By Dix Winston
Hanukkah, also called the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day Jewish festival celebrating the time when Israel gained independence from Greece and, beginning on the 25th of Chislev, the subsequent rededication of the temple. This year, Hanukkah will be celebrated December 18-26.
The temple had to be rededicated because Antiochus Epiphanes had desecrated it in 168 BC. He was a Seleucid king who ruled the eastern part of Alexander the Great’s former empire, including the city of Jerusalem. He wanted to Hellenize the Jews, making them like the Greeks in character and religion. In order to accomplish this, he believed that he could persuade the Jews to worship Zeus instead of Yahweh. The Jews resisted, rebelling against this coercion. So Antiochus invaded the city in 168 BC, killing thousands. He erected a statue of Zeus on the site of the Holy of Holies and sacrificed a pig on the altar.
This led to a guerrilla rebellion under the leadership of the Jewish priest Mattathias and his five sons. After the death of Mattathias in 166 BC, his son Judah Maccabee took up the fight. Within two years the Jews retook the city and rededicated the temple, restoring worship of Yahweh. When it came time to light the lampstand in the temple’s holy place, there was enough oil for only one day. However, according to the Talmud, the oil lasted eight days. This has been called the “miracle of Hanukkah.”
There are good reasons why we should be happy about Hanukkah.
DANIEL PREDICTED IT
While Hanukkah did not begin during the time of the OT, the OT twice predicts events leading up to it.
First, the prophet Daniel speaks of a “little horn” emerging from the divided Greek Empire (Dan 8:9-12). (This should not be confused with the little horn from Rome described in Dan 7:8.) The little horn of Dan 8:9-12 is Antiochus Epiphanes, a ruler of the Seleucid Empire, which included the “Beautiful Land” or Israel. He trampled and killed the Jews in Jerusalem, and he desecrated the temple (Dan 8:6-12).
Second, Daniel predicts the defeat of Antiochus and the rededication of the temple, which took place in 164 BC (Dan 8:13-14). Rydelnik points out why Antiochus is mentioned: “He is emphasized in this section for two reasons: First, he would have a terrible and oppressive effect on the Jewish people. Second, his reign is designed as a pattern of the future world ruler who would also oppress the Jewish people, namely, the antichrist.”i Antiochus Epiphanes was controlled by the spirit of the Antichrist (1 John 4:3).
Daniel predicted the rise and fall of Antiochus Epiphanes centuries before it occurred. Did Judah Maccabee read Daniel? Good chance. If so, he knew how it would end for the little antichrist, and how it would end for the Jewish people. Knowing this must surely have instilled courage and boldness in the Jewish leader.
Prophecy demonstrates that God is in control of this world. Nothing surprises Him because He already knows what will take place. And if we simply study the prophetic Word, we, too, can know some things about the future and can prepare accordingly. We know that our Lord will reign on our planet for 1000 years and that if we remain faithful, we will reign with Him. “If we endure, we shall also reign with Him” (2 Tim 2:12). That is something to be happy about.
JESUS OBSERVED IT
As John points out, Jesus observed Hanukkah: “Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch” (John 10:22-23).
Hanukkah follows the Feast of Tabernacles on the Jewish calendar. This year Tabernacles began on October 9th and ended on October 17th. It is the Mosaic feast commanded to commemorate the time when the Israelites lived in tents in the wilderness following the Lord’s delivering them from slavery in Egypt. It was at this feast that Jesus proclaimed Himself “the light of the world” (John 8:12). About two months later, as He was teaching in the temple, the Judean leadership demanded that He tell them who He was. Of course, He had on multiple occasions demonstrated exactly who He is through His words and works. But the Judeans did not believe.
Hanukkah celebrated the time when the oil that lit the holy place miraculously lasted eight days (Heb 9:2). Though non-Mosaic, it was the perfect feast for Jesus to continue proclaiming Himself as Messiah. He is “the true Light which gives light” to the world (John 1:9). He is the “light [which] shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend [or overcome] it” (John 1:5).
Hanukkah reminds us that all people are born in darkness and need the Light of the world. Christ called us “out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9). And that is something to be very happy about.
GOD PROMISED IT
While the Feast of Hanukkah is non-Mosaic, it demonstrates that God promised to preserve the Jewish nation. Judah Maccabee would not have been successful unless God had empowered him. Without the blessing of God, his best efforts would have failed.
Without God’s assisting Judah Maccabee, Antiochus would have destroyed the Jewish nation. This would have been a disaster. If the Jews—and more specifically, the line of David—had been destroyed, from where would Messiah come? It would have been time to cancel Christmas.
Paul Glasser, head of Chosen People Ministries, puts it this way:
The Feast of Dedication is when we as Jews celebrate the fact that we were delivered or saved from extinction. This was Antiochus’ goal: He tried to destroy the Jewish people and eradicate the uniqueness of our identity.
He failed, and the Jewish people—our culture, hopes and dreams, and faith—were not destroyed. If we had been, then what would have happened to Mary and Joseph? Would they have known they were Jewish? Would they have married one another? If the Jewish people and Jewish identity had been destroyed, then there would have not been any Jewish people and no Jewish family to receive the Messiah!ii
Hanukkah is a reminder that God will never abandon His people. Through Abraham, God made a unilateral, unconditional promise to bless the world through the Jewish nation (Gen 12:1-3). In the new covenant He reaffirms this promise to the Jews (Jer 31:31-37).
As believers, we need to recognize Hanukkah because Daniel predicted it, Jesus observed it, and God promised it.
I am grateful that Hanukkah underscores the fact that God keeps His promises. Sadly, many Christians do not think God will keep His promises to the Jews. They teach that God abandoned the Jews and replaced Israel with the church. But if He doesn’t keep His promises to Israel, why should we believe that He will keep His promises to us, especially the promise of everlasting life: “And this is the promise that He has promised us—eternal life” (1 John 2:25)?
Hanukkah confirms that God is all-powerful and that He keeps His promises, and that is something to be very happy about!
i Michael Rydelnik, “Daniel” in The Moody Bible Commentary, pp. 1311-12.
ii Chosenpeople.com. This quote is from the eBook, Christmas through Jewish Eyes.