Jesus and the Jewish holidays

Although most Jews today are blind to the presence of Jesus in all of the Scriptural holidays of the Old Testament except Purim, it is exciting for believers to see how our Father pointed the way to the Messiah from the beginning.

The Scriptural holidays are Shabbat, Pesach/Passover, First Fruits, Shavuot, Rosh Hasannah, Yom Kippur, Succoth, Simcha Torah, and Purim. We have also included Chanukah. Chanukah comes from the books of First and Second Macabees, two of the eleven books that were added to the original Hebrew Scriptures in the first Greek translation, called the Septuagint.

Many of these holidays have counterparts in the New Testament.  Pesach became the celebration of the Last Supper,  First Fruits became Easter, and Shavuot became Pentacost.  Some of the Holidays are known by their English translations or interpretations: Shabbat/Sabbath, Rosh HaShannah/Feast of Trumpets, Yom Kippor/Day of Atonement, Succoth/Festival of Booths, and Chanukah/Feast of Dedication.

We have complete lesson plans and Bible studies on each of these holidays.  For more information contact Nancy at His Truth Ministries.

Shabbat/Sabbath.

The first holiday mentioned in the Bible is the Sabbath. God created the universe and everything in it in six days and rested on the seventh, declaring it to be holy. (Gen. 2:3) When the Hebrews wandered in the desert, they were to collect manna on six days. On the sixth day they were to collect enough for the seventh day. Each evening the manna that not had been consumed rotted by morning, except the manna collected on the sixth day. It was good on the seventh. Ex. 16:14-31) When He gave Moses the Law, God made remembering and observing the Sabbath the fourth commandment. (Ex. 20:8) Yet, when questioned by the Pharisees why He allowed his men to pick grain enough to eat on the Sabbath, Jesus replied that the Sabbath was made for man, not man made for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:23-27) Throughout the Old Testament Godís people are admonished to do no work and to rest on the Sabbath, to remember all that God has done for them. And, although Jesus allowed His men to pick the food they needed on the Sabbath, He did not negate or change the need for or meaning of the Sabbath. In a visit with Mary and Martha, Martha was busy getting things ready for company and dinner and complained to Jesus when her sister, Mary, was sitting at Jesusí feet listening instead of helping Martha. Jesus answered her, "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:41-42) We should all take at least one day each week to rest and remember all that God has done for us from our very creation and breath of life through Jesusí atoning death and glorious resurrection.

Pesach/Passover/the Last Supper.

The Hebrew calendar begins in the spring. The first holiday is Passover or, in Hebrew, Pesach. It occurs on the evening of the fourteenth of Nissan, which normally falls sometime in April in our calendar. It is the defining holiday for Jews because it commemorates when God, through many miracles, called us out of slavery to be His people. To be excluded from the plague of the death of the first born, the Hebrews had to select an unblemished lamb on the tenth of Nissan, slaughter it on the fourteenth, and paint itís blood on the lintels, the frame, of each door. This freedom from physical slavery prestaged and foreshadowed Godís freeing us from spiritual slavery approximately 1500 years later at Passover.

On the tenth of Nissan of Jesusí 33rd year, He rode into Jerusalem. As Passover was a pilgrimage holiday, the city was filled with Jews from many lands. On that each Jew chose an unblemished lamb for his familyís sacrifice. On that day, a multitude of Jews did, indeed, chose their unblemished lamb for their sacrifice. "A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Hosanna in the highest!" (Matt. 21: 8-9)

On the evening of the fourteenth, Jesus led the Seder service, as in every Jewish home throughout the world. On the table there were three matzos. As in every Jewish home, He took the middle matzo, blessed it and broke it. Unlike in any other home that night or at any time since, He said in breaking that matzo, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me. (1Cor. 11:224) As in every Jewish family, Jesus lifted and blessed the fourth cup of wine of the Seder service, the Cup of Redemption. "In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ĎThis cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.í" He was referring to Godís promise to Jeremiah hundreds of years before, "The time is coming," declares the Lord, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah." (Jer. 31:31)

Our spiritual Passover was fulfilled when Jesus, our Unblemished Lamb, was sacrificed and died on the cross the next day. All those who believe His blood was shed for us are saved from the world and saved from Hell, just as the Hebrew families in Egypt were saved from the physical death of their first born by the blood of the lambs that were shed.


First Fruits/Easter.

Although only the Orthodox Jews celebrate the festival of First Fruits today, it is a Levitical holiday, celebrated the first Sunday after the first night of Passover. It was to consecrate the first of the harvest, looking forward with gratitude to the fullness of the harvest yet to come. It was the day Jesus rose from the dead, Easter Sunday. As Paul wrote, "But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep." 1Cor. 15:20

Shavuot/Pentacost.

Seven weeks after Passover, the Jews celebrate both the barley harvest and the commemoration of Moses receiving the ten commandments. It is the holiday on which the book of Ruth is read in synagogues today around the world. One way to look at the Book of Ruth is to see it as Godís plan for redemption. Naomi, the Jewish mother-in-law, wins such love and devotion of her Moabite, pagan, daughter-in-law, Ruth, that when Naomiís husband and two sons die and Naomi decides to go back to Jerusalem, Ruth declares, "Donít urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me." (Ruth 1:16-17) Naomi represents the Jewish People. Ruth the non-believing gentile world.

When they go back to Jerusalem, Ruth comes under the protection of a wealthy distant relative of Naomi. His name is Boaz and he represents Godís protection. He eventually marries Ruth and through their marriage, Naomi is blessed and brought under Boazí protection too.

The Jewish apostles brought the Gospel to the gentile world. The gentiles who believed and became Christians were like a bride to Christ. Through their love, the Jews like me have been and will be brought under His protection and final covenant.

Every Shavout this story is read. Because Shavout is a pilgrimage holiday, on the Shavout following the crucifixion tens of thousands of Jews from many lands were in Jerusalem. It was to these thousands Peter spoke. "Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day." (Acts 2:41) To believers, Shavout, Pentacost, commemorates Godís giving us His Law and His freeing us from the condemnation of it.

Rosh Hasannah/Feast of Trumpets.

This holiday is not given a name in the Bible, just designated as a day which is to be celebrated. God told the Hebrews that on the first of Tishri, the seventh month, (roughly in September) they were to have a holy convocation. It was to be a day of rest and remembrance and sacrifices and the time when the trumpets, called the shofar, are to be blown. (Lev. 23:24) There is no other reason given for the holiday in the Bible. Since the only other holiday on which we are commanded to spend time remembering was Shabbat, and on Shabbat we are to remember the creation, over time the Jews associated Rosh Hashannah (Which means "Head of the Year" in Hebrew) with the anniversary of the original creation. Today Jews celebrate this holiday and date their years from the start of linking the holiday to creation, 5769 in 1999.

The importance of the holiday, though, is in the sounding of the shofar, the trumpets and the command to remember. As Christians we are to remember the sounding of the trumpets from 1Thessalonians 4:16. " For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of {the} archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first." It will be the sign that the Lord has returned for the church. We celebrate Rosh HaShannah, thankfully remembering that the Lord is coming back.

Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement.

The Hebrews were instructed from Exodus through Ezekial that the priests must make atonement on their behalf for their sins, even for those sins committed unintentionally or unknowingly. (Lev. 4:1-35) These sacrifices were made on a daily basis as sin offerings and guilt offerings. Once a year, on the tenth of Tishri, (in late September or early October) the high priest, the first was Aaron, was to take two perfect animals, initially goats. One goat was to be slain and itís blood used as atonement for the sins of the whole of Israel. The other goat, after ceremonially having the sins of the whole nation transferred to it, was sent outside the camp to die. Today Orthodox Jews ceremonially kill a chicken. The other branches of Judaism spend the day in synagogues, fasting and praying as their sacrifice.

The sacrificial system only worked if the people were willing to give up their sins, to cast off their rebellious hearts and selfish ways so they could be transferred to the animal killed and to the scapegoat. The high priest could go through the motions, but it was the faith and commitment of the people that was rewarded with forgiveness and cleansing. Therein was the problem and makes obvious why we needed a personal savior. Again, it pointed to and foretold Christís atoning death.

The perfect animals represented Jesus. His blood was shed as our atonement and, like the scapegoat, He was taken outside the city to take upon Himself all the sins of mankind and die on Golgatha Hill. Just as with the original Yom Kippur, only those who are willing to cast off their sins, to repent and accept Godís forgiveness are cleansed by the blood of the sacrifice and are forgiven.

Succoth/Feast of Booths.

For seven days beginning the fifteenth of Tishri (mid-October), the Hebrews were told to have a festival celebrating and thanking God for the harvest. They were instructed to build booths, "Succoth", and dwell in them seven days. This holiday was to have meanings in addition to being thankful for the harvest. "Live in booths for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in booths so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.í" (Lev. 23:42-43) Living in temporary booths also reminds us of how temporary life is. Today some Jews build booths in their back yards and eat in them. The holiday has become a time of giving, especially food to the needy, sharing the bounty the Lord has given.

During Succoth we remember that God had the Israelites live in booths when He brought them out of Egypt and that God freed them from physical slavery when He brought them out of Egypt. Jesus freed us from slavery to sin when He died and rose again. God gave food and water to their physical bodies in the desert when he gave them manna and quail. Jesus said, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty."(John 6:35)

Simcha Torah.

Literally, the name of the holiday is "Happy Torah," referring to the scroll on which the first five books of the Bible are written. The day after Succoth God declared holiday, a day of rest and holy convocation. (Lev. 23:39) Like Rosh HaShannah, no reason or name is given in the Bible for this holiday. The holiday was given itís name because the entire Torah scroll is parceled out to be read with a specific portion each week throughout the year, and on Simcha Torah after the last verses of Deuteronomy are read, the scroll is unrolled and rewound to the beginning, and the first verses of Genesis are also read. The reason for this timing is to illustrate that Godís word and Godís love are never ending.

As believers, if we so timed our reading of our Scripture, we would read the last chapter of Revelation in which Jesus declares, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End." (Rev. 22:13) We would also read the description of the new Jerusalem. To read it and then begin at Genesis again, we gain an appreciation of the whole picture, from where we started to how it will all end and that it is Jesus who holds it all together.

Purim.

As mentioned in the beginning, although Purim is a scriptural holiday we are commanded to celebrate in the book of Esther, there is no specific tie to Jesus in Purim as there are in the other holidays. In fact, throughout the Book of Esther, the name of God is never mentioned. We are told that Mordecai and Esther, Jews who stayed in Babylonia after the return to Israel of many of the Jews who had been exiled, both prayed and fasted. Mordecai, in trying to convince Esther to tell the king, her husband, of the plot to kill her and her people, told her, "Do not think that because you are in the kingís house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your fatherís family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?" (Esth. 4:13-14)

This book was included in the Scriptures because of this implication of Mordecaiís faith that God works in peopleís lives in purposeful ways, that God put Esther in this position to save His people or His would raise up someone else who would save them. That God has a purpose for our lives and that He puts people in places for His purposes is a good thing to celebrate. God is one, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and it is good to celebrate His saving power just as God.

Chanukah/Feast of Dedication.

As was mentioned in the introduction, Chanukah was not in the original nor is in the modern Hebrew Scriptures or Protestant Bibles. It comes from a group of eleven books which were added to the Scriptures during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus (284-247 BC.) when he brought 70 Jewish Scholars/Rabbis to Alexandria, Egypt, to translate the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. The two books of Macabees tell of the uprising of the Jewish people under Antiochus of Assyria who desecrated the Temple and ordered the Jews to worship him. The uprising began in the small town of Modin when a priest name Mattithias killed another Jew who had come forth to worship the idol put by the Assyrian soldiers in the center of town. It ended with the rededication of the Temple in 165 BC. It is a festival that celebrates Godís protection and provision.

We know that Jesus celebrated Chanukah because He was in the temple in Jerusalem during the Feast of Dedication when He declared that unbelief of those in the temple was caused, despite His miracles, because those there were not His sheep, that His sheep know His voice and follow it, and that He and the Father are both separate and one. (John 10:23-30)

There are two curious things about the celebration of Chanukah that point to Christ. First is not so much the celebration of Chanukah as the celebration of Christmas. We know that for the shepherds to be out as they are described in Luke (2:8-15), it had to be spring. Yet, in 325 AD, when the Council of Nicaea decided to set a date to celebrate Christís birth, a celebration that is not commanded or even alluded to in the Bible, they picked December 25. The curious thing is that our month of December roughly corresponds to the Hebrew month Kislev and that Chanukah, the Feast of Dedication, begins on Kislev 25. How appropriate to tie the remembrance of our own fallen state, Godís victory and our ability to dedicate ourselves to Him to the fallen state of the Jews under Antiochus, Godís victory and their being able to rededicate the temple and themselves to Him.

The other curious thing is in the celebration of Chanukah itself. The regular lampstand used in Jewish ceremonies is called a menorah and has seven branches, symbolizing the seven days of creation. There is an enormous elaborately carved menorah in front of the Knesseth, Israelís capitol building, in Jerusalem. Seven branches for seven days, all branches equally sized and spaced. The lampstand used for Chanukah is called a Chanukiah, but is often referred to just as a menorah. Chanukah lasts eight days, but the chanukiah does not have eight branches. It has nine. Where the standard, everyday menorah as branches of equal height and spacing, eight of the branches of the Chanukiah are of equal height and are equally spaced and the ninth is set apart, usually higher. This candle that is set above is called the shammash, the title given to a helper in a synagogue, like a combination of a deacon and secretary. This elevated candle, this shammash, is lit first and from itís light the other eight candles are lit. The shammash, of course, is the light of the Messiah that enables the rest us to become lights in a dark world. Each night of Chanukah, as we light first the shammash then the number of candles corresponding to the day of Chanukah, we remember that it is His light that lights us.

 


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