As part of their journey through the season of Advent many Christians are reading what the Bible says about the birth of Jesus Christ. As they read the description of how many angels announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds watching over their sheep on the hills surrounding Bethlehem as found in Luke 2:8-15, it seems to them like it is a warm autumn evening.
This is in contrast to the cold, rainy, and possibly snowy weather that causes shepherds to bring their sheep into the valleys near their home in late December.
The problem of those greatly contrasting weather situations has caused me to question the validity of observing the traditional day of December 25th as the time when Jesus was born on earth.
There is another problem that I have with celebrating the birth of Jesus on that day. This problem comes from my study of God’s plan for the spiritual redemption of mankind. In my study of that I have seen how God worked hard over thousands of years to bring about the right world conditions to fulfill the many prophecies that He made about a coming Messiah who would bring spiritual redemption for his people and make it possible to bring reconciliation between sinful people and a holy God.
So why wasn’t Jesus, as the person fulfilling all those important prophecies, born on an important date in fulfillment of important biblical typologies, rather than being born on the ancient Roman pagan feast of Saturnalia?
On the other hand, maybe God did send His Son to be born at the right time fulfilling those prophecies and typologies, but the early Christian Church leaders messed up by setting that date and no one has yet corrected that mistake.
Consequently, if we accept the premise that God did cause the birth of Jesus Christ to happen at the right time in fulfillment of those prophecies and typologies, when would that time be?
For many years I have believed that Jesus was born on the Feast of Tabernacles fulfilling God’s great desire to tabernacle and live with His people. There are many reasons for this belief. The first of these is seen in the alternate reading of John 1:14 (NASB) which declared that “the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.”
Another reason why I believe that Jesus was born on this festival is that it is the beginning of the cycle where Jesus fulfilled the important Biblical festivals by the important events of His life.
Jesus was born on the Feast of Tabernacles fulfilling the type of God’s great desire to tabernacle with His people.
Jesus fulfilled The Feast of Passover and The Day of Atonement by being God’s perfect Passover sacrifice as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29) when He died on the cross taking the punishment of spiritual death that everyone who broke God’s laws deserved.
Then, after Jesus had been buried in the earth for three days and three nights as He prophesied in Matthew 12:39-40, God raised Jesus from the dead in fulfillment of The Feast of First Fruits as described by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23,
On The Feast of Pentecost Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to come and live in God’s redeemed people to give them the ability to live according to God’s principles of living found in the Bible in fulfillment of the typology of the New Covenant found in Jeremiah 31:32 which states that God will write His laws on the hearts of His people.
Although I had believed that Jesus was born on the feast of Tabernacles for many years, I wasn’t able to prove it until I read the article: On What Day Was Jesus born?” by Michael Scheifler on the http://biblelight.net/sukkoth.htm website.
He carefully puts together the clues about the time of Jesus’ birth found in Luke chapter one with the facts found in other Scriptures and Jewish sources to show when Zachariah (the father of John the Baptist) was performing his priestly service in the Temple in Jerusalem and its relationship to the time of Jesus’ birth.
This is important to know when figuring out the date of Jesus’ birth because in Luke 1:36 the angel Gabriel tells the Virgin Mary that “your relative Elizabeth (wife of Zachariah) has also conceived a son in her old age and she who was called barren, is in her sixth month.” This establishes the fact that John the Baptist is six months older than Jesus.
In his article Scheifler states that Zechariah “completed his Temple service on the third Sabbath of [the Jewish month of] Sivan (May-June) Zechariah returned home and conceived his son, John.” Scheifler, Michael, “On What Day Was Jesus born?” http://biblelight.net/sukkoth.htm
Then Scheifler projects an average gestation term of 40 weeks forward to the first Jewish month of Nissan, which coincides with The Feast of Passover. Since John was born around the middle of the first Jewish month of Nissan, sand he is six months older than Jesus, then the likely date for the birth of Jesus would be the middle of the seventh month of Tishri. This is when The Feast of Tabernacles begins!
This feast is a mandatory attendance feast, which meant that all Jewish men were required to come to Jerusalem to celebrate it in the Temple. As a result of that, all hotel rooms in the surrounding areas (including the Bethlehem, area) were ‘booked solid’ at that time. This is the reason why there was no room for Mary and Joseph in the Inn as found in Luke 2:7.
This festival celebrates the time when God led His people through the wilderness after delivering them from Egyptian bondage. When Jesus came, He fulfilled that feast both by tabernacling with and teaching God’s people God’s principles for living and He also fulfilled the feast by completing God’s plan for the spiritual redemption of mankind and thus was able to lead God’s people away from the bondage to sin and death.
Another source for the association of The Feast of Tabernacles with the coming of the Messiah comes from the Jewish reference book, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols. On page 165 they state that the feast became associated with messianic redemption because of Zechariah’s prophecy (Zechariah 14:16) that all nations that survived the final battle would have to come Jerusalem to celebrate the feast.
This prophecy could have inspired some Jewish people to wave palm branches and sing songs from the Tabernacle service to greet their Messiah as Jesus came into Jerusalem after He had performed the messianic sign of raising Lazarus from the dead.
There is one more implication of Jesus being born on The Feast of Tabernacles. This involves looking nine months earlier to The Festival of Lights, also known as Chanukah. This means that Jesus, the coming light of the world, could have been conceived in the Virgin Mary during The Festival of Lights. Now that is something that God would do!
Now that we have found good reasons to believe why Jesus was born on The Feast of Tabernacles, then what do we do with the celebration of Jesus’ birth on December 25th? We can participate in the Christian Christmas celebrations as the observed birthday of Jesus since His coming to earth to complete God’s redemptive plan was such a great event that we should celebrate it even if the date of that celebration isn’t when it happened.
For further research about this subject consult the following sources:
"On What Day Was Jesus born? Michael Scheifler, http://biblelight.net/sukkoth.htm
"When Was Jesus Christ Born? The Good News Magazine, January/February 1997, http://www.gnmagazine.org/issues/gno8/whenwaschristborn.htm
"Biblical Dates for Messiah's Conception and Birth" http://www.messianic.com/articles/date/htm
"Birth of Christ and Feast of Tabernacles" http://heartofwisdom.com/biblicalholidays/?p=523
Frankel, Ellen and Teutsch, Betsy Platkin, The Encylopedia of jewish Symbols, Northvale, N.J.,Jason Aronson, Inc, 1992. Sukkot p.165