It is that time of year that Christians celebrate Christmas and Jews celebrate Hannukah, and all of us Messianic and Hebrew Roots folks are somewhere in the middle.
Actually, we’re not really in the middle. Most of us have opted out of Christmas and opted into Hannukah. Not because we have rejected Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ), mind you. We understand that His birth happened in the fall, most likely at the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah in modern Jewish practice) rather than in December. We also understand that all the Feasts of the Lord presented in Leviticus 23 are connected to Messiah’s redemptive and restorative work for the nation of Israel and all the world.
The fact is, we celebrate Passover (Pesach), Unleavened Bread (Matzot), Firstfruits (Yom Habikkurim), Pentecost (Shavuot), Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah), Atonement (Yom Kippur), and Tabernacles (Sukkot) because God established them and called on His people to observe them “as a statute forever”. That’s different from Christmas, which is a human tradition rather than a Divine decree. Christmas is a Christianization of the old festivals our ancestors celebrated in honor of other gods before they learned about the One True God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We have learned that our Messiah is Jewish, which is why we prefer to follow His example rather than the traditions which overshadowed and obscured His Jewishness and the Hebraic origins of our faith.
One might argue that Hannukah is a tradition as well. Indeed it is, but it is rooted firmly in history as a tale of our God’s salvation of His people in a time of great distress. Why is it not in the Bible? Well, it is, in some canons. The Catholic Bible still has 1st and 2nd Maccabees, the books that tell the Hannukah story. There is also a mention of it in the New Testament: John 10:22 tells us that Yeshua was in the Temple during the Feast of Dedication, which is another name for Hannukah. The point is, the origin of Hannukah is no less real and no less miraculous than the origin of Purim as recorded in the book of Esther. Our Jewish brethren established both feasts to commemorate the provision of the Almighty and His faithfulness to His covenant. Is there a better reason to celebrate?
At the heart of our misunderstanding of the sacrificial system is the assumption that it is all about sin. Since the blood of the animals foreshadowed the atonement that would come in Messiah’s sacrifice, and since that atonement came to pass through Messiah’s sinless death on the cross, the assumption is that sacrifices are no longer necessary. Sadly, such reasoning betrays incomprehension of the reason God instituted sacrifices. Messiah Yeshua did indeed die as the “Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29-34; see also Isaiah 53 and Revelation 5). His death most certainly provides the only provision for willful, rebellious sin against our Creator (Genesis 22:6-8; Numbers 15:27-31; Hebrews 10:26-31). However, the sacrificial system included many more offerings than those which had connection to sin.
If we are to understand the full nature of the Temple sacrifices, we should start with the meaning of the words used for the items offered on the Altar. “Sacrifice” and “offering” are the usual English translations, and quite often the meanings are not entirely distinct in the minds of English-speaking readers. The English definition of “sacrifice” refers to something valuable offered, often to a deity, in exchange for something or someone else. A sacrifice also means something that is “written off”, or lost for good. In that sense, the olah would be considered a sacrifice because it is a burnt offering intended to be entirely consumed on the Altar. Yet that is not the intent for everything presented to God, which is why the term “offering” is important. The Hebrew word in this case is korban (קָרְבָּן; Strongs H7133), a term usually translated as “offering”, but occasionally rendered as “sacrifice”. Christians should recognize the term from one of Yeshua’s key confrontations with the Pharisees:
He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, is to be put to death’; but you say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, given to God),’ you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.” (Mark 7:9-13 NASB, emphasis added)
Messiah Yeshua said something very peculiar when His disciples asked for the sign of His return at the end of the age. He mentioned one unambiguous event that would signal the beginning of what is generally called the Tribulation:
Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. (Matthew 24:15-16 NASB)
What makes Yeshua’s statement peculiar is not that this Abomination of Desolation first occurred nearly two centuries before He spoke these words, nor that something like it happened again a generation later. The peculiarity is that this unambiguous sign of Messiah’s return concerns the Temple in Jerusalem and the sacrificial system of worship codified by God through Moses in the Torah. A consistent theme in Christian doctrine is that the death and resurrection of Yeshua made the sacrificial system obsolete. Why, then, does Yeshua ratify Daniel’s description of this interruption of the sacrifices as the “Abomination of Desolation”? Why is it an abomination if the sacrifices no longer matter to God? Why is it a desolation? Who or what is made desolate, and why? These questions direct us to look closer at the sacrificial system of worship so we can understand more clearly how our God does business with humanity.