Hanukkah, while not being a feast given by God in Scripture, is mentioned in the B’rit Hadashah (New Testament) in the Gospel of John.
“And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch.”
(John 10:22-23 KJV)
Hanukkah is historically a time to rededicate oneself to God and His purposes. Many Messianic Jews and Gentiles see this feast time, rather than the modern day of Christmas, as a unique factual Bible time event of miraculous deliverance to be a more fitting time to remember the birth of the Messiah, the Light which came into the world. “In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” (John 1:4-5 KJV)
It was in the time of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, nearly twenty two centuries ago (165 B.C.), that the events took place which we commemorate each year at Hanukkah time. The Jewish people had returned to the land of Israel from the Babylonian Exile, and had rebuilt the Holy Temple. But they remained subject to the domination of imperial powers, first, the Persian Empire, then later, the conquering armies of Alexander the Great. Upon the death of Alexander, his vast kingdom was divided among his generals. After a power struggle which engulfed all the nations of the Middle East, Israel found itself under the sway of the Seleucid Dynasty, Greek kings who reigned from Syria.
Though at first, the rule of the Seleucids was rather mild and uneventful in Israel, there soon arose a new king, Antiochus IV, who was to wage a bloody war upon the Jews, a war which would threaten not just their physical lives, but their very spiritual existence. Over the years of Greek domination, many Jews had begun to accept the Greek culture and it’s self-serving pleasure oriented, pagan/false god way of life. These Jewish Hellenists became willing pawns in Antiochus’ scheme to obliterate every trace of the Jewish religion. The Holy Temple was invaded, desecrated, and robbed of all its treasures. Vast numbers of innocent people were massacred and the survivors were heavily taxed. Antiochus placed an idol of Zeus on the holy altar and forced the Jews to bow before it under penalty of death. And he forbid the Jewish people to observe their most sacred traditions, such as the Sabbath and the rite of circumcision. Antiochus went so far as to proclaim himself a god, taking the name ‘Antiochus Epiphanes’ (the Divine). But even his own followers mocked him as ‘Antiochus Epimanes’ (the madman).
In every city and town, altars were erected with statues of the Greek gods and goddesses. Soldiers rounded up the Jews and forcibly compelled them to make offerings and engage in other immoral acts customary to the Greeks. As Antiochus’ troops tightened their grip on the nation, the Jews seemed incapable of resistance. It was in the small village of Modi’in, a few miles west of Jerusalem, that a single act of heroism turned the tide of Israel’s struggle and altered her destiny for all time. Mattityahu (Matthew), patriarch of the priestly Hasmonean clan, stepped forward to challenge the Greek soldiers and those who complied passively to their demands. Backed by his five sons, he attacked the troops, slew the idolaters, and destroyed the idol. With a cry of ‘All who are with God, follow me!’ he and a courageous circle of partisans retreated to the hills, where they gathered forces to overthrow the oppression of Antiochus and those working with him (even many Jews).
The army of Mattityahu, now under the command of his son Yehuda (Judah) Maccabee, grew daily in numbers and in strength. With the Biblical slogan, Who is like unto You, 0 God, emblazoned on their shields, they would swoop down upon the Syrian troops under cover of darkness and scatter the oppressors, then return to their encampments in the hills. Only six thousand strong, they defeated a heavily armed battalion of forty-seven thousand Syrians. Enraged, Antiochus sent an even larger army against them, and in the miraculous, decisive battle at Bet Tzur, the Jewish forces emerged victorious. From there, they proceeded on to Jerusalem, where they liberated the city and reclaimed the Holy Temple. They cleared the Sanctuary of the idols, rebuilt the altar, and prepared to resume the Divine Service. A central part of the daily service in the Temple was the kindling of the brilliant lights of the Menorah. With the Temple about to be rededicatedm, only one small cruse of the pure, sacred olive oil was found. It was only one day’s supply and they knew it would take more than a week for the special process required to prepare more oil. Undaunted, in joy and with thanksgiving, the Maccabees lit the lamps of the Menorah with the small amount of oil, and dedicated the Holy Temple anew. And miraculously, as if in confirmation of the power of their faith, the oil did not burn out, and the flames shone brightly for eight full days. The following year, Jewish Sages officially proclaimed the festival of Hanukkah as a celebration lasting eight days, in perpetual commemoration of this victory over religious persecution.
The Hanukkah lights are more than simply a reminder of God’s deliverance and miracles in days gone by. They provide inspiration for us, in our times, to enrich our lives with the Light of Messiah Yeshua and in remembering the greatest miracle of all, His birth! In ancient times, the Jewish people rededicated the Temple with the Menorah. Today, we rededicate ourselves to the Lord and to the salvation of this world. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16 KJV)