As this holiday season begins, our world has been going through some dark times. If ever we needed light and hope, we need it now. This year, Hanukkah is early and I believe God planned it that way because He knew we’d need it. Tonight, after sundown, the first day of Hanukkah begins. It is also called the Feast of Lights or the Feast of Dedication. Jewish people and many Christians all over the world will gather to celebrate. But, what is Hanukkah? Why is it celebrated? What significance, if any, is Hanukkah to Christians?
First, let’s talk about the beginning of Hanukkah. Daniel received three different visions found in Daniel 2, 7, and 8. The visions were about different rulers or nations. Each of them would dominate the Jewish people. Greece was one of these nations.
Antiochus Epiphanes (meaning “God Manifest” or “I am God.”) was a Hellenistic king of the Syrian branch of the Greek Empire. When he took over Palestine in 167 BC, he banned all local religions. (sound familiar?) Antiochus also banned circumcision, Sabbath, kosher food, and reading of the Talmud. If anyone broke these decrees, they endured a torturous death.
Pagan rituals and sacrifices started at God’s Holy Temple. Syrians began worshipping Zeus there. They replaced the High Priest with one of the Syrian men. They offered unclean animals as sacrifices and had sexual acts on the altar of sacrifice. Mattathias and his five sons refused to bow down to the Greek gods. Instead, they went to the hills and became guerilla warriors. They called themselves the Maccabees (meaning, “who is like God among the mighty.”). They chose rather die than to defile themselves with the ungodly practices.
They gathered a small army of warriors and waged war with the mighty Syrian army for three years. The first miracle of Hanukkah was that the entire Syrian army was finally defeated.
Once Jerusalem was retaken, the first order of business was to cleanse the Temple and rededicate it to God. Pigs had been slaughtered on its altars and idols worshipped within its walls for three years. They tore down the Greek altar and a new altar built of unhewn stones. The Temple was completely restored, the sacred vessels and curtains were put back in place.
On the twenty-fifth day of the ninth Biblical month, in 164 BC, they decided to celebrate a feast. They set the temple apart for seven days and then rededicating it on the eighth day.
God commanded the Israelites, to keep the lampstand in the Holy Place lit in the Tabernacle or Temple. (Exodus 27:20-21; Leviticus 24:2). The Temple lampstand had seven branches. After this miracle, they created an eight branch lampstand for this feast. It was used every year to celebrate the event.
But when it came time to re-light the Menorah, they didn’t have any pure oil. They searched the entire Temple, but only found one small jar bearing the pure seal of the High Priest. They filled the oil lamps and prayed. Miraculously, the small jar of oil burned for eight days until a new supply of oil arrived. It was a miracle! Jewish people everywhere have observed this holiday for eight days and nights, ever since. It is the miracle of the ever-burning oil.
It is a tradition to read different scriptures each night of Hanukkah. One of those is Zechariah 4:6, “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty.” Men could not take credit for the military victory nor the discovered provision of oil. God alone worked the miracles. The preservation of the Jewish race and their dedication to His word was also God-initiated. Much of what we see going on in our world today cannot be solved by men either. Again, God is needed.
And we know for a fact that Jesus, Yeshua, celebrated Hanukkah. We’re told the story of the trip, He made from his home in Galilee to Jerusalem to be a part of that joyous celebration. Further, He used Hanukkah to make a startling statement that is so important to all of us.
Let’s look at John10:22-30, 37-38 Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. 23 And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch. 24 Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. 26 But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. 30 I and My Father are one.”…37 If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; 38 but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him.”
Yeshua stated that He could grant eternal life and that He and the Father were one. But, He said more than the people had expected. They hoped He was the Messiah, but to add “I am God,” was unexpected. They never imagined the hoped-for Messiah to be anything but a man, a human, and a military leader. Still, He chose that day, Hanukkah, to announce His deity.
The Light of the world, Jesus Christ, lives in us daily by the Holy Spirit (often symbolized by oil). We are His temple and Jesus Christ is our temple cleanser. Jesus Christ is our temple illuminator. When we give our lives to Him, we open our hearts for washing with His blood and set afire with His Spirit. Our lives are taken out of the hands of the enemy and rededicated to their Creator.
Hanukkah, in the context of Christianity, is a celebration of Jesus, the Light of the world. Hanukkah is a reminder of how the Light of Jesus Christ is daily overcoming our darkness. If ever we need more light, it is now. Every country and hamlet in the world has experienced greater darkness this year. May you consider joining in this week of celebration, turn your focus back to Jesus the Light of the World. May the Light Who lives in each one of us renew our hope and re-establish our steps is my prayer.
I will be posting scriptures each day to help us Celebrate the LIGHT!