This week, if you contact any synagogue and ask what the “Feast of Dedication” is, they may invite you to their Hanukkah celebration. They would encourage you to experience it firsthand.
Hanukkah is also called the Festival of Lights. Although it may be a surprise to some, Jesus celebrated Hanukkah in the Temple. But why? Jesus was celebrating with Israel the rededication of Temple. He encouraged returning to God.
The Story of the Hanukkah holiday
The holiday of Hanukkah is, at its core, a celebration of casting Greek influences out of Jewish life and returning to God’s instructions for life and worship. In a word, it is re-dedication. Celebrating this feast is not directly commanded in Scripture.
That is because it occurred in the 400 years between the book of Malachi and the birth of John the Baptist. If you aren’t familiar with the story of Hanukkah, a great read for you during this time would be the 1st and 2nd Book of Maccabees. They recap the history of what marks the beginning of Hanukkah.
It commemorates the Temple rededication at the end of the Maccabean revolt against the Greeks in the 2nd Century BC.
The Temple was taken over by Greek Syrian oppressors of the Jewish people about 150 years before Yeshua was born. In 167 BC Antiochus IV desecrated the Temple by sacrificing a pig on the altar. It was a repulsive action according to the Torah. It marks one of the saddest seasons in Jewish history.
Maccabees and their place in Israel’s history
For years the Jews tried to spark revolts against their oppressors but gaining very little traction. Up until a man named Mattathias Maccabee came along! He was born into a family of priests, who dedicated their lives to Temple service. It was his son Judah Maccabee who became the hero of the story.
Nicknamed “the hammer,” Judah ultimately led a great revolt against the Greeks that would prove victorious. Greatly outnumbered and camped out in the hills, the Jewish people had to fight with unconventional tactics. Led by Judah, they were able to overcome their oppressors.
After a few years of battle, the Greek occupiers were thrown out and the work of restoring the Temple began. The system of sacrifices, offerings, and the priesthood resumed, just as God described in Leviticus.
During the Temple’s restoration, enough oil was found to light the Menorah and give light for one day although it would another seven days until more oil could be made. The lamp needed to be lit during the process of oil purification. The miracle of Hanukkah or the Festival of Lights was that the lamp stayed lit for eight days until more oil was ready.
The account of Jesus celebrating Hanukkah
It was the season of remembering a victory of a righteous priestly deliverer. In the context of another occupation, this time Roman, the Jews come to Jesus and said: “if you are the Christ (Messiah), tell us plainly.”
At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon. The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” John 10:22-24
His response was beyond what they expected. They were looking for salvation by an earthly deliverer from earthly problems. Jesus talked to them about eternal life and not being snatched from the Father’s hand. And then, He stated, “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30).
He was the Deliverer they were looking for, but for a life far beyond the earthly troubles. While being fully engaged in this world, there is another world that we are a part of. Jesus was celebrating with Israel the rededication of Temple.
He encouraged returning to God. He spoke of knowing His sheep and following His voice on a day that celebrated the return to the Torah. From its inception, the “feast of dedication” is a time and season for rededication to God.
Lighting of the candles
Interestingly enough, the 1st and 2nd Books of Maccabees don’t mention the miracle of multiplication of the oil in the menorah. However, it has become a well-known tradition to light candles for eight days. The Bible says it takes 7 days to purify. And on the eighth day you start a new cycle already sanctified.
This is why each year the people of Israel light a hanukkiah for eight days during Hanukkah. This modified menorah has nine candles/lamps rather than seven – the servant candle that lights the other eight on each day of the holiday. Celebrations traditionally include eating fried foods (because of the oil), remembering the victory God gave Israel over their enemies.
The Season of Light
In this season, we speak of the miracle of lights. And Yeshua was born to be the Light of the World.
May this Light of the World ignite our hearts again! May His miracle be in us as He keeps our light ablaze for Him. We can be sure that Jesus will be at any celebration that ignites our hearts and focuses on rededication to God.