Many of us grew up with little understanding of the festival of Hanukkah, especially if you are not Jewish, even though it is mentioned in the Gospel of John in chapter 10, verses 22-23. This historical holiday has much significance for us today because it marks an important confrontation for God’s people against coercive secular forces. A major focus of the holiday is to remember how God intervened on behalf of His people, Israel, in the struggle against these forces and, indeed, it is traditionally said “a great miracle happened here” in association with their victory. For us to understand Hanukkah and some of its prophetic themes, we must first consider its historical context regarding the Greek Empire following the conquests of Alexander the Great.
When Alexander the Great (356-323BCE) and his army swept across the known world, conquering the civilized world of his day, he sought to impose Greek civilization and culture on conquered lands and peoples. Following his death, the Greeks continued to impose their lifestyle in those lands. They believed that they truly had a superior way of life and were determined to force this lifestyle onto conquered peoples. However, Alexander surprisingly left Israel mostly undisturbed when he initially conquered this area. His successors, however, were less kindly disposed towards Israel.
After the death of Alexander, his expansive Greek domain was subdivided into four smaller kingdoms. The area of the Fertile Crescent was divided under Seleucis (Mesopotamia) and Ptolemy (Egypt). This included the land of Israel and the surrounding lands, which became subject to these two subkingdoms and fell under the jurisdiction of either one or the other, depending on who was strongest at any given moment.
In 198 BC, a new and ambitious Seleucid ruler, Antiochus III, came to power. He was determined to unify the Greek Empire and renew the Hellenization (implementation of Greek culture and philosophy) process in the conquered lands. Israel lay within his province, yet it had resisted Hellenization more completely than any other conquered people. Antiochus was determined to Hellenize Israel. When Antiochus III died, he was succeeded by Antiochus IV, otherwise known as Antiochus Epiphanes, who pushed the process even more vigorously than his predecessor. Antiochus first plundered the wealth of Israel, taking the temple treasures and wealth of the people. He committed acts of murder against the Jews and spoke arrogantly of his authority.
A few years later, he began to deceive the Jews, speaking words of peace and that all should become One People, meaning all peoples under his authority. Jews were to give up their identity and begin sacrificing to idols. They were to forget about the Feasts and Sabbaths. Antiochus Epiphanes outlawed the practice of Torah including any circumcision. He put to death whole families who were caught circumcising their baby boys, including those who did the circumcision. He placed a statue of Zeus (in his likeness) in the Temple at Jerusalem and defiled the Temple by sacrificing swine on the altar. Antiochus proclaimed that whoever does not obey his rule shall die. Israel essentially became a “police surveillance state” with guards watching the people. At that point, most of the people of Jerusalem fled the city, abandoning Jerusalem, and went into hiding to the places of refuge in the mountains.
Antiochus proceeded to defile the Temple in Jerusalem by slaughtering a pig on the altar and built other pagan altars throughout the land. He shredded and burned Torah scrolls wherever they could be found. Anyone caught with a Torah scroll was also put to death. Violence against the Jewish people continued month after month. Many Israelites chose to die rather than to be defiled by eating unclean food or profane the covenant.
When the Greeks went to enforce these practices to the small town of Modi’in, just north of Jerusalem, the Hasmonean family resisted. The Greek officials were attempting to force the Jews of the city to sacrifice to idols. At first, they tried to bribe Mattathias with gifts of gold and silver and with fame. But Mattathias, a Levitical priest, refused, and when a Jewish man gave into the command of the King’s officials to offer sacrifice to idols at a false altar, Mattathias killed him. And then he killed all the King’s officials. This was the beginning of the great Hasmonean revolt.
Soon Judah, one of Mattathias’ sons, distinguished himself as a military leader in this resistance. Jews from throughout the Land rallied to him as armed opposition to the Greeks began. The name Maccabee (“hammer”) was soon applied to Judah because it was said that God smashed the Greeks with Judah, His hammer. Therefore, those struggling against the Greeks were known as the Maccabees. Judah and those fighting alongside him prepared for battle by fasting and praying. God’s anointing was obviously on them because they were successful against overwhelming odds. Most of the battles were fought in the hills well outside of Jerusalem. After years of “guerrilla type” warfare against the Greeks, an abandoned Jerusalem was re-occupied by the Jews and the Temple was rededicated and a new altar of unhewn stone was built. The Temple Menorah was lit as the Temple was rededicated, and an eight-day festival was instituted. Hence, the festival of Hanukkah, or “Dedication”, lasts for eight days beginning on the 25″‘ of Kislev, as the deliverance from the Greeks is remembered.
I recently came across a view of this Menorah event that possibly shed some more light on this “miracle” at the Temple. Rabbi David Fohrman suggests that the fire of the Menorah lamps at Hanukkah was like the fire of the burning bush. In the burning bush, the fire did not consume the substance of the bush, making the fire a supernatural one. One that doesn’t need the actual bush to burn and show its light. So, it’s possible that the fire seen above each lamp on the menorah was also supernatural and did not need oil to be seen. The fact that it was seen as a supernatural event is not diminished. Hanukkah is still the Festival of Lights either way. I thought this was a fascinating take on the Menorah lights and presents a pattern of how God uses supernatural fire. For we find in Act 2:3-4 another instance of what appears to be supernatural fire where tongues like fire spreading out appeared to them and settled on each one of the Israelites standing at the Temple at Shavuot.
Hanukkah represents what I call the only “connector” holiday of the year. Not being one of the 7 biblical Feast Days, it plays a connector role as its events occur in the 400 year period between the time of the Tanakh and the events of the Apostolic scriptures. Also, when we think of Israel as the redeemer Nation, the importance of Hanukkah cannot be overstated as it allows Israel to maintain its identity in the Land of promise and the tribal continuity of Yehudah from which Messiah Yeshua would eventually arise. The story of redemption faced a “choke-point” with Israel at the time of the Maccabees and continued on with divine intervention so that the beginning of the restoration of All Israel could happen through Messiah Yeshua as the Kinsman Redeemer.
As many know, the 24th of Kislev is mentioned in Haggai chapter 2 as a possible prophecy of the conception of Messiah. On that day, Haggai, a Prophet of Israel, received two prophecies about Israel’s future glory and blessing. “Do consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month (24 Kislev), from the day when the temple of the Lord was founded, consider: Is the seed yet in the barn? Even including the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree, it has not borne fruit. Yet from this day on I will bless you” (Haggai 2:18-19). Perhaps this is a reference to when the true vine, the root of the olive tree and the heavenly fig tree, would be conceived as a human being. The seed in the barn might refer to a pregnancy. As the 24th of Kislev was ending and the 25th of Kislev began, Miriam conceived Yeshua by the power of the Holy Spirit and a blessing for the world was here from that day forward. The plan of Israel’s redemption and Messiah’s rule over the nations (Haggai 2:21-22) of the world was incarnated at exactly the right time as foretold.
Many consider the Greek King Antiochus to be a picture of the last days Anti-Messiah. He declared himself to be called “Antiochus Epiphanies” which means “visible god”. Daniel 7:8 says a similar thing about a future Anti-Messiah, “While I was pondering the horns, behold, another horn, a small one, sprang up between them, and three of the first horns were uprooted from before it. And behold, this horn had eyes resembling human eyes and a mouth speaking boastfully.” 2 Thess 2:3-4 says, “Let no one deceive you in any way, for the Day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the one destined to be destroyed. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he sits in the Temple of God, proclaiming himself that he is God.” Antiochus made the Jews bow down to his statues and if they didn’t comply, the consequence was death! From scripture we can see that the coming Anti-Messiah will act the same way, declaring himself to be God: Rev 13:15 “It was permitted to give life to the image of the first beast, so that the image of the beast could even speak and cause all who would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.”
Today, our similar Maccabean struggle, while not physical, is between our faith and the still same secular forces that attempt to disconnect us from the Father’s Word and tempt us to defile our earthly temples (Ephesians 6:10-20). We must constantly be diligent to rededicate ourselves to keeping ourselves separate from the world and aware of the deceptions of the enemy of our souls and minds. The person who has reverence for the Holy One of Israel and His Torah (instructions) conducts his life according to these loving commandments because he knows that he is now and will ultimately be accountable to God for all that he does in this life. The person outside the Covenant knows no reverence for God and scoffs at the concept of accountability to anyone except himself.
This Maccabean-type conflict has now spread over the entire planet. It is not a new battle, but simply a continuation of the same old one. The conflict and pattern are exactly the same. And the ultimate conflict will come back to Jerusalem. As Israel understands more of her position in God’s purpose and acts to implement His purpose, the struggle will become more and more intense. It has already begun. Zechariah said that God would cause Jerusalem to be a cup of reeling for all the nations (Zechariah 12.2). Ezekiel said that all the nations will come up against Israel and Jerusalem (Ezekiel 38-39). When they do, His Glory will break forth and destroy the invading armies and all the earth will know that the Holy One of Israel is God alone. The reign of Messiah Yeshua will be over the whole earth and the Torah of His Kingdom will go forth from Zion and instruct the peoples, and all nations will go up annually at Sukkot to worship in Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:16).
Faithful believers in the God of Israel around the world are beginning to awaken, arise and take their stand. As followers of Messiah Yeshua, we should not think of ourselves separate from Israel in either identity or her struggles in these matters. As the prophets of old have said, it is the role of the Messiah to restore the Tribes of Israel in order to fulfill Israel’s calling to be the nation that ushers in salvation (Yeshua) to all the earth. These indeed are awesome days. I believe that this is precisely what we expected in the days prior to Yeshua’s return. Are you prepared to stand up and be a Maccabee at this crucial time and in this spiritual struggle?
(contributions used by permission from Ken Garrison – Fellowship Church -Winter Springs, FL)