Today at sundown, Jews around the world will celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. This celebration is more than a secular event, however. It is rooted deeply in Jewish life and worship. One of the seven major Jewish feasts, Rosh Hashanah also is called the Feast of Trumpets, and the ram’s horn, or shofar, plays a prominent role.
Many Jewish Christians, and their Gentile brothers and sisters, see the significance of this feast as pointing to the rapture of the church — the physical removal of Christians from this world to meet the Messiah in the air. Just as the four spring feasts (Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, and Pentecost) signified the work of the Messiah in His first coming and priestly ministry, the three autumn feasts (Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles) depict the Messiah’s second coming and kingly reign.
The sounding of the shofar and the resurrection of the dead are connected in the New Testament. Consider these passages:
- 1 Cor. 15:51-52 – “Listen! I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed.”
- 1 Thess. 4:16-17 – “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will always be with the Lord.”
In Old Testament times, the reasons for trumpet blasts were well established. It appears their purposes continue in events to come, if indeed Rosh Hashanah foreshadows our resurrection. The reasons for sounding the shofar are:
- To gather an assembly before the Lord (the rapture of the church).
- To sound a battle alarm (God will defeat Satan and his rebellious followers).
- To announce the coronation of a new king (Jesus the Messiah will sit on the throne of David as King of kings and Lord of lords).
Download a free study: Jesus in the Feasts of Israel.
The Jewish celebration of Passover begins today [April 8] at sundown and is the first of seven major feasts. The feasts of Israel are religious celebrations remembering God’s great acts of salvation in the history of His people. The term “feasts” in Hebrew literally means “appointed times” and in Scripture the feasts often are called “holy convocations.” They are times God has appointed for holy purposes.
While there are many religious celebrations in Jewish history and custom, seven are most significant: Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, Pentecost, Trumpets, Day of Atonement and Tabernacles. God established the timing and sequence of these feasts to reveal to us a special story — the work of the Messiah in the redemption of mankind and the establishment of His kingdom on earth.
The feasts of Israel are religious celebrations remembering God’s great acts of salvation in the history of His people. The term “feasts” in Hebrew literally means “appointed times” and in Scripture the feasts often are called “holy convocations.” They are times God has appointed for holy purposes – times in which the Lord meets with men and women.
While there are many religious celebrations in Jewish history and custom, seven are most significant: Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Pentecost, Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles. God established the timing and sequence of these feasts to reveal to us a special story – most significantly, the work of the Messiah in the redemption of mankind and the establishment of His Kingdom on earth.
Why seven feasts? The number seven is significant in Scripture. It is tied to completeness or fullness. For example, God rested on the seventh day after creation, not because He was tired but because His work was complete and He was fully satisfied in it. The cycle of the seven-day week provided the basis for much of Israel’s worship. In addition, the seventh month features four of the seven feasts; the seventh year and the 50th year (the year of Jubilee, following seven cycles of seven years) also are significant.
There are several key truths to keep in mind as we study the feasts:
► The Lord established the feasts and gave them to Israel.
► The feasts were based on the Jewish lunar calendar (12 months of 29 or 30 days per month).
► The feasts relate to Israel’s spring and fall agricultural seasons; Israel was and still is, to a great extent, an agricultural nation.
► They picture the timing, sequence and significance of the Messiah’s redemptive work.
► Though the feasts were given to Israel, every person is invited to meet with God and receive His gracious blessings through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
► There is a binding relationship between Israel and the church even though they are distinct entities with distinct promises. God’s unconditional covenant with Abraham promised, “In thy (Abraham’s) seed shall all nations be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). “Every blessing which the true Church now enjoys and every hope she anticipates come out of the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants which God made with Israel” (The Feasts of the Lord by Kevin Howard and Marvin Rosenthal, p. 14).
► The number of feasts – seven – relates to the Biblical number for completion. The full work and revelation of Messiah/Christ is pictured in the seven feasts.
► All seven feasts are found in Leviticus 23; additional passages in the Old and New Testaments also address the feasts.
“To summarize, these seven feasts of the Lord are God’s appointed times during which He will meet with men for holy purposes. When completed, these seven special holidays will triumphantly bring an end to this age and usher in a glorious ‘Golden Age'” (www.christcenteredmall.com).
Why study the feasts? There are several good reasons to study the feasts: 1) to remember God’s goodness; 2) to understand more fully His divine revelation through “types;” 3) to increase our knowledge of God’s plan through the work of His eternal Son; 4) to more fully appreciate the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf; and 5) to joyfully anticipate the days in which Jesus will return and establish His Kingdom on earth.
Why do so many Jewish people observe the feasts but fail to see Jesus in them? The destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. led to significant changes in the location, emphasis and practice of the feasts. It must be remembered that the destruction of the Temple itself, and the scattering of the Jewish people, was God’s judgment upon the nation for its rejection of Jesus as Messiah. The hardening of the Jewish heart, however, has provided opportunity for Gentile believers to be grafted into the true church, made up of those “from every nation, tribe, people, and language” who worship Jesus as Lord (Rev. 7:9; see also Rom. 11:11-12). All Christians should love the Jewish people. God does, and He is not finished with them yet. The fall feasts in particular point to the coming days when a remnant of believing Jews will “look on Me whom they have pierced” (Zech. 12:10), mourn over their unbelief, and turn to Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
The idea of salvation in the Jewish mind — as written in Isa. 12:2 for example — is tied to the feast of tabernacles. The reference in verse 3 to joyfully drawing water from the springs of salvation reminds the people of the ceremony practiced each day of the feast in which water is drawn from the Pool of Siloam, and it foreshadows the day when Jesus would stand, on the final day of the feast, and proclaim, “If anyone is thirsty, he should come to Me and drink” (John 7:37).
“As the Jew was reminded by the feast of tabernacles of his wanderings in tents in the wilderness, so the Jew-Gentile Church to come shall call to mind, with thanksgiving, the various past ways whereby God has at last brought them to the heavenly “city of habitation” (Ps. 107. Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, S. Is 12:2).
Everyone can see Jesus in the Feast of Tabernacles by noting the Messianic symbols God gave us — and Jesus fulfilled — in the feast, most notably:
1. The tabernacle.
2. The water.
3. The light.
4. The harvest.
|Name||Scriptures||Time / Date||Purpose||Fulfillment|
|Tabernacles||Lev. 23:33-43; Num. 29:12-39; Deut. 16:13-17, 31:10-13||15th – 21st of Tishri, with an 8th day added as a climax to all the feasts (September/October).||To commemorate God’s protection during the wilderness wanderings and to rejoice in the harvest.||Restoration: The peace and prosperity of God’s Kingdom on earth.|
The Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot, is the seventh and final feast God gave Israel. It is the most festive of all the feasts and is mentioned more often in scripture than any of the others. The word sukkot in Hebrew is translated “tabernacles” in English and means booths or huts. Throughout this seven-day feast, the Jews are required to live in temporary shelters to remind them of God’s provision during their 40 years of wilderness wandering. The holiday also is called the Feast of Ingathering (Ex. 23:16; 34:22) because it is observed after all the fall crops are harvested. This happy feast commemorates God’s past provision in the desert and His present goodness in providing the fall harvest.
The feast begins on the 15th day of Tishri (September/October), five days after the Day of Atonement. The first day of Tabernacles and the day after Tabernacles (known as Shemini Atzeret) are sacred assemblies, or Sabbaths. No work is permitted on these days. This is one of three pilgrim feasts, along with Unleavened Bread and Weeks (Pentecost), requiring all Jewish males to appear before the Lord in the Temple.
The Biblical Observance
Four passages of scripture outline the observance of Tabernacles: Lev. 23:33-43; Num. 29:12-39; Deut. 16:13-17, and Deut. 31:10-13. A great number of sacrifices are required each day: one goat, 14 lambs, two rams, and a number of bulls – 13 on the first day, then decreasing by one each day. In addition, the accompanying meal offerings and drink offerings are presented. The work is so intense that all 24 divisions of priests help carry out the sacrificial duties.
It is during the Feast of Tabernacles that Solomon dedicated Israel’s first Temple. The Shekinah glory of God descended from heaven to light the fire on the altar and to fill the Holy of Holies (2 Chron. 5:3; 7:1-4).
Jewish pilgrims from around the world travel to Jerusalem for this feast. They build booths, or huts, in which they live for one week – all carefully located within a Sabbath day’s journey (a little more than half a mile) of the Temple. At sundown, the ram’s horn (shofar) blasts and the celebration begins as fires from thousands of Jewish camps blaze in a half-mile radius around the Temple.
Water-libation ceremony. Israel’s rainy season is from November through March. Tabernacles gratefully acknowledges the harvest and, at least in part, beseeches God for the coming moisture necessary for future harvests. So each morning of the feast, the high priest pours a pitcher of water from the Pool of Siloam into a special basin in the inner court of the Temple as a visual prayer for rain. At the same time, a drink offering of wine is poured into another basin. Three blasts of a silver trumpet follow, and the people listen as the Levites sing the Hallel (Ps. 113-118). The congregation waves palm branches toward the altar and join in singing Psalm 118:25: “Lord, save us! Lord, please grant us success!”
Psalm 118 is a messianic psalm and gives the feast a messianic focus. Centuries after this Psalm was penned, the crowds in Jerusalem greet Jesus with shouts of Hosanna (“save now”) and wave palm branches as He enters the city triumphantly (Matt. 21:8-9; Luke 19:37-38; John 12:12-13). This imagery continues in heaven where the saints worship around the throne with palm branches in hand (Rev. 7:9-10).
Temple-lighting ceremony. On the second night of Tabernacles, the people gather in the spacious outer court of the Temple known as the Court of the Women. Four towering lamp stands are in the center of the court, each with four branches of oil lamps. The wicks are made from the worn-out linen garments of the priests, who ascend tall ladders to keep the lamps filled with olive oil. The elders of the Sanhedrin perform torch dances all night long. Levites stand at the top of the 15 steps leading down to the Court of Women. As flutes, trumpets, harps, and other stringed instruments accompany them, they sing the “Fifteen Psalms of Degrees” (Psalms 120-134). With each psalm, they descend one step.
This celebration is repeated every night from the second night to the final night of Tabernacles. The brilliant lights, bathing the Temple and flooding the streets of Jerusalem, remind the Jews of the descent of the Shekinah glory in King Solomon’s day as the people look forward to the return of the Shekinah in the days of the Messiah (Ez. 43:1-5).
It is the day after Tabernacles that Jesus proclaims in the Temple, “I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows Me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Later that day, He heals a blind man and declares, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5). The Pharisees bristle at both statements. The best they can do is to accuse Him of healing a man on the Sabbath. Incidentally, there are no Mosaic laws against healing on the Sabbath; the tradition of the Pharisees is the only thing Jesus violated.
Hoshana-Rabbah ceremony. On the seventh day of the feast, the Temple water-pouring ceremony, which is performed each morning throughout the week, takes on great importance. Jewish tradition holds that it is on this day that God decides whether there will be rain for the next year’s crops. Instead of three silver-trumpet blasts, there are seven sets of three blasts. Rather than one circuit around the altar, the priests make seven circuits. The day is known as the Hoshana Rabbah, or “Great Hosanna.”
It is during this ceremony that Jesus stands up and shouts, “If anyone is thirsty, he should come to Me and drink! The one who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within” (John 7:37-38). The Jewish leaders are infuriated; some want to seize Him, but no one lays a hand on Him A debate ensues among the people, many of whom do not realize, or will not believe, He is the Son of David, born in Bethlehem, the Messiah (John 7:40-44). The chief priests and the Pharisees rebuke the Temple officers, who had the authority to arrest Jesus for disturbing the ceremony, but the officers reply, “No man ever spoke like this” (John 7:46).
The Modern Observance
The sukkah, or tabernacle, is the primary symbol of the feast today. As soon as Yom Kippur is past, observant Jews build rough booths in their yards or on their patios. The booths are three-sided and covered with branches. The roofs are thatched so that there is partial shade in the daytime, and so the stars can be seen through it at night. Throughout the feast, Jewish families eat their meals in the booths, and some even sleep there. These booths remind the Jews of their hastily built housing in the wilderness.
Leviticus 23:40 instructs the Jews to take fruit, palm branches, the boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook and rejoice for seven days. Observant Jews may build their booths with these items, or carry them in their hands as they rejoice, or both.
At the synagogue, congregants circle the building and sing Psalm 118. The Torah scroll, rather than the ancient altar, is the center of the ceremony. Since the destruction of the Temple, the feast is more closely connected to Yom Kippur. Hashanah Rabbah, the last day of the feast, is seen as the last day on which the judgments God declared on Yom Kippur could be reversed, so observant Jews ceremonially beat willow branches on the synagogue pews to remove the leafs, symbolizing repentance and the removal of sin.
The Bible often compares the harvest with God’s judgment (Hos. 6:11; Joel 3:13; Matt. 13:39; Rev. 14:14-20). In keeping with this imagery, God designed the Feast of Tabernacles to foreshadow the day in which He will gather His people to Himself and send away the wicked (Mal. 4:1-3). When the Messiah returns and sets up His earthly kingdom, He will bring together Jew and Gentile to worship Him in Jerusalem (Zech. 14:16-17).
Further, the Lord Himself will tabernacle, or pitch His tent, with the redeemed (Ez. 37:27-28; Rev. 21:3). The Shekinah glory will be seen again (Isa. 60:1, 19; Zech. 2:5), covering Mount Zion with a cloud by day and a fire by night (Isa. 4:5-6). God’s people will enjoy intimate, face-to-face fellowship with their Savior.
An interesting observation: Some believe Jesus was born during the Feast of Tabernacles, based on scriptural information regarding the timing of John the Baptist’s birth. If that’s true, it more fully illustrates the truth that Jesus is the Tabernacle of God. John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and took up residence (lit. and tabernacled or and dwelt in a tent) with us.” Col. 2:9 states, “For in Him the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily.” Jesus will again tabernacle with us when He returns in power and great glory.
In another way, the shelters that are built represent the physical bodies in which we temporarily live today – bodies that eagerly await their glorification at the return of Christ (Rom. 8:23; 1 Cor. 15:51-57; 2 Cor. 5:1-4).
The Old Testament visions of the coming of all nations to worship at Jerusalem refer to the Feast of Tabernacles on the occasion of their pilgrimage (Zech. 14:16-21). This feast speaks of Christ’s millennial reign – a new beginning without the ravages of sin. The earth gives bountifully, all animals are docile (Isa. 65:25), armies no long march against each other, every man sits under his own fig tree (Micah 4:4), and righteousness becomes a lasting reality on the earth. As the Apostle John wrote in Rev. 22:20b: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
This concludes our study of the Jesus in the Feasts of Israel.