In just another two days, we will be celebrating the Feast of Hanukkah, “the feast of lights” (beginning the evening of December 2 – 10). Most erroneously believe that Hanukkah is just a “Jewish thing,” and that it has nothing to do with Christians. But from the New Testament, we discover that as a Jew, Jesus also celebrated Hanukkah, “the feast of dedication” (John 10:22-23). The meaning of Hanukkah was changed from “the feast of dedication” to “the feast of lights” after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 A.D. There was a reason for this change, which I will discuss later in the series, but I want to take it back to its original meaning.
MY MOTIVE FOR THIS STUDY
My motive for doing this is not to make people “Jewish,” but it’s a study I did out of my love for Jesus. I believe when you love someone, you want to know everything you can about that person, and this was a part of His life. Therefore, out of my love for Him and my commitment to being His disciple, and to walk in all of His ways, I would like to present this 4-part study series on Hanukkah: the Bible’s prophecy concerning it and their historical fulfillment, what I believe it meant to Jesus, how Hanukkah is celebrated today, and the Gospel message that I see within the feast of Hanukkah. This is the first part of that four-part study.
I would like to begin by looking at the Bible’s prophecy concerning Hanukkah and its historical fulfillment. These prophecies are found in the book of Daniel, while Daniel and his people, the Jews, were still in exile in the land of Babylon.
A COMPARISON OF DREAMS
In Daniel 2, God gives Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, a dream regarding the kingdoms that would come after him, in the form of a statue of a man made from various metals. These kingdoms are Babylon [the head of gold], the Medes & Persians [the chest and arms of silver], Greece [belly and thighs], Rome [two legs], and a future end-time global empire [feet of iron and clay]. As we can see, as we move down the statue, we not only move forward in time from the time of Nebuchadnezzar, but the quality of the metals go down as well.
In Daniel 7, Daniel likewise has a dream regarding the same empires, but in Daniel’s dream, they appear not as a statue of a man, but as wild beasts: Babylon [a LION with eagle’s wings], the Medes & Persians [a BEAR raised up on one side with three ribs in its mouth], Greece [a four-headed LEOPARD with wings], and Rome [a dreadful and terrifying beast with iron teeth]. However, after the fourth beast, it mentions, not a fifth beast but “another horn,” who had “the eyes of a man and a mouth uttering great boasts” and who pulled out “three horns” (Daniel 7:8).
There is a connection between Antiochus Epiphanes and the historical events of Hanukkah with end-time events, as we shall see. In fact, Daniel 7 is important in understanding John’s vision in Revelation 13. In Revelation 13:2, we read,
And the beast which I saw was like unto a LEOPARD, and his feet were as the feet of a BEAR, and his mouth as the mouth of a LION:…” (Emphasis Mine)
Note these three beasts are the same exact three beasts [out of four] as mentioned in Daniel’s vision. So just as each “beast” in Daniel 7 represents a kingdom that was led by a man, so this final “beast” in Revelation 13 will be a conglomeration of these previous three kingdoms that will likewise be led by a man.
SO WHY THE DIFFERENCE IN DREAMS?
I believe the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel present a look at the same kingdoms from two different perspectives. First of all, God presented to Nebuchadnezzar a view of these kingdoms from an outward perspective. From the viewpoint of people, these were wondrous kingdoms to behold; however, to Daniel, on the other hand, God gave a view of these same kingdoms from an inner perspective, looking at their heart and spirit, and from this perspective, they were “wild beasts.”
A SUBSEQUENT DREAM
Then in Daniel 8, Daniel is given a subsequent dream to his previous dream during the third year of the reign of Belshazzar, the king of Babylon. Daniel has a dream of two specific beasts: a ram with two horns (the Medes & Persians) and a male goat (Greece). In his dream, he sees the following:
And I saw him [the male goat] come beside the ram, and he was enraged at him; and he struck the ram and shattered the two horns, and the ram had no strength to withstand him. So he hurled him to the ground and trampled on him, and there was none to rescue the ram from his power. (Daniel 8:7)
This prophecy of “the male goat” is a perfect picture of Alexander the Great. He conquered the empire of the Medes & Persians (the ram with the two horns) quickly, as well as all of the known world at that time. He won battle after battle, war after war, with no one being able to stop him. But then in verse 8, the prophecy continues:
Then the male goat magnified himself exceedingly. But as soon as he was mighty, the large horn was broken; and in its place there came up four conspicuous horns towards the four winds of heaven. (Daniel 8:8)
According to world history, Alexander the Great rose to great power, “magnifying himself exceedingly,” but then at the age of 33, on June 10, 323, B.C., he died suddenly. To this day, there is an ongoing debate among historians about how he died, theories include poison, murder, or a relapse of Malaria. When asked, though, as he was dying, who would get his kingdom, he replied, “the strongest.” As a result, his empire was fought over for forty years by his four generals (the “four conspicuous horns”). But then continuing on in the prophecy, we learn the following:
From one of these, the small one, sprang a horn which grew to great size toward the south and east and toward the land of Splendor….It magnified itself to be equal with the Commander of the host; and it removed the regular sacrifice from Him, and the place of His sanctuary was thrown down. (Daniel 8: 9, 11)
Then Daniel heard a voice in his vision ask, how long would this be allowed to happen, and the response was 2,300 evenings and mornings, and “then the holy place will be properly restored” (Daniel 8:14). This prophecy of the “little horn” regards Antiochus Epiphanes and the events that the feast of Hanukkah commemorates.
HANUKKAH: A BRIEF INTRODUCTION
The historical account of the war between Israel and the Seleucid Greeks is found in the book of I Maccabees. Although this book is in the Catholic Bible, it is not in the Hebrew Bible [Heb. Tanakh] or in the Protestant Christian Old Testament. So for the convenience of readers who are not familiar with the account, I have provided the following summary.
Approximately 148 years after the death of Alexander the Great is when the historical events that Hanukkah commemorates occurred. It begins when Antiochus IV, “a sinful shoot,” became ruler of the Seleucid Greek dynasty in 175 B.C., a region which included Israel (I Maccabees 1:10-11). Afterward, there were some Jews who saw financial advantages to adopting a Hellenistic (or Greek) lifestyle, and so they abandoned God and His Torah (lit. “Teachings, Guidance, Instructions or Directives”).
In those days went there out of Israel wicked men, who persuaded many, saying, Let us go and make a covenant with the heathen that are round about us: for since we departed from them we have had much sorrow. So this device pleased them well. Then certain of the people were so forward herein, that they went to the king, who gave them licence to do after the ordinances of the heathen: Whereupon they built a place of exercise at Jerusalem according to the customs of the heathen: And made themselves uncircumcised, and forsook the holy covenant, and joined themselves to the heathen, and were sold to do mischief. (I Maccabees 1:11-15)
It’s hard for me to imagine someone giving up intimacy with God for money and financial success, yet that is what this group of men did. Notice that those who gave up the ways of God and His “holy covenant” are called “wicked men.” If this is what these men are called in the 2nd century, B.C., then won’t God call likewise Christians and ministers who forsake the truth of Scripture, including His ways and commandments, for money and financial success today?
After winning a battle against Egypt in 170 B.C., Antiochus turns his sights on Israel, particularly Jerusalem. He plundered the city and the Temple, taking the holy items and the Temple treasures, “leaving the place a shambles” (I Maccabees 1:21-24). And then two years later, he took the women and children as slaves, stole their cattle, and then burned the city (I Maccabees 1:32-33).
MANDATING A GREEK LIFESTYLE
Antiochus then issued a proclamation [law] that everyone was to adopt a Greek lifestyle, including the worship of the Greek gods [as well as himself as a god] (I Maccabees 1:41). Due to his own “god complex,” he ascribed to himself the name “Epiphanes” (“god manifest”).
PERSECUTING TORAH-OBSERVANT JEWS
Antiochus also forbad the Jews from practicing any form of Judaism, such as prohibiting any of the following:
- Any form of Temple worship;
- All biblical feasts, including the weekly Sabbath; and
- All Torah study and observance, including the following of the dietary laws and circumcision of boys at eight days old.
Instead of obeying God and His Torah [God’s instructions and commandments], they were to worship the Greek gods, eat unclean food, and sacrifice pigs on the altar. Anyone found worshiping the God of Israel or keeping the Torah, or practicing any of its teachings, would be killed (I Maccabees 1:46-52).
INTENSIFYING THE PERSECUTION
On the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Chislev [about mid-to-late November to mid-to-late December] in 167 B.C., the statue of Zeus was erected above the altar, as well as other altars to him around the surrounding towns of Judah (I Maccabees 1:57-58). In addition, any copies of the Torah that were found by the Greek soldiers were torn up and burned (I Maccabees 1:59).
KILLING WOMEN AND CHILDREN
Also, any woman who was found to have circumcised her baby boy was killed, along with her male infant, in accordance to the edict, and her dead baby was hung around her neck. Also, any other member of the household who participated, along with the one who circumcised the infant, were killed as well (I Maccabees 1:60-61).
SOME ENDURE – SOME DO NOT
Although the persecution was intense, there were many who remained faithful to the God of Israel and His Torah; many chose to die rather than to profane God’s “holy covenant” (I Maccabees 1:62-63). Unfortunately, though, there were also some who did not remain faithful but chose to abandon God and His Torah, rather than endure any further persecution. They adopted the Greek lifestyle and began worshipping the various Greek gods.
MATTATHIAS AND HIS SON REVOLT
When Antiochus’s men came to the town of Modein to make the Jews there offer a sacrifice to the god Zeus, a priest by the name of Mattathias and his sons refused to participate. Mattathias told them:
Even if every nation living in the king’s dominion obeys him [Antiochus], each forsaking its ancestral religion to conform to his decrees, I, my sons and my brothers will still follow the covenant of our ancestors. Heaven preserve us from forsaking the Law [Heb. Torah] and its observances. As for the king’s orders, we will not follow them: we will not swerve from our religion either to the right or to the left. (I Maccabees 2: 19-23)
Upon completing this statement, a Jew was going to betray God by offering a pig on the altar, but Mattathias killed the man and began a rebellion, killing as well the king’s men who were also there. Then he ran through the town, rallying the people to join him in their fight against the Greeks. They then took refuge in the hills (I Maccabees 2:25-28).
JUDAH ASSUMES COMMAND
After a year of fighting, Mattathias died in 167 B.C., but before he did, he placed his son Judah in charge of the war against the pagans (I Maccabees 2:66). Judah was nicknamed “Maccabees” (“hammer”) because of how he “hammered” at the enemy in battle. Eventually, after two more years, Judah and his troop won their battle against the Greeks.
A SHOCKING DISCOVERY!
Upon the Greeks’ final defeat in 165 B.C., Judah and his men went to Jerusalem to re-dedicate the Temple. However, when they arrived,
they found the sanctuary [Temple] a wilderness, the altar desecrated, the gates burned down, and vegetation growing in the courts as it might in a wood or on some mountain, while the store rooms were in ruins. They tore their garments and mourned bitterly, putting dust on their heads. (I Maccabees 4:38-40)
CLEANSING THE TEMPLE
After a time of mourning, Judah selected priests who were faithful to God and blameless in their observance of the Torah to clean and purify the Temple, to remove the stones that had been used to construct the altar to Zeus, as well as the stones of the Temple altar that had been profaned by the blood of the pig that the Seleucid Greeks had offered on it (I Maccabees 4:42-45).
WHAT DO WE DO WITH THESE STONES?
Judah and his men were not sure what to do with the Temple altar stones once they had been removed, so they took them outside the Temple and set them in “a suitable place on the Temple hill to await the appearance of [the] prophet [i.e., the Messiah] who should give a ruling about them” (I Maccabees 4:46).
Could these be the same stones that Jesus (Heb. Yeshua) alluded to when He rode into Jerusalem, and when the religious leaders tried to get Him to silence the crowd, He told them, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19:40)
REDEDICATING THE TEMPLE
Once the stones had been removed, they selected rocks that were naturally cut by the weather and sand, and built a new altar where the old one had once stood (I Maccabees 4:47). They cleaned the Temple, replaced the vessels and items that had been stolen, and set up the items in the Temple as God had instructed in the Torah (I Maccabees 4:47-51).
INSTITUTING THE OBSERVANCE OF HANUKKAH
Then on the 25th day of Chislev (which occurs from mid-November to mid-December), in the year 165 B.C., they re-dedicated the Temple back to God and to His service. They “made it a law that the days of dedication of the altar should be an annual celebration for eight days beginning on the 25th day of Chislev with ‘rejoicing and gladness’” (I Maccabees 4:52-61).
GOD FULFILLED HIS PROPHECY
Indeed, God did keep His prophetic word. The “little horn” did rise to great power and for a time did gain power over the “land of Splendor” [Israel], but his time came to an end, and the Temple was, indeed, properly restored, as God promised.
If anything, the celebration of Hanukkah should remind us of the following:
- That our God is a faithful God who keeps His Word, even in the hardest of circumstances;
- The freedom to worship and honor the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by obeying His Torah from our hearts is something that must be fought for continually since today we see that freedom being slowly taken away from us.
- We must also remember that the Torah is not “bondage” or some “legalistic hardship,” as I hear mainstream Christianity teach, but it is a blessing from God that we have been given to teach us about God, Messiah, holiness, and what it means to be “the people of God.”
So during this Hanukkah season, let us strive to remember the faithfulness of our God and to hold on to the freedom that God has given to us to worship Him and to walk in all of His ways.