Greetings everyone in the Name of YESHUA Ha Mashiach, the Light of the world. The Festival of Chanukkah is not found in the Old Testament per se. It's spoken about prophetically through the Prophet, Daniel. The Festival of Chanukkah is spoken about in the B'rit Hadashah in the Gospel of John in Chapter 10. Before we look at that passage, let us go through a little bit in the study of Chanukkah and its significance.
In reality the Bible is one Book. It is inspired by One GOD. It was granted to us by men moved and led by the Holy Spirit, both in the Old Testament age and in the New Testament era. It is one Book. The Chanukkah story appears in the Book of Maccabees, which was written during the period between the First and Second Covenants (Old and New Testaments). While this Book was not accepted for inclusion as part of the Bible canon, it was considered by many Biblical scholars to be a historically accurate accounting of events that happened in the Holy Land several centuries before the coming of YESHUA.
Perhaps no other more important event took place than that of the occasion that give rise to the Jewish Festival of Chanukkah. That event takes place about a hundred and sixty five years before the time of YESHUA. The observance of Chanukkah is based upon the first war for religious freedom that took place many years ago when Jewish people in Israel were ruled by Emperor Antiochus of Syria. Antiochus began to forbid the obedience to the Law of GOD; he forbad the practice of circumcision; he forbad the instruction of the Mosaic Law. And when he went into the Holy Temple, he began to defile it. The golden altar, the candle sticks, and all the gold and silver utensils were looted from the Temple and desecrated. To show utter contempt for the Jewish people and for their GOD, Antiochus offered a pig on the altar to honour the Greek god, Zeus. Furthermore, he erected a statue of the Greek god, Zeus in the very Holy of Holies and demanded that the Jewish people begin to worship this pagan god, rather than their True GOD.
Antiochus was a tyrant. He was cruel; he was harsh; he was savage. He believed himself to be GOD incarnate; so much so that he named himself Antiochus Ephenias - Antiochus, God Manifest. His opponents renamed him Antiochus (the madman), because of the way he ruled in the land of Israel, and the way that he mistreated the Jewish people.
The scenario and events of this era are described in the Book of Daniel, Chapters 8 and 9. You may wish to read these Chapters for yourselves. When his armies would go from village to village, they would always call out the village elder and the village leader, and would require of them that they sacrifice a pig to their god, Zeus, thereby providing an example for everyone to follow. But on one particular day, Antiochus' soldiers marched into a little village known as Modi'in, some twenty miles northwest of the city of Jerusalem. They called out the elder of that city who was a man by the name of Mattathias, and commanded him to sacrifice a pig to the god, Zeus. But Mattathias was a righteous man; a member of a priestly family, and who, along with his sons, refused to offer a sacrifice to this false god. Mattathias and his five sons began to fight with these armed soldiers and defeated them, and pushed them out of the city of Modi'in. And then began a seven year revolt against the Greco-Syrian army.
With the Maccabean rebellion, GOD's plan to protect and to defend His people began to unfold. These events were spoken about by the prophet Daniel. For example in Chapter 11 in the Book of Daniel, it tells that GOD empowered the Jewish people to resist Antiochus, and to fight him and to seek to return their land back to themselves, and back to the celebration and worship of the One True GOD.
Mattathias was old, so after about one year of conflict, and before he died, he turned over the reigns of this rebellion to his son, Judah Maccabee, whose name means, 'Judah, the Hammer'. His men became known as the Maccabees, for it was said that, with GOD's help, they were able to attack Antiochus' army, at that time, the mightiest army in the world. From their mountain camp, a group of 3,000 Jewish fighters watched as 47,000 Syrians soldiers marched to engage them in battle. And as the Book of Maccabees tells us, with GOD on their side, they were able to vanquish the Syrians at the city of Emmaus, and thereby open the road to Jerusalem. Then they marched triumphantly into the City to begin the purification and rededication of the Temple and its furnishing back to the worship of the True and Living GOD of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
When they entered the Temple area, the first the they were confronted with was the desecrated altar. We are told in the Book of Maccabees that they had dismantled the altar stone by stone, and stored the stones in a secret place until such time as the Prophet, understood to be either Elijah or the Messiah Himself, would arise to tell them what to do with them.
Secondly, they had to cleanse the Holy of Holies; to remove this statue of Zeus, and rededicate its usage to the True GOD. The Temple was divided into two distinct sections. The outer court was the Holy Place, and the innermost room was the Holy of Holies. In the Holy Place, there was a table overlaid with gold upon which, every day, the priests would place twelve loaves of bread. This was the table of showbread. It represented GOD's presence among the Twelve tribes of Israel, and His provisions that He would give to the nation. In the center of this room was an altar, which was known as the Altar of Incense, and upon this Altar, incense was burned, which represented the prayers of the Jewish people to their Holy GOD.
On the left side of the Holy Place was a seven-branched menorah. This menorah burned oil, and it was lit every day and was meant to be kept lit so as to represent the glorified presence of GOD among His people. This menorah had been extinguished. And legend tells us in the Book of Maccabees, that as the priest searched throughout the Temple grounds to find a cruse of oil that was manufactured according to the priestly tradition, to rekindle this menorah, they were able to find only one cruse of oil which would last one day. And so they debated as to whether or not they should light the menorah immediately, and to see how long it would last, or ought they to wait seven days and then light the menorah, for the process of providing this ritual oil would take them eight days.
They decided to light the menorah immediately. And according to legend, the miracle of Chanukkah is that GOD enabled the menorah to stay lit for eight days, providing enough time for the priests to manufacture the oil to keep the menorah lit from then on.
In the Talmud, there is a question that is asked: what is Chanukkah? And the answer that is given, states: 'For a rabbi is taught, when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils therein. And when the Hasmoneans' sons, the Maccabees, prevailed against and defeated them, they made search and found only one cruse of oil which lay with the seal of the high priest undefiled, but which contained sufficient for one day's lighting only. Yet a miracle was wrought therein, and they lit the menorah therewith for eight days. The following year these days were appointed a festival with the recital of the Hallel and with thanksgiving.'
The phrase 'Hallel' means they recited it with praise, and it refers to a series of Psalms in the Book of Psalms known as the Hallel Songs, which cover Psalm 113 through 118. The name of the Festival - Chanukkah - which means 'to dedicate' arose, because what is taking place at this point in time is the rededicating of the Temple. Another name for this Festival is the 'Festival of Lights.' It is called the Festival of Lights because of the rekindling of the menorah and the miracle that has been associated with the celebration of the Festival of Chanukkah.
There is a reason that Chanukkah is celebrated for eight days. It appears that Chanukkah is directly patterned after the Feast of Tabernacles. The Feast of Tabernacles was a seven-day Feast, and it was followed by an addition Sabbath day of rest. And thus, it seems, that Chanukkah was patterned after this Festival as well. For example, in the Book of Maccabees, it states: 'And they kept eight days with gladness as in the Feast of the Tabernacles, remembering that not long afore that they had held the Feast of Tabernacles when they wandered in the mountains and dens like beasts. Therefore, they bare branches and fair boughs and palms also and they sang Psalms unto Him that had given them good success in cleansing His Place.'
So it appears that Chanukkah was almost a second observance of the Feast of Tabernacles, much like in the time of Hezekiah. Passover was observed when the people had not kept the Feast for a long period of time. And this might explain why, during the liturgy in the Synagogue with the celebration of Chanukkah, that the Hallel Psalms, Psalms 113 through 118, are recited. And it states: 'That the Maccabees sang Psalms as they had done so during the Feast of Tabernacles.'
Before we look at the New Testament and how YESHUA celebrated the Feast of Chanukkah let me talk about the Jewish celebrations that take place today in the observance of this Festival. No doubt the principal ceremony of Chanukkah is the lighting of the candles each evening in the home and in the Synagogue. They light these candles on an eight-branch menorah. This menorah is referred to as a 'chanukkiah'. The reason they call it that is so that one would not confuse the seven-branched menorah that was placed in the Holy Place with this eight-branched menorah that is used to celebrate Chanukkah.
Actually there are nine branches on the chanukkiah, and that is because one of them stands out among all the rest as the central stem. The candle that sits on the top of the central stem is known as the 'shamas' or the servant candle which is used to light each of the remaining eight candles; one each night of Chanukkah. So on the first night, they would light the first candle using the shamas to light it, and then they would allow the candle to burn down. On the second night of Chanukkah, they would light two candles and they would use a new shamas to light those two.
On the third night of Chanukkah, they would light three candles and use a new shamas in order to light those three candles, and so on down the line until all eight are lit on the eighth night of Chanukkah. It was Rabbi Jacov ben Nachman who said the purpose of the celebration of Chanukkah is to welcome the Messiah. 'Peace is the Messiah, and we light the candles of peace to renew our faith in the ultimate triumph of peace over war, and we rededicate ourselves, and our efforts to bring this about.'
I kind of like this notion that the purpose of the celebration of Chanukkah, and the purpose for the lighting of the candles is to welcome the Messiah. What Rabbi Nachman knew is that the Messiah was to be a light; a light to the nation of Israel; a light to the nations of the world. And thus, on this Festival, known as the Festival of Lights, it is no accident that the Messiah of Israel Himself, YESHUA, would say that He is
'the light of the world.' It is also no accident that this candle would be called the shamas that would light all the other candles, because the Messiah was to be the Servant of the LORD. He was the One that Isaiah prophesied about who would come and serve the LORD by providing redemption for His people and for all people throughout all the nations that would embrace Him by faith.
And so our Messiah, truly, is the Light of the world! And by His light, we can become lights in this world. You know, YESHUA did say in the Gospel of John, Chapter 8, verse 12, again on the occasion when celebrating the Festival of Tabernacles, He said:
'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness but will have a light of life.' Again during this occasion, and it is recorded for us in John's Gospel in Chapter 9, verse 5:
'YESHUA said, 'While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.''YESHUA also said that we were to be lights in the world. On the Sermon on the Mount, He said,
'Let our lights so shine before men that they would see our good works and glorify our Father, Who is in heaven.'
He told us that a person
'does not light a lamp and then cover it up so that its light would not shine, but rather a person lights a lamp and sets it on a stand that stands up tall so that it would light the whole household or the whole room.' And thus YESHUA, the Light of the world, the shamas, if you will, lights the candles, or lights our lives with the light of GOD's glory and with His life, so that we might shine in our world, in our families, in our communities, in our place of work, in our homes, that we would give forth the light of GOD's redemptive grace and the light of GOD's love.
So on Chanukkah, the principle of tradition is the lighting of the menorah, reminding us of that eight-day miracle; reminding us of the peace of the Messiah, the Messiah who would be the Light of the world. On this occasion as well, young children will play certain games. They play with a little top known as the dreidel. On the sides of the dreidel are four letters, and those four letters are for the sentence 'nes, gadol, hayah, sham', which means a great miracle happened there - referring to miracle of Chanukkah taking place in Israel. Of course if you get a dreidel made in Israel, it would say, 'nes, gadol, hayah, poe,' a great miracle happened here. And so they play with this dreidel to remind them of the great miracle that GOD wrought for His people.
On this occasion, also, certain foods are eaten. For example, there is the potato latkes, the potato pancakes. And there are the deep-fried jelly donuts that are fried in oil. The reason for all of these oily foods is to remind us of GOD's enabling of the menorah to stay lit by providing the one cruse of oil to stay lit for eight days. And so we eat these oily-type foods to remind us of this wonderful tradition, or this wonderful miracle that GOD traditionally had wrought for His people.
Certain songs are sung on this occasion. One important song is called 'Maoz Tsur', Rock of Ages. And this song was written around the 13th century, and these are some of the words to it. It says, 'Rock of ages, let our song praise Thy saving power. Thou amidst the raging foes, wast our sheltering tower. Furious they assailed us; but your arm availed us, and Your Word broke their sword when our own strength failed us.' The wonder of that song is that it brings glory to GOD as the Rock of Ages, Who had saved us. It wasn't the power and the might of the Maccabees that brought the salvation of His people; but rather, it was the power and the might of GOD Who defended His people; Who was a sheltering tower; Who was the One who broke their sword; Who was the One Who strengthened us in our weakness when our own strength failed us. And so on Chanukkah these songs are meant to give praise and glory to GOD for the wonderful things that He has done on behalf of His people.
On this occasion, also, Jewish people will share in giving gifts, one to another. They share in these gifts in order to celebrate the occasion; in order to express their gratitude to the LORD for one another, and for their love for one another as they have been sustained when their enemies sought to overthrow them and to destroy them.
So what is the purpose of the celebration of Chanukkah? It is to welcome the Messiah; it is to celebrate GOD's goodness; it is to rejoice in the provision that GOD has made, and it is to lift Him up as the One Who causes us to triumph over our enemies; and to experience the peace that can only come from the GOD of peace. One of the wonderful titles of the Messiah is that of Shar Shalom. It occurs in the Book of Isaiah in Chapter 9, verse 6 where the Messiah is called 'The Prince of Peace', and during this season when we remember how our enemies came against us, what we truly want to celebrate is the peace that results from the powerful GOD Who defends His people; and the peace that we can have with GOD when we welcome the Messiah into our lives. And what better occasion can one welcome the Messiah, than on this Festival of Chanukkah, the Feast of Lights; the Feast of Dedication, as we consider dedicating ourselves to Him and to His service.
This article is provided here with permission from Messianic Perspectives.