The Death of Yeshua on Tisha B’Av
On what day of the year was our Master Yeshua born? On what day of the year did he die?
You might think the answers are obvious, but there is one day on the Jewish calendar which, one might argue, is suited to commemorate both events—both the day of his birth and the day of his death. That day is the ninth of Av (Tisha b’Av), the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple.
According to one legend in the Talmud, the Messiah was born on Tisha b’Av, the same day that the Romans destroyed the Temple. Other opinions suggest that the Messiah should have been born before the destruction of the Temple. These ideas are based on a text in Isaiah:
Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son. Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment? For as soon as Zion was in labor she brought forth her children. (Isaiah 66:7-8)
The period of terrible judgment that comes upon the earth prior to the advent of Messiah is called the “birth pangs of Messiah.” Yeshua says that when we see wars, famines, and earthquakes in various places that “these things are the beginning of birth pangs” (Matthew 24:8). The prophecy in Isaiah 66:7, however, reverses the expectation. It states that before the travail and pangs of birth beset Zion, she has already given birth to a boy. Unlike the natural order of things, her birth pangs come upon her only after she has already delivered the baby.
Some sages understood this text to indicate that the Messiah must have been born before the destruction and before the current exile began. An opinion in the Midrash Rabbah explains, “‘Before she travailed, she brought forth’ means that before Titus was born, the Messiah was born.” Targum Yonatan interprets the verse in a similar manner:
Before distress cometh upon her, she shall be redeemed; and before trembling cometh upon her, like the pains upon a woman in child-bearing, her King shall be revealed. (Isaiah 66:7, Targum Yonatan)
A legend in the Jerusalem Talmud places the birth of Messiah on the self-same day as the destruction of the Temple. These opinions are interesting because, other than Yeshua, no other candidate for Messiah fulfills this important criterion.
The birth of Messiah before the destruction of the Temple fulfills the talmudic adage, “Before God inflicts the wound, he creates the cure.” The Messiah is the cure to the exile because he is the redeemer. He is also the one who will rebuild the Temple, as our Master declared, “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will build it up again.” The Gospel of John explains he spoke this concerning his body. That means that he was speaking not only about the destruction of the Temple but also regarding his own impending death on the cross. He referred to his body, metaphorically, as the Temple of HaShem.
Torn Curtain and Darkness at Midday
There is more than just metaphor here. Yeshua hints toward a spiritual connection between his physical body and the House of God. The Temple is bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. Remember what happened when Yeshua breathed his last? The curtain of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom:
Said R. Jose: “What of the words ‘The LORD has done what He purposed’ (Lamentations 2:17)? Does a king purpose evil against his sons before they sin?” R. Eleazar replied: “Imagine a king who possessed a precious vase, and who, being constantly apprehensive lest it should be broken, had it ever under his eyes, and never lost sight of it for a moment. One day his son came and provoked him to anger, so that in his rage he took up the vase and broke it in pieces. In this way “the LORD has done what He purposed.” From the day when the Temple was built, the Holy One, blessed be He, used to contemplate it fondly, and every time He came to the sanctuary, He used to put on the purple cloak we have mentioned. But when Israel sinned, and provoked their King, the Temple was destroyed, and the mantle was rent. (Zohar Bereishit I:61b)
Likewise, on the day that the Master suffered, the sun turned dark at noon:
The light of the sun … departed from the world since the day when the Temple was destroyed, as is hinted in the verse [Isaiah 13:10]: “The sun will be darkened in its going forth.” (Zohar I:196b)
The Hebrew from Isaiah could be read, “The sun will be darkened in HIS going forth (חָשַׁךְ הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ בְּצֵאתוֹ).” It’s no coincidence that these things happened in the Temple at the moment that the Master’s body died. Hadn’t he already said, “If you destroy this temple” in regard to his body? Isn’t it also true that his followers are called the Body of Messiah and Temple of the Holy Spirit?
These much-later mystical passages seem to inadvertently hint toward a correlation between the crucifixion of Yeshua and the destruction of Jerusalem. The correlation is real. Both Yeshua and the Temple were handed over to the Romans for destruction.
For the Sins of the Nation
Josephus says that, during the siege of Jerusalem, the Romans cut down all the trees on the hills around Jerusalem in order to make crosses. The soldiers completely encircled the city in crosses, and on every cross hung a crucified Jewish man or woman. The crucifixion of Yeshua should be seen as a precursor of the travail of Jerusalem, the birth pains of Zion, and the destruction of the Temple.
The rabbis explained that the Temple was destroyed for the sins of the nation:
Woe to the children, on account of whose sins I destroyed My house and burnt My temple and exiled them among the nations of the world. (b.Brachot 3a)
The sages also saw the destruction of the Temple as a substitute (an atonement, so to speak) for the nation. The Temple had not sinned. It did not incur God’s wrath. The nation sinned. But God destroyed the Temple in place of the nation so that he could spare his people:
The Holy One, blessed be He said, “I have made a condition with them that if they sin, the Temple will be seized in pledge … It is not because I am in debt to the heathen nations that I have pledged my tabernacle to them, but it is your iniquities that have caused Me to hand my sanctuary over to them. (Exodus Rabbah 31:10)
Likewise, regarding our Master. It was not because God owed Yeshua’s life to Rome or needed to make some payment to the Romans, but because of Israel’s iniquities that the Messiah suffered and died. The midrash makes the relationship between the destruction of the Temple and the atoning value of the death of Messiah even more explicit:
Moses said to God: “Will not the time come when Israel shall have neither Tabernacle nor Temple? What will happen with them then?” The Holy One, blessed be He, replied, “I will then take one of their righteous men and retain him as a pledge on their behalf, in order that I may pardon all their sins.” (Exodus Rabbah 35:4)
Day of Lamentation
If we did not set aside time to mourn the destruction of the Temple we would forget it. It would become just a piece of historical information. The sages said, “We aren’t going to let that happen. We are going to feel this. We are going to intentionally re-experience this sorrow every year.”
For this reason, Messianic Jews should make it their custom to study the story of the Master’s death on Tisha b’Av. Messianic disciples should have a reading of the gospel narratives of the death of the Master and compose our own kinnot (laments) about the day that his blood was shed for the sins of Israel and for the sins of the world. In the afternoon on Tisha b’Av, we should study the story of Yeshua’s death. We should learn about his suffering, and the place of the skull, and we should learn the story about the scourging, the trial, the thieves on the crosses, about the sour wine vinegar, and Psalm 22, and understand the mystery of Golgotha.
After the Messiah comes, Tisha b’Av will be transformed into a day of joy and gladness and feasting, as it says in Zechariah, “It will become joy, gladness, and cheerful feasts for the house of Judah, so love truth and peace.” Messiah will return to us and rebuild the Temple and out from it will flow a river of living water. When that happens, our custom will be changed, and on that day, we will no longer recite special kinnot for the ninth of Av about the death of Messiah and the blood of Yeshua, but we will sing glad songs about his resurrection and about his birth. That’s how we will spend the ninth of Av in joy, feasting, and joyful celebrations. Then and only then will it truly be Christmas in July!
First Fruits of Zion