Jesus and Hanukkah

At that time the Feast of the Dedication (Hanukkah) took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon (Jn 10:22).

424px-Menorah_0307Hanukkah (2013) begins the evening of Wednesday (Nov 27), and ends on the evening of Thursday (Dec 5). Hanukkah falls on the same day as Thanksgiving (United States). This coincidence last occurred in 1888 as the Jewish festival typically falls closer to Christmas. We remember the story of Hanukkah by reading from the Jewish Book of Maccabees which recorded these events during the Intertestamental Period — the approximate four hundred year gap between the Old and New Testaments when there were no prophecies or revelations from YHWH. 

After Antiochus (king of Syria) had defeated Egypt in the one hundred and forty-third year (BC), he returned and went up against Israel and against Jerusalem with a strong force. He insolently entered the sanctuary and took away the golden altar, the lampstand for the light with all its utensils. He shed much blood and spoke with great arrogance. And there was great mourning throughout all Israel and the rulers and the elders groaned, and all the house of Jacob was clothed with shame.

On the fifteenth day of the month Kislev, in the year one hundred and forty-five (BC), the king erected the desolating abomination (Dan 11:31) upon the altar of burnt offerings. Whoever was found with a scroll of the covenant, and whoever observed the law, was condemned to death by royal decree. On the twenty-fifth day of each month they sacrificed on the pagan altar that was over the altar of burnt offerings. In keeping with the decree, they put to death women who had their children circumcised, and they hung their babies from their necks; their families also and those who had circumcised them were killed. But many in Israel were determined and resolved in their hearts not to eat anything unclean; they preferred to die rather than to be defiled with food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die. And very great wrath came upon Israel.

In those days Mattathias, a priest of the family of Joarib, left Jerusalem and settled in Modein. He had five sons including Judas, who was called Maccabeus. When he saw the sacrileges that were being committed in Judah and in Jerusalem, he said: “Woe is me! Why was I born to see the ruin of my people, the ruin of the holy city?” Then Mattathias and his sons tore their garments, put on sackcloth, and mourned bitterly.

Mattathias and his sons led an insurgent war against the enemies of Israel. When Mattathias died in the year one hundred and forty-six (BC) his son Judas Maccabeus joined with the Hasideans (Heb hasidim*) to conduct a successful resistance against overwhelming forces. The Maccabees sought the power of, and gave glory to, Heaven for triumphing over insurmountable odds. Fear of Israel spread throughout the Gentile nations. (*The Hasidim were the conservative teachers of the law, and forerunners of the Pharisees during the time of Jesus.)

One of the battles is described in chapter 4:

They saw the army of the Gentiles, strong, breastplated, and flanked with cavalry, and made up of experienced soldiers. Judas said to the men with him: “Do not fear their numbers or dread their attack. Remember how our ancestors were saved in the Red Sea, when Pharaoh pursued them with an army. So now let us cry to Heaven in the hope that He will favor us, remember the covenant with our ancestors, and destroy this army before us today. All the Gentiles shall know that there is One who redeems and delivers Israel.” 

After a final, great battle the Maccabees entered Jerusalem:

Then Judas and his brothers said, “Now that our enemies have been crushed, let us go up to purify the sanctuary and rededicate it.” So the whole army assembled, and went up to Mount Zion. They found the sanctuary desolate, the altar desecrated. They made new sacred vessels and brought the lampstand, the altar of incense, and the table into the temple. Then they burned incense on the altar and lighted the lamps on the lampstand, and these illuminated the temple. They rose early on the morning of the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, that is, the month of Kislev, in the year one hundred and forty-eight (BC), and offered sacrifice according to the law on the new altar for burnt offerings that they had made. On the anniversary of the day on which the Gentiles had desecrated it, on that very day it was rededicated with songs, harps, lyres, and cymbals. For eight days they celebrated the dedication of the altar and joyfully offered burnt offerings and sacrifices of deliverance and praise. There was great joy among the people now that the disgrace brought by the Gentiles was removed. Then Judas and his brothers and the entire assembly of Israel decreed that every year for eight days, from the twenty-fifth day of the month Kislev, the days of the dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness on the anniversary.

When they went to light the Temple’s menorah there was only enough oil for one night but, miraculously, the oil lasted eight days. The original lampstand was built according to the LORD’s instructions to Moses (Ex 25:31-40). The middle lamp was called Ner Elohim (Lamp of God), or Shamash (Servant Lamp).

The menorah is significant for Christians. Jesus Christ is represented by the Shamash for He is the servant of the Most High. The oil which lights the lampstand represents the Ruach Ha-Kodesh (Holy Spirit). Shortly before the celebration of Hanukkah (known also as the Festival of Lights), Yeshua raised the ire of the Pharisees by saying, I am the Light of the world (Jn 8:12). The lawyers knew that Jesus was identifying Himself with the holiness represented by the light of the lampstand. (Cross referenceMt 5:14, Lk 2:32, Jn 1:4-5, Jn 3:19, Jn 9:5, Jn 12:35, Jn 12:36, Jn 12:46)

The menorah ceremonially lit the temple. Yeshua HaMashiach is He who illuminates the world. Let His light so shine through you to glorify your Father who is in Heaven.

Suggested Reading: The Story of Hanukkah 

Video Series: Feast of Lights, The Story of Hanukkah, You Are the Light of the World, The Feast of Dedication

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