Unfold the Evangel before your eyes!

Are you lost?
Are you worn out?
Are you overwhelmed?
Are you rational?

Only rational, non-dogmatic persons can understand and accept this message. Give yourself a try. Nothing will be like before, I promise!

sábado, dezembro 24, 2005

The Origins of our Christmas Traditions

by Chuck Missler

[Leia este artigo em português]

Each year at Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. After the New Year, we struggle to remember to add a year as we date our checks, which should remind us that the entire Western World reckons its calendar from the birth of the One who changed the world more than any other before or since.

Yet, it is disturbing to discover that much of what we have been taught about the Christmas season seems to be more tradition than truth.

When Was Jesus Born?

Most serious Bible students realize that Jesus was probably not born on December 25th. The shepherds had their flocks in open fields,1 which implies a date prior to October. Furthermore, no competent Roman administrator would require registration involving travel during the season when Judea was generally impassable.2

If Jesus wasn't born on December 25, just when was he born? Although the Bible doesn't explicitly identify the birthday of our Lord, many scholars have developed diverse opinions as to the likely birthday of Jesus. (It reminds one of the rabbinical observation: with two Jews, you have three opinions!) See our briefing, The Christmas Story: What Really Happened for more information.

Then Why December 25th?

The early Christian church did not celebrate Jesus' birth, and therefore the exact date was not preserved in festivals. The first recorded mention of December 25th is in the Calendar of Philocalus (A.D. 354), which assumed Jesus' birth to be Friday, December 25th, A.D. 1. This was subsequent to Constantine's Edict of Toleration in A.D. 313, which enabled the persecuted Christians to exchange the rags of hiding for the silks of the court. But the predictable expediency to adopt the inevitable cultural changes caused many of the former pagan rituals to be adapted to their new "Christian" trappings.

The date of December 25th, which was officially proclaimed by the church fathers in A.D. 440, was actually a vestige of the Roman holiday of Saturnalia, observed near the winter solstice, which itself was among the many pagan traditions inherited from the earlier Babylonian priesthood.3

Babylonian Traditions

All forms of occultic practices have their origins in the original city of Babylon. Isaiah Chapter 47 clearly brings this out. Most of what we associate with pagan Rome had its origins in ancient Babylon. Babylon is mentioned in over 300 references in the Bible; it is even alluded to three times in Christ's own genealogy.

The Tammuz Legend

Tammuz, the son of Nimrod and his queen, Semiramis, was identified with the Babylonian Sun God and worshipped following the winter solstice. As the days became shorter and shorter through the winter, they become the shortest at the winter solstice, about December 22-23. Tammuz was thought to have died during the winter solstice, and was memorialized by burning a log in the fireplace. (The Chaldean word for infant is yule. This is the origin of the "yule log.") His "rebirth" was celebrated by replacing the log with a trimmed tree the next morning. Sound familiar? (Jeremiah 10 contains an interesting verse which talks about trimming trees, etc.)
There are numerous other examples. The wassail bowl, the mistletoe (a fertility rite), and others are documented in such works as Alexander Hislop's, The Two Babylons. When Babylon was conquered by subsequent empires, this entire religious system was transplanted, first to Pergamos under the Persians, and then to Rome. As the pagan Roman (Babylonian) religious system was integrated with Christian ceremonial observances, many of our current traditions surrounding Christmas emerged. And it appears that an "ecumenical" integration of all the world's religions, including the ancient Babylonian occult forms that presently masquerade as the "New Age," is destined to be the final religious climax.

The Throne of David

There is another aspect to keep in mind this Christmas season. As we recall the prophecy in Micah that prescribes that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, notice the entire verse:

But thou, Bethlehem ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.
Micah 5:2

Also, as we recall that other familiar prophecy in Isaiah, note again the whole verse:

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the Throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever.
Isaiah 9:6-7

The "Throne of David" is not just an Old Testament concept. Remember the Angel Gabriel's promise to Mary:

And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
Luke 1:31-33

But did Jesus ever actually sit on David's throne? He couldn't have. It didn't exist at that time. Jeconaiah was the last of David's line to sit on the throne. (Remember, the blood curse on his line.4) Herod, appointed by the Romans, was an Edomite ("Idumean"). He wasn't even Jewish.
At the moment, Jesus is sitting on His Father's Throne. The question is, will He ever sit on David's throne? Will the promise that Gabriel announced to Mary also be fulfilled? Of course. (And it may be sooner than we think.)

Keeping Christ in Christmas

Christians today tend to fight the ongoing secularization of their holidays. Some have rejected anything to do with them, saying they are not Biblically ordained. Others have tried to go back to keeping the Jewish feasts instead. It should be pointed out that the New Testament doesn't really ordain anything other than the Lord's Supper. But it does not prohibit it either, and under grace Christians are free to honor different days if they wish.

Those families who want to keep Christ as the center of Christmas may find it easier to do by understanding the various symbols that have been used to celebrate Christ's birth through the ages and using them to retain the uniqueness inherent in the mystery of the incarnation: the birth of the Son of God. For instance, at Christmas we remember the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh presented by the Magi.5 These prophetic gifts celebrated his deity, priesthood, and death. When He returns to establish His kingdom, He will be presented only with gold and frankincense.6 There will be no myrrh: His death is now behind Him.

Let's make this season a real celebration. What are you giving Him this Christmas? Is there something in your life He would like to see you part with?

* * *


1. Luke 2:8.
2. Matthew 24:20.
3. Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons, Loizeaux Brothers, Neptune NJ, 1916.
4. Jeremiah 22:30.
5. Matthew 2:11.
6. Isaiah 60:6.

Happy Hanukkah

by Chuck Missler

[Leia este artigo em potuguês]

Each year, around the time we prepare to celebrate Christmas, our Jewish friends celebrate Hanukkah. This year it falls on December 25th and continues for eight days through January 2nd.

It may come as a surprise to many of our readers that this holiday is alluded to in the New Testament. (Whereas Christmas is not: the observation of Christmas began in 354 A.D. from an adaptation of established pagan holidays. While there are several defendable estimates regarding the birthday of Christ, we know it was not in winter: the flocks were in open field, indicating sometime prior to October.)

In fact, Hanukkah highlights an historical event that Jesus Himself pointed to as the key to understanding the prophecies concerning His return!

The Mystery in John 10

John Chapter 10 is, of course, the famous Good Shepherd discourse. It clearly speaks for itself and won't be dealt with here. Verse 22, however, seems to be a strange inclusion: right in the middle of this chapter the Holy Spirit notes the following:

And it was at Jerusalem the feast of dedication, and it was winter.
John 10:22

Why is this reference here?

The Importance of our Approach

The most important discovery of my life was the insight that the Bible is an integrated message system. Although these 66 books were written by over 40 authors over thousands of years, we discover that they are a unified whole. Every word, every number, every place name, even the implied punctuation, appear to be the result of supernatural engineering. The rabbis in Israel have a quaint way of expressing this. They say that we won't really understand the Scriptures until the Messiah comes. But when He comes, He will not only interpret the passages for us; He will interpret the very words; He will interpret the very letters; He will even interpret the spaces between the letters!

I used to think this was just a colorful exaggeration. Until I re-read Jesus' own comments on the Scripture:

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one yot or one tittle shall in no way pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
Matthew 5:17-18

A "yot" or a "tittle" are Hebraisms: a "yot" is one of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet that we might mistake for an apostrophe, or a blemish on the paper. A "tittle" is a tiny notation that distinguishes some of the letters. The phrase that Jesus used is equivalent to our "dotting of an 'i' or the crossing of a 't.'" These words, from our Lord Himself, seem to verify the rather extreme view of the rabbis.

Thus we discover that every detail of the Bible is there by design. This insight opens an entirely new dimension of Bible study. Every time you find a "mistake" or "contradiction" in the Bible, rejoice: there is a discovery behind that ostensible discrepancy.

The Feast of Dedication

Since we have concluded that nothing in Scripture is accidental or trivial, why does this detail in John 10:22 exist? What is the "feast of dedication"? The dedication is of the Temple, of course. But let's explore this further.

There have been only two Temples: the original one built by Solomon, which was ultimately destroyed by the Babylonians; and Nehemiah's, which was built when the captives returned after the Babylonian Captivity. (This "Second Temple" was subsequently expanded by Herod and was the Temple in place during the New Testament period.) Solomon's Temple was dedicated in the month of Ethanim, or Tishri.1 This can't be the reference we're looking for since this was in the autumn. John 10:22 alludes specifically to a feast of dedication in winter. Nehemiah's Temple was dedicated in the month of Adar.2 So this can't be it either since Adar is in the spring. Now we're really puzzled! The key to this riddle requires some important historical background.

An Historical Reference

A century earlier, in 168 B.C., the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV ("Epiphanes")3 son of Antiochus the Great, became the successor of his brother, Seleucus IV, who had been murdered by his minister, Heliodorus, as king of Syria (175-164 B.C.). Antiochus was an eccentric, cruel and tyrannical despot. He undertook the total eradication of the Jewish religion and the establishment of Greek polytheism in its stead.

The observance of all Jewish laws, especially those relating to the Sabbath and to circumcision, were forbidden under penalty of death. Representatives of the crown everywhere enforced the edict. Once a month a search was instituted, and whoever had secreted a copy of the Law or had observed the rite of circumcision was condemned to death. He pillaged the city of Jerusalem, took 10,000 captives, stripped the Temple of its treasures, and built a pagan altar on the Great Altar of Burnt Sacrifices.4

On the 25th of Chislev (Antiochus' birthday), sacrifice was brought on this altar for the first time.5 He required a swine to be offered in every village.6 (If you know how the Jews feel about pork, you can imagine how that went over! But that's not all…)

He also erected an idol to Zeus in the Holy of Holies.7 This desecrating sacrilege has a technical name: "the abomination of desolation."

Maccabean Revolt

In the village of Modein, an aged priest named Mattathias lived with his five sons. When officers arrived to carry out Antiochus' decrees, Mattathias killed both the first Jew who approached the pagan altar to offer sacrifice and the royal official who presided, and Mattathias and his sons fled to the hills. This spontaneous revolt grew into a full-scale uprising: Mattathias and his five sons became the nucleus of a growing band of rebels against Antiochus.

Mattathias died soon after, leaving leadership in the hands of his son Judas, whose nickname "Maccabeus" ("the hammer") became the source of the popular name given to the family and its followers. Under Judas' brilliant leadership, what had begun as a guerrilla war turned into full-scale military engagements in which the smaller Jewish forces managed to defeat the much more powerful Syrian armies, and they succeeded in throwing off the yoke of the Seleucid Empire.

On the third anniversary of the desecration of the Temple, on the 25th of Kislev, 164 B.C., the Temple worship was reestablished. The altar and all of the vessels used in the earlier sacrilege were destroyed and replaced with new ones, and the Temple was rededicated. It is this rededication that is still celebrated among the Jews to this very day as Hanukkah.

A Key Technical Term

The desecration of the Temple in 167 B.C. included the definitive event known as the "abomination of desolation." The term "abomination" in the Bible is a common term for idol worship. The "abomination of desolation" refers to the ultimate extreme form of idol worship: placing an idol on the most sacred spot on Planet Earth: in Jerusalem, in the Temple precincts, in the Holy of Holies itself!

So why did the Holy Spirit highlight Hanukkah by alluding to it in the New Testament? Because Jesus Himself pointed to this specific historical detail as the key to understanding prophecy concerning the Last Days.

A Private Briefing

Four disciples came to Jesus privately, asking Him about His "Second Coming." His response is so significant that it is recorded in two of the Gospels: Matthew and Mark.8 (A similar account in Luke actually focuses on some different elements.)

He opened this briefing with a series of "non-signs": certain things that will occur "but the end is not yet." Then He highlighted a critical event as the key to the prophecy:

When you, therefore, shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place (whosoever readeth, let him understand), then let them who are in Judea flee into the mountains; Let him who is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house; Neither let him who is in the field return back to take his clothes. Matthew 24:15-18

In other words, when this event happens, it will be essential for them to get out Judea immediately! (You are also "on the spot": if you read that verse you are under His orders to "understand"!)

An Essential Insight

Jesus did us all an enormous favor in verse 15. He saved each of us many hours of tedious library research! He attributed the Book of Daniel to Daniel the prophet. (It happens that Daniel is one of the best-documented books of the Old Testament, but Jesus gave us a great short cut. Anyone who believes in Jesus Christ has no problem with authorship of Daniel...anyone who doesn't believe in Jesus Christ has much bigger problems than the authorship of the Book of Daniel!)

Jesus' reference to the "abomination of desolation" was, of course, made two centuries after the historical event now commemorated at Hanukkah. He was speaking of a similar event yet future.

Other Attempts Frustrated

In about 40 A.D. Caligula ordered his image to be installed in the Holy of Holies. Petronius, his general in Judea, realizing how vehement the Jews' reaction would be, declined to execute the order. When Caligula found out, he ordered the death of Petronius. But Caligula died a few weeks later, and due to a mix-up at sea, the message that Caligula had died preceded the order for Petronius' execution, so he got off the hook.

It is interesting how God intervened to prevent another desecration of the Temple from happening. Has it happened yet?

The Destruction of the Second Temple

Just as Jesus had predicted, in 69 A.D. the 5th, 10th, 12th, and 15th Roman Legions, under Titus Vespasian, laid siege to Jerusalem. Over a million men, women and children were slaughtered in that terrible war. Finally, on the 9th of Av, 70 A.D., the Temple was destroyed.9 It was this event that Luke's account focuses on. Both Luke and Matthew highlight a group of signs, which Matthew dubs as "the beginning of sorrows":

And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.
Matthew 24:6-8

Matthew's account focuses on what follows this group of signs.10 Luke focuses on the what precedes these signs.11 He warned his audience that when Jerusalem was surrounded by armies, they were to get out of town and don't let any in the hills go back to town. Luke tells his audience that "this generation will not pass until all be fulfilled,"12 and 38 years later - the same length of the generation that died in the wilderness - Jerusalem fell in 70 A.D.

A Critical Hiatus

The Emperor Nero had ordered his general, Vespasian, and his son Titus, to use force to get things in Judea under control. They had conquered the towns in the Galilee and were preparing to take Jerusalem next. But then Nero died. In Rome, Galba, Otho, and Vitelius vied for the throne; in the subsequent confusion and ambiguity, Vespasian went to Rome and succeeded to take the throne as Emperor. His son Titus was left to complete the siege of Jerusalem.
During the hiatus, Christians, following the warnings in the Luke account, escaped to the mountains in Pella in Perea, and not one perished.13

A Misleading View

There are those who view the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. as the "abomination of desolation." There are several problems with this view.

First, there was a war going on. There was no opportunity for the Romans to install false worship of any kind inside the Temple. The Temple was inadvertently set on fire, and the interior, which was wood overlaid with gold, burned thus melting the gold. The soldiers were ordered to take it apart stone by stone to recover the gold, just as Jesus had predicted.14 All of this was well documented by an eyewitness, Flavius Josephus, whose classic works are readily available. 15

The view that the abomination of desolation has already occurred, in addition to being historically inaccurate, also requires the bizarre allegorization of the rest of Jesus' presentation. (Matthew 24:29-31 hasn't happened yet; at least, not so you'd notice!)

The abomination of desolation didn't happen in 70 A.D., and it couldn't have happened over the subsequent 1900 years because there has been no Temple in Jerusalem to be thus defiled. It remains the key milestone to trigger the exodus of those believers remaining in Jerusalem at that time. Every year at the celebration of Hanukkah we need to recall this background and reflect on its prophetic significance!

A Third Temple Needed

When will it happen? When there is, once again, a Temple in Jerusalem. Three times in the New Testament there is reference to the rebuilding of the Temple prior to the Second Coming of Christ.16

Despite an untenable political climate on the Temple Mount, there are preparations underway in anticipation of a rebuilt Temple. In Yeshivas in Jerusalem, over 200 priests are presently in training. Almost all of the required implements have been fabricated by the Temple Institute.
There is a search going on for the right marine snails to yield the Levitical blue and the royal purple. Ground-penetrating radar and infrared recordings are being used to find the precise foundations of the original Temples. The preparations continue despite the political uncertainties.

The scientists and archaeologists will be giving us an update at the Jerusalem Temple Conference being held this coming March. (Pray about joining us. See here.)

The Holiday Message

The Holy Spirit put John 10:22 in the New Testament to highlight Daniel's famous prophecy and to focus our attention on this key milestone in the end-time scenario. So as your Jewish friends celebrate Hanukkah this year, let this commemoration also remind you that preparations are presently underway to set the stage for the final countdown. What an exciting time to be alive!

Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvelously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you.
Habakkuk 1:5

Happy Holidays!

* * *

1. 1 Kings 8:2. Ethanim is the same as Tishri, or September-October
2. Ezra 6:15, 16. Adar is typically in early March.
3. "Epiphanes" is an abbreviation of Greek: theos epiphanes, a designation he gave himself: "the god who appears or reveals himself."
4. Josephus, Antiquities, XII v 4.
5. 1 Maccabees 1:54,59.
6. Josephus, Antiquities, XII v 4.
7. 1 Maccabees 1:54; 2 Maccabees 6:1-7.
8. Matthew 24, 25; Mark 13, 14; Luke's similar account was given to a different audience on a different occasion and did not focus on the same issues.
9. The very day on the Jewish calendar that Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the Temple in 537 b.c.
10. Matthew 24:8,9.
11. Luke 21:12.
12. Luke 21:32.
13. Eusebius, Book III, 5.1.
14. Luke 19:43,44.
15. Josephus, Wars of the Jews, VI, vi, 1.
16. Matthew 24:15; 2 Thess 2:4; Revelation 11:1-2.