Chanukkah

And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter.” John 10:22

Jesus the Messiah made some amazing statements concerning the believer’s assurance of salvation in John 10:23-30. The backdrop to these statements is verse 22 where we learn that Jesus was speaking at the “feast of the dedication” (Chanukkah). Unlike the seven feasts of Israel, which God gave to the nation in Leviticus 23, Chanukkah is a man-made holiday commemorating an important event in Jewish history. This event took place in the year 165 BC during the intertestamental period, the four hundred “silent” years covering the time between the writing of the last book of the Old Testament and the first book of the New Testament. Chanukkah was, however, prophesied in the Tanach (Jewish Scriptures)!

In Daniel 8:1-14, the Bible describes a vision Daniel had. He saw a ram with two horns overtaken by a goat with one horn. The horn on the goat was broken off and replaced by four horns. From one of the four horns came a “little horn” that grew very great. This little horn began to magnify himself and attack the Jewish people, causing the Temple sacrifices to cease and the Temple itself to become desolate. According to Daniel’s prophecy, the Temple was to remain in this condition for exactly 2,300 days (v. 14). The angel Gabriel explained the symbols to Daniel in verses 19-25.

We know from secular history that the kingdom of Greece (the goat) replaced the kingdom of Media-Persia (the ram). We also know that the first king of Greece (the horn on the goat) was Alexander the Great. At the zenith of his power, Alexander died. Two of the four kings who replaced him were from the Ptolemaic dynasty based in Egypt and the Seleucid dynasty based in Syria. Toward the end of the Greek rule, Antiochus IV (the little horn) arose from the Seleucid dynasty. He declared himself Antiochus Ephiphanes (“God Manifest”). Behind his back, he was called “epimanes,” meaning “madman.” During the years 171–165 BC, he perpetrated a holocaust against the Jewish people. He outlawed Judaism, ended the Temple sacrifices, and in 168 BC committed an abomination of desolation against the Temple by sacrificing a pig on the altar and erecting an image of Zeus, which looked very much like Antiochus himself!

Not being satisfied with this step, his forces spread out all over the country, forcing the Jewish people to sacrifice swine and punishing with the penalty of death any who would even circumcise their children. It was in a town called Modin, just south of Jerusalem, where there lived an aged priest named Mattathias with his five sons. When the forces of Antiochus came in, they demanded that Mattathias sacrifice a pig. Mattathias, being a righteous man, simply refused. As a crowd gathered, the tensions built up to the boiling point. Then, out of the throng, came a Jewish man who was willing to sacrifice the pig just to placate the enemy and relieve the tension. Mattathias was so angry at this treachery that he killed the man and with his five sons killed the henchmen of Antiochus. Mattathias then bade “all who are zealous for God” to follow him. With that, Mattathias and his sons went into the surrounding hills and began a guerilla war, which lasted several years. In the process of time, Mattathias died. His eldest son, Judah, known as the “maccabee” (lit. “hammer”) for the way he fought, took over as the leader of the group, which henceforth would bear this moniker. Incredibly, in the face of vast superior forces, the Maccabees routed the Syrians and drove them away. In 165 BC, they liberated Jerusalem and began to cleanse the Temple.

On 25 Kislev 165 BC, Judah and his brothers rededicated the Temple to the God of Israel. Counting the time from the beginning of the persecution of the Jewish people by Antiochus in 171 BC to the rededication in 165 BC was exactly 2,300 days. God had kept His promise to the day! Judah and his followers declared this to be an eight-day feast and to celebrate it annually. Rabbinic tradition tells us that Chanukkah was declared to be an eight-day feast due to the fact that one day’s provision of oil burned for eight. While we cannot disprove this, the actual reason that Chanukkah was set as an eight-day feast was because the holiday that the Jewish people had just missed celebrating was Tabernacles (Lev. 23:33-43), an eight-day celebration. In fact, in the early days of its celebration, Chanukkah was referred to as “Second Tabernacles.”

Today Jewish people celebrate Chanukkah by lighting the nine-branched Chanukkah menorah each night. The center candle, called the shammash (lit. “servant”), is lit first and is then used to light the others. Since the Pharisees survived the Temple’s final destruction in 70 AD, it is the Pharisaic custom of adding one candle each night until all are lit that is employed to this day. During Chanukkah, foods such as potato latkes are eaten since these are fried in oil, thus harkening back to the “miracle” of the oil when the Maccabees rededicated the Temple. Parents also give their children gifts—some even give them a gift on each of the eight nights! Children also play a traditional game called Spin the Dreidel. The “dreidel” is a four-sided top with a Hebrew letter on each side. The letters represent the first word in the sentence “A great miracle happened there.” In Israel, the last letter is different, spelling out “A great miracle happened here.”

Jesus’ statements in John 10 were made during Chanukkah. As Jesus walked in Solomon’s porch, a place for rabbis and their students to gather and learn, the Jewish people asked Him to declare whether He was the Messiah. Jesus told them that the reason they were asking such a question was not for a lack of evidence from what He had already told them and due to the miracles He had performed right before their eyes. Rather, the problem was that they were not His sheep, for “my sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one” (John 10:27-30).

Don’t miss the point—since Jesus is the eternal God, all who are His sheep are eternally secure. Jesus made these promises to the believer during the time when the Jewish people were celebrating their deliverance from the hand of Antiochus. Just as God’s promise to the Jewish people that the Temple would be rededicated was fulfilled exactly to the day, God’s promise of eternal security to all who believe is also sure. This fact means that if you are a blood-washed, born-again believer, you needn’t worry about your salvation. Your salvation is as sure as the promises of God!

Since Chanukkah is the only biblically significant day that occurs in December, we should rejoice in our salvation when we look upon the Chanukkah menorahs in the windows of Jewish homes. We should also have a burning desire to reach them with the gospel of Jesus the Messiah. Jesus, our “great shammash,” is the only One who can light a darkened heart and make it burn with the brightness of eternal life.