebrate it?”  Talk about turning my theology upside down.  This made absolutely no sense to me.  I said, “Father, Christmas is pagan and idolatry and I can’t celebrate it.  I know what Christmas is all about!”  But the Father calmly said to me, “Sure you do, David. But if you’re willing, I can tell you what Christmas is really all about.”

What you’re about to read will be considered by some to be controversial.  It will challenge both those who oppose and support celebrating Christmas.  But my prayer is that you will read it with an open heart and an open Bible, and that you will allow the Spirit of God to speak to you in the way He desires to.  I don’t expect to change minds.  This isn’t intended to influence you one way or the other.  I wrote this because there is a plethora of information on the internet that loudly and forcefully proclaims that those who celebrate Christmas have rejected the Truth.  But the information on the internet in support of Christmas is often poorly argued and, quite frankly, unconvincing.  Still, after a several years of study and prayer I’m confident in my position without needing to force that position on others.  I stand firmly on the principle that the Apostle Paul argued in his letter to the Romans which, interestingly enough, was in the context of what days to celebrate as holy or not: “…let each man be convinced in his own mind.” (Romans 14:5)

The next several posts will be divided into two different “halves.”  The first will be a recounting of the standard concerns raised by those opposed to the celebration of Christmas, with my thoughts and discoveries about those concerns.

The second grouping of posts will be a look at the amazing connections between the Hebrew Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot), the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah, and the Christian Holiday, Christmas.  And while again, I make the disclaimer that what I write isn’t intended to be any sort of definitive argument for or against Christmas, I do believe that for many who have concerns about Christmas, the amazing revelation that the Father may have supernaturally given His own endorsement of the celebration of Christmas will both shock and encourage.  My prayer is that this will be read by all with the understanding that I make this argument from the position of love for my Savior, and for all who call Him Lord.

Return to Eden: Part 5 – The Conclusion of the Harvest

The harvest is over. The work is nearly done. Israel has spent the past four months working from sunup to sundown. If they are to have enough food to provide for their needs over the next five months of autumn and winter, they had to have already gathered it. And as night falls, all throughout the land, the sound of the horn – the shofar – is heard. And everyone who honors the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, drops everything, puts on their white robe, and proceeds to the feast; to Yom Teruah – the Feast of Trumpets.

This appointment with God is unique in a couple of ways. First, very little is said in Scripture about how to observe it. There aren’t any special sacrifices or anything like that. They are simply told to blow the shofar and remember. Rather strange.

Second, it is the only one of the feasts that takes place at the start of the month. All of the other feasts begin at least ten days after the new month begins. This is important because the new month on the Biblical calendar doesn’t begin on a set date. Because the Biblical calendar is a lunar calendar, it is determined by the sighting of the new moon. The lunar cycle is 29.52 days. Israel was instructed that the new month would begin only when the first sliver of the new moon could be sighted from Jerusalem. That means that the month could be either 29 or 30 days long. It depended on when the new moon could be clearly seen. In fact, there is some evidence that by the time of Jesus, an idiomatic expression had become synonymous with the Feast of Trumpets: it had begun to be called “the feast where no man knows the day or the hour.”

The meant that every Hebrew would have to have be prepared for the feast in advance. The only warning that the feast had arrived was the blast of the trumpet. When that was heard, they were to drop everything and observe this feast.

The parallels are obvious. As we near the end of the harvest of souls, we await the trumpet call of God. All work must be completed by that moment, as the harvest will then be complete. We don’t know specifically when that trumpet is going to sound, but we know when we hear it that we will leave what we are doing and celebrate the harvest. But first, we must take stock of what has been done.

Ten days following the Feast of Trumpets, all of Israel would observe what is considered the most holy day of the year: Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement. It is the day where Israel would take stock of the harvest, to determine what had been gathered. Would it be enough? But even more importantly, it was the day where the nation as a whole, would be held accountable for its sins. The High Priest would sacrifice the lamb for the sins of the nation. If each individual had confessed their sin, the lamb’s death would atone for it. If they had not, they would be expected to atone for it themselves.

At the end of the Harvest, each one of us will be held accountable for our sins. If we have confessed our sins, the Lamb of God will atone for them. If we have not, we will be judged for them. And for those who have received atonement, our works will be judged. What have we done during the harvest? Have we gathered wood, hay and stubble that will be burned in the fire? Or are our works gold, silver, and precious stones that will be refined?

These are the shadows of the next two feasts on God’s calendar. We can see the shadows of prophecy in them. But the final feast is what we’ve been building to. It is when God restores the Kingdom. It’s when we return to Eden.

Next Post: Paradise Restored

Return to Eden: Part 4 – The Renewal of the Covenant

RETURN TO EDEN is a nine post series that will look at the entire Bible – Genesis to Revelation – as a complete story of God’s passionate plan to restore humanity to Himself.  If you missed post one “A Broken World,” CLICK HERE.

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine;and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”…On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled…Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended.  And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder… Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” (Exodus 19:5-6; 16; 18-19; 20:18-19 ESV)

When GOD gave the Torah at Sinai, He displayed untold marvels to Israel with his voice.  What happened?  GOD spoke and the Voice reverberated throughout the world…It says: And all the people perceived the thundering; wherefore R. Johanan said that GOD’s voice, as it was uttered, was distributed into seventy voices, in seventy tongues, so that all the nations should understand.  When each nation heard the Voice in their own dialect their souls departed, save Israel who heard… (Midrash Exodus Rabbah 5:9)

The descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were finally free.  After hundreds of years of bondage in Egypt, the God of their Fathers had moved mightily to bring them out.  And now, He was offering them a new life.

Part of the problem that we have due to our familiarity with the story, is that we sometimes glaze over the details.  Like the phrase “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”  This is a phrase that most Christians have heard numerous times.  Both John (Revelation 1:6) and Peter (1 Peter 2:9) mention it.  But what exactly does that phrase mean?

An entire kingdom of priests is a nation or people where each individual has direct access to God.  That’s what a priest does.  He goes before God on behalf of others.  And the Hebrews at the foot of Mount Sinai were being given a unique role in the world: to be God’s priests.  But something went terribly wrong.

They rejected God.  Yes, they agreed to honor the covenant and obey everything that God commanded them to do.  But the unique opportunity to individually go before God – to be in personal, one-on-one relationship with the Creator – was more than they could handle.  But I’m jumping ahead of myself.

The giving of the Law – the Torah – at Mount Sinai is the pivotal event in Jewish religious history. It is the moment that Israel agreed to be God’s people.  And the legends that grew up around the events of Exodus 19 and 20 are simply amazing.  Here’s the background.

According to the ancient Jewish sages, Shavuot is more than just a feast to commemorate the beginning of the wheat harvest.  It was the anniversary of God coming down in fire and thunder and smoke to the top of Mount Sinai.  It was then that He shouted down what is known as the Ten Commandments – the summary of the entire Torah – to the people.  The people agreed to obey everything that God commanded.  It was the moment that Israel ceased being a roving family, and became a nation.

And over the centuries following this seminal moment, many stories arose about what exactly happened.

As we saw before, the Hebraic mind seeks to answer the question “why”.  And one question in particular was asked: Why does it say in Exodus 20 that all of Israel saw the thunder when God came down on the mountain?  Thunder can’t be seen; it’s a sound.

By the time that Jesus and His disciples walked the Earth, consensus had arisen among the sages.  This is how the Jewish historian, Philo described it:

Then from the midst of the fire that streamed from heaven there sounded forth to their utter amazement a voice, for the flame became articulate speech in the language familiar to the audience, and so clearly and distinctly were the words formed by it that they seemed to see them rather than hear them. (De Decalogo. IX-XI)

The sages believed that the voice of God was so loud and powerful, that it manifested itself into fire that spoke to all listening in their own native language.  Stop and read that again.

Now back to the “kingdom of priests” thing.  The people feared what they saw.  In the core of their beings, they knew there was no way they could stand as priests before this God who so powerfully was manifesting before them.  They may have been freed from physical slavery, but their souls were still in bondage.  And they asked Moses to be the one to intercede for them.

Things went downhill from there.  When we put a person between us and God, we lose our sense of accountability to Him.  The priest; the rabbi; the preacher; they are the ones that have to answer to God, not us.  And that’s the way Israel reacted.  As Moses went to the top of the mountain to be their advocate, the people quickly turned from their worship of the One True God.  They wanted a god they were familiar with and that they could see and touch.  They compelled Aaron to make them the gods they had worshiped in Egypt.

And when Moses returned, his anger was justified.  He called on those from the tribe of Levi to slaughter all who refused to repent.

And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses.  And that day about three thousand men of the people fell.  Exodus 32:18 ESV

So we need to stop and think about the pictures these stories paint.  Fire.  Thunder.  Lightning.  The Voice of God.  The fire dividing into tongues that declare God’s covenant opportunity to every nation of the world.  3,000 lives being lost in judgement.

Now fast forward around 1,500 years.  These pictures make another appearance.

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.  Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.  And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. Acts 2:1-6 ESV

Astonishing.

Every picture of the giving of the Covenant to Israel at Sinai is seen at the Feast of Shavuot that took place just ten days following the ascension of Jesus back to Heaven.  As all of Israel gathered together in the Temple to commemorate the Covenant at Sinai, the pictures from their legends about what happened 1,500 years earlier manifested themselves once again: the mighty wind;  the presence of God; the tongues of fire; the languages of the nations; all of them.

Only the reaction of the people is different this time.  Rather than fearing the presence of God, they embraced it.  Rather than rejecting the personal relationship with the Creator, they accepted it.  Rather than fleeing from God’s presence, they welcomed it.

You see, things were different because their hearts were different.  Jesus had already become their eternal Passover Lamb, freeing them from the spiritual bondage that overwhelmed Israel at Mount Sinai.  Rather than receiving the Covenant on tablets of stone, the Spirit of God was able to write it upon their hearts.

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD : 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. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:31-34 ESV

The Hebrew word translated above as “new” is “chadesh.”  While it is most often translated as “new” like in this passage, that misses the nuance of the word.  It’s the same word that is used to describe the lunar cycle, and the appearance of the “new” moon.  It is more accurately translated “renewed.”  This covenant wasn’t a new covenant.  It was the same covenant that God offered His people at Mount Sinai.  But because of the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross, the people this time were free – in their hearts – to accept that covenant.  The covenant was renewed.

Oh, there’s one more picture that I forgot to point out.  Do you remember how Moses charged the Levites to slaughter those who refused to repent for worshiping the golden calf?  How many were killed on that Shavuot?  3,000.

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.  Acts 2:31 ESV

You may believe in coincidence, but I don’t.  That wasn’t an accident.  Every detail was ordained by God before the creation of the world.

So let’s regroup here.  Jesus fulfilled the first four of the seven feasts of Israel in every possible detail during His first coming: Passover; Unleavened Bread; First Fruits; and Shavuot.

The Hebrew word for “feast” used in Leviticus 23 is “moedim.”  It is more clearly translated “appointed time.”  It’s God’s appointments with us.  He planned seven times each year when we would commemorate when He has chosen to move in time on His people’s behalf.

So if Jesus fulfilled the first four of the seven “appointments” of God during His first coming, wouldn’t it be safe to assume that He will fulfill the remaining three during His second coming?

Next Post: The Conclusion of the Harvest

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