The Jewish calendar is not just a buffet of celebrations and memorials. The holidays and observances throughout the year are prophetic guides that help us understand how the Creator interacts with his world.
Collectively, they tell a story: the story of redemption. The story of redemption is not a story about the past; it’s unfolding right now as I speak. You and I are characters in it.
Every good story has its highs and lows, rising and falling action, an emotional character arc. In Western culture, we have grown accustomed to a predictable pattern in books and movies. Like clockwork, about three-quarters of the way through any story, the protagonists will be at their wits’ end. They are overwhelmed, defeated, and without any hope. All is lost. It is only then, at rock bottom, when a realization dawns on them. This realization prompts the personal transformation that they needed all along that enables them to rise and engage in the climactic final battle.
The Jewish calendar follows a strikingly similar story arc. Passover celebrates the exodus from Egypt, and it serves as the inciting event and first plot point of our story. Shavu’ot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah, is our rising action and second plot point. Along with summer come two big plot twists indicated by two fast days. The first is the fast day of the seventeenth of Tammuz, which marks the sin of the golden calf and the breach of Jerusalem’s walls. Worse yet is the fast on the ninth of Av, which marks the sin of the spies, banishing the generation from the land of Israel, and echoing later in Jewish history with the destruction of the Holy Temple on two separate occasions.
Then we arrive at the month of Elul: a time of introspection and improvement. It’s like the part of the story where the main character finally understands what he or she needs to do and starts training and preparing for the final battle. The final battle itself is the high holidays of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, days of judgment when we cry out in repentance and secure atonement from the King of the Universe. Sukkot is our happy ending, as we dwell in peace and thankfulness in the presence of God.
The Darkest Hour
Given this outline, this time of the year, we are approaching the hard part of the story. The seventeenth day of the summer month of Tammuz is a day of tragedy in Jewish history. It is the “fast of the fourth month” mentioned in Zechariah 8:19.
After Moses smashed the tablets on this day, the effects have echoed throughout history. Jewish historians record it as the day when the daily burnt offering was canceled during the Babylonian siege; Ezra’s ancient, authoritative scroll of the Torah was burned; and an idol was set up in the Temple. The early disciples of Yeshua would have seen this become the day when the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem, fulfilling our Master’s sorrowful prophecy.
Today, we observe the seventeenth of Tammuz as a time of fasting and repentance. It commences a three-week period of mourning. Observant Jews refrain from listening to music, conducting weddings, wearing new clothing, and even getting haircuts. These three weeks culminate in the darkest day of the year: the fast day of the ninth of Av when the Temple was destroyed.
The Turning Point
In a novel, the dark moment of the protagonist’s defeat serves a critical purpose. It triggers an epiphany, a revelation. The protagonist suddenly recognizes the false belief he or she once held, and the embrace of the truth marks a new beginning.
The three weeks of mourning could have the same transformative effect on us if we let Yeshua guide us.
Yeshua was passionate about the Temple. He furiously defended its holiness when others dared to desecrate it. He openly wept as he predicted Jerusalem’s destruction. Yeshua spent the last week before his death frequenting the Temple courts and warning people about what was to come.
Our Master explained what errors would lead to tragedy. He outlined a plan that would bring about the whole world’s redemption.
But sadly, this message goes largely unheeded. So often, followers and detractors alike view him as opposing the Temple, not preserving it. This is because people interpret his words through the wrong matrix—through the lens of later church theology rather than Judaism.
The Longest Story Ever Told
The story we retell each year through the pattern of holidays from Passover to Sukkot is playing out on a much bigger scale. Ever since the Temple was destroyed, the darkest hour has turned into two dark millennia. But in our time, things are changing. More and more, Christians are beginning to recognize their Savior as a Jew and are understanding the profound implications. Many Jewish people are recognizing Jesus as one of their own.
With God’s help, the world will experience an epiphany. Like Joseph before his brothers, a full revelation of the Jewishness of Jesus will utterly transform both the Jewish and Christian worlds. Ultimately, we know that this story has a happy ending.
It’s time to turn the page. This year, we should let the Fast of Tammuz and the three weeks of mourning drive home for us the great loss of the Temple and lead us to the guidance of Yeshua the Messiah. If we heed his voice, the ninth of Av will be transformed into a season of joy, leading us to the greatest resolution of any story: the ultimate redemption and the kingdom of heaven.