Jesus and Hanukkah

Dear MLC Friends,


Yesterday we went to an event called “Chanukah Wonderland” sponsored by Chabad Jewish Community Center of Folsom and billed as “The largest Chanukah Event in the Sacramento Region.”


Our three-year-old granddaughter got her faced painted, made a “dreidel” bracelet, and put together an electric menorah. There was a kids’ contest for the best homemade menorah, including one made from tiny vodka bottles!


This Tuesday, December 12, 2017, Jews all over the world will be celebrating Hanukkah—the Feast of Dedication. The question is: Can Jesus be found anywhere in Hanukkah? The answer may surprise you.


Jesus’ Footprints Are All over Hanukkah!

In John 10, we see Jesus as He made His way to the Jerusalem Temple to celebrate Hanukkah—The feast of Dedication.  Hanukkah is not a festival that God designed for His people, but one that His people started in response to what God had done for them.

John 10:22-23: “At that time the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So, the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’”

Jesus is connected with Hanukkah, so it’s incumbent upon us to learn the story of the Feast of Dedication—Hanukkah.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes—“God Manifested”

We find ourselves going back to the 400 years between the OT and NT. Alexander the Great died early at age 33, and his kingdom was divided into four empires.  Israel came under the Seleucid empire headquartered in Antioch, Syria. The most difficult period for Israel came in 167 BC when the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus IV, came to power. He called himself Antiochus Epiphanes—meaning “God manifested.”

Antiochus followed Alexander’s example of making a one-empire people through a one-empire culture. Accordingly, Antiochus Epiphanes issued the following orders for all Jews. Under penalty of death, the Jews were forbidden: 

  • To circumcise newborn boys
  • To observe religious festivals
  • To keep the Sabbath
  • To offer daily sacrifices
  • To read or own a copy of the Torah

 On top of all that, Jewish people in every city were required to: 

  • Erect altars to Zeus the chief god of the Greeks
  • To sacrifice pigs on those altars
To highlight that order, Antiochus Epiphanes went to the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, stole its gold, set up an altar to Zeus, and sacrificed a pig on it. The date was the 25th of Kislev, 168 BC.

Judah Maccabee—Jewish Resistance Leader

While all this was going on, a Jewish resistance leader arose named Judah Maccabee. His support came mostly from the Orthodox Jews who took God’s Law/Torah seriously. They may have called themselves Chasidim, “the holy ones.” The Chasidim correctly believed in life after death, in heaven and hell, in the resurrection of the body, and in angels and spirits. The descendants of this movement became the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.

The other great division in Israel called themselves Tz’dukim, “the righteous ones.” They believed in the Law of Moses, accepted the prophets, but they did not believe in life after death, a resurrection, and angels or spirits. They believed this life was heaven or hell depending on how one lived it.

These Jews, influenced by the Greek culture, became known as the Hellenized Jews. These Hellenized Jews believed it was better to be alive and apostate, cooperating with Antiochus IV Epiphanes, than to be dead and orthodox. They chose to accept Greek culture. These Hellenized Jews made up most of the judges and priests in Jesus’ day. It is from that camp that the Sadducees descended.

Hellenized Jews Appeal to King Antiochus Epiphanes

At first, Judah Maccabee and his Orthodox followers focused their efforts against the apostate Hellenizing Jewish leaders.  He was so successful that these persecuted, compromising, Jewish leaders appealed to Syria for help. And Syria responded, giving the people more war than they wanted. Multiple attacks against Judah took place, all orchestrated by Antiochus Epiphanes himself. But each attack from this General, who claimed to be a god, and his underlings, failed. And after each failure, the followers of Judah grew more in number and in zeal, until his following became a 10,000-man army of crack disciplined troops. Finally, Antiochus sent in a force to defeat the Israelites for good. He gathered an army of 60,000 men and 5,000 cavalries! With a force of only 10,000, Judah met the Syrian army with a crushing defeat. Judah and his army were the victors.

The Re-Consecration of the Temple

In great joy, Judah and his army entered Jerusalem, defeated the powerful Syrian garrison fortress called the Citadel, and consecrated the Temple. 

  • They found weeds and shrubs growing in the courtyards
  • The priests’ quarters destroyed
  • The altar was defiled by an idol to Zeus and the remains of sacrificed pigs
  • And the entire Temple area was profaned
After cleansing the area, they rebuilt the Altar of Burnt Offering, replaced the sacred vessels from their war spoils, and consecrated new priests.

Hanukkah, the Feast of Dedication

An eight-day feast of dedication or re-consecration to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was held on the 25th day of the ninth month of Kislev in 164 BC. Today this celebration is called Hanukkah or the Feast of Dedication.

According to one legend, they found only one unit of consecrated oil to light the eternal flame of the Menorah. The legend says the oil miraculously lasted for eight days providing enough time to produce more consecrated oil. This legend is not found in any of the earliest historical documents so it may be fictitious. Nevertheless, it explains why Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days.

Jesus and Hanukkah

We now find ourselves almost 200 years later in the Temple with Jesus, celebrating Hanukkah—the Feast of Dedication. The context is very important, so remember what the Feast Celebrated.

The Festival of Dedication memorialized the defeat of one who falsely claimed to be god. And it also celebrated the re-establishment of sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins. That was the original Hanukkah. So now we find Jesus in the Temple during Hanukkah, a very patriotic day, when once again Israel is controlled by an outside hostile power. With all that in mind, the people ask Jesus a question:

“So, the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly’” (John 10:24).

The people wanted another Judah Maccabee—another deliverer!

“Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me’” (John 10:25).

Jesus then continued his conversation until its climax:

 “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).

Jesus Just Put God and the Gospel Right Back in the Middle of Hanukkah!

Those who believed, understood what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah. Those who did not, boiled over in anger: “Here’s a man claiming to be God just like Antiochus Epiphanes. He should be dead just like Epiphanes.” They picked up rocks to stone Jesus (John 10:31).

They accused Jesus of the same crime of Antiochus IV Epiphanes:

“The Jews answered him, ‘It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God’” (John 10:33).

Here Is Jesus, Claiming He is God—How Is This Related to Hanukkah?

Yes, Antiochus Epiphanes was nothing but a fraud, but right here before them was God in the flesh—Jesus the Messiah. That was what they were meant to learn. Jesus was the real deal. Sadly, most believed that Jesus was a phony just like Antiochus Epiphanes. They missed the teaching moment of Hanukkah that Jesus used to point to His Divinity. But Jesus still had more to say. He takes the accusations against Him of blasphemy during Hanukkah, and asks the crowd a question:

“Do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?” (John 10:36).

Get it? Right in the middle of Hanukkah which is dedicated to remembering the Most Holy Place being re-consecrated, Jesus says He is consecrated and sanctified by the Father, just like the Most Holy Place in the Temple!

Jesus used the same language to describe the Father consecrating Him as for purifying the altar and consecrating it as holy. Clearly the Temple pointed to Jesus. He said as much earlier in John 2:19, “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’” Jesus used a Jewish holiday as a backdrop to show that He fulfills the Feast of Dedication. Even Hanukkah points to Jesus!

Suddenly, It Is All Clear

God the Father has already consecrated Jesus to be THE SACRIFICE. He fulfills what Hanukkah was meant to foreshadow. Hanukkah remembers the altars rebuilt and rededicated to be set apart to bring God’s people God’s forgiveness. But that forgiveness would soon come in the sacrifice of One whom God the Father set apart and consecrated for that purpose. Forgiveness would come by Jesus Christ and His death to pay for our sins.

Jesus’ final word to the people during Hanukkah was a direct challenge: “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (John 10:37-38).

The festival of Hanukkah points to the Divinity and final sin-sacrifice of Jesus.

Looking forward to celebrating Advent with you this Sunday as we look at The Fourth Song of Christmas: Simeon’s Song recorded in Luke 2:21-35. Bring a friend!


Pastor Steven