1) Passover (Leviticus 23:5) – Pointed to the Messiah as our Passover lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7) whose blood would be shed for our sins. Jesus was crucified on the day of preparation for the Passover at the same hour that the lambs were being slaughtered for the Passover meal that evening.
2) Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:6) – Pointed to the Messiah's sinless life (as leaven is a picture of sin in the Bible), making Him the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Jesus' body was in the grave during the first days of this feast, like a kernel of wheat planted and waiting to burst forth as the bread of life.
3) First Fruits (Leviticus 23:10) – Pointed to the Messiah's resurrection as the first fruits of the righteous. Jesus was resurrected on this very day, which is one of the reasons that Paul refers to him in 1 Corinthians 15:20 as the "first fruits from the dead."
4) Weeks or Pentecost (Leviticus 23:16) – Occurred fifty days after the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and pointed to the great harvest of souls and the gift of the Holy Spirit for both Jew and Gentile, who would be brought into the kingdom of God during the Church Age (see Acts 2). The Church was actually established on this day when God the Father and God the Son poured out God the Holy Spirit and 3,000 Jews responded to Peter's great sermon and his first proclamation of the gospel
5) Trumpets (Leviticus 23:24) – The first of the fall feasts. Most believe this is a future fulfillment pointing to the return of Christ when the Messiah Jesus will appear in the heavens as He comes for His bride, the Church. This eschatological event is always associated in Scripture with the blowing of a loud trumpet (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:52).
6) Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:27) – Many believe this prophetically points to the day of the Second Coming of Jesus when He physically returns to earth. That will be the Day of Atonement for the Jewish remnant when they "look upon Him whom they have pierced," repent of their sins, and receive Him as their Messiah (Zechariah 12:10 and Romans 11:1-6, 25-36).
That leaves the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) or Booths which some (unconvincingly in my mind) point to a future fulfillment. The Feast of Tabernacles is a week-long fall festival commemorating the 40-year journey of the Israelites in the wilderness. There is an excellent overview of the Feast of Tabernacles here.
Messianic Jews (Jews who follow Christ as Lord, Savior and Messiah) have compelling arguments that this feast has been fulfilled – at the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. Let me preface this by asserting that we cannot know with absolute certainty the date of Christ’s birth. The important thing is that He was born to ransom us from our sin. Having said that, I find the arguments that Christ was born on the Feast of Tabernacles both fascinating and compelling.
The actual date of Christ’s birth is unknown; it is not explicitly recorded in Scripture. Why then do most Christians celebrate it on Dec 25th? For the church's first three centuries, Christmas wasn't in December—or on the calendar at all. The eventual choice of December 25 was made perhaps as early as 273, and reflects a convergence of Origen's concern about pagan gods and the church's identification of God's son with the celestial sun. December 25 already hosted two other related festivals: natalis solis invicti (the Roman "birth of the unconquered sun"), and the birthday of Mithras, the Iranian "Sun of Righteousness" whose worship was popular with Roman soldiers. The winter solstice, another celebration of the sun, fell just a few days earlier. Seeing that pagans were already exalting deities with some parallels to the true deity, some believe church leaders simply decided to commandeer the date and introduce a new Christian festival. In other words, there is no real historical evidence that Christ was born on Dec 25 according to the Gregorian calendar.
On the other hand, what are the arguments that Christ was actually born on the Feast of Tabernacles (in the Fall variously from late Sep to late Oct - remember that the Jewish calendar is tied to Lunar cycles and varies according to the Gregorian calendar) instead of Dec 25?
1st) The cousin of Jesus, John the Baptist, was conceived in mid Sivan (May/June) and born 40 weeks later on Nisan 15, the Passover. The evidence:
- John's father (Zacharias) was a Levite who was assigned to serve in the temple during the course of "Abia," the 8th course of the year. (Luke 1:5, 1 Chr 24:10)
- Since the cycle of service began on the first Sabbath of Nisan but both Passover and Shavu'ot require all priestly courses to serve, the actual time the 8th course would serve would be during the 10th week of the year. This places Zacharias' service in the Temple at the beginning on the second Sabbath of the month of Sivan (May/June).
- Scripture records that John was conceived shortly after this tour of duty (Luke 1:23-4). Therefore, John the Baptist was probably conceived shortly after the third Sabbath of the month of Sivan (i.e., late Sivan).
- This places the birth of John the Baptist around Passover (Nisan 15). Recall that Jesus said that John the Baptist was a type of Elijah the prophet (Matt 17:10-13, cp. Luke 1:17).
- 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. The sending of Elijah was prophesied to be a sign that God would spare/save His people (Mal. 4:5-6).
- Jesus was conceived six months after John the Baptist (Luke 1:24-27, 36). Note that the "sixth" month refers to Elizabeth's pregnancy (cp. Luke 1:36).
- Six months added to late Sivan is late Kislev, which would have been the time of the conception of Jesus (note that the first day of the Jewish festival of Chanukah (Hanukkah), the Festival of Lights, is celebrated on the 25th day of Kislev, and Jesus is called the Light of the world (John 8:12, 9:5, 12:46)). (Ironically this would place the conception of Christ very close to Dec 25th.)
- From the 15th day of Nisan (John's birthday), we add six months to arrive at the 15th day of the 7th month, Tishri – the precise first day of the festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles).
- If the day of his birth were the first day of Sukkot, the day of his circumcision would be the eighth day, 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). Simchat Torah is considered 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 and the Prophets (Matt. 5:17-18).
4th) Shepherds would not be out with their sheep in the dead of winter in Israel. However, they certainly would be in pasture during the Feast of Tabernacles. (The counterargument sometimes made is that perhaps it was a mild winter.)
5th) The Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) is also known as the “Festival of Joy” among Jews. 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). Sukkot is also known as the "Festival of the Nations” …… notice how many times the words “nation” and “nations” are mentioned in Zech. 14:16-19.
6th) Zechariah has a cryptic prophecy in the OT that after Messiah establishes His kingdom on Earth, “all the nations” will celebrate only one festival annually – incredibly, the Feast of Tabernacles (Zechariah 14:16). Why is that? Could it be that this will be a worldwide celebration of the Incarnation? (i.e., the remembrance of His birth would remain as a celebration)
7th) We know that Jesus was about 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 backwards from the crucifixion (during Passover in Nisan) 6 months to discover his birthday in Tishri (Fall on the Gregorian calendar.)
8th) The Jewish historian Josephus records the Roman Census mentioned by Luke as occurring over the course of a year, thereby giving plenty of time for residents to be enrolled. It’s puzzling why Joseph and Mary would choose the end of her pregnancy to make such an arduous journey - unless Jesus was born on the Feast of Tabernacles. The Feast of Tabernacles was one of the 3 mandatory pilgrimage festivals, requiring all male Jews to appear in Jerusalem, making it obligatory for Mary and Joseph to make the trip then. Bethlehem is 5 miles from Jerusalem, a leisurely 2.5 hour walk. It would have been almost impossible to find room in Jerusalem itself and even Bethlehem (5 miles from Jerusalem) would have been overflowing with Sukkot celebrants, explaining the difficulty finding lodging.
Even if one believes the census took place over a short period of time and not over the course of a year as recorded by Josephus, King Herod more likely would have used the opportunity of the Festival of Tabernacles (in Jerusalem) to perform the census - certainly not Hanukkah, since he detested and feared the Hasmoneans whose insurrection was the catalyst for that December celebration.
9th) Mary and Joseph would probably have been given shelter in a Sukkah, which is built during a seven-day period each year accompanying the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles. The fields would have been dotted with Sukkoths during this harvest time to temporary shelter animals. The Hebrew word “stable” is called a Sukkoth (Gen. 33:17).
10th) The Jews expected the Messiah (Mashiach in Hebrew) to appear at the Feast of Tabernacles. This is why Jesus' skeptical brothers taunted Him to go to the festival (Jn. 7:2-3; John 7:1-10) The Feast of Tabernacles is the time when the Jews look for the coming of the promised Messiah - it was even more the case that year than any other because many believed Jesus may be the One, which would obviously have been the muttering about Him at the festival (John 7:11-12, 7:26-27, 7:40-42). His brothers (John 7:3-5) didn’t believe Him to be the One chosen by God to restore the Davidic Kingdom, so they challenged Him to prove Himself at the festival when the Messiah was expected to appear. Even though they didn’t believe in Jesus at that time, they knew the right time when the Christ was to set up the fallen Tabernacle of David according to Jewish belief (Amos 9:11).
11th) The Feast of Tabernacles is also known as the “Festival of Lights”. How appropriate that Jesus, “the light of the world” (John 8:12) would be born then.
Given the precise fulfillment of Passover, First Fruits, Unleavened Bread and Pentecost, it strains credulity to believe that the birth of Christ (the very Incarnation of the Son of God) would not fall on a specific OT Jewish Feast day. All the OT feasts find their ultimate fulfillment in Christ. For me, the Incarnation is the greatest and most mind-boggling miracle of all where the infinite, eternal God joined His divine nature with a human nature for the rest of eternity. I find it inconceivable that God would not orchestrate this stupendous event - accompanied even by an angelic host - with a specific OT feast.
Keep in mind that the Hebrew calendar varies each year since it is tied to the Moon’s (lunar) cycles. This means Jewish holidays, while always the same each year on the Jewish calendar, fall on different days on the modern Gregorian calendar.
The historical record of lunar eclipses is intriguing (found on the NASA web site, Catolog of Lunar Eclipses, Catalog of Lunar Eclipses: -0099 to 0000 ( 100 BCE to 1 BCE ):
6 B.C. - No Total eclipses
5 B.C. – No Total eclipses
4 B.C. - Total eclipse, Mar 23 at 9:17 p.m.
4 B.C. - Total eclipse, Sep 15 at 23:07 p.m.
3 B.C. - No Total eclipses
2 B.C. - No Total eclipses
The Jewish calendar for 4 BC can be found on these two web sites:
Comparing these references, we see that the total eclipse that occurred the night of Mar 23 in 4 B.C. occurred almost 3 weeks (20 days) before Passover on Thu Apr 12, 4 B.C., when John the Baptist would have been born according to this chronology. The total eclipse that occurred the night of Sep 15 in 4 B.C. occurred exactly 3 weeks (21 days) before the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles on Sat Oct 6, 4 B.C.. How likely that God would use these two rare astronomical events to mark the births of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ.
Consequently, with all the circumstantial evidence, I believe that John the Baptist may have been born on Passover, Nisan 15, Thu, Apr 12, 4 B.C., and if so, then Jesus Christ was born six months later on the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles, Tishrei on Sat, Oct 6, 4 B.C.
If true, then incredibly at the expected time and place of God’s choosing, on the Festival of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles), in a succah (tabernacle, temporary dwelling) where Passover lambs were raised in the city of the shepherd David, a Son was born to a virgin descended from King David. At an angel's command, He was named Jesus, meaning "YHWH (Jehobvah - the one, true God) is Salvation." God would dwell with us in a succah of humanity that would be bruised by the serpent, and ultimately crush the serpent. The Feast of Tabernacles is the seventh and final festival and in it we see the culmination of God’s purpose in Time and Space - the time in which God will finally restore and renew the totality of Creation from the ruin of sin, under His sovereign control in the Person of Jesus Christ.
Again, we cannot be dogmatic about what day Christ was born on. But this year I will be putting up a small Christmas tree on Sep 18-25, marking the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles and what I believe is the true likely birth date of our Savior Jesus Christ. But I will also be marking the traditional period of celebration in Dec - since late Dec is when Christ was amazingly conceived if He was born on the Feast of Tabernacles (in fact, counting backwards with a normal gestation period from the Feast of Tabernacles, you arrive at a conception date close to Dec 25). Additionally, late Dec/early Jan may have been a likely time for the visit of the magi if Christ were born on the Feast of Tabernacles.
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us). " Matt 1:23 [ESV]