Category Archives: Jewish Holidays

The Feast of Tabernacles

Jesus, Himself  is the fulfillment—He is God in the flesh who tabernacled among us.

Shalom,

It is hard to believe another year has passed! The Fall Feasts are upon us, and Jewish people all around the world will soon begin to celebrate the New Year (Rosh Hashanah), the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), and the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot)—the three great Fall Festivals described in Leviticus 23:23-44.

We believe that each of the Festivals points to Jesus in one way or another, and this is wonderfully true of the Feast of Tabernacles! This Feast, in particular, carries a rich meaning for both Christians and Jewish people alike.

Yeshua the Messiah and the Feast of Tabernacles

Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew) is the fulfillment of all the Jewish Festivals, and this includes Sukkot. First of all, we understand that Jesus Himself is the fulfillment of the Festival in that He is God in the flesh who “tabernacled” among us. As John wrote,

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

The Greek word John used for “dwelt” is skene, a word that refers to the pitching of a tent. The image is easy to grasp—through the incarnation, God pitched a tent, which was His flesh, to veil His pure glory. Jesus pitched His tabernacle and dwelled among us for a short sojourn until the day He returns to reign as King. The incarnation was a foretaste of the experience of God’s glory we will enjoy when the kingdom is established on earth. In that day, the Messiah will be King over all, and both Israel and the nations will bow to Him as their sovereign Lord.

…so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10-11)

In the 7th chapter of John, we see that Jesus Himself celebrated the Festival and, in fact, He used the celebration to make one of the most profound announcements regarding who He is. Specifically, it was on the seventh day of the Feast, called Hoshana Rabbah. This day is also known in Judaism as the last Day of Judgment. It was customary at that time for the Jewish people to send a choir of Levites and a priestly orchestra to the pool of Siloam to gather water in giant urns, which were then brought back to the altar.

They would march around the altar crying out Hosheanah—“Lord save us…Lord save us,” many times over. They would then pour the water from the urns at the base of the altar. This ceremony symbolized the future hope of the Jewish people—looking forward to the day when God would pour out His Spirit upon the people of Israel in fulfillment of Joel 2:28-29:

It will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind: And your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.

According to Jewish tradition, these events were expected to take place when the Messiah appeared on the earth. This “pouring out” was foreshadowed in the Temple by the pouring out of the water at the base of the altar. The water drawing ceremony, as it was known, was a portrait of the day when God would send His Messiah and His Spirit, and the Jewish people would become alive spiritually as they had never before.

Jesus understood the traditions associated with this great day of the Feast, and He knew this was the last opportunity on the Jewish calendar to repent of sins and be cleansed. It is a common misconception that Judaism teaches that the Books of Life and Death are sealed at the conclusion of the Day of Atonement; however, Jewish tradition dating back to the first century tells us that the judgment, which determines one’s fate for the year, is actually finalized on Hoshana Rabbah—literally, the great day of salvation.

It was at the high point of this ceremony when Jesus rose up and cried out:

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ ” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39)

Clearly, He was telling the crowds He was the Messiah, and that the Spirit of God is now being poured out, and that He is the living water. Those who drink, or believe in Him, will never thirst again! The Jewish people had a chance to find forgiveness of sin at the conclusion of the High Holiday cycle, and that moment had arrived—the way of salvation was through faith in Him!

It is safe to assume that Jesus’ declaration was heard by many Jewish people that day, because Sukkot is one of the three biblical Festivals which required all Jewish males to travel to Jerusalem from around the world.

The Future Sukkot

We will also see the Feast of Tabernacles fulfilled in the Kingdom period when the nations will be commanded to come up to Jerusalem and celebrate the Feast (Zechariah 14:16-19). If not, the prophet tells us that a drought would come upon those who disobey. We may assume that this is speaking of God literally withholding water, but also refers to a spiritual drought as those who do not follow the Lord also do not enjoy His favor and goodness.

There is a final unfolding of this great Festival which is described by the Apostle John who writes,

And I heard a loud voice from the thrones saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among men and they shall be His people and God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, crying, or pain, the first things have passed away. (Revelation 21:3-4)

We believe God will fulfill the kingdom promises to the Jewish people and establish the throne of Jesus in a literal and renewed Jerusalem. But that is not the end of the story—there is more to come. Ultimately, the whole earth will become the Sukkah booth of God, and He will reign for all eternity. As Paul describes,

When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:28)

This is a description of heaven, as after Jesus reigns as King over Israel and the nations for what many believe is for a literal thousand years (Revelation 20:1-5), the events described in Revelation 21 and 1 Corinthians 15 will take place. First, He literally fulfills His promises to Israel based upon the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3), and then the eternal reign of the Triune God is established forever.

I hope this gives you a whole new perspective on why the Feast of Tabernacles is also called the “Season of Our Joy.” What can bring greater joy than remembering how God tabernacled among us, while also looking forward to the day when He will be with us forever?

The Gospel and the Middle East Conference

There is much to learn about the present and future of Israel and the nations! This is why we have planned a major conference on biblical prophecy to study these very issues in the Scriptures! It is critical for us to look at current events through the lens of the Bible.

Speaking of which, I have some good news: we still have some room for you to join us at The Gospel and the Middle East conference scheduled for October 13-14 in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex! This is going to be an exciting opportunity to hear speakers like Joel Rosenberg, Darrell Bock, Craig Blaising, and others from the Chosen People Ministries staff. We are also bringing in speakers from Israel, and we will hear testimonies from former Muslims who know the Lord and love the Jewish people.

The conference will be an incredible time of exploring what the Bible teaches about Israel and the Middle East, but it will also be a time of celebration as you hear directly from those who minister in Israel about how God is moving in the Holy Land! We are grateful for our co-sponsors, Dallas Theological Seminary and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, so please join us if you are able! The registration information is on the enclosed card, or you can register online at thegospelandthemiddleeast.com.

Thanks for your prayers and faithful financial support as we share the Good News of Jesus the Messiah with Jewish people around the globe!

Enjoy the remainder of the newsletter, especially the information about Jewish views of the end times. I pray you have a blessed High Holiday season. Please remember to pray for Your Mission to the Jewish People and for the many outreaches we are having at this time all around the globe.

In Him,

Mitch

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What holiday do Jews and Christians have in common?

Introduction

The Festivals of Israel

Commonly known to Christians as Pentecost, Shavuot is one of four spring festivals and one of three “Aliyah” festivals found in the Hebrew Scriptures, when Jewish men were commanded to go up to Jerusalem and worship at the Temple. The festivals of Israel were designed by God to focus the hearts and minds of the Jewish people on the redemptive message of God’s person and plan.

The seven great festivals outlined in Leviticus chapter 23 all point to the coming of the Messiah. Jesus had the Festivals, along with other passages of Scripture, in mind when he told the two disciples on the road to Emmaus,

And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. (Luke 24:25-27)

The four Spring Festivals – Passover, the Festival of Unleavened Bread, First Fruits and Shavuot – were fulfilled in the first coming of Jesus, and the three Fall Festivals, Yom Kippur, Rosh HaShanah and Sukkot will be fulfilled in His second coming.

The First Three Spring Festivals

Passover is a prophetic portrait of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The celebration of unleavened bread reminds us of the sinless nature of the Savior. First Fruits, which took place on the Sunday after the Sabbath of Passover speaks of the Messiah who would rise as the first fruit from among the dead.

The Fourth Spring Festival

The Biblical Names

Shavuot – “Weeks” – 7 weeks after Passover

The fourth and final spring festival is called Shavuot, which means “weeks” in Hebrew. Beginning with Passover, Israel is commanded to count seven whole weeks until the 50th day at which point Shavuot is observed.

You shall also count for yourselves from the day after the sabbath, from the day when you brought in the sheaf of the wave offering; there shall be seven complete sabbaths. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh sabbath; then you shall present a new grain offering to the Lord. You shall bring in from your dwelling places two loaves of bread for a wave offering, made of two-tenths of an [c]ephah; they shall be of a fine flour, baked with leaven as first fruits to the Lord. Along with the bread you shall present seven one year old male lambs without defect, and a bull of the herd and two rams; they are to be a burnt offering to the Lord, with their grain offering and their drink offerings, an offering by fire of a soothing aroma to the Lord.  You shall also offer one male goat for a sin offering and two male lambs one year old for a sacrifice of peace offerings. The priest shall then wave them with the bread of the first fruits for a wave offering with two lambs before the Lord; they are to be holy to the Lord for the priest. On this same day you shall make a proclamation as well; you are to have a holy convocation. You shall do no laborious work. It is to be a perpetual statute in all your dwelling places throughout your generations. (Leviticus 23:15-21) 

Pentecost – “Fifty” – 50th day after Passover

In Christian tradition the festival is called Pentecost – the Greek term which means “50”, as this fourth spring festival is observed on the 50th day after Passover.

The Traditional Jewish Names

Chag HaKatzir, which means “The Harvest Holiday.”

Chag HaBikurim, meaning “The Holiday of First Fruits.” This name comes from the practice of bringing fruits to the Temple on Shavuot.

Chag ha Azereth  – Jewish tradition designates it as “Chag ha Azereth” or simply “Azereth” (the “feast of the conclusion” or simply “conclusion”).

The Biblical Commands

  1. Count 50 days. Shavuot always falls 50 days after the second night of Passover. The 49 days in between are known as the Counting of the Omer. The counting for the 50 days was to begin on that “day after the Sabbath” (Leviticus 23:15), the day when the First Fruit/sheaf was waved.
  1. Offer two leavened loaves of bread concluding the grain harvest (Leviticus 23:17), which was the Tithe (Leviticus 27:30).
  2. The two loaves were the symbolic results of the one sheaf waved before the Lord on the Day of First Fruits mentioned in Leviticus 23:11.
  3. There were other offerings to be offered that day.
  4. Shavuot is also one of the three pilgrimage feasts which required all Jewish men to appear before the Lord at the Temple in Jerusalem.

Jewish Traditions

There are many Jewish traditions associated with Shavuot, such as reading the Book of Ruth, spending the entire night studying Torah until dawn, chanting the Ten Commandments, decorating synagogues and homes with aromatic spices, and partaking of a dairy meal and dessert.

The Book of Ruth is traditionally read during Shavuot because the biblical account takes place during the summer harvest. The book of Ruth celebrates God restoring honor and dignity to Naomi and her Moabite daughter-in-law, Ruth. Ruth is a gentile who identifies with the Jewish people by committing herself to Naomi and Naomi’s people, the Jewish people. King David, Ruth’s great-grandson, was born and died on this festival.

Many religious Jews commemorate Shavuot by spending the entire night studying Torah at their synagogue or home. They also study other biblical books and portions of the Talmud. This all-night gathering is known as Tikun Leyl Shavuot and at dawn participants stop studying and recite Shacharit, the customary morning prayer.

The Foods of Shavuot

What Jewish holiday would be complete without a signature cuisine? Shavuot is no different! According to long-standing tradition with a blurry origin, dairy foods such as cheese, cheesecake and milk products are eaten on Shavuot. A popular Shavuot delicacy is cheese blintzes. Some believe the tradition is related to The Song of Songs and based upon the passage that references milk and honey in chapter 4, verse 11.

Your lips, my bride, drip honey; Honey and milk are under your tongue, and the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon.

Many believe that this line is comparing the Bible to the sweetness of milk and honey. In some European cities children are introduced to Bible study on Shavuot and are given honey cakes with passages from the Bible, primarily passages from the first five books of Moses (the Torah), written on them.

Zman Matan Torah –– One of the Hebrew titles for the holiday in Jewish tradition is Zman Matan Torah, “the season of the giving of the Law,” as the rabbis believed that the Law – the Torah, was given on Shavuot.  A special holiday bread with a ladder design embedded into the loaf is eaten – a reminder of the Jewish tradition that Moses climbed a ladder to heaven to receive the Law.

The Messianic Fulfillment of the Festival

Now, if Passover is fulfilled in the death of the Lamb of God, Unleavened Bread in His sinless character, and First Fruits in His resurrection, then we must ask ourselves – how is Shavuot (Pentecost) fulfilled by the first coming of Jesus?

It is no coincidence that God selected this Jewish festival as the day when He would send His Holy Spirit.

The Promise of the Spirit

The 120 Disciples (Acts 1:15) were in one place, in one mind, praying and focusing on God’s work. They were waiting in obedience to the command of Jesus (Acts 1:4-5) and also in obedience to the Laws of Shavuot regarding “no work” (Leviticus 23:21).  Many were pilgrims who had left their homes in other places to be part of this festival. God would bless their obedience now in a powerful way.

Jesus opened the eyes of the two disciples traveling on the road to Emmaus and explained to them what was in the Old Testament scriptures about Himself and then pointed them towards the coming of the Holy Spirit, which He described as the “promise of the Father.”  This implies that the coming of the Holy Spirit was the subject of Old Testament prophecy. This is detailed further when the Holy Spirit falls and Peter explains the event in light of Joel chapter 2:28-32.

Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”  (Luke 24:45-49)

And further, before His ascension to the right hand of the Father He says to His disciples,

Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized [f]with the Holy Spirit [g]not many days from now.” (Acts 1:4-5)

Signs and Wonders

After some days of patient waiting, the presence and power of the Holy Spirit fell upon the disciples on the 50th day after Passover.  It was a new revelation given on a new Shavuot/Pentecost!  The initial giving of the Torah by Moses at Mount Sinai had come with signs and wonders in the heavens as seen in Exodus 19.

So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder. (Exodus 19:16-19)

There were signs and wonders in the Upper Room marking this new Pentecost as well.  It was the birthday of a new revelation and the fulfillment of God’s promises to pour out His Spirit in the last days!

The Tradition of All Israel Being Present at Sinai

According to Jewish tradition, our Sages taught that every Jew who would ever live was at Mount Sinai, pledging their obedience to the Law. The rabbis believed in the pre-existence of the soul and that every Jew who would ever live was there at Mount Sinai, with or without a body! The rationale for this is that every Jewish person at that moment agreed to keep the Torah.  The verse used to teach this is in Exodus 24:7.

Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!”

The Jewish tradition that every Jew present at Mount Sinai that day actually heard the giving of the Law in their own native tongue makes sense, as in order to obey the Jewish people needed to understand what they heard.  Now, this is just a tradition and we do not believe this actually took place. But, the Jewish tradition is ancient and could very well have been known by Jesus and His disciples.

This new Pentecost took place 50 days after Jesus, the Lamb of God, died for our sins. There were signs and wonders, just like at Mount Sinai and those who heard the disciples preaching understood this new revelation in their own native tongue. The new had come in a similar manner as the old, and therefore had greater authority for the disciples if indeed they knew the tradition.

How gracious of God to use our culture and human understanding to communicate His truth to us! He communicates with us in ways we can understand:  God could make His point otherwise, but He proves Himself in ways that humans can comprehend since our ability to fully grasp spiritual truth is so limited.

Perhaps the best example of this is the Son of God Himself, who took on flesh in order to communicate with you and me…to show us His love and to help us better understand the Father through His role model and example.

We too need to internalize and embody the Good News in ways our families, friends, and neighbors can understand – that is through love, helping in practical ways, and doing whatever it takes to help those we pray for understand that God is not far away, He is close and He loves them.

Lessons from the Feast of Shavuot

Jews and Gentiles Together:  Live in Unity

There were Jewish people from almost every region in the Diaspora who were now part of this first harvest on the Day of Pentecost. They seemed to decide as a group that they did not want to return home immediately after the festival, but rather to spend time with one another. Note Luke’s description in Acts chapter 2,

And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:44-47)

This first band of Messianic brothers were all Jews as there were no known Gentile believers at this point. In fact, the Lord would teach these early Jewish believers what it meant to live in unity and work through their differences so that they were prepared for the harvest of non-Jews that would come a short time later, beginning with Cornelius in Acts chapter 10.

The Holy Spirit draws our attention and focus to Jesus and it is when we focus on the Messiah and Lord that we find unity.  The Spirit of God seals us, baptizes us and connects us to Jesus and one another in a way that is supernatural and miraculous and without parallel in this world of divisions and conflict.  We are not perfect and sometimes we do not work at unity, but it is clear from the text that the impact of the First Day of Shavuot in the New Covenant calendar was a season of amazing unity.  This is the work of the Holy Spirit.

Paul described our unity in greater depth in writing to the believers in Ephesus,

But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.  (Ephesians 2:13-16)

The Lord wants us to become His by the power of the Holy Spirit and to work together in unity as so much more can be done together than apart as we proclaim the Good News of Jesus to a broken and needy world.

Preach with Power

We believe in the deity of the Holy Spirit and that He existed in perfect fellowship with the Son and the Father in the Old Covenant and for all eternity. However, the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the New Covenant is quite different than in the Old Covenant.  The Holy Spirit did not change, but His role certainly did.  His role in the world today is well described by Jesus in the Gospel of John, where we read,

But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment;  concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. (John 16:7-11)

The term translated Helper, “parakletos” literally means “one who is called alongside”…to help, strengthen and to partner with each child of God in their life and ministry. The work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and lives is all-important, as first He regenerates us – we become born again…born from above – then He indwells us, fills us, and empowers us to preach.

We see the power of the Holy Spirit unleashed in the early sermons of the Book of Acts, especially through Peter’s preaching,

Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  (Acts 2:37-42)

But, there is more!

The Holy Spirit not only empowers the preacher, but also convicts the hearer

The Holy Spirit convicts those who hear the preaching to repent of their sin and be saved.  Convincing others that Jesus is the Messiah and by believing in Him we receive the gift of everlasting life is God’s job – through His Holy Spirit. He will convict and draw seekers to Himself as this work is His work and not ours.

The Global Harvest

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

The festival of Shevuot/Pentecost reminds us of God’s plan to bring the Good News of salvation through the Messiah to the world.  This was His plan all along!  When God told Abram that He would bless the world through His descendants, it was clear that God’s choosing of the Jewish people was not for the sake of the Jewish people alone but for the entire world.  He said to Abram,

“And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
(Genesis 12:3)

The blessing He promised through the Jewish people is the Gospel – the Good News about the Messiah Jesus who died and rose for our sins.  Perhaps this is why the Day of Pentecost may be viewed as the birth of the church – the mysterious New Covenant community made up of Jews and Gentiles. As Paul writes,

To be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (Ephesians 3:6)

This mystery Paul is describing is the joining together of Jews and Gentiles in God’s family – set apart through the sacrifice of the Messiah Jesus and united together by His Holy Spirit.

The two loaves, made with leaven, remind us that Jews and Gentiles, sinners redeemed by God’s grace in Jesus may be made acceptable to God.  As the two loaves, we are also representative of the “rest of the harvest.” And it is now our joy to work in the harvest fields of the Lord until He returns!

Jews and Gentiles have been brought together through the miracle of Pentecost and share a common Lord, common life, and common calling to reach the world for Jesus in the power of His Spirit.

And together, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we have a common mission – to bring the Good News of Jesus the Messiah to the Jew first, and also to the Gentiles! (Romans 1:16).

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Respect Cuts Both Ways: Christians Can Celebrate Passover Too

This article was also published by Christianity Today on April 10, 2017.


On April 6, 2017, Christianity Today (CT) published an article entitled, “Jesus Didn’t Eat a Seder Meal: Why Christians Shouldn’t Either” by rabbis Yehiel E. Poupko and David Sandmel. The article argues that Christians should refrain from participating in Christian Seders as a matter of historical and ecumenical respect. We disagree on both points.

There is great interest today by Christians to learn more and participate in Seders to help them better understand the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. In particular, knowing more about the Seder helps Christians explore the Jewish background of the Last Supper celebrated by Jesus, whom we know was a first-century Jewish teacher, and his disciples, who were also Jewish. Both Jesus and his disciples would have grown up observing the Passover in whatever fashion Jewish people living at the time observed the feast.

We agree with the rabbis regarding the importance of caution in the way the sacred traditions of the Jewish faith are handled.

We also agree that Jesus did not celebrate the Passover the way Jewish people commonly observe the festival in the 21st century. However, the Last Supper accounts in the Gospels record a number of themes and practices held in common with the Passover Seder. Perhaps the Last Supper should be viewed as a primitive Seder, which was used by Yeshua as the backdrop for his claim to be the fulfillment of the types and prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures for a greater Lamb, a greater redemption from bondage (to sin), and a new perspective on salvation through His shed blood.

Many Christians and especially Messianic Jews (Jewish believers in Jesus) exercise caution in the way the Messiah is linked to the Passover Seder. In the introduction to a new book entitled Messiah in the Passover, which we edited, Christian readers in particular are encouraged to both study and celebrate the Passover as a way to deepen their appreciation for the Jewishness of the Savior. To describe the book’s approach Dr. Glaser writes,

In general, we have taken a very cautious approach and will try and understand the Jewish backgrounds of the New Testament as best we can and not simply presume that the Mishnaic tractate Pesahim or today’s Passover Haggadah can simply be read into the Last Supper. Yet, we point out where we do find striking parallels between the religious customs observed by Jesus and His disciples at the Last Supper with later Jewish religious developments, and so many of our authors will suggest that these traditions could have been practiced during the Last Supper.[1]

These parallels include the drinking of at least two cups of wine:

And when He [Jesus] had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.” . . . And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. (Luke 22:17-18, 20)

The breaking of bread, which should be understood as matzah, unleavened bread as we know this meal, took place on Passover. Luke records, “Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was approaching” (Luke 22:1). Yeshua says,

And when He had taken some bread and 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.” (Luke 22:19)

Dr. Bock notes in his chapter,

What makes this meal so different is that Jesus not only refers to the Exodus and ties the meal to Israel’s history, but also completely recasts the meal as a vehicle for describing His coming death as a substitutionary sacrifice. The Lucan reference “for you” points to the substitutionary nature of the sacrifice. In Mark 14:24 Jesus speaks of His shed blood given “for many,” an allusion to Mark 10:45, presenting the idea that Jesus will die as a “ransom for many.” This is in fact a very likely Messianic allusion to Isaiah 53:12, where the Servant bears the sin of the many.

In the Lucan version, the bread is His body and the wine pictures His blood shed for His disciples. Whether Jesus spoke of “the many” as in Mark 14:24 or of the sacrifice being “for you” as in Luke 22:19–20, the point is crystal clear, as Jesus is about to die as an offering made on behalf of others. The allusion to establishing a covenant (Mark 14:24) or a new covenant (Luke 22:20) also assumes a sacrifice and the shedding of blood (Heb. 9:15–22) to inaugurate a covenant.

So in both versions the meal is portrayed as a commentary on Jesus’ forthcoming work, which is the ultimate act of deliverance the Passover anticipated. What started as Israel’s deliverance also had in mind ultimately blessing for the world (Gen. 12:1–3). In places within the meal and service where you would naturally expect to hear about the deliverance of Israel through the first Exodus, we see Jesus pointing His disciples to His substitutionary death for sinners—a second and even greater Exodus deliverance.[2]

Dr. Glaser’s chapter refers to Passover traditions embedded in the Gospel of John, which reflect first-century Jewish life and parallel the celebrations of today.[3] First, John sets the time of the events recorded as taking place during the time of the Passover: “Now before the Feast of the Passover” (John 13:1).

The foot washing that takes place alludes to the various washings in the context of the Passover meal (John 13:3-12). Both the significance of the ritual and the timing as taking place during the meal goes beyond the usual custom of foot washing upon entry to a Jewish home. The dipping of the morsel seems to be more ceremonial than part of a meal and could refer to one of the dipping’s of the Seder, albeit these were further developed in time to come. We are suggesting that Jesus and His disciples celebrated the Passover the same way any other first-century Jewish family may have done at the time.[4]

It is understood that the Messiah did not celebrate what was created over multiple centuries. Yet, oral traditions may have existed at the time that was eventually included in the Passover celebration.

Christians read and believe the history of Israel recorded in the Old Testament, as well as the New Testament. Jewish and non-Jewish followers of Jesus believe the Passover is a paradigm for salvation that finds its fulfillment at the Last Supper when Yeshua gave new meaning to what was observed at that time. Christians who observe the Passover almost always use an adapted version of the Haggadah that takes this Messianic fulfillment into consideration. This is what Messianic Jews and various church groups and Christian church denominations encourage.

The rabbis might very well misunderstand what transpires during a Christian or Messianic Jewish Passover Seder. As the authors of the article suggest,

. . . adopting another’s ritual shows a lack of respect. Even when pursued with the best of intentions, taking another faith’s sacred ritual and transforming it into an expression of one’s own tradition displays a misunderstanding of the complex nature of faith traditions.

The Lord’s Supper, which was probably an adapted and early version of a Passover meal, is referred to many times in the New Testament (e.g., 1 Cor. 11:23-26). Jesus made it part of our faith tradition—not as an outsider but as a Jew who claimed to be the fulfillment of the Messianic hope of the Jewish people.

It can be assumed that the great themes of redemption and salvation had already woven its way into first-century Jewish Passover observance, as nascent as it may have been at the time of Jesus. Jesus affirms this and does not dismiss the importance of the original Passover deliverance commemorated at the Feast. He simply assured the disciples that there was more to come. This was why He used the Passover celebration as a jumping-off point to declare that God’s New Covenant with the Jewish people would begin with His sacrificial death.

The rabbis would do well to view Christian observance of the Passover as fulfilled in Jesus as a sign of appreciation and a way of honoring Jewish tradition. In fact, many Christians who take the Lord’s Supper in the context of a Messianic Passover Seder find it far more meaningful as it ties two of the most profound statements of Jesus to both Jewish and salvation history.

The first century Jewish backgrounds to Communion drives so many Christians to identify with the Jewishness of their faith. This should be viewed as a step forward in Jewish Christian relations as for so many years the chasm between Christians and Jews was wide and even antagonistic. Progress has been made and in many ways there is a greater appreciation and respect among Christians today for the Jewish faith than ever before. This should be affirmed rather than criticized.

Many have noted the deep roots of Torah, from Exodus 12, in whatever Jesus celebrated that evening with His disciples. The links between the two events existed historically and remain canonized in Scripture. Paul said Jesus is our Passover lamb (1 Cor. 5:7). What Jesus did at this meal was to fulfill an Old Testament type established in the book of Exodus. Both the original Exodus and the cross deliver people and show that God keeps His promises. When believers in Jesus observe a Seder, they affirm and celebrate these links and the continuity of the Testaments.

The rabbis conclude,

The Seder is uniquely Jewish, born of the Jewish reading of the Torah, shaped by the architecture of our magisterial Perushim-Pharisees and their rabbis, and given artistry and beauty through 2,000 years of Jewish experience. Christians best honor their Jewish neighbors, to whom they wish to express the love of Christ, by recognizing that the Seder meal is the unique spiritual heritage of the Jewish people and respecting it as such.

We believe such statements undo the bridges built over the last 50 years of Jewish-Christian relations. The question of whether or not Jesus celebrated a Passover Seder as we now know it today is to some degree moot. He observed the Passover in the same way as any other first-century Jew. This event can draw Jews and Christians closer to one another rather than driving an additional wedge between our faith communities.

What is concerning to us is when Christians do not see any identification with the Jewish people and the Jewish backgrounds of their faith. But more to the point, we simply cannot rob Christians of their heritage in Jesus—especially not the events of the Last Supper, which was clearly some type of Passover celebration.

We believe respect cuts both ways.

Dr. Mitch Glaser
President, Chosen People Ministries
New York, New York

Dr. Darrell L. Bock
Executive Director of Cultural Engagement and
Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies
Dallas Theological Seminary | 
Dallas, Texas


[1] Mitch Glaser, “Introduction” in Messiah in the Passover, ed. Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser (New York: Chosen People Ministries; Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2017).

[2] Darrell L. Bock, “Passover in the Gospel of Luke,” in Bock and Glaser, Messiah in the Passover, chap. 4.

[3] See Mitch Glaser, “Passover in the Gospel of John,” in Bock and Glaser, Messiah in the Passover, chap. 5.

[4] Glaser, “Introduction.”

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Holocaust survivors in Israel are hearing about Jesus

Holocaust survivors in Israel are a very special community of Jewish people who understand the meaning of deliverance in ways that you and I will never be able to comprehend.

This group of elderly Jewish people is about 200,000 strong — and by one means or another these brave souls made their way to Israel over the last 68 years. Many of them immigrated to the Holy Land during the last two decades from various parts of the former Soviet Union.

These Holocaust survivors are now passing away at the rate of about 30,000 per year, and we cannot wait one more moment to present the Good News of eternal deliverance to these precious people.

Your Mission to the Jewish People, Chosen People Ministries, lovingly serves this community of Holocaust survivors in Israel in a variety of ways.

  1. We help them with practical concerns: food, clothing, repairing and cleaning their apartments, and much more.
  2. We spend time with them—taking them on trips so they can get out of the house, helping them celebrate the Jewish holidays, including Hanukkah, of course!
  3. Most of all we try to counter their loneliness by investing our time to sit by their side, to listen to them reminisce, and enjoy wonderful moments of conversation about the deeper matters of life.

Of course, in the midst of developing these wonderful relationships, the conversations naturally lead to discussions about God, everlasting life, and ultimate deliverance.

Incredible Stories of Deliverance

I have had many conversations over the years with Holocaust survivors about the ways in which God delivered them from certain death at the hands of the Nazis.

Some fled just moments before they were going to be taken away and sent to a concentration camp and, still today, they cannot figure out how their timing was so perfect. Others were about to be shot, and guards were distracted and somehow they ran into the woods and were saved by Gentile families who took them in and hid them from the Nazis.

As I have listened to story after story—it is so clear to me and to the survivors, that God reached down from heaven and saved them from death. Naturally, recognizing this leads to the question, “Why do you believe God saved you?”

It took several years of investment in their lives before the doors were open to having deeper spiritual conversations and before some of these precious Holocaust survivors began giving their lives to the Lord—but it is happening.

Chosen People Ministries’ staff have prayed with over a dozen Holocaust survivors to receive Jesus as their Savior in the land of Israel! It is impossible not to be moved by the stories of these Holocaust survivors!

Holocaust Survivors Are Seeking the Lord

Many of these special people are in process—raised as atheists in Eastern Europe, now in Israel, they are ready to begin seeking and talking about faith and what their future holds!

During this wonderful season of the year—all I can really think about is deliverance, redemption and the joy that comes from knowing the One whom to know is life eternal (John 17:3).

He is our joy, our hope, our comfort, our message and reason for the delight we take in celebrating this season of the year!

So let me say to you, personally: Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, and thank you so much for your prayers and support and for being a part of our Chosen People Ministries family!

Without you, we could not be used by God to touch the lives of Holocaust survivors, religious Jewish people in Brooklyn and Jerusalem, and the secular Jewish people in New York City, Los Angeles, Toronto, Chicago, and all across the globe.

On behalf of the Chosen People Ministries staff, I want to thank you for standing with us in the great work of reaching His chosen people for the Messiah throughout 2016.

We believe the best is yet to come, as Jewish people are becoming more open to the Lord and as we draw closer to that great day when the Jewish people as a nation will turn to the Messiah and embrace Him as Lord.

As the Jewish apostle writes,

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.” This is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins.

(Romans 11:25-27)

Yours in Messiah,

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Dr. Mitch Glaser
President of Chosen People Ministries

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Tabernacles Tomorrow

The People, The Land and the Future of Israel Conference – Toronto, Canada, October 2-3, 2015

Introduction

According to the Bible, the Jewish people are the chosen people but what are they chosen for exactly? What did God have in mind by making them a people set apart? The ancient prophets speak about Israel’s future repentance, redemption and eschatological rejoicing in the coming of her Messianic King in great detail. Yet, none of the Jewish Festivals are mentioned – none, that is, except for Sukkot, otherwise known as the Feast of Tabernacles. Among all the feasts of Israel, Sukkot is the only holiday that will be observed by all of the redeemed nations of the world, Jew and Gentile alike after the Second Coming of Christ (Zechariah 14:16).

The prophet Zechariah wrote about a future day when all the nations of the earth, not only the Jewish people, will be called upon to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. This command might seem mysterious, but in light of Israel’s biblical calling and mission, the place accorded to Tabernacles is actually very well suited.

The Calling and Mission of Israel

The future observance of Sukkot by the nations of the world is connected with Israel’s election and mission. The universal nature of God’s plan for the Jewish people stretches back to His covenant with Abraham. In that holy agreement, God promised,

“And I will bless those who bless thee, and one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).

Israel’s election must always be linked with her mission to the Gentiles. From faithful Abraham’s seed, God would raise up His chosen people, Israel, to be a blessing to the nations! Israel was chosen to be God’s vehicle of blessing to the world!

Moses wrote regarding the choosing of Israel:

For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples (Deuteronomy 7:6-7).

God’s choice of Israel was not based upon Abraham’s merit or the obedience of the nation. God chose Israel because He decided to love the nation.

… the Lord loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the Lord brought you out by a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery from the hand of Pharaoh King of Egypt  (Deuteronomy 7:8).

God’s electing love falls upon unworthy sinners as He is a God of grace and a God of purpose. Oftentimes His election is linked to a particualr purpose He wants to accomplish and He chooses and uses whomsoever He wills – including Israel. Rarely in Scripture do those God chooses to use deserve the privilege!

God chose the Jewish people as His means to bless all mankind. God chose to love the Jewish people, and through this nation, to express His love for the world.  Israel’s chosenness did not mean to assure indivudal Jewish people of personal salvation. Rather, God’s choice garauntees the chosen nation of ultimately fulfilling His plan as God never fails to keep His promises. So although it may seem like God limited His line of promise by choosing one nation above others, His redemptive plan was always universal in nature so that His plan of redemption would be offered to the entire world.

This is why the Apostle Paul wrote,

Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? (Romans 11:12-15)

Witnesses of the One True God

The prophet Isaiah announces that the nation of Israel would be a witness for God among the nations:

You are my witnesses, declares the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen in order that you may know and believe me and understand that I am He.  Before me there was no God formed, and there will be none after me (Isaiah 43:10).

In this passage, the prophet paints the picture of a cosmic law court, where God is the judge, and the nations of the world stand trial for their idolatry.  Israel is the star witness for the prosecution, chosen to testify on God’s behalf. Isaiah further details the testimony of the Jewish people regarding the nature and character of God, the prophet writes,

I, even I, am the Lord and there is no savior besides me (Isaiah 43:11).

Israel’s mission was to proclaim to the world that the God of Israel is the one and only true God and there is no other Savior but Him.

Missionary Priests

Israel was to be more than a witness to the nations; they were also to be intercessors for the Gentiles. They were commissioned for this holy responsibility at Mount Sinai.

God called to Moses and said,

You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I upbore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.  Now then, if you will indeed hear my voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be my own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:4-6).

Once again God expressed His concern for the world when He declared, “…all the earth is mine.” He chose Israel from among all the peoples of the earth for an eternal purpose – that they might be His vehicle to restore and reclaim a rebellious world. Israel was not chosen for their own sake, but for the sake of the nations. God describes their unique position as “a kingdom of priests.” Their role was to intercede between the sinful world and a holy God.

In the passage above, God called the people by an endearing term: “a special treasure.” Although Israel was intended to be God’s treasure and possession, we must remember that the entire world belongs to the Lord and is the subject of His redemptive concern. It is God’s intention for Israel to serve as a nation of missionary priests mediating His truth and redemption to the nations.

Israel’s Failure

Israel failed in their mission to reach the world.  Not only were they disobedient to the commandments of God, but they did not extend themselves in missionary activity. And yet, the God of all grace did not renege on His choice. He would still use the nation of Israel to bless the world and ultimately fulfill His promises to and through the Jewish people (Romans 11:11-29).

Israel did not fulfill their mission as a witness to the Gentiles and so God completed the task Himself. He sent His Son Jesus to live perfectly under the Law, to be a light to the nations and to intercede once for all on behalf of Jews and Gentiles. The faithlessness of man can never thwart the faithfulness of God. The Gentiles most assuredly would share in the salvation brought by the divine seed of Abraham. Paul wrote,

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us – for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree,” in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith  (Galatians 3:13-14).

It is tempting for some to think that Israel’s role in world redemption is completed, but quite the contrary– Israel remains chosen and still has a role to play in the future! The Apostle Paul declared:

Now if their transgression be riches for the world and their failure be riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be? (Romans 11:12)

And again he wrote, For if their rejection be the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? (Romans 11:15)

The Apostle spoke of a future day when Israel will once again don the mantle of obligation and fulfill her role as a missionary nation as Israel will again be used by God to bring the message of the Messiah to the nations; for Israel will be central to His Kingdom ministry.

Isaiah spoke of a day when Jerusalem would be restored, both physically and spiritually:

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not keep quiet, until her righteousness goes forth like brightness, and her salvation like a torch that is burning.  And the nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord will designate. You will also be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord and a royal diadem in the hand of your God (Isaiah 62:1-3).

In that day,

Israel will not be the tail, but the head of the nations (Deuteronomy 28:13).

Jerusalem will be the spiritual focal point of the world because the King of Jerusalem, the Prince of Peace, will reign in His chosen city. Isaiah wrote of that joyful occasion:

Break forth, shout joyfully together, your waste places of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared His holy arm in the sight of all the nations, that all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God (Isaiah 52:9-10).

The day is coming when a restored and renewed Israel will be a light to the nations, as the destiny of Israel is linked to the destiny of the world. Their testimony will be glorious and true because the One who is all-glorious in truth will sit upon His throne. In that day, the Jewish people will be “life from the dead” for the nations of the earth.

Universal Themes in the Feast of Tabernacles

God’s concern for the Gentiles is evident in the Talmudic writings regarding Sukkot. In Jewish sources, Israel’s role in world redemption was thought to be a major theme of the Feast of Tabernacles. The rabbis suggest that the seventy bullocks offered on the last day of the feast correspond to the seventy nations of the world and therefore, on Sukkot, the nation of Israel offered sacrifices on behalf of the Gentiles.

This is reiterated in the Midrash:

“At the festival of Tabernacles we offer up seventy bullocks (as an atonement) for the seventy nations, and we pray that rain will come down for them”  (Psalm 109:4).

Israel is viewed here as a nation of intercessors for the sins of the Gentiles.  This universal theme is also recounted in the later and more mystical literature of the Kaballah and the Zohar as well.

The traditional Bible reading on the second day of Sukkot is taken from the fourteenth chapter of the book of Zechariah. An additional portion read on Sukkot speaks about the War of Gog and Magog (Ezekiel 38:13-39:16). This seems incongruous – what thematic relationship could this Scripture portion have with the Feast of Booths? While it may not be evident to the casual reader, the common thread uniting these two passages is God’s universal concern for the redemption of the nations.

In Zechariah 14, the judgment against rebellious nations is pictured as God withholding life-giving rains from those nations disobedient and who do not come to Jerusalem to worship the Messianic King and celebrate Tabernacles.

Curiously, the judgment in Ezekiel 38 upon hostile nations is also described as rain – as judgment rains “hailstones, fire and brimstone.

The Lord declared, “I shall magnify myself, sanctify myself and make myself known in the sight of many nations; and they will know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 38:23).

Whether in blessing or in judgment, God intends to show the nations that He is the Lord.

The Meaning of the Prophecy

The prophet Zechariah spoke of the end of days, when Israel and the nations would celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. In that day, Israel will be vindicated and her enemies destroyed. At the end of this great tribulation period, the Jewish people will cry out to God; and in His great mercy, the Lord will send His Messiah, Jesus, to deliver them from annihilation.

“I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn” (Zechariah 12:9-10).

Israel will be restored, both spiritually and nationally. Her enemies will be crushed and the Messiah will reign on His throne over Israel and the nations of the earth:

“The Lord will be king over all the earth; in that day the Lord will be the only one and His name the only one” (Zechariah 14:9)

God does not want to destroy the nations, but to bring them into submission to His Throne. He will command the faithful among the Gentiles to come to Jerusalem and celebrate the Feast of Booths (Zechariah 14:16).

Why did God choose Sukkot, and not one of the other major festivals, as the test of obedience for the Gentiles? Some scholars feel that Sukkot, as the Feast of Ingathering, is the most appropriate time for God to gather the human fruit for His kingdom. Others believe that the heathen, who have been brought out of the wanderings of this life into the blessedness of God’s kingdom, celebrate the Feast of Thanksgiving out of their overflowing gratefulness to the God who redeemed them.

Most importantly, though, Zechariah describes the conversion of the nations to the one true God. In every age, God gives His people obligations. The Feast of Tabernacles must be viewed as one of the kingdom obligations of the Gentiles. It is their opportunity to worship God as well as His test point for their obedience. The prophet warned the recalcitrant and disobedient nations that there would be bitter judgment for any who would not keep the feast. The judgment, in keeping with the theme of the Feast of Ingathering, calls for God to withhold rain. If the nations were not willing to worship God in Jerusalem, He would withhold the provision of food as well as His blessings.

Yeshua the Messiah and the Feats of Tabernacles

Jesus is the fulfillment of all the Jewish festivals and this includes Sukkot. First of all we understand that Jesus Himself is the fulfillment of the Festival in that He is God in the flesh who “tabernacled” among us. As John writes,

“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

The Greek term used for “dwelt” is skene, a word which refers to pitching a tent. The image is easy to grasp – God pitched a tent which was His flesh, veiling His pure glory, through the incarnation. Jesus pitches His tabernacle and dwelled among us for a short sojourn until the day reign. In that day The Messiah King will pitch a far larger tent that would include both Israel and the nations under His sovereign leadership and Lordship.

Jesus celebrated the Festival in John 7 where one of His greatest and most profound announcements of who He is came at the time of the Feast.  It is actually the seventh day of the Feast, Hoshana Rabbah and it was the custom of the Jewish people during this period to send a band of Levites with choir and orchestra down to the pool of Siloam to gather running water in giant urns and to then bring them back to the altar.

They would march around the altar crying our Hosheanah – Lord Save us…Lord save us… many times over…they would then pour the water out from the urns at the base of the altar. This symbolizes the future hope of the Jewish people looking towards the day when Messiah would come and pour His Spirit upon the people of Israel in fulfillment of Joel 2:28-29:

“It will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind: And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions. “Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.”

These events were to take place when the Messiah appeared on earth according to Jewish tradition. This pouring out was foreshadowed in the Temple by the pouring out of the water at the base of the altar.  The water drawing ceremony as it was known was a portrait of the day when God would send His Messiah and His Spirit and the Jewish people would come alive spiritually as never before.

Jesus understood this tradition and therefore, on the seventh great day of the Feast He stood up and the following took place:

Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified (John 7:37-39).

Clearly, Jesus was telling the crowds gather from around the Jewish world for the Feast – one of the three of which it was commended for Jewish males to go up to Jerusalem…He was the Messiah, the Spirit of God is now poured out…and He is the living water and those who drink or believe in Him will never thirst again!

The Ultimate Sukkot

We would be remiss not to mention the ultimate and eternal significance of the Feast of Tabernacles, for the Apostle John wrote,

And I heard a loud voice from the thrones saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among men and they shall be His people and God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, crying, or pain, the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).

We believe God will fulfill the kingdom promises to the Jewish people and establish the throne of Jesus in a literal but renewed Jerusalem. But that is not the end of the story – there is more to come. Ultimately, the whole earth will become the Sukkah booth of God and He will reign through His Son for all eternity. This reminds us of Solomon’s prayer, where he understood so clearly God’s intention to fill His redeemed earth with His very presence. Doesn’t this give a whole new perspective to why Tabernacles is called the Season of Our Joy? What greater joy can there be than to be in the presence of God forever?


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The Jewish Year Begins in the Seventh Month

In the Torah, which consists of the first five books of the Bible, God prescribes the way He expects Israel to observe the major religious festivals and holy days. If you have had the opportunity to carefully read through these sections in the Torah, you may have noticed some curious differences between how God prescribes the holidays and how the Jewish community celebrates the festivals today. This does not mean the rabbis do not take the Torah seriously, because the opposite is true; they have been meticulous in helping the Jewish people remain faithful to the Torah.

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One notable example occurs with the celebration of Rosh Hashanah, which literally means “head of the year.” Rosh Hashanah falls on the first day of the seventh month, Tishrei, in the Jewish calendar. The term Tishrei reflects Israel’s exile in Babylon and originates from an Akkadian word meaning “beginning.” When God delivered Israel from Egypt, during Passover, He told the nation to establish the month of Nisan as the first month of the year (Ex. 12:2).

Nonetheless, the rabbis decided to make Rosh Hashanah the “head” of the civil year. There are some debates as to why the rabbis did this. One explanation is they wanted to mark the anniversary of the creation of the world, adopting the tradition from the Babylonians. A second theory posits that the significance of the seventh month is that it is the seventh month, hence “the Sabbath” of the year. In addition, Rosh Hashanah’s position prior to Yom Kippur leads the people to contemplate forgiveness and new beginnings. This imagery reinforces why the Jewish community considers Rosh Hashanah as the start of the year.

A Flexible Tradition and An Unswerving Faith

There are two contributing factors to the change in the Jewish festivals. First, traditions naturally change over time to reflect the additional meanings and significance attached to historical events. By the first century, when Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem, Israel’s holidays already looked different from the rather methodical presentation we find in the Torah. Second, without a Temple, a change was necessary. The celebration of Israel’s festivals revolved around the temple, because observation of the holidays required the offering of sacrifices. When the Temple was destroyed, the rabbis sought to adapt the holidays to the changing environment. Following their exile to Babylon and subsequent provincial status under Roman rule, the Jewish community celebrated the holidays not only as reminders of past events, but also as promises of God’s future deliverance through the Messiah.

Rosh Hashanah and the High Holy Days

As you read the Torah, you will discover it does not use the term Rosh Hashanah to refer to the new year. The list of the major feasts in Leviticus 23 describes the day as zikron teruah, “a memorial of the blowing of trumpets” (v. 24). Elsewhere, it uses the designation yom teruah, “day of the blowing of trumpets” (Num. 29:1). Later, Jewish tradition refers to it in various ways, as the day of “remembrance,” “judgment,” and the “forgiveness” of sins. While the Torah does not clarify why the nation sounds the shofar, Jewish tradition views it as a means of calling the nation to repentance.

Rosh Hashanah precedes Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, by ten days (Lev. 16). The sounding of the shofar signifies the beginning of the “Days of Awe,” yamim noraim, which are ten days of repentance and introspection as the nation prepares for Yom Kippur.

Blowing the shofar remains one of the most anticipated features of the holiday. Its piercing blast awakens the nation from slumber, reminds the people of God’s reign over Israel and beckons them toward repentance (Micah 7:18-20).  The purpose of Rosh Hashanah, then, is understood through its three main themes:  God’s kingship (malchiyot), remembrances (zichronot), and the sounding of the shofar (shofarot). The final theme invites the community to look toward the future, to the time of the ultimate redemption with the Messiah—upon hearing the blast, hope for the arrival of the Messiah arises (Zech. 9:14).

Rosh Hashanah in Jewish Tradition

According to tradition, “All things are judged on Rosh HaShanah, and their fate is sealed on Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement).”

Jewish tradition also teaches that repentance before the God of the universe is central to Jewish faith. This is why rabbis added various other names to the holiday:  Yom HaZikaron (Day of Remembrance), Yom HaDin (Day of Judgment), and Yom HaKeseh (Day of Concealment for Sins).

Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (1138-1204 AD) taught that the shofar blasts of Rosh Hashanah call out to human souls, “Awake, you sleepers, from your sleep! Arise, you slumberers, from your slumber! Repent with contrition! Remember your Creator!” (Hil. Teshuvah 3:4). The importance of  “remembering your Creator” is tied to another tradition that states Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of the world, or more specifically, the creation of man on the sixth day of creation.

Finally, the tradition of Tashlich, (“you will cast”) is one of the most significant observances of Rosh Hashanah. During Tashlich, Jewish communities gather along bodies of running water to say prayers and toss bits of bread into the flowing water. This symbolizes the casting of one’s sins into the depths of the sea, as the prophet Micah states, “He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19).

Sharing the Gospel on Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah is a Jewish holiday that even non-religious Jewish people recognize. For that reason, it provides a great opportunity for believers to share the Gospel. Rosh Hashanah is a perfect opportunity to share the Jewish Messiah with your Jewish friends and neighbors!

From the early chapters of Genesis through the rest of Scriptures, God has always been a God of relationships—with mankind in general and with the Jewish people in particular. God expressed His deep desire for relationship by teaching Israel how to relate to Him through many ways, including the Fall Feasts, as yearly reminders to bring Jewish people back to focusing on Him. The series of covenants culminates in the New Covenant made with Israel (Jer. 31:31-34) and are fulfilled in Messiah.

Rosh Hashanah teaches Jewish people to be concerned for their eternal destiny. This emphasis, developed from the Talmud, states, “three books are opened in heaven on Rosh Hashanah, one for the thoroughly wicked, one for the thoroughly righteous, and one for the intermediate. The thoroughly righteous are inscribed in the Book of Life, the thoroughly wicked in the Book of Death, while the fate of the intermediate is suspended until the Day of Atonement” (Rosh HaShanah 16b).

You can point out to your Jewish friend that the Apostle John, one of the early Jewish followers of Jesus, reflects the Jewish language of God’s judgment when he repeatedly mentions the “Book of Life” throughout the Book of Revelation. John writes,

I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books…. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:12, 15).

As believers in Yeshua (Jesus), you can show your Jewish friend that the death and resurrection of the Messiah provided atonement for us. No amount of prayer or good deeds will make up for the sin that separates an individual from God. The Bible makes it clear that we cannot merit our way to the Lord. This is clearly stated in the book of Hebrews where the writer tells us that,

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they (Heb. 1:1-4).

Rosh Hashanah represents a juncture for the Jewish community. It is both a time to remember the covenant God has made with Israel in the past and a time for hope, anticipating God’s renewal of all things.

Ultimately it points us toward the Alpha and Omega of all things, Jesus the Messiah.

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A Roadmap to Redemption: The Jewish High Holidays

Dear friend,

Shalom in His grace.  This is a very special season of the year!

In fact, every Jewish community in the world is focused right now on observing what are usually called the High Holidays. These holidays are three:  the New Year (Rosh Hashanah), the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), and the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot).

These holidays, or more properly holy days, are quite similar. First of all, they are described in Leviticus 23. The Day of Atonement has another entire chapter devoted to it in Leviticus 16.

All three holidays are observed in the seventh month of the Jewish calendar. This is the month called Tishrei in Hebrew and usually falls in September or October as the Hebrew/biblical lunar calendar is quite different from our Western version.

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The Feasts of Israel

These three fall festivals are linked to the list of those found in Leviticus 23. Each holy day is similar to the others, yet also has an element or two pointing to some unique aspect of God’s plan and purpose for the Jewish people and all of mankind. Most of the festivals memorialize a great historical event. They also have a prophetic function. In fact, I like to say that they seem to look back in order to look forward.

Passover is a clear example of this principle, as the holiday looks back to the deliverance of the Jewish people from Egypt and forward to a day of greater salvation!

The prophetic character of these holidays is important. The holy days were given to the Jewish people as signposts or prophetic portraits of things to come. I also like to view the holy days as settings created for the diamond or the beautiful jewel that was to be placed at a future day.

It will not surprise you to know that I believe Jesus is the diamond—the beautiful, sparkling Jewel. When the beauty of His person is viewed in light of the Jewish holidays, His splendor and brightness shine even brighter.

The Spring Festivals

The first four holidays on the biblical calendar begin with Passover (Leviticus 23:5). The holy day of Passover is celebrated in the spring and is followed by seven days of the Festival of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:6-8). Then, at the conclusion of Passover and Unleavened Bread, we celebrate the Festival of First Fruits (Leviticus 23:9-15). Afterwards, Moses told the Jewish people to count 49 days and then observe the Feast of Weeks; Shavuot in Hebrew, and in Greek, Pentecost (Leviticus 23:15-21).

Prophetically, this order of the festivals makes complete sense, especially in light of the coming of Jesus the Messiah. Jesus died on Passover—as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He was sinless—unleavened—and therefore qualified by His perfect obedience to be our atonement for sin. He rose on Sunday—the day after the Sabbath attached to Passover and Unleavened Bread, which was First Fruits. Jesus is the first fruit from among the dead as described by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:2-23.

Finally, God poured out His Holy Spirit upon the Jewish disciples gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks, as recorded in Acts 2—which was no coincidence! As the birthday of the church, we celebrate Pentecost—the Spirit-fused unity between Jews, Gentiles and the Messiah.

The Fall Feasts

If the first coming of Jesus is linked to the four spring festivals, then we can only deduce that the fall festivals have great prophetic significance as well.

The Jewish New Year

(Leviticus 23:23-25). The Jewish New Year is entitled “a reminder by blowing of trumpets” in the book of Leviticus. Jewish tradition understands this to be the shofar or the ram’s horn. You will be disappointed if you try to find that the New Year is in some way related to this first festival in the month of Tishrei. This first holy day of the seventh month came to be interpreted as the New Year later in rabbinic tradition and is usually viewed as the beginning of the Jewish “civil year.” Passover, which begins in the first Hebrew month, Nisan, is the start of the Jewish “religious” year.

Biblically, Rosh Hashanah is the Feast of Trumpets. The trumpet was sounded to alert the Jewish people to what was coming, which could be some type of danger or major announcement.

The Day of Atonement

(Leviticus 23:26-32; 16). In this instance, the event emphasized by the trumpet would come ten days later—The Day of Atonement—understood as the holiest day on the biblical calendar!

This was the day when the High Priest would slip behind the curtain separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies and offer the blood of the sacrifice on the mercy seat to make atonement for sins previously not atoned for by the Jewish people.

The Feast of Tabernacles

(Leviticus 23:34-36, 39-44). Seven days later, the Israelites would build booths reflecting the frailty of human life in the wilderness. They would also bind together various branches of trees and a citrus fruit and then wave these elements before the Lord, thanking Him for the final harvest of the year and praying for His provision for the following year. These days, Jewish people shake the bound branches, called the lulav and a fruit similar to a very large lemon called the ethrog as part of the contemporary festival ceremony.

The Prophetic Fulfillment of the Feasts

Like the spring feasts, those designated for the fall also find their fulfillment in Jesus the Messiah and the events associated with His second coming. The blowing of the trumpet is referred to by the Apostle Paul in a number of New Testament passages which indicate that the trumpet blast will be heard immediately before the second coming of Jesus the Messiah (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

The Day of Atonement was fulfilled through the death of Jesus and His first coming. However, there will be another great day of atonement for the nation of Israel. It is described in Zechariah 12:10, where the prophet tells us that the Jewish people “will look to Me whom they have pierced.” This describes the moment when the remnant of the Jewish people in the last days will turn to Jesus as Messiah.

According to Zechariah, this great prophetic event is linked to the second coming. The chronology seems to indicate that this initial turning of the Jewish people to Jesus brings about the return of the Lord. The prophet also predicts that Jesus will come and conquer the enemies of God and of the Jewish people in chapters 12-14.

Chapter 14 further prophesies that the nations of the world will come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. The prophet envisions the nations of the world submitting themselves to the Lord and enjoying the grace and mercy found within God’s future tabernacle, which encompasses our curse-lifted planet. This is the fulfillment of Genesis 12:3 as God told Abram that the world would be blessed through the Jewish people as further described by Paul in Romans 11:12, 15, 25ff.

Jesus’ coming is somehow linked to the sound of the blowing of the trumpet, and soon thereafter the redeemed will experience the fullness of His blessings provided through His sacrifice on Calvary. His kingdom will be established in Jerusalem for the blessing of all.

The Fall Festivals of Israel remind the faithful that there is more to come!

Please remember to pray for Your Mission to the Jewish People as we reach out to God’s chosen people during this season of the year. We will have more Jewish seekers attending our Bible studies, services and congregations during the next few months—perhaps more than any other time of year, except for Passover. So please pray that Jewish people will see the beauty of Jesus in the setting of these prophetic festivals.

I thank you for your love, prayers and financial support. We could not do this great work of reaching out to God’s chosen people without your help.

Happy High Holidays through Jesus the Messiah!

Your brother,

Mitch

1509NLW_Rosh-Hashana-41687441P.S. Please keep praying—especially for the follow up to Shalom Brooklyn, our short-term outreach recently held in the Jewish heartland of North America and the impact of our online outreach campaigns (Isaiah 53 and I Found Shalom), especially as we enter this very special holiday season.

Wondering about the apples and honey? Visit chosenpeople.com/highholidays for more information on the Fall Festivals!

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