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The Last Shofar

by Tim O'Hearn

As most of my regular readers know, I have a great interest in "God's appointed seasons," those times God set aside to meet with the Jews that we call holidays. Most of these holidays have some correspondence to times and teachings in the life of Christ or of the early church. Jesus was born either at the time of Pesach (Passover) or of Succoth (the Feast of Booths), most likely the latter. The Messiah died at Pesach. The Lord's Supper is based on the Passover seder. Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is a picture of the atonement brought about through the sacrifice of Jesus the Messiah. Purim also pictures God's salvation through unexpected means at an unexpected time. Hoshana Rabbah, the Great Hosanna that comes at the end of Succoth, was reenacted six months from its normal time in the "triumphal entry" of Jesus into Jerusalem (see "A Celebration Out of Time", Minutes With Messiah, October 2000). Even Hanukkah was the setting where Jesus said, "I and the Father are one." (John 10:22-38)

The Feast of Trumpets

Almost every feast and holy day is related to the Messiah. For a long time, though, I failed to associate one holiday with Jesus. That was the Feast of Trumpets, which falls on Rosh Hashanah (September 7th in 2002).

The passage legislating this feast says, "And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall ye have a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation. Ye shall do no servile work therein: but ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD." (Lev 23:23-25) That is it. No explanation for the blowing of the shofar; no details other than it is a day for no constructive work. While the day is now called the "head of the year," or the Jewish New Year, in the calendar of feasts it is the first day of the seventh month-nothing apparently special. To the Jewish people, this holiday, and the shofar blasts thereon, is seen as a call to repentance before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is on this day that God decides a person's judgement for the coming year. Provided no repentance intervenes, that judgement is sealed on Yom Kippur.

Until I visited a particular Messianic Jewish web site recently, I had never associated this passage with some important ones in the New Testament. Jesus, himself, associated his coming with the blowing of the shofar. "And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a shofar, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." (Matt 24:30-31)

Paul expands on this idea in his discussion of the body we shall have at the resurrection. "Behold, I show 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 shofar shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality." (1 Cor 15:51-53)

Modern iconography shows Gabriel coming and playing Al Hirt or Miles Davis for the resurrection. Well, if not those great trumpet players, at least the medieval herald with the long trumpet. Instead, the picture Paul gives is of the piercing sound of the ram's horn trumpet as blown on Rosh Hashanah. Nobody could mistake it for Harry James. But nobody could miss hearing it, either. That "last shofar" will be heard by all.

No man knows the day and hour

The position of some Messianic Jews in regard to the return of the Messiah, as evidenced by some of the web sites I visited, is that Jesus will return specifically on Rosh Hashanah to set up an earthly kingdom of peace and brotherhood. They don't know which year he will come, but they claim that they know the specific holiday.

Jesus said, "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only." (Matt 24:36) He specifically points out that no man can know the day or the hour of his coming. If this is so, how do some claim that they know he will come on Rosh Hashanah?

Those whom I read on this point out that Rosh Hashanah is celebrated on both the first and second days of the seventh month. Therefore, while they know he will come during the holiday of the Feast of Trumpets they don't know which of the two days it will be. Thus, nobody knows the day (which of the two) or the hour (which of forty-eight) that the Messiah will come again.

That sounds like a good argument, except for one detail. It is true that the Jews celebrate the holiday on two successive days. This tradition dates back to the days following the destruction of Jerusalem when the Jewish people were scattered over the face of the known world. The sanhedrin in Jerusalem would have to wait for two witnesses to say they had seen the new moon before they could categorically identify the date of the holiday. Because communications from Jerusalem were not instantaneous, those scattered around the world began to celebrate on the two days that would be sure to include the new moon. Even after the development of accurate calendars that gave the specific date, and even hour, of the new moon, and even after the later development of modern worldwide communications, this practice has continued. But the fact remains that the specific day of the holiday is known, although they continue to celebrate for two days.

The argument that Jesus was saying he would come on one of two days, but that nobody knows which one is hardly valid. To Jesus and his hearers, there was only one day of the Feast of Shofars. Even if he were looking forward to a day when most would celebrate it on two days, his hearers would not understand this. The great rabbi Paul, when he wrote about the "last shofar," if he were saying it would come on the holiday, would certainly have considered it to be one day. Beyond that, logically "no man knows the day or hour" implies simply that no man knows when the event will be, not that nobody knows which of two days. This is borne out by the rest of Jesus' discourse in Matthew 24.

Be prepared (the Boy Scout Motto)

While I don't agree with this conclusion, that Jesus will come on Rosh Hashanah, it seems clear that Paul considered the holiday to be at least symbolic of his coming. Jesus clearly associated the symbolism of the blowing of the shofar with his return. Rather than saying that they now knew when he would return, he goes on to say:

Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh. Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods. But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt 24:42-51)

It would be very tempting to live as one wanted, and then when the Days of Awe, the days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, arrived to sincerely show repentance and be assured of the atonement at the end of that time. Some might question, rightly or wrongly, that repentance, however. If one had sinned early in the year, he might be tempted to think that gave him license to sin however he wants until the approach of the Days of Awe. I know the rabbis would argue that this is not the intent of Rosh Hashanah. Nevertheless, it is human nature.

Jesus says, however, that such a person is evil. One who expects to "sow his wild oats" and then make a deathbed confession is likely to die unexpectedly. One who says he can wait until the approach of Rosh Hashanah to straighten up his life, believing that to be the day Jesus will reappear, may be surprised when the end of the world comes in spring rather than fall. Jesus says that not knowing "the day and hour" (verse 36) is the same as "a day when he is not looking for him" (verse 50).

Although the Feast of the Trumpets is associated with the final coming of Christ and with the resurrection, Jesus says not to expect it on that day. We should all be ready every day to hear the shofar. For those who are constantly prepared, the trumpet will herald a feast indeed.