As Jewish people around the world mark Hanukkah, or the “Feast of Dedication,” this year, it may look different as hearts are heavy over the conflict in Israel. Hanukkah’s roots actually hearken back to another time of violence in Jerusalem, when the Jewish people were successful in driving out the Greco-Assyrian invaders in 167 BCE. This season is likely to be a time of deeper reflection and hope than that of recent years.
Hanukkah is only mentioned in the New Testament, but the word Hanukkah itself isn’t used in our English language Bibles. Hanukkah literally means “dedication,” so the apostle John referred to the celebration as the “Feast of Dedication” in John 10:22. This holiday commemorates the Jewish people’s rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem to the LORD. In fact, Yeshua actually taught in the Temple during this Feast (John 10:22–38).
The history of Hanukkah can be traced back to 167 BCE, when the Greco-Assyrians, under the leadership of Antiochus IV, invaded and captured Jerusalem. They attempted to destroy the culture and religion of the Jewish people and desecrate the Temple of the LORD.
During this time, a group of Greco-Assyrian soldiers marched into the Jewish settlement of Modi’in and demanded that the Priest there, Mattathias, sacrifice a pig to their pagan god, Zeus. Because Mattathias feared the LORD more than the enemy, he refused to sacrifice the pig. A fellow Jewish onlooker, afraid of the Greco-Assyrians’ wrath, volunteered to sacrifice the pig. In response to this, Mattathias drew his sword and killed him.
This act of conviction and courage by Mattathias was such an inspiration to the rest of the Jewish people that they, in response, formed an army to rebel against the Greco-Assyrian oppression. Under the leadership of Mattathias’ son, Judah, they successfully stopped the Greco-Assyrians from overtaking their settlement and eventually drove them out of Jerusalem and the Temple. This victory climaxed with the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem and the inauguration of the Feast of Dedication/Hanukkah in 164 BC.
As one of the Priests prepared to light the Menorah (the lampstand inside of the Temple) during the Temple rededication ceremony, they realized that there was only enough Holy oil to burn for one day. However, according to tradition, the oil burned supernaturally for eight days! This is why Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days and why the Hanukkah Menorah that Jewish
people light each year has eight candles. (There is an additional ninth “Servant” candle on the Hanukkah Menorah that is used to light these eight candles.)
In the apostle John’s reference to Hanukkah in chapter 10, he mentions that it was winter, and Jesus was in the temple celebrating Hanukkah. During his conversation with his followers there, he revealed the mystery that you and I are his sheep, given to him by the Father, and no one can snatch us out of his hand. This word came to us during the time of Hanukkah.
This Hanukkah season, when Jewish people once again find themselves called to take up arms against their oppressors, we can use this opportunity to speak freedom and liberty in Jesus’ name. And just as the Jewish people in 164 liberated and rededicated the temple, I challenge you in the love of God to dedicate yourselves to Jesus in every area of your life – in the words we speak, the foods we eat, how we spend our time and money, the friendships we have, what we let into our ears and eyes -- everything. Let’s live as sons and daughters fully dedicated to the Lord, knowing what our purpose is.
Hanukkah was about the recovery of Jerusalem and the rededication of the Jewish people’s temple. Today, as the gospel name of Jeshua goes forth, Jewish people are being recovered into a relationship with Jesus, even as they fight to defend their land. Let’s pray that the light of Jesus will shine on them during this time and that the conflict will be used to draw them into his fold.
Photo Courtesy: @Pexels/Photo by cottonbro studio
Rabbi Kirt A. Schneider is an author, evangelist, and host of the impactful television and radio program Discovering The Jewish Jesus, available in more than one hundred million homes in the U.S. and nearly two hundred nations worldwide. After a startling vision of Christ led to his salvation in 1978, Rabbi Schneider dedicated his life to a passionate pursuit of Messiah Jesus and being used by God for His purpose. He is the host of the new “Stories of the Messiah” podcast on Pray.com, and his new book “To Know Him by Name” releases from Charisma House on Jan. 2.