When people say the bible may be true for you but not for me, they miss what Christmas and Chanukkah are meant to be. Christmas becomes a commercial extravaganza. Materialism on steroids gives birth to a secular celebration built around pious platitudes, Santa Claus, reindeer, and of course the obligatory exchange of cards and presents.
Perhaps you’re saying, “Dude, lighten up! You sound like Ebenezer Scrooge on steroids. Where are you going with this?” Well, actually I got nothing but love for the yuletide chotskies but here’s my point. When the mall trumps the manger, when more thought is given to monetary debt that has to be paid rather than spiritual debt that has already been paid; the best this holiday can offer is a platform from which to express love for family and friends. But left to its own devices, it will not and cannot point people to the incarnation: Deity becoming humanity to save us from our calamity!
Now for those Jewish people who have chosen to drink the cultural kool-aid, Channukah has become a kind of Jewish version of this distortion of Christmas. For example, the practice of gift giving at Channukah, one gift for each of the eight nights of the holiday, is a relatively modern Jewish tradition. It developed in response to the older tradition of gift-giving at Christmas. In fact, historically Channukah was always regarded as one of the minor festivals on the Jewish calendar.
So why the increased significance in recent decades? What caused Channukah to become such a big deal? Well, this is the season when Jewish children and Jewish adults become most acutely aware that they are different. Children try to understand why everyone else is involved in a celebration that doesn’t include them. And Jewish adults often still struggle with the seasonal discomfort caused by being so obviously separate and apart from the sociological mainstream.
Now the best way to deal with this religious/ethnic/cultural angst is not assimilation; rather it is a Scriptural/God-centered view of both the holidays and ourselves. As in all things, in order to be truly comfortable in our own skin and experience genuine contentment, we need to continually have the mindset that we’re playing for an audience of One, and that One is God. So at the end of the day all that really matters is what He thinks of us and whether or not our main concern is living in a way that pleases Him.
So if Channukah is not about needs felt and chocolate gelt, what is it? It’s about this. It’s about God being faithful, faithful to keep His prophetic promise of desecration restoration. It’s about the Jewish Temple being made usable again for Levitical Priestly service. It’s about God keeping His Word.
The term Channukah is not in the Hebrew Scriptures. This festival began during the time between the Older and Newer Covenant, an age also known as the inter-testamental period. However, in Daniel 8:9-14, Daniel talks about someone referred to as the Little Horn. This little horn was a genuine historical figure named Antiochus the fourth. He was king over Syria from 175 to 164 B.C. He added the name Epiphanes which means the manifest God because he believed himself to be just that-God in human flesh. The Jewish people living at this time changed one consonant in his name, and instead of calling him Anticohus Epiphanes they called him Anticohus Epimanes which means Antiochus the mad man. So in Daniel 8:9-14 we’re told what Anticohus’ activities are and how long they’ll last.
It reads: 9 Out of one of them came another horn, which started small but grew in power to the south and to the east and toward the Beautiful Land. 10 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. 11 It set itself up to be as great as the commander of the army of the LORD; it took away the daily sacrifice from the LORD, and his sanctuary was thrown down. 12 Because of rebellion, the LORD’s people and the daily sacrifice were given over to it. It prospered in everything it did, and truth was thrown to the ground. 13 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, the surrender of the sanctuary and the trampling underfoot of the LORD’s people?” 14 He said to me, “It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated.” In other words – at that time – the Temple will be rededicated and made usable again for Levitical priestly service.
Here’s what’s going on. Alexander the Great has conquered the land of Israel and made it part of his Greek empire. When Alexander dies his empire is divided into four separate kingdoms. And two of these kingdoms affected the history of Israel. Those kingdoms were Syria and Egypt. In fact Israel became something of a political football between Syria and Egypt. And so after being under Egyptian control – Israel fell under Syrian control in 198 B.C.
Now Antiochus made two major military campaigns against Egypt. In the first campaign despite gaining a great deal of spoil, he was unable to take possession of Egypt. In his second campaign he was on the verge of taking control of Egypt but then the Romans came in and forced him to retreat. As you can imagine Antiochus was not a happy camper. So he lashed out on Israel making Israel the reason for his military failure. He ruthlessly slaughters men, women, and children. He invades the Temple. He forbids circumcision; he doesn’t allow observance of Shabbat, or the keeping of dietary laws. In fact he commanded that only pigs be sacrificed in the Temple. And he actually cooked a pig on the altar and poured its broth on the holy scrolls of the Law. But of even greater significance -Antiochus Epiphanes had a statue of his god Zeus Olympus, which was fashioned after a man, carried into the temple. He demanded that Jewish people bow down and worship that image! Why? Because his purpose in all of this was to humiliate the Jewish people by desecrating the Temple and assimilating the Jewish people into the Syrian empire.
However, the good news is that Antiochus’ plan would not be realized. The LORD raised up a group of godly courageous Jewish men led by the priest Mattathias and his five sons, and they rebelled against the Syrians. They began a guerilla style war against Antiochus and his Syrian army. And in one of the greatest military upsets of all time, the Syrians were defeated and driven from the land.
Now following this victory the first order of business for the Jewish people was the cleansing of the desecrated Temple. The killing of a pig and the statue of the heathen deity Zeus Olympus in the Temple of the true and living God made the Temple unusable. One problem though; there was no sanctified oil to light the Temple to make cleansing possible. And that problem was compounded by fact that the oil had to be prepared by the priests within the Temple. So, it appeared that the Jewish people were confronted by a dilemma that could not be resolved. What would they do?
Well, according to Jewish tradition, one small jar of oil was found. And it should have lasted for only one day. But miraculously that little bit of oil lasted for eight days. Eight days, until a new supply could be prepared and consecrated. And this you see was the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Channukah also known as the Feast of Lights or the Feast of Dedication, which John 10:22 records Messiah Himself celebrating.
Now when we look back at the Daniel 8 prophecy of Temple restoration, we find the historical fulfillment of this prophecy in the Apocryphal books of 1st and 2nd Macabees. And while those books are not divinely inspired Scripture, they do give us a reliable history of the intertestamental period. And from there we can piece together that on September 9th 171 B.C. the godly High Priest Onias III was murdered – and that on December 25th 165 B.C. the Temple was rededicated. So here’s the deal. When the total number of days between these two events are added up, the events which mark the initial desecration and the ultimate restoration, it comes out to exactly 2,300 days; the precise length of time after which God promised that the sanctuary would be cleansed! The point being, Daniel’s prophecy of Temple desecration and restoration was literally fulfilled!
Channukah is about God being faithful. And because God is faithful – faithful in keeping his prophetic promise of desecration restoration, there was light in a rededicated Temple made usable again for Levitical priestly service.
So, what does all of this have to do with us? Actually, quite a bit! First, if you’re a believer, if you’re putting your faith your trust your confidence in the person and work of Yeshua Ha Masiach, the hope of Israel and the light of the nations, if you’re depending only on Him for forgiveness of sin, eternal life, and your only way of getting into Heaven; then Channukah should direct you to 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 where Rav Sh’ual the apostle Paul says “… do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”
I want to be absolutely clear on this point. The unimaginable forever of eternity is a completely settled issue for the believer. If you have come to God by grace alone through faith alone in Messiah alone, your union with God can never ever sever! However, communion with God in the sense of spiritual intimacy, relational nurture, power, and peace, can burst like a bubble! When we allow unconfessed sin in our lives to fill our heart, when we autonomously and rebelliously live as if God doesn’t exist, we become a desecrated temple that is grieving and quenching the Holy Spirit. When we’re in such a state, we are in need of restoration and rededication. Why? So we can be made usable again for New Covenant priestly service.
Now, if you’re not a believer in Messiah just yet, in a very significant sense you also are a desecrated temple. Hang in with me for a moment. Please listen. Your true identity, what fundamentally defines you as a human being is not your sexuality, it’s not your nationality, and it’s not even your level of functionality. Your essential identity, what makes you -you, is that you are an image bearer of God; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The God of Israel. Your existence testifies of His existence.You can confidently affirm that, “I AM that I Am made me who I am!” But because of sin, living autonomously and rebelliously as if God doesn’t exist, that Divine image is defaced but not erased. You still retain intrinsic worth and value as an image bearer of God. In fact, you’re an excellent candidate for Messiah’s desecration restoration program – the Gospel; the good news that Yeshua died for our sins and rose from the dead. Your present spiritual condition doesn’t have to be the final act of your life script. The way things are now is not the unalterable final word. You are redeemable. You can personally experience darkness made bright by the Messianic light of life not only during this holiday season, but also until the end of time and beyond.