Bible Studies

Jesus of Nazareth observed Hanukkah, the Feast of Lights, a celebration not mandated in the Torah itself but foretold by the Prophet Daniel.

“Then came the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade” (John 10:22-23).

Kislev 25, 5771 in the Jewish calendar begins at sundown on Wednesday, December 1, 2010, and marks the first day of Hanukkah, which continues on until December 9, 2010.  The observance of all Jewish holidays begins at sunset the previous day, and the date for Hanukkah on Christian calendars moves from year to year, so while Hanukkah always takes place near Christmas, it is rare for it to begin on Christmas day itself, as it did at sundown Sunday, December 25, 2005 (Kislev 25, 5766).

The celebration of Hanukkah is based on a miracle recorded, not in the Bible, but in the Talmud:  the burning of a day’s supply of pure olive oil for eight days, until fresh jars of clean oil could be brought into the temple.  But while this miracle is not recorded in the Bible, the events surrounding Hanukkah are, and Jewish people have continued to celebrate Hanukkah from a century and a half before Christ, down to the present time.

These eight days are reflected in the lighting of the eight candles during Hanukkah, and the eight-branched candelabrum, called a Menorah, has become a symbol of the holiday.  Starting with one light on the first evening, the number is increased by one each night until on the eighth night all eight candles are lit.

Hanukkah occurs in December (roughly corresponding to the Hebrew month Kislev) and marks the consecration of the Temple of Jerusalemin 164 B.C., after its recapture from the Syrian Greeks under their leader Antiochus Epiphanes during the first Abomination of Desolation, foretold by Daniel the prophet:

“The king of the North (Antiochus IV, Epiphanes, 175-164 B.C.) will return to his own country with great wealth, but his heart will be set against the holy covenant. He will take action against it and then return to his own country . . . Then he will turn back and vent his fury against the holy covenant. He will return and show favor to those who forsake the holy covenant . . . His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress and will abolish the daily sacrifice. Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation” (Daniel 11:28-31).

Out of one of them came another horn (Antiochus IV, Epiphanes, 175-164 B.C.), which started small but grew in power to the south and to the east and toward the Beautiful Land.  It grew until it reached the host of the heavens, and it threw some of the starry host down to the earth and trampled on them.  It set itself up to be as great as the Prince of the host; it took away the daily sacrifice from him, and the place of his sanctuary was brought low.  Because of rebellion, the host of the saints and the daily sacrifice were given over to it. It prospered in everything it did, and truth was thrown to the ground.  Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to him, “How long will it take for the vision to be fulfilled—the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, the rebellion that causes desolation, and the surrender of the sanctuary and of the host that will be trampled underfoot?”  He said to me, “It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings (just short of seven Jewish years.); then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated”’ (Daniel 8:9-14).

The seven year time frame of Hellenistic Syrian desecration of the Temple became the foreshadowing and type of the oppression of the people of God under worldly authority, and Antiochus Epiphanes is a picture of the future Man of Sin (2 Thessalonians 2). The more we understand what happened under him, the better picture we have of the Man of Sin, whose motives for a one world government and common culture appear good and humane, but are beastly in the end (Compare Revelation 13:18 with Revelation 13:1-2).  “Antiochus’ ambition was to use the common culture of Hellenism to unify the diversity of the Seleucid empire” (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, New York: Doubleday, 1992). The dreadful persecution that this Greek tyrant inflicted on God’s people is recorded in several places, including Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews and the first four chapters of First Maccabees.

A survey of this history is helpful, not only for understanding the basis for Hanukkah, but also for understanding the coming of the Lord Jesus, both in his birth and in his return.  That’s one reason why observing Hanukkah fits in so well with the Christian season of Advent, pointing as it does to our Lord’s two advents.  Daniel is concerned with the exile of the Jews and how they survived under foreign oppression. It looks ahead not only to a return from the exile but to a restoration of the theocratic kingship under a descendant of King David.

The nine candles of Hanukkah point to the triumph of God’s people over an anti-Christ figure who reigned over a century and a half before the Lord Jesus was born, Antiochus Epiphanes.  But that ancient tyrant is a foreshadowing of the final enemy of the people of the Lord, the one “whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming” (2 Thessalonians 2:8).  The light of Hanukkah points to the light shining in the darkness and the ultimate triumph of the light through him who is the Light of the world (John 8:12).

Bob Vincent