Is there a calendar described in the Bible? God commanded observances on specific days of the month throughout the year long before the Gregorian Calendar we now use was created. This sermon examines why the United Church of God uses the Hebrew (Jewish) calendar for determining the dates of God’s annual feast days.
The subject of today’s message is – God’s Authorised Calendar.
Since the creation of Adam until today (right now today), there has only ever been one authorized calendar which men should follow – and that is the one authorised by God Himself. Mankind over the centuries has created many other calendars which are astounding in their mathematical complexity and their incredible accuracy, based on the movement of the sun, moon and sometimes the stars. We’ve had Egyptian calendars, Assyrian, Hindu, Chinese, Mayan, and the Julian calendar of the Roman Empire. These a just a few of many. But none of these are God’s Authorised Calendar.
Mathematical computations concerning our incredible solar system are astronomically complex! The time the earth takes to go around the sun alters marginally every year. The moon’s rotation around the earth is different every month.
The number of days in a solar year today is 365.242188 days. (I hope you are all writing this down – there will be a test later). The average number of days for the moon to go around the earth, according to NASA, who uses the most advanced technology ever created by man (apparently), is 29.530588 days. Yet, this is only 1 or 2 millionth of a day different to what the Hebrews were using to calculate their Calendar, 1500 years ago, and probably longer going back to Moses. Now by using these figures I’ve just given - and (dividing the days in a month into the days in a year, we can calculate how many months there are in a solar year. The answer is - there are 12.36826669 months every year.
The point I’m making is this: - ALL calendars which use a solar year, need to be adjusted to keep the months in line with the years. Today the commercial, secular world uses the Gregorian calendar, as we all do. This was created by the authority of Pope Gregory 13th in 1582.
The main ongoing adjustment which has to be made in this Gregorian calendar is that every four years, the 1st March is postponed one day – how dare they – how can you change time like that? That’s what is said about God’s authorised calendar, but calendar adjustments are a fact of life. So every four years, with great skill, the mathematicians create the 29th February. This is really good news for those who were born and observe birthdays on the 29th February, because they live four times longer than anyone else. Never fear - today you are in good hands!
Why am I even addressing this subject? Because the church has over the decades, been accused of keeping God’s holydays at incorrect times.
This can have a serious effect on our faith. Seeds of doubt can be sown in people’s minds. Also, historically, the calendar issue has been used as a tool for self-appointed leaders to lead people out of the main body of Christ, which they do so at their own ultimate peril.
An important principle to remember brethren, is that God’s Authorised Calendar has been given to us as a means to an end – a means to fulfil God’s great purpose for us now – TODAY! The calendar is not the end in itself. In other words, some believe the Calendar is more important that its purpose – and in so doing, lose sight of God’s purpose altogether. So firstly, what is God’s purpose? Turn to 2 Chronicles 30.
At this time, Israel had gone into captivity, but the remaining nation of Judah was turning to God under the leadership of Hezekiah. And Hezekiah announced that he was immediately restoring the Passover right then and there in the second month of the religious year.
2Ch 30:12-13 Also the hand of God was on Judah to give them singleness of heart to obey the command of the king and the leaders, at the word of the LORD. Now many people, a very great assembly, gathered at Jerusalem to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread in the second month.
Brethren – that is unlawful according to strict biblical law! Unleavened Bread had to be kept in the first month. We find an allowance was made by God in Numbers 9:11 that they could keep the Passover in the second month in extenuating circumstances, as we do today - but NOT the festival of Unleavened Bread. So what was more important here? The Calendar OR the purpose of the Holydays? At this time, King Hezekiah was leading a movement to remove paganism from Jerusalem. AND THAT WAS THE IMPORTANT ISSUE!
2Ch 30:14-17 They arose and took away the altars that were in Jerusalem, and they took away all the incense altars and cast them into the Brook Kidron (pagan altars). Then they slaughtered the Passover lambs on the fourteenth day of the second month. The priests and the Levites were ashamed, and sanctified themselves, and brought the burnt offerings to the house of the LORD. They stood in their place according to their custom, according to the Law of Moses the man of God; the priests sprinkled the blood received from the hand of the Levites. For there were many in the assembly who had not sanctified themselves; therefore the Levites had charge of the slaughter of the Passover lambs for everyone who was not clean, to sanctify them to the LORD.
Understand this brethren, the Law (in Leviticus 15) threatened death to anyone who attended the services of the sanctuary in a state of ceremonial uncleanness.
2Ch 30:18-20 For a multitude of the people, many from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the Passover contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, "May the good LORD provide atonement for everyone (and then comes the condition of being pardoned) who prepares his heart to seek God, the LORD God of his fathers, though he is not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary." And the LORD LISTENED to Hezekiah and healed the people.
So what was important to God? It was their repentant attitude AND Hezekiah’s prayer to Him to forgive them of any ceremonial lawlessness they were guilty of in their zeal to serve Him at this time.
2Ch 30:21 So the children of Israel who were present at Jerusalem kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with great gladness; and the Levites and the priests praised the LORD day by day, singing to the LORD, accompanied by loud instruments.
God would have overjoyed by this as well brethren. Finally, His people are beginning to worship Him after previously turning their backs on Him.
2Ch 30:22-23 And Hezekiah gave encouragement to all the Levites who taught the good knowledge of the LORD; and they ate throughout the feast seven days, offering peace offerings and making confession to the LORD God of their fathers. Then the whole assembly agreed to keep another seven days, and they kept it another seven days with gladness.
Solomon had done the same thing at the dedication of the Temple.
2Ch 30:25-27 The whole assembly of Judah rejoiced, also the priests and Levites, all the assembly that came from Israel, the sojourners who came from the land of Israel, and those who dwelt in Judah. So there was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the time of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel, there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem. Then the priests, the Levites, arose and blessed the people, (this was a petitionary prayer asking God for a blessing on the people), and their voice was heard; and their prayer came up to His holy dwelling place, to heaven.
So what was important to God? Keeping Unleavened Bread in the wrong month because of extenuation circumstances, OR, having potentially unclean people participating in the Passover - also because of extenuating circumstances? What WAS important was that His people were humble and repentant, and they were coming together to worship and rejoice before Him, TOGETHER! These were the important issues. We need to understand God’s thinking on these matters.
Psa 133:1 A Song of Ascents. Of David. Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brethren to dwell together in unity!
Again, for God brethren, this is wonderful to see – the happiness, contentment, harmony and beauty which is present when His people meet before Him in the unity of Spirit, with the purpose of humbly worshipping Him. This is a shadow of things to come – a type of our eternal destiny - and it gives God great pleasure to see us meet TOGETHER before Him in this humble and joyful manner - in this age today!
Psa 133:2 It is like the precious oil upon the head, Running down on the beard, The beard of Aaron, Running down on the edge of his garments.
This unity we have before God is compared to the sweet-smelling perfume used in God’s sacred consecration of the High Priest, with the Holy Oil representing His Holy Spirit, spreading out to cover everything. That’s how God views this unity.
Psa 133:3 It is like the dew of Hermon, Descending upon the mountains of Zion; For there the LORD commanded the blessing—Life forevermore.
This refreshing dew comes down, spreads out and gives life to all it touches – life forevermore! All these things are described in the context of His people gathering together to worship in Him unity and peace. Psalm 133 is saying that we are SANCTIFIED in our unity - when we meet before Him in this way, at the one time. This is what God wants and this is what is important to Him.
We are all followers of our Redeemer; we are of the same spiritual family, fellow heirs of the same spiritual inheritance - and God wants us to worship Him in the beauty of Holiness, as it states in four places in the Old Testament. The Festivals are family reunions organised by the Father, to eat and rejoice together before Him! These are God’s Holydays and Sabbaths - and no-one else can call HIS people together, other than those whom God has passed that authority to! No-one else can legitimately take that authority to themselves!
So the question is this: Are we keeping God’s Sabbath and festivals on the correct authorised days of God? I will endeavour to answer these questions as simply as possible. Are you ready for the answer? The answer is yes!
Lev 23:3 'Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work on it; it is the Sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings.
Are we keeping the Sabbath on the correct day today? When Jesus walked the earth, He kept the same Sabbath as the Jews did. The Jews have kept the same seventh day Sabbath ever since. So in Jerusalem today, we know which day is God’s Sabbath. There is little dispute on that issue. For us here in Australia, the only question that we have to address is the International Date Line which I’ll get to a little later.
In verse 4, it begins the section on God’s festivals, beginning with Passover:
Lev 23:4 'These are the feasts of the LORD, holy convocations which YOU shall proclaim at their appointed times.
Who is YOU? Who did God authorise to proclaim the Holydays? YOU - IS the constituted authority in Israel. It began with Moses and we will see two other groups becoming involved. The priesthood and the Assembly of Elders! After describing all the feasts, it says this in verse 44:
Lev 23:44 So MOSES declared to the children of Israel the feasts of the LORD
God initially worked through Moses. But they were the feasts of the LORD – not the feasts of Moses! So what were these feasts all about? At this time, the Sabbath was primarily about REST - and the feasts were about REDEMPTION. Fleeing Egypt after the death angel had passed over them.
Although we understand there is a linkage of the Holydays to the Harvest festivals - that came later. For forty years, when the Israelites were wandering in the Wilderness, there were no harvests – they ate Manna from Heaven. The months were identified by numbers. First month or seventh month! The Israelites did NOT rely on finding new ears of barley to determine when the year began in God’s calendar – as some teach as being essential today.
Now, the timing of the Holydays and festivals are clearly given to us in the bible. For example, we know that the Day of Trumpets is on the first day of the seventh month. ALL the Holydays, except Pentecost, are clearly given to us in this manner. But separate to that, the Bible DOES NOT tell us which day IS the first of the month and which month IS the seventh of the year! THAT is the issue! We need a calendar to tell us these things!
And there is no doubt that God preserved the vital knowledge of the Rules governing the Calendar through this constituted authority in Israel which I mentioned previously, beginning with Moses. There was NO OTHER AUTHORITY!
Num 10:1-2 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Make thee two trumpets of silver; of a whole piece shalt thou make them: that thou mayest use them for the calling of the assembly, and for the journeying of the camps.
Numbers 10:8 And the sons of Aaron, the priests, shall blow with the trumpets; and they shall be to you for an ordinance for ever throughout your generations.
Num 10:10 Also in the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days, and in the beginnings of your months, ye shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; that they may be to you for a memorial before your God: I am the LORD your God.
So the priests, Aaron’s descendants, were fully involved with the authorised calendar because they were the ones who would to proclaim those days, including the beginning of the months.
In addition to this, in Numbers 11, Moses set up, under God’s authority, a judiciary of 70 elders of Israel who were given the Spirit of God to administer the law of God. An elder was described as one having age, experience, and the knowledge and wisdom of God’s ways. However, it was always the priesthood who had the judicial authority for Tabernacle and Temple rituals and proclamations. And these two bodies, the priesthood and the Assembly of Elders, always had to work together.
Let’s now have a look at this authorised calendar which was passed down to us by the Hebrews. We know from the bible when a day begins - sunset! We know when the week begins – ie sunset at the end of the Sabbath in Jerusalem. Other vital information has not been given to us – only to those who were authorised to proclaim the calendar. So when is the start of a month?
Exo 12:1-3 And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you. Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for a house:
The Hebrew word translated here as month is “chodesh” which means month, not moon, although very occasionally it is translated as moon. The Hebrew expression “Rosh Chodesh” (translated here as beginning of the month), means Head of the Month, not a new moon as we know it. None of this tells us what the head of the month means.
The bible does not clearly tell us the answers. So what does the bible CLEARLY tell us? God tells us - that He gave the work of proclaiming the new months to His constituted authority in the Hebrew nation. THERE IS NO OTHER AUTHORITY. People’s opinions do not count!
The Hebrew judiciary continued to do their job of proclaiming the Calendar New Moons and the beginning of the years down through the ages. They did it through captivity; through restoration with Ezra; through turmoil under the Persians and Greeks! Then we come to the time of Jesus Christ when Judah was a province of Rome.
At this point we find the Sanhedrin being the official judiciary body of Judah. It was composed of Pharisees, who were mostly laypeople. And also Sadducees, who were deemed to be the priesthood and controlled the Temple services, including the proclamation of the festivals - and ripping people off with Temple taxes. These two bodies set up by God, through Moses, were still functioning in one way or another. But the question is: could these sometimes corrupt people be trusted with God’s authorised calendar, and proclaim the new moons and festivals on the correct days?
The gospels tell us that Jesus Christ died for each one of us on the same Passover as proclaimed by these same Jewish authorities. And on one of the greatest events ever to take place in human history, when the Holy Spirit was given to man by Jesus Christ AND the Father in Heaven, it was the same Pentecost as proclaimed by the Jewish authorities - who had kept the calendar faithfully down to that time from the time of Moses.
You could NEVER get a greater endorsement of the accuracy of the Hebrew Authorised calendar than this! Endorsed by the Father in Heaven with Jesus Christ at His side. Endorsed by the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit on HIS converted people.
And before that time - AND since that time, there has NEVER been another group who has been given authority by God to over-ride the role that the Priesthood and the Jewish judiciary held in this matter of declaring the Holyday Calendar. Their authority in this matter was approved by Christ Himself. So what has happened since then?
There was a seat of advanced Jewish scholarship in a place called Jabneh, in Galilee. In about 68AD, during the first Jewish rebellion against Rome, Jabneh obtained special permission from the Roman General Vespasian, that Jabneh and its Jewish scholars be spared in the warfare with Rome.
When the Sanhedrin fled the destruction of Jerusalem, two years later in 70AD, they joined up with these scholars in Jabneh. From that place, they continued to proclaim the calendar, so that ALL Jewish communities around the world had the means to keep the festivals and worship God together, at the same time. Quoting from Jewish History: In some respects, the city was now regarded as the equal of Jerusalem: there the year was intercalated (proper adjustments were made to the calendar) and the shofar blown, and pilgrims from Asia visited the city three times a year (Tosef., Ḥul. 3:10; RH 29b; Shab. 11a).
So life went on! This Sanhedrin in exile often endured much persecution over the next three hundred years from pagan Rome.
What did the Church do after its formation in 31AD? The New Testament shows that Paul kept the same Holy Days as were proclaimed by the Jewish authorities. And history shows that true Christians also observed the same days as the Jews – and were persecuted along with them. Polycarp, who was a follower of the apostle John, was still keeping them about 155AD.
But Roman persecution against the Jews intensified. In 313AD, Synagogues were outlawed. In 341AD, Passover was outlawed. The Sanhedrin itself was targeted.
The last major decision the Sanhedrin made before being disbanded, was to release the details of the calendar calculations to the Jews around the world, so that they could come before God and worship Him as a unified body - without the need of official proclamations! This was a masterstroke! God’s Authorised calendar would be preserved by scholars throughout the whole Jewish community! The calendar calculations were released in 358AD.
THIS calendar is the one that has come down to us today – because the Jews have preserved it and have used those calculations ever since.
Jump forward to more modern times. In Revelation chapter 3, God said to the Sardis church "I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead”.
God’s church had nearly died out in England in the 1500’s and 1600’s. Even God’s Sabbath was under attack by Sunday keepers within the Church! But God began reviving His Church in the United States. By 1884, a loose confederation of the Church of God groups around the country formed the Church of God General Conference. The wording “Seventh Day” was added later, and it was then known as the Church of God - Seventh Day. They kept the Sabbath and the Passover but did not use the Authorised Hebrew Calendar.
One elder saw the necessity of keeping all the Holydays, (not just Passover) and eventually, (after much investigation), also saw the necessity of adopting the calculated Hebrew Calendar as it was the only one in existence which God had authorised. The Church of God – Seventh Day disagreed with some aspects of these decisions and a separation took place between them and the elder in question, who was Herbert Armstrong.
And God restored His wonderful festivals and Holy Days to His Church through this one man – and THAT IS FACT! And over time, God’s has blessed His Church greatly in the understanding of these days!
We now understand that the gospel message is fully intertwined in the meanings of these days. We understand that Jesus Christ is central to each Holy Day and festival period. We have these blessings because we have observed HIS festivals joyfully before Him for 77 years. Eighty years ago, this knowledge was unknown.
Isn’t it logical then, to believe that God would restore HIS Calendar to HIS Church at the same time He was restoring HIS Holydays to HIS Church? – because that’s what He did. Now - what authority do God’s ministers have in making decisions affecting the Church? Turn to Matthew 16:16! Here Jesus is asking Peter who he thought He (Jesus) was.
Mat 16:16-19 Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
This same wording of “binding and loosing” was used two chapters later when Christ was speaking to the other disciples who would also become the leaders of the Church. This term was a common expression among the Jews and was immediately understood by the disciples. The leaders of the Church were being given the same judicial authority to make determinations, based on scripture and the law, as were the Jewish teachers of the law.
And this was what Mr Armstrong did concerning the Calendar after extensive study and discussions with his congregation. In early 1940, he gave a judicial ruling that the Church of God would adopt the authorized calculated Hebrew Calendar in these latter days.
To QUOTE one section of this ruling: “In conclusion, unless God has preserved His sacred calendar through the Jews, then we do not know how to figure Passover or any of the Holy Days this year. For there is no authority for any other way. There is no Bible authority whatsoever for figuring the 1st day of the 1st month from the new moon nearest the spring equinox! . . . God did not commit His oracles, or the preservation of His times to profane history, or to the Roman Catholics, but to the Israelites. And they have been preserved by the Jews.” End of quote.
In February 1997, after much study, the Council of Elders of United issued a judicial Statement or Ruling on the Authorised Calendar saying this: QUOTE “The Hebrew calendar is a valid calendar for Christians to use in setting the dates for the observance of God’s Holy Days”.
Today we use Hebrew Calendar because of the authority God gave His Church to make these judgements. But these judgements still have to be made in line with scripture and the law. Were they? Yes – for two reasons! Firstly – we have recognized the previous authority that God gave to the Hebrew judiciary and priesthood in Leviticus, to preserve this Calendar.
Secondly, it’s the only way that the unity of Psalm 133 can take place. There would be no unity if everyone had their own little private calendar - and kept the Holydays by themselves at home or in small scattered groups at different times. That is NOT what God wants! The Church made the correct decision!
When the State of Israel was formed in 1948 under Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, they also adopted the authorized Hebrew Calendar as their religious calendar. So within a space of eight years, 1940 to 1948, God restored His Authorised Calendar to both His revived spiritual Church of God and His restored physical nation of Judah. Coincidence? I don’t believe in that type of coincidence.
God is on His throne in Heaven and everything is being set up for end-time events. And we are close to the end? Today there are 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world. Only 100 are needed to kill off all human life. God is working hands-on in the realm of men to bring His plans to fruition – don’t you think He works in the Church as well?
Another judgement was made by the Church in 2004. How does one keep the Sabbath in the Arctic Circle when sunset is every six months? Does one keep the Sabbath every three years for a period of six months. That would be scriptural – keep it from sunset to sunset! The Church made a judgement that those in the Arctic Circle should observe the same sunsets - as someone living due south of them (at the equator for example). Good decision! WHY? Psalm 133 again. Conformity in worshipping God together at the same time.
There was another very important Judicial decision that the Church made in 1952 through Mr Armstrong. Again – who is Mr Armstrong? He is the one through whom God worked to restore the Holydays to the Church AND to bring in the only God authorised calendar in existence. So what was this third God-inspired decision? – it was the formal acceptance to adopt the world’s International Date Line. And it is a decision binding on the church today!
Jesus Christ kept the seventh day Sabbath in Jerusalem at the correct time. When travellers went west - across into Europe, they still kept the Sabbath when the sunset came to them. When travellers went east from Jerusalem, into India, even later into China on the Silk Road or on the high Seas, they kept the Sabbath when the sunset come to them. This is a matter of history.
The Catholic Church kept Sunday VERY strictly in the Middle Ages, but It was not until the 1100’s that Catholics circumnavigating the world, realised there was a problem when they gained a day or lost a day at the end of a voyage. Even Sir Francis Drake recorded the same problem when he returned to Plymouth on the 26th September 1580, but on his reckoning, it was still only the 25th. All this of course means, that there never was an International Date Line up to that time.
But now, with nations moving around the whole world, an IDL was needed. Yet the bible itself gives no clear instructions on the matter, other than God wants unity.
In 1884, 25 nations met and agreed that the best place to have an IDL, to cause least disruption to people, was to have an approximate line running down the empty Pacific Ocean, allowing local discretion by those few who were affected, so that order would prevail in the world and not chaos. The IDL was never a straight line.
This is the date-line that Mr Armstrong adopted for the Church of God in 1952. He said such a line was necessary on a round earth, and being in the middle of the Pacific and well away from Jerusalem and populated areas, he said that under God’s guidance, the world authorities got it right. Mr Armstrong saw God’s hand in man’s decision on this matter. And, of course, it does not in any way change the time that the Sabbath has always been observed in Jerusalem, Europe or Asia.
God also led the SDA’s to support the same International Date Line, and he led the Jews to mostly conform to it today! It is said in Daniel 5:21, that God rules in the Kingdom of men. Brethren, we better believe it. Right now, all the tribes or nations of the earth have the SAME seven-day weekly cycle, everywhere on earth. That is a miracle of God! What does that mean for the end time?
Eze 20:19-20 I am the LORD your God; walk in my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them; And hallow my sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the LORD your God.
It would not be a sign if we kept our weekly Sabbath on other people’s Sundays. Today, ALL THE WORLD keeps the same seven-day cycle – thanks to God’s involvement with the IDL. And Ezekiel 20:20 is now a valid end-time prediction.
So in conclusion, (jumping back to the calendar), why do we observe the authorised Hebrew Calendar? The answer is because we have faith in God. 3 points:
So, as we head into the end-times brethren, don’t get side-tracked by anyone who tries to take us away from the unity and sanctification that our Father in Heaven wants for us on HIS Sabbaths and HIS Holydays – as Psalm 133 makes so clear to us!
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