Updated February 2022; original posted January 2013.
1 Thes 4:16
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
Most of the modern world celebrates the new year with revelry and decadence. Not so among devout Jews, for whom Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, heralds God’s judgment of His chosen people for their deeds, both good and bad, committed during the preceding year. Yamim Noraim, the ten “Days of Awe” beginning with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, are devoted to sincere individual and national confession of sins and t’shuvah, or repentance. While the temple stood, on Yom Kippur all the people gathered on the Temple Mount for the ritual sacrifices that would roll the sins of the truly repentant back for another year. Since there is no temple now, and thus no legitimate place for blood sacrifices, the gatherings are in the synagogues, and what is offered are “sacrifices of prayer.” After Yom Kippur, there is an immense sense of relief, as the people begin preparations for the joyous eight-day Feast of Tabernacles that begins on the 15th of the month of Tishri.
Since long before Yeshua’s (Jesus’) day, the Days of Awe have, in practice, begun thirty days earlier, on the first day of the Jewish month Elul. T’shuvah is too important to put off until the last minute, so forty days are devoted to it, rather than the ten required by Torah. On Elul 1, Jews would flock to the mikvot (baptisteries) of the temple and synagogues, and to the “living waters” of streams and rivers like the Yarden (Jordan), to immerse themselves for ritual purification. Then would follow forty days of prayer, fasting and introspection. In the years preceding AD 30, it seems that many had become preoccupied with the politics and woes of the Roman occupation, and such customs were being neglected. Into this scene stepped Yochanan, who we now call John the Baptizer, calling Jews to baptism and t’shuvah.
I believe that the events of Mt 3:13-17, describing Yeshua’s baptism and anointing by the Holy Spirit, took place on Elul 1. Though of course He was sinless, His baptism, followed by forty days of prayer and fasting, were consistent with and required by the customs of the season. Interestingly, this theory places Him on the Pinnacle of the Temple (Lk 4:9-12) on Yom Kippur. This was the highest and most visible structure on the Temple Mount; either the southeast corner, which was the highest structure above the ground level as it dropped off into the Kidron Valley to the east, or the southwest corner (the “Place of Trumpeting”), almost as high, and overlooking the shops and gathering areas near the entrance gates used by most worshipers. If He had accepted Satan’s temptation to throw Himself off and allow the angels to catch Him, all the Jewish world would have witnessed the destruction of His public ministry on the very day it began! Certainly, this was Satan’s plan!
As mentioned above, Rosh Hashanah, also known as Yom Teruah (The Feast of Trumpets), is the Jewish “judgment day”. On this day, Jews believe that God judges among his people, dividing them into three groups. One group is the “wholly righteous”, whose names will certainly be written in the Book of Life. A second is the “wholly wicked”, who will be written into the Book of Death. The final group is comprised of “those in between”, whose fate will be sealed by the quality of their t’shuvah over the next ten days, with final judgment reserved until Yom Kippur.
While this doctrine is certainly not Biblical, the fact that the holiday recognizes a separation of people from people is very significant since it prophetically depicts the coming day of Rapture. In this regard, and in light of 1 Thes 4:16, the blowing of the trumpet (actually, a shofar, or ram’s horn) on Yom Kippur is particularly interesting. The shofar (accompanied by actual metallic trumpets in temple days) is blown at mid-morning after the morning prayers, in three series of four distinctive notes: tekia (“blast”); shevarim (“broken notes”); teruah (“shout”—thought of as “the shout of an archangel”); and tekia gedolah (the “great blast”). The first series is tekia, shevarim, teruah, tekia, repeated three times. The second is tekia, shevarim, tekia, repeated three times. The final series is tekia, teruah, tekia, repeated three times, followed immediately by tekia gedolah, referred to in 1 Cor 15:52 as “the last trumpet”.
I am forever thrilled at the beauty of God’s timing! I believe that many of the events connected with Jeshua’s First and Second Advents actually occurred or will occur on the precise day of the Feast that pictures the event. Could it be that He will return for his Church at the exact moment of the “Last Trump” on the Feast of Trumpets (as God indeed said He would!), which is prophetic of the Rapture? Is it possible that He will return in judgment at the end of Tribulation on the Day of Atonement, the very day when God is thought to seal His judgment of His people? I am convinced it is so!