“And the word became flesh and dwelt among us.” -John 1:14
Jonathan Cahn likes to teach in the Socratic Method, presenting questions in the form of a mystery and then launching an investigation that eventually turns up answers.
The Messianic rabbi best known for his books, “The Harbinger” and “The Mystery of the Shemitah,” is now out with a new documentary film called “The Mishkan Clue.” In it he sets out to solve two mysteries – the time of Jesus’ birth (was it really on Dec. 25?) and why it matters.
He provides a clue to the answer in his title – with the meaning of the Hebrew word “mishkan” – but more on that later.
Cahn goes on an Indiana Jones-style quest to solve the 2,000-year-old mystery of when Jesus was born. The first day he rules out is Dec. 25.
December is probably the least likely time for a Jewish couple from Nazareth to be traveling to Bethlehem for the Roman census while the woman, Mary, was pregnant.
Not only would the weather be too cold and rainy that time of year for shepherds to be “out in their fields,” as the gospels say, but the Romans would not have held their census during the winter because it required families to travel back to the father’s hometown to register. Joseph’s family hailed from Bethlehem.
In the Church record, it’s hard to find a credible reference to Dec. 25 as Christ’s birth date prior to the fourth century time of Emperor Constantine. More than likely, this date was picked to line up with the Roman holiday of Saturnalia, which was celebrated with a pagan sacrifice to Saturn and a public banquet, followed by gift-giving and a carnival-like atmosphere.
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Another theory is that Jesus may have been born on Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, which would fit nicely with Him being the Light of the world. But Hanukkah is a newer, minor Jewish holiday and comes with the same pitfall used to debunk the Dec. 25 date – it’s too cold for shepherds to be out in the fields at night gazing at the stars.
One other popular theory is that Jesus was born during the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot, also called the “Feast of Booths,” which occurs in late September or early October each year on the Hebrew calendar. Proponents of this theory say Jesus was born in a sukkah or booth and that this temporary shelter was later referred to as a manger.
While this is “well meaning” and “sounds nice,” Cahn says it would have been impossible for several reasons. First, Jesus was born in a manger, not a sukkah, and a manger is a type of feeding trough.
Also, the spiritual meaning of the Feast of Tabernacles lines up with the end times and the closing of an era, not the opening or beginning of an era, Cahn says, and Messiah’s birth, death, resurrection and second coming must come in the proper chronological order.
Tabernacles “is all about the closing of the age. It’s the wrong order,” Cahn says.
Plus, the Tabernacles theory puts Mary and Joseph in the wrong place. Jewish families traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.
“He was born in Bethlehem not Jerusalem. It would have caused revolution to require travel (for the census) at a time when Jews were supposed to be in Jerusalem,” Cahn said.
Not to mention, they would have had to have traveled back home during the onset of winter, again not convenient or comfortable for a pregnant woman.
So Cahn rules out winter and autumn for the birth of Jesus.
But what about summer? That would have been difficult during Israel’s brutally hot, dry summers but perhaps doable for a woman with child. The only problem is there is no major Jewish feast day in the summer.
“There are no holy days to fulfill, which is how God works,” Cahn said. Passover lines up with Jesus’ death, He rose on the Feast of First Fruits, he created the Church with the sending of his Holy Spirit on Shavuot or Pentecost, and the Feast of Trumpets or Rosh Hashanah foretells the Messiah’s second coming.
“There must be a time when travel is practical and comfortable, when shepherds would be out with their flocks and a pregnant woman could travel,” Cahn says.
The Lamb is born
That leaves only one option – spring. In Israel, this would have been known as the “lambing” season.
“Only in the lambing season do shepherds watch their flocks by night,” Cahn said, as described in the gospels.
This would have been in late March and into April when shepherds were out watching for lambs to be born in the fields.
“So here they are out looking for lambs to be born and who do they find? The Lamb of God,” he said.
But is there a holy day in the spring?
There certainly was, but it’s been downplayed over the years. It’s called Nisan 1, the historical first day on the Hebraic calendar. It falls in early April on the Gregorian calendar.
The birth, death, resurrection, and second coming of Jesus fulfill the Jewish holy days, in the proper order, Cahn said, starting with Nisan 1 for his birth.
But it gets even better if you look deeper.
“Messiah fulfills the feasts but he also fulfills the theme of the feast,” Cahn said. “Is there a day on the Hebrew calendar that would fulfill the theme of the Messiah’s birth?”
If there is, it would have to be Nisan 1. It represents a new beginning.
“Nissan 1 is the calendar changer. It breaks the calendar,” he said. “Every calendar changed based on the birth of Messiah, from B.C. to A.D. So it would put us back to Nisan 1.”
But because the early Christian Church changed from being Jerusalem-centric to Rome-centric, all of this history was lost to the Western believers in Jesus.
Besides linking Christ’s birth to an existing Roman holiday, Saturnalia, the 25th of December also linked it to the Roman New Year just one week later on Jan. 1.
“They saw the birth of the Messiah and they linked it to another day on their calendar that was similar. New Year’s Day, the Roman New Year,” Cahn said.
A clue from the Talmud and early church father
Building his case further for Nisan 1 as Jesus’ birthday, Cahn looks to an unlikely source — the Talmud, which contains ancient biblical interpretations by Jewish rabbis. According to Talmudic teachings, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all were born and died during the month of Nissan. Isaac in particular was a type of the coming Messiah.
“The first commandment was to begin everything in Nisan. It’s been forgotten by modern Judaism,” Cahn said. “It’s the real New Year. Not Rosh Hashana.”
In Exodus 12:1-2 it says about the month of Nisan: “God said to Moses and Aaron in the Land of Egypt, ‘This month shall be for you the beginning of the months; it shall be for you the first of the months of the year.'” In fact, the title “First of the Months” (“Rosh Hodashim” in Hebrew) is reserved in the Torah for the month of Nisan.
In his quest for still more evidence that Nisan 1 was the birth date of Jesus, Cahn moves to the writings of the early Christian church father Hippolytus of Rome, who lived and taught in the third century, having been martyred in 235 A.D.
His writings are among the first that refer to Dec. 25 as the birth of Christ. But because one page of Hippolytus’ writings still mentions springtime as the proper birth date, some historians have speculated that his writings were later doctored to reflect the new Dec. 25 date with the caveat that the one reference to spring somehow got past the censors.
“There is one manuscript left that actually gives us two different dates,” Cahn said. “One says Messiah was born in the springtime. They forgot to put the Whiteout.”
In fact, the statue of Hippolytus in Rome today still mentions April 2 as the month of Christ’s birth.
The final clue
But beyond the physical, historical importance of nailing down the accurate birth date for the most important man in the history of the world, there is a spiritual reason that Cahn brings to our attention in “The Mishkan Clue.”
Yes, there’s more to this story than just setting the record straight.
It has to do with the Hebrew words “Mishkan” and “Goel.”
God’s instructions for the “goel” redeemer were given in the Torah. When a man died his next closest male kin was allowed to marry the widow. He may “redeem” her if he is not already married. This was the case when the widow Ruth was wedded to Boaz, her “kinsman redeemer” by whom she had a son. Boaz is a type of the Father God who brings the childless widow a redeemer. Boaz is the new father who brings a son.
“There is going to be one more Goel redemption,” Cahn says. “This time the Goel is going to be God. God is going to intervene in the line of Judah, the line of man. He comes to the virgin Merriam. God marries the creation. He fathers the Child.”
And that offspring is the Messiah. That matches up with the type of the Messiah in the book of Ruth, whose son is conceived in Bethlehem at the end of the wheat harvest. Go forward nine months and that ends up in the month of Nisan for his birth.
The last “clue” to Jesus’ birth lies in the mishkan and ties in with John 1:14 “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
In Hebrew, the translation for the word dwelling is something similar to a tent or “tabernacle,” which was a temporary dwelling place for God’s glory. The incarnation, God coming in the form of a temporary human body, also fits the theme of a tent, as Peter explain in his letter 2 Peter 1:13-14: “Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you, knowing that shortly I must put off my tent, just as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me.”
“He pitched his tent among us or tabernacled with us,” Cahn said of the Messiah. “It wasn’t a sukkah it was a tent, a mishkan. The glory of God was in that tabernacle. Messiah’s incarnation is foreshadowed in God’s glory coming into the tent…the tabernacle.
The bottom line is that, through a deeper understanding of the birth of Messiah, Christians can experience the new birth every day, not just once a year, Cahn said.
“The real point is…It’s about God joining himself to your life,” Cahn says. “Being intimately joined with God through his Messiah. Every day in Christ should be like Nisan 1. A new birth. A new beginning. You cannot have life without that union. You cannot have new life. Your soul is waiting to get close with God. We need to get rid of the distractions. Nisan 1 is the day that everything is made new again. Your life was meant to be like this tabernacle, filled with the glory of God. In that place is the fullness of your healing, in that place comes your emotional healing, your joy, your shalom, your destiny.”