What is Hanukkah?
The Christian world at large does not give much attention to the celebration of the Feast of Hanukkah. The interesting thing is that Jesus actually kept this feast himself in John 10:22-39. This means that this feast has special significance for every believer! He only did what He saw the Father do (John 5:19). What many people do not understand is that the Hanukkah itself is a fulfillment of Bible prophecy! Moreover, the Hanukkah story foreshadows certain events that have yet to happen, including the rise of the Anti-Christ (the man of lawlessness).
Daniel 11 is a prophecy that explains the breakup of the empire of Alexander the Great and the events that immediately followed. When Alexander the Great died in 323 B.C., a civil war erupted as to who would control his empire. In 301 BC, his empire was broken up into four parts. By 276 BC, only 3 of them remained. Most of Daniel 11 is focused on the interactions between two of these kingdoms: the kingdom of the north and the kingdom of the south. The Kingdom of the North was the Seleucid Kingdom, which ruled from modern-day Turkey to India. The capital city was named Antioch, which is in Syria today. The southern kingdom was known as the Ptolemy Kingdom, which ruled Egypt and parts of North Africa.
Daniel 11 addresses the interactions between these two kingdoms. Why? Between these two kingdoms rests the land that God promised to the children of Abraham. The conflicts between the northern and southern kingdoms create the environment for the events that are commemorated during the Hanukkah season.
In 175 BC, a man came to power in the kingdom of the north named Antiochus IV. He gained the throne through flattery and intrigue, just as Daniel prophesied in Daniel 11:21. At this time, Onias III was the high priest over the temple in Jerusalem. There were people in Israel at that time who were Hellenists. Hellenists believed in the superiority of Greek thought, language, and culture over others. In fact, Hellenists wanted to lessen the practices of the Hebrew Bible. One group that supported Hellenism were called Tobiads.
In 173, the Tobiads caused Onias III to be deposed from the priesthood. Their choice for that position was Jason. Jason bribed Antiochus IV for his favor in this endeavor. Jason was pro-Greek and tried to Hellenize the Jewish people. Jason built a gymnasium in Jerusalem. He also sent money to have sacrifices made to Hercules at the Greek Olympic games.
In 171 BC, Jason was overthrown by Menelaus, who paid even more to receive the position of high priest. Menelaus even went as far as to take vessels from the Temple of God and give them to Syrian nobles in return for their support. Onias III exposed this betrayal, but was compelled to go into hiding. He was subsequently killed. This was the prince of the Covenant who was killed as discussed in Daniel 11:22.
In 170 B.C., the king of the South (Ptolemy Philometer) tried to conquer Israel and take it from Antiochus. Antiochus fought back and drove his forces out of the country. He did not stop there! He conquered almost all of Egypt.
While Antiochus was fighting in Jerusalem, the Jewish people heard a rumor that he died. As a result, they deposed Menelaus. As Antiochus was on his way back from fighting in Egypt, he stopped in Jerusalem. He reinstated Menelaus and stole the golden table of shewbread from the Temple of God. He then returned to Antioch.
In 168 BC, Antiochus attempted to completely subdue Egypt, but he was turned back by the Romans. Frustrated, Antiochus marched toward the land of Israel to unleash his rage from another failed invasion of Egypt. While enroute to their homeland, the Greeks stopped at Jerusalem. They approached the city with peaceful intentions. Once they had gained access into the city, they pillaged it. Men were killed and women were sold into slavery.
On the 25th of Kislev (the 9th Hebrew month), Antiochus had a pig sacrificed on the altar of sacrifice. He spread pig’s blood in the Holy Place and Most Holy Place. He had a statue of Zeus put in God’s Temple with his own likeness carved onto the face. This was called the abomination that makes desolate. This wicked man put himself in the place of God and commanded the Jewish people to bow down before him. He even changed his name to Antiochus Epiphanes. Epiphanes means “God manifest.”
During his reign over the land of Israel, Antiochus outlawed keeping the Sabbath, celebrating Holy Days of Leviticus 23, reading of the Hebrew Scriptures, circumcision, and all commandment keeping. Those caught with the Holy Scriptures or performing circumcision were executed. How terrible!
The Jewish people rebelled against this tyrant. Mattathias Maccabeus and his sons led the Jewish people in a revolt against Antiochus. They achieved victory after victory over the Greek forces. Sometimes they were outnumbered as much as fifteen to one (15 to 1) and still routed the enemy! Though the Greeks were better trained and equipped, God gave his people victory in this struggle against lawlessness and evil.
In 165 BC, the Jewish people drove out the Greeks and re-captured the Temple. On the 25th of Kislev, the people of God began to purify the Temple from the idolatry that defiled it. This was three years to the day that it had been defiled! They got rid of the filthy idol of Zeus that Antiochus had placed in the Temple. They even destroyed the altar of sacrifice and had a brand new one constructed. They began to burn incense once again on the altar of incense and placed bread on the table of shewbread.
Before they could rekindle the menorah, they needed oil. After searching the Temple, most of the oil they found was unclean. Fortunately, they did find one small jar with the high priest’s seal that was unopened and also clean. Though it was only enough oil for one day, they lit the menorah on faith. They celebrated for eight days, patterning this celebration after Tabernacles, which they had not been allowed to celebrate the previous three years. Amazingly enough, the menorah oil lasted the entire eight days!
In 164 BC, Antiochus died of a mental illness. Matthew 24:1-15, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, and Daniel 11:36-45 tell us that these events will play out once again! We will discuss this in the future.
From that time forth, the Hanukkah celebration was established as an eight day celebration starting on the 25th of Kislev. In the time of Josephus, this festival was called the festival of lights. Great emphasis was placed upon every individual to light a lamp in honor of this great victory.
Hanukkah today is to remind us of the miraculous working of God in our lives. Recall how God has empowered you to overcome; how he delivered you from situations that were impossible by human standards. Jesus spoke much about miracles at Hanukkah in John 10:22-39. It is a reminder that we are never to allow the plans of man or of satan to interfere in letting our light shine.
Lessons we learn from Hanukkah:
- We must stay loyal to God; we cannot compromise or conform to culture; the Hellenists wanted to conform to culture to please those in power.
- The miracle working power of God; the small supply of oil lasted 8 days.
- The miracle of victory; the Jewish people against all odds had victory over the enemy.
- Walking by faith, not by sight. The Jewish people had to walk by faith the entire time this ordeal went on. They couldn’t look at the odds against them, but the God who fought for them.
- God can take a little and multiply it (consider the church of Philadelphia – Rev. 3:7-10).