December 8, 2012 marks the start of Hanukkah this year. The Jewish people will be celebrating what many non Jews consider to be their version of Christmas. After all, you’ve got beautiful lights, gift giving, singing, and religious significance. It’s interesting to note, however, that while the holiday known as Christmas doesn’t appear in the Bible, Hanukkah does. It is celebrated for 7 days every year and this year ends on December 16th, 2012
Where? Not the Old Testament, but the New. Hanukkah was instituted between the Testaments, during the time of the Maccabees. So the only time Hanukkah appears in the Bible is found in the Christian part of it, specifically in John 10.
The One about Whom Christmas is about celebrated Hanukkah. John 10:22 says there was a feast of dedication during the winter. This was about the 15th day of December (or 25th day of Chisleu). The word for dedication used here literally means “renewal”, or “re-dedication”. The Hebrew word for rededication is “hanaka”. Interestingly, the Greek word is “anakaino”, which sounds like Hanukkah if you think about it. Anyway, John 10:22 is the only time is appears in the scriptures, and the Lord Christ was involved.
The meaning of Hanukkah is something we all can apply to our lives.
Here’s a quick synopsis of the historical background of Hanukkah, from Albert Barnes:
Literally, the feast of the renewing, or of the renovation. This feast was instituted by Judas Maccabaeus, in the year 164 b.c. The temple and city were taken by Antiochus Epiphanes in the year 167 b.c. He slew forty thousand inhabitants, and sold forty thousand more as slaves. In addition to this, he sacrificed a sow on the altar of burnt-offerings, and a broth being made of this, he sprinkled it all over the temple. The city and temple were recovered three years afterward by Judas Maccabaeus, and the temple was purified with great pomp and solemnity. The ceremony of purification continued through eight days, during which Judas presented magnificent victims, and celebrated the praise of God with hymns and psalms (Josephus, Ant., b. xii. ch. 11). “They decked, also, the forefront of the temple with crowns of gold and with shields, and the gates and chambers they renewed and hanged doors upon them,” 1 Mac. iv. 52-59. On this account it was called the feast of renovation or dedication. Josephus calls it the feast of lights, because the city was illuminated, as expressive of joy. The feast began on the twenty-fifth day of Chisleu, answering to the fifteenth day of December. The festival continued for eight days, with continued demonstrations of joy. —Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament
Tradition also has it that when the Maccabees won the temple back, they sought to light the menorah but there was only enough oil for one day. Yet it lasted eight days. Hanukkah is the re-dedication of the Temple for God’s people. It conveys the struggle that they have had in this world, and celebrates their victory against stronger foes – victories only God Himself can secure. It is a holiday commemorating God’s care of His people.
For the Christian, it is helpful to understand the Jewish roots of our faith. Of course, we are no more required to celebrate Hanukkah than we are any other holiday. But the significance of Hanukkah is a great reminder of a few things:
God promised a lot to the Jewish people to show His great power. He promised a nation, a land, and a Messiah. None of these things would be possible if it were not for Hanukkah. There would be no Israel today, and possibly no Jewish people. And the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, would not have been born at the fullness of time. Yet, it is all under control of our great God. When things seemed like they would totally eliminate His people, God, in His infinite wisdom, preserved them.
God Always has a Remnant
Over 80,000 Jews were either killed or sold into slavery during the time of Antiochus Epiphanies. Yet, God empowered the Maccabees to prevail in preserving the Jewish heritage. Whether we are killed or it seems unbelief is all around us, God always keeps for Himself a remnant of His people to carry out His eternal purpose.
A recent sermon I heard by a Messianic minister pointed out that the account of Hanukkah is a blueprint for the End Times. It includes an antichrist figure, Antiochus Epiphanies, the desecration of the Temple, and widespread apostasy surrounding its time. I will spare all the details, but a walk through of the apocryphal books, I and II Maccabees gives an account of the times leading up to Antiochus’ siege that parallels much of what is going on today in society.
But lest my amillennial and postmillennial friends think I’m catering to “sinking ship theology”, let me also point out that just as in the end, righteousness prevailed, we all know, no matter what our eschatological scheme, that in the end, righteousness will again prevail. The victory of Hanukkah reminds us of the victory we have in Jesus Christ.
Anytime I reflect on a Jewish holiday, I am burdened to reach them with the great news that the Messiah has come. A Passover seder table or a read of Isaiah 53 are both great reminders of this fact. The menorah in the Temple had seven branches for candles. But the menorah now used for Hanukkah has nine. Why? Because the central candle (the shammas – “server”) is used to light the other eight. Jesus Christ is that Server and He has come to light every man that comes into the world.
In the midst of so much chaos, the light burned in the Temple for eight days. The light we have in Jesus Christ will never go out. It doesn’t come from us, it comes from God. But let’s face it – sometimes we have things in our lives that hinder that Light. We set up idols in our temples all the time and everyday we are in need of a re-dedication.