By William J. Kuik
This year, the eight-day festival of Hanukkah begins on Tuesday evening, Dec. 16, and continues through Dec. 24.
Some people think of this holiday as the “Jewish Christmas.” While it has become customary to give gifts to friends and family at this time, it is actually known as, The Festival of Lights or The Feast of Dedication. It is a memorial of an historical event that occurred in 164 BCE. The full account is recorded within the Apocryphal book, 2 Maccabees. If you are Jewish, you are probably already familiar with the story. If you are not Jewish, you might wonder why Hanukkah should matter to you. As followers of Jesus, we can honor our faith by celebrating this festive time along with our Jewish friends or family. Before I explain why, I would like to give you a brief historical summary of Hanukkah.
In the 137th year of the kingdom of the Greeks, Antiochus Epiphanes became ruler of the Seleucid Empire. His kingdom included the land of Israel, where the political and cultural climate was in upheaval. In 167 BCE Antiochus attacked Jerusalem and took it by storm, killing or enslaving all in his path (2 Maccabees 5:11—14). Antiochus outlawed Jewish religious rites and traditions, profaning the temple in Jerusalem and dedicating it to Zeus. Many people began to accept a Hellenized culture and lifestyle. Jews who continued worshiping God as prescribed in the scriptures were executed. It was sure death to follow God’s Word given through Moses. People who followed the scriptures understood this to be a chastisement of the nation for disobedience (Deuteronomy 28; Proverbs 3:12; Jeremiah 3:12; 2 Maccabees 6:12—17).
Now there was a man named Mattathias, a Jewish priest and he had five sons who led a rebellion against Antiochus. Judah became known as “Yehuda HaMachabi,” which means Judah the Hammer. When Mattathias died, Judah took his place as leader and successfully restored Israel to Jewish control.
The first course of business was to rededicate the temple. It was decided to have a celebration modeled after Sukkot (the fall Feast of Tabernacles), sometimes people know this as the Feast of Booths. This celebration lasts a total of eight days, thus the eight days of Hanukkah (There is a legend that there was only enough oil for the menorah to burn for one day, yet it continued to burn for all eight days of the celebration. The “Hanukkah Menorah” commemorates this event.) Even to this day it is believed by many Jewish people the festival of Tabernacles models a time when the Messiah will “tabernacle” (dwell) with the people, a time when God will dwell among men. One of the big events of Tabernacles and the Hanukkah celebration was to light the massive oil lamps in the temple courtyard. That light would light the courtyards and subsequently extend out into the City of David (Jerusalem). This light could be seen from all over the city, thus the “Festival of Lights”. Hanukkah is the Feast of Dedication commemorating when the temple was rededicated after the Maccabean revolt. The “Festival of Lights” is a key part of the celebration.
The New Testament book of John chapter 10:22 talks about the “Feast of Dedication” (i.e. Hanukkah) and Jesus was walking in the temple. He took this opportunity right in the middle of the Festival of Lights to proclaim He is the Light, the Messiah (the Christ) prophesied throughout all scripture. Eighty-six times the New Testament uses the word light and points that light to the Messiah Jesus. John 8:12 says: “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”
At Etz-Chayim B’Yeshua (Tree of Life In Jesus) we pray you will be blessed this Holiday season by the “Light of the world,” Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah.
Bill Kuik is the congregational leader of Etz-Chayim B’Yeshua Messianic Congregation in Cortez, Colorado.