This is the holiday season. Christmas is now front and center on the radar of all believers. But Christmas is not in the Bible at all. The Bible gives us the true story of Christ’s birth, but does not record its occurrence on Christmas day. In fact, many eminent theologians over the past two thousand years have disputed that Jesus’ birth even occurred this time of year. The Biblical record is not clear regarding the precise date of this event. God likely did not feel recording the exact date of this event was important enough to chronicle it in His Word. Nevertheless, we celebrate it, and that is important.
However, the Bible records the holiday of Hanukkah and the precise time it was celebrated. It is the same time that Jews across the world commemorate it today. The timing of this holiday is either on, or very close to the date when Christians celebrate Christmas. The date varies from year to year because it is set by the lunar calendar. Jesus celebrated this holiday with the rest of His countrymen. We know this because the Bible records Him attending a Hanukkah celebration. The account of this event is pregnant with meaning—so much so that God made it an important part of His Word. We shall devote the rest of this article to that event and why it is such an important holiday to God and His people.
Hanukkah is not one of God’s “seven” ordained holidays noted in the Book of Leviticus. God did not command the celebration of this holiday in His word as He did the seven Holy Convocations in Leviticus. However, Hanukkah commemorates a very important event in the history of the Jewish nation. The Jews celebrate it worldwide as enthusiastically as these other holidays. God’s Word infuses great meaning in the celebration of this holiday for Jews and especially for all Christian believers.
Hanukkah—Origin and Meaning
The Hebrew word, Hanukkah, means “dedication.” The first Hanukkah was an eight-day feast celebrated in December 165 B.C. This festival dedicated the Jerusalem Temple to God after an epic struggle with Syrian portion of the Greek Empire that lasted for over three years. We will briefly chronicle the history of this period.
Darius III ascended the throne as ruler of the mighty Medo-Persian Empire in 336 B.C.—the reigning world superpower of that time. Simultaneously, Alexander the Great became King of the Greek state of Macedonia. He aspired to become a great conqueror, but the Medo-Persian empire dwarfed his own. Yet in four short years he had conquered the mighty Medo-Persian Empire and controlled the world from Europe to Egypt to India. He died at age 33, just several years after he conquered the Medo-Persian Empire. Four of his generals divided his kingdom and established rule over those particular regions. Seleucus ruled Syria and Eastern Asia Minor. Ptolemy reigned in Egypt. Descendants of these two generals battled for control over these territories and the entire Middle East for the ensuing 200 years. Israel was strategically located between these battling kingdoms and became subservient to whoever ruled their territory. Israel was tossed like a float on raging ocean waves for several centuries. Finally a despotic ruler emerged from the Selucid Kingdom in 171 B.C.- Antiochus IV. He referred to himself as Antiochus Theos Epiphanes, which means ‘god incarnate in the flesh.’ He pressed to impose the Greek culture, religion, and language on all his subjects. The Orthodox faction in Israel sided with the Ptolemaic ruler in Egypt at that time. This conveniently allowed them to be more flexible in worshipping God and adhering to the Mosaic Law. The Hellenistic party in Israel sided with Antiochus Epiphanes and desired the influence of Greek culture. They embraced the Greek religion, which worshipped a pantheon of gods and promoted widespread immorality in the land. These Jews had little regard for the faith of their forefathers. The leader of this faction was Joshua, who changed his name to Jason (a common Greek name). He was a brother of the High Priest, Yohanan (Onias III) in Jerusalem. Jason wedged himself into a leadership role in Israel by offering an enormous bribe to Antiochus Epiphanes in hopes of becoming the High Priest. Jason also promised to build a temple to the Greek god, Phallus, and a gymnasium where men competed nude in sports activities. Antiochus happily accepted the bribe and coronated Jason as the new High Priest. Jason ordered his brother assassinated, which instantly lit a cauldron of internal strife in Israel. This strife continued for 3 more years as the Hellenists aggressively pushed to gain the dominance in controlling the destiny of Israel.
Pride and ambition continued to drive Antiochus Epiphanes. He desired to unify the Greek Empire as in its original state under Alexander the Great. Of course, Antiochus intended to rule that empire. He marched his troops into Egypt in 168 B.C. and seemed on the verge of imminent victory. But the Roman Empire was gaining strength at that time, so the Roman Senate dispatched a general, Popillius Laenas with Roman troops to address the growing menace in Egypt. Popillius Laenas met with Antiochus Epiphanes and drew a circle in the sand around him, ordering him to choose whether or not he wished to go to war with Rome before he left the circle. Antiochus chose peace and in great humiliation was forced to withdraw his troops from that region. He marched his troops through Jerusalem in route to Syria. Enraged by the previous embarrassment, he ordered his troops to destroy Jerusalem. The Jewish people suffered the full force of his wrath. His troops brutally executed hundreds of thousands of Jewish people under the command of this antichrist figure, Antiochus Epiphanes. The Syrian troops breached the city walls and torched many Jewish homes. They ransacked the city and sold many Jews into slavery. Antiochus then turned his fury on the Temple itself. His soldiers smashed the gates and stole the precious Temple vessels and treasures. He ordered a pig sacrificed on the altar and had its blood sprinkled throughout the Holy of Holies. His men poured pig broth over the holy scrolls, then cut them in pieces and burned them to ashes. He ordered a statue of Zeus (the supreme god of the Greek pantheon) erected in the Holy of Holies with his own face portrayed on that idol. Shock and horror spread throughout the Jewish people and arose with bitter memories of the Temple destruction by the Babylonian military several centuries earlier.
Antiochus Epiphanes continued his rampage. He commanded all Jews who worshipped the God of Moses be executed. He forbade the practice of the Mosaic Law. Circumcised Jewish infants were executed and hung from their mothers’ necks until the corpses rotted. Women were tossed from the city walls. Entire Jewish families were executed if Jewish scrolls were found in house searches. Jewish rabbis were executed and Jewish citizens forced to eat pork, forbidden by the Mosaic Law. Intense Jewish persecution continued for 3 years under Antiochus Epiphanes. The Jews were obliged to decide between assimilation or annihilation. A satanically possessed Antiochus Epiphanes pushed to destroy God’s Word and His people. Had he been successful there would have been no Jewish people, no Messiah, and no Calvary. All would then be eternally lost in sin without hope. However, God’s faithfulness and the sacrifice of martyrs during that time enabled God’s plan for the world to prevail.
Many Jewish believers gave their lives during this dark time. Others fled into caves and the desert wilderness. These were hunted like animals. Syrian military detachments were sent through the land to enforce Greek culture and punish any dissidents. One detachment was assigned to the tiny village of Modin (located 17 miles from Jerusalem and still present in Israel today). The Syrian military ordered an altar built there to worship Zeus. They convened the village people and ordered the senior priest of the village to sacrifice a pig to Zeus in honor of Antiochus Epiphanes. Mattathias was the great grandson of Hasmon, a descendant of Jehoiarib of the first division of Jewish priests. His five sons stood in the background—John, Simon, Judah, Eleazar, and Jonathan. What would their priestly father do? He adamantly refused to sacrifice the pig. But an apostate priest approached the altar and requested to sacrifice the pig. The village people knew they would be forced to eat the pig’s flesh after the sacrifice. Fury arose in Mattathias’ heart. He tore the sword from the hand of the Syrian guard and killed him, then rushed forward to thrust the sword through the apostate priest who offered to sacrifice the pig. His five sons ran forward to slay the remaining Syrian soldiers. They tore down the altar and ran for the wilderness, knowing the Syrian army would be hot on their heels.
Mattathias died shortly thereafter. On his deathbed he chose his son, Judah, to lead the revolt. The number of faithful rebels steadily grew, and they called themselves Maccabees, after a Jewish word meaning “hammer.” They waged terrorist warfare, ambushing the Syrian troops by stealth and surprise. They used hammers to kill their enemies. The rebellion raged for three years and gradually broke the Syrian occupation. The Maccabees finally engaged the Syrian military in open warfare and won critical battles at Beth-horon and Emmaus. These victories opened the path to Jerusalem where they finally chased the Syrians from of the city. When the Maccabees entered the Temple they were horrified at the sight. The Temple gates were burned and an idol of Zeus with the face of Antiochus Epiphanes profaned the Temple grounds. A terrible abomination of desolation had occurred—a prophetic picture of a later figure, the antichrist, who will duplicate this event in the rebuilt Jewish Temple of the last days.
The Jews carefully cleansed the Temple and removed the idol of Zeus that defiled the Temple. They removed the holy altar, where a pig had been sacrificed—also defiling the Temple. The Jews then rebuilt the holy altar and rededicated it to God on Kislev 25th, 165 B.C. This was precisely three years from the original abomination of desolation.
The Jewish Talmud records the Maccabees found only one small cruse of olive oil in the Temple which bore the unbroken seal of the high priest. It was merely a day’s supply of oil for the golden lampstand. Yet it kept the lampstand lit for eight days until a new supply of olive oil could be consecrated. This tradition was originally recorded several centuries after the event and its veracity has been questioned. Nevertheless, it remains an explanation for the lighting of Hanukkah menorahs for the duration of the festival. Josephus recorded Hanukkah as ‘The Feast of Lights’ several hundred years before the miraculous cruse of oil story was introduced. Hanukkah was known as the Feast of Lights during the earthly life of Jesus Christ. We will now turn our attention to the connection of Hanukkah to Jesus Christ.
Hanukkah—the Feast of Lights and the Time of Celebration
Why is Hanukkah called the Feast of Lights? As stated previously, the Jewish tradition of the cruse of oil arose centuries after the original event. Why is the Feast of Hanukkah celebrated for eight days? Jewish tradition maintains it took eight days to construct the holy altar, but the earliest historical sources describing Hanukkah do not record this. We must examine God’s Word for answers to these questions.
Old Testament Scripture reveals an eight-day period was always the pattern of dedicating anything to God. Any object dedicated to God was set aside for seven days then dedicated to the Lord on the eight day. Jews dedicated their first-born animals to God after a seven-day period of separation. They dedicated their male infants to God via circumcision on the eight day of life. The Jewish priests sanctified the original Temple altar for seven days and consecrated it to the Lord on the eighth day. It was considered holy at that time. The Levitical priests dedicated the second rebuilt Temple after Babylonian captivity during the feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread. This period of dedication lasted eight days. The Book of Ezekiel instructs the dedication period for the future altar of the Millennial Temple to be eight days also. The wicked King Ahaz desecrated the Temple by sacrificing animals to Assyrian gods using the Temple altars. His godly son, King Hezekiah, later cleansed the Temple and rededicated it to the Lord after eight days.
Furthermore, Hanukkah is directly patterned after the Feast of Tabernacles. The later feast lasts seven days and is followed by a Sabbath day of dedication—totaling eight days. Hanukkah follows this pattern. The Apocryphal Books of Maccabees record an extensive history of Antiochus Epiphanes and the events leading to the Feast of Hanukkah. The following is a quotation from that book:
And they kept eight days with gladness, as in the Feast of the Tabernacles, remembering that not long afore they had held the Feast of Tabernacles, when they wandered in the mountains and dens like beasts. Therefore, they bare branches, and fair boughs, and palms also, and sang psalms unto Him that had given them good success in cleansing His place.
Hanukkah was called the ‘Feast of Lights’ shortly after its inception. This also connects to the Feast of Tabernacles, which was a pattern for Hanukkah. The latter feast was almost a second observance of Tabernacles in the same way as King Hezekiah instituted a second observance of Passover for those who weren’t able to attend the first. When King Solomon dedicated the original Solomonic Temple to God on the Feast of Tabernacles the Shekinah glory descended and Divinely lit the sacrificial fire upon the altar. Thereafter, the Feast of Tabernacles developed an impressive light extravaganza each night of the Feast and a grand finale on the seventh night. Hanukkah commemorated the lighting of the fire on the purified altar in the rededicated Temple. It was patterned after the Feast of Tabernacles, as noted above.
Jesus Christ and the ‘Feast of Lights’
The Jews were seeking a national deliverer, the Messiah, in Jesus day. The Messiah would commence the Millennial Kingdom and allow for God’s Shekinah glory to return to the Temple, as in the days of King Solomon. The Gospel of John Chapter 10 chronicles a time when Jesus celebrated Hanukkah in the Temple. A group of Jews inquired of Jesus at that time: “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ (Messiah), tell us plainly” (John 10: 24). Several verses later Jesus claimed, “I and the Father are one” (John 10: 30). This claim incited such rage that they tried to stone Him. Earlier in the same setting Jesus claimed to be “the Good Shepherd.” He was identifying Himself as the Messiah according to earlier Old Testament prophetic writings.
The Gospel of John repeatedly declares Jesus Christ is ‘the Light of the world.’ Let us review several of these Scriptures.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the Light, that all might believe through Him. He was not the Light, but came to bear witness about the Light. The true Light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. (John: 1:1-10)
And this is the judgment: the Light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the Light because their works were evil. (John 3:19)
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life.” (John 8:12)
Jesus claimed to be the ‘Light of the world’ in the previous Scriptures. It is intriguing He made this claim just after the grand finale light show concluding the Feast of Tabernacles. This was considered the greatest light show of the ancient world before the development of fireworks in modern times. The light show commemorated the Shekinah glory, which lit the fire in the original dedication of the Solomonic Temple, as noted previously. John Chapter 7 records the fact that Jesus attended the Feast of Tabernacles and proclaimed His Deity there. After the spectacular light show that concluded the feast He claimed to be the ‘Light of the world,’ as noted the above verse. Jesus was, in essence, claiming to be the ‘Shekinah glory’ appearing in the flesh for all men to see. The Pharisees understood His claim, for they disputed it in the very next verse: “So the Pharisees said to Him, “You are testifying about Yourself; Your testimony is not true” (John 8: 13). Several verses later they were making preparations to stone Him for blasphemy. . It is likely the Hanukkah festival He attended in John Chapter 10 occurred just 2-3 months following that Feast of Tabernacles. Remember, the ‘Feast of Lights’ was patterned after Tabernacles.
The Jerusalem Temple and the Temple Mount have always been in the bull’s eye of Satan and his gentile minions. This will continue in the last days. The Moslems currently control the Temple Mount, and their Dome of the Rock and Al Asqa mask sit atop it. The abomination of desolation has occurred once in history. It will occur again in the future, when the antichrist enters a newly constructed Jewish Temple and declares himself as lord. Jesus referred to this in His Olivet Discourse. “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place…then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” The decision to assimilate or be destroyed will once again confront the Jewish nation. Millions will perish including many of the faithful, but Jesus Christ will achieve the victory and reign from that point forward.
God’s Word is ‘His’story. It reflects the fact that God loves mankind and repeatedly reaches out to touch individual lives and nations. God’s seven Holy Convocations in Leviticus exemplify this. Hanukkah is a holiday commemorating God’s miraculous intervention in history of His Jewish people. He enabled them to triumph over an evil tyrant who intended to destroy them. Furthermore, the New Testament account of Jesus attending Hanukkah reveal God sanctions this holiday. The Scripture portrays Jesus Christ as the ‘Light of the world.’ Hanukkah is the ‘Feast of Lights’ and Jesus fulfills this great feast, as He also fulfills each of the ‘7’ Divine feasts in the Book of Leviticus. Hanukkah and the Feast of Tabernacles offered spectacular light shows. However, the greatest light show of all was actually in the beginning. That event was recorded in the first verses of God’s Word.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.
And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. (Genesis 1:1-3; 14-19)
The “Light of the world” has defeated the darkness and will totally eliminate it. His glorious light will illuminate the “new heavens and earth” for eternity. “And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” Jesus Christ will completely fulfill the feast of Hanukkah at that time. The Light of God’s menorah will never go out.
Is there a Christmas/Hanukkah Connection?
Is there a connection between Christmas and Hanukkah? Hanukkah commemorates an event that occurred several centuries before Jesus was born. Both events share the same date—the 25th of December/Kislev. As previously noted, the Bible records the birth story of the Messiah, but does not record the date. God likely had good reasons for this. The early church viewed birthday celebrations as pagan, so did not embrace a birthday celebration for Jesus in the first three centuries. However, Greeks and Romans commemorated the birthday of Zeus on December 25th. Zeus was considered the incarnation of the sun. He and his goddess mother, Venus (or Rhea/Aphrodite in Greece) formed the mother/son cult that began thousands of years earlier in ancient Babylon. (Refer to previous articles on Nimrod on this blog site). Antiochus desecrated the Jewish Temple on December 25th to commemorate the birthday of Zeus. December 25th follows the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. The sun worshipping pagans celebrated December 25th as the birthday of the sun. The subsequent Roman Empire continued to worship their chief God Saturn on December 25th. The day was called Saturnalia, and the Romans worshipped it with alcohol and debauchery.
The Roman Catholic Church chose to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25th in the fourth century A.D. They termed the date as ‘Christ’s Mass,” and commemorated it with a special mass to honor Jesus’ birth. The Roman emperor, Constantine, declared an edict to Christianize the Roman Empire about that same time. Why not entice pagan worshippers by swapping out the birthday of Zeus and the feast of Saturnalia for a birthday of Jesus? Adding a little mother/son adoration and sun worship to the bait made the transition a little easier for pagans in the Roman Empire. At least so thought Constantine and the Roman Catholic Church. Many Christian leaders in the eastern and western arms of the Roman Empire vocalized their revulsion to these changes. They accused the Roman Church of idolatry and sun worship. They castigated them for adopting as Christian the pagan festival of Saturnalia. But the die was cast, and the date December 25th was fixed as Christ’s birthday. Even leaders of the Reformation and the early Protestant church could not dislodge this date for Jesus birth, and so it stands today.
The difference between Christmas and Hanukkah is that the former started as a pagan holiday commemorating the birthday of the sun god, and the second was a holiday firmly established in God’s Word. A believer is right to understand and celebrate the events of Christ’s birth. After all, the angels in Heaven celebrated that event. Choosing that particular date was unwise at best and satanic at worst.
This author believes there is ample justification for Christian’s to fully embrace Hanukkah, as Jesus Christ fulfilled this holiday as ‘the Light of the world’ in His lifetime and will fulfill it once again as He comes to reign as Messiah in the Millennial Kingdom, and ultimately as the sole ‘Light’ illuminating the New Heavens and Earth.