“At that time the Feast of Dedication [i.e., Hanukkah] took place in Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon” (John 10:22-23)
In part 1 of this Hanukkah series, we looked at the prophetic background and the historical event that Hanukkah remembers, but in this second part of the series, I would like to explore some questions regarding this point in Jesus’ (Yeshua’s) life.
But have you ever wondered why John felt this moment in Jesus’ (Heb. Yeshua’s) life so significant to place it here in his gospel? Personally, I know for many years, I never thought to ask the question why something was done or said. Like most Christians growing up, I went to church, attended Sunday School, Wednesday night Bible studies, and I listened when certain passages were discussed or preached about, but I never really took the time to wonder “Why?” Why is Jesus (Yeshua) here in Jerusalem? Why is He observing Hanukkah (i.e., the Feast of Dedication)? And what is the connection between this moment in Jesus’ (Yeshua’s) life and the celebration of Hanukkah?
Unfortunately, most of these questions the Scriptures are silent. However, I do believe that there is a connection between this moment in Jesus’ (Yeshua’s) life and Hanukkah. And as I was sitting here contemplating this moment in His life, and Him walking through the portico of the Temple during this feast, just three months before His betrayal, brutal death, burial, and bodily resurrection, I began to wonder what He was thinking during these moments as He walked through the Temple complex? Was He thinking back over the many stories and accounts told during this feast, or was He thinking back to a particular account? But since the New Testament does not say, it is impossible to assert anything in particular, but I would like to speculate that He might have been thinking back at others who had likewise given their lives, rather than compromise the commandments of God?
CHANA & HER SEVEN SONS
One of the stories that’s told during the Hanukkah season is that of Chana and her seven sons. According to the account, Chana and her seven sons were devout Observant Jews who were captured and tried for being Torah-observant. They were then found guilty by Antiochus Epiphanes and the Seleucid Greeks and then sentenced to die (their graves are located in the cave pictured above).
First, Antiochus and his Seleucid-Greek soldiers tortured her first-born son in front of Chana and her other sons, but he refused to recant his faith in God. So they killed him. Then they took her second son. He stood for his faith and said he was as faithful as his older brother. He too then was tortured and killed. Then they did the same to the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth.
Finally, it came time for her youngest son to die. The soldiers asked Chana to reason with him, so that she might keep at least one of her sons alive. She pretended to comply, but instead, she encouraged him to be strong in his faith in God. The youngest then went forward and proclaimed his faith in God and in His Torah. The soldiers were so angry that they tortured him more than the others, killing him as well. However, before they killed him, Chana yelled out to him, “When you meet Father Abraham, tell him that he was told to offer one son on the altar, but I have offered seven.”
Then according to the online article “The Inner Lights of Chanukah,” by Chana Katz, she writes, “after the last of her seven sons was tortuously killed, she went to the roof and jumped to her own death, and as the story is related in the Gemara, a heavenly voice called out that she was an “Eim Simaicha‘ (“a joyful mother”). Other Jewish people were also killed during this time for various acts of obedience to God, such as circumcising their boys or in studying the Torah.
It is hard for me to imagine the amount of devotion to God and His Torah that Chana and her sons had to the point where they would rather be tortured and killed than to disobey God’s commandments. It is the same type of love and devotion we see in Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach), and Azariah (Abed-nego), who would rather be thrown into a fiery furnace than to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image (Daniel 3:12-18), or even Daniel, who would rather be thrown to the lions than to stop praying for thirty days (Daniel 6:10-11). Yet all of them were willing to sacrifice their lives than to disobey God. The difference, of course, is that Daniel and his three companions were delivered from death, but Chana and her seven sons were not.
LOOKING BACKWARD & FORWARD
I tend to think Jesus (Yeshua) during these moments in the Temple portico was thinking back to those who had died rather than to disobey God, such as Chana and her seven sons, but I also believe He was looking forward to what He would soon be facing in just a few months. And as He was looking back and forward, I believe He drew strength and courage from what His people (the Jews) had faced in the past to help Him face what He was about to in the next few months during the upcoming Passover; that is, His own brutal death.
Some may wonder at this, but if we look just a few months in advance, we find Jesus (Yeshua) praying in the Garden of Gethsemane in anguish as He prepares for what is to happen. In fact, when Jesus (Yeshua) and His disciples arrive in the garden, He tells them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me” (Matthew 26:38).
THE SOURCE OF HIS ANGUISH
What was it that caused Him such anguish that night? Was it that He was about to face crucifixion, or was there another reason? The anguish He was experiencing was so intense that it physically traumatized Him to the point where He literally sweat drops of blood. But the question is, why?
I believe that there were two other reasons besides the cross for His anguish. First of all, I believe He knew His own human nature. Both the names “Yeshua” (Aramaic/Hebrew) and “Jesus” (from the Greek) are alternative forms of the name “Joshua.” In the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures), Joshua was the greatest military leader Israel had ever known. He was the one who took over the leadership of the nation with the death of Moses and led the people into the Promised Land. Jesus (Yeshua) was given the same name for a reason; he’s a warrior by nature, a fighter. We see glimpses of this when He overturns the moneylenders’ tables, and then binds together a whip and chases the moneylenders out of the Temple, as well as when He stands up against the religious leaders and condemns them for their hypocrisy, their rebellion against God, and for their disobedience to the Scriptures. And we will see this in its fullness when He comes again and fights against the world’s military (Revelation 19: 11-19). I believe He knows if He does not pray His warrior’s heart and will into submission, when the Romans begin to mock and beat Him, He is going to want to fight back and then God’s will regarding His death could very well be jeopardized. Consequently, He prays it fervently into submission.
Does this mean that Jesus (Yeshua) was not loving? No, He immensely loved the Jewish people, His Jewish family and His Jewish friends. It was the Jewish children that He said not to prevent them from coming to Him, for such as these made up the kingdom of heaven. Did He get frustrated and angry at the leaders at times? Yes, of course, but we should remember that we tend to get the angriest at those we love the most. So I do not believe we can superficially look at these accounts of harsh judgment and criticism and think Jesus (Yeshua) did not love the Jewish people; on the contrary, He loved (and continues to love) them passionately.
But another reason for His grief and anguish, I believe, is that He knew He would face God on the cross in a way He never had before – as His judge. Jesus (Yeshua) had lived His entire life in complete holiness, not disobeying a single commandment of the Torah. He violated certain groups’ interpretations of the Scriptures, sure, but He did not violate the written commandments themselves. In fact, Jesus (Yeshua) even states,
When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then shall you know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father [God] has taught Me, I speak these things. And He that sent Me is with Me; the Father hath not left Me alone; FOR I ALWAYS DO THOSE THINGS THAT PLEASE HIM. (John 8:29)
Here He connects His death (being lifted up; i.e., crucifixion) as proof that He is who He claimed to be, Israel’s Promised Messiah, the Son of Man, and as proof of His complete and total obedience to God. However, now as He approaches that moment, He will also now experience the judgment of God against sin. Not for His sin, but for ours, as Isaiah prophesied,
He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:3-5)
His death is pictured and prophesied throughout the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures). For example, in Luke 24:27, it says,
And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He [Jesus/Yeshua] explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.
Yet in this death, He would take our place and experience the complete wrath and judgment of God. And in doing so, He would not only forgive us of our sins, but He would liberate us from the power and control of sin over our lives. Yes, His death opened up the way of forgiveness and liberation, as well as the doorway into the kingdom of heaven, but it was also a lesson in obedience that Jesus (Yeshua) had to learn:
Who made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant [lit. “a slave”], and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:7-8)
And so what was His reward for His life of obedience, even to the point of dying on the cross for humanity’s sin and rebellion against God?
Wherefore God also has highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth: and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)
Indeed, Jesus (Yeshua) has been highly exalted and made the Lord of all of creation. Just as Joseph remained faithful to God and the Torah, yet he still suffered in Egypt to bring about God’s redemption of both Jews and non-Jews. In like manner, Jesus (Yeshua) remained faithful to God and His Word, yet He suffered horrible pain and humiliation in His death to bring about God’s redemption for both Jews and non-Jews alike.
It is through Jesus’ (Yeshua’s) own willingness to lay down His life and suffer a slave’s death of intense pain and humiliation on the cross that God is able to use and then work through in order to “reconcile us to Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).
Unfortunately, mainstream Christianity teaches that Jesus (Yeshua) died to do away with the Law of God; however, they have traditionally confused two laws: the law of God and the law of sin. Jesus (Yeshua) did not die to do away with the Torah, the “Law of God,” but the law of sin and death. The Torah was given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai to be a blessing, so why would He die to do away with it? And there’s absolutely no proof in the teachings of Jesus (Yeshua), the disciples, or of Paul that any of them had any thought, intention or belief that the Torah, the Law of God, had been brought to an end by Jesus’ (Yeshua’s) death, burial, or resurrection. Although the Greek New Testament has been misinterpreted to communicate that idea in many English translations, when one looks back into the original Greek text and puts the New Testament back into a 2nd Temple era context of the first century, C.E., one can see that this interpretation is not correct.
During this Hanukkah season, let’s remember that this feast is about remembering that we are engaged in a battle, a battle to maintain the freedom to worship God as He has commanded us in His Word. Throughout the years, many people have already died in the fight for that freedom. Let us not forget their sacrifice; let’s keep the battle going so that we might continue to walk in the freedom to follow God.
It is important for us to remember that the Torah (“Law of God”) was not brought to an end by the death of the Messiah Jesus (Yeshua), but instead, He came —
- to correct some wrong interpretations that were being taught;
- to give a deeper, more complete meaning to its teachings;
- to proclaim the Gospel of the kingdom of heaven, and
- to move the Torah from being founded on a “promise to the fathers” to being founded on a historical event: His own death, burial, and resurrection.
In doing these things, He made the Torah even more meaningful and relevant to people’s lives.
So at this Hanukkah season, can we look to Jesus (Yeshua) and accept the gift that He has provided us by His death, burial, and resurrection, which is the forgiveness of sin and our liberation from sin’s power and control over our lives? Also, we should remember that through His death and resurrection, He has opened the door for us to become a part of God’s kingdom, so that we might experience true intimacy with God and be able to have the power to walk the way of Torah with all of our heart.
In addition, can we follow Jesus’ (Yeshua’s) example this Hanukkah season and look back to the lives of Chana and her seven sons, Daniel, Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach), and Azariah (Abed-nego), and others, and draw strength and encouragement to remain faithful to God and His Word, in spite of the struggles and challenges that may lay before us? As all of these people have shown us within the Scriptures, through God’s leading and His Presence in our lives, we CAN live our lives in obedience to God and His Word:
So that the righteousness of the Law (Torah) might be fulfilled in us who [continue to] walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Romans 8:4).
Please pray with me this Hanukkah season and begin a new life of faithfulness with God.
“Father, in Jesus’ (Yeshua’s) name, I ask you to forgive me of my sins. Forgive me for not remaining faithful to You and to Your word. Help me to become daily dependent on You to walk in obedience to the leading of Your Spirit and to Your commandments. Help me to be strongly committed to You like the people discussed in this article, and let me demonstrate my love for You in all that I say, do, or think. Thank You, Lord, that You’ve promised to never leave me nor to forsake me. And I am looking forward to our new relationship and to an even greater intimacy with You. Amen.”
If you have prayed that prayer or have been blessed by this blog article, please feel free to let me know.