The Gospel of Hanukkah: “Does Its Message Burn Brightly in Your Life Today?” (Part 1/2)

THERE IS A GOSPEL (OR “GOOD NEWS”) MESSAGE IN HANUKKAH?  There are many people, Jews and Christians, who may be surprised to discover this, but I have been teaching this message now for many years to individuals and congregations, wherever I am given the opportunity to speak.  It’s a message that I believe that everyone in the world today needs to hear.

Now I know there are some who may question the legitimacy in sharing a “gospel message” in an event that happened 164-167 years before Jesus (Heb. Yeshua) was ever conceived.  However, I am firmly convinced by the evidence that God leaves evidence behind within history of His existence and of His dealings with humanity, and that God purposely presents us with Scriptural, historical, cultural and religious pictures of Messiah and who we are in Messiah, so that when we see them, there is no doubt that we serve a God who is holy and majestic, and who is not restricted by time, space and matter.

WE ARE A TEMPLE?

In the story of Hanukkah, Antiochus Epiphanes and the Seleucid Greek army desecrates the Temple by offering a pig on the altar, smearing blood on the Temple walls and then ransacking it.  It was defiled and needed to be cleansed.  But this is a picture of who we are and our condition. since the Bible teaches us that we are one of God’s three Temples.

I know growing up in the church, I was taught that we, as God’s people, His Temple, replaced the Jerusalem Temple, but through my research and studies of Scripture, I found that this is NOT true.  God has since creation had two, sometimes three, different Temples:

  • God’s original Temple in heaven (Exodus 25:8-9, 40; 26:30; Numbers 8:4; Acts 7:44; Revelation 7:15; 11:19; 14:15, 17; 15:5-8; 16:1, 17);
  • God’s Tabernacle/Temple.  The Tabernacle and the two Temples in Jerusalem were patterned after the original heavenly Temple.  The first Temple, called “Solomon’s Temple,” was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C., and then the second Temple, called “Herod’s Temple,” was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.

Now just because the second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D., did that mean that God was destroying, or doing away with, the whole Temple system?  No, He didn’t because the original Temple system that God revealed to Moses and told him to copy or create a replica of was NEVER destroyed.  It is still up there in heaven going strong.  As I indicated above, it is seen by John throughout most of the book of Revelation.

The problem, of course, is that Christianity has traditionally seen the tearing of the Temple veil as a sign that God was bringing the Temple system to an end.  However, no where in the Bible is this interpretation taught.  Instead, throughout the Old Testament, the tearing of clothing is consistently seen as a sign of mourning over a loved one’s death, NOT as an indication of bringing the Temple system to an end.  God had just witnessed the torture and death of His own beloved Son, and when He died, God did what any loving Jewish father would have done, He took the cloth over His heart [the Temple veil], and He ripped it from top to bottom, just as Jews have done throughout time, even today.  [See my article “Why Did God Tear the Temple Veil in Half?  Not for the Reasons You Think”]

  • Finally, as God’s people, we are also a Temple.

Know you not that you are the TEMPLE OF GOD, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?  If any man defile the TEMPLE OF GOD, him shall God destroy; for the TEMPLE OF GOD is holy, which TEMPLE you are. (I Corinthians 3:16-17; Emphasis Mine; see also I Corinthians 6:19-20)

But contrary to what many Christians may have been taught, the idea that God’s people are the Temple is not new revelation.  There’s an indication, or hinting,  of this in Exodus 25:

And let them make Me a sanctuary; that I may dwell AMONG them.  According to all that I show you, after the pattern of the tabernacle, and pattern of all the instruments thereof, even so shall you make it. (Exodus 25:8-9; Emphasis Mine; see also Exodus 29:45-46; Leviticus 26: 11-12)

The word translated as “AMONG” is the Hebrew word tâvek (Strong’s #8432), which means “among” or “in the midst,” but it can also mean “in,” “within,” and “through.”  So I believe God is indicating here that His desire is not only to “dwell among” or “in the midst” of His people Israel by means of the physical tabernacle, but He also desires to “dwell in,” “within,” and “through” them as well.  In fact, it is this idea that God wants to dwell “in,” “within,” and “through” His people that we see taught in the New Testament.  Consequently, then, this idea is NOT a new revelation, but another part and aspect of the meaning of the text here in Exodus.  However, there are a couple of problems with God dwelling within His people:

PROBLEM #1: WE ARE A DEFILED AND DESECRATED PEOPLE

Like the Jerusalem Temple, who was desecrated and defiled by Antiochus Epiphanes and the Seleucid-Greek army in 165 B.C., we’ve likewise been defiled and desecrated, not by a human military, but by our own sins, transgressions, and iniquities and, therefore, are not suitable for God’s Presence to dwell.

Holiness is the essence of who God is.  All other qualities flow out from His holiness.  According to Dwight Pryor, the President and Founder of the Center for Judaic-Christian Studies in Dayton, Ohio, in his teaching “Holy, Holy, Holy: The Demands of the Holy,”

The essence of the English word “holy” comes from the Hebrew root kadash, which means “to divide, to separate, to set apart, to mark off,” and it speaks of God’s “otherness” from everything else in creation because He is the Creator.  It speaks of His transcendence, His separateness, His holy and explicable otherness that sets Him apart from everything that’s “common or ordinary,” which is the antonym of holy, and that’s the word “profane.”  “Profane” is what’s ordinary, common; God is unique, distinct, different, He’s holy.  It’s the term God uses to describe Himself: “I am holy, so you are to be holy, for I am the LORD your God.”

Most believers and ministers I have heard talking about the holiness of God erroneously interpret “holy” to mean morally pure, but as Dwight Pryor points out in the first half of his study on “Holy, Holy, Holy” called “The Dimensions of the Holy,”

Holiness is not an issue that’s defined in terms of ethical categories; it’s an issue that’s defined in terms of ontological categories.  What I am saying to you is that it’s not a matter of morality, it’s a matter of “being,” of God’s very “be-ing,” God’s very existence, is what Holiness refers to.

In other words, God is not holy because He does holy things; instead, God’s very being and nature is holy, so as a result, all that He does is holy. The word “holy” (Heb. kadosh) is the one term that’s repeated three times in succession in Scripture (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4: 8), which is the ultimate expression of emphasis in the Hebrew language.  Because God is holy, He shows mercy like no other; because God is holy, He loves like no other; because God is holy, He is morally pure like no other, and because God is holy, He must judge sin.  What many people don’t understand is that God’s love, mercy, compassion, and His need to judge sin all flow out from the same unique, distinctive beingness of God, His holiness.

God cannot simply dwell in sinful people; if He came inside us as unredeemed sinners in His holiness, His fullness, and He did nothing else, His own holy nature and essence would destroy us.  This is why when Moses asks to see God’s glory, God responds by saying,

I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”  And He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!”  Then the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by.  Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face [the full impact of God’s glory] shall not be seen.” (Exodus 33:18-23)

Imagine, a Being so powerful that full exposure to His very Presence, His holy essence, would automatically destroy any human being as a result of how corrupt and sinful we are.  And I would have to agree with Dwight Pryor in this teaching that “we need to be seized by the holiness of God.  We have lost sight of this dimension of the holy” among believers today. We have so “humanized” God and “deified” humanity, that we no longer understand the difference between the two.

Since Adam and Eve’s rebellion in the Garden of Eden, the altar of our heart has been desecrated by sin through our offering of sacrifices to idols and to other gods (the god of self, pride, greed, covetousness and material wealth, lust, slander, sexual immorality, slander, gossip, etc.).  The Bible teaches us that we were made “in the image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1:26) and, therefore, to place anything else as the center or priority in our lives, even if it’s our own needs or dreams, is, in fact, an act of idolatry.

For us to become God’s Temple, His dwelling place, and for us to experience intimacy with God, the Temple of our lives and the altar of our hearts need to be cleansed, but like the Jerusalem Temple and its desecrated altar, we can’t cleanse ourselves.  We can scrub and scrub at all the defilements of our lives, but we will never clean them entirely from our lives.  Sure, we can make things look good on the outside, but not on the inside.  We can put on a front that we have it all taken care of, but it is still just a front.  In our heart and spirit, we can still hear the same words spoken to us as Jesus (Yeshua) spoke to the Scribes and Pharisees of the first century, C.E.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.  You blind Pharisees, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you are like white-washed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.  Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.  (Matthew 23:25-28)

This is how God sees each of us who attempt to cleanse ourselves by our own efforts and strength.  We can clean up the outside, but the stains and desecrations on the inside remain.  We are like the Temple in Jerusalem during the Maccabean revolt, we cannot cleanse ourselves.  We need someone else to come inside of us and to clean us up.

A JEWISH DELIVERER/SAVIOR?

But God has already sent us His Anointed One, His Deliverer/Savior, to cleanse us from all our sins, transgressions and iniquities.  No, He’s not named “Judah” – but He is from the tribe of Judah, and no, He is not one of the Maccabees (“Hammerers”), who fought alongside “Judah Maccabee” and defeated the Seleucid-Greek army, but He was born in Bethlehem, raised in the Galil (Galilee), and when He was in His early thirties (about 33 1/2), He was “hammered” and nailed on the cross for us on the hillside of Golgatha.  His name is Jesus (Heb. Yeshua) of Nazareth, Israel’s Promised Messiah and the Son of the Most High.

His blood was shed on the cross to wipe away our sins, our transgressions and our iniquities and rebellious acts against God, and when we invite Him into our lives as Lord, Savior and King, and ask Him to clean us up and make us a suitable dwelling place for God, He is able to come in through the Spirit of God and to begin the cleansing process.

THE CLEANSING PROCESS

although some things occur the moment we ask for God’s forgiveness and invite Jesus (Yeshua) into our lives as our Lord, Savior, and King, there are other things that occur in an on-going process.  By listening to many TV evangelists and, even many pastors and ministers, we get the impression that every part of us is automatically cleansed instantaneously.  But that isn’t true.  The cleansing of some things just take time; we call this process of cleansing, “sanctification,” which literally means “to make holy.”

The moment we ask, He is able to remove the desecrations and stains of sin, transgressions and iniquity that separate us from communion with God, but there are many areas of our lives that are still broken or shattered, and mending and healing these areas of our spirit, mind, and emotions take some time to do.

Also, the moment we ask, He is able to remove the old altar (our stony heart) and to give us a new altar (a new heart). This is part of His Promise in the New Covenant:

Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

And then in Jeremiah 31, we are told,

“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people…for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:33, 34d)

Ask yourselves the question, if the New Covenant is that God is going to cleanse us, give us a new heart and spirit, and put His Spirit inside of us, and then write His Torah (Teachings, guidance and instructions) on our hearts, and His Spirit is going to cause us (or give us the power) to walk in His statutes, then how can some teachers and ministers be correct when they  teach that the Torah (God’s Teachings, Guidance, or Instructions) and God’s commandments ended at the cross and believers are no longer obligated to follow its teachings?  When we compare their position to what we see here taught in the Scriptures, we must conclude that this teaching regarding the Torah is, in fact, the opposite of what we see the Scriptures teach.

But looking at the Scriptures, we learn that only God has the power to cleanse and transform us, we do not.  Some erroneously teach that God does everything in the sanctification process, and that we have no part in it, and that if we do anything, then we are trying to save ourselves through “works.”  However, when we look at all that the Scriptures teach, we discover we do have a part to play.  Our part in this process is to study His Word, spend time in prayer, and listen for His voice to tell us what needs to be done and, then, of course, to do what He says to do, whether it is spoken to us from His word or by His Spirit.

As we pray and study His Word, He will restore and set up the Table of Shewbread (His Word) within our lives, as well as the Table of Incense (our prayer life).  And as we seek Him in prayer, worship, and praise, He refills the menorah (lampstand) of our hearts with the pure oil of His Ruach (Spirit), His Presence.

THE IMAGE OF THE MENORAH

Like the wicks in the Jerusalem Temple menorah (or lampstand), we are equal in that we all need to experience the light of His Spirit and the revelation of His Word.  Until we are lit by His Spirit, we live in darkness, thinking that this physical reality is the only reality that exists, but once God has re-lit the menorah of our heart and spirit, and we begin to see the light of His Presence and His revelations contained within His Word, then we become aware that there is more to reality than the physical.

Also, in the image of the Hanukkah menorah, there are many spiritual realities that are pictured within it.  For example, one of the candles is called the “shamash” (or servant) candle.  It is used to light all the other candles within the menorah, and the candles cannot get their light from any other light than the shamash candle.

The Hanukkah menorah is a picture of the Kingdom of heaven/God because in God’s kingdom, Jesus (Heb. Yeshua) is the “Shamash candle” (or Servant of God) that’s used to “light” (provide revelation and salvation) to all others. God desire has always been that we walk in the light.  In the very beginning of creation in the opening chapter of the Bible, God said, “Let there be light, and there was light” (Genesis 1:3).  So from the very beginning, we see God separating “light from darkness.”  And it is only as we “walk in the light” of His Presence, His Word, His ways and truths, that we can experience intimacy and fellowship with Him:

If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another; and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all unrighteousness.  (I John 1:7)

You see, just like in the Hanukkah menorah, we must receive the light from
God’s chosen Shamash, Jesus [Yeshua], and not from any other source (e.g., ourselves, Hinduism, Buddha, Confucius, the Dao, Mohammad, or any other spiritual or physical influence).

The Menorah is also a picture of the Body of Messiah, for we are one body, yet with many members (Rom. 12:5; I Cor. 12:12, 14, 18-20), and the oil used to light the menorah is a picture of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Heb. Ruach HaKodesh) that God promises to all of His people (see Joel 2:28-32) and that was (and continues to be) poured out on all God’s people who seek this gift of being fully immersed in His Spirit (Acts 2:1-4, 14-21).

So then just as Judah and the others cleansed the Temple, re-lighting the Temple menorah and putting things back as they should be, in accordance to the Scriptures, they then re-dedicated the Temple back into God’s service. In like manner, once the Temple of our lives has been cleansed of sin, transgressions, and iniquities by our acceptance of the death and bodily resurrection of the Messiah Jesus [Yeshua] from the tomb, the Temple of our lives are cleansed, and the menorah of our heart are re-lit, and He is then able to dedicate our lives back to God and into His service.

Have a blessed holiday season, and may you experience the Presence, Power, and Holiness of God and His Messiah Jesus [Yeshua] this coming year!

 

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