Shavuot (Pentecost)

God’s Appointed Times

We will take a break from our series on the Yesha’yahu and return to God’s Appointed Times ~ Shavuot (Pentecost). In 2019, Shavuot will be observed by Jewish Believers beginning at sundown on Saturday, June 8th. Christians will be celebrating Pentecost on Sunday, June 9th. Essentially, Jews and Christians will be celebrating on the same weekend, albeit for slightly different reasons.

Scriptural Basis

15“‘From the day after the day of rest — that is, from the day you bring the sheaf for waving — you are to count seven full weeks, 16until the day after the seventh week; you are to count fifty days; and then you are to present a new grain offering to Adonai. 17You must bring bread from your homes for waving — two loaves made with one gallon of fine flour, baked with leaven — as firstfruits for Adonai. 18Along with the bread, present seven lambs without defect one year old, one young bull and two rams; these will be a burnt offering for Adonai, with their grain and drink offerings, an offering made by fire as a fragrant aroma for Adonai. 19Offer one male goat as a sin offering and two male lambs one year old as a sacrifice of peace offerings. 20The cohen will wave them with the bread of the firstfruits as a wave offering before Adonai, with the two lambs; these will be holy for Adonai for the cohen. 21On the same day, you are to call a holy convocation; do not do any kind of ordinary work; this is a permanent regulation through all your generations, no matter where you live.” (Vayikra [Leviticus] 23:15-21)

Basic Description

Shavu’ot was one of three festivals (Pesach/Matzah & Sukkot being the other two) appointed by Adonai where all Jewish males were to go up to Jerusalem. Shavu’ot means “weeks.” It comes exactly fifty days after Pesach. In Greek, we have come to know it as Pentecost. Pentecost means “fifty.” It was an agricultural festival to celebrate the latter fruits of the spring harvest. Recall that Yom HaBikkurim (First Fruits) immediately following Pesach celebrated the barley harvest and, as Believers, we recognize it as the resurrection of Yeshua – the first fruit from the dead. Shavu’ot celebrates the thanksgiving for the wheat harvest symbolized by the two loaves of challah.

Observance

The two loaves of challah were brought into the Temple and with great ceremony, waved in every direction before Adonai. In addition, blood sacrifices were offered to cover the sin of the people. Since sacrifices can no longer be made with the destruction of the Second Temple, the modern Jewish observance of Shavu’ot has changed. Rabbis calculated that Moshe received the Torah at Mount Sinai on Shavu’ot. Hence, the rabbinic name for Shavu’ot is Zman Matan Torateynu (the Time of the Giving of the Torah).

The custom of decorating the synagogue in greenery, flowers and baskets of fruit to symbolize the harvest aspect of Shavu’ot; the practice of marking the holiday with a meal featuring dairy products in recognition of Scripture being described as the pure milk of the Word (I Peter 2:2); and the inclusion of the Megillah (scroll) of Ruth in the service are all the primary reminders of Shavu’ot’s agricultural prominence.

But Ruth’s story sounds another theme, one more relevant to the celebration of Shavu’ot by modern Jewish people and Messianic Believers. When her husband dies, Ruth – a gentile – elects to stay with Naomi, her mother-in-law, telling her “your people will be my people, and your God will be my God” (Ruth 1:16) binding herself willingly to the people Isra’el. Ruth’s story is one of commitment to the Jewish people freely made and to the covenant with God that is the core of the Jewish religion and experience. Like Ruth, the gentile woman who was in the lineage of Yeshua, we have voluntarily said to our fellow Messianic Jewish believers your people will be my people, your God will be my God.

Shavu’ot celebrates the most important moment in the Mosaic covenant – the giving of the Torah to Moshe and its acceptance by Isra’el at Sinai. Shavu’ot has come to be dedicated to the idea of Torah study and Jewish education. Traditional Jews stay up all night on the first night of this festival studying the Torah. In keeping with the theme of Jewish education, Shavu’ot has traditionally been the time when many Jewish schools mark graduation.

Messianic significance abounds in this festival. From God’s perspective, the time of great harvest when large numbers of Jewish believers and later Gentiles came into a personal relationship with Him was initiated at Shavu’ot immediately after Yeshua’s resurrection (Acts 2:40-43). The two leavened loaves of Shavu’ot may, therefore, symbolize Jew and Gentile presented to God and now part of His family. God set us free from slavery to sin by placing His Spirit in us to enable us to live as He intended (Romans 8:1-4). Hence God visibly placed His Ruach HaKodesh in Yeshua’s followers on that important Shavu’ot centuries ago (Acts 2:4).

The coming of the Ruach HaKodesh served as the completion of Pesach, the completion of our atonement, in the sense that through the Ruach, God gives us the power we need to overcome our tendency to do evil.

The theme of Shavu’ot can be best summed up by the word revival. Isra’el was called to praise God for the first fruits of the ground, knowing that these early fruits assured the latter harvest. This also applies to the spiritual Kingdom of God. The first fruit of believers at Shavu’ot virtually guarantees a revival in the latter-day spiritual harvest for Messiah. Now we can understand why God included Shavu’ot in the three required festivals for every Jewish male. He had gathered Jewish men from throughout the region to hear the Good News of Yeshua in their own language. They would take that message back home with them to tell their families and friends. As Pesach speaks of redemption, Shavu’ot speaks of revival. The message of Shavu’ot is one of great hope and joy. It was a message heard and accepted by 3,000 Jewish people on that special Shavu’ot (Acts 2:41). Note that 3,000 Jewish people died because of their rebellion of worshipping the Golden Calf at the giving of the Torah.

When Is the Biblical Feast of Shavuot?

Many people desire to know the actual Biblical date for Shavu’ot. It is the only feast that God did not say fell on a specific date in the Hebrew calendar. Rather He gave a formula for calculating the day. Though the traditional Jewish community will celebrate Shavu’ot according to that traditional calculation, there is a difference of opinion on the matter. In the first century, the Pharisees and Sadducees differed on the date that Shavuot was to be celebrated. The question arose over which Sabbath does Firstfruits (see Vayikra 23:9-14) take place after the day after Pesach, which is generally considered a Sabbath or the regular seventh day Sabbath, i.e. Saturday during the week of Pesach?

The Pharisees claimed the correct day was the day after the first day of Matzah, the sixteenth of Nisan. The Sadducees taught that the correct day was Sunday, the day after the weekly Sabbath. Since the writings of the Pharisees survived and developed into traditional Judaism, their opinion is accepted in modern Judaism.

But who is biblically correct? Remember, the Scriptures state, “you are to count seven full Sabbaths until the day after the seventh week; you are to count fifty days.” (Leviticus 23:15-16).

For it to be the day after the seventh Shabbat, the initial Sabbath would have to be the weekly Sabbath. So, it would appear the Sadducees were right. Consequently, I believe that the Sadducees got this one correct. Amazingly, the year that Yeshua died, the sixteenth of Nisan fell on the Sunday, which is the day after the Sabbath for the Sadducees as well. God worked it out that neither group would have a reason not to recognize Yeshua as the Firstfruits of the Resurrection.

In my next post, we will return to our series on Yesha’yahu.

Click here for PDF version.

Pesach and Hag HaMatzah – 2019

(Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread)
God’s Appointed Times

We return to God’s Appointed Times from the Tanakh.  Both Pesach (Passover) and Hag HaMatzah are tied to the remembrance of the exodus of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.  The principle Scriptural reference for Pesach is in B’midbar (Exodus) 12:1-13 and Hag HaMatzah in Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:5-8.  In 2019, Pesach starts on the eve of April 19th and Hag HaMatzah on the eve of April 20th.   This eight-day remembrance ends at sundown on April 27th.

For Believers in Yeshua, this time can be a great time to reflect not only on the deliverance of the Jews from Egyptian bondage and death of the first-born by the shedding of the lamb’s blood on the doorpost; but also on the shed blood of Yeshua on the cross.  His death and resurrection paid for our sins and purchased for us eternal salvation.

I have attached a PDF version of an explanation of the traditional Pesach Seder provided by Chosen People Ministries.  Click here.

However, for those of you who want to have a Scriptural-based observation of Pesach, I highly recommend Kevin Geoffrey’s “Behold the Lamb and Preparation Guide.”  Click here to order.

Hanukkah – 5779 (2018)

Should Christians Observe Hanukkah?

WARNING: This post is longer than normal.
You may want to click here for the PDF version.

Today we’re going to focus on the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. We’re going to learn a lot about Hanukkah. I’ve entitled this teaching “Should Christians Observe Hanukkah?” By the end of today’s lesson, I hope that you will agree with me that the answer is a resounding, YES!!

What is Hanukkah?

Hanukkah is an annual festival celebrated on eight successive days, during which no eulogies are delivered, nor is fasting permitted. It begins on the 25th day of Kislev, the third month of the Jewish calendar, corresponding, approximately, to December in the Gregorian calendar. This year (2018), Hanukkah starts at sundown on December 2nd. Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights, Feast of Dedication, and Feast of the Maccabees.

As an aside, the name Hanukkah can also be read as a combination of the two words “Chanu k’h” which means “they rested on the 25th” – an allusion to the “resting” that occurred after the Jews were victorious in their battles.

Hanukkah is not one of the feasts or festivals commanded in the Torah in Leviticus 23 (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Pesach, and Shavuot) but, like Purim and Yom HaShoah (The Day of Remembrance for those who died in the Holocaust), it is Rabbinically prescribed.

To learn some of the details of the Hanukkah story, we have to turn to the apocryphal books of I & II Maccabees. While the books are not a part of the traditional Hebrew or Protestant canon of Scripture, they are considered authoritative accounts and are useful historical documents which can be read for example of life and instruction of manner, yet not for the establishment of doctrine.

History of Hanukkah

To fully understand this holiday, we need to go back to a tumultuous time in the history of Israel to the Hellenistic period around 168 BCE. A few generations earlier, the Greeks had come to world power under the remarkable leadership of Alexander the Great. After his untimely death, there was a scramble for political power among four generals, resulting in the division of the Hellenistic empire. Eventually, the Syrians, under the leadership of Antiochus IV, gained power and control over Israel.

Seeking to unify his holdings, Antiochus enforced a policy of assimilation into the prevailing Hellenistic culture. Many Jews in Judea had converted to the Hellenistic way and openly advocated adherence to it. However, there were a significant number of traditional Jews who were appalled at the changes in their society. An ultimatum was eventually given: either the Jewish community must give up its distinctive customs (Shabbat, kosher food laws, circumcision, etc.) or die.

In 168 BC, on a date corresponding approximately to December 25 in the Gregorian calendar, the temple was dedicated to the worship of the pagan god Zeus by order of Antiochus, who forbade the practice of Judaism. An altar to Zeus was set up on the high altar. Antiochus also ordered that a pig be sacrificed on the holy altar and insisted on being called ‘epiphanies’ which means “God manifest.”

Pushed to their limit, the Jews revolted. Chapter two of 1 Maccabees introduces the man credited with leading the revolt: 1In those days Mattathias, son of John son of Simeon, a priest of the family of Joarib, moved from Jerusalem and settled in Modein. 2He had five sons … [including] 4Judas called Maccabeus. …6He saw the blasphemies being committed in Judah and Jerusalem, 7and said, “Alas! Why was I born to see this, the ruin of my people, the ruin of the holy city, and to live there when it was given over to the enemy, the sanctuary given over to aliens?8 Her temple has become like a person without honor;9 her glorious vessels have been carried into exile. Her infants have been killed in her streets, her youths by the sword of the foe.10 What nation has not inherited her palaces and has not seized her spoils? 11 All her adornment has been taken away; no longer free, she has become a slave. 12 And see, our holy place, our beauty, and our glory have been laid waste; the Gentiles have profaned them. 13 Why should we live any longer?”  The rebellion had begun.

In 165 BC, Judas Maccabee recaptured Jerusalem, he had the temple purged, and a new altar put up in place of the desecrated one. The temple was then rededicated to God with festivities that lasted eight days. A year later the Rabbis designated these days as Yomim Tovim (Holidays) on which praise and thanksgiving were to be said.

The Miracle of the Oil

When the Greeks entered the Sanctuary, they defiled all the oils, and when the Maccabees defeated them, they searched and found only one remaining jar of oil with the seal of the Cohen Gadol (the High Priest). According to tradition, just a one-day supply of non-desecrated olive oil could be found for the rededication, but that small quantity burned miraculously for eight days. Jews commemorate this event by lighting candles for the eight nights of Hanukkah.

The rabbis decreed that the eight days beginning with the 25th of Kislev should be days of rejoicing; that Hallel (praise) be recited and that lights be lit in the entrance to their homes each of the eight nights, in order to publicize the two-fold miracle: the miracle of the oil as well as the miraculous military victory.

Why Is Hanukkah Celebrated for Eight Days?

Questions have arisen over the years about the actual miracle of the oil. If there was enough oil in the flask that was found to last one day, then the miracle of the oil enduring was really only a miracle for the latter seven of the eight days. Yet, we know that the Jews celebrate Hanukkah for eight days! What is the reason behind the eight-day celebration?

The Jewish sages offer three possible answers:

  1. Those who were preparing the Menorah for lighting knew that it would take eight days until new oil could be obtained. They, therefore, divided the flask into eight parts, so that at least the Menorah would be lit every day, albeit not for the entire day. A miracle occurred and the small amount of oil that was placed in the Menorah each day lasted a full day. Hence, there was a miracle on the first day as well.
  2. On the first night, the contents of the flask were emptied into the Menorah. This would enable the Menorah to be lit for one entire day. However, after filling the Menorah, it was discovered that the flask miraculously was still full. This miracle repeatedly occurred for each of the days. Hence, there was a miracle on each of the eight days.
  3. On the first night, the entire contents of the flask were emptied into the Menorah. This would enable the Menorah to be lit for a whole day. When the Menorah was checked on in the morning, it was discovered that none of the oil burned up, and the Menorah was still full, although the flame was lit. This miracle occurred for each of the days. Hence, the first day when the oil did not burn up was miraculous as well.

I’ll leave it to you to determine which of these three explanations or some other is the correct answer to the question.

When and How Does One Light the Candles?

Unlike the Shabbat candles that are always lit before sundown, the Hanukkah menorah is lit after dark by the head of the household, usually in connection with a festive meal. There is also a custom of using an extra candle, the Shamash to light the other candles. For messianic believers, the Shamash is symbolic of Yeshua, the Light of the World.

To be kosher, the eight candles of the menorah must be in a straight line with the Shamash, or middle candle, a little bit above them. Any menorah that is fancily shaped in a circle or square…is not permitted to be used since the candles must be in a straight line and none may be higher or lower than the others, except for the Shamash. There must also be enough space between one candle and another so that the flames of each are not intermingled.

On the first night of Hanukkah, one candle is lit, and on each successive night, another candle is added until by the eighth night all the candles are lit. When one lights the candle on the first night, one lights the candle on the extreme right. The following evening he adds one immediately to the left and kindles it first. He then turns to the right and kindles the light of the previous night. He follows the same procedure each night always adding from right to left but always lighting from left to right. The reason for this method is that the additional light recalls the greatness and growth of the miracle.

[Go to the last page for the traditional Hanukkah blessings and prayer.]

Foods Associated With Hanukkah

Like most of the other festivals, there is specific food associated with the celebration of Hanukkah. There is a custom to eat dairy products and cheese on Hanukkah. This tradition stems from the heroism of Yehudis, of the Chashmonean family. Yehudis, a beautiful woman, was taken by the leader of the Greek troops. While she was with the Greek officer, Yehudis fed him a dish cooked with cheese so he would become thirsty. Once he became thirsty, she gave him wine to drink so he would become drowsy. When he fell asleep, she took his sword and beheaded him. She then carried his head back to Jerusalem and displayed it, so that the Greek troops would become demoralized. Her plan worked, and the soldiers retreated.

There is a custom as well to eat foods cooked in oil. The reason for this tradition is because by eating these foods, we are reminded of the miracle that occurred with the oil. Two of the most common foods associated with this tradition are “Latkes,” potato pancakes and “Sufganiot,” which are doughnuts (or flour pancakes), both of which are fried in oil.

The Dreidel – The Hanukkah Top

On Hanukkah, there is a custom to play with a four-sided top. It is said that the Jewish children of Judea, during the Hellenistic period, wanted to study the Torah, but the anti-Semitic policies of Antiochus made this problematic. They came up with a creative answer: they would study the scrolls in the streets until a foreign soldier came. Then they would quickly hide the scroll, bring out the dreidels, and pretend to be engrossed in a game of tops! When the soldier left, the Torah study would begin again.

What Do The Letters On The Dreydel Stand For?

The letters will vary depending on where you are. In the Diaspora, the letters are “nun” “gimel” “hay” “shin” which stands for “Nes gadol haya sham”– “A great miracle happened there.” In Israel, the “hay” is replaced with a “peh” which stands for “poh,” so that the sentence reads “A great miracle happened here.”

Traditionally, Hanukkah was one of the only times that rabbis permitted games of chance. Before play begins, each player puts a certain number of coins, candies, or another object into a “pot.” One player then spins the Dreydel. Each of the four sides of the Dreydel bears a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and the side that lands up when the Dreydel stops spinning indicates which part of the pot the player will receive. The Hebrew letter nun indicates “nothing”; the letter gimel, “all”; hay, “half”; and shin, “put in” or “match the pot.” Children also play by guessing which letter will appear when the Dreydel stops, with the winner claiming the pot.

More recently, the custom of giving gifts has found its way into the celebration of this joyous festival. Each day a new gift is given to the children. This appears to be Jewish response to the Christmas gift-giving custom.

Hanukkah – A Spiritual Holiday

There have been many times that oppressive nations sought to destroy the Jewish people, and they were miraculously saved from their designs. Upon two of these occasions (Purim and Hanukkah), the Rabbis saw fit to establish an annual holiday commemorating the miraculous salvation, providing us with an opportunity to remember Adonai’s kindness and thank him for His salvation. Hanukkah is observed spiritually, with expressions of thanks and praise to Adonai.

The oppressive acts of Antiochus and the Syrian-Greeks were of a different nature. Had the Jews agreed to abandon their customs and beliefs, and become integrated into the Greek lifestyle, they would have been left alone. Their oppressors sought only to destroy them spiritually. And so, when Adonai granted the Maccabees victory over the Syrian-Greeks, he was preserving the spirituality of the Jewish nation. Our appreciation for this gift, the opportunity to serve Adonai and recognize him as our God, is best acknowledged through spiritual expressions of His praise.

Hanukkah is a holiday on which we celebrate our freedom from religious oppression. The Syrian-Greeks’ tyranny of the Jews was not physical. They did not want to annihilate the Jews. They did, however, want to destroy Judaism. They applied whatever pressure they could to “convince” the Jews to abandon the ways of their fathers. Many Jews indeed succumbed to this demand. Hellenism made inroads into the Jewish communities. At times, the pressure to give in to popular culture was overwhelming. Ultimately, the Jews withstood this pressure and fought with all their might against it. The Jews were victorious. Today, all that we know of the Syrian-Greeks is from history books, while Judaism lives on. When we look at the olive oil burning brightly on Hanukkah, we should be reminded that the olive is a symbol of the courage our spiritual forefathers had. They withstood the pressure to deviate from the word of God. We should allow the light of the olive oil to inspire us to stand steadfast against the force, whatever it may be, to deviate from the word of God.

The Significance of Hanukkah to Messianic Believers

So now, we come to my original question, should Christians observe Hanukkah? Although the story of Hanukkah is contained in the apocryphal book of I Maccabees, it is foretold in the Book of Daniel 8:21ff. Daniel has seen a vision, and the Angel Gavri’el is giving the interpretation. Surprisingly, the most explicit mention of Hanukkah in the Bible is in the Brit Hadashah in John 10:22. This brings us to the first reason believers in Yeshua should celebrate this holiday – it appears that Yeshua may have celebrated it! At the least, He observed the celebration in the same Temple that had been cleansed and rededicated just a few generations earlier under the Maccabees.

Because Hanukkah is a celebration of deliverance, it has also become a time to express messianic hope. The festival commemorates a time when the true worship of God was restored in Jerusalem. Indeed, all believers in Yeshua have significant reasons to remember this Feast of Dedication. Messiah, our deliverer, has come!

I started this teaching by asking should Christians observe Hanukkah? The answer is a resounding, YES!

Hanukkah Candle Lighting

Blessings before you light the candles

Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who hallowed us by your commandments and allowed us to light the Hanukkah lights.

Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who worked miracles for our fathers in days of old, during this season.

Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who kept us alive, sustained us and privileged us to reach this season.

Light the candle(s)

We light these candles because of the miracles, deliverance, and wonders you performed for our fathers by means of your holy priests. During the eight days of Hanukkah, these lights are sacred. We look at them in order to remember to thank you for your miracles, deliverance, and wonders.

Hanukkah Prayer

We praise you for the miracles, for the deliverance, for the great deeds and victories, for the battles you fought for our fathers in those days at this time.

In the days of the Hasmonean, Mattityahu ben Yochanan, the great priest, and his sons, when a wicked Hellenistic government rose up against Israel, your people, to make them forget your Torah and to break the laws you gave, you with great mercy stood by them in the time of their distress. You championed their cause, defended their rights and avenged their wrong. You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the ungodly into the hands of the godly and the arrogant into the hands of the students of Torah. You made a great and holy name for yourself in the world, and for your people Israel you performed a great deliverance. Whereupon your children entered your sanctuary, cleaned the Temple, purified your house, kindled lights in your holy courts and instituted these eight days of Hanukkah for thanksgiving and praise to your great name.

And for all these blessings, we will thank you always and praise your name faithfully, God of salvation and deliverance. Deserving of praise are you, O Lord, gracious One, to whom it is pleasant to give thanks. AMEN

Sukkot 5779

The Ultimate Sukkah

We interrupt our series on Eliyahu once again to consider the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. This is the third and last of the traditional Fall Holy Days. In 2018, the festival of Sukkot – the Feast of Tabernacles, begins at sundown on Sunday, September 23rd.

Sukkot is the third of the great annual pilgrimage festivals (Vayikra 23:33-43). Each year, all adult Jewish males were required to go up to Jerusalem to celebrate the feasts of Matzah, Shavuot, and Sukkot. The festival is also called the “feast of ingathering” (Sh’mot 23:16; D’varim 16:13). It is celebrated immediately after the harvest, in the month Tishri, and the celebration lasts for eight days (Vayikra 23:33-43). During this period the people leave their homes and live in a sukkah, a temporary dwelling, formed of the branches of trees as a memorial of the wilderness wanderings when the people dwelt in sukkot (Vayikra 23:43).

Typical Backyard Sukkah

Like Thanksgiving Day in the United States, Sukkot is a time of feasting, rejoicing, and giving thanks to God for His bountiful gifts (D’varim 16:13-15). It is widely believed that the Puritan colonists, who were great students of the Hebrew Scriptures, based on the first American Thanksgiving on Sukkot.

We are to “rejoice before the Lord God” during all the time of this feast (Vayikra 23:40). The tradition of the Jewish people is that they were to express their joy by dancing and singing hymns of praise to God, with musical instruments.

Sukkot (the plural form of sukkah) are temporary dwellings, many with canvas walls. The roof is made of natural materials such as bamboo, corn stalks, or other greenery, usually supported by a few wooden beams. It provides more shade than sun, but you can still see the sky through it and the stars at night.

Today, as in the Second Temple days, we still wave the lulav (palm branch) and etrog (citron) as mandated in the Torah. The lulav is made of a palm branch, arava (willow), and hadas (myrtle). The etrog is a citron. Together the lulav and the etrog are referred to as the Four Species.

Of all the feasts of the Lord, Sukkot best illustrates the fact that God would dwell in the midst of His people through the presence of the Messiah (John 1:14). He may have fulfilled His promise on the very day of Sukkot. We don’t know the exact date of Yeshua’s birth. But we do know; it indeed wasn’t December 25th. For me, there is sufficient evidence to corroborate that Yeshua’s first coming came on Sukkot.

Sukkot pictures the future kingdom God has prepared for Israel when Messiah returns (see Zechariah 12:10-13:1; Isaiah 35; Luke 1:67-80). The Prophet Zechariah described the changes that will take place in the topography of the holy land and how the Gentile nations will celebrate Sukkot along with the Jewish people (see Zechariah 14:16-19).

For Israel, the best is yet to come! The scattered people will be gathered; the sinful people will be cleansed; the sorrowing people will rejoice. And for Messianic Believers, the best is yet to come; for we shall be together with the Lord and His people, every stain washed away, rejoicing in His presence.

Sukkot has always been known as the appointed time that commemorates God dwelling with His people. How fitting for the Kingdom of God, when it entirely comes to the redeemed earth, to be considered the ultimate fulfillment of this appointed time. God himself will finally dwell with His people in all His fullness. The Sukkah of God will be among men when Messiah Yeshua resides as the ruler of the 1000-year Messianic Kingdom!

All the Feasts of the Lord have their particular lessons to teach. Because of its latter-day fulfillment, Sukkot seems to be the apex of all the other appointed times of God. The goal of God’s plan is ultimately the establishment of His Kingdom here on earth. This explains why, of all the appointed times, Sukkot is said to be the premier celebration of the Millennium.

As the Prophet Zechariah has told us in Chapter 14, in the last days all nations will be gathered against Jerusalem. They will take the city and plunder it. (Zechariah 14:1, 2) The Lord will then take charge of His people; He will appear upon the Mount of Olives. By splitting this mountain, He will prepare a safe way for the rescue of those that remain. He will come with all His saints (Zechariah 14:3-5) to complete His kingdom.

The other pilgrimage feasts (Matzah and Shavuot) have been fulfilled, but the Feast of Tabernacles – Sukkot finds its fulfillment during the millennial kingdom of the Messiah (Vayikra 23:33-44; B’midbar 16:13-15; 31:10; Nehemiah 8:17, 18; Revelation 20:1-6).

The remnant of the nations will turn to the Lord and come yearly to Jerusalem, to keep the feast of Sukkot (Zechariah 14:16-19). Can’t you imagine it? The feast of the Millennium! What a party that will be! This feast will be kept by all who have come to believe in Messiah, to thank the Lord for His grace in that He has brought them out of the wanderings of this life into the blessedness of His kingdom of peace.

In the perfected kingdom of God there will be no more sinners, but only those who are righteous and holy. This is affirmed in the last clause of Zechariah’s prophecy: “there will be no merchants anymore in the house of Adonai.” (v. 21)

Thus, does Zechariah’s prophesy close with a prospect of the completion of the kingdom of God in glory. All believing commentators are agreed that the final fulfillment of Zechariah 14:20-21 lies before us in Revelation 21 and 22.

According to Isaiah, God has promised His people a new heaven and a new earth (see Isaiah 65:17; 66:22). The old creation must make way for the new creation if God is to be glorified.

Indeed, many interesting questions could be asked about our future abode in heaven, but most must go unanswered until we reach our glorious home. John closed his book by reminding us that we have responsibilities today because we are going to heaven.

Sukkot has always known as the appointed time that commemorates God dwelling with his people. How fitting for the Kingdom of God, when it fully comes to the redeemed earth, to be considered the ultimate fulfillment of this holy day. God, Himself will finally dwell with His people in all His fullness. The Sukkah of God will be among men when Messiah Yeshua tabernacles with us as the ruler of the 1000-year Messianic Kingdom!

What a celebration there will be as His people, both Jews and Gentiles, wave the lulav and chant, Ana Adonai Hoshiana! (Lord, do save us!) Amen. Come quickly, Lord Yeshua! Come and dwell in Your Ultimate Sukkah!

In my next post, we will return to our series on Eliyahu.

Click here for PDF version.

Yom Kippur – 5779

The Day of Atonement

In this post, we take a break from the series on Eliyahu to observe the second of the fall Jewish feasts of Yom Kippur.

In 2018, Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement begins at sundown on September 18th. The Tanakh says that the blood of the sacrifice is given to make atonement. The Hebrew words translated as “atonement” in English are Kippur (noun) and Kaspar (verb). The root occurs about 150 times in the Tanakh and is intimately linked with forgiveness of sin and with reconciliation to God. What does “atonement” mean?

Atonement means making amends, blotting out the offense, and giving satisfaction for wrong done; thus reconciling to oneself the alienated other and restoring the disrupted relationship.

Vayikra (Leviticus) 16 provides detailed instructions for a unique sacrifice to be offered once a year, on the tenth day of the seventh month – Tishri. On that day the whole community of Israel was to gather at the Tabernacle (and later, the Temple) to fast and to pray. The high priest followed carefully prescribed steps and entered the Especially Holy Place (Holy of Holies), bringing the blood of the sacrificed animal. There he sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat. This animal was a sin offering for the people (16:15). That sacrifice was an “atonement … to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.” Following that sacrifice, Israel was told, “You will be clean before Adonai from all your sins” (v. 30).

It is essential in looking at the Tanakh to realize that in it we see realities acted out that would be unveiled later. The whole of scripture is a progressive revelation of God. He reveals Himself more and more throughout human history. God planned for continuous enactments of reality so that when Yeshua finally came to lay down His life for us, we would realize just what He was doing? Should we be surprised at the centuries of animal sacrifice, and the stress on the shedding of blood as necessary for forgiveness? No. In the repeated sacrifices of the Tanakh we are led to understand that, to God, death has always been the price of life for sinful men.

Yom Kippur in Yeshua’s Time

Vayikra 16:7-10 states that the Cohen HaGadol (High Priest) is “to take the two goats and place them before Adonai at the entrance to the tent of meeting. Then (he) is to cast lots for the two goats, one lot for Adonai and the other for ‘Az’azel (scapegoat). (He) is to present the goat whose lot fell to Adonai and offer it as a sin offering. But the goat whose lot fell to ‘Az’azel is to be presented alive to Adonai to be used for making atonement over it by sending it away into the desert for ‘Az’azel.”

There were also a few traditions that were added to the scapegoat ceremony. According to the Mishna, lots were drawn to decide the fate of both of the goats. The lot for the sacrifice said for the Lord, and the lot for the scapegoat said, scapegoat.  The people considered it a good omen if the lot for the Lord came up in the Priests right hand. Also, a red sash was tied to the scapegoat’s horns, and a portion of it was also tied to the door of the Temple. The sash on the Temple turned from red to white as the goat met its end in the wilderness, signifying to the people that God had accepted their sacrifices and their sins had been atoned. This idea came from Isaiah 1:18 which says, “Even if your sins are like scarlet, they will be white as snow…”

Also stated in the Mishna as well as the Talmud, four events occurred during the forty years before the destruction of the Temple which foreshadowed its doom. (This would have started at the time when Yeshua was sacrificed once and for all.) For forty years:

  • The lot that said “for the Lord” did not come in the Priests right hand…this was considered a bad omen.
  • The portion of the red sash that was tied to the temple door stopped turning white with the death of the sacrifice.
  • The westernmost light of the temple candelabra would not burn. This was crucial because this was the “shammash” (servant) used to kindle the other candles.
  • The temple doors opened by themselves. The rabbis saw the prophetic fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah 11:1 that says, “Open your doors, Lebanon, so that the fire can consume your cedars.” Fires did consume the cedars of Lebanon that may have adorned the inside of the temple.

Yeshua’s Fulfillment

What should surprise us is that God would give His Son for us. What should amaze us is that the blood spilled on history’s ultimate altar would be His own. But we should never be surprised that only the sacrifice of another life can exempt one from the death penalty that sin and guilt deserve. Sacrifice has always been central to the history of God’s gracious dealings with men. Over and over again, that picture is presented to us. Over and over again we see the blood. Over and over – till with awed amazement we look at Calvary and suddenly the pictures from the past merge into one. And we bow, stunned by the reality.

He died.
He died for me.
He died for you.

Even in ancient times, God lifted the veil to let us peek beyond the shadows of the reality.

Isaiah 53 was long understood by the Jews to speak of the coming Messiah – the Deliverer to be sent to them by God. In this passage, we have a clear picture of Yeshua, and of sacrifice.

“Like a lamb led to be slaughtered” (v. 7).

“He would present himself as a guilt offering” (v. 10).

“He exposed himself to death” (v. 12).

“Actually bearing the sin of many” (v. 12).

We cannot read these words today without realizing that they contain God’s explanation for Yeshua’s life – and for His death.

According to Hebrews Chapter10, the sacrifices of old were “a shadow of the good things to come, but not the actual manifestation of the originals” (v. 1). The blood of bulls and goats could not take away sins (v. 4). The sacrifices only covered and concealed sin, thus permitting God to overlook His people’s sins until Yeshua could come to take away sins by the sacrifice of Himself (Romans 3:25-26). What the ancient sacrifices foreshadowed, Yeshua accomplished! By one sacrifice, He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

In Yeshua, our sins and lawless acts have been forgiven entirely, and we have been cleansed. (Hebrews 10:14) Thus “an offering for sins is no longer needed” (v. 18). We need to appropriate for ourselves the atonement of the shed blood of Yeshua.

The animal sacrifices had to be repeated again and again. Their repetition was a continual reminder to Israel that sin, while temporarily covered, must still be dealt with. The repeated sacrifices served to demonstrate that no animal’s life could ever satisfy the righteousness of God. What a different message the bread and wine of Communion! No longer is fresh blood required. Yeshua has died, offering “for all time one sacrifice for sins” (v. 12).

It is enough.
Redemption’s work is done.
By the blood of Yeshua, you and I have been set forever free.

The focal point of God’s atoning work is Yeshua’s death on the execution stake. Sha’ul wrote, “we were reconciled with God through His Son’s death when we were enemies” (Romans 5:10). These words not only define the meaning of atonement, but they also reveal the heart of the gospel as well.

At the beginning of His ministry, Yeshua was identified as “the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The purpose of His coming was “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). He explained His death regarding His “bloodshed on behalf of many” (Mark 14:24).

The relation of Yeshua’s death to forgiveness of sins was implicit in the earliest Messianic preaching (Acts 2:21; 3:6, 19; 4:13; 5:31; 8:35; 10:43). Sha’ul proclaimed, “Yeshua died for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3), that He was the “kapparah – atonement” (Romans 3:25 KJV; “sacrifice of atonement,” NRSV, NIV; “expiation,” RSV), that He became “a cursed on our behalf” (Galatians 3:13), and that those “who were once far off have been brought near through the shedding of the Messiah’s blood.” (Ephesians 2:13). Furthermore, Yeshua has been “offered once to bear the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:28) and has become “a new and living way” (Hebrews 10:20) into God’s presence. He is the one who “bore our sins in his body on the stake” (1 Peter 2:24).

Though atonement is focused on the execution stake, the Brit Hadashah makes clear that Yeshua’s death is the climax of His perfect obedience. He “became obedient unto death, even the death of the execution stake” (Philippians 2:8). “Even though he was the Son, he learned obedience through his sufferings” (Hebrews 5:8). Romans 5:12-19 contrasts Yeshua’s obedience to Adam’s disobedience. His sinless obedience qualified Him to be the perfect Sacrifice for sin (see Hebrews 6:8-10).

The atonement for sin provided by Yeshua’s death had its origin in divine love. No other reason can explain why “God reconciled us to himself by Yeshua” (2 Corinthians 5:18). The anthem that continuously peals from the Bible is that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only and unique Son” (John 3:16; see 1 John 4:9-10). This does not mean that God loves us because Yeshua died for us. Rather, Yeshua died for us because God loves us. Thus, “God demonstrates his own love for us, in that the Messiah died on our behalf while we were still sinners.” (Romans 5:8) Because atonement issues from love, it is always seen as a divine gift, never as a human achievement.

No day was, or is, as sacred to the Jewish community as Yom HaKippurim, the Day of Atonement.

After the high priest had made atonement for his sins and those of his household, he proceeded with the rites of atonement for the whole community.

“God put Yeshua forward as the kapparah – the atonement – for sin through his faithfulness in respect to his bloody sacrificial death.” (Romans 3:25) Scripture depicts all human beings as needing to atone for their sins but lacking all power and resources for doing so. We have offended our holy Creator, whose nature it is to hate sin (Jeremiah 44:4; Habakkuk 1:13) and to punish it (Psalms 5:4-6; Romans 1:18; 2:5-9). No acceptance by, or fellowship with, such a God can be expected unless atonement is made, and since there is sin in even our best actions, anything we do in hopes of making amends can only increase our guilt or worsen our situation.

As a perfect sacrifice for sin (Romans 8:3; Ephesians 5:2; 1 Peter 1:18-19), Yeshua’s death was our redemption. He paid the price that freed us from the jeopardy of guilt, enslavement to sin, and expectation of wrath (Romans 3:24; Galatians 4:4-5; Colossians 1:14). Yeshua’s death was God’s act of reconciling us to himself, overcoming his hostility to us that our sins provoked (Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19; Colossians 1:20-22).

Yeshua’s atoning death ratified the inauguration of a renewed covenant, in which Yeshua’s one sacrifice guarantees access to God under all circumstances that cover all transgressions (Matthew 26:27-28; 1 Corinthians 11:25; Hebrews 9:15; 10:12-18). Those who through faith in Yeshua have “received reconciliation” (Romans 5:11) in him… become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

We no longer need the blood of bulls or goats. Yeshua is our perfect atonement. He is the Messiah!

In my next post, we will return to our series to continue to explore the life of Eliyahu.

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Rosh Hashanah – 5779

Be Ministers of Reconciliation

In this post, we take a break from our series on Eliyahu to observe the first of the fall Jewish feasts of Rosh Hashanah.

Rosh Hashanah: The Key Is Repentance, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation

Biblical References: B’midbar (Numbers) 29:1–6 and Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:23 – 25 ~ Yom Teruah (The Feast of Trumpets). In 2017, the holiday begins at sundown on September 9th.

Rabbinic Change: Since this is the first Shabbat of the Fall Holidays, it has been considered as the “spiritual” New Year. Hence, the name changed to Rosh Hashanah, “the head of the year.” It is also seen as the anniversary of creation; the sacrifice of Yitz’chak; the release of Yosef from Pharaoh’s prison; and, the birth of Samuel, the prophet.

The purpose and traditional observance of the Holy Day is summed up in one word – regathering. Since the fall holidays call us to regather to pure faith in God, Rosh Hashanah has come to represent the Day of Repentance. It is the day when people of Israel take stock of their spiritual condition and make the necessary changes to ensure that the upcoming New Year will be pleasing to God.

The shofar is sounded daily to alert the faithful that the time of repentance is near. The observance takes on a somber character, yet always with a hint of hope because of God’s forgiveness.

The traditional challah is shaped in a circle to symbolize God’s Kingship and the coming of Messiah. Sweet honey cakes and apples dipped in honey are a real treat and express the hope of a new fresh year.

Tradition tells of three books that are opened in the heavenly courts during the feast of Rosh Hashanah; one for the thoroughly righteous, one for the thoroughly wicked, and one for the average person. The thoroughly righteous are immediately inscribed in the book of life. The completely wicked are directly written in the book of death. The average person is kept in suspension from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). If they deserve well, they are inscribed in the book of life; if they do not deserve well, they are written in the book of death. Consequently, the Ten Days of Awe are a time of solemn self-examination with time spent in seeking reconciliation and doing good works in the Jewish tradition.

Since the 15th Century, the ceremony of Tashlich is celebrated in the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah. The congregation meets at a river or stream. Special prayers of repentance are recited, and a portion of Micah is read. People then take breadcrumbs and cast them into the water symbolizing that our sins are carried away by the water.

Rosh Hashanah has profound Messianic significance! The rabbis have taught that one day the shofar would sound and the Messiah would come. According to Rabbi Sha’ul, in the future, all true believers in Yeshua will be gathered to meet Him in the clouds. The dead in Messiah will rise first, to be followed immediately by those believers alive at the time. “For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a rousing cry, with a call from one of the ruling angels, and with God’s shofar, those who died united with the Messiah will be the first to rise; then we who are left still alive will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we will always be with the Lord. So encourage each other with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18) That day will indeed be characterized by joy, delight, and sweetness for those who are called home! As we observe Rosh Hashanah, we should anticipate the time of Yeshua‘s return.

The traditional greeting during Rosh Hashanah is, “L’shanah tovah tikatevu!” May your name be inscribed in the book of life! As Messianic Believers, we can rightly say, “L’shanah tovah tikatevu b’shem Yeshua!” May your name be inscribed in the book of life, in the name of Yeshua!

Read 2 Corinthians 5:17 – 21. Rosh Hashanah: repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Rabbi Sha’ul wrote to the Corinthians about these key ingredients in our annual observation of this holy appointed time. As Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the new spiritual year, so it is that we become new creations when we are united with Yeshua as our Messiah.

The fundamental idea in this passage is reconciliation. Because of our rebellion, we are the enemy of God and out of fellowship with Him. Through the work of the execution stake, Yeshua has brought God and us together again. God has been reconciled and has turned His face in love toward the lost world. The essential meaning of the word reconcile is “to change thoroughly.” It refers to a restored relationship with God and the lost world. “And it is all from God.” (2 Corinthians 5:18a)

God does not have to be reconciled to man because Yeshua accomplished that on the execution stake. It is the sinful man who must be reconciled to God. “Religion” is man’s feeble effort to be reconciled to God, efforts that are bound to fail. The Person who reconciles us to God is Yeshua, and the place where He reconciles us is His execution stake. He not only reconciles us to Himself, but he gives us the task of reconciling other people to Him. We have been entrusted with the message of reconciliation.

Another fundamental idea in this paragraph is that God does not count our sins against us. In the KJV, the term used is imputing. This is a word borrowed from banking; it just means, “to put to one’s account.” When you deposit money in the bank, the teller puts that amount into your account. When Yeshua died on the execution stake, all of our sins were imputed to Him – put into His account. God treated Him as though He had committed those sins.

What was the result? All of those sins have been paid for, and God no longer holds them against us, because we have trusted Yeshua as our Messiah. But even more: God has put into our account the very righteousness of Yeshua! “God made this sinless man be a sin offering on our behalf, so that in union with him we might fully share in Gods’ righteousness.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Reconciliation is based on imputation: because the demands of God’s Torah have been fully met on the execution stake, God can be reconciled to sinners. Those who believe in Yeshua, as their Messiah will never have their sins imputed to them again (see Psalms 32:1-2; Romans. 4:1-8). As far as their records are concerned, they share the righteousness of Yeshua!

How does this beautiful doctrine of reconciliation motivate us to serve Yeshua? We are ambassadors with a message. God has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

Since we are the ambassadors of Yeshua, this means that the world is in rebellion against God. He has sent His ambassadors into the world to declare peace, not war. “Be reconciled to God!” We represent Yeshua (see John 20:21; 2 Corinthians 4:5). If sinners reject our message and us, it is Yeshua who is rejected. What a great privilege it is to be heaven’s ambassadors to the rebellious sinners of this world!

God has not declared war on the world; at the execution stake, He said peace. But one day, He will declare war; and then it will be too late for those who have rejected Yeshua (2 Thessalonians 1:3-10). Satan is seeking to tear everything apart in this world, but Yeshua and His Messianic community are involved in the ministry of reconciliation, bringing things back together again, and back to God.

Ministry is not easy. If we are to succeed, we must be motivated by the fear of the Lord, the love of Yeshua, and the commission that He has given to us. It is indeed a privilege to serve Him!

During these next ten days before Yom Kippur, I encourage you to do some self-reflection. Is there any unconfessed sin in your life? Do you need to forgive someone who has hurt you? Are there any relationships that require reconciliation? As we enter into the start of a new spiritual year, resolve to make a fresh start and be ambassadors of Yeshua HaMashiach, “so that in union with Him, we might fully share in God’s righteousness.”

In my next post, we will return to our study of Eliyahu on The Angel’s Message of Grace.

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Shavuot (Pentecost)

God’s Appointed Times

We will take a break from our series on the Messianic Jews and return to God’s Appointed Times ~ Shavuot (Pentecost). In 2018, Shavuot will be observed by Jewish Believers beginning at sundown on Saturday, May 19th. Christians will be celebrating Pentecost on Sunday, May 20th. Essentially, Jews and Christians will be celebrating on the same day, albeit for slightly different reasons.

Scriptural Basis

15“‘From the day after the day of rest — that is, from the day you bring the sheaf for waving — you are to count seven full weeks, 16until the day after the seventh week; you are to count fifty days; and then you are to present a new grain offering to Adonai. 17You must bring bread from your homes for waving — two loaves made with one gallon of fine flour, baked with leaven — as firstfruits for Adonai. 18Along with the bread, present seven lambs without defect one year old, one young bull and two rams; these will be a burnt offering for Adonai, with their grain and drink offerings, an offering made by fire as a fragrant aroma for Adonai. 19Offer one male goat as a sin offering and two male lambs one year old as a sacrifice of peace offerings. 20The cohen will wave them with the bread of the firstfruits as a wave offering before Adonai, with the two lambs; these will be holy for Adonai for the cohen. 21On the same day, you are to call a holy convocation; do not do any kind of ordinary work; this is a permanent regulation through all your generations, no matter where you live.” (Vayikra [Leviticus] 23:15-21)

Basic Description

Shavu’ot was one of three festivals (Pesach/Matzah & Sukkot being the other two) appointed by Adonai where all Jewish males were to go up to Jerusalem. Shavu’ot means “weeks.” It comes exactly fifty days after Pesach. In Greek, we have come to know it as Pentecost. Pentecost means “fifty.” It was an agricultural festival to celebrate the latter fruits of the spring harvest. Recall that Yom HaBikkurim (First Fruits) immediately following Pesach celebrated the barley harvest and, as Believers, we recognize it as the resurrection of Yeshua – the first fruit from the dead. Shavu’ot celebrates the thanksgiving for the wheat harvest symbolized by the two loaves of challah.

Observance

The two loaves of challah were brought into the Temple and with great ceremony, waved in every direction before Adonai. In addition, blood sacrifices were offered to cover the sin of the people. Since sacrifices can no longer be made with the destruction of the Second Temple, the modern Jewish observance of Shavu’ot has changed. Rabbis calculated that Moshe received the Torah at Mount Sinai on Shavu’ot. Hence, the rabbinic name for Shavu’ot is Zman Matan Torateynu (the Time of the Giving of the Torah).

The custom of decorating the synagogue in greenery, flowers and baskets of fruit to symbolize the harvest aspect of Shavu’ot; the practice of marking the holiday with a meal featuring dairy products in recognition of Scripture being described as the pure milk of the Word (I Peter 2:2); and the inclusion of the Megillah (scroll) of Ruth in the service are all the primary reminders of Shavu’ot’s agricultural prominence.

But Ruth’s story sounds like another theme, one more relevant to the celebration of Shavu’ot by modern Jewish people and Messianic Believers. When her husband dies, Ruth – a gentile – elects to stay with Naomi, her mother-in-law, telling her “your people will be my people, and your God will be my God” (Ruth 1:16) binding herself willingly to the people Isra’el. Ruth’s story is one of commitment to the Jewish people freely made and to the covenant with God that is the core of the Jewish religion and experience. Like Ruth, the gentile woman who was in the lineage of Yeshua, we have voluntarily said to our fellow Messianic Jewish believers your people will be my people, your God will be my God.

Shavu’ot celebrates the most important moment in the Mosaic covenant – the giving of the Torah to Moshe and its acceptance by Isra’el at Sinai. Shavu’ot has come to be dedicated to the idea of Torah study and Jewish education. Traditional Jews stay up all night on the first night of this festival studying the Torah. In keeping with the theme of Jewish education, Shavu’ot has traditionally been the time when many Jewish schools mark graduation.

Messianic significance abounds in this festival. From God’s perspective, the time of great harvest when large numbers of Jewish believers and later Gentiles came into a personal relationship with Him was initiated at Shavu’ot immediately after Yeshua’s resurrection (Acts 2:40-43). The two leavened loaves of Shavu’ot may, therefore, symbolize Jew and Gentile presented to God and now part of His family. God set us free from slavery to sin by placing His Spirit in us to enable us to live as He intended (Romans 8:1-4). Hence God visibly placed His Ruach HaKodesh in Yeshua’s followers on that important Shavu’ot centuries ago (Acts 2:4).

The coming of the Ruach HaKodesh served as the completion of Pesach, the completion of our atonement, in the sense that through the Ruach, God gives us the power we need to overcome our tendency to do evil.

The theme of Shavu’ot can be best summed up by the word revival. Isra’el was called to praise God for the first fruits of the ground, knowing that these early fruits assured the latter harvest. This also applies to the spiritual Kingdom of God. The first fruit of believers at Shavu’ot virtually guarantees a revival in the latter-day spiritual harvest for Messiah. Now we can understand why God included Shavu’ot in the three required festivals for every Jewish male. He had gathered Jewish men from throughout the region to hear the Good News of Yeshua in their own language. They would take that message back home with them to tell their families and friends. As Pesach speaks of redemption, Shavu’ot speaks of revival. The message of Shavu’ot is one of great hope and joy. It was a message heard and accepted by 3,000 Jewish people on that special Shavu’ot (Acts 2:41). Note that 3,000 Jewish people died because of their rebellion of worshipping the Golden Calf at the giving of the Torah.

When Is the Biblical Feast of Shavuot?

Many people desire to know the actual Biblical date for Shavu’ot. It is the only feast that God did not say fell on a specific date in the Hebrew calendar. Rather He gave a formula for calculating the day. Though the traditional Jewish community will celebrate Shavu’ot according to that traditional calculation, there is a difference of opinion on the matter. In the first century, the Pharisees and Sadducees differed on the date that Shavuot was to be celebrated. The question arose over which Sabbath does Firstfruits (see Vayikra 23:9-14) take place after the day after Pesach, which is generally considered a Sabbath or the regular seventh day Sabbath, i.e. Saturday during the week of Pesach?

The Pharisees claimed the correct day was the day after the first day of Matzah, the sixteenth of Nisan. The Sadducees taught that the correct day was Sunday, the day after the weekly Sabbath. Since the writings of the Pharisees survived and developed into traditional Judaism, their opinion is accepted in modern Judaism.

But who is biblically correct? Remember, the Scriptures state, “you are to count seven full Sabbaths until the day after the seventh week; you are to count fifty days.” (Leviticus 23:15-16).

For it to be the day after the seventh Shabbat, the initial Sabbath would have to be the weekly Sabbath. So, it would appear the Sadducees were right. Consequently, I believe that the Sadducees got this one correct. Amazingly, the year that Yeshua died, the sixteenth of Nisan fell on a Sunday, which is the day after the Sabbath for the Sadducees as well. God worked it out that neither group would have a reason not to recognize Yeshua as the Firstfruits of the Resurrection.

In my next post, we will return to our series on the Messianic Jews as we continue to our series on Yeshua: The Better Covenant.

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Pesach and Hag HaMatzah

(Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread)
God’s Appointed Times

We return to God’s Appointed Times from the Tanakh.  Both Pesach (Passover) and Hag HaMatzah are tied to the remembrance of the exodus of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.  The principle Scriptural reference for Pesach is in B’midbar (Exodus) 12:1-13 and Hag HaMatzah in Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:5-8.  In 2018, Pesach starts on the eve of March 30th and Hag HaMatzah on the eve of March 31st.  This eight-day remembrance ends at sundown on April 7th.

For Believers in Yeshua, this time can be a great time to reflect not only on the deliverance of the Jews from Egyptian bondage and death of the first-born by the shedding of the lamb’s blood on the doorpost; but also on the shed blood of Yeshua on the cross.  His death and resurrection paid for our sins and purchased for us eternal salvation.

I have attached a PDF version of an explanation of the traditional Pesach Seder provided by Chosen People Ministries.  Click here.

However, for those of you who want to have a Scriptural-based observation of Pesach, I highly recommend Kevin Geoffrey’s “Behold the Lamb and Preparation Guide.”  Click here to order.

Sukkot 5778

The Ultimate Sukkah

We interrupt our series on Revelation once again to consider the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.  This is the third and last of the traditional Fall Holy Days. In 2017, the festival of Sukkot – the Feast of Tabernacles, begins at sundown on Wednesday, October 4th.

Sukkot is the third of the great annual pilgrimage festivals (Vayikra 23:33-43).  Each year, all adult Jewish males were required to go up to Jerusalem to celebrate the feasts of Matzah, Shavuot, and Sukkot. The festival is also called the “feast of ingathering (Sh’mot 23:16; D’varim 16:13).  It is celebrated immediately after the harvest, in the month Tishri, and the celebration lasts for eight days (Vayikra 23:33-43).  During this period the people leave their homes and live in a sukkah, a temporary dwelling, formed of the branches of trees as a memorial of the wilderness wanderings when the people dwelt in sukkot (Vayikra 23:43).


Typical Backyard Sukkah

Like Thanksgiving Day in the United States, Sukkot is a time of feasting, rejoicing, and giving thanks to God for His bountiful gifts (D’varim 16:13-15).  In fact, it is widely believed that the Puritan colonists, who were great students of the Hebrew Scriptures, based the first American Thanksgiving on Sukkot.

We are to “rejoice before the Lord God” during all the time of this feast (Vayikra 23:40).  The tradition of the Jewish people is that they were to express their joy by dancing and singing hymns of praise to God, with musical instruments.

Sukkot (the plural form of sukkah) are temporary dwellings, many with canvas walls.   The roof is made of natural materials such as bamboo, corn stalks, or other greenery, usually supported by a few wooden beams.   It provides more shade than sun, but you can still see the sky through it and the stars at night.

Today, as in the Second Temple days, we still wave the lulav (palm branch) and etrog (citron) as mandated in the Torah.   The lulav is made of a palm branch, arava (willow), and hadas (myrtle).   The etrog is a citron.   Together the lulav and the etrog are referred to as the Four Species.

Of all the feasts of the Lord, Sukkot best illustrates the fact that God would dwell in the midst of His people through the presence of the Messiah (John 1:14).  He may have fulfilled His promise on the very day of Sukkot.  We don’t know the exact date of Yeshua’s birth.  But we do know; it certainly wasn’t December 25th.  For me, there is sufficient evidence to corroborate that Yeshua’s first coming came on Sukkot.

Sukkot pictures the future kingdom God has prepared for Israel when Messiah returns (see Zechariah 12:10-13:1; Isaiah 35; Luke 1:67-80).  The Prophet Zechariah described the changes that will take place in the topography of the holy land and how the Gentile nations will celebrate Sukkot along with the Jewish people   (see Zechariah 14:16-19).

For Israel, the best is yet to come!  The scattered people will be gathered; the sinful people will be cleansed; the sorrowing people will rejoice.  And for Messianic Believers, the best is yet to come; for we shall be together with the Lord and His people, every stain washed away, rejoicing in His presence.

Sukkot has always been known as the appointed time that commemorates God dwelling with His people.  How fitting for the Kingdom of God, when it fully comes to the redeemed earth, to be considered the ultimate fulfillment of this appointed time.  God himself will finally dwell with His people in all His fullness.  The Sukkah of God will be among men when Messiah Yeshua dwells as the ruler of the 1000-year Messianic Kingdom!

All the Feasts of the Lord have their particular lessons to teach.  Because of its latter day fulfillment, Sukkot seems to be the apex of all the other appointed times of God.  The goal of God’s plan is ultimately the establishment of His Kingdom here on earth.  This explains why, of all the appointed times, Sukkot is said to be the premier celebration of the Millennium.

As the Prophet Zechariah has told us in Chapter 14, in the last days all nations will be gathered against Jerusalem.  They will take the city and plunder it. (Zechariah 14:1, 2)  The Lord will then take charge of His people; He will appear upon the Mount of Olives.  By splitting this mountain, He will prepare a safe way for the rescue of those that remain.  He will come with all His saints (Zechariah 14:3-5) to complete His kingdom.

The other pilgrimage feasts (Matzah and Shavuot) have been fulfilled, but the Feast of Tabernacles – Sukkot finds its fulfillment during the millennial kingdom of the Messiah (Vayikra 23:33-44; B’midbar 16:13-15; 31:10; Nehemiah 8:17, 18; Revelation 20:1-6).

The remnant of the nations will turn to the Lord and come yearly to Jerusalem, to keep the feast of Sukkot (Zechariah 14:16-19).  Can’t you just imagine it?  The feast of the Millennium!  What a party that will be!  This feast will be kept by all who have come to believe in Messiah, to thank the Lord for His grace in that He has brought them out of the wanderings of this life into the blessedness of His kingdom of peace.

In the perfected kingdom of God there will be no more sinners, but only those who are righteous and holy.  This is affirmed in the last clause of Zechariah’s prophecy: “there will be no merchants anymore in the house of Adonai.” (v. 21)

Thus, does Zechariah’s prophesy close with a prospect of the completion of the kingdom of God in glory.  All believing commentators are agreed that the final fulfillment of Zechariah 14:20-21 lies before us in Revelation 21 and 22.

According to Isaiah, God has promised His people a new heaven and a new earth (see Isaiah 65:17; 66:22).  The old creation must make way for the new creation if God is to be glorified.

Indeed, many interesting questions could be asked about our future abode in heaven, but most must go unanswered until we reach our glorious home.  In fact, John closed his book by reminding us that we have responsibilities today because we are going to heaven.

Sukkot has always known as the appointed time that commemorates God dwelling with his people.  How fitting for the Kingdom of God, when it fully comes to the redeemed earth, to be considered the ultimate fulfillment of this holy day.  God, Himself will finally dwell with His people in all His fullness.  The Sukkah of God will be among men when Messiah Yeshua tabernacles with us as the ruler of the 1000-year Messianic Kingdom!

What a celebration there will be as His people, both Jews and Gentiles, wave the lulav and chant, Ana Adonai Hoshiana!  (Lord, do save us!)  Amen.  Come quickly, Lord Yeshua!  Come and dwell in Your Ultimate Sukkah!

In my next post, we will return to our series on Revelation by looking at Revelation 6:8-9 ~ The Fourth Bowl.

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Yom Kippur – 5778

The Day of Atonement

In this post, we take a break from the series on Revelation to observe the second of the fall Jewish feasts of Yom Kippur.

In 2017, Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement begins at sundown on September 29th.  The Tanakh says that the blood of the sacrifice is given to make atonement.   The Hebrew words translated as “atonement” in English are Kippur (noun) and Kaspar (verb).   The root occurs about 150 times in the Tanakh and is intimately linked with forgiveness of sin and with reconciliation to God.  What does “atonement” mean?

Atonement means making amends, blotting out the offense, and giving satisfaction for wrong done; thus reconciling to oneself the alienated other and restoring the disrupted relationship.

Vayikra (Leviticus) 16 provides detailed instructions for a unique sacrifice to be offered once a year, on the tenth day of the seventh month – Tishri.  On that day the whole community of Israel was to gather at the Tabernacle (and later, the Temple) to fast and to pray.  The high priest followed carefully prescribed steps and entered the Especially Holy Place (Holy of Holies), bringing the blood of the sacrificed animal.  There he sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat.  This animal was a sin offering for the people (16:15).  That sacrifice was an “atonement … to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.”  Following that sacrifice, Israel was told, “You will be clean before Adonai from all your sins” (v. 30).

It is important in looking at the Tanakh to realize that in it we see realities acted out that would be unveiled later.  The whole of scripture is a progressive revelation of God.  He reveals Himself more and more throughout human history.   God planned for continuous enactments of reality so that when Yeshua finally came to lay down His life for us, we would realize just what He was doing?  Should we be surprised at the centuries of animal sacrifice, and the stress on the shedding of blood as necessary for forgiveness?  No.  In the repeated sacrifices of the Tanakh we are led to understand that, to God, death has always been the price of life for sinful men.

Yom Kippur in Yeshua’s Time

Vayikra 16:7-10 states that the Cohen HaGadol (High Priest) is “to take the two goats and place them before Adonai at the entrance to the tent of meeting.  Then (he) is to cast lots for the two goats, one lot for Adonai and the other for ‘Az’azel (scapegoat) (He) is to present the goat whose lot fell to Adonai and offer it as a sin offering.  But the goat whose lot fell to ‘Az’azel is to be presented alive to Adonai to be used for making atonement over it by sending it away into the desert for ‘Az’azel.”

There were also a few traditions that were added to the scapegoat ceremony.  According to the Mishna, lots were drawn to decide the fate of both of the goats.  The lot for the sacrifice said “for the Lord,” and the lot for the scapegoat said “scapegoat.”  The people considered it a good omen if the lot “for the Lord” came up in the Priests right hand.  Also, a red sash was tied to the scapegoat’s horns, and a portion of it was also tied to the door of the temple.  The sash on the temple turned from red to white as the goat met its end in the wilderness, signifying to the people that God had accepted their sacrifices and their sins had been atoned.  This idea came from Isaiah 1:18 which says, “Even if your sins are like scarlet, they will be white as snow…”

Also stated in the Mishna as well as the Talmud, four events occurred during the forty years before the destruction of the temple which foreshadowed its doom.  (This would have started at the time when Yeshua was sacrificed once and for all.)  For forty years:

  • The lot that said “for the Lord” did not come in the Priests right hand…this was considered a bad omen.
  • The portion of the red sash that was tied to the temple door stopped turning white with the death of the sacrifice.
  • The westernmost light of the temple candelabra would not burn. This was crucial because this was the shammash” (servant) used to kindle the other lights.
  • The temple doors opened by themselves. The rabbis saw the prophetic fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah 11:1 that says, “Open your doors, Lebanon, so that the fire can consume your cedars.”  In fact, fires did consume the cedars of Lebanon that may have adorned the inside of the temple.
Yeshua’s Fulfillment

What should surprise us is that God would give His Son for us.  What should amaze us is that the blood spilled on history’s ultimate altar would be His own.  But we should never be surprised that only the sacrifice of another life can exempt one from the death penalty that sin and guilt deserve.  Sacrifice has always been central to the history of God’s gracious dealings with men.  Over and over again, that picture is presented to us.  Over and over again we see the blood.  Over and over – till with awed amazement we look at Calvary and suddenly the pictures from the past merge into one.  And we bow, stunned by the reality.

He died.
He died for me.
He died for you.

Even in ancient times, God lifted the veil to let us peek beyond the shadows of the reality.

Isaiah 53 was long understood by the Jews to speak of the coming Messiah – the Deliverer to be sent to them by God.  In this passage, we have a clear picture of Yeshua, and of sacrifice.

“Like a lamb led to be slaughtered” (v. 7).
“He would present himself as a guilt offering” (v. 10).
“He exposed himself to death” (v. 12).
“Actually bearing the sin of many” (v. 12).

We cannot read these words today with out realizing that they contain God’s explanation for Yeshua’s life – and for His death.

According to Hebrews Chapter10, the sacrifices of old were “a shadow of the good things to come, but not the actual manifestation of the originals” (v. 1).  The blood of bulls and goats could not take away sins (v. 4).  The sacrifices only covered and concealed sin, thus permitting God to overlook His people’s sins until Yeshua could come to take away sins by the sacrifice of Himself (Romans 3:25-26).  What the ancient sacrifices foreshadowed, Yeshua accomplished!  By one sacrifice, He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

In Yeshua, our sins and lawless acts have been forgiven entirely, and we have been cleansed. (Hebrews 10:14) Thus “an offering for sins is no longer needed” (v. 18).  We just need to appropriate for ourselves the atonement of the shed blood of Yeshua.

The animal sacrifices had to be repeated again and again.   Their repetition was a continual reminder to Israel that sin, while temporarily covered, must still be dealt with.  The repeated sacrifices served to demonstrate that no animal’s life could ever satisfy the righteousness of God.  What a different message the bread and wine of Communion!  No longer is fresh blood required.  Yeshua has died, offering “for all time one sacrifice for sins” (v.  12).

It is enough. 
Redemption’s work is done. 
By the blood of Yeshua, you and I have been set forever free.

The focal point of God’s atoning work is Yeshua’s death on the execution stake.  Sha’ul wrote, “we were reconciled with God through His Son’s death when we were enemies” (Romans 5:10).  These words not only define the meaning of atonement, but they also reveal the heart of the gospel as well.

At the beginning of His ministry, Yeshua was identified as “the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  The purpose of His coming was “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).  He explained His death regarding His “blood shed on behalf of many” (Mark 14:24).

The relation of Yeshua’s death to forgiveness of sins was implicit in the earliest Messianic preaching (Acts 2:21; 3:6, 19; 4:13; 5:31; 8:35; 10:43).  Sha’ul proclaimed, “Yeshua died for our sins” (1 Cor.  15:3), that He was the “kapparah – atonement” (Romans 3:25 KJV; “sacrifice of atonement,” NRSV, NIV; “expiation,” RSV), that He became “a cursed on our behalf” (Galatians 3:13), and that those “who were once far off have been brought near through the shedding of the Messiah’s blood.” (Ephesians 2:13).   Furthermore, Yeshua has been “offered once to bear the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:28) and has become “a new and living way” (Hebrews 10:20) into God’s presence.  He is the one who “bore our sins in his body on the stake” (1 Peter 2:24).

Though atonement is focused in the execution stake, the Brit Hadashah makes clear that Yeshua’s death is the climax of His perfect obedience.  He “became obedient unto death, even the death of the execution stake” (Philippians 2:8).  “Even though he was the Son, he learned obedience through his sufferings (Hebrews 5:8).  Romans 5:12-19 contrasts Yeshua’s obedience with Adam’s disobedience.  His sinless obedience qualified Him to be the perfect Sacrifice for sin (see Hebrews 6:8-10).

The atonement for sin provided by Yeshua’s death had its origin in divine love.  No other reason can explain why “God reconciled us to himself by Yeshua” (2 Corinthians 5:18).  The anthem that continuously peals from the Bible is that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only and unique Son” (John 3:16; see 1 John 4:9-10).  This does not mean that God loves us because Yeshua died for us.  Rather, Yeshua died for us because God loves us.  Thus, “God demonstrates his own love for us, in that the Messiah died on our behalf while we were still sinners.” (Romans 5:8) Because atonement issues from love, it is always seen as a divine gift, never as a human achievement.

No day was, or is, as sacred to the Jewish community as Yom HaKippurim, the Day of Atonement. 

After the high priest had made atonement for his sins and those of his household, he proceeded with the rites of atonement for the whole community.

“God put Yeshua forward as the kapparah – the atonement – for sin through his faithfulness in respect to his bloody sacrificial death.” (Romans 3:25)  Scripture depicts all human beings as needing to atone for their sins but lacking all power and resources for doing so.  We have offended our holy Creator, whose nature it is to hate sin (Jeremiah 44:4; Habakkuk 1:13) and to punish it (Psalms 5:4-6; Romans 1:18; 2:5-9).   No acceptance by, or fellowship with, such a God can be expected unless atonement is made, and since there is sin in even our best actions, anything we do in hopes of making amends can only increase our guilt or worsen our situation.

As a perfect sacrifice for sin (Romans 8:3; Ephesians 5:2; 1 Peter 1:18-19), Yeshua’s death was our redemption.  He paid the price that freed us from the jeopardy of guilt, enslavement to sin, and expectation of wrath (Romans 3:24; Galatians 4:4-5; Colossians 1:14).  Yeshua’s death was God’s act of reconciling us to himself, overcoming his hostility to us that our sins provoked (Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19; Colossians 1:20-22).

Yeshua’s atoning death ratified the inauguration of a renewed covenant, in which Yeshua’s one sacrifice guarantees access to God under all circumstances that cover all transgressions (Matthew 26:27-28; 1 Corinthians 11:25; Hebrews 9:15; 10:12-18).  Those who through faith in Yeshua have “received reconciliation” (Romans 5:11) “in him…  become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

We no longer need the blood of bulls or goats.  Yeshua is our perfect atonement.  He is the Messiah!

In my next post, we will return to our series to continue to explore Revelation 16:4-7 on The Third Bowl.

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