JERUSALEM—Let me begin this column by wishing all of my Jewish family and friends here in Israel and around the world a very Happy Rosh Hashanah!
In Hebrew, this phrase literally means, “Head of the Year.”
Thus, tonight Jews begin celebrating the Jewish New Year.
ceasing from all work
having festive meals together
toasting each other with wine (or grape juice)
asking God for a sweet and healthy and peaceful year
wishing our friends such a year
and dipping apples in honey – and eating challah bread with raisins – in anticipation of a sweet and joyful and better year.
Tonight also begins what’s known in Judaism as the “Days of Awe” – the 10 days leading up to Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement.”
For the world’s 15 million Jews, this is to be time of reflection and repentance.
It’s a season of spiritual introspection, reviewing our lives, our choices, our sins, and our need for forgiveness and atonement in order to be right with the God of Israel who is holy and demands that we be holy in order to enter into His presence.
Thus, tonight begins what we call the “High Holidays,” the most importance spiritual season on the Jewish calendar – a time to wake up from our spiritual slumber, or outright rebellion against God, and make things right.
As such, it’s an ideal time to continue my series of “Wake Up Call” columns.
The first column focused on the question, “Why is America – Israel’s most important ally – so deeply divided that 43% of Americans fear a civil war is going to erupt?”
The second column asked the question, “Why did the prophet Haggai warn that God would ‘shake all the nations’?
Today, let’s ask the question, “Why do some Christians believe the ‘rapture’ will happen on or around Rosh Hashanah? Is there any biblical connection to the Jewish ‘High Holidays’ and the New Testament’s teachings about God’s rescue of the Church from worldwide judgment?”
IN THE BIBLE, WHEN IS ROSH HASHANAH SUPPOSED TO OCCUR?
First, it’s important to note that in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible), the new year does not begin in the days leading up to Yom Kippur.
Rather, it starts in the spring.
In Exodus 12, the Lord lays out the plan, purpose, and details of the Passover.
As he does so, God commands Moses to tell the children of Israel that the same month that they celebrate the Passover each year shall be the commencement of the new year.
“Now the Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, ‘This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you.” (Exodus 12:1-2)
Why don’t Jews abide by that? Why do they celebrate the new year in the fall?
That’s another story for another day.
WHAT IS THE “FEAST OF TRUMPETS”?
The point here is that the biblical holiday that really begins tonight is not “Rosh Hashanah” but “Yom Hateruah,” or the “Feast of Trumpets.”
God makes this clear in Leviticus 23:23-25.
“Again the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, “In the seventh month on the first of the month you shall have a rest [Sabbath], a reminder by blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall not do any laborious work, but you shall present an offering by fire to the Lord.’”
Throughout the Bible, God directs the trumpet – typically a ram’s horn known as a “shofar” – to be blown in order to call the Jewish people to prayer, to repentance, to a national event, even to war.
The blowing of the trumpets in the fall is designed to prepare the nation of Israel to get their hearts ready for honest and sincere repentance of their sins.
Immediately following this passage, God explains to Moses – and Moses explains to the nation of Israel – what Yom Kippur is, that it takes place 10 days after the Feast of Trumpets, and why it is so sacred and holy.
“On exactly the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you and shall humble your souls and present and offering by fire to the Lord,” God said to Moses in the passage found in Leviticus 23:26-32. “You shall not do any work on this day, for it is a Day of Atonement, to make atonement on your behalf before the Lord your God. If there is any person who will not humble himself on this same day, he shall be cut off from his people. As for any person who does any work on this same day, that person I will destroy from among his people.”
WHY, THEN, DO SOME CHRISTIANS BELIEVE THE RAPTURE WILL TAKE PLACE DURING THE HIGH HOLIDAYS?
One of the most famous examples of the shofar being blown in the Bible is found in the Book of Joel (which admittedly is my favorite book of the Bible).
In the first chapter, the Lord grieves over the nation of Israel that has fallen asleep to His love and promises, is drunk with sin and rebellion, and desperately needs forgiveness in the last days.
“Wake up, drunkards, and weep,” God tells them.
Then the Lord tells the Hebrew prophet, “Blow a trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm on My holy Mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the Day of the Lord is coming, surely it is near.” (Joel 2:1)
In Joel 2:11-118, the Lord continues this call to repentance, along with His warnings of imminent judgment.
“The Lord thunders at the head of His army; unlimited are His forces and mighty are those who obey His command. The Day of the Lord is indeed great and very awesome and who can endure it? Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping, and mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments.”
“Now return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness, and relenting of evil. Who knows whether He will not turn and relent and leave a blessing behind Him, even a grain offering and a drink offering.”
“Blow a trumpet in Zion, consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly, gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children and the nursing infants. Let the bridegroom come out of his room, and the bride out of her bridal chamber. Let the priests, the Lord’s ministers, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, ‘Spare Your people, O Lord’….”
“Then the Lord will be zealous for His land and will have pity on His people.”
Some followers of Jesus Christ – not all, but some, myself included – believe that the Book of Joel is both a “wake up call” to the nation of Israel and the Church, and a “trumpet call” for Israel and the Church to repent of sin and get ready for the “Day of the Lord” is coming.
What is the Day of the Lord?
The eschatological season in the End of Days begins with the rapture (the snatching away from the earth of true born-again followers of Jesus), continues through the Tribulation (seven years of horrific judgement of every nation on earth, including Israel), and culminates with the literal, physical Second Coming of Christ to the earth to destroy the anti-Christ and set of the True Messiah’s reign from Jerusalem over the entire world.
Since this prophetic period begins with the blowing of the shofar, some Christians believe the rapture will take place on or around Rosh Hashanah, though most don’t claim to know which year it will happen.
ARE THERE OTHER REASONS THAT SOME CHRISTIANS BELIEVE THE RAPTURE WILL HAPPEN DURING THE HIGH HOLIDAYS?
The most famous passage in the Bible describing what theologians refer to as the “rapture” was written by the apostle Paul and is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.
For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.
Therefore comfort one another with these words.
Paul’s reference to the rapture taking place when “the trumpet of God” is sounded is another reason that some Christians believe the rapture will happen on or around Rosh Hashanah, though again most who believe this don’t say they know what year it will happen.
WHAT DO I BELIEVE?
In my next column, I will explain more about what the Bible teaches regarding the Rapture.
For now, let me note a few things.
First, I do believe that the rapture is a biblical doctrine – it will happen.
Second, I do believe that only true and sincere followers of Jesus the Messiah – who are alive when God sovereignly decides it’s time for the rapture to occur – will be snatched away from the earth and will thus be mercifully spared the terrible coming judgment of the world known as the Tribulation.
Third, I have no idea exactly when the rapture will happen. After all, the Lord Jesus Himself said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” (Matthew 24:36) Thus, I completely reject anyone who claims to know the exact day and hour of the Rapture as a false teacher.
Fourth, I believe that it’s possible that the rapture will happen some year during the High Holidays. However, I caution people not to assume it will happen on or around Rosh Hashanah.
Don’t be dogmatic about this.
Because when we study all the teachings about the rapture, we see a true emerge that has become known by theologians as the “Doctrine of Imminence.”
That is, we see that Jesus and the apostles teach that the Lord could come back to get His true followers at any moment, without warning.
The best way to be ready is not to be focus on specific dates on times.
Rather, we are to be living godly, Holy Spirit-filled lives, obeying the teachings of Jesus, loving our neighbors, caring for the poor, using our spiritual gifts to strengthen the Church, and seeking always to faithfully fulfill the Great Commission, preaching the Gospel to all nations (Matthew 24:14) and making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20) while we still have time.
Israel is certainly one of these nations that needs to hear about the Good News of the Messiah’s love and forgiveness.
Indeed, God describes Israel as the “apple of His eye” (Zechariah 2:8).
So, during these High Holidays, I would ask Evangelicals all over the world to be praying especially for the Jewish people, that the Lord would open the eyes of my people to see the truth about who the Messiah truly is.
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.