Much has been made lately about the upcoming end of the Mayan “Long Count” calendar, which is purported to signal the end of the world or of civilization as we know it – depending on who is prognosticating. There are other calendars out there, however. Do any others have proven predictive value? Let’s see…
Among the things God is said to have made “in the beginning” are lights that divide day and night. These lights are also apparently given to divide years and seasons, too. (Gen. 1:14-18). The Jewish calendar is an ancient calendar which, like the Mayan calendar, coordinates the cycles of the sun and moon. By contrast, our modern Roman Gregorian calendar lines up with the solar cycle, but pretty much ignores the lunar cycle.
What do these events have in common?
- Jesus discussing the law with priests and rabbis at age 12
Jesus’ “I am the light of the world” sermon. (Jn. 8:12) Immediately after the FOT light festival.
Jesus’ “All who are thirsty, come to me” sermon (Jn. 7:37) After the FOT water drawing ceremony.
The tongues of fire on Jesus’ disciples.
Each of these took place during or around an Old Testament Festival.
I find it fascinating that Jesus’ death occurred on Passover day, at the time of the sacrifice. Equally fascinating is that His resurrection appearance coincides with the offering of the “wave sheaf” that was made on the Sunday during the week of Passover. Passover week is called the Feast of Unleavened Bread in the Old Testament (Lev. 23:4-8), and that wave sheaf offering is described in Lev. 23:9-13. Pentecost, the day the disciples received the Holy Spirit in a powerful display of tongues of fire and speech, is sometimes called the Feast of Weeks and is described in Lev. 23:15-21.
Even Jesus’ first sermon, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me…” (Luke 4:14-18) though directly based on Is. 61:1-2, is connected to the theme of the Jubilee year, which was announced formally during Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (Lev. 25:8-10). The “acceptable year of the Lord” is rooted in the Day of Atonement of the Jubilee year?
If three of the most important events of Jesus’ earthly ministry took place during the three spring festivals God had ordained for ancient Israel, is it legitimate to wonder about the three autumn festivals? Leviticus 23:23-44 finishes up the list of festivals with a brief description of each.
The next festival is elsewhere referred to as “a memorial of blowing of trumpets,” (Num. 29:1-6) also known as the Feast of Trumpets Rosh Hashanah. Not much is said about this feast, but Numbers 10 describes different uses for trumpets in the life and worship of Israel.
Their uses were many-fold. The basic use was to assemble people. Depending on the pattern of notes played, the gathering call was for elders, the whole congregation, or the army. You can even see the rang of uses for trumpet calls symbolically in the Book of Revelation. The Last Trump calls the faithful, dead and alive, to assemble with Jesus in the clouds. The seven trumpets announce various gatherings of people for judgment or gatherings of plague-bearing angels to deliver judgment. The destruction of Babylon the Great in a great earthquake at the sound of the last trumpet reminds the reader of a similar trumpet-sound that brought down the walls of Jericho.
I hope we can now see how Christians might associate the Feast of Trumpets with the return of Jesus Christ to set up His millennial reign.
The Day of Atonement, now known as Yom Kippur is perhaps best known to Christians for its description in the Book of Hebrews. Based on the sacrifice described in Leviticus 16, Jesus is presented as both High Priest and the Atonement Offering for all the people of the world. What makes this different from the Passover lamb imagery is that this sacrifice atones for the entire community rather than protecting a single family dwelling. This is one offering made at one place to cover the sins of the entire nation, literally even cleaning up the land.
But how is it appropriated by the community of the redeemed? When is the end of sin really the end of sin? All we have to do is look at our news to see that sin is still in the picture.
The death of the sacrificial animal is a representation of an act of ultimate judgment. Sooner or later the judgment proper must occur. In this sense, the Day of Atonement likely looks forward to the universal judgment day described in Revelation 20:7-15. After this judgment, all is made right in the world. Peace and universal harmony ensue. Everyone left is at-one with God and at-one with everyone else.
According to Kevin Howard and Marvin Rosenthal in their book, The Feasts Of the Lord, there is a Jewish tradition that three books are opened in heaven at the Feast of Trumpets. They remain open until they are closed on the Day of Atonement. They are books of life for the righteous and unrighteous and a book of the dead for the unrighteous. The Day of Atonement sees a final judgment for those unrighteous in their book of life. If found wanting, their names are blotted out of the book of life and transferred to the book of the dead. That seems to be a minority version of a larger tradition of books being opened and closed during the interval between Trumpets and Atonement. The tradition appears in books that the apostles would have had access to in their time. The Apostle John seems to be seeing a tradition of the Day of Atonement in the Final Judgment of his vision in the Book of Revelation.
I like to think of the Day of Atonement as a glimpse ahead to the final completion of Jesus’ atoning work: judgment and redemption both accomplished, with the creation now free to pursue the course God designed it for.
The Feast of Tabernacles, Sukkoth, is described as a time when food and drink flow freely and are shared freely in fellowship for seven days, followed by an eighth day of celebration in assembly. Because of its position in the middle of the lunar month, the full moon lights the night sky. Each day begins with a ceremony of pouring water at the base of the Temple and each night has a torchlight festival that lights up the whole Temple Mount. Jesus’ sermons about being the light of the world and about coming to Him for the water of life come in the context of this festival and these ceremonies (John 7: 37 and 8:12.)
Although added to the Feast of Tabernacles after the time of Israel’s Babylonian exile from the Promised Land, the water drawing ceremony and light show are based on prophetic words in Isaiah and Ezekiel that refer to a time of restoration of Israel in ultimate peace and safety for the rest of time. The Book of Revelation combines these two symbols in the Jerusalem of the “new heavens and new earth” in Rev. 21 & 22. The city itself glows night and day with the light of Jesus Christ’s glory, so that there is no darkness at night. Through the city itself flows a river of “living water” that originates from Christ’s throne. This water brings life and prosperity wherever it goes. I like to think of the Feast of Tabernacles as a look ahead to glory in the fullness of the Kingdom of God.
I will grant that these associations are speculative. I think that they work well symbolically, however.
I would not try to pinpoint the date of Jesus’ return based on the date of the Feast of Trumpets, however. Harold Camping tried a variation on calculating the day based, in part, on biblical festivals. What part of “no man knows the day or hour” do we not understand?
Like the Passover, the Wave Sheaf offering, and the Feast of Weeks, we likely will not know the “day or the hour” of Jesus’ fulfilment of the Feast of Trumpets or any of the others until it happens or is almost upon us. We will be able to look back upon it, however, and be amazed at the manner and the timing of Jesus’ completion of His mission of redemption.