Happy Hanukkah! Yes, you read that correctly, Happy Hanukkah! This year the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah falls on December 3rd. But what does that have to do with Christians, or more specifically what does that have to do with Jesus?
For over four hundred years—from Malachi to John the Baptist—God had been silent; he sent no prophets. But that did not mean God had forgotten his people. Relative to that fact, God had not forgotten His promise of the Savior. Thus when Hanukkah occurred, the people of God fully realized that the Lord God of Israel had not forgotten them, and the promise of the Savior would be fulfilled.
The ruler and “god” of the Syrians, Antiochus, labeled by ancient historians as The Madman, mostly destroyed the temple grounds so that Jewish historians would state that it was “laid waste like a wilderness.” (1 Mac. 1:39), and then he proceeded to horribly desecrate the Temple, uniquely desecrating God’s altars. He furthermore issued an edict forbidding the practice of Judaism, with the penalty of death for doing so. The torture and misery that followed are almost indescribable.
Led by Judah the Maccabee (“the hammer”), a band of Jewish faithful men prayerfully revolted against the powerful Syrians. The odds seemed impossible, but through guerilla warfare and then in open combat the Syrians were defeated and demoralized. Realizing that God had given them the victory, the faithful Jewish remnant returned to what was left of the desecrated temple. They rebuilt and re-consecrated God’s altars. (Hanukkah is the word describing such rededication.) They found a flask of officially blessed olive oil, still possessing the official seal of the high priest, and they filled the golden candelabra with the realization that there was only enough oil to last a single day. Miraculously the candelabra burned for eight days upon which a new supply of consecrated oil was obtained. Thus in 165 BC this reported sign from God marked the beginning of the celebration of Hanukkah, the beginning of the “dedication” of the newly consecrated altar and other Temple accoutrements.
So what about Jesus? First realize that He celebrated Hanukkah, which is apparent from John 10:22. Such a celebration had not been commanded by God, nonetheless the remnant of God’s people faithfully celebrated this event which marked a wondrous blessing. We likewise are not commanded to celebrate Christmas or Easter or other such holidays, nonetheless we do so because we, like those intertestamental Jews, realize God’s most wondrous blessing—Christ Jesus.
Finally, it was only because of God’s preservation of the Jews as well as His preservation of the Jewish Scriptures and Temple worship that His fulfillment of the ultimate promise could occur. Because God saved the Jewish remnant, His Son could and would become incarnate to fulfill all prophecy and to fulfill all that the temple stood for—by offering himself as our eternal sacrifice on the altar of the cross. Now our light of salvation burns into the eternal eighth day!