Jesus Celebration of Hanukkah
Bibliotheca Sacra 152 (July-September 1995): 318-33
Jerry R. Lancaster and R. Larry Overstreet
Few Christians are knowledgeable of the Jewish holiday known as Hanukkah. It occurs about the same time as Christmas, although it has no connection with it. Hanukkah is an important feast for the Jewish people, for it reminds them of how God miraculously delivered their ancestors when they were persecuted. To help Christians grasp the significance of Hanukkah from a biblical perspective, this article examines (a) Hanukkah’s origin in the intertestamental period, (b) Daniel’s prophecy of its events, and (c) the significance of Jesus’ celebration of Hanukkah in John 10.
The Identification of Hanukkah
A Description of Hanukkah
The word ’Hanukkah’ means consecration or dedication. Hanukkah originated with the rededication of the Jewish temple in 165 B.C., after it had been desecrated by the Syrian ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The eight-day feast commemorates the cleansing of the temple. At that time the Jews supposedly found a cruse of holy oil sufficient to light the temple lamps for only one day, and yet, after they were lit, they miraculously burned for eight days. The common version of the story is well summarized in a popular magazine.
After the Jews had routed their oppressors and regained the right to worship in the Temple, they found that the Eternal Light, meant to burn perpetually in front of the Holy Ark housing the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) had been extinguished. When the Temple was cleansed of idolatry only enough uncontaminated oil for the first day of rededication was found--but the cruse of oil miraculously burned for eight days! On the eighth day, the story goes, more oil had been readied by the priests.
Jewish scholars have carefully examined this common version and discovered intriguing details about its perpetuation. The apocryphal books of 1 and 2 Maccabees tell the story of Hanukkah, including the cleansing of the temple, its rededication, and the relighting of the temple lamps. However, neither book refers to the miracle of the cruse of oil. Their reason for the eight-day observance of Hanukkah is not because of any miracle, but ’because it is modeled after the holiday of Sukkot [Feast of Tabernacles], which the Maccabees could not observe while they were still fugitives in the mountains of Judea.’ Josephus referred to Hanukkah, but he made no mention of the miracle of the oil. Where then does the story of the oil find its basis?
As for rabbinic sources, we would expect to find the laws for the candle-lighting in the Mishnah. . . . Instead we find virtual silence in the Mishnah about Hanukkah. Only in the Gemara (the later rabbinic material that together with the Mishnah makes up the Talmud) do we find our long-lost miracle of Hanukkah. In the tractate Shabbat 21b, the Gemara asks, ’What is Hanukkah?’ and answers by saying that the Greeks defiled the temple, and when the Hasmonaeans (another name for the Maccabees and their descendants) defeated them, they found only one cruse of oil with its seal unbroken. It contained enough oil for only one day, but a miracle happened and the menorah burned for eight days.
It should be pointed out that the Talmud’s account pays scant attention to the military victory of the Maccabees and focuses instead on the miracle of the oil.
At this point Jewish scholars make a crucial observation. Hanukkah was originally celebrated as a military victory, and this emphasis is noted in 1 and 2 Maccabees. In subsequent years, however, the Hasmonaean dynasty became Hellenized, opposed and persecuted the rabbis, and lasted a relatively short time in Israel’s full history. ’To ensure Hanukkah’s lasting importance, then, the tradition decided to emphasize its spiritual meaning and its symbol--the menorah.’ Josephus called this celebration ’the festival of Lights’ because of the lighting of lamps in Jewish homes, ’giving this name to it, I think, from the fact that the right to worship appeared to us at a time when we hardly dared hope for it.’ In ancient times it was also called ’the dedication of the altar’ (1 Macc. 4:59). Though not regarded as a major Jewish festival, some of its features resemble those of the Feast of Tabernacles: both are observed for eight days beginning at sundown of the first day, both include the singing of the Hallel (i.e., Pss. 113-118), and in both the Jews carry palm branches. In fact it is even called ’the feast of tabernacles in the month Casleu [Kislev].’ However, it differs from the Feast of Tabernacles in that normal life activities continue during Hanukkah and most of it is celebrated at home. Second Maccabees provides lengthy information about this feast, which Moshe Herr, lecturer in Jewish history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, succinctly summarizes.
The eight-day dedication ceremony was performed on an analogy with Solomon’s consecration of the Temple (2:12). The eight days were celebrated with gladness like the Feast of Tabernacles remembering how, not long before, during the Feast of Tabernacles, they had been wandering like wild beasts in the mountains and the caves. So, bearing wands wreathed with leaves and fair boughs and palms, they offered hymns of praise (10:6-8). Hanukkah is, therefore, called Tabernacles (1:9), or Tabernacles and Fire (1:18). Fire had descended from heaven at the dedication of the altar in the days of Moses and at the sanctification of the Temple of Solomon; at the consecration of the altar in the time of Nehemiah there was also a miracle of fire, and so in the days of Judah Maccabee (1:18-36, 2:8-12, 14; 10:3).
Hanukkah commences on the 25th day of the Hebrew month Kislev. The Hebrew calendar, being a lunar calendar, differs from the Gregorian calendar, and so its dates for Hanukkah fluctuate in comparison. For example in 1993 its dates were December 9-16, while in 1994 the dates were November 28-December 5. In 1995 it will occur December 18-25, in 1996 its dates will be December 6-13, and in 1997 it will be celebrated December 24-31.
In the Hanukkah celebration Jews play games, exchange gifts, have family dinners, attend plays and concerts at synagogues and schools, and light a candle on each of the eight evenings. In the center of the candles is a more predominant ninth one, the ’shammash,’ used to light the other candles.
The Historical Setting of Hanukkah
The events precipitating the feast of Hanukkah centered around the Jewish revolt under the Maccabees against the Syrian Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a brutal, hostile, conniving ruler.
The final deportation of the Jews to the Babylonian Captivity occurred in 586 B.C. The Persians defeated the Babylonians in 539 B.C., and in 538 B.C. Cyrus issued a decree allowing the Jews to return to their land. From 539 to 333 B.C. the Jews were under Persian rule. In 333 B.C. Alexander the Great defeated Darius at the Battle of Issus, and for all practical purposes Persian rule ended, although the final blow came when Alexander again defeated Darius at the Battle of Gaugamela (Arbela) in 331 B.C. Alexander the Great’s rule lasted until June 10, 323 B.C., when he died at the age of 32. Alexander is the ’conspicious horn’ referred to in Daniel 8:5 and the ’large horn’ of verse 21. A few years after his death his empire was divided among ’four conspicious [or prominent] horns’ (Dan. 8:8; cf. vv. 21-22), who were four of his generals: Ptolemy in Egypt, Lysimachus in Thrace and Asia Minor, Cassander in Macedonia-Greece, and Seleucus in Babylonia. Attempts were made to keep the empire together, but the conflict among these generals caused fragmentation. ’By 311 Seleucus asserted his claim to independent rule in Babylon, and the other three followed suit about the same time.’ By 301 B.C. each of the four had achieved total independence. Ptolemy assumed control of Judea along with Egypt, and from 323 to 198 B.C. the Jews were under the sometimes favorable rule of the Ptolemies. As the years progressed, the Seleucid rulers of Syria gained more power until Antiochus III (the Great) annexed Judea to Syria. This culminated at the Battle of Panias in 198 B.C.
In 201 [Antiochus III] invaded Palestine and finally captured Gaza. He then invaded the dominions of the pro-Roman Attalus, king of Pergamos in 199/98. Scopas, an Egyptian general, hearing of Antiochus’s absence, invaded Palestine and recovered the lost territories. Antiochus returned to oppose Scopas, and at Panias (NT Caesarea Philippi) Ptolemy V was decisively defeated (Dan 11:14-16). He released prisoners, granted the Jews freedom of worship, let them complete and maintain the temple, and exempted the council of temple officers from taxes. This exemption the citizens of Jerusalem enjoyed for the first three years; thereafter they were exempted one-third of their taxes. From 198 until Roman control in 63, the Jews were under the Seleucid dynasty, and soon experienced fierce persecution.
For the next several years Antiochus III was preoccupied with Roman advances. In 187 B.C. he was followed by his son Seleucus IV Philopator, who ’attempted unsuccessfully to rob the temple via his chief minister Heliodorus (2 Macc 3:7; cf. also Dan 11:20).’ Antiochus IV Epiphanes assumed rule in Syria in 175 B.C., after Heliodorus had assassinated Seleucus, and Antiocus had a burning desire to Hellenize everyone under his rule. Miller makes a pertinent observation concerning Hellenization. The Syrian-Greeks offered art, poetry and literature to the lives of the Judeans (Jews), attempting to create in this way a new mind-set of customs, traditions and pagan faith. Many were attracted to it. After all, who could not be enticed by the charms of Eros, the philosophy of Plato, the plays of Aristophanes, the games of the stadia? The energy of Greek culture enlightened the literate and distracted the weary. If all that the Hellenes had done was to introduce their art, literature and sports into the life of the Jewish people, Hanukkah would not exist. But they went one step too far. They attempted to impose their own religious values, dogma and fanaticism upon the people. To the Jews, these preachments and practices were blasphemous. Among the Jews themselves, a Hellenizing party had arisen to contend against the orthodox party, the Chasidim (’the Pious’). The contention between them was bitter, and Antiochus Epiphanes took advantage of this unrest to plunder Jerusalem in 170 B.C., tear down its wall, desecrate its temple by abolishing its sacrifices and carrying away its furniture, banning Jewish religion, massacring many, prohibiting the rite of circumcision, destroying copies of the Law, and establishing the worship of Jupiter (Zeus) in the temple. In December 168 B.C., Antiochus brought matters to a climax in Jerusalem.
Antiochus returned in frustration from Alexandria, where he had been turned back by the Roman commander Popilius Laenas, and vented his exasperation on the Jews. He sent his general, Apollonius, with twenty thousand troops under orders to seize Jerusalem on a Sabbath. There he erected an idol of Zeus and desecrated the altar by offering swine on it. This idol became known to the Jews as ’the abomination of desolation’ (hassiqqus mesomem, 11:31), which served as a type of a future abomination that will be set up in the Jerusalem sanctuary to be built in the last days (cf. Christ’s prediction in Matt 24:15).
The revolt against Antiochus began when Mattathias, an old priest in the village of Modlin, killed a royal commissioner of Antiochus along with an apostate Jew who entered the town to offer heathen sacrifices. Mattathias and his five sons then fled to the hills. In the next few months he and two of his sons died, but the remaining three sons (Judas, Jonathan, and Simon) led the insurrection. Judas was named the ’Maccabee’ (the hammer), and under his leadership the Jews won major victories in 166 and 165 B.C. In December of 165 B.C., Judas reclaimed the temple, cleansed it of its Syrian pollution, and had it rededicated to God with the festival known today as Hanukkah. The temple was rededicated on Kislev 25, 165 B.C., exactly three years after Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the temple.
Daniel’s Prophecy of Hanukkah
The events surrounding Hanukkah occurred in the intertestamental period and therefore are not recorded in either the Old or New Testaments. However, Christians should be cognizant of those events because they were prophesied in Daniel 8, and history attests to the veracity of Daniel’s prophecy.
The Identity of the Little Horn
Daniel 8:9 refers to one who started as a ’small horn.’ ’Out of one of them came forth a rather small horn which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the Beautiful Land.’ Obviously Daniel used the term ’horn’ to refer to a leader, a horn of strength. Commentators of varying perspectives agree that the preponderance of evidence points to this horn being Antiochus Epiphanes. From his position in Syria he launched conquests of Egypt (the ’south’), of areas in Medo-Persia (the ’east’), and of the ’Beautiful Land.’ To the Jewish people the beautiful land is Israel. Daniel predicted that Antiochus Epiphanes would move against Israel to conquer and destroy. Antiochus Epiphanes was brutal, violent, and vile, bringing desecration to the nation Israel. This is why the ’Jews called him Epimanes the Madman,’ a play on his title Epiphanes.
The Work of the Little Horn
Why did Antichus move against Israel? And why have many nations through the centuries moved against Israel? A major reason is Israel’s strategic location as a land bridge joining Africa, Asia, and Europe. Therefore the one who dominates Israel often has a strategic point of control in the Middle East. Antiochus’s move against Israel was precipitated by the conflict between Jason and Menelaus concerning the high priesthood. In 174 B.C. Jason offered Antiochus a large amount of money and his support in the Hellenization of the Jews to purchase the high priest’s position. In 171 B.C. Menelaus outbid Jason for the high priesthood and received it from Antiochus. In 169 B.C., as Antiochus was returning from a battle in Egypt, he learned that the Jews, with Jason’s cooperation, had revolted against Menelaus because Antiochus had plundered the temple. Antiochus marched on Jerusalem and, with Menelaus, desecrated and further plundered the temple. Antiochus then left Jerusalem under one of his officers. Daniel 8:10 adds that this little horn ’grew up to the host of heaven, and caused some of the host and some of the stars to fall to the earth, and it trampled them down.’ What or who is the host of heaven, the starry host? Commentators have wrestled with this question, but verse 24, in Gabriel’s interpretation of the vision, states, ’And his power will be mighty, but not by his own power, and he will destroy to an extraordinary degree, and prosper and perform his will; he will destroy mighty men and the holy people.’ The Old Testament consistently identifies the holy people with Israel. Thus the host of the heavens ’were, of course, the people of God, and ’the stars’ individual members of the chosen race’ (cf. Deut. 4:19; Jer. 8:2). They were the ones whom Antiochus Epiphanes attacked and sought to destroy. Hanukkah becomes more significant when the magnitude of the persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes is understood--he sought to obliterate the Jewish people. This event therefore is as historically significant as the holocaust of World War II. Daniel 8:11 also testifies that Antiochus Epiphanes claimed to be equal to the prince of the host. ’It [the little horn] set itself up to be as great as the Prince of the host, which, in the light of 8:25 (’the Prince of princes’) is probably God Himself, rather than the Jewish high priest (who served as supreme ruler of the Jews during these centuries when there was no king).’ Antiochus ’exalted himself up to the point of claiming divine honor, as brought out in his name Epiphanes which refers to glorious manifestations such as belonged to God.’
On many of the coins that survive from that day can be seen the figure of Zeus whose features closely resemble those of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. One which can be seen in the British museum, a silver tetradrachma, has the head of Antiochus IV as if he were Zeus, crowned with a laurel. Its inscription reads: ’Of King Antiochus, God Manifest, Victory-bearer.’
Antiochus also attacked and desecrated the Jews’ place of worship. Speaking of him as the prominent horn, Daniel 8:11-12 reads, ’It removed the regular sacrifice from Him, and the place of His sanctuary was thrown down. And on account of transgression the host will be given over to the horn along with the regular sacrifice; and it will fling truth to the ground and perform its will and prosper.’ Besides seeking to exterminate the Jewish people and set himself up as a godlike character, Antiochus Epiphanes also stopped the Jews’ daily sacrifice at their holy temple. He entered the temple in December 168 B.C. with a pig (an unclean animal to the Jews) and shed its blood, which was then sprinkled exactly where the blood of the innocent lamb should have been. Also he erected an idol to Zeus and put Zeus’s image there as god, making that image look like himself. Then he ’issued coins with the title ’Epiphanes,’ which claimed that he manifested divine honors and which showed him as beardless and wearing a diadem.’
The Defeat of the Little Horn
However, Daniel prophesied that an end would come to the desecration and the sanctuary would be cleansed. ’Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to that particular one who was speaking, ’How long will the vision about the regular sacrifice apply, while the transgression causes horror, so as to allow both the holy place and the host to be trampled?’ And he said to me, ’For 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the holy place will be properly restored’ ’ (Dan. 8:13-14).
Some scholars say the 2,300 evenings and mornings refer to that many 24-hour days, or six years and 111 days. Understanding them in this way leads Walvoord to believe that these days concluded with the death of Antiochus Epiphanes in Media in 164 B.C. Working backward from there would put the starting time in 171 B.C., when ’Onias III, the legitimate high priest was murdered and a pseudo line of priests assumed power.’ ’Others have reckoned 2,300 days from 171 B.C., when Menelaus bribed Antiochus to appoint him high priest, up to 165 B.C. when Judas Maccabaeus cleansed the temple.’ Daniel 8:14b, ’Then the holy place will be properly restored,’ certainly seems to indicate that the cleansing of the temple is a focal point. Keil seeks to show, however, that Daniel 8:14b can refer to ’more than the purification and re-consecration of the temple.’ He argues that it should be translated, ’thus is the sanctuary placed in the right state,’ which includes a more comprehensive meaning and therefore refers to the ’victory over Nicanor [in 161 B.C.], by which the power of the Syrians over Judea was first broken, and the land enjoyed rest, so that it was resolved to celebrate annually this victory, as well as the consecration of the temple (1 Macc. vii. 48-50).’ In contrast to those who hold the 2,300-day view are those who view this number as 1,150 evenings and 1,150 mornings for a total of 2,300 half-days or only 1,150 full days, which is three years and 55 days. Archer argues for this view.
The context speaks of the suspension of the tamid (’sacrifice’), a reference to the ’olat tamid (’continual burnt offering’) that was offered regularly each morning and evening. . . . Surely there could have been no other reason for the compound expression ’ereb boqer than the reference to the two sacrifices that marked each day in temple worship.
Calculating from the rededication of the temple backward places the start of the 1,150 days in the month of Tishri 168 B.C., one month and 15 days before Antiochus erected the idolatrous altar in the temple. As Archer concludes, ’there is no reason to suppose that Antiochus Epiphanes’ administrators may not have abolished the offering of the tamid itself at that earlier date.’ Difficulties are associated with both views. Rather than being consumed by those problems, one ’fact is made perfectly clear--that evil will not always prevail. Wickedness may have its day, but the God of truth and righteousness will be the final Conqueror.’ The revolt against Antiochus Epiphanes that eventually led to his death was led by the Maccabee family. God used these men and the Jewish people in guerilla-like warfare. Through much travail, pain, and bloodshed they eventually got the temple back. Finally the desecration was over, and the Hanukkah feast was established. Hanukkah
emphasized that victory came through God alone, and that in spite of insurmountable odds. It can be pointed out that devotion to God was the driving force in all encounters with Syrian foes of Israel. Moreover, it is written over the entire feast and its events that God was determined to keep His promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 to preserve the seed of Abraham, the Jews.
Jeremiah and Carlson illustrate this well.
I heard a story about a persecutor of the Jews in a country which was at one time behind the Iron Curtain. He asked one of the Jews who had been tortured, ’What do you think will happen to you and your people if we continue to persecute you?’
’Ah, the result will be a feast,’ replied the Jew. ’Pharaoh tried to destroy us, and the result was Passover. Haman attempted to destroy us, and the result was the Feast of Purim. Antiochus Epiphanes tried to destroy us, and the result was the Feast of Dedication. Just try to destroy us, and we’ll start another feast.’
God has demonstrated throughout history the special place the Jewish people have in His heart.
Jesus’ Celebration of Hanukkah
Jesus celebrated the Feast of Hanukkah, just as He observed Passover (John 2:13) and Tabernacles (7:2).
Jesus’ Attendance at Hanukkah
John recorded that Jesus was in Jerusalem at Hanukkah (10:22-39). ’There arose a division again among the Jews because of these words. And many of them were saying, ’He has a demon, and is insane. Why do you listen to Him?’ Others were saying, ’These are not the sayings of one demon-possessed. A demon cannot open the eyes of the blind, can he?’ ’ (10:19-21). As recorded in John 9, Jesus had healed a man blind from birth. Nowhere in the Old Testament had any of the prophets or holy people ever performed such a miracle. The Pharisees said, ’’We know that God has spoken to Moses; but as for this man, we do not know where He is from.’ The man answered and said to them, ’Well, here is an amazing thing, that you do not know where He is from, and yet He opened my eyes’ ’ (9:29-30). Verses 32-33 continue, ’Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.’ Jesus’ healing the blind man proved who He is, which leads to the argument in John 10 about Jesus’ Person. ’At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem; it was winter and Jesus was walking in the temple’ (10:22). This was important because the temple had been desecrated, then cleansed and rededicated. When it came time for Hanukkah, Jesus was at the place where Antiochus’s desecration had taken place.
Jesus’ Ministry at Hanukkah
’Light’ is a common theme in the Gospel of John, occurring 23 times. John also used the word ’light’ six times in 1 John. The word ’light’ is used an additional 41 times in the remainder of the New Testament, which means John used the term in more than one-third of its 70 occurrences. For John, the ’light’ refers specifically to eternal life which is available to all through Jesus Christ. ’Christ is ’the light of the world’ (8:12; 9:5). He is come ’a light into the world’ (12:46). Indeed, the man who follows Him ’shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life’ (8:12). Men can be urged to believe in the light (12:36) just as they are urged to believe in Him.’ For the Jews in Jesus’ day the lights of Hanukkah related to the temple and its dedication, but they would also have had lights in front of their homes during this feast. The Mishnah--’the collection of oral laws compiled by Rabbi Judah the Prince (born in the year 135 of the Christian era)’ --states that outside the entrance of each house the Hanukkah lamp was positioned to affirm publicly the Hanukkah miracle. The lamps, inserted into glass lanterns to prevent the wind from extinguishing them, were placed on pedestals. Archaeological excavations show that these were common in antiquity. These pedestal lamps may be referred to in Luke 11:33, ’No one, after lighting a lamp, puts it away in a cellar, nor under a peck-measure, but on the lampstand, in order that those who enter may see the light.’ At the Feast of Tabernacles two golden candelabra were lit in the court of the women in the temple. But why was this done? Nothing in the Old Testament stipulates such an action. Edersheim answers this question by showing the connection between the Feast of Tabernacles and the Feast of Hanukkah.
During the eight days of the Feast [Hanukkah] the series of Psalms known as the Hallel was chanted in the Temple, the people responding as at the Feast of Tabernacles. Other rites resembled those of the latter Feast. Thus, originally, the people appeared with palm-branches. This, however, does not seem to have been afterwards observed, while another rite, not mentioned in the Book of Maccabees--that of illuminating the Temple and private houses--became characteristic of the Feast. Thus, the two festivals, which indeed are put in juxtaposition in 2 Macc. x. 6, seem to have been both externally and internally connected. The Feast of the ’Dedication,’ or of ’Lights,’ derived from that of Tabernacles its duration of eight days, the chanting of the Hallel, and the practice of carrying palm-branches. On the other hand, the rite of Temple-illumination may have passed from the Feast of the ’Dedication’ into the observances of that of ’Tabernacles.’
More than that, however, the ’light’ given to the man born blind (John 9) testifies to a greater symbolism of Hanukkah, namely, the light of the Lord shining on those who are spiritually blind.
For on this occasion, though not relating to the symbolism of Old Covenant feasts, He was interacting with Israel’s historical past and prophetic destiny. It is an intensely exhilarating display of divine intent. Failure to linger for reverent inquiry into why Jesus attended Hanukkah and what He came to Jerusalem to do will cause one to miss a central view of the larger dimensions of the struggle in which our Savior was engaged while on earth.
Therefore Hanukkah does have significance for Christians. Jesus Christ celebrated Hanukkah, even though it is not in the Old Testament, except by prophecy in the Book of Daniel. Jesus used Hanukkah as an opportunity to declare who He is. Significantly Solomon’s colonnade (John 10:23), where Jesus was at Hanukkah, is ’where the first believers, after the resurrection, would regularly gather to proclaim that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 3:11; 5:12).’ Hanukkah and Christmas have some similar features, such as the time of year, lights, and the exchanging of gifts. However, the two celebrations have no direct relationship to each other. Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ approximately 160 years after the events that led to the establishment of Hanukkah. Christmas, like Hanukkah, is not directly established in Scripture. Yet, it can be used as an opportunity to declare who Jesus Christ is. It can be celebrated because it testifies of Him. Similarly Jesus used Hanukkah as an opportunity to proclaim who He is. ’The Jews therefore gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, ’How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered them, ’I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these bear witness of Me’ ’ (John 10:24-25). The Jews’ question in verse 24 may be understood in three ways. The rendering above implies that the Jews were not directly opposed to Jesus, but that they wanted Him to clarify who He is, to ’tell us plainly.’ A number of translations follow this same idea. However, the question may be rendered, ’How long are You going to annoy us?’ or ’Why do You plague us?’ which has a more negative tone to it, indicating a hostile spirit. A third possibility is to render the question, ’Why do You take away our life?’ which would imply ’that the drift of Jesus’ teaching meant the end of Judaism.’ Jesus told them they need not listen to what He said; they could watch what He did. Although publicly Jesus had never explicitly identified himself as the Messiah to a Jewish audience, no human prophet, human philosopher, or human teacher ever opened the eyes of a blind person. By this miracle Jesus demonstrated that He came from God, that He is the Lord. However, the very time the Jewish people were celebrating Hanukkah, a testimony to their deliverance by God, they were denying the promised Messiah, who came to bring them the greatest deliverance of all, namely, deliverance from sin. ’But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep’ (v. 26). This ’denotes a present attitude, and not simply a past state, and it indicates the root trouble. These people had no faith.’
Hanukkah is a significant celebration for Jews today. It stands as a continuing reminder of God’s faithfulness in delivering His people from the tyranny of an oppressor. Although Hanukkah is not specifically established as a biblical feast, fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy concerning Antiochus Epiphanes led directly to the establishment of this particular feast. Jesus’ attendance at Hanukkah further corroborates its appropriateness as an event observed by God’s chosen people.
However, the feast has deeper significance than a mere reminder of a historical event. Christ’s testimony at Hanukkah, and its place in the Gospel of John, which stresses the theme of light, is a testimony to Christians that Hanukkah emphasizes His great work of providing salvation to a spiritually blind world.
Satan, through Antiochus Epiphanes, had planned to destroy God’s word and His people through assimilation and annihilation. Had he been successful, there would have been no more Jewish people, no Messiah to come, no Christmas, and most tragically of all, no Calvary. Men and women would forever be lost in sin, without hope. And so a great miracle did happen there. It is not a cruse of oil but God’s preservation of His people and His faithfulness to the messianic promise that continues to give true significance to Hanukkah today.
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