by Cathy Helms
In the book of Leviticus and elsewhere are seven celebrations which the God of Israel firmly calls “My feasts” (Leviticus 23). Our Father is undertaking in our day to restore these Feasts to His entire body, including those of us who have been grafted in by grace through faith. Two other annual traditional celebrations commemorate God’s intervention to deliver His people from evil and wicked governmental strongholds, much like what we have been experiencing the last two years. Purim [pooREEM] memorializes the deliverance of the Jewish people from Haman in the Book of Esther. Hanukkah, which we will focus on in this document, venerates a David-and-Goliah military triumph in 164BCE.
As we look into this annual celebration, let us also note the parallels to our day and take comfort that God is sovereign and Yeshua is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The edicts that have been handed down to us in the last two years and the outrageous attempts to get us to go along with the diabolical agenda of the World Economic Forum are right out of the playbook of Antiochus! Let’s also ask ourselves why Yeshua would have walked 70 or more miles in the cold and rain to be at the Temple at this particular time, to observe a feast which is not biblically prescribed. Let’s also ask if there is reason for us to participate in it, and if so, how Abba might have us do so.
“Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Yeshua walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch. Then the [religious leaders] surrounded Him and said to Him, ‘How long will You keep us in doubt? If You are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’” (John 10:22-24)
Modern translations can sometimes obscure plain meaning. A translation for a Jewish readership states very clearly, “Now it was the Feast of Hanukkah…” The word (חֲנֻכָּה) means “dedication” or “consecration.” To answer the question of why Yeshua was at the Temple for the Feast of Dedication, we have to look into the circumstances that led to this annual celebration.
The History Behind Hanukkah
In between Malachi’s prophecy and Matthew’s Gospel were four hundred so-called “silent years,” when the prophets’ voices were stilled. The number four is a hint to Messianic significance; Yeshua lived in the 4th millennium. The number four also means “seal” and “covenant.” What does our Heavenly Father want to tell us about this supposedly “silent” period? Listen! The voice of history is speaking!
The books of First and Second Maccabees, preserved in the Apocrypha, which is part of the Catholic Bible, provide the historical record. Antiochus IV ruled over Mesopotamia and the Middle East, including Judea, the southern kingdom, long after the norther kingdom of Israel was exiled and scattered. In other words, Judea was the only visible remnant of the whole house of Israel. Antiochus was a successor to one of the generals who received a part of the domain of Alexander the Great after his death. These rival kingdoms constantly waged war against another, subjecting their subjects to shifting control and fortunes. During this same time period, Rome was conquering vast areas and was well on its way to becoming the chief empire of the world.
Antiochus, a foreshadow of anti-Christ, went so far as to claim to be God. He even added “Epiphanes” (“God manifest”) to his name. Coins minted at the time proclaimed “King Antiochus…God made visible.” The Greeks sought to Hellenize conquered nations by forcing them to abandon their language, customs, and faith, many times at the threat of death, to the supposedly superior Hellenistic culture. Many Jews capitulated; but a stubborn remnant, with the help of God, as Antiochus would find, proved undefeatable, to the glory of God.
Before Antiochus came to power, a devout and highly respected Levite, Onias, was High Priest. Second Maccabees reports that because of his love for God and his total dedication to obeying the LORD’s commandments, Jerusalem enjoyed a time of great peace in his day. Even foreign kings honored the Temple and donated precious gifts of tribute.
However, Onias had a wealthy brother, Jason, who was convinced that the Jews were hopelessly stuck in time and wanted to see them adopt the liberal, progressive ways of the supposedly enlightened Greeks. Coveting the role of High Priest, Jason aligned himself with Antiochus and offered to finance the king’s campaign against Egypt, Antiochus’ next target in view, provided the king would grant him that honored role. Antiochus soon replaced Onias, who was murdered, with Jason. As a result, Jason also became head of the Sanhedrin, a group of 70 rabbis with power equivalent to the United States Supreme Court today.
Jason proceeded full steam ahead to “reform” Israel with outrageous practices. He built a Greek gymnasium in the holy city of Jerusalem and hosted nude athletic games opened by ceremonies in which sacrifices were made to Greek gods. Under his leadership, many Jews even went so far as to undergo painful reverse circumcision. [Think what surgeries of reversal are being undertaken today.] Yet, in spite of mounting cultural pressure, the remnant clung to the commandments, statutes, and ordinances given by God to Moses.
It wasn’t long before the king would look for an even higher bidder for the position of High Priest. Enter Menelaus, who was not a Levite, and who believed that even Jason’s evil reforms were lacking for the prosperity of the nation. When Menelaus was named High Priest, a man outside the sons of Aaron, it sent shock waves throughout Judea. [Let me remind the reader that making priests of the common people was one of the cardinal sins of Jeroboam, first ruler of the Northern Kingdom (1 Kings 13:33). It was for the reason that the northern kingdom insisted in maintaining the “ways of Jeroboam” that God whistled for the king of Assyria to remove it from His presence (1 Kings 15:29).]
To fund Antiochus’ war chest and usurp Jason, Menelaus raided the Temple treasury, adding insult to injury. [Is the US treasury being raided today?] Initially, Menelaus’ idea of progress was not to abolish Jewish Law, but rather to liberalize it. Eventually, what the Torah called profane, he called acceptable; what the torah called good, he called evil. When Menelaus convinced Antiochus to forbid circumcision, as well as the keeping of the Feasts of the LORD, the practice of eating “clean” foods, and the designation of sacred places, the remnant tore their clothes and cried out to God with ashes on their heads.
In the month of Kislev (our November/December) in the year 167 BCE, the Sanhedrin codified Menelaus’ ideas into law and even the study of Torah became illegal. To add further insult, the Temple was dedicated to the Greek god Zeus and his image; “the abomination that makes desolate” (Dan 11:31), was installed on the altar. On the 25th day of Kislev the sacrificial offering of pigs was begun and the blood of these unclean animals was sprinkled in the Holy of Holies. It is believed this outrageous idea also originated with Menelaus.
But when cult prostitutes were introduced on the Temple Mount, it was the last straw. [Think of drag queens being introduced to our chidren!] Mattathias, a true priest, of the tribe of Levi, fled Jerusalem to his hometown of Modi’in. Mattathias had five sons, one of whom was called Maccabee, or “The Hammer.” We read of his deep grief in 1 Maccabees chapter 2.
“Why was I born to see the ruin of my people and the ruin of the holy city and the holy place taken over by foreigners? Jerusalem’s temple has become like a woman raped! Her treasures stolen! Our infants have been killed in the streets! Our young people have been killed in battle! Jerusalem’s beauty has been spoiled. Our freedom has been taken away. We have become slaves. Look around! Our beautiful holy place, which we honor, has been destroyed. We have nothing left to live for!” (1 Maccabees 2:1-14)
The king’s officials, ordered to force the Israelites to abandon their covenant with God, soon arrived in Modi’in in an attempt to persuade the people to sacrifice to false gods. Many of the Jews went along with them, but Mattathias and his sons refused. At first, the officials tried flattery and bribery. But though the officials promised wealth and honor, the remnant stood firm:
“You’re a highly respected leader in this city, and you have the support of your sons and relatives. If you will be the first to come forward and obey the king as ordered, then you and your sons will receive the title ‘Friend of the King.’ You will be honored with silver, gold, and many other gifts.” Mattathias refused and shouted vehemently, “Though all the nations in the king’s empire obey the king and abandon the religion of their ancestors, my sons and I will keep the terms of the promise God made to our ancestors. It’s unthinkable for us to desert the teaching and instruction of God. We won’t obey the king’s orders, and we won’t worship in any other way!” (1 Macc. 2:19-22)
At this, one man boldly rushed forward in front of everyone to be the first to show allegiance to the Greek gods. Enraged, the aged Mattathias rose up and slew both that man and the officer who offered the bribe. Then, smashing the altar with supernatural strength, he ran throughout the city, shouting, “Everyone who is devoted to God and willing to stand up for God’s law, follow me!” He and his sons fled to the mountains, leaving their possessions behind.
Another group of resistors had hidden themselves in caves in the desert where they found themselves discovered and surrounded by the king’s troops on a Sabbath day. After refusing to exchange obedience for their lives, they were slaughtered. This event proved only to strengthen the resolve of Mattathias and his sons who swore to fight to the death to defend their faith, even on the Sabbath. Joined by others who had also fled the persecution, a small army emerged. Reminiscent of the Levites after the golden calf incident, they attacked and killed Jews who had compromised. They tore down altars dedicated to false gods and forced circumcision upon those who had rebelled against the practice. Righteous anger ignited and fueled a guerrilla war that would see thousands of enemy troops taken down over the next three grueling years.
Before Mattathias died of natural causes in 166 BCE, he charged his sons,
“We’re living in disastrous and violent times. Offer your lives for the sake of the promise God made to our ancestors. Remember our ancestors. If you do what they did, you will be also be highly honored by God….Everyone who stays in covenant will have the strength they need to do whatever God has called them to do.” 1 Maccabees 2:51-64
After his father’s death, Judah “The Hammer,” with his brothers’ wholehearted approval, rose up to lead the remnant. And just as the God of Israel enabled David to defeat Goliath, so did He strengthen the tiny, ill equipped army of God to defeat the mammoth forces of Antiochus. Maccabees 1:3-8 reports:
“Judas brought his people widespread honor. He wore his breastplate like a hero… He was like a lion in everything he did, like a young lion when it roars at its prey….He made life bitter for many kings, but he made Jacob’s descendants happy with everything he did… He turned God’s anger away from Israel. His name became known throughout the world. He united those who were about to be destroyed.”
Against all odds, within three years the Maccabees had emptied Judea of enemy troops and restored sovereignty to the nation. Outnumbered and outclassed, the Maccabees defeated the Goliath of their day. The lesson for us, as we approach 2023 is clearly that the remnant can overthrow the oppressor. If God be for us, who can be against us? Our God is undefeated and He always leads us to triumph (2 Cor. 2:14). As it was in the days of Pharaoh, Sennacherib, Haman, and Antiochus, our victory is sure, “Not by might, not by power, but by My spirit,” says the LORD of hosts.” (Zech 4:6)
Sadly, over time, whether due to ignorance or rebellion, the victory of the Maccabees gave way to the subjugation of Rome. We will not take time to go into the details; but we can say that a parallel exists to King David when he first attempted to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. Just as the tragic result of Uzzah’s death was due to David’s lack of understanding of the privileges and responsibilities of the Levites, so it would be with the Maccabees. Except that as Levites, they should have known better. This family, who would become later known as the Hasmoneans, to their great shame, chose a king from among themselves instead of rightfully handing the monarchy back to the tribe of Judah after their supernatural victory. This grave error made way for Herod, of the Hasmonean dynasty, to be on the throne and to issue the decree for all male children two years old and younger to be put to death at the time of Yeshua’s birth.
Faith Unto Death
As remarkable as was the victory of the Maccabees, even more remarkable was the grace given to those who would be martyred for their faith. Antiochus went so far as to try to force the Jews to eat pork, an abomination according to God (Lev. 11, Deut. 14). Dispatching soldiers to arrest a devoted mother and her seven sons, he determined to make an example of them. One by one, the mother watched her sons courageously die unspeakably horrible deaths (2 Maccabees, chapter 7). When only the youngest remained, the king tried in every way to bribe him. When that failed, the king implored the mother to persuade her son. In Hebrew, she urged him to stay strong and die willingly. When the young man refused to compromise, the enraged king ordered torture even more heinous than that of his brothers. Nonetheless, entrusting his soul to God, the youth died with dignity and, afterward, his mother was put to death and joined her sons in peace. In the end, Antiochus admitted that the God of Israel fought against him.
Re-Dedication of the Temple
With joy unspeakable, the Maccabees reclaimed the Temple, cleansed it, removed the Greek idols, and rededicated it on the 25th day of the month of Kislev in 164 BCE, exactly three years to the day after its desolation. A feast of eight days ensued, actually the delayed keeping of Sukkot [Feast of Tabernacles], because the faithful had been unable to do so for three years.
Recall that the number 400 represents “seal,” and “covenant.” The stories that emerge from those four hundred “silent” years reveal that those who kept the covenant were sealed for God’s purposes—whether grace to live victoriously or grace to die with honor, it was all for the glory of God.
Yeshua at the Temple
So, why did Yeshua walk 70 or more miles to appear at the Temple at the time of the Feast of Dedication? In chapter 7 of John, we are told that previously, in the fall, at the Feast of Tabernacles, he delayed His coming because the religious leaders “sought to kill him” (John 7:1). In other words, he intentionally chose to avoid them by arriving late at Sukkot, at a time when they did not expect him. Why, then, would He risk their ire to appear at the time of Hanukkah?
So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. (John 10:24-31)
Based on the chronology that presented in the Gospel of John, this could well have been the winter prior to Yeshua’s crucifixion. Yeshua was well aware of His crucifixion appointment, which had been heralded for thousands of years since the night that Israel was delivered from Pharaoh, when Israel and the mixed-multitude painted the blood of the lamb on their doorposts. The Maccabees’ war was long over, but Yeshua’s greatest battle was before Him. As he walked that long cold road to Jerusalem, did he see in his mind’s eye the events leading to the crucifixion? The stripping of his clothes, the beatings, the betrayal, the mocking? Did he see Himself sweating those great drops of blood, crying out in agony to His Father in Gethsemane, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me!” (Luke 22:42)
The Son of God was flesh and blood as we are. He suffered the same pain of a smashed thumb that we do. Did He wrestle with His own will as the time of His suffering drew near? Did He come to rededicate Himself at the Temple Mount at the very place where Isaac had carried the wood—and allowed himself to be bound and placed on the altar? Did he go to strengthen Himself by tracing Abraham’s steps to Mount Moriah with Isaac, the fire, and the wood? It’s something to think about.
But, notice, Yeshua plainly tells the religious leaders, “you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice… and they follow me.”
Yeshua had said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.” (Mat. 16:24-27)
The Takeaway for 2022 and beyond
This year, Hanukkah begins at sundown on the 18th of December and ends at sundown on December 26th. Hanukkah is an eight-day opportunity for us to revisit the miracles of God’s deliverance, not just at the time of the Maccabees, but throughout Israel’s history. It is a time to compare the world in the day when God allowed His holy place to be desecrated, with where we stand in history, particularly in the United States of America, which no one can deny is being desecrated. Let’s ask: Who is currently playing the role of the evil Antiochus, Jason, and Menelaus? Who is playing the role of Onias, the devout and revered High Priest? Who is playing the role of Mattathias, the aged but strong, bold, and courageous father of the Levites? And, who is taking center stage as Judah Maccabee, “the Hammer”?
Hanukkah is a time to celebrate our Champion, Savior, and Deliverer, and to take comfort that He who fought for the children of Israel in the day of Moses, Joshua, Gideon, David, Jehoshaphat, and Hezekiah, and the Maccabees is fighting for us today. May our prayer these eight days be that the light of the truth that burned so fiercely in their hearts would burn also in the United States of America in our day. And when the King appears, may we have no reason to be ashamed. Amen. To the glory of God and Yeshua ha Moshiach, our Savior and King!
Please note the following sources:
♦ The books of First and Second Maccabees
♦ “From Epiphanes to Epimanes” by Tim Case, located at http://www.LewRockwell.com
Note: Some quotes edited for clarity and brevity.
©Cathy Helms 2006, edited and updated 2014 and 2022. All rights reserved.