“I am the light of the world … Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter.
And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch.” Joh 9:5b, Joh 10:22
The Feast of Hanukkah
In the second century B.C., the Syrian ruler, Antiochus IV (also called Epiphanes—the appearance of god) began a war to destroy the Jewish faith and subjugate the Jewish people to Greek religion. Beginning in 170 B.C., he declared that the study of the Law (Torah), Sabbath observance and worship, and circumcision of male children were outlawed. Those violating this edict were to be crucified. Mothers who permitted their boy-child to be circumcised were to be crucified with the child hanging around their neck. The altar in the Temple was profaned with an image of Zeus, and pigs were sacrificed on the altar. The Temple chambers were turned into brothels, and every means of profaning the Temple were implemented. During the first three years of this edict, it is said that 80,000 Jewish people died horrible deaths for refusing to comply.
Then, about 167 B.C., in the small village of Modin, about 12 miles northwest of Jerusalem, there lived a priest (kohein) named Mattityahu (Mattithias) and his sons. When a Greek official urged them to sacrifice a pig, or suffer the consequences, a cowardly Jew stepped forward to comply. Mattathias drew his sword and killed the traitor, as well as the Greek official. Thus began the war of the “Maccabees” (meaning “hammer,” because of the mighty blows they dealt their enemies). Mattathias then declared, “Whoever is for God follow me,” and fled with his sons to the Judean wilderness. Here they were joined by ever-growing numbers of faithful followers.
Though Antiochus sent wave after wave of increasingly large forces against them, by 164 B.C., the Maccabean forces had recaptured the Temple Mount. With an interesting sidelight in view of current events in Israel, Antiochus began his campaign by demanding “an end to the Jewish occupation of Jerusalem.” To this, Shimon the Maccabee replied, “We have not occupied foreign land; we have not ruled a foreign land; we have liberated the land of our forefathers from foreign occupation.”
When the Temple Mount was recaptured and the Temple thoroughly purified, it came time to relight the Menorah—the lampstand of seven branches. However, only one vial of consecrated oil had escaped the depredations of the Greeks, still bearing the signet-stamp of the high-priest. Due to the process of making and dedicating the special oil, it would take another seven days for the priest to provide more oil. Yet the lamp was lit and—miraculously—the oil, which was sufficient only for a day, lasted for the full eight days of preparation. This became the basis for the “Feast of Dedication,” the miraculous preservation of the “light” being taken as evidence that the "dedication” of the Temple was acceptable to G–d.
Another highlight worth mentioning is that the total time of the reign of terror under Antiochus was from 170–164 B.C., a period of seven years. It took the Maccabees just over three years to reclaim the Temple Mount and purify the Temple.
In the present-day celebration of Hanukkah, (this year falling on December 8–16), a lampstand with nine lights is used. The central light is called the “helper” light, the one used to light the other eight. With this light, one lamp is lit each day, until all eight are burning. As seven is the biblical number of completion, so the number eight signifies a new beginning—the significance of which we will see shortly.
Enter the “Light of the World”
It was during the “Feast of Dedication” that the religious leaders confronted Jesus, and demanded He proclaim His identity (Joh 10:22–25). His response is “enlightening” to say the least:
“I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name,
they bear witness of me … I and My Father are one.” Joh 10:25–30
There are three astounding things about Jesus’ response. First, He (who could tell no lie) declared that He had already told them clearly. Second, that His works were proof of the truth of what He had told them. Finally (and most blasphemous in their minds), Jesus took from the great Shema of Deu 6:4 the truth that “the Lord our God, the Lord is one,” and said, “I and the Father” are included in this “one.”
So how had Jesus told them clearly, and what works was He referring to? If we back up to John chapter 8, perhaps a day or two earlier, we see Jesus again in the Temple. In fact, the statement “… He came into the Temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them” (Joh 8:2) tells us He was in the very same place, Solomon’s Porch, where such things traditionally were done by the Rabbis.
It was here that the same leaders—the scribes and Pharisees—brought to Him the woman “caught in the very act” of adultery. Then the Master, in one stroke, both convicts the leaders of their own sin and forgives the woman (something only God can do), then declares, “I AM the light of the world” (Joh 8:12). The emphasis gives the true sense of what He is saying. He was making a full disclosure of His identity, backed up by His works!
The Pharisees then engage Him in a long dispute (Joh 8:13–59), in which He ends the debate with the astounding statement, “before Abraham was, I AM” (Joh 8:58). Once again, He takes the holy name of Jehovah (Exo 3:14), leaving no doubt as to His claim. Then (the same day, or the next) Jesus declares again, “I AM the light of the world” (Joh 9:5), just before He gives sight to the man born blind. He then drives home His point in chapter 10, declaring “I AM the door” (Joh 10:7), and “I AM the good shepherd” (Joh 10:11, Joh 10:14). [Emphasis mine.]
It is in light of these events and statements that He says to the religious leaders, “I told you, and you do not believe” (Joh 10:25). His words and His works all confirmed His identity, yet they would not believe. All these events occurred at the “Feast of Dedication,” also known as “The Feast of Lights,” which we call Hanukkah.
Some Historical Conclusions
It is clear that Jesus used the Feast of Dedication, or Lights, to identify Himself. His works during that feast had to do with conviction of sin, forgiveness of believing sinners, and giving sight to the blind.
The events of the tyranny of Antiochus, and the ultimate victory of the Jewish believers, are a preview of coming events on our horizon. Even now, we see Israel once again called “occupiers” in the land given them by God. With increasing force and violence, the world will demand that they relinquish their birthright. This growing hostility will spark once again the heroic spirit of the Maccabees. Once again the Temple Mount will be desecrated by another “Epiphany,” known in Scripture as “Antichrist,” who will proclaim himself to be god (Mat 24:15–21; 2Th 2:4; Rev 13:14–15). The ensuing battle will require spiritual—not physical—weapons. From the very beginning of this tribulation period, “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer 30:7), Jesus Christ, “the Light of the World,” (Joh 8:12) will begin a work of conviction, forgiveness, regeneration, and illumination among the Jewish people. This will begin with the sealing of the 144,000 Jewish evangelists (Rev 7:4–8), who will lead the forces of the faithful in reaching the lost for Christ, and ultimately meeting Him on the Temple Mount (Rev 14:1–5), for the final battle, and the cleansing of the Temple.
It is traditional that Christians celebrate the birth of Christ at Christmas, the coming of the Light of God into a dark and sinful world. However, the origins of the Christmas celebration find their source in paganism. It appears to me that we have far greater reason to see in the Hanukkah celebration a type and prophetic symbol of the coming of Jesus Christ, by whom even the vilest sinner is purified, sanctified, in order to become “the temple of God” (1Co 3:16; 1Co 6:19). It is not without significance that the Hanukkah Menorah, with eight lights instead of seven, speaks of a “new beginning,” the result of the “new covenant,” which is called “a better covenant, which was established on better promises” by which “their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more” (Heb 8:6b, Heb 8:8, Heb 8:12b, see also Jer 31:31–34).
Therefore whether you celebrate Christmas, or Hanukkah, we offer up our prayers that you will do so thoughtfully, reverently, and with full meaning of the reality upon which all true worship rests, and that is “that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation … For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2Co 5:19, 2Co 5:21).
May you have a blessed Holy-day season in Christ!
In His service,
Gene and Nan Cunningham