The celebration of the eight days of Hanukkah this year begins on Christmas Eve before sundown and lasts till sundown on New Year's Day. Christians today can identify with this story in our struggle to walk out our faith in the midst of an increasingly dark and anti-Christian world.
In the events of Hanukkah, God ensured that Jesus would be born to Jewish parents in a Jewish nation, thus fulfilling over 300 prophecies in the Old Testament about the coming of the Messiah. It was this time in history between the Old and New Testaments, called the Maccabean period, that the very existence of the Jewish people was threatened. The victory of the Jews over their enemies and the regaining of their temple in Jerusalem led to the celebration of Hanukkah. Christmas is a celebration of the first coming of the Messiah. Hanukkah is a foreshadowing of the times preceding the second coming of the Messiah. There is a definite connection between Hanukkah and Christmas.
The Hebrew word Hanukkah means “to dedicate.” From 168 to 165 B.C. a faithful remnant of Jews were at war with the Syrians who had forced the Jews to abandon their God and His commandments in the Torah and worship idols. The Jews miraculously won the war and rededicated their temple in Jerusalem. They cleaned out all the filthy remains of idol worship and prepared to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, an eight-day feast. They found only enough holy oil to keep the menorah burning for one day, but, according to legend, the oil burned for eight days! The people rejoiced at this great miracle and have celebrated the event known as Hanukkah, beginning on the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev, every year since then (Kislev corresponding to November-December). The Jews light a candle on their menorah every night for eight nights.
It may surprise some that Jesus celebrated Hanukkah in the Temple (Feast of Dedication - John 10:22). He used this occasion to proclaim to the Jews that He was the Messiah. It is also called the Festival of Lights and is prophetic of the Shekinah glory of God filling the temple that Jesus will build in Jerusalem at the beginning of the Millennium (Zech. 6: 12, 13; Ezek. 43: 4-7).
Much of the story of Hanukkah is a fulfillment of the prophecies of Daniel given about 400 years before (Dan. 9:27; 11:31; 12:11). The Jewish revolt started on the 15th of Kislev, 168 B.C. when the Syrian ruler, Antiochus Epiphanes demanded he be worshiped as God. He erected an idol of Zeus (which bore the face of Antiochus) on the holy altar in the courtyard of the Temple. On the 25th of Kislev, the birthday of Zeus, Antiochus offered a pig on the altar (an "abomination"), sprinkled its blood in the Holy of Holies and poured its broth over the holy scrolls before he cut them to pieces and burned them! What horror! Faithful Jews were outraged!
Before this Antiochus had wrought destruction and murder in Jerusalem and hacked and smashed the porches and gates of the Temple, stripping it of its golden vessels and treasures.
The Hasideans were a faithful remnant of Jews who fled to the mountains, carrying with them copies of the book of Daniel. As they prepared to war against the Syrians, they studied the Scriptures and learned when their exile and their suffering would end (Daniel 8:13-14).
Antiochus also had pigs sacrificed on altars all over Israel, and the people were forced to eat the sacrifices (against the Torah). In 167 B.C. his soldiers came to the town of Modi’in and demanded that Mattathias the priest sacrifice a pig on the altar they built. Mattathias refused. Another Jew stepped forward to do it. Mattathias was enraged and killed the apostate Jew and the Syrian captain, too. Then he took his five sons and ran to the hills from where they waged a war against the Syrians. Mattathias and his sons raised the war cry, “Let every one who is zealous for the law and supports the covenant come out with me” (Apocrypha, I Maccabees 2:27). Many Jews joined them in the wilderness hiding places. There were many courageous martyrs, including a woman named Hannah who had seven sons. Refusing to eat swine's flesh, they were tortured, then boiled alive! Their mother encouraged them, saying they would be resurrected. She also refused to apostasize and was put to death. These faithful Jews are described in Hebrews 11:35-39 - "Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection ... of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise."
Mattathias led the revolt for one year. On his death bed he passed the leadership on to his son Judah, who was surnamed Maccabeus (nickname meaning “hammer”). Before each battle the Maccabees fasted and prayed, and the Lord brought them through victorious. The valiant band of Maccabees defeated the Syrians and rededicated the temple in Jerusalem on the 25th of Kislev, 165 B.C., exactly three years after the desecration of the temple. This three years is symbolic of the three days in Jesus’ statement, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19), meaning His body. The “resurrection” of the temple in 165 B.C. was a foreshadowing of the resurrection of the Messiah some 200 years later. In addition to this symbolism, the rededication of the temple has further significance for the Christian concerning his own body. The Apostle Paul taught, “And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you [Christians] are the temple of the living God...” (II Cor.6:16).
The Christmas story recorded in Luke shows an example of someone so totally dedicated to the purposes of God, no matter what the cost was to her own body, her reputation, that she willingly submitted to God's Word, saying, "Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to Thy word" (Luke 1:38). Mary made the supreme act of dedication, offering her body as the temple of God, thereby giving birth to the Messiah!
Keep in mind that without the sacrifice and struggle of the faithful Jewish remnant against their wicked rulers in the time of the Maccabees, there would not be a Christmas to celebrate. (PART TWO IS COMING SOON.)