The Feast of Dedication, otherwise known as Hanukkah or the Festival of Lights, is a beautiful holiday to celebrate, even as a Christian. In Hebrew, the word “hanukkah” means “dedication.” It is the event of the purification and rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in 165 B.C.E. after it had been defiled by the Syrians. It is a time for family and prayer, and a time to focus on the light of the world, Jesus.
In 168 B.C.E. the Jews had been taken captive. The Jewish Temple was seized by Syrian Greek soldiers and dedicated to the worship of the god Zeus. Antiochus, the king at that time, ordered any Jew who would not follow him as their god, be put to death. Many Jews were killed and others brutally beaten because they refused to renounce the one true God to follow after Antiochus. Jewish resistant fighters took a stand and after three years they defeated the Syrians. It was at this time that the temple was rededicated and the Jews set about to purify the Temple. The altar which had been defiled with the sacrifice of pigs was dismantled and a new one built. New holy vessels were crafted. A date was set for the dedication of the Temple… the 25th of Kislev.
When Judah rededicated the Temple, they found only one single container of oil whose seal had not been broken and was therefore still pure. This oil was required to keep the menorah in the Temple burning. The menorah was known as the Eternal Light, and God commanded it should never burn out. To allow that to happen would be like another desecration. The problem was that it would take eight days for more oil to be pressed, prepared, and consecrated. The priests offered their prayers up to God as they lit the oil they had. Miraculously, this one container of oil, enough to last only one night, burned for all eight days! That is the miracle of lights celebrated at Hanukkah.
But the most beautiful thing about Hanukkah is that the story doesn’t end once the Temple was rededicated. In the New Testament, we see this Feast being celebrated and Jesus himself bringing even more meaning to such a special celebration. Jesus walks into the very Temple that had been cleansed and rededicated only a few generations earlier. His presence at the Temple is important because Hanukkah recalled how the Jews rededicated the Temple after the Syrians had defiled it. However, the presence of God’s glory did not manifest itself at that rededication and fill the Temple as it did in the days of King Solomon. The presence of Christ in the Temple at Hanukkah shows that God’s presence had once again entered the Temple.
“And it was at Jerusalem the Feast of The Dedication (Hanukkah), and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch” John 10:22-23.
The text tells us that Jesus was walking in the Temple in an area known as “Solomon’s porch.” This was an area of the Temple with covered walkways, and it was something of a public gathering place. Some people would gather to talk, others would gather to listen. It was a public forum. As Jesus is walking, some of the Jewish people there gathered around and asked Him, “Are you the Christ?” In other words, “Are you the Messiah?”
Do you think Jesus understood the importance of Hanukkah? Yes. The Jewish nation at that time was celebrating a holiday of deliverance from a false ruler who, only two generations past, had declared he was to be their god. Think of the godly wisdom and timing for Jesus to choose this place and this celebration to reveal that He is God! He had to be careful how He answered their question. The word “Messiah” might spark off riots because of its heavy nationalistic and political overtones. If Jesus had answered the question “yes,” the Roman authorities would have arrested Him on the spot for insurrection. With carefully chosen words He says, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me.” John 10:24
Jesus didn’t just stop at proclaiming Himself as Messiah. He went on to proclaim His deity, His Godhood, as He says, “I and the Father are one.” John 10:30
This angered the Jewish people. They understood Jesus’ meaning quite plainly. They understood Him to be claiming to be God, and their reaction was to pick up stones to stone Him for blasphemy. They were not prepared to accept a Messiah who was also God.
What’s interesting to note is that according to rabbinic sources, when the Temple was rededicated, the Jews ran into a dilemma. When the desecrated altar was pulled down, the one that Antiochus had slaughtered pigs on, those stones from the altar had to be removed. Since they had been used for holy purposes they couldn’t be merely tossed away… but they were covered with the blood and grease of the unclean sacrifices that had been offered upon them. The rabbis record that, not being able to find any better solution, the stones were stored in a pile on Solomon’s porch where they remained in the time of Jesus.
Those stones were a physical reminder of a madman who claimed to be God in the flesh, and who forced idolatry and oppression on the Jewish people. What irony that those same stones might be used against a man who truly was God in the flesh, and who came to free the Jewish people from the oppression of sin. Yet when they asked Jesus who He was, the Jewish people at the Temple that day were not prepared to accept the answers Jesus gave them.
Jesus is God in the flesh. He is the fulfillment of all that is written in the Law and the Prophets, and the future hope that the Jewish people continue to long for. On the festive occasion of Hanukkah, Jesus invited people into a relationship with Him that would free them from sin and from death. While there were many who thought Jesus was as much a villain as Antiochus, there were some who believed and followed Him. Their lives forever changed.
Hanukkah is a time to rededicate our temple, our body, to Christ.