People have asked us why we believe that Jesus was born at Sukkot (the Festival of Booths / the Feast of Tabernacles) and this article is about how theologians have arrived at this conclusion. It is also about how Sukkot has already been set apart by God to be the only Feast of Israel that all the nations of the world will one day celebrate.
Let’s start with how we arrive at Sukkot being the time of Jesus’ birth?
- Firstly, are able to determine that Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist was conceived in mid Sivan on the Jewish Calendar (which is in May/June) and born 40 weeks later on the Passover, which is on the 15 Nisan:
a. We know that John’s father (Zacharias) was a Levite who was assigned to serve in the Temple during the course of “Abia” in the 8th course of the year (Luke 1:5, 1 Chr 24:10).
b. Since the cycle of service in the Temple began on the first Shabbat of Nisan (i.e. we know that the ecclesiastic calendar starts at the new moon before Passover — which is the 1st of Nisan). We also know that both Passover and Shavu’ot required all priestly courses to serve. We can calculate that the actual time of the 8th course where Zacharias served in the Temple was during the 10th week of the year, this would be at the beginning on the second Sabbath of the month of Sivan (May/June).
c. It is written that John the Baptist was conceived shortly after Zacharias’ service in the Temple (Luke 1:23-4) — which would be somewhere around the third Sabbath of the month of Sivan (i.e., late Sivan).
d. Assuming a full-term pregnancy (and the Scripture does not indicate otherwise), John the Baptist was born around Passover (Nisan 15).
e ) The Jews have always expected Elijah to come at Passover and herald the coming of the Messiah. and even today it is customary for Jews to set out a special cup of wine during the Passover Seder meal in anticipation of the arrival of Elijah for the festival. Jesus said that John the Baptist was a type of Elijah the prophet (Matt 17:10-13, cp. Luke 1:17), therefore it is no surprise that John the Baptist (a type of Elijah) was born at Passover.
2. Jesus was conceived in late Kislev (Nov/Dec) and born 40 weeks later during Sukkot.
a. We know that Jesus was conceived six months after John the Baptist was conceived (Luke 1:24-27, 36) and that John the Baptist was conceived in late Sivan. So, six months after late Sivan is late Kislev.
It is important to note here that the “sixth” month refers to the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, not the 6th Jewish month of Elul (cp. Luke 1:36).
b. Placing the time of the conception of Jesus in late Kislev also makes sense of the fact that He is called the Light of the world (John 8:12, 9:5, 12:46), as the first day of the Jewish festival of Chanukah (the Festival of Lights / Feast of Dedication) is the 25th day of Kislev. Based on the above, we can place the time of Jesus’ conception during the Jewish Festival of Chanukah.
c. Adding six months from the 15th day of Nisan (John the Baptist’s birthday), we arrive at the 15th day of the 7th month, Tishri – the first day of the festival of Sukkot.
d. In accordance with the Law of Moses, Jesus would have been circumcised the “eight day” after birth. Given He was born on the first day of Sukkot, the eighth day falls on a significant day on the Jewish calendar called Shemini Atzeret / Sinchat Torah, which, like the first day, is a day of sacred assembly (Leviticus 23:39). On this day, the Jews complete their annual cycle of Torah readings and start again from Bereshit (Genesis), therefore Simchat Torah is considered by the Jews to be a time of “fulfillment” of the Torah. The circumcision of Jesus at this time indicates how He had come to fulfill the Law (Torah) and the Prophets (Matt. 5:17-18).
3. Circumstantial Evidence:
a. John 1:14 states that the “Word became flesh and “dwelt” with us. The Greek word “dwelt” [skeinao] comes from the word skeinos, which the LXX (Septuagint) uses for the mishkan (tabernacle). The name given for the feast of Tabernacles itself is called Herotei Skeinon in the LXX.
b. King Herod most likely would used the opportunity of the Festival of Sukkot (in Jerusalem) to perform the census. It would not have been on Chanukah (which falls around December 25th on the Gregorian calendar) since he detested and feared the Hasmoneans.
c. Shepherds would not be out with their sheep in the dead of winter in Israel. The angel who appeared to the shepherds said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). Since Sukkot was known as both a festival of joy and also as the “Festival of the Nations,” the angel was actually giving them a greeting for the Festival of Sukkot.
d. We know that Jesus was 30 years old when He started His ministry (Luke 3:23) and assuming (as many Bible scholars do) that He ministered for 3 1/2 years, we can count backward from when He was crucified (month of Nisan) to arrive at His birthday falling in the month of Tishri, when Sukkot falls.
e. The Catholic church in 336 AD declared December 25th on the Julian calendar to be Jesus’ birthday in order to replace a pagan Roman holiday, Saturnalia. Ironically, December 25th was a celebration of the birthday of the sun god. The early church, in an attempt to get rid of the pagan holiday, declared December 25th to be the birthday of the Son of God.
f. The Scriptures teach that someday, when the Lord returns, that the nations of the world will all celebrate Sukkot — in fact, will be required to celebrate?
4. Sukkot – a Festival for all the Nations of the Earth
Sukkot (Festival of Booths / Feast of Tabernacles) has already been set apart by God in Scripture to be the only Feast of Israel that all the nations of the world will one day celebrate — and not just by the Jews, but by all the nations of the earth (i.e. Gentiles), required if those nations are to receive rain.
It says in Zechariah Chapter 14 that at the end of days, God Himself will gather the nations of the world to come against Jerusalem and that He will go out and fight against them;
“A day of the Lord is coming when your plunder will be divided in your presence. I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem for battle. The city will be captured, the houses looted, and the women raped. Half the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be removed from the city. Then the Lord will go out to fight against those nations as He fights on a day of battle.
Zechariah 14: 1-3
Then it says that the Lord Himself will return and set His feet on the Mount of Olives. Just after the battle where the nations of the world come against Jerusalem — the Lord’s feet will stand on the Mount of Olives…now remember, this is an Old Testament passage. The Lord’s feet?
“On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east.”
What does the New Testament teach?
Luke 24:50 indicates that the Jesus ascended into heaven in the vicinity of Bethany — which is on the east slope of the Mount of Olives.
Acts 1:1 0-11 says that two angels said that He would return the same way as He left;
“And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”
Yes, Jesus will come in the same way as He was seen go into heaven — to the Mount of Olives.
This is the Lord’s return — when none else than God Himself will become King over all the earth and only His Name will be exalted.
“On that day Yahweh will become King over all the earth—Yahweh alone, and His name alone”
But then it says something very interesting…
It says that the survivors from the nations that came against Jerusalem will be then be required to go up to Jerusalem year after year to “worship the King” and “to celebrate the Festival of Booths” and if they don’t, they won’t get rain.
Then all the survivors from the nations that came against Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, and to celebrate the Festival of Booths. Should any of the families of the earth not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, rain will not fall on them. And if the people of Egypt will not go up and enter, then rain will not fall on them; this will be the plague the Lord inflicts on the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Festival of Booths.
Why would God require the Festival of Booths to be celebrated by the nations — by the Gentiles and not only the Jews? Why not Passover, when He gave His life? Why not FirstFruits when He rose from the dead? Why not Shavuoth / Pentecost when both the Law and the Holy Spirit were given? Why Sukkot?
Could it be that this will be when the nations of the world will celebrate His birthday on His birthday — and not as they do now, on December 25th?
We outlined above that Jesus will return to the Mount of Olives, but when? Understand we are NOT taking about the day and the hour of His return — which Scripture says that only the Father knows (Matt 24:36, Mark 13:32) but the time of year, the season.
Many theologians believe that Jesus will return on a Rosh Hashanah, which is also called the Feast of Trumpets and whose name in Scripture is Yom Teruah (literally “day of shouting”) — the only Feast of Israel not yet fulfilled in Jesus;
“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.
1 Thessalonians 4: 16-17
The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, therefore each year, the day that Rosh Hashanah falls is different. Assuming that He will return on one of these Feasts of Trumpets does not indicate what day that is; as that depends on the year. It could be a Tuesday, a Monday, any day, even a Shabbat.
But could it be that with all the other Feasts of Israel fulfilled in Jesus, that this last one could be when He returns?
Just a thought….