Right for the Wrong Reasons?
There is a wildly popular teaching that has taken Planet Pre-trib by storm over the last couple of decades, and it is being trumpeted (no pun intended, but I'll take it) by some of the most highly respected dispensational, premillennial Bible teachers around. This teaching has to do with alleged scriptural clues about the timing of the Rapture—not in terms of its relationship to the Tribulation, mind you, but rather in terms of the day of the year it will occur.
People who promote this teaching believe there are verses of Scripture that constitute rock-solid proof that the Rapture absolutely must occur on the Jewish celebration of Rosh Hashanah, or the Feast of Trumpets. In this article, I want to discuss reasons why I believe the scriptural support that is typically offered for this Rapture on Rosh Hashanah idea is not nearly as strong or compelling as many seem to think. In fact, I believe it is so deeply flawed that I see little choice but to reject it out of hand. Not necessarily the idea of the Rapture occurring on Rosh Hashasnah, that is, but the biblical support currently being used to "prove" it.
Now, before anyone out there begins to fire up the tar and prepare the feathers, let me say one thing: I'm writing what I believe is true based on my understanding of Scripture and on historical facts I have learned. If someone kindly points out to me a compelling, scripturally sound reason why I am totally wrong, I will happily write another article in the near future announcing my change of view, with that kind person's picture neatly enshrined at the top of the article. No problemo.
At the same time, I also want to mention a few reasons why I don't have a problem with biblically based speculation concerning the fact that the Rapture actually could come on the Feast of Trumpets, since there are some biblical reasons why it makes sense. I just don't believe it can be proven from Scripture in the particular manner that so many seem to have latched on to, and so the idea remains in the realm of speculation. In other words:
People who think they have scriptural proof that the Rapture must happen on Rosh Hashanah might be right for the wrong reasons.
Before I do, however, I want to mention a few things concerning a related topic that I'm sure we will be hearing more about in the coming weeks.
One down, one to go
As we approach the fulfillment of the first of two great signs described by the apostle John in Revelation 12:1–5, which will occur on September 23 of this year, the core group of believers within the Church that understand and embrace this sign for what it is are champing at the bit—and for good reason. God is clearly and undeniably revealing signs (His signs) that we are rapidly approaching the catching away of the body of Christ, and those to whom the fulfillment of the first of these two great signs has been revealed are understandably on prophetic pins and needles.
As virtually any of these REV12-aware believers can tell you, the stunning fulfillment of the first of these two signs is set to occur immediately following the Jewish celebration of Rosh Hashanah, aka the Feast of Trumpets, which officially begins at sunset on September 20 and ends on September 22. As you can imagine, for many months the atmosphere around Planet Pre-trib has been saturated with fevered speculation about when the Rapture might actually occur in relationship to all this, and the landscape is dotted with several schools of thought.
Some intrepid souls are convinced the Rapture positively must occur on September 23, as if the fulfillment of the first sign in verses 1–2 gave us a Bible lock on the date of the Rapture (and naturally, these guys are the only ones the critics ever refer to). Of course, other more level-headed believers gently admonish them to not engage in what amounts to date-setting, but sadly it doesn't seem to do any good.
Another group is a bit more flexible, adopting the view that the second sign of verses 3–4 must occur next, with the Rapture being depicted in verse 5, following both of the great signs. As a result, this group is inclined to give it a few more days or weeks, although they are wisely not trying to pin it down to a certain day.
Recall that it is only Revelation 12:5 that describes the male child being harpazo'ed up to heaven, not the first sign in verses 1–2, and not the second sign in verses 3–4. (I suppose, however, that if one were so inclined, one could consider the harpazo in verse 5 as part and parcel of the second sign, but I won't argue the point.) As has been sliced and diced at length by not only this writer but many others far more capable, there is only one scripturally sound, eschatological interpretation of this passage of Scripture, and that is none other than it depicts the catching away of the body of Christ—not merely the Ascension as has been traditionally believed by many good Bible scholars for centuries.
To hear some tell it, there are also the nervous Nellies (this writer included) who have totally wimped out and gone all loosey-goosey and say the two signs of Revelation 12:1–5 simply portend the season of the Rapture, and that the actual event could still be months or even several years away.
Party poopers, pure and simple.
Speaking of the two signs...I feel there's something that should be noted about the second sign of Revelation 12.
Since the second sign is also
a semeion mega, it must be as
stunning as the first—and the
first sign has arguably never
occurred in human history.
Legions of people have studied and scrutinized the first sign of verses 1–2 to an incredible degree of detail, and tons of solid information has been made freely available. But you want to know why not many people are saying an awful lot about the second sign of verses 3–4? Simple: We don't know. Not really. I mean, yeah, a lot of people are all over it, but at this point nobody knows for certain exactly what its fulfillment is going to look like. You can be sure, however, that a healthy amount of serious speculation is underway, as it should be.
Be advised of one thing, however. Recall that in verse 1 the apostle John calls the first sign a semeion mega, or a "great sign." In verse 3, he says he saw allo semeion, or "another sign." He doesn't use the word mega. In Greek, however, the word allo means "another of the same kind." In other words, the second sign is also a semeion mega, and so we should expect it to be just as striking as the first.
This is why I think people who believe the second sign will be completely fulfilled by a regularly occurring event such as the Draconid meteor shower (which will be seen on October 7–8 this year) or some such thing are missing a key point: Although it is entirely possible the Draconid meteor shower could play a role in the second sign's fulfillment, I do not believe it can represent the sign's total fulfillment, and that's because a regularly occurring event isn't very mega. Something that happens every year or every few years just doesn't fit the scriptural bill. Since the second sign is also a semeion mega, it must be as stunning as the first—and the first sign has arguably never occurred in human history. There simply has to be more to the second sign than that.
And unlike the first sign, which has been scrutinized to the nth degree since 2008 by anybody with enough technical expertise to download Stellarium, we haven't had the same luxury with the second sign. In fact, whatever the second sign may entail, we may well not see the whole enchilada until it happens.
Note: In the following graphic, I took great care to size, locate, and orient this object with mathematical precision. I say that lest anyone think this is some goofy thing I slapped together in Photoshop (or in my case, GIMP) just to scare people. That's what it is, that's where it is, that's how big it is, and that's how it's oriented. Deal with it.
Although we cannot be certain, many are convinced the fulfillment of the second sign will involve a mysterious, downright sinister-looking object that is currently lurking between the legs of Virgo (an object that is not visible to the naked eye). Not only that, but it appears to be in the perfect position to "gobble up" Jupiter after it exits the area of Virgo's womb. Judge for yourself. There are several websites where you can look at stars and planets, such as Google Sky and NASA's SkyView, but what has many people scratching their heads is the fact that some views show the object and some don't.
Certain views of this object from various sources show it as being blacked out, a fact which has led to a firestorm of accusations of an astronomical cover-up by the U.S. government. I initially believed that as well, but I am now pretty well convinced what I have read on the Internet is true: Certain types of anomalous objects viewed through certain survey parameters can cause damage to certain types of equipment, so occasionally specific objects are blacked out in order to protect sensitive instruments—not as part of a conspiracy to hide biblical signs in the heavens from an unsuspecting public.
For example: Here are several images of the object all taken from NASA's SkyView. The same coordinates are used for each image, and the only difference is the survey parameters chosen:
As you can see, some show it, some don't. Now, ask yourself:
Q. How difficult do you really think it would be for engineers at NASA to black out a particular object in the sky from the public's view if they actually wanted to hide some scary apocalyptic object for some reason?
A. They could probably do it during their coffee break.
C'mon, folks. Do you actually believe the scientists and engineers at NASA who designed things like SkyView are that stupid and incompetent? If NASA genuinely intended to completely conceal some mysterious object in the sky from public view, only blacking it out in a few certain survey parameters and...OOPS!...leaving it plainly visible in several other settings would be the work of complete chuckleheads. Conspiracy? Really?
But conspiracy or no, Google searches on this object tend to turn up no shortage of imaginative drivel about Planet X/Nibiru posted by individuals who apparently have far more free time to kill than they do scientifically verifiable information to share. The bottom line is that God has only revealed the first sign—He hasn't fully revealed the second one yet. After September 23, it'll be one down, one to go.
Just a reminder: We don't know with 100 percent certainty that the signs of Revelation 12 correspond to the Rapture in real time. That is speculation. Maybe it's reasonable speculation, but it is still speculation. They could, but it is entirely possible they merely herald the impending season of the Rapture without pinning down the date. I've said it before and I'm gonna keep right on saying it until I'm blue in the face: The Bible tells us to watch and wait patiently and occupy until He comes. That's not so hard, is it? This is why we can't afford to let ourselves go gaga over dates. When people do that, they typically end up bringing dishonor and disrepute to the name that is above every name.
The one-two punch
I'm not going to address any of the aforementioned groups in this article, however. Instead, I want to focus my attention on a group of believers who have enthusiastically embraced the teaching I alluded to at the outset, and this is the idea that they have decoded a couple of code phrases that yield conclusive scriptural proof that the Rapture must happen on the Feast of Trumpets (they don't know the year, but it's gotta be on the Feast of Trumpets), a notion I like to refer to as "Raptashanah." This group typically comprises Christians who have studied the Jewish feasts to some degree, and there are two primary scriptural arguments that I have heard them offer countless times as proof of their conclusion:
1. There are several verses where Jesus says that no man knows the day or hour of His return, but what most Christians don't realize is that this is actually an idiomatic reference to Rosh Hashanah. Since Rosh Hashanah is the only Jewish feast that occurs on a new moon, it took two days to ascertain the emergence of the fist sliver of moon to establish the correct day. Thus, it became known as "the day no man knows." So in reality, Jesus Himself is giving us a big, fat clue that the Rapture is going to occur on Rosh Hashanah!
2. When Paul revealed the mystery of the Rapture in his first letter to the Church in Corinth and used the phrase "at the last trump" in 1 Corinthians 15:52, he was referring to the "last trump" of Rosh Hashanah: a long, loud shofar blast known as the tekiah gedolah (great blast) that was the final sounding of the 100 shofar soundings of different types blown during the course of the Rosh Hashanah celebration. That last shofar blast is the "last trump," so clearly Paul was giving the believers in Corinth (and us) a big, fat clue that the Rapture is going to occur on Rosh Hashanah!
Legions of Christians today are convinced that the Rapture must occur on the Feast of Trumpets, and they cite these two points as a pair of lock-tight clinchers that provide scriptural proof of their position. Before I go any further I want to say one thing loud and clear:
Read my lips: I am not saying that the Rapture can not/will not happen on Rosh Hashanah (ditto for any other day). I do not believe we can pin the Rapture to any certain day (including Rosh Hashanah), and I politely disagree based on reasonably clear teaching in Scripture with those who believe otherwise (even though I am quick to concede that certain days make a lot more biblical sense than others). My primary motivation in writing this article is simply to discuss why I am convinced that certain efforts to prove from Scripture that the Rapture must occur on Rosh Hashanah are far weaker than most realize and in my humble opinion come up short of that goal.
Before I deal with these two specific arguments, there is one overarching topic that needs to be emphasized (yet again). That's right, it's our old friend the doctrine of imminence, which is taught with compelling clarity in several places in the New Testament, primarily by the apostle Paul (yes, the same apostle Paul whose words are used in attempts to prove the Rapture must occur on Rosh Hashanah).
Once again, in my view the doctrine of imminence simply means that we will never possess the revelation knowledge of Scripture needed to prove that the Rapture must occur on a specific day, or that any specific prophetic event must precede it. There are those today who are believe that God will ultimately reveal the day and hour of the Rapture to those who are obeying His command to watch at some point before it happens—possibly through a sign we don't yet see coming, but that's a topic for another day. They may be right, but I'm not going to get into that here. My point is that I don't believe we will ever be able to prove any specific date for the Rapture from Scripture prior to the event.
There is certainly no denying that the doctrine of imminence has been ramped up in intensity with the advent of the REV12 sign, but that does not mean it has been repealed or nullified.
Jesus said "Occupy until I come."
He didn't say "Occupy until you think I'm coming,
then go ballistic and start bouncing off the walls."
Scripture tells us to watch and wait, and we're supposed to keep watching and waiting until He comes to take us to be with Him. And if we are watching and waiting the way we are commanded in Scripture, then His coming won't overtake us as a thief in the night—we'll see it coming because we are longing for His appearing, doing our best to rightly divide the Word, and paying attention to the fulfillment of Bible prophecy. We'll be expecting Him.
I know I'm expecting Him—if you're not, you should be.
Here's the fly in the Frappuccino, however. If the apostle Paul had been telling the believers in Corinth in no uncertain terms that the Rapture would occur on Rosh Hashanah, then it seems to me that Paul would have been contradicting himself. In other words:
How can Paul tell believers in one place to watch and wait patiently for the Lord's return, and then in another place tell believers that the Rapture is going to happen on one specific Jewish feast?
It doesn't make any sense, and the only way I see to work around this is to attack and undermine the doctrine of imminence (which, sadly, is exactly what many are trying to do). And make no mistake: I don't believe claiming that knowing the day but not knowing the year kisses it and makes it all better.
Ditto for the idea that since Rosh Hashanah traditionally covers two days (plural), pinning the Rapture to it still kinda sorta qualifies as not knowing the day (singular).
Just so you know: I won't go into the details here, but most Christians have no idea that not all groups of Jews throughout history devoted two days to Rosh Hashanah. There were many Jews living in various regions in ancient times who followed the Torah as written and who were perfectly capable of determining the correct day of the new moon in advance in their region and celebrated Rosh Hashanah accordingly on one specific, known day, just as the Torah mandates. The Bible doesn't say one solitary word about it covering two days. This "one day or two" debate about Rosh Hashanah was yet another point of heated contention between the Rabbanites and groups of scriptural literalists like the Karaites—except the Rabbanites and their traditions won out. More on these guys later.
Ditto for the idea that Paul didn't consciously and knowingly make reference to Rosh Hashanah, but rather the Holy Spirit has seen fit to reveal this interpretation to modern Christians who have studied the feasts.
In my opinion, those dogs don't hunt. And as a matter of fact, I could stop right here. That's Q.E.D. Check and mate. Finito.
Trying to use Scripture to "prove" the Rapture will occur on a certain date is such a drop-dead, clear-cut violation of imminence that in reality, anything else I have to add is icing on the cake.
And that cake does have plenty of icing.
Whose feasts are they, anyway? Since we're on the subject of the feasts, note that some who reject the idea of pinning the Rapture to the Feast of Trumpets argue that all seven feasts are the feasts of Israel, not the Church. Thus, it makes no sense to believe the Rapture can represent the ultimate fulfillment of any of them, and to do so amounts to a species of replacement theology.
On the other hand, those who advocate a Rosh Hashanah Rapture argue that they're the LORD's feasts, and so aren't the exclusive province of Israel to begin with. So, the argument goes, there's nothing wrong with one of the feasts being fulfilled by the Church.
My take: Yes, they are the LORD's feasts, but He gave them to Israel and made them part of Israel's law. Thus, I agree with those who say it makes little scriptural sense to assume one of the feasts can find its ultimate fulfillment in an event that has nothing to do with Israel. I believe that the feasts must be fulfilled primarily by and through Israel, even though they convey deep, prophetic meaning for the Church.
On the other hand, who says the Rapture has nothing to do with Israel?
Stick that last thought in your back pocket for now.
I don't know...or do I?
The first scriptural argument for Raptashanah I want to address has to do with the fact that there are several verses of Scripture where Jesus says something about how no man knows the day or hour of His return, and that this is a code phrase that points us to Rosh Hashanah.
By my count, there are a total of eight verses where Jesus says something to the effect that no man knows the day and/or hour of His return: Matthew 24:36, 42, 44, 50; 25:13; Mark 13:32; Luke 12:40, 46.
Now, there's no need to be dogmatic about it, but personally I am convinced that each of these eight verses is in reference to the Second Coming, and that none speaks specifically to the Rapture. Six of the eight are found in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24–25; Mark 13), a discourse I am satisfied pertains primarily to Israel during and after the Tribulation with no express mention of the Church (for reasons that should be obvious), and the other two are from a parable concerning being ready for service (Luke 12), which I also believe is in reference to the Second Coming, not the Rapture.
For example, who gets cut in two (v. 46), or has his portion placed with the unfaithful (v. 46) at the translation of the Church? Who gets beaten with many stripes (v. 47) or few stripes (v. 48) when Jesus comes to snatch His bride away?
I have no burning desire to sit here and try to prove to anyone that these verses do not speak to the Rapture—it's just that I am not convinced they do, although I could be wrong. For the purposes of this article, however, it doesn't matter because all I want to do is discuss why I doubt very much that they constitute a coded reference to Rosh Hashanah. That's all I'm trying to do here.
So, let's just go ahead and assume for the sake of argument that all these verses can be applied to the Rapture. That causes me no heartburn at all.
Of all eight of these verses, Mark 13:32 is my favorite because it so clearly reveals the inherent problems associated with assuming Jesus is giving us information about the timing of the Rapture:
32But of that day and that hour knows no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.
(Mark 13:32 AKJV)
So here's Jesus telling His disciples that no one (including Himself) knows the day or the hour of His return (or, let's say, the Rapture). I fully agree with those who argue that Jesus does know these things today, since after His ascension to heaven He reclaimed the full extent of the power and glory that was His from the beginning, something He set aside and divested Himself of temporarily to come to earth and be born as a man. I also have no trouble believing that at the moment of speaking, while He lived in a body of flesh on earth, Jesus truly did not know. I think Jesus was being straight up with His disciples.
But here's the rub, in case you haven't already spotted it. Living as a man in a body of flesh, Jesus says in no uncertain terms that He doesn't know the day or hour of His return (or the Rapture). Yet many believers today claim He was giving us a coded reference to Rosh Hashanah as being the date. Well, which is it? If He doesn't know, then how can that be? Does He know, or doesn't He?
How can Jesus reveal the day, and then in the
same breath tell us He doesn't even know the day?
I'm sorry, but this doesn't make any sense. If the plain text of Scripture means anything at all, then claiming that Jesus is giving us a coded clue about the timing of His return (or the Rapture) forces Him to contradict Himself in a fairly blatant manner. It would be a bit like Jesus saying something along the following lines:
"I have no idea when this event will occur...but hey, when the time comes, save some pumpkin pie for me, ya know?" (wink...wink)
"I'm telling you guys, I don't have a clue. Only the Father knows. Oh, but when it goes down, I'm expecting to see some milk and cookies on the kitchen table, if you catch my drift." (wink...wink)
"I don't have the foggiest idea when this will happen." (Winks and hums a few bars of "Auld Lang Syne.")
In my opinion, this argument for Raptashanah is simply illogical, and offhand I don't see any easy way to make it otherwise.
The last trump...er, shofar, that is
The second and arguably the most widespread scriptural argument for Raptashanah has to do with Paul's reference to the "last trump" in one of his foundational Rapture passages:
51Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52In 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.
(1 Corinthians 15:51–52 AKJV / emphasis added)
Now, for many centuries many Jews have celebrated Rosh Hashanah by blowing shofars, or traditional trumpets fashioned from rams' horns (I understand that some were also made of goats' horns). They have a highly choreographed set of various types of shofar sounds that are blown at three different times during the day for a total of 100 individual soundings, and the final shofar blast of the day is a long, loud blast that continues for as long as the lungs of the baal tokea (shofar blower) hold out (a minimum of nine seconds, according to the Talmud). This final blast of the shofar, or tekiah gedolah, is quite literally the "last trump" of Rosh Hashanah.
Now, some people (this writer included) believe the trumpet sound Paul is referring to is strictly an eschatological trumpet blown by God—a trumpet that will raise the dead in Christ and signal the catching away of those who are alive and remain, and isn't meant as a secret clue that the Rapture is scheduled for Rosh Hashanah. But the $64,000 question is this:
Q. Did Paul intend the words "last trump" in 1 Corinthians 15:52 to be a tip-off that the Rapture would occur on the Feast of Trumpets?
Through their study of the Jewish feasts, many believers today think they have deciphered the true significance of the phrase "last trump," and are convinced Paul was in fact giving the believers in Corinth just such a coded clue. I am of the opinion he was not, and not simply because it would represent an irreconcilable violation of imminence, as I discussed earlier...as if that weren't enough...which, in fact, it is.
There's an even bigger fly in that Frappuccino.
OK, let's think this through. Many believers think Paul's reference to the "last trump" clearly indicates that the Rapture is going to occur on Rosh Hashanah. But the more critical question is this:
How did the believers in Corinth interpret Paul's words?
That is, did the believers in Corinth interpret Paul's words as a reference to Rosh Hashanah? As I have said before, although Paul's epistles are inspired by the Holy Spirit and so constitute the Word of God and so have meaning to the Church for all time, everything he wrote was directed at some specific group of believers and was meant to be clearly understood by the believers to whom he was writing at the time. Paul wasn't expounding a bunch of obscure mumbo jumbo that would be likely to confuse people—he was trying to clearly communicate God's truth to them. So, did the Corinthians understand that Paul was really referring to the tekiah gedolah when he mentioned the "last trump"?
It's a simple question: Either (a) they did, or (b) they didn't.
(a) Let's assume they did interpret Paul's words to mean the Rapture would happen on Rosh Hashanah. By the way, this isn't just an issue with the believers in Corinth. Keep in mind that Paul's epistles were distributed to groups of believers throughout the entire region, so Paul would have effectively been telling the entire extant body of Christ that the harpazo was going to occur on Rosh Hashanah.
Now, stop and imagine what effect that might have had on the fledgling first-century Church—a Church that faced intense persecution from every quarter, persecution that would only grow stronger until it reached its peak in the early third century on the blood-soaked sands of the Colosseum.
Such a statement from the apostle Paul would have registered a 10.0 on the Richter scale. Are you kidding?! Churches throughout the region would have anxiously looked forward to Rosh Hashanah each and every year—they would have had Harpazo Watch Parties every September. It would have become a Church tradition to eagerly ring in Rosh Hashanah year after year, hoping against hope that this might be the year!! Every fall, the delirium would have reached fever pitch as that new moon approached—and year after year, after it was over, they would have been the ancient version of Chicago Cub fans:
"Wait till next year!"
It stands to reason that we would have some record—some trace—of their response to such an earth-shattering revelation from Paul. But is that what we see? Do we see any evidence of such a reaction from the nascent Church? Let me be quick to point out that I am not an authority on the subject by any stretch of the imagination; but to the best of my knowledge, you can search the annals of Church history and not find the first hint of such a thing.
If the Corinthians and other groups of believers interpreted Paul's words as meaning the Rapture was slated for Rosh Hashanah, then the complete absence of any such tradition or custom or any hint of looking forward to the Feast of Trumpets in anticipation of the Rapture by any congregation anywhere throughout the entire Church is nothing short of mystifying.
Actually, it's not mystifying at all. On the contrary. It's thunderingly clear to me—the Corinthians didn't interpret Paul's words in that manner, nor did any other congregation. So...
(b) Let's assume they didn't interpret Paul's words to mean the Rapture would happen on Rosh Hashanah. Well, why on earth wouldn't they? To hear some believers tell it, you'd think that anybody who knows anything about the Jewish feasts knows the "last trump" is the tekiah gedolah sounded at the close of Rosh Hashanah, right? I mean, duh. Were the believers in Corinth stupid? Were the believers in congregations around the region so obtuse that the real meaning of Paul's words flew right over their heads?
I'm serious. Forgive me if I sound a bit snarky, but what, pray tell, would have prevented the Corinthians or any other group of believers in the first century from interpreting Paul's "last trump" as a reference to the tekiah gedolah of Rosh Hashanah? If it's so crystal clear today to anyone with a cursory knowledge of the Jewish feasts, why wouldn't it have been crystal clear to them? In fact, this is made even more inexplicable by the fact that there were far more Jewish believers in the Church in Paul's day than there are now, two millennia later.
This question has bothered me for a long time, as I have sat and listened quietly to legions of sincere believers sound off with supreme confidence about how the Rapture must happen on Rosh Hashanah because of Paul's last trump connection, and those who have the temerity to question the validity of this teaching are promptly lectured on the details of how the Feast of Trumpets is celebrated.
Don't shoot: I have a confession to make. I've had this article on the back burner for a number of months, but it kept getting pre-empted. Or maybe I just chickened out. Maybe I wasn't sure about a few things. Maybe I'm wrong and everybody else is right—it's happened before, and I'm sure it will happen again. And when they read this, maybe all those wonderful people who have said such nice things about some of the articles I have written over the last few months will hate my stinking guts (sniffle...sniff).
But I just can't sit and listen quietly anymore. I feel something needs to be said and this is my last chance to get it off my chest before The Big Event. What finally pushed me over the edge and got me to sit down and write this article (an article that part of me doesn't really want to write because I know it will put me at odds with some folks I love and respect) was something I stumbled across a few months ago. Was it the Holy Spirit who led me to it? Is what I came across in any way meaningful? That's not for me to say—I'm perfectly willing to just put this out there and humbly allow those who are spiritual to judge.
When Christians—and I mean born-again believers who understand that God is not through with Israel and so love, honor, support, and pray for God's Chosen People—talk about Jewish traditions and how they celebrate their biblical feasts and all that, we tend to make an assumption. It's such an easy, natural assumption to make that we scarcely realize we are making it.
But in most cases, we are.
Many Christians (not all, it saddens me to say) love and respect the Jewish people, and many love and respect them so much that we have a tendency to look at whatever Jews do today and automatically assume that their traditions and customs all constitute pure, unadulterated Judaism—solid gold, straight from the mouth of Yahweh Himself, directly to His people through Moses, and straight from the divinely inspired Torah. We tend to assume that nobody knows the Old Testament better than the Jews (except for that Messiah business, of course), and as a result we are loath to question or critique anything the Jews do, particularly in regard to how they celebrate any of their seven biblically ordained moadim, or appointed times.
Including the Day of Shouting.
The triumph of the Talmud
One of the things that finally motivated me to take the plunge with this topic was an article I came across on the Internet entitled "A Shofar-less 'Rosh Hashanah': A Karaite's Experience of Yom Teru'ah" by Shawn Joe Lichaa, co-author of As It Is Written: A Brief History of Karaism. This article began to open my eyes to a few things I had never known about Judaism, and it got me doing a bit of poking around concerning its history. As I did so, I got introduced to a group called the Karaites.
The name "Karaites" (Karaim in Hebrew) comes from the Hebrew word mikra (Scriptures). The Karaites, although not formally known by that name until around the sixth century, were a major sect of Judaism that traces its lineage back to the ancient Sadducees. Although they later distanced themselves from some of the Sadducees' doctrinal positions (such as the denial of the resurrection of the dead), both the original Sadducees and the Karaites who followed them had a long-standing and well-earned reputation for being scriptural literalists. They stood resolutely for the idea of following the Written Torah as is, with no overt additions or changes.
This was in diametric and often heated opposition to the Pharisees (who later became known as the Rabbanites), who busily added copious amounts of their own opinions and interpretations to the Torah, developing what became known as the Oral Torah. The Pharisees/Rabbanites considered their Oral Torah to be divinely inspired and on par with Scripture, and in the wake of the destruction of the temple in AD 70 and the Diaspora that followed, they realized that the Oral Torah was in danger of being lost. To remedy the situation, they began the task of compiling and editing a written version of the Oral Torah, with the first edition appearing about AD 200. They continued adding to it, and it developed into what became known as the Babylonian Talmud during the third to the fifth centuries.
At every step of the way, pre-Karaite and later Karaite scriptural literalists vigorously opposed and railed against the Oral Torah and the rabbis who pushed it, rejecting and stridently denouncing what they saw as blatantly adding to Scripture. They wanted no part of adding the opinions of men to God's revealed Word, as the Talmud continued to swell in size from voluminous additions from thousands of rabbis until the late fifth century.
"Another movement that rejected the Oral Torah was Karaism. It arose within two centuries of the completion of the Talmud. Karaism developed as a reaction against the Talmudic Judaism of Babylonia. The central concept of Karaism is the rejection of the Oral Torah, as embodied in the Talmud, in favor of a strict adherence to the Written Torah only. This opposes the fundamental Rabbinic concept that the Oral Torah was given to Moses on Mount Sinai together with the Written Torah."
— Wikipedia, "Talmud"
Around the seventh century, however, the Rabbanites acquired the political clout to grow into the dominant force in Judaism, and it was the beginning of the end for the Karaites and any other sect that opposed the Rabbanites and Talmudic Judaism. The following is an excerpt from an article by Nehemiah Gordan, a Jewish author and speaker who worked as a translator on the Dead Sea Scrolls:
"In the early middle ages the Pharisees continued to thrive. They began to call themselves Rabbis and only used the name Pharisees when remembering historical events from the Second Temple period. In the 7th century the Islamic Empire swept the Middle-east. The Muslims had no interest in imposing Islamic religious practice on the Jews and gave them a degree of autonomy under a system known as the Exilarchate. The Exilarchate had been founded hundreds of years before under Sassanian rule but until now only had influence in Babylonia and Persia. Overnight the Rabbanites turned from a localized Babylonian phenomenon into a political power which stretched throughout much of the Middle-east. From the 3rd–5th centuries the Babylonian Rabbanites had developed a body of religious law known as the Babylonian Talmud which they now imposed on every Jew in the Empire.
"Resistance to the Rabbinites was fierce, especially in the eastern provinces of the Empire which had never even heard of the Talmud. The historians tell us of Jewish leaders whose resistance against the Talmud put them in direct conflict with the Islamic government, which had empowered the Rabbis and given them full authority over other Jews. One resistance leader who refused to accept the Talmud was named Abu Isa al-Isfahani and it is said that he led an army of Jews against the Muslim government. Other attempts to cast off the Talmud were also undertaken but all failed and the Rabbanites and their Talmud seemed unstoppable." (emphasis added)
— from "History of Karaism"
by Nehemiah Gordan
Although the Rabbanites and their Talmudic Judaism had effectively won the day, they and the Karaites continued to slug it out over the next several hundred years. As the Rabbanites and their Talmud became the primary force and thus the public face of Judaism, the Karaites (along with any other opposing sect) gradually faded into obscurity, although they still exist today in small numbers.
OK, so what's with the Reader's Digest history lesson? Why does any of this (yawn) fascinating information matter, you ask. What I have given you is the sketchiest of thumbnail sketches of a harsh reality that is virtually unknown among the great majority of modern Christians (even those who miss no opportunity to let others know they have "studied the feasts"), and that is the fact that a goodly portion of what we know as Judaism today has to some degree been reinvented over the course of the last two millennia by the addition of the opinions, traditions, and interpretations of men that were elevated to the level of inspired Scripture, in direct violation of Old Testament commands to the contrary (Deut. 4:2; 12:32; Prov. 30:6).
And why does it matter? Well, it matters in regard to the topic at hand because one of the many points that scriptural literalists like the Karaites argued so vociferously about with proponents of Talmudic Judaism (besides whether Yom Teruah should even be called Rosh Hashanah in the first place) was whether it was proper or acceptable to celebrate it by blowing shofars.
It all fits. Think about it:
Q. What were the Pharisees of Paul's day famous for?
A. Hammering others with their self-righteous hypocrisy and promoting their traditions, opinions, and legalistic practices as being on par with Scripture.
These were the guys who primarily advocated the blowing of shofars on Rosh Hashanah, and it was their brand of Judaism that ultimately won out over that of any group that insisted on following God's Word as written.
And their prohibited padding of Scripture was in full swing in Paul's day.
What's a teruah?
The Karaites and the scriptural literalists they descended from argued passionately with those who espoused Talmudic Judaism about many things, including the proper ways to celebrate the Jewish feasts.
And Rosh Hashanah (as it was called by the Rabbanites), or Yom Teruah (as it is called in scripture and which is translated as "the Day of Shouting" by the Karaites), or the Feast of Trumpets (as it is called by most Christians) was no exception.
For many centuries, the Karaites and the scriptural literalists who preceded them vehemently rejected the notion of blowing shofars on Rosh Hashanah, and the reason reflects the fact that they were called scriptural literalists:
It's literally unscriptural.
S-c-r-e-e-c-h...TILT. What do you mean it's unscriptural?! What do you mean it doesn't say to blow shofars on Rosh Hashanah?! It's right there in black and white, you moron:
23And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 24Speak to the children of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall you have a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation. 25You shall do no servile work therein: but you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD.
(Leviticus 23:23–25 AKJV / emphasis added)
See? It says "t-r-u-m-p-e-t-s," and that's shofars. Can't you read?!
Yes I can, thanks for asking. And yep, it sure does say "trumpets." In fact, the above verse includes the word "trumpet(s)" in the majority of English translations. In the Hebrew, however, a cursory check reveals the fact that the word shofar does not appear. The Torah makes no mention of a shofar in this passage.
There is also a reference to Yom Teruah in the book of Numbers:
1And in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have an holy convocation; you shall do no servile work: it is a day of blowing the trumpets to you.
(Numbers 29:1 AKJV / emphasis added)
There it is again: trumpets. The first passage (Lev. 23:24) uses the phrase zikkaron teruah, or "a remembrance or memorial of teruah," and the second (Num. 29:1) uses the phrase yom teruah, or "the day of teruah," and neither mentions a shofar.
OK, so why should we interpret the noun teruah as a blowing of shofars?
According to Strong's Concordance, a teruah is "a shout or blast of war, alarm, or joy." No specific mention of shofars. One secondary definition listed for teruah mentions trumpets, but "the blowing of trumpets" is not the primary definition of the word, and never has been. To drive the point home, why don't we consider how the Old Testament uses the word?
The word teruah is used 36 times in the Old Testament in a total of 33 verses. Since we are interested in casting light on the meaning of the two specific usages of teruah above in regard to Rosh Hashanah, let's leave them out and consider the remaining 34 instances in the other 31 verses.
According to Shawn Joe Lichaa, who also runs a website at abluethread.com that is devoted to Karaite Judaism, the remaining 34 usages of the word teruah in those 31 verses can be broken down as follows:
|Meaning||# of times||# of verses|
The bottom line is that no matter how you slice it, it's rather difficult to make the case from Scripture that the word teruah should automatically be interpreted as the blowing of a shofar, unless there is context that makes that meaning clear—context that is completely absent in both biblical references to Rosh Hashanah.
So, what could possibly influence the translators of so many English versions of the Bible over the last four centuries to add the word "trumpets" to these two passages concerning Rosh Hashanah, neither of which contains the word shofar nor contextual clues in the original Hebrew that point to it?
After reading about the rise of Talmudic Judaism, I think that question has been answered. By the time the English language came into existence, Talmudic Judaism, with its ponderous additions to Scripture, was the only game in town.
As a matter of fact, the Karaites not only refrained from blowing shofars on Yom Teruah, they considered it a direct violation of the Torah, which prohibits a wide variety of tasks (melakah) on that day (Lev. 23:25). The Karaites and other scriptural literalists considered the blowing of shofars a form of forbidden work; and so in contrast to the Rabbanites, they considered the blowing of shofars to be a literal profaning of Yom Teruah, rather than a legitimate, much less biblically mandated, method of celebrating it.
Multitudes of Christians today assume that when Paul said the Rapture would occur at the "last trump" in 1 Corinthians 15:52, he was giving the Church a coded clue that the Rapture would occur on Rosh Hashanah.
Now, if the blowing of shofars on Rosh Hashanah—with the final tekiah gedolah and all that—had been a universally recognized and practiced tradition throughout all of Israel that was widely acknowledged to be mandated by the Torah, then the first-century Church would have known that and likely would have interpreted Paul's reference to the "last trump" as a linking of the Rapture to Rosh Hashanah, just as many Christians do today. First-century believers could read Scripture as well as we can (better, if anything). They would have readily understood that Paul meant the Rapture would happen on Rosh Hashanah. It would have been just as clear to believers in the first century as it is to believers in the twenty-first who hold this view of Scripture.
It is reasonably clear from Church history, however, that first-century believers didn't interpret Paul's words that way. And considering the fact that the blowing of shofars on Rosh Hashanah wasn't universally accepted as a Torah-mandated practice in Paul's day, it's easy to see why believers in the first-century Church didn't automatically jump to such a conclusion.
Although yes, there were plenty of people in Paul's day who did indeed blow shofars on that day, there were also substantial numbers of Jews who strongly disagreed with the practice, and who not only adamantly refused to recognize the blowing of shofars on Rosh Hashanah as being biblical, but actually considered it to be profaning the day because in their minds it (a) wasn't mentioned in the Torah, and (b) constituted forbidden work. In other words, they didn't just choose not to do it—they considered it a sin!
I know this has been a bit of a slog, and for that I apologize. But I think it is critically important to never make Scripture say things it doesn't say, or to read things into Scripture that aren't there. How important?
Important enough to write something that'll upset a few folks.
OK, now reach into your back pocket.
"It makes me wanna shout..."
As I said earlier, I have no problem whatsoever with the idea of the Rapture occurring on Rosh Hashanah—I'm just no longer willing to sit and listen quietly to people try and tell me that Paul's reference to the "last trump" makes it some kind of Bible lock. I believe it does no such thing.
On the other hand, there actually are reasons why a Rosh Hashanah Rapture would make decent biblical sense. After all, the Karaites and other groups of scriptural literalists insisted on calling it the Day of Shouting.
Hmm, where have I seen that word before...
16For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
(1 Thessalonians 4:16–17 AKJV / emphasis added)
The Day of Shouting is described in Leviticus 23:24 as a day of memorial or of remembrance. But it doesn't say of what. Oddly enough, Scripture doesn't specify what is to be remembered or why this day is to be celebrated in the first place, although there is no shortage of opinions.
One thing that some believers who hold to a pre-trib view of the Rapture don't seem to give a great deal of serious thought to is the impact the Rapture will have on those left behind. We chat up the Rapture and excitedly look forward with eager anticipation to our "blessed hope" and this most spectacular of events, but what will it mean to the world at large? Or, more to the point:
What does the Rapture have to do with Israel?
Couple of things to keep in mind:
1. After the Rapture, the restraining influence of the Holy Spirit will end, and the gloves will come off for Satan and his legions. The world will experience a dramatic increase in wickedness, as Satan initiates the final phase of his plan to destroy Israel.
2. After the Rapture, God will turn His attention back to His people Israel to carry out the final phase of their national purging and their ultimate national redemption. This will involve allowing them to be initially deceived by a false Messiah they will believe has come to save them, but who will turn on them and attempt to destroy them, although a remnant will be protected and ultimately ushered into the Millennial Kingdom.
3. The Rapture will remove the last real friend Israel has from the earth—born-again believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ who understand and recognize Israel's eternal status as God's Chosen People and the focal point of end-time prophecy. Not too terribly long after the Rapture, things will reach the point where the nations of the world will turn on Israel like a pack of snarling wolves, and they will have no one to turn to except their God.
The Rapture is the day
we will finally be born
into our full, perfect
spiritual union with
Christ for eternity.
The point is that the Rapture is far more than the mere translation of the Church to heaven—it is nothing less than the raising of the curtain on the final act of the end-time drama. For Israel, it marks the beginning of the time when their God will remember them and the covenant He has with them, and they in turn will remember their God and ultimately return to Him with all their heart.
• Could it not be that on some Rosh Hashanah in the near future, the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout—the shout that the Day of Shouting could conceivably point to, and a shout that will raise the dead in Christ and translate those who are alive and remain? Hmm...
• And speaking of the dead being raised, could it not be, as Gary Ray astutely pointed out recently, that the resurrected dead in Isaiah 26:17–21 (a passage that unmistakably speaks of the Rapture) shout for joy on the Day of Shouting? Hmm...
• Could it not be that when that shout occurs on this day of remembrance, the Jews will remember their God as their God remembers them and turns His attention back to them to initiate their redemption? Hmm...
• In Jewish teaching, Rosh Hashanah represents the birthday of the world, and so this feast is replete with birth-related symbolism and imagery. Now, stop and think about the Rapture for a moment. Think about the male child of Revelation 12:1–5, who is in the womb in verses 1–4, and then born and subsequently snatched up to heaven in verse 5 in what can be nothing but the Rapture.
The Rapture—the moment when all those who have put their faith in Christ's finished work of atonement and that alone for their salvation will really be "born again." What we have now is just the security deposit. The Rapture is the day we will finally be born into our full, perfect spiritual union with Christ for eternity.
Now, with all that fresh in your mind, read the following excerpt from an article written by a Jewish rabbi about Rosh Hashanah and the shofar:
"The shofar is loaded with birth imagery: It can be viewed as the birth canal, the air rushing through it to create a plaintive cry is the breath of life, and the sound that we hear recalls the cries of labor. Traditionally, we hear 100 blasts of the shofar during Rosh Hashanah. A Midrash teaches that the first 99 are the cries of a woman in labor, and the final one, the tekiah gedolah, is the responding cry of the newborn child.
"Today is the birthday of the world, or more accurately, today is the pregnancy of the world...It is the time when we enter the inner world, the world of the womb, in order to be reborn into change. HaShem intervened in the wombs of the matriarchs Sarah, Rachel, and Hannah and made them pregnant. On Rosh Hashanah, we read the stories of Sarah, Hannah, and Rachel to remind us of the hope for new life. There is an understanding that Sarah, the mother of the Jewish people, herself was born on this day. [We also read about] the binding of Isaac, when Isaac is nearly sacrificed by his father Abraham, to let us know that this time of year also signals radical change, a part of us must die in order to be reborn." (emphasis added)
— from "The Significance of the Shofar"
by Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian)
Now you're beginning to get the idea why I am absolutely not discounting the possibility of a Rapture on Rosh Hashanah. Although this is entirely within the realm of speculation, the obvious parallels here with the birth of the child in Revelation 12 and the symbolism that positively screams "Rapture" are nothing short of stunning. After reading this, I almost feel as if a Rosh Hashanah Rapture makes more sense than most proponents of the "last trump" argument even realize.
But I am still convinced the "last trump" argument hits a sour note.
Not so fast: I felt compelled to add this little note a few days after I posted this article because I felt some people were getting the wrong idea, and I want to set the record straight.
Listen carefully: I do not endorse a Rosh Hashanah Rapture. Period. I can't say it any more plainly. Although yes, I do indeed see some stunning parallels between Jewish thinking on Rosh Hashanah and the Rapture, these parallels constitute nothing more than speculation. Yes, it's interesting—but it proves nothing. Yes, Raptashanah does make sense in some ways, but that does not make it so. Many things make sense that are not so.
I am satisfied that God buried things like the date of the Rapture in an ocean of red herrings and a haystack full of false leads, and everywhere people turn they see tantalizingly promising trails they imagine will lead them to uncovering what Jesus told us point blank the Father has fixed by His own authority (Acts 1:7). I believe that means it's up to the Father to reveal these things to us if He so chooses.
I didn't want to get into it too deeply in this article, partly because many people I love and respect are completely sold on the idea of a Rosh Hashanah Rapture and I saw no need to unnecessarily antagonize them and others who are similarly persuaded (although many were duly antagonized anyway). The plain truth, however, is that I see problems with the Raptashanah idea. I could give you an even better argument for a Rapture on Pentecost without breaking a sweat. Does that mean I subscribe to a Pentecost Rapture?
No. I subscribe to a Watch and Wait Rapture. As should you.
There are people out there I love and greatly respect who freely use 1 Corinthians 15:52 to preach a Rosh Hashanah Rapture—and I mean people who can leave me in the exegetical dust. After writing this article, I love and respect them just as much as ever, and always will. I want to strongly emphasize that it is neither my desire nor intention to criticize or come against anyone here, although I am sure many last-trumpers will take issue with what I have written. That's OK...like I said, they may be right for the wrong reasons, in spite of the vast popularity of this last-trump teaching.
But if I can't speak up and say what I feel needs to be said even if it's unpopular, I'm in the wrong line of work—and I'm wasting my precious time. And what's infinitely worse, yours.
Told ya so
Finally, if someone asks you in the next three weeks what's going to happen on September 23 (which is often meant as a leading question to get you speculating about scary apoclyptic scenarios), don't take the bait. Look them in the eyes and tell them you know exactly what's going to happen:
"The first of two great signs in Revelation 12 will be fulfilled. That's what is going to happen, and it means God is telling us loud and clear that we're staring down the barrels of the Rapture. Be there or beware—believe it or blow it off. Your call."
And that may very well be all that happens on the 23rd. But for the critics, who ignorantly and viciously mock those who embrace the REV12 sign as date-setting lunatics who will richly deserve to have their noses rubbed in it, that will be translated as "nothing happened," and you know what comes next. The critics will come streaming out of the woodwork (where most have been cowering for the last couple of years) to crow and told-ya-so, and will unwittingly provide yet another round of fulfillment of 2 Peter 3:3–4 ("Where is the promise of his coming?"). If we are here on the 24th (as I suspect we will), we are going to be pilloried like nobody's business. Count on it.
Talk about being right for the wrong reasons—the naysayers are wrong for the wrong reasons.
Honestly, the mockers and scoffers don't concern me—in a weird sort of way I almost appreciate them because I consider them the clearest possible sign that we are absolutely right about Revelation 12. Satan always tips his hand. Every. Single. Time.
But unless I miss my guess, at least on September 24 they will have their moment in the sun. I don't really care, however, because I am going to be busy. I'm going to be busy quietly studying the second sign.
And unless I miss my guess again, it's gonna be a humdinger.
Greg Lauer / August 2017
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1. Deriv. of "Sunset Over Grass Field" © AOosthuizen at Can Stock Photo
2. "Shofar on Prayer Talit" © tomertu at Fotolia.com
3. Deriv. of "Lock and Sign Security" © Vlad Kochelaevskiy at Fotolia.com
4. "The Red Dragon"—derivative work based on 4a–4b:
4a. "In Search of the Red Dragon"—based on screenshot from Stellarium
4b. SkyView User Image. Provenance of NASA IPAC/JPL [PD]
5. "Four Surveys"—derivative work based on 5a–5d:
5a. SkyView Image Survey: IRIS 60. Provenance of NASA IPAC/JPL [PD]
5b. SkyView Image Survey: IRIS 100. Provenance of NASA IPAC/JPL [PD]
5c. SkyView Image Survey: IRAS 60 micron. Provenance of NASA IPAC/JPL [PD]
5d. SkyView Image Survey: IRAS 100 micron. Provenance of NASA IPAC/JPL [PD]
6. "Jew Blowing the Shofar" © sila5775 at Fotolia.com
7. Deriv. of "Circle the Date on the Calendar" © poko42 at Fotolia.com
8. "Karaite Synagogue in Jerusalem" © Ori∼ via Wikimedia Commons
9. Deriv. of "Rosh Hashanah Holiday Shofar" © R. Roth at Fotolia.com
10. "Wooden Pillory" © GooDAura at Fotolia.com
All Scripture is taken from the World English Bible, unless annotated as KJV (King James Version) or AKJV (American King James Version).