At the end of Sukkot (Tabernacles), we mark one last holiday called Shemini Atzeret, or the Eighth Day Convocation, that is not well-known and is somewhat obscure:
“On the fifteenth day of the seventh month the Lord’s Festival of Tabernacles begins, and it lasts for seven days…on the eighth day hold a sacred assembly and present a food offering to the Lord. It is the closing special assembly; do no regular work.” (Leviticus 23:34, 36)
It is the last bionically mandated holiday in the Torah and, according to rabbinical tradition, marks the conclusion of weekly Torah readings and the beginning of a new cycle, starting with Genesis. Considering that Paul says that the holidays are a shadow of things to come in Colossians 2:17, what is the meaning of this mysterious holiday which only gets a brief mention in Leviticus 23:36 and 39? It seems to be tacked onto the end of Sukkot, but rabbis say it is a separate holy day in its own right and call it “the closing festival”.
Biblical Holidays: A Shadow of Things to Come
All of God’s holidays point to His ultimate plan for redemption. The spring holidays of Passover and Weeks (Pentecost) foreshadowed the first coming of Messiah. In the same way, the fall holidays of Rosh HaShanah (Day of Trumpeting), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and Sukkot (Tabernacles) foreshadow the culmination of the great tribulation, the rapture, the defeat of the Antichrist and his armies, Yeshuah’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem and His coronation as king (which we believe will coincide with the holiday of Sukkot). Additionally, Sukkot foreshadows the Millennial reign (thousand-year reign) of Messiah described in Revelation 20 when He will literally dwell, or tabernacle, with us here on earth.
A Thousand Years Like a Day
If we consider that 2 Peter 3 reminds us that a thousand years with the Lord is like a day, and currently on the Hebrew calendar we are towards the end of the 6th day (5,780), we anticipate Messiah’s Millennial reign on the 7th day—or the 7th century on the Hebrew calendar. So, perhaps the Eighth Day Convocation can tell us what will happen on the eighth day (8th century) of the Hebrew calendar which will coincide with the culmination of Yeshua’s Millennial reign. (Note: the Hebrew calendar is not an exact science and may be off by even by several hundred years, meaning that we may have hundreds of years before we reach the culmination of the end of the age or it could be right around the corner)
What Happens After the 7th Day? Hint: Genesis 1
Revelation 20 describes the Millennial reign of Messiah on earth which culminates in a rebellion led by Satan, which God will destroy, followed by the great white throne judgement when God will judge the living and the dead. Seems like the end of the story, right? Actually, it’s just the beginning: Revelation 21 describes something extraordinary that’s difficult to grasp: the creation of a new heaven and a new earth. So, it seems that Shemini Atzeret, the special Eighth day Convocation after Sukkot—which symbolizes the Millennial reign—foreshadows God’s creation of the New Heaven and the New Earth (interestingly, the symbol for eternity looks a lot like the number 8). So, just as Jews around the world begin reading Genesis 1:1 on Shemini Atzeret, the holiday itself foreshadows the new Genesis of creation after the Millennium when God the Father Himself will dwell with people:
“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)
The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of sabbath rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts. Do no regular work, but present a food offering to the Lord.’ (Leviticus 23:23-25)
The Day of Trumpeting: back to the original meaning
Of all the biblical feasts, this is the only one we don’t refer to using its biblical name. It is also a holiday that has had subsequent traditions superimposed on it, obscuring its original prophetic meaning. The biblically holiday we celebrate as the first of the fall high holidays is not called Rosh Hashanah (New Years) by the Bible but rather the Day of Trumpeting. The Bible mandates this holiday take place on the first day of the 7th month of the biblical year—not the first—which is Nissan, the month of Passover. The reason this holiday meant to be commemorated by trumpet blasts came to be known as the New Year (Rosh Hashanah) dates back to the Babylonian exile: during their time in Babylon, the Jewish exiles were influenced by the Babylonian culture around them, and, as a result, they adopted Akkadian\Babylonia month names and practices. That’s right, all the Hebrew month names are Babylonian in origin.
While the celebrations of this holiday mainly focus on the new year aspect, the traditions observed in this holiday harken back to the original biblical meaning for this somewhat mysterious holiday—mysterious because the bible gives surprisingly little information about the holiday other than the ordinance to observe it as a Sabbath, to blow the shofar (trumpet), and to make offerings and sacrifices. The blessings recited during the holiday meal repeatedly call for God’s deliverance from Israel’s enemies and implore God’s mercy in judging His people. Rabbinic literature refers to this holiday as the day of judgement, the day on which the people pass as sheep before God, the great shepherd.
Trumpeting: what does it mean?
As this day is called Yom Teruah (the day of trumpeting), and blowing the trumpet is the integral commandment of this day, it would make sense to understand what the Bible has to say about the purpose for trumpeting. Numbers 10: 1-9 gives a clear four-fold meaning for the “lasting ordinance” to blow the trumpets:
- To assemble the community together
- To signal the camps to move out
- To call for God’s help when going into battle in the Land against an oppressive enemy
- For heralding times of rejoicing
New Testament References to Trumpeting
The New Testament also references the sounding of trumpets, and that is in relation to end time events. The book of Revelation describes a series of 7 seals and 7 trumpets which are then followed by 7 bowls of wrath, all of which relating to phases of God’s releasing His judgement on the earth.
Other New Testament accounts reveal an important emphasis on the last trumpet in particular. Since Revelation is the only place in the Old and New Testaments which gives a numbered series of trumpets, the last trumpet in Revelation must correlate to end time events, as the other references reveal:
Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (I Corinthians 15:51-52)
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. (I Thessalonians 4:16)
The New Testament makes abundantly clear that the “last trumpet” heralds the rapture of the saints, the imminent return of the Lord and the wrath of the Lord poured out on the earth before His return. The question remains: do these end time trumpets have anything to do with the Day of Trumpeting mandated in the Law? While the spring biblical feasts (Passover, Pentecost, and Weeks) foreshadowed the first coming of the Messiah as the suffering servant and initiated His kingdom in the hearts of men, is it possible that the fall feasts (the Day of Trumpeting, the Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles) coincide with the Lord’s second coming as a judge and the coming of His literal, physical kingdom to the earth in Jerusalem?
The Joel 2 and the End Time Connection
When lining up the end-time events described in the book of Revelation with the description of end time events in the book of Joel, it becomes clear that the fall feats mirror exactly the progression of the great and terrible day of the Lord just before His return when the armies of the antichrist descend upon the land of Israel and surround Jerusalem.
Joel 2: 1-11 (Day of Trumpeting)
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming…
In this passage, the prophet Joel describes the sounding of the trumpet to assemble the people together because a horrible and fierce enemy has invaded the land (remember back to the Rosh HaShanah meal blessings calling for deliverance from enemies). This is also the moment that the Lord Yeshua appears in the sky with the voice of the trumpet and the dead in Messiah are raised and those still alive are raptured.
Joel 2:12-17 (Day of Atonement)
“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
This passage in Joel 2 clearly mirrors the Day of Atonement, a time the Lord mandated the Israelites to fast and torture their souls in repentance; here the prophet Joel calls all the people, young and old, men and women, to declare a holy fast and call a sacred assembly to weep, mourn and cry out to the Lord to save them.
Interestingly, Joel 2:15 calls for a fast, which is the Day of Atonement, but it also calls for a trumpet to be blown in Zion, which makes us think that it might also mean the Day of Trumpeting since there are no trumpets blown on the Day of Atonement. However, trumpets are indeed blown on the Day of Atonement every Jubilee year, that is, every 50th year, which brings in an additional level of prophetic meaning to this “last” Day of Atonement—liberation and restoration. (Leviticus 25:9)
All Israel Will Be Saved
The scene that Joel 2:12-17 describes brings to mind another end time prophesy which describes a day when all the nations of the earth are gathered against Judah and Jerusalem and the people cry out in mourning before God:
“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. On that day the weeping in Jerusalem will be as great as the weeping of Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. The land will mourn, each clan by itself, with their wives by themselves…” (Zechariah 12:10-12)
This is the moment that Paul’s prophetic declaration in Romans 11:26 that all Israel will be saved comes to pass. The Bible teaches that Israel will go through terrible tribulation and suffering, but Israel will also be the only nation that collectively receives a simultaneous revelation of Him, accepts Him and is saved, just as Peter in Acts 2 quotes Joel 2 describing that final moment: “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” So, if the season of the Day of Trumpeting marks the rapture and the Lord’s appearing in the sky, and the Day of Atonement marks Israel’s calling a fast and solemn assembly to weep and mourn over “the one they have pierced”, then Tabernacles can be none other than Yeshua’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem where He will tabernacle with His people!
It’s a good question that believers who study end time scriptures end up pondering. There are prophesies which seem to say that, before the Messiah’s return, a third Temple will be built and ritual sacrifices will be reinstated which the Antichrist will encourage and then put a stop to (Daniel 9, Ezekiel 40-48, Matthew 24, 2 Thessalonians 2). Adding to the obvious interest in the subject is the fact that certain Orthodox Jewish groups are actively making plans to build the Temple and are soliciting support from evangelicals whom they know to be interested and supportive of such a move—albeit for different reasons. With this article, we seek to address some of the main bible passages which speak to this issue and, with God’s grace, hope to shed some light on some possible answers. Also, there are several critical issues in relation to this issue which all believers need to be aware of.
The Abomination of Desolation
In perhaps his most famous end-time discourse, Yeshua speaks of an event which is closely related to the great tribulation of the end times and the activity of the antichrist:
Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand) then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. ~Matthew 24:15-16
The book of Daniel, particularly chapter 11, gives details to this seemingly opaque reference:
His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress and will abolish the daily sacrifice. Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation. With flattery he will corrupt those who have violated the covenant, but the people who know their God will firmly resist him. ~Daniel 11:31-32
The prophecies of Daniel which speak of a future king who would desecrate the Temple, stop the sacrifices, and draw the people of God away from the truth were fulfilled by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a Hellenistic (Greek) King who in 167 BC, after having desecrated the temple and outlawed the Jewish faith, erected a statue of Zeus in the Holy Temple. Many Jews at that time had adopted the Greek culture and world view. However, the outrages that Antiochus committed caused the devout Jews in the Land to rise up against the Greek rule, and a small but devoted band of Jews, led by Judah the Maccabee, succeeded in defeating one of the mightiest armies on earth and rededicating the Temple to the service of God.
So, if this prophecy was already fulfilled in 167 BC, why does Yeshua quote this prophecy in relation to end time events? Many biblical events and prophecies have implications beyond their literal fulfillment in history, just as Yeshua spoke about the time of His second coming as being like the days of Noah (Matthew 24:37) So, in relation to the unfolding of end time events, it’s clear that Antiochus IV was a type of antichrist.
Where is the Holy Place?
In Matthew 24, Yeshua prophesied that the Temple would be destroyed, which it was in 70 AD. His prophecy about the “abomination that causes desolation” has caused many, if not most, to conclude that a third temple must be built for the antichrist to be able to perform his abomination there literally, just as Antiochus IV did. However, the Matthew 24 prophesy which speaks about an “abomination that causes desolation” makes an appeal to readers to understand what the prophesy is talking about—in particular what is meant by holy place.
If we consider that Yeshua was referring to the Temple in Matthew 24 as the holy place, then we run into the problem of the fact that such a Temple built by Orthodox Jews who reject Yeshua as Messiah will not be a holy place because the Holy Spirit will not dwell there. Yeshua’s sacrifice was once and for all, and no other sacrifice can be made for sanctification (Hebrews 10). On the other hand, the New Testament clearly states that redeemed believers in Yeshua are the Temple of the Holy Spirit:
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? ~ I Cor. 3:16
One could argue then that the “Third Temple” could actually be the collective redeemed body of Messiah.
The Great Falling Away and The Abomination that Causes Desolation
How then are we to understand this “abomination that causes desolation” if the holy place Yeshua refers to is not actually a physical rebuilt temple in Jerusalem? Daniel 11:32 gives us a clue:
With flattery he will corrupt those who have violated the covenant, but the people who know their God will firmly resist him.
Just as many Jews during the second century BC had allowed themselves to adopt the culture, world view and ways of the Greeks and even welcomed the Greek takeover of Jerusalem, the bible tells us that there will be a time when many believers who’ve adopted the culture and values of the secular, humanistic world around them, those who even deny certain clear truths about the bible (which is already happening today), they will be susceptible to the subtle and seductive “flattery” of the antichrist. This “the great falling away” which the New Testament refers to can only be understood as “falling away from the faith”:
Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him… Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. 2 Thes 2:1, 3-4
It speaks volumes that Yeshua chose to say holy place instead of merely “Temple” when giving his prophecy in Matthew 24: since Yeshua’s crucifixion and resurrection and the destruction of the Second temple, the only holy place on earth is the sanctified spirit of the believer wherein dwells the Holy Spirit. So, by that reasoning, one could argue that Yeshua was referring to the great falling away in Matthew 24 when He spoke about the “abomination that causes desolation”, that it would be a time when believers who have allowed the world to enter in and corrupt their faith, whose love has grown cold, will accept this “man of sin” into their hearts.
A Literal Third Temple? Maybe!
It is possible that there will be a third Temple and that ritual sacrifices will be reinstated before the Lord’s return. Considering the super-charged issues surrounding the Temple Mount, it would take a truly supernatural event to bring about a change in the current status quo; the building of a Jewish Temple could only come to pass under the auspices of the antichrist who may succeed at reaching a false peace between Jews and Muslims. The Temple Mount is one of the holiest sites in Islam and Muslims have administrative control over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Furthermore, most Orthodox Jews are not on board with plans to build the Third Temple, let alone Conservative and Reform Jews who view building the Temple in strictly metaphorical, spiritual terms. Only a certain group of National Orthodox is actively supporting preparations for a Third Temple. There is great resistance to their ideas in secular Israeli society, of course, but also the majority of Ultra-Orthodox are against building the Temple before the return of the Messiah. The mainstream Ultra-Orthodox view is that God is building the Third Temple in heaven according to the dimensions given in Ezekiel’s vision (Ezekiel 40-48), and this heavenly Temple will descend from heaven to earth only when the Messiah comes.
So, it goes to reason that if a Third Temple were to be built, considering all the seemingly insurmountable obstacles in its way, it will in all likelihood only happen in the context of the antichrist rule at which time the end time tribulation will already be in full swing.
Should Christians Support Jewish Efforts to Build the Temple?
Financially supporting fringe National Orthodox Jewish efforts to assemble the needed animals and implements for the building of the Third Temple will not hasten the day of the Lord’s return. We cannot hasten the coming of the Lord by supporting or encouraging the negative things that prophecy tells us are supposed to happen before His coming: according to that idea, we should then support the moral decline of society because prophecy tells us that evil in society will increase in the end times.
What is clear is that while many believers anticipate the building of the Third Temple to be a super sign that will signal that the end times are upon us, it is fully possible that it won’t happen before the Lord’s return. What will happen for sure is the great falling away which the New Testament warns about: it is a much more serious and insidious thing to be watching out for and guarding against in our midst (not letting the word system corrupt our beliefs and not letting our love grow cold), lest we be found without oil in our lamps when the voice of the Bridegroom is heard. In the darkest time in history, the Lord is calling us to be light!
*A Special Note on Ezekiel 40-48
The eight chapters at the end of Ezekiel written at the beginning of the Babylonian exile after the destruction of the First Temple and proceeded the building of the Second Temple present major challenges to both religious Jewish and Christian commentators. Some see these chapters as the most challenging in the Hebrew Bible.
For Jewish commentators these chapters raise the question: why didn’t the returned exiles under Zerubbabel build the Second Temple according to Ezekiel’s measurements? Their answer is that the Babylonian exiles who returned to build the Temple did not experience a full redemption (geulah shlema) because they were living in compromise in regards to foreign women, and the Ezekiel temple is a heavenly construction which will descend from heaven when the Messiah comes.
For Christian and Messianic Jewish commentators, these verses present a challenge in the fact that they seem to speak about the Messianic age when Yeshua the Messiah will reign on earth for 1,000 years while containing detailed instructions about animal sacrifices—a clear contradiction to the New Testament understanding that animal sacrifice was done away with in the one perfect sacrifice of Yeshua (Hebrews 10).
So Christian and Messianic believers are then faced with the same interpretation challenge as the Jewish commentators: p’shat versus drash—whether to come to terms with the literal meaning of the text or to seek a symbolic meaning in the verses. While religious Jewish commentators make no bones about drash—drawing out more meanings from a passage not literally apparent from the text, many Christian and Messianic commentators are more wary of running away with symbolic interpretations of challenging prophetic scripture which the scripture itself doesn’t offer interpretation to. Either way, we seek the Lord to guide us in all wisdom and revelation into His word by the Holy Spirit! He is faithful to grant wisdom to those who ask in faith (James 1:5)