Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Jesus and Hanukkah

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

The Feast of Dedication that John mentions in his gospel is Hanukkah. This has always intrigued me. Did Jesus celebrate Hanukkah? Why is Hanukkah mentioned here?

Hanukkah’s history dates 160 years before Jesus’ birth. It was a time when the Jewish nation was being oppressed by a dominate Syrian or Greek rule. The king of the Syrians was a man named Antiochus IV. His desire was to convert the Jews into a Hellenistic society. This was first accomplished by introducing the Jews to education, the arts, sports and commerce. For some this was not an issue, in fact they embraced it. For most though, they felt this was a threat against their heritage. In response, Antiochus imposed a stricter rule: celebrating Sabbath and other festivals were outlawed. People could not perform circumcision on their male children, mothers were even killed for circumcising their baby boys. It was illegal to own a copy of the Torah, and many copies ended up being burned.

Antiochus also erected a statue of Zeus in the temple, surprisingly the image bore a striking resemblance to Antiochus. It was ordered that sacrifices would be done in the name of Zeus. Antiochus called himself Theus Epiphanies or god manifest, he considered himself god. Finally Antiochus had pigs sacrificed on the altar to the Lord.

Ultimately a revolt happened against Antiochus. A priest named Matthias had had enough, with his five sons, he started a rebellion against Antiochus. Matthias’ son, Judas Maccabee (the hammer) was able to drive Antiochus and his rule out of the temple and Jerusalem.

Following their victory, Maccabee and his allies visited the Holy Temple, only to find it severely damaged. Eventually, they cleaned and restored the temple, and, upon completion, decided that it should be re-dedicated and celebrated. Hanukkah means dedication. As part of the celebration, they relit the Menorah (candelabra) that was damaged and repaired after the fighting. Unable to find a supply of purified oil, their only source came in a small flask. It was determined that there was enough oil to keep the candle lit for just one day. It is recorded in the Talmud that miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days, which gave them plenty of time to acquire purified oil to refill and keep the Menorah lit continuously.

The altar the pigs were sacrificed on had to be destroyed and a new altar erected in its place. But since the stones were holy they could not just be discarded. Outside the temple area, and under the Portico of Solomon the stones were piled up. It was hoped that when God sent a prophet he would tell the people what to do with the stones (1 Maccabees 4:47).

Once the Temple was 'rededicated, they proceeded to observe the eight days of the Feast of Tabernacles, three months late, because they were unable to do so under the rule of Antiochus. Judas Maccabee set aside these eight days as the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) as a remembrance of the successful revolt over Antiochus .

Hanukkah is a national holiday, like our revolutionary war victory celebration on the Fourth of July, or like Veterans Day, Memorial Day, Presidents’ Day, Thanksgiving, Flag Day, Columbus Day, Labor Day. It would have been a day filled with parades, maybe even a hot air balloon of Under Dog. Like the Feast of the Tabernacles, the people would be waving palm branches and shouting praises to God (Hallel, Psalms 113-118) as they circled the sanctuary. This is the setting of John 10:22.

John 10:22-24 Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon's Colonnade. The Jews gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

We do not know if it was evening or midday when Jesus was confronted by the Jews. We do not know exactly who “the Jews” were. They could have been average citizens or any of the religious leaders. But it is evident that they have heard the rumors that Jesus is being called the Messiah. How does Jesus respond?

John 10:25-29 Jesus answered, "I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand.”

Jesus is telling the Jews that His miracles should be evidence enough. But for me I think the Jews were hoping for more. They are asking Jesus this question at the time of the Feast of Dedication. They are hoping that the long awaited Messiah will be like their hero Judas Maccabee. Instead Jesus speaks of sheep. Sheep are tame creatures that would not be able to revolt against the current Roman rule. But Jesus didn’t stop there!

John 10:30 “I and the Father are one.”

I think nothing is more plain that this statement. But to the Jews hearing Jesus say this is blasphemy. And speaking in a such a manner deserves death.

John 10:31-33 Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, "I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?"

"We are not stoning you for any of these," replied the Jews, "but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God."

This is the second time stones have been picked up to be thrown at Jesus (John 8:59) for blasphemy. But where did these stones come from? Remember the altar that was torn down because a pig was sacrificed on it? Could these be the very stones?

Is Jesus similar to Judas Maccabee? This was a time for a revolution, but it wasn’t against the Roman rulers. It was time for a change in the religious system of the time. Were the religious leaders looking for someone to start this revolution or one to keep their religion the way it always has been done? Here was an opportunity to get closer to God, but for some it was missed. Are we any different?

May the eternal light of Jesus shine through this holiday season. May you experience God through His gift to us: Jesus.

No comments: