Have you ever wondered why the birth of Yeshua (Jesus) is celebrated on December 25th? Most of us take this date for granted but what Biblical evidence is there to support it? Was is made up or is there a basis in real Bible history. Today, I’d like to explore these questions and provide you with some reasonable Biblical evidence for timing the birth of our Savior.
Now, I know this is a controversial subject for some. On one side of the spectrum are those who believe that the 25th of December was in fact the birth date of Yeshua. On the other side of the spectrum are those who believe nothing about this date has a basis in Biblical history. Then there are those who believe the date doesn’t matter so much as what the date represents.
Personally, my belief is that context is always important. Wonderful insights in the Bible’s redemptive message are often gleaned by simply placing people and events in their proper context. This is especially true of Yeshua the promised Messiah.
So today let’s place the birth of Yeshua in its chronological context. By doing so, regardless of when you celebrate the birth of Christ, I think you’ll have a new appreciation for Yeshua and the world changing event His birth represented.
Let me start by sharing with you a prophecy by Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist. Zacharias as you will see is instrumental in helping us determine the time when Yeshua was born.
And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began:
That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; The oath which he sware to our father Abraham,.. – Luke 1:67-73
This prophecy of Zacharias was given on the 8th day after the birth of John the Baptist. Many of you know the story of Zacharias and his wife Elisabeth. They were without child but an angel appeared to Zacharias while he performed his priestly duties in the temple. The angel told Zacharias that he and Elisabeth would have a child and as a sign Zacharias would be unable to speak until it came to pass. The angel also told Zacharias that he was to name their son John.
So the eighth day came when their new child was to be circumcised and the people present presumed that Zacharias would name his son after himself. Zacharias grabbed his writing board and said no! (Remember he couldn’t speak) The child’s name was to be John. Immediately Zacharias was able to speak and then he gave the prophecy we just read.
Now keep in mind that Mary the mother of Jesus had just spent 3 months with Zacharias and Elisabeth, having begun her visit in the 6th month of Elisabeth’s pregnancy. What is neat about this information is that Zacharias served as a priest during the course of Abia (Abijah). A thousand years before, King David had arranged the priestly service into 24 courses. If King David organized the priestly courses in the same manner he arranged the other services as described in 1 Chronicles 24; 27 and I Kings 4 then the priestly courses would have served for two weeks starting in the first month of the Biblical calendar.
This then would mean that Zacharias’ service began in the second half of the 4th month. A reasonable case can be made that Elisabeth conception would have followed in the 5th month. According to the text of Luke, Mary’s conception then took place in the 6th month of Elisabeth’s pregnancy. A normal human pregnancy lasts roughly 40 weeks or about 9 months. This would place the birth of Yeshua in the 7th month during the 13th or l4th priestly course.
As many of you know the feast of Tabernacles falls in the 7th Biblical month. According to this chart that would have been the 14th priestly course of Jeshebeab, a name which means “dwelling of the father”.
Appropriately Isaiah 7:14 tells us that one of the names for the coming Messiah is Immanuel or “God with us”. Here take a look
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. – Isaiah 7:14
The New Testament confirms this in Matthew 1:20-23
But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. 21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. 22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, 23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. – Matthew 1:20-23
Dwelling of the Father indeed!
But this not the only evidence which supports the birth of Yeshua during the Feast of Tabernacles. The apostle John beautifully describes Yeshua in the following passage:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. – John 1:1-14
A couple things to notice in this passage. First John describes Yeshua as the Word or Logos and the Light. He goes on to tell us that this Word became flesh and then dwelt among mankind. In the text of John the word “dwelt” comes from the Greek skenno which means to fix one’s tabernacle or live in a tabernacle or tent. It implies a temporary dwelling place. Skenno in terms comes from the Greek skenos which means a tabernacle or tent and it can also be taken metaphorically to mean the temporary human body in which the soul dwells.
So John’s statement that Yeshua became flesh and dwelt among mankind very well could be a reference to Yeshua’s birth during the Feast of Tabernacles. A feast which required Israel to dwell in temporary tabernacles or booths made of tree branches. In a prophetic sense many believe the Feast of Tabernacles also points to the Millennium when Yeshua will dwell with mankind during the 1000 years.
But there was more to John’s statement than an inference to the Feast of Tabernacles and the Messiah’s birth. John also said that Yeshua was the “true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”
Yeshua himself echoed these words 30 years later during the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah when he healed the blind man. Here take a look:
Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. – John 8:12
Jesus answered, Neither hath this man [blind man] sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. – John 9:3-5
Others said, These are not the words of him that hath a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind? And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch. – John 10:21-23
You need to understand the context here to really appreciate Yeshua’s statement. You see the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) is a celebration commemorating the cleansing of the temple by the Maccabees after the abomination of Antiochus Epiphanes in 165 BC. This celebration is also known as the festival of lights because of the menorah lighting ceremony associated with the celebration. During the 2nd temple era, when Yeshua walked the temple stones, the light from the giant temple menorah would have lit up the temple mount in a glorious display.
So when Yeshua healed the blind man during Hanukkah (festival of lights) He used the traditions associated with the celebration to teach a deeper theological and historical truth. You see not only was Yeshua the “Word” and the “light of mankind” as the John described Him but His very conception, that point when that Word became flesh, took place during the Festival of Lights some 30 years earlier.
Take a look at the chart above once again. Notice that Mary’s conception took place in the 6th month of Elisabeth’s pregnancy. Hanukkah is an 8 day feast celebrated from the 25th day of the 9th month until the 2nd or 3rd day of the 10th month. This date is further confirmed by the prophecy of Daniel 9. In my book Daniel’s 70 Weeks: The Keystone of Bible Prophecy I’ve provided reasonable evidence to show that the 7 shabuwa (sevens) from the “commandment to restore and build Jerusalem” until the Messiah fell in the year 5BC during the Feast of Hanukkah. In other words the Messiah came after 70 sevens just as Daniel 9 predicted.
Christmas and the Course of Abia (Abijah)
This brings me to the title of my blog post this week. While there is little evidence to support the birth of Christ on December 25. The celebration of Hanukkah may in fact be at the root of our modern traditions. You see during the first few centuries after Yeshua’s death, as the central authority of the church moved away from Jerusalem, the gentile church began to separate itself from the “Jewish” roots of their faith. There was clearly a decree of anti-Semitism involved in this shift. It’s no secret, that some of the early church fathers and many who followed after them made clear their animosity to the Jewish people.
In any case Passover became Easter. The Passover supper became communion. The Sabbath became the Lord’s Day. And a good case can be made that the conception of Yeshua during the feast Hanukkah, that most important time when YHWH the living God of the Bible became human flesh, was refocused to the birth of Christ on December 25th.
Keep in mind that Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of the 9th Biblical month which often falls in the month of December. Not wanting anything to do with the Jewish traditions the early church could have easily taken the conception of the Yeshua and repackaged it as the His birth on the 25th of December which coincided with the birthday of the popular Roman sun deity, Sol Invictus Mithra. This gave the growing number of gentile converts in the Roman world the ability to commemorate the birth of Christ without keeping the Jewish traditions which were most likely the origins of that celebration.
So as you are celebrating the birth of Yeshua this holiday season, give a thought to the ancient Jewish Festival of Lights. Think about YHWH, the living God of the Bible becoming the light of the world on an ancient winter night. Also, give a thought to a blind man who many years later was healed and whose very first sight was Yeshua, the Light of the World!
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Over the years some of you have written in asking about the priestly courses and their order. This article was based upon the assumption that King David organized the courses in the same manner he did the other courses of service. (i.e. the courses each served their complete term in one service.) Some believe that the priestly courses served only 1 week then returned home and then approximately 6 months later came back and served another week. In the following chart I’ve tried to work out such an organization included the feast days when all priests were required to serve. Please note, neither of the charts in this article account for a 13th month or other required intercalations.
Please also note that the above chart is slightly different than the one in my book. I had to correct an error in the starting point of Mary’s conception as it relates to the Feast of Dedication. When I update my book I will correct the chart.