Christ in Hanukkah

Happy Hanukkah to all of our Jewish readers out there.  In this blog I want to explain the meaning behind the celebration of Hanukkah.  I also want to describe the historical conditions in the Middle East before the time of Christ. With that I want to address the miracles associated with Hanukkah and to show where Hanukkah is found in the Bible along with Christ’s response to it.  I also want to show where our focus should be when or if we chose to celebrate Hanukkah or Christmas and to better understand why Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah.

I feel that understanding Hanukkah better will help in our witness to Jews.  I just created a large menorah with LED candles and placed it in my front yard to show support for our Jewish friends and the Christ then need to receive as their Messiah.  This year Hanukkah began on Sunday 11/28 and will continue till Monday 12/6

The word Hanukkah means, “inaugurate, dedicate, or rededicate.” This celebration commemorates the retaking of the temple by a group of Jewish freedom fighters known as the Maccabees, who overcame impossible odds against the occupying Syrian army.

A Brief Pre-Christ History of the Middle East:

The geo-political condition in the middle-east just before the time of Christ was difficult for the Jews.  For hundreds of years the Jewish people had struggled to keep their homeland and traditional way of life.  In 322 BC, Alexander the Great, who conquered the then known world, took Jerusalem and required all people to conform to his Greek culture.  This is known as Hellenization which means, “to make Greek.”  Alexander was met with much resistance, but even so, the temple was corrupted with statues of Greek gods and pagan rituals.  

Later in 175BC, a Syrian king name Antiochus III basically picked up where Alexander had left off and enforced Hellenization.  The battle between the Jews and the Syrians continued and many people were brutally killed.  In 168 BC Antiochus IV Epiphanes came to power; he was an extreme anti-Semite who came against the Jews like no leader before.

NOTE: Antiochus IV Epiphanes is a type and shadow of the coming anti-Christ whom Jesus referred to in the Olivet Discourse recorded in Matthew:

“…when you see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (the altar in the temple in Jerusalem), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.”                                – Matthew 24:15,16

In this passage Christ was referring to a coming evil dictator who would appear during the time of the seven-year tribulation which will occur shortly after the Rapture of His church in these last days. Antiochus IV was determined to remove all traces of the orthodox (traditional) Jewish faith.  Israel’s God was identified with Jupiter and a bearded image of the pagan deity was erected on the temple altar where pigs (non-kosher/unclean) were offered in sacrifice.  The Jews were forbidden, under penalty of death, to practice circumcision, Sabbath observance, or the celebration of the seven feasts of the Lord.  Copies of the sacred scripture were ordered destroyed as the cruel persecution of the Jews continued. These Hellenizers (Greek-converts) under the leadership of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, attempted to annihilate the Jews and their traditions which proved to be the beginning of their undoing.  The orthodox Jews were willing to die for their faith, but not all were convinced that they should die passively.  An aged priest by the name of Mattathias of Modin, along with his five sons, recruited an army of Jewish men who were willing to resist the Syrian army by force.  They led a revolt against the army and the Hellenistic Jews by engaging them in guerrilla warfare.  They had some victories and some losses in the many skirmishes that followed.  In one battle Mattathias was killed and his third son Judas (aka “the Maccabee,” meaning “the hammer”) took over for his dad.  The following of Judas ‘the hammer’ Maccabee grew and more and more Jews who were desirous for their religious freedom and tradition joined the ranks of what history would record as the Maccabean Revolt.  This revolt would bring orthodox Jews against Hellenistic (Greek) Jews and battle hardened Syrian soldiers.  The Syrian army outnumbered the Jews 10 to 1 and they had the latest arms, training, and even warrior elephants. The Syrians held the temple during this war but the opposing Jews who were determined to regain control of their temple fought hard for it. 

After four costly battles, they finally took control of Jerusalem and their temple.  There would be many more years of fighting to gain their religious freedom.  Once Jerusalem was retaken, the Jews entered the temple and removed all the signs of Greek paganism. The altar dedicated to Jupiter was removed and a new altar erected to Israel’s God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The statue of Jupiter was ground to dust and after a great deal of cleaning, rebuilding, and refurbishing; the temple was finished.  It was completed on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev (December) in 164BC; our Christmas Day.

It was now time to rededicate (Hanukkah) the temple so a special celebration was planned to dedicate this most holy place unto the one true God.  Like all Jews (and Christians), food is associated with any celebration, so this first celebration would be known as the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) aka the Festival of Lights.  On December 25th, orthodox Jews celebrate the anniversary of the rededication of their temple while Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus.  NOTE: Jesus was NOT born on December 25th

Christmas is celebrated to remember the birth of Jesus Christ. The name ‘Christmas’ comes from the Roman Catholic tradition for the ‘Mass of Christ.’ A Catholic Mass service (which is sometimes called Communion or Eucharist) is where Christians remember that Jesus died for us and then came back to life. The ‘Christ-Mass’ service was the only one that was allowed to take place after sunset (and before sunrise the next day), so people had it at Midnight! So we get the name Christ-Mass, shortened to Christmas.  This is why many Catholics celebrate Mass at midnight on Christmas Eve.

Christmas is now celebrated by people around the world, whether they are Christians or not. It’s a time when family and friends come together and celebrate family, food, the exchanging of gifts, and decorations.

Although many speculate, no one knows the real birthday of Jesus! No date is given in the Bible, so why do we celebrate it on the 25th December? The early Christians certainly had many arguments as to when it should be celebrated, and the birth of Jesus probably didn’t happen in the year 1 AD, but most likely a few years earlier.

The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was in 336 AD, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine, a so-called Christian convert. A few years later, Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the 25th December. However, there are other traditions and theories as to why Christmas is celebrated on December 25th.  A very early Christian tradition said that the day when Mary was told that she would give birth to Jesus was on March 25th – nine months later is December 25th. Some people also think that December 25th might have also been chosen for Christmas because the Winter Solstice and the ancient pagan Roman midwinter festivals took place in December around this date.  Either way, we have a day set aside to celebrate Jesus.

Back to the first rededication (Hanukkah) of the temple on December 25th, 164AD. The first thing the Jews did was to offer up a sacrifice unto the Lord.

The Miracle of the Fire: Legend tells us that after Judah and his men built the altar to the Lord and arranged the wood for a fire, they prepared an animal for sacrifice, laying it upon the altar they had so recently completed.  Since it was forbidden in God’s Law to use “strange fire” on the altar of the Lord, the Maccabees prayed for God’s intervention. 

In response, God provided a miracle as fire broke forth from the stones of the altar and ignited the wood.  This same fire continued to burn on the altar until the temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

The Miracle of the Oil: Then, in the Holy Place in the temple there was a seven-branched candelabrum known in Hebrew as the Menorah which burned day and night without interruption.  The lights of the Menorah were fueled by olive oil of the finest quality.  The preparation of this oil was closely guarded during the entire process of its production.  The oil designated for the Menorah was stored in special vessels bearing the seal of the High Priest.  Years earlier, when the Greeks entered the temple and defiled it, they destroyed the containers of oil. 

When the Maccabees finally regained control of the temple from the Greeks and began the restoration process, they searched the temple diligently and found only one single container of oil bearing the seal of the High Priest. It held enough oil for only one day, but a miracle occurred and the oil burned for eight days.  This was enough time for the priests to find and prepare more oil to keep the Menorah burning for years to come.  This is where the origin of the eight nights of Hanukkah comes from. The following year the Jewish people declared the eight days of the miracle of the oil to be a holiday for praise and thanksgiving unto the Lord.  It was God’s supernatural intervention that enabled the Maccabees to retake the temple against impossible odds and it was God’s supernatural increase in the oil that kept the Menorah burning for eight days.  After the inauguration of the temple, the fighting continued, and Judah Maccabee eventually fell in battle.  Following his death, his brothers continued to strengthen the country.  They repealed Antiochus IV Epiphanes’ edicts and proclaimed Judea as an independent state. Soon afterward the Roman influence squelched the Greeks and the Roman occupation in the region of Judea ensued.  Herod would be the elected Roman Governor to secure the region and ensure peace.  In order for Herod to gain the support of the Jewish people, he funded the renovation of the Temple.  Because of this, the temple became known as ‘Herod’s Temple.’  The Jews were able to continue their temple sacrifices and Jewish traditions under Herod; however, the oppression of the Romans continued, this frustrated and angered the Jews.

This was the state of the Israel when Jesus showed up as a baby in a manger in Bethlehem on that cold, dark night.  Biblical scholars agree that if Christ had arrived at any other time in the history of the world, the Jews would not have been in a place to receive His message of hope and salvation.  The governmental policies and laws of the time and the overall political and social platform would not have been established that provided a way of judgment and death for Jesus on that cross.  The Jews were looking for a deliverer to deal with their current oppression, but Jesus would provide deliverance for all oppression, both temporal and eternal.  They wanted a king, they got a baby.

This is why the disciples asked Jesus after His resurrection,

                     “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”    – Acts 1:6

The world had to be ready for the coming of the true Messiah, Jesus Christ, not just through the work of John the Baptist, but through the work that God did in human history, preparing the way of the Lord. Just prior to Christ’s arrival we saw the Jewish people suffering many terrible battles and intense persecution by their enemies who were bent on destroying them and their hope in God’s law.  The geo-political stage had to be set for the Messiah to come into the world and present God’s hope for salvation through Christ; not just for the Jews, but for all humanity.

This is what the prophet Isaiah spoke of when he said, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.  Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill brought low; and the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”                               – Isaiah 40:3-5 & Luke 3:4b-6

Many Jews, then and now, have completely missed it.  They were looking for a man to lead a political and military revolt against the oppressing governments of the day that occupied their nation.  They were looking for someone like Judah ‘the hammer’ Maccabee, but what they got was a common baby, born to a common couple, who used a livestock feeder manger for a crib.  While this may not seem like much, it has caused countless Jews to continue to look and wait for a Messiah who has already come to them. 

This is why Jesus told the Pharisees: “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!  But now they are hidden from your eyes.  For the days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”                        – Luke 19:42-44

Close Up: The Pharisees

The statement, “even you” refers to the Pharisees (meaning ‘separated ones’) themselves, who began their particular sect of Judaism shortly after the first Hanukkah was celebrated.  A Pharisee was one who lived a life that was separated from the influence of Hellenism.  He was known for his zeal and knowledge of biblical law. 

“…the Pharisees appeared more religious than others, and seem to interpret the laws more accurately.”                                                                                          – Josephus

Pharisees were meticulous in observing the laws of ceremonial purity and they were very liturgical (churchy) and legalistic.  They developed systems of Jewish thought and tradition that sought to apply the Law to a variety of circumstances.  What began as a commentary on the Law, over time, became a system of beliefs and teachings that were raised to the same level as the LawThis group of Jewish men became more concerned about their own traditions and largely neglected the real intent of the Law.

As you recall one of the times that Jesus confronted the Pharisees: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. 24 Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”                         – Matthew 23:23,24

Jesus was rebuking the Pharisees for being so focused on God’s Law that they forgot to exemplify what really matters, justice, mercy, and faith.

The Apostle Paul, a former Pharisee, said it this way, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.”            – 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

POINT: Nobody cares how much you know, only how much you love.

Men such as Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Gamaliel, and Paul the Apostle all come from the Pharisaic tradition.  These were good men who came out of a system of teaching that had strayed from its original discipline. As with many worthy movements, the early piety of those Pharisees who had separated themselves from impure thinking, even at great personal cost, was exchanged for an attitude of pride in the observance of their legal precepts and rich traditional discipline.  In other words, they got puffed up in their own religion.

“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” – 1 Corinthians 10:12

The Pharisees started out well, but over time, they lost the passion for their first love, God Almighty, and they exchanged it for a lifestyle of legalism.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”                                                            – Matthew 23:15

Jesus looked upon Jerusalem and the Jewish people living there under Roman oppression. These Jews still observed the Jewish traditions and biblical laws. Jesus wept for Jerusalem because of His love for her, yet she didn’t see Him for who He really was, their Messiah.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” – Matthew 23:37

How guilty we become when we observe a tradition, like Hanukkah or Christmas, and yet we neglect the one true God of that tradition who desires an intimate and personal relationship with us through His Son Jesus Christ.  We must never place tradition, disciplines, and religious practices over the truth and source of our faith; the Lord Jesus Himself.  We must always render honor and praise to God with a pure heart, not out of obligation. When we forget why we celebrate an event or day and the celebration itself becomes the focus, we have made the celebration itself the reason we celebrate it – this is idolatry. This is just as true of Thanksgiving and Christmas as it is for Veterans’ Day and even Hanukkah.  We have to ask ourselves the greater question, why am I celebrating this event?

The Feast of Dedication (aka Hanukkah) and the Jews Quest for Truth:

“Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. 23 And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch. 24 Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. 26 But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. 30 I and My Father are one.”                               – John 10:22-30

Here we see Hanukkah in the Bible.  While at this celebration Jesus basically told the Pharisees that they were ‘not of His sheep.’  In other words, Jews need to be saved just as much as Gentiles.  Christ was telling the Pharisees that He was God and they were not part of His sheep; they were not saved.

The Jews Response to Jesus’ Proclamation of Being the Messiah:

“Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. 32 Jesus answered them, “Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?” 33 The Jews answered Him, saying, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.” 34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “You are gods”’? 35 If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), 36 do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; 38 but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him.” 39 Therefore they sought again to seize Him, but He escaped out of their hand.”                         – John 10:31-39

The Jews took up rocks to stone Jesus for saying that He was God.  Christ reiterated to the Pharisees that He was God and they should believe Him, or at least the works that He did in the Father’s name. Here the Bible says that Jesus ‘escaped out of their hand’ which infers that a  supernatural event occurred that whisked Jesus out of their midst. Christ’ death would not come as the result of stones, but a cross.

Questions for the Jews (and Christians) at Hanukkah:

Would you focus on tradition rather than on truth as it relates to your life?

When you celebrate Hanukkah (Christmas), do you honor Christ?

This Christmas we must celebrate Christ and show our appreciation for His daily provision and intervention in our lives and families.  Jesus He is God, Jehovah-Jireh, and in His holy name He will provide; Jesus is Lord, our God of provision. God provided the miracle of the fire in the Temple. God provided the miracle of the oil for the eight days of Hanukkah. God provided Jesus, the true Messiah, to deliver humanity from their sin. It is a Jewish custom to celebrate the Festival of Lights (aka Hanukkah) each year for eight days and nights to commemorate the miracle of the oil and the lights.  The Jews see this as God sovereign intervention into their lives. The problem is that when we celebrate the miracle instead of the Miracle Maker, we miss the point of the miracle.  Christ is the miracle maker, He was the one who gave the oil increase and kept the temple menorah burning; we must celebrate Jesus. Jewish people attest that they worship God and give Him the glory for the Hanukkah miracle; but celebrating a miracle of God and giving Him glory without acknowledging the Christ as being God only creates an idolatry of the miracle. We must acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Son of God, an extension of God Himself into the earth as human flesh for the purpose of sacrificing Himself for the sin of humanity.  Jesus is God and God is Jesus, the Christ and the Father are ONE!

Jesus addressed the issue of Him being God when talking with Phillip in this way,

“If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.” Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. 11 Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.”                                   – John 14:7-11

Can you see Christ in Hanukkah as the provider and source of those miracles? Can you see Christ in Christmas as the main reason why we celebrate it? Jesus is God, our Jehovah-Jireh, the provider and sustainer of the oil and the lights and so much more.  He loves His chosen people the Jews and He loves His Church; we are His people, His holy nation.  We must glorify the Christ as God and the true source of all life and miracles.

This season, as we celebrate the Christ of Christmas, may we also see His love for the Jewish people and His desire for them to come to know Him as their Messiah.  About that menorah that I created and placed in my front yard, I was sure to place a Christmas theme decorated cross on the stem of the menorah to commemorate that Jesus truly is the Christ of Hanukkah.  Wouldn’t it be nice if He returned for His Church during this season; Merry Christmas.


Encouragemen is a blog written by Pastor Rob Lee, recently relocated to Southern Missouri.  He lives with his wife of 32-years, near their three adult children, their spouses, and children (their grandchildren).  Pastor Rob is an Ordained Assemblies of God minister, a former Lead Pastor (25 years), police chaplain, and community advocate.  He continues to serve, consult, and disciple men of God, including those who are in the ministry. 

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