Let’s get this straight from the beginning: Hanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas. Although some have turned it into something along these lines in recent years, Hanukkah is completely unassociated with the commercial trappings and materialism our Western culture has transformed it into. It is the yearly celebration which remembers God’s redemption of Israel from the hand of her pagan oppressors. In a nutshell, the story of Hanukkah goes like this…
Nearly two hundred years before the time of our Master, the Syrian-Greek armies invaded Israel and plundered it, particularly the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. They ransacked the Temple and converted it into a pagan temple for their god, Zeus. Following on the heels of this event, the practice of Judaism was outlawed, and the Jews were forbidden to participate in their religion in any way. They were forced to forsake the covenant God had made with them and to assimilate into Greek culture. What did this mean? They were no longer able to read and study the Torah. They were forbidden to observe the Holy Sabbath or celebrate the biblical feasts. They were forbidden to circumcise their children (on pain of death). They were forced to eat swine and to offer sacrifices to the idols of pagan gods. The Greeks would not tolerate a people who had any semblance of holiness. The Jews were forced to look like, act like and worship like the rest of the nations around them.
Eventually, a priestly family (the Hasmoneans) — initiated by their father, Mathathias — rose up against their oppressors because of their zeal to keep the covenant of the Lord. Eventually, Mathathias passed away leaving his son, Judah (or Judas), to lead the resistance. Judah became a mighty military commander who waged a fierce war on the pagan armies. He relied upon the mercies of God for his military strength and humbly lead his small armies to victory against the powerful Greek armies who often outnumbered them ten to one or greater.
After pushing out the Greeks from Judea, Judah let the people to the enormous project of restoring the Holy Temple, which culminated in a rededication of the Holy House on the twenty-fifth of the Hebrew month of Kislev. This dedication ceremony lasted eight days.
And they kept the dedication of the altar eight days, and they offered burnt offerings with joy, and sacrifices of salvation, and of praise… (1 Maccabees 4:56)
From that time forward, the Israelites resolved to yearly observe an eight-day feast in memorial of this rededication beginning on the anniversary of its rededication.
(1 Maccabees 4:56, 59)And Judah, and his brethren, and all the church of Israel decreed, that the day of the dedication of the altar should be kept in its season from year to year for eight days, from the five and twentieth day of the month of Kislev, with joy and gladness.
This is where we get the word Hanukkah. Hanukkah means “dedication.” God delivered the Israelites out of the hand of their oppressors in a miraculous way, and Hanukkah is a yearly reminder of the miracle of the deliverance of the Almighty. There is another miracle associated with Hanukkah that is not recorded in the book of Maccabees. According to the Talmud (b.Shabbat 21b), when the priests went to kindle the lights of the Temple menorah, only one small flask of oil was found. Even though it was only enough to last one day, they decided to use it. Miraculously, it lasted eight days… long enough for new, Temple-grade, pure olive oil to be made.
Hanukkah is known by a few other name. It is known as the Feast of Dedication, and the Festival of Lights, as these, are the main themes which permeate the Hanukkah story.
Hanukkah is a time to remember everything which makes God’s people a unique and holy people, distinct from the world around us. It is a time to shake ourselves from our slumbering and from the trappings of assimilation which have become so comfortable. Hanukkah is a time to say no to the world, and yes to our Heavenly Father. Hanukkah is a time to shine forth the light of our Messiah.
Yeshua and Hanukkah
Followers of Yeshua know him as the Light of the World. John says, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4–5). He also says that he was “the true light, which gives light to everyone” (John 1:9). Yeshua says something similar about himself as well. He says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). He is not hesitant in sharing the fact that he is the beacon of the Father’s light shining brightly into this world.
Several years prior to these events, Simeon, the priest knew this as well. When Simeon saw Yeshua in the Temple as an infant, he calls him, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:32). He recognized the penetrating light contained within the person of Yeshua, which would expose the darkness of the world, as Yeshua says, “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17).
At the Transfiguration, Matthew records that Yeshua’s “face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Matthew 17:2). This alludes back to Moses receiving the Torah at Sinai and the radiance of the Almighty illuminating his face (Exodus 34:29–35). Yeshua had a divine encounter which reflected that of Moses, in order to show his disciples his affinity with his Father. Just as Moses was the First Redeemer, Yeshua was the Second Redeemer who shone with the brilliance of his Father. Hanukkah is the perfect time to remember our Master, “the true light, which gives light to everyone.”
The thematic connections of Yeshua with Hanukkah are obvious. But what about any direct connections? Did Yeshua celebrate Hanukkah? Is there any way we can know this for certain? We need to take a look at an event in the Gospel of John to find out. However, first, we need to know some background information to help us understand the context of what is happening.
The Torah prescribes Jewish males to travel to Jerusalem for the three major pilgrimage festivals of Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost) and Sukkot (Tabernacles). The commandment for these feasts to be kept as pilgrimage festivals is found in Exodus 23:14-17, where it begins, “Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me…” It then describes each of these three feasts and concludes, “Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the LORD God.”
Although these three are the “big three” Scripture mandates all Jewish males make pilgrimage to attend, Hanukkah is not even mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures, the “Old Testament.” But yet we read of it in the Apostolic Scriptures (the “New Testament”). John tells us:
At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Yeshua was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon (John 10:22–23)
As stated previously, Hanukkah means “dedication.” This festival is called the Feast of Dedication, because it commemorates the rededication of the Temple after it was defiled by pagan idolaters. John makes it a point to record that Yeshua traveled up to Jerusalem from his home in the Galilee in order to observe the feast of Hanukkah as he did the pilgrimage festivals. Why then was it so important that Yeshua travels from the Galilee up to Jerusalem to be at the Temple for Hanukkah? Because Hanukkah, remember, commemorates the rededication of the Temple… the rededication of his Father’s House. Yeshua knew a time was coming in which His Father’s house would once again lay desolate. But this time, it would not be for just a few years. This time, it would remain in ruins for over two thousand years. To him, this was nearly unbearable. He walked the courtyards of the Holy Temple to remind his brothers and sisters of the reason for its previous destruction and to warn them about its imminent demise. He called them to repentance in order to try to reverse the impending judgment. Hanukkah was the perfect time to do this, because of the themes of rededication fresh on people’s minds. The people approached him and asked, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” He replied,
I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one. (John 10:24–30)
He tells the people that his works not only attest to his claim to be the Messiah, but attest to his sonship as well. It is his works that verify his identity. Yeshua reminds his followers that their works also attest to their identity. He says,
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13–16)
During the first century, many of the Jewish people had lost both their light and their saltiness. They had forgotten who they were supposed to be. They offered no flavor, nor did their light shine forth into the darkness. Yeshua challenged those who came after him to take up their commission to be light and salt. The challenge still goes forth today. As followers of Yeshua, Hanukkah’s central theme of light is extremely relevant to our purpose of remembering both the Master — the True Light — and our responsibility to reflect his light to a darkened world, devoid of purpose and hope. Let’s take up that call to be light and salt and reflect our Master through our deeds and not just our speech.
This teaching is taken directly from the intro to Darren’s book, Eight Lights: A Hanukkah Devotional for Followers of Yeshua. You can purchase his book by clicking HERE.
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