Hanukkah and Jesus

What is Hanukkah 

Hanukkah began on Dec. 20th and ends tomorrow night on the 28th. While many people know that it lasts for eight nights and it involves lighting candles, the real significance of the holiday may be a little more obscure. The events surrounding Hanukkah begin when Alexander the Great conquered the known world and advanced Greek culture across his empire through Hellenization. Some in Israel abandoned their Jewish traditions and adopted Greek culture and Greek names. After Alexander’s death, his generals divided his kingdom amongst themselves. Two of these kingdoms had a significant impact on Israel. The Ptolemaic Empire, based south of Israel in Egypt, initially governed the region of Judea, but the Seleucid Empire, based to the north around Syria, eventually gained control of the region.

Soon Antiochus IV, king of the Seleucid Empire, invaded Egypt, but the Romans drew a line in the sand and sent him back to Syria. Humiliated and enraged, Antiochus Epiphanes (god manifest) invaded Israel in the midst of a cultural civil war between the Hellenistic and traditional Jewish communities. Antiochus sided with the Hellenized Jews and looted the temple treasures to fund his military campaign. He outlawed Jewish traditions, enforced idolatry, erected an altar to Zeus in the Temple and desecrated the Temple by sacrificing pigs on the altar.

A small family of priests decided to stand against Antiochus’ in their rural village of Modiin. Mattathias and his five sons, Eliazer, Yochanan, Simeon, Yonatan and Yehuda, revolted against both the Seleucid army and the Hellenists. When Mattathias died, Yehuda HaMakabee, the hammer, succeeded his father in leading the rebellion. Two years later, the rebels defeated the Seleucid army and drove the Greeks out of Israel. Once they were victorious, the faithful Jewish priests purified the Temple. According to legend, they only found one small container of olive oil, which was enough to light the menorah for one day. Unfortunately, it would take eight days to produce ritually pure olive oil. Miraculously, the small jar of olive oil lasted for eight days. The celebration of Hanukkah commemorates the Jewish defeat of the mighty Greek army and the miraculous preservation of the olive oil.

Why is this important?

About 160 years after these events a young woman gave birth to a baby boy in the Judean Hills, not far from where the rebellion began. This birth is still remembered around the world at Christmas. If God did not intervene and deliver the nation of Israel from the Seleucid Empire then Jesus’ birth may not have been possible. God’s preservation of Israel allowed him to fulfill His promise to send the anticipated Messiah, the Son of David. Hanukkah reminds us of God’s faithfulness to deliver His people and orchestrate all events to fulfill His divine redemptive plan.

Hanukkah also warns us of the danger of assimilation. Many within Israel were more concerned about fitting into the Greek culture than they were about remaining faithful to their covenant with God. In our generation we must learn how to live holy lives in the midst of a godless society.

Jesus and Hanukkah

During the Feast of Dedication, Hanukkah, Jesus traveled through the colonnade on the southern side of the Temple complex, leading to an interaction with the religious leaders (John 10:22-42). Previously, John describes a debate within the Jewish community concerning Jesus’ identity. Due to his enigmatic parables, some thought he lost his mind (10:20); others responded by stating a demon cannot make a blind man see (10:21). They rightfully acknowledge that life-giving miracles only have a divine origin. This logically leads to the retelling of an encounter Jesus has with some religious leaders during Hanukkah, since the holiday reminds the Jewish community of when God miraculously gave Israel victory over the Greek army and of how God allowed the sacred oil for the menorah to miraculously last for eight days.

John intentionally includes the temporal reference to the holiday to show how Jesus’ miracles betray his true identity. Just as God had miraculously delivered Israel from their Greek oppressors, Jesus demonstrates his divine origin by miraculously healing the sick. The people recognize these great miracles and question whether or not Jesus is truly the Messiah (John 10:24). Jesus responds by saying that the works he does testify to his true identity (10:25). The word Jesus employs to describe his deeds recalls the miraculous works of God described in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint (Josh 24:29; Pss 45:9; 65:5; 85:8). Despite the astounding nature of Jesus’ miracles, only his followers recognize his unique identity (10:26-27). To his followers, Jesus gives eternal life (10:28). Following this statement, Jesus declares perfect unity between him and the Father (10:30).

The surrounding crowd recognized the magnitude of Jesus’ statement and decided to stone him, knowing that he claimed to be God (John 10:31-33). Jesus challenged their actions and asked them for which of his miracles did they seek to stone him, since his works prove his divine nature (10:32, 37-38). Ultimately, Jesus’ works caused many people to believe in him.

The celebration of Hanukkah commemorates God’s intervention into the life of Israel when he miraculously saves the nation from the Seleucid army. Just as the miracle of Hanukkah speaks of God’s intervention in the lives of His people as their divine deliverer, Jesus’ miracles remind us that God has intervened in human history when He took on human flesh to deliver us from our sin. Jesus promises, “my sheep hear my voice, I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they will never perish; no one can snatch them from my hand” (10:27-28). The shepherd knows his sheep, because he is frequently in their presence. If we want to hear our Shepherd’s voice, we must make enough room in our lives to hear him.

This wonderful information comes from Scott Nassau, of Chosen People Ministries.  Scott came and spoke to our church on one of the Jewish festivals and its importance to us today.  Hi and his family ministers in a Jewish community in Los Angeles, sharing that Jesus IS the Messiah they have long awaited.  You can find out more about this ministry from this email I received.  I signed up to receive their updates and have been blessed to learn more about the Jewish culture.  If you are interested at all in this, you’d enjoy their newsletters and the www.chosenpeople.com website. 

This is what Scott says about this ministry:

By creating a Messianic Community in West Los Angeles, we seek to act as a catalyst for Jewish people to put their faith in Yeshua as the Messiah. We will provide creative, accessible and meaningful worship, where we can express our faith in a Jewish context. We are committed to maintaining the authority of Scripture with its emphasis on discipleship, fellowship and outreach. As a congregation we will be intentional about engaging with the community through relevant events and service.

Our congregation seeks to have an impact upon the young Jewish community in Los Angeles, including those involved in the city’s large entertainment industry. We seek to express God’s eternal truth in relevant, artistic, and creative means that connect with this culture.

Our vision is to make Tikkun Olam a Messianic community that seeks to spiritually transform the world one life at a time. We believe Tikkun Olam can have a significant impact upon the Jewish Community of West Los Angeles, but we need others to partner with us to make the congregation a reality.

We would love to hear from you. If you have any questions or thoughts you would like to share, we would love to hear from you.

Thank you for standing behind us.

Scott, Dana, Ilan and Aitan Nassau
Chosen People Ministries



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