Tomorrow night many families will be celebrating their Christmas eve traditions around the table and exchanging gifts. Many will be attending Christmas Eve Services at the their local churches and parishes. A much fewer families will be celebrating Hanukkah with their Christmas traditions. Why is it important for us to learn the significance of Hanukkah? Is it something we have to do? No it is not something you have to do. I have found for our family it is something we choose to do because Jesus is the Light of the World and He celebrated this New Testament Feast.
“Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch. 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.” John 1022-24.
Hanukkah is mentioned in the New Testament in John’s Gospel. It is known as the Festival of Lights or the Dedication of the Temple. It is the only Feast that is mentioned in the New Testament and not the Old Testament. To Jewish children it means receiving a gift every night for 8 nights. To the Jew, it means a similar Holiday with all it’s commercialism like Christmas. And to the Christian it is the celebration of the birth of Yeshua. Even though it has been scientifically proven Jesus was not born at Hanukkah but conceived at Hanukkah. He was born at the Feast of Tabernacles in the fall of the year.
The word “Hanukkah is found in the following Bible verses: Proverbs 22:6, “to train”, in Nehemiah 12:27 it appears as the word, “dedication.” In 2 Chronicles 7:9 and Ezra 6:16 it is best known as the “altar of rededication” mentioned in 1 and 2 Maccabee’s from the Apocrypha. An interesting fact about Hanukkah is that it took place between the Old and New Testament, those 400 years that were silent. Hanukkah always occurs on the Biblical Calendar on Kislev 25 or in December of each year.
The story begins with the young Greek emperor, Alexander who took the throne after his father’s assassination at age 18 in 336BC. At age 20 he conquered the Persian Empire. His passion was to spread the Greek culture and conquer the world. He was known as Alexander the Great. His empire was so vast that when he died he did not leave an heir. His empire was divided into four parts and was given to four of his Generals. Interesting to note that most of the upper echelon of the Jewish people and society had embraced Greek culture and had stopped following the Feast Day Observances and keeping the Sabbath. But the vast number of the Jewish people remained loyal to these practices. This bought much hostility with the Greeks.
In 175 BC Antiochus IV came to power. He called himself “God Manifest.” Among many theologians it is thought that the Prophecy in Daniel 8 and 11 prescribed him as a proto-type of the Antichrist. In 168 BC he went to war against Ptolemy in Egypt and conquered him and all his army. Back then Egypt supplied most of the world with grain, i.e., remember Joseph.
This upset Rome so they sent an army to confront Antiochus asking him to return back to Syria. Rome used their political and military to force Antiochus to return to Syria. This is when on his return to Syria through Israel he took his revenge upon the Jewish People. He vented his hatred, revenge, and vengeance upon Israel waiting for them to celebrate the Sabbath because he knew they would refuse to bear arms.
He turned his armies loose to conduct massacre upon Jerusalem. He took an Idol of Jupiter and placed it in the Holy of Holies and sacrificed a pig on the sacred altar. From it’s juices he desecrated all the furniture of the Holy of Holies. He brought in prostitutes and had an orgy in the Temple. He forced every Jew to conform to all Greek idolatry and costumes.
In 167 BC, Antiochus sent an officer to Modi’in, a city in Northwest Israel. There was an aged priest, Mattathias Maccabee, who had five sons. The Maccabee family headed up the insurgency against Antiochus. In 166 BC Antiochus tried to crush the Maccabees. But Judah, Mattathias’ son, overwhelmed this group with a much smaller army. So Antiochus, in 165 BC, entered Israel with a great army. However, in Emmaus (Luke 24) Judah surprised Antiochus at night and almost defeated him (I Maccabees 3:43-60, 4:8-11, 19-25). Antiochus retreated, only to return to Israel later. He invaded Israel and Judah totally defeated him.
So Judah and his army and the people came to Jerusalem to re-consecrate and re-dedicate the temple. We are told in I Maccabees that because the sacred altar had been desecrated, the old stones were set aside until a prophet could tell them what to do with them. The small group began to rebuild the altar, stone by stone.
They desired to rededicate the Temple back to God and needed oil. Someone found a small amount, and although it was just enough for one day, they lit the oil anyway. A sentry trip to get more oil would take eight days: four days out to get the oil, four days to return. They had no choice. They needed oil, so the sentry departed.
The oil burned for an entire day, then two days, miraculously for three, four, five six, seven, eight days! The sentry returned and the oil was still burning, a miracle of light. That’s the Feast of Lights, the Feast of Dedication, the Festival of Consecration! (No oil meant no “Eternal Light” also known as the Ner Tamid. In every synagogue, even today, one light is left burning, the Ner Tamid, the “Eternal Light.”)
Hanukkah celebrates dedication and consecration and even anointing with the beautiful burning of oil. In order to get oil, the olives are pressed. From pressure comes beauty. Oil in the Bible, shemen in Hebrew, means “to shine or be glossy.” Oil on wood makes it shine. When one anoints something, it shines. Our Messiah, Yeshua Jesus, shines! He is the Anointed One!
The great Jewish prophet Hillel once said that one must ascend in matters of holiness and not descend. With that in mind, the Hanukkah menorah is lit and an additional light/candle added every night during the eight day holiday. If one travels to Jerusalem, there is light everywhere as the city is filled with lights from the many Hanukkiahs shown in windows.
So here we are in Israel. In John 10:22, we see Yeshua Jesus. The verse notes that it is winter; it is dark, yet the light of the world is in Jerusalem (Note last night December 22, 2016 was a winter Lunar Eclipse that is said by NASA to be the darkest night in the last 500 years.) It is interesting because Hanukkah is not in the Old Testament feasts like all of the others mentioned in Leviticus. It is not one of the big three: Pesach, Shavuot or Sukkot. But Hanukkah was the last great deliverance that the Jews had experienced, and there was no prophet in the land from the close of the Old Testament to John the Baptist.
Yet we see Jesus, we see Yeshua in Jerusalem, in the winter, in the Temple portico, surrounded by light. Here, in their midst, is Jesus. He is the Lord of Light in the Festival of Light. He declares his Messiahship here during the Festival of Light.
This wondrous holiday dedicates our wondrous Lord. Look at all of the lights at Christmas time – lights on buildings, homes, trees, businesses, windows, balconies, and storefronts. Light celebrates Jesus. He is the Light of the world, the Or HaOlam, the Hope of the world. The festival of Hanukkah celebrates His light and deliverance. Deliverance from death and the grave. Deliverance from darkness to light, from the profane to the sacred.
“Yeshua spoke to them again, saying, “I am the Light of the world. The one who follows Me will no longer walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” John 8:12.
“While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” 2 Cor 4:18.
Yeshua Jesus is the light of the world! He is glorious; He is eternal; He is the Ner Tamid, the Eternal Hanukkiah Light!
Excerpts taken from an Article by Barri Cae Mallin Seif, PhD in December 2016 issue of “Messianic Jewish Bible Institute Magazine.”