A Season of Dedication – Hanukkah

For most of us as Christians Hanukkah is an unfamiliar Jewish tradition. Yet when we understand the history of what happened in Jerusalem about 160 years before Jesus’ birth, and that Hanukkah literally means dedication, our perspective changes. Just as the Temple in Jerusalem was cleansed and rededicated to the worship of the LORD, so too we as the living dwelling place of God can dedicate ourselves afresh to following Christ.

  • At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. (John 10: 22-23 ESV)

Here in John’s gospel we find the only mention of Hanukkah, the Feast of Dedication. It is during this annual festival that Jesus makes yet another clear declaration of His divinity, “I and the Father are one” (v. 30). The Jews (i.e. the religious leaders) wanted to stone Jesus because they thought He spoke blaspheme as a mere man claiming to be God. Jesus went on to tell them that the works He had done proved that what He said was true; “the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (v. 38).

LORD, give us wisdom to understand. Just as Jesus walked through the actual Temple in Jerusalem, may we see that He now walks among us; He is the one like a son of man “in the midst of the lampstands” (Rev. 1:13).

The Jews still tried to arrest Jesus, but He escaped their hands and returned to the Jordan where John the Baptist had first come baptizing in water. Many who had heard Jesus at the Temple found Him there saying among themselves, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true” (v. 41).

The chapter ends saying, “And many believed in him there” (v. 42). The Greek word translated believed pisteuō also means commit unto, or commit to one’s trust. In other words, during the Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah we see people dedicate themselves to Jesus as their Messiah.

The Story of Hanukkah

Most Christians are unfamiliar with the history of the Jewish people during the intertestamental period, or the roughly 400 years between the prophet Malachi and the ministry of John the Baptist. Protestant bible are silent through these years, but the Catholic and Orthodox bibles include apocryphal books  from this period.

First and Second Maccabees preserves the history of the Maccabean revolt and rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem commemorated by Hanukkah, which literally means dedication. Jesus and Jews throughout Jerusalem and Judea were very familiar with their history and the annual celebration of the Feast of Dedication each winter as found in John’s gospel. So what did Jesus and first century Jews know that many of us don’t?

Most of us are have heard of Alexander the Great. In about 333 BCE he conquered Syria, Egypt and Babylon, which began a period of Hellenization or the establishment of a dominate Greek culture. Jewish legend says that Alexander came with his troops through Jerusalem and ordered the High Priest to erect his statue within the Temple in his honor. The High Priest said this was forbidden, but the Jews would offer a “living memorial” by naming their firstborn sons Alexander. This appeased Alexander, but this encounter began a struggle between the Torah-based ethics of the Jews and the worldview of ancient Greece growing in dominance throughout the region.

After his death Alexanders kingdom was thrown into civil war. In time the kingdom stabilized into four power blocks. The prophet Daniel foresaw Alexander’s rise as a great goat. After his rise to power the goat’s horn was broken and in it’s place grew four horns. From one of these grew a “little horn, which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the glorious land” (Dan. 8:9). This little horn is understood to be Antiochus. However, it should be pointed out that Daniel’s vision has dual meaning or a near and far fulfillment. Daniel continued saying that the little horn “grew great, even to the host of heaven” (v.10); this is understood to represent the rise of the Antichrist prior to Jesus’ Second Coming.

I digress; back to the story of Hanukkah.

Antiochus brought much oppression to the Jews. He installed Hellenistic Jews to the priesthood in Jerusalem who would uphold his ungodly decrees. Antiochus prohibited the observance of the Sabbath and other appointed times of the LORD. The reading of the Torah or Law was forbidden and scrolls were ordered to be burned. Circumcision was also outlawed, babies found circumcised were thrown to their death with their mothers from the city walls. Antiochus also had a statue of Zeus erected in the Temple and sacrificed pigs upon the altar, known as the abomination of desolation.

Jews opposed to Antiochus and his persecution against their people revolted. Mattathias a priest zealous for the law attacked and killed a man offering pagan sacrifice together with the king’s official. He stood and cried out saying, ““Let every one who is zealous for the law and supports the covenant come out with me” (1 Mac. 2:27). He and his sons fled to the wilderness joined by other freedom fighters.

After Mattathias’ death his son Judas Maccabeus took command and fought for Israel. In time they were victorious over Antiochus. The Temple in Jerusalem was liberated from the pagans who had desecrated it. Judas Maccabeus led the people to cleanse the Temple and rededicate it to the worship of the LORD.

Some rabinic traditions maintain that when the menorah was lit in the Temple there was a shortage of purified oil. With enough oil for only a day the lamps were lit, but miraculously the lamps burned eight days until the fresh oil was ready. This is why some say Hanukkah is celebrated eight days.

However, early Jewish tradition recalls that the Jews were forbidden from observing Sukkot (the feast of Tabernacles) at its proper time in the fall. Thus the people decided to celebrate it after the Temple was restored beginning on the 25th of Kislev in 164 BCE. Because the LORD’S appointed time of  Sukkot was celebrated as an eight day festival, this became the timeframe of the annul celebration of Hanukkah to remember the rededication of the Temple.

A Season of Dedication

John’s gospel tells us that during the winter Feast of Dedication Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. (John 10:23). Let us ask the LORD to give us wisdom to understand. Just as Jesus walked through the actual Temple in Jerusalem, may we see that He now walks among us; He is the one like a son of man “in the midst of the lampstands” (Rev. 1:13).

Temple stones frozen in time.

Last year I visited the Temple Mount and walked along the western wall where ruins from the Temple remained as stones frozen in time. I know prophetically we anticipate the construction of a third temple where Christ will rule. Yet as I look again at these ruins I am reminded that Jesus is building us into a living temple.

Paul asked the Corinthians, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16). Peter said as we come to Jesus, a living stone rejected by men but precious to God that “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house” (2 Pt. 2:5).

I find this amazing; you and I as followers of Jesus are being built together into the LORD’S dwelling place. As Stephen observed before He was put to death, “the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands,” (Acts 7:48).

And yet like Judas Maccabeus and the Jews oppressed by Antiochus, we too have an enemy that wants to desecrate God’s Temple. Let us heed the warnings of scripture. “God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (1 Thes. 4:7). “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pt. 5:8).

Yet how often have I given into temptation sinning against the  LORD desecrating His temple? Like Paul, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. . . I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Rom. 7:15, 19).

I too need to rededicate the LORD’S temple. I need a season of dedication.

It’s Winter Again

The temperature outside is cold and snow is falling. Many are thinking about Christmas, but could we have a fresh perspective on the unfamiliar celebration of Hanukkah, an appointed time of dedication?

Christmas and Hanukkah both share one thing in common; they are traditions instituted by man. Neither are holy days or appointed times established by the LORD. (I know this may be difficult for some to think of Christmas as being a traditional holiday established by man and not by God, but nowhere in scripture do the LORD tell us to commemorate the birth of Christ.) Because they are both of human origin, I think we can have some liberty in how we choose to celebrate the season before us.

Our family has done this for years with Christmas. We wanted our kids to focus more on the celebration of Jesus’ birth than presents. We never anticipated Santa’s arrival with our kids; instead we looked forward to the arrival of the wise guys (of which St. Nicholas, or Chris Kringle was but one of the better known). We also decorated our Christmas tree with an intentional reminder; the bottom branches had only red lights and ornaments to remind us that the first Christmas tree (so to speak) was stained with the blood of Jesus. These and other traditions helped us try to have the right focus at Christmas.

And so now we come to Hanukkah. Because this annual Jewish celebration of the rededication of the Temple follows the Hebrew calendar the date can vary on our calendar from year to year. Yet it just so happens that for 2016 December 25th and Kislev 25th fall on the same day.

This got me thinking, what if this year our family begins a tradition of setting aside a season of dedication. Together we will think about how Jesus came, Emmanuel – God with us. But this year can we choose to also dedicate ourselves to the LORD, living stones built together as His dwelling place.

Can we see that just as Jesus walked through the Temple that winter in Jerusalem, He is now walking among the lampstands (the menorah within His Temple). He who is the light of the world has told us that we “are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Mat. 5:14).

Like those at the Feast of Dedication who believed in Jesus, entrusting or dedicating themselves to Him as Messiah, may we to dedicate ourselves as His Holy Temple.

Join me in this season of dedication – Hanukkah and Christmas combined as a new tradition to turn our hearts again toward the LORD.

For more on Hanukkah see these articles by John J. Parsons at Hebrew4Christians.com: The Festival of Chanukah – Dedicated against Assimilation and Let Your Light Shine – Why Christians Should Celebrate Chanukah

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