Jesus and Hanukkah
Psalm 136 – Psalm 136 is known as the Great Hallel or the Great Praise and was probably read responsively with a celebrant or rabbi reading the first part and the people reciting the repeated response. It traces the Redemptive history of the Eternal God.
Old Testament Reading: Ezekiel 34:11-31
Gospel Reading: John 10:1-30
At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter,
- The Gospel of St. John 10:22 (ESV)
In the tenth chapter of John’s gospel, we see Jesus preaching about The Good Shepherd and knowing His sheep in Jerusalem, the Feast of the Dedication was being celebrated.
What is “the Feast of the Dedication?”
It was Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, a celebration of the re-dedication of the Temple after it had been defiled by the Greco-Syrian king, Antiochus IV- who was also called Antiochus the MadMan.
This happened after the time of the Old Testament prophets, and it was also around 150 years before the Birth of Christ.
Antiochus the Madman laid siege to the land and even took over Jerusalem and the Temple itself. He had people killed, women killed for having their sons circumcised according to the Old Covenant that the people of Israel lived and worshiped God under. The Greco-Syrians destroyed the holy books, they even set up idols in the Temple and sacrificed pigs to the pagan deities, as seen in the First book of Maccabees:
1 Maccabees 1:54-64
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
54 Now on the fifteenth day of Chislev, in the one hundred forty-fifth year,[a] they erected a desolating sacrilege on the altar of burnt offering. They also built altars in the surrounding towns of Judah, 55 and offered incense at the doors of the houses and in the streets. 56 The books of the law that they found they tore to pieces and burned with fire. 57 Anyone found possessing the book of the covenant, or
anyone who adhered to the law, was condemned to death by decree of the king. 58 They kept using violence against Israel, against those who were found month after month in the towns. 59 On the twenty-fifth day of the month they offered sacrifice on the altar that was on top of the altar of burnt offering. 60 According to the decree, they put to death the women who had their children circumcised,
61 and their families and those who circumcised them; and they hung the infants from their mothers’ necks.
62 But many in Israel stood firm and were resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food. 63 They chose to die rather than to be defiled by food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die. 64 Very great wrath came upon Israel.
But Judas Maccabee reminded the faithful that God had always poured out his protection and mercy on them:
1 Maccabees 4:6-11
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
6 At daybreak Judas appeared in the plain with three thousand men, but they did not have armor and swords such as they desired. 7 And they saw the camp of the Gentiles, strong and fortified, with cavalry all around it; and these men were trained in war. 8 But Judas said to those who were with him, “Do not fear their numbers or be afraid when they charge. 9 Remember how our ancestors were saved at the Red Sea, when Pharaoh with his forces pursued them. 10 And now, let us cry to Heaven, to see whether he will favor us and remember his covenant with our ancestors and crush this army before us today. 11 Then all the Gentiles will know that there is one who redeems and saves Israel.”
After retaking the Temple, the process to rededication, cleanse, or purify the Temple was started – but they only had one jar of oil for the Great Candlestick (menorah) that was in the Temple; Miraculously, one days worth of oil lasted the eight days it took to get more supplies. Judas proclaimed that the Re-dedication should always be remembered:
1 Maccabees 4:41-60
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
41 Then Judas detailed men to fight against those in the citadel until he had cleansed the sanctuary.
42 He chose blameless priests devoted to the law, 43 and they cleansed the sanctuary and removed the defiled stones to an unclean place. 44 They deliberated what to do about the altar of burnt offering, which had been profaned. 45 And they thought it best to tear it down, so that it would not be a lasting shame to them that the Gentiles had defiled it. So they tore down the altar, 46 and stored the stones in a convenient place on the temple hill until a prophet should come to tell what to do with them. 47 Then they took unhewn stones, as the law directs, and built a new altar like the former one. 48 They also rebuilt the sanctuary and the interior of the temple, and consecrated the courts. 49 They made new holy vessels, and brought the lampstand, the altar of incense, and the table into the temple. 50 Then they offered incense on the altar and lit the lamps on the lampstand, and these gave light in the temple.
51 They placed the bread on the table and hung up the curtains. Thus they finished all the work they had undertaken.
52 Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, which is the month of Chislev, in the one hundred forty-eighth year, 53 they rose and offered sacrifice, as the law directs, on the new altar of burnt offering that they had built. 54 At the very season and on the very day that the Gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals. 55 All the people fell on their faces and worshiped and blessed Heaven, who had prospered them. 56 So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and joyfully offered burnt offerings; they offered a sacrifice of well-being and a thanksgiving offering. 57 They decorated the front of the temple with golden crowns and small shields; they restored the gates and the chambers for the priests, and fitted them with doors. 58 There was very great joy among the people, and the disgrace brought by the Gentiles was removed.
59 Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev.
60 At that time they fortified Mount Zion with high walls and strong towers all around, to keep the Gentiles from coming and trampling them down as they had done before.
The Historian Josephus mentioned Hanukkah celebrations- calling it LIGHTS and saying:
“Now Judas celebrated the festival of the restoration of the sacrifices of the temple for eight days, and omitted no sort of pleasures thereon; but he feasted them upon very rich and splendid sacrifices; and he honored God, and delighted them by hymns and psalms. ” – Antiquities of the Jews XII
Jewish people still observe Hanukkah by lighting a candle on a menorah every night of Hanukkah, eating traditional foods, reciting Psalms and reading scriptures – according to the traditional custom (see note), some of the scriptures read included Psalm 136 and Ezekiel 34. Our Psalm and our Old Testament reading for today, so, according to this system it looks like Jesus was on Solomon’s Porch – the Portico of the Temple- preaching a sermon about that days scripture reading- He was preaching a Hanukkah sermon since it looks like his discourse on the Good Shepherd in John 10 was a sermon based on the reading from Ezekiel chapter 34- the portion from the book of the prophets that was to be read that day to celebrate the Festival (see NOTE).
Our readings from Ezekiel and John both concern The Good Shepherd –
The message from God in Ezekiel says “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.” We see this literally happen in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. He came to seek and save His sheep and in John 10 He even says that He Knows His Sheep, and they will hear His voice and follow Him because He is the Good Shepherd and He will lay down His life for His sheep.
Ultimately, as Christians, we can see that the story of Hanukkah was a type or a foreshadow of the birth of our Savior, through miraculous means the True Light came into the world to dedicate a New Covenant. The people of Israel during the Maccabean Revolt only knew of God dwelling with man in the Holy of Holies of The Temple, that is why The Temple was so important to them. BUT, we know that Jesus was God in the Flesh, the Second Person of the Trinity. Revelation calls Christ Jesus The Tabernacle that walks among men- so, we shouldn’t see Hanukkah as a “rival holiday” – we should see it as another historic sign post pointing towards Christ Jesus and an opportunity to share Him as the True Light that Never Goes Out.
NOTE: The Fourth Gospel and Jewish Worship by Aileen Guilding, 1960, describes the ancient three year reading cycle ( a Palestinian Jewish Triennial Lectionary) in The Temple and in synagogues from the “Jerusalem” tradition during the First Century, but Modern Jewish people follow a single year lection system that corresponds to the Babylonian cycle of Torah (Pentateuch) and Haftarah (Books of the Prophets) portions.