Some time ago, a Christian Jew visited our church & shared how the Jewish traditions & festivals hold importance in our heritage as children of God and believers in Jesus Christ. I found myself hungry to learn more and more on this subject so I subscribed to this missionary’s newsletter & have since had the privilege of praying for this man, his family, & their unique ministry. They serve as missionaries to the Jewish people in Hollywood, seeking to introduce them to their long-awaited Messiah, Jesus Christ. What I’m sharing below came from their most recent newsletter. If you would like to subscribe, pray, &/or support this ministry, click here.
Also, during the days of Hanukkah, Chosen People Ministries will be hosting “8 Days of Prayer” to pray for Israel. If you would like to participate in this Global petitioning, you can follow them on Facebook where each day’s requests will be posted. As we pray for the peace of Israel, we join many Believers in also praying that Israel will know Peace!
From the Nassau family’s email:
Saturday December 8th, at sundown Hanukkah begins. For the next eight days the Jewish community around the world will celebrate God’s miraculous deliverance of Israel from the Greeks. The eight days commemorate the miraculous preservation of the sacred olive oil. This is why it is traditional to eat fried food, like doughnuts and latkes, potato pancakes, during the holiday. It is also customary to play the dreidel, spinning top, to remember how the Jewish community hid in caves and secretly studied the Torah when the Greeks prohibited Jewish practice. If the Greeks discovered these secret Torah study sessions, the Jewish people would pretend they playing games with a spinning top.
For many Christians, this Jewish holiday is rather obscure, but the Gospels indicate how Jesus observed Hanukkah. As we enter the season of Hanukkah we have included a couple articles on the holiday’s significance and why it is important for Christians as well. We hope you enjoy this special Hanukkah edition of our newsletter.
In Our Messiah’s Love,
Scott, Dana, Ilan, Aitan and Neshama Nassau
Chosen People Ministries
What Is Hanukkah?
Hanukkah began Saturday night. You may have heard about Hanukkah, but wonder why it is important. The events surrounding Hanukkah begin when Alexander the Great conquered the known world and advanced Greek culture across his empire, known as Hellenization. Some in Israel abandoned their Jewish traditions and adopted Greek culture and Greek names. After Alexander’s death, his generals divided his kingdom. Two of these kingdoms continually fought over Israel. The Ptolemaic Empire, based in Egypt, initially governed Judea, but the Seleucid Empire, based 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 away. 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 to fund his military campaign. He outlawed Jewish traditions, enforced idolatry, and desecrated the Temple by erecting an altar to Zeus and sacrificing pigs on the altar.
A small family of priests rebelled 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, they needed 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.
What do we Learn?
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 demonstrates 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 Celebrated Hanukkah
During the Feast of Dedication, Hanukkah, Jesus traveled through 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 mysterious 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 how 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.
Jesus’s miracles betray his true identity. Just as God miraculously delivered Israel from their Greek oppressors, Jesus shows his divine origin by miraculously healing the sick. The people recognize these great miracles and wonder whether or not Jesus is the Messiah (John 10:24). Jesus says his works testify to his true identity (10:25). The word Jesus uses to describe his works 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’s miracles, only his followers recognize his unique identity (10:26-27). To his followers, Jesus gives eternal life (10:28). Jesus affirms his perfect unity with the Father (10:30).
The surrounding crowd recognized the magnitude of Jesus’s statement and decided to stone him, knowing that he claimed to be God (John 10:31-33). Jesus challenged their actions and asked why they sought to stone him, since his works prove his divine nature (10:32, 37-38). Ultimately, Jesus’s works led many to believe in him.
The celebration of Hanukkah commemorates God’s intervention into the life of Israel when he delivered the nation from the Greeks. Just as the miracle of Hanukkah speaks of God’s intervention in Israel as their divine deliverer, Jesus’s miracles remind us that God 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 always in their presence. If we want to hear our Shepherd’s voice, we must make room in our routine to hear him.