“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
Most Christians acknowledge that Jesus was not born on December 25 in the middle of winter. Yet few realize that his birth is outlined in the Bible if they could unravel some of the clues given to them in the gospels that refer back to the Hebrew Scriptures. The account of the ‘reason for the season’ begins in the book of Luke chapter 1 when Zechariah was in the Temple burning incense to God. The time of his Temple service is the key to understanding when of the birth of his son, John, took place as well as the birth of Jesus (Yeshua).
1. Zechariah is a Levite priest in of the lineage of Abijah, a descendant of Aaron (Luke 1:5, Numbers 3:2).
“In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron” (Luke 1:5).
2. All Levitical priests, including Zechariah, were required by God to serve in the Temple during Passover (Pesach), Pentecost (Shavuot), and Tabernacles (Sukkot) as well as two weeks extra per year according to their family lineage (Deuteronomy 16:16).
“Three times a year all your men must appear before YHVH your God at the place he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) and the Feast of Tabernacles” (Deuteronomy 16:16).
3. Abjiah was eighth in line for Temple duties. This means that as a descendant of Abijah, Zechariah is eighth in line for his Temple duties (1 Chronicles 24:10).
“With the help of Zadok, David separated them [the descendants of Aaron] into divisions for their appointed order of ministering. The first lot fell to Jehoiarib…the eighth to Abijah. This was their appointed order of ministering when they entered the Temple of the LORD according to the regulations prescribed for them” (Numbers 1:1-19).
4. Zechariah serves in the Temple during the week of Passover and Unleavened Bread as part of his required Temple service.
The Biblical calendar is not the same as the Julian/Gregorian calendar we use today. Passover comes in March/April, the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) in June, the Feast of Tabernacles in September/October. The Scriptures utilize a Biblical calendar beginning with the first month in spring at the time of Passover (Exodus 12:2).
Zechariah would have served in the spring for Passover/Unleavened Bread. After Passover, he would have returned home until his lineage service began –– eight weeks or about 50 days later.
5. Zechariah returns to the Temple for his two week duties as part of the lineage of Abijah. This would have fallen in mid-June during the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot (Pentecost).
6. An angel of Adonai appears to Zechariah while he is at the Altar of Incense.
As a descendant of Aaron, he would have ministered in the Most Holy Place. It is at the Altar of Incense that intercessory prayer is made by the priesthood. The angel of Adonai met Zechariah at this specific place and time. He told him he was going to have a son who he was to name John. Because of his unbelief, Zechariah is made mute by the angel until the time of his son’s birth.
“Your prayers have been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John” (Luke 1:13).
7. Zechariah returns home after his Temple service. He and Elizabeth conceive a child. Elizabeth remains in seclusion for five months.
“When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion” (Luke 1:23-24).
8. One month later, “When Elizabeth was in her sixth month,” the angel Gabriel visits Mary (Luke 1:26).
Some people question whether this was the sixth month of the year or the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. With the wording of Elizabeth being in seclusion for five months and then”in the sixth month,” it suggests that the months are contiguous and based on Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Also, the angel tells Mary, “Even Elizabeth your relative is in her fifth month,” giving witness to the timing of the angel’s visit (Luke 1:36).
9. Mary conceives a child by the Holy Spirit and immediately goes to visit Elizabeth.
“At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth” (Luke 1:39).
When Mary greets her cousin, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps. According to the time period given for Elizabeth’s seclusion, was probably the first contact she had with another woman, and maybe even the first time she felt the movement of her child. It is apparent that her unborn son knew the blessing of the Spirit of God on Mary. The meeting of these two pregnant women had such profound significance that Luke recorded it with the details. Elizabeth’s baby leaps for joy in the womb recognizing the newly conceived Messiah of Israel.
“As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1:44).
mid-to-late December. The Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah occurs at this time as a memorial to the re-dedication of the Temple after it was defiled by the Greeks. It is also known as the Festival of Lights because the Menorah was once again lit after the desecration. It was during Hanukkah, the days of dedication, that the Spirit of God came upon Mary and she conceived Immanuel, God with us, the Light of the World.
Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55 not only has prophetic significance about her baby, but is a powerful declaration of humble ‘dedication‘ regarding the ‘light of the world.’
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me — holy is his name” (Verses 46-49).
10. Mary stays with Elizabeth for about three months.
“Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home. When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son” (Luke 1:56-57).
Mary returns to Nazareth very close to the time Elizabeth would deliver her baby. The timing for the birth of Elizabeth’s baby would be mid-March/April or near Passover.
11. On the eighth day after the baby’s birth, he is circumcised and named.
Continuing with the Biblical timeline, Zechariah’s son would have been born right before Passover. This means that Zechariah would have gone to the Temple for his regular service at Passover. At that time, he names his son, John, in the presence of astonished people. This is the first time he has spoken since the angel visited him months before at the Altar of Incense on Shavuot nine months earlier.
“At that moment, his power of speech returned, and his first words were a b’rakhah [blessing] to God” (Luke 1:64).
12. From the information given about the conceptions and pregnancies of Mary and Elizabeth, it can be calculated that John and Yeshua are born six months apart.
Six months after Passover in the spring (March/April) would be the fall (September/October), the time of the Feast of Tabernacles. The Feast of Tabernacles also falls approximately nine months after Hanukkah in December.
Because of the Roman census being taken by Caesar Augustus, Bethlehem was bustling with Jews from everywhere in Israel. All native born Israelites, specifically men, were required to live in booths or sukkot for the week of the Feast of Tabernacles. Women (and children) who were with their husbands filled all of the inns to capacity.
“Live in booths (sukkot) for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in booths so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt” (Leviticus 23:42).
13. Mary gives birth to a baby boy in a stable and lays him in a manger.
Under these crowded conditions, Joseph and Mary are given a ‘temporary dwelling,’ called a stable in most Bible translations, and Mary gives birth to her son. The baby was placed in a cattle feeding trough (Luke 2:4-7).
“And she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger (sukkah)” (Luke 2:6).
According to the command in Leviticus 23, the Israelites were to live in a sukkah for seven days. Consistent with the rabbinical definition of a ‘temporary dwelling’ or sukkah, a stable would have been an acceptable dwelling. Because of the timing of Yeshua’s birth during the Feast of Tabernacles, many believe that it was not a literal stable, but a sukkah. The Greek word for ‘manger’ in Luke 2:7 is phatne and can mean ‘cattle stall’ or sukkoth like Jacob built for his livestock (Genesis 33:17). The Hebrew word for ‘manger’ is the singular sukkah.
Using this information along with the established timeline, Yeshua would have been born on the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles and would have lived with his parents in the sukkah for the first seven days of his life, until he was circumcised and named on the eighth day. Whatever the ‘temporary dwelling’ accommodations, Joseph fulfilled God’s requirement to live in a sukkah during the Feast of Tabernacles as did Yeshua, the firstborn son of God.
14. The angels rejoice because “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14, Luke 2:8-14).
The Greek word for ‘dwelling’ in this verse is skenoo and means ‘spread his tent’ among us. As a sukkah or ‘booth’ is a temporary dwelling like a tent, this verse could read, “The Word became flesh and ‘spread his tent’ among us” making a direct connection to Yeshua being born at the Feast of Tabernacles.
15. On the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles, the priests in the Temple wave large branches of several different species of trees in the Temple.
These branches are called lulavs and represent the different nations of the world. Hundreds of priests waving large branches from the willow, the palm and the myrtle, would have created an enormous sound like a ‘rushing wind’ as they walked toward the Temple. In Hebrew, the word for God’s Spirit is ruach and means ‘breath.’ As the priests were waving these tree branches, they were unaware of the birth of Yeshua. They had no idea that the salvation of Israel, through the ‘breath’ of God and a humble woman, had come to live in a little baby.
“So beginning with the fifteenth day of the seventh month celebrate a festival to the LORD for seven days. On the first day you are to take choice fruit from the trees, and palm fronds, leafy branches and poplars, and rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days” (Leviticus 23:39-41).
16. There are shepherds in the hills outside of Jerusalem (Luke 2:8-15).
“As for you, O watchtower of the flock, O stronghold of the Daughter of Zion, the former dominion will be restored to you; kingship will come to the Daughter of Jerusalem” (Micah 4:8).
The shepherds in the hills near Bethlehem, a short distance from Jerusalem, were special shepherds. They camped at the Migdal Eder and raised the sheep for the Temple sacrifices. According to the prophecy in Micah, the Jewish people believed that the Messiah would be revealed at the Migdal Eder, ‘the tower of the flock.’
At the time of Yeshua’ birth, there was an actual military watchtower above the hills that was used to protect Bethlehem. This tower was also used by the shepherds to guard the Temple sheep from robbers. It was from these sheep that the Passover lambs were chosen. When the angels came announcing the ‘good news’ to all the world, these shepherds would have completely understood the meaning because they were at the exact location for the prophecy of Messiah’s birth to be fulfilled.
17. Eight days later, it is time for the baby’s circumcision and naming (Luke 2:21).
Eight days after a son’s birth, the father would take the child to be circumcised and named as the mother would still be in her days of purification after childbirth. Joseph takes his infant son to the nearest Levite priest in Bethlehem to be circumcised and names him, Yeshua, as he was commanded by the angel.
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home with you as your wife; for what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Yeshua, [which means ‘the LORD saves,’] because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21-22).
Rejoicing in the Torah – Simchat Torah
The Feast of Tabernacles is celebrated for seven days. The following day, the eighth day, there is a special celebration called Simchat Torah which means ‘Rejoicing in the Torah.’ As Yeshua is circumcised and being named by his father, crowds were in the Temple courts dancing, singing, and rejoicing in the Torah. Without their knowledge, a short distance away in Bethlehem, the living Torah had just been named ‘salvation.’
“On the eighth day, when it came time to circumcise him, he was named Yeshua, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived” (Luke 2:21).
18. Mary’s purification is complete.
“When the days of her purification for a son or daughter are over, she is to bring to the priest a year-old lamb, and a young pigeon or dove. He shall offer them before the LORD, and she will be ceremonially clean from her flow of blood. If she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves” (Leviticus 12:6-8).
Forty days after Yeshua’s birth, Mary’s days of purification were completed. She and Joseph take Yeshua to the Temple for the ‘Redemption of the Firstborn’ according to the Torah command in Leviticus 12:8. At this time, they offered the required sacrifice of doves.
“When the time of her purification according to the Torah of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written)” (Luke 2:22).
There were two prophets in the Temple who expected the Word to become flesh and the salvation of Israel to be revealed. Simeon spoke prophecies over Yeshua in the presence of his parents, while Anna, a widow, overheard and saw what was happening and began thanking God and speaking about Yeshua to everyone who was waiting for the redemption of Israel.
“Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout… There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher” (Luke 2:25,36).
19. At this time, a sign appears in the heavens (Matthew 2:1-2).
Every kingdom in the known world at that time had astronomers who studied and understood the signs in the heavens. Each culture, but more specifically the Jewish culture, looked to the heavens for the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. Constellations, planets, and stars moved to tell God’s story as well as to set His ‘appointed times.’ Other Middle Eastern cultures studied the Hebrew concepts and understood their connection to the people of Israel.
Astronomers from the east (probably from what is modern-day Iraq/Iran) saw the ‘sign’ in the heavens and began their journey toward Jerusalem to honor and worship the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The Hebrew word ‘star’ in this verse is kokhav and is used in Numbers 24:17 with the scepter from Jacob –– all terminology for stars and planets that are ‘signs in the heavens.’
20. The magi or wise men arrive in Bethlehem.
“On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him” (Matthew 2:9).
By the time the wise men arrive in Bethlehem, Yeshua is no longer an infant wrapped in cloths and lying in a sukkah. He is nearly two years old and living in a house. It is at his home with his parents that he receives the gifts of the wise men.
This is the Biblical outline for the conception, birth, and early life of Yeshua. According to the information written in the Torah, Prophets, and Gospels, Yeshua was born in the ‘season of our rejoicing,’ on the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles in a sukkah. The shepherds at the Migdal Eder heard the angelic hosts proclaim ‘peace on earth among people of goodwill.’ They went immediately to see the ‘Lamb of God’ in Bethlehem. At that moment, wise men from the east saw a ‘star’ and began traveling to Bethlehem to greet the ‘newborn king.’ While all Israel rejoiced in the Torah, the living Torah was circumcised and named Salvation –– Yeshua.
©1997 Tentstake Ministries Publishing, all rights reserved. No copying or reproducing of this article without crediting the author or Tentstake Ministries Publishing. For a hard copy of this article, please purchase Journey with Jeremiah: Nourishment for the Wild Olive.