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Happy Hanukkah, I Mean It

December 5, 2007

Antiochus and the MaccabeesÂ

Alexander the Great died and he left four generals to divide up the spoils.  One branch was the Seleucid (Syrian) dynasty prophesied in great detail in Daniel 11.   The most cruel of these, unto whom Daniel gives the most attention and particulars (8:9-14, 23-25; 11:21-35), Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) came to the Syrian throne in 171 B.C.   He desecrated the temple by sacrificing a pig on the altar and sprinkling its blood in the holy of holies. He set up an idol in the temple, an image to the Greek god Zeus.  The Jews protested and to punish them, the Syrian ruler ordered destruction of Jerusalem.   An aged priest named Mattathias led a revolt that overthrew the Syrian control of Israel. After Mattathias’ death, his son, Judah, the Maccabee (hammer) continued the guerilla warfare against the Syrians.  Miraculously, the Maccabees were successful in driving the Syrians out of Israel.

The Jews then set about to repair the temple and when preparing to rededicate, they found only one cruise of oil for the menorah (golden lampstand) in the temple.  They went ahead and lit the menorah anyways and history says that it burned for eight days.  Three days to the day that Antiochus had defiled the Temple, December 25, the Maccabeans rededicated it.   At the end of the eight days, the altar was rebuilt.  Hanukkah means “dedication.”  An eight day span was the period of dedication in the Old Testament.

The Winter Solstice, Dedication, and Light

Hanukkah occurs on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, which occurs approximately in December.  This was also the occasion the world had celebrated the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, the time, therefore, the world is exposed to the least amount of light.   However, the pagan world long celebrated this day as the return of the light.   Both the Egyptians and Syrians had long recognized winter solstice as the rebirth of the sun.   The Egyptians worshiped Ra, their sun god.  Antiochus had determined himself to use this sacred time of the death of the old sun and a rebirth of a new to dedicate the temple to his pagan deity.  God had other plans and in so doing, He sanctified this pagan holiday.  God again preserved the nation Israel for their opportunity to witness a far greater Light from God.

Fast forward to Jesus’ life on earth and John 10:22-39.   Despite its absence from the Old Testament, Jesus observed Hanukkah.  Antiochus maddened the Jews by calling himself “Epiphanes,” visible God, and then Jesus almost 200 years later dared to claim that He was God (v. 33).  Of course, He was and He follows His claim with an ardent defense of His Deity.

Hanukkah is dedication and light.  The Maccabeans lit the menorah and dedicated the temple.  Jesus is the promised light of the world (Isaiah 9:1-7; 49:6; John 8:12; Revelation 21:22-24).  At the beginning of Jesus public ministry, He said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  The Jews answered, “Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?” “But he spake of the temple of his body” (John 2:19-21).  Herod’ s Temple had been defiled by a wicked and corrupt priesthood. The Lord Jesus was “sanctified” by His death, burial and resurrection and is the New Temple.

What About Today?

The Apostle John selected “signs” (miracles) and events when he penned his gospel, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to convey two purposes (John 20:30,31). The first was to present the Deity of the Lord Jesus.   The Hanukkah event made a festival impact on the Jews.  In contrast to the arrogant and blasphemous statement by Antiochus IV, Jesus truly is God manifest in human flesh.  Second, Hanukkah challenged people to put their trust (believe) in the Lord Jesus Christ as the One who died for their sins and rose again from the dead.  When they trust Him, God gives them the gift of eternal life, forgiveness of sins and a home in Heaven.  A marked contrast exists between the response of the Jews on the Temple Mount (10:37-39) and those “beyond the Jordan” who believed on Him (10:40-42). What is your response?  Have you trusted the One Who is the true and confirmed fulfillment of Hanukkah?

The modern Jewish observance is focused around a nine-branch menorah. While the one in the temple had seven branches, the Hanukkah menorah has nine—eight to commemorate the miracle of the eight days and one to serve as the shammash or servant candle.  Each evening the candles are lit, using the center candle as the servant—the candle that brings light to all of the other candles.  Each night one additional candle is lit after the proscribed blessings are spoken.  By tradition, they are lit from left to right, and a special blessing is said before and after the lights are kindled thanking God for His deliverance.  Since the object of the lighting is to publicize the miracle, the candles are usually placed near windows to remind others of the holiday and the redemption.

Christian, Jesus is the light of the world.  Ye are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14).  Jesus is the Servant Candle with the miraculous light that will never run out.   Jesus tabernacled with us (John 1:14).  And now a believer holds that light of the Spirit within him as His temple (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20).  The church is the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:17), light in the Lord (Ephesians 5:8), making known the manifold wisdom of God (Ephesians 3:10).  Let’s not hide the good news of Jesus Christ under a bushel, but let us dedicate ourselves anew to being the temples of light God would have us in this dark world.

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