Did you know that Jesus celebrated Hanukkah?! In John 10:22 we read that he was in Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication. If you translate that into Hebrew, it’ s Hanukkah! What is Hanukkah all about, and how did it start?
A clue about the story of Hanukkah is in the candlestick.
You may be familiar with the seven-branch menorah that God told Moses to make for the tabernacle (the details are in Exodus 25:31-37 if you want to refresh your memory). It was a lampstand that ran on oil, with seven branches and made out of one solid piece of gold. But at Hanukkah, you may have noticed that Jewish people use a candlestick with nine branches. The reason for the extra two branches lies in the story of Hanukkah.
In the time of Jesus, Romans had conquered the land, but before that, the Greeks had a vast empire throughout the Middle East. Alexander the Great had come to the shores of Israel in the fourth century BC and gradually Hellenised the place as the years went by. After Alexander came less noble rulers, and by the second century BC, Antiochus IV was in charge – a thoroughly nasty piece of work. He banned Torah study and practising the Jewish religion in any form. The last straw came when he sacrificed a pig on God’ s altar in the Temple in Jerusalem and forced Jewish elders to eat the forbidden flesh. A group called the Maccabees rose up to fight the Greeks, and astonishingly (although not unsurprisingly if you take all the Biblical accounts of Israel’ s ridiculous victories into account) they won. They took back Jerusalem from the Greeks and cleared out all the idols and statues that had been erected in the Temple. They cleaned out the temple and restored it as a holy place to the God of Israel. They rededicated it to God, which is why the celebration is known as Hanukkah, the Hebrew word for dedication.
The menorah was supposed to be kept alight 24/7, so they lit the candlestick once more. However, they discovered that there was only enough oil to keep the temple menorah burning for one day, and it would take seven days for the ritual purification process to prepare more oil. Miraculously, the story goes, that oil lasted for eight days. This is why the Hanukkah candlestick has nine branches – one to remember the eight days of the miracle of the oil, and one extra to be the “Shemash” or servant light… the one that lights all the others.
For us as believers in the Jewish Messiah, this is a great analogy of Jesus, the servant light who has also brought light to us. Not only did Jesus say in John 8:12 that he was the light of the world, but he tells us that we are the light of the world too. The servant light has set our hearts alight too.
This whole Hanukkah story happened 165 years before the birth of Jesus, and the celebration of Israel’ s victory took place each winter. The Israelites enjoyed a period of autonomous rule in the land before the Romans came and conquered. It is natural then that Jesus would join in the Hanukkah celebrations in his own day. Gentile followers of Jesus tend not to celebrate Hanukkah, but Messianic Jewish believers usually do.
This year, the eight-days of Hanukkah falls over the Christmas period, and even though there’ s no requirement for Christians to follow Jewish traditions, it’ s a great story to reflect upon. We can meditate on God’ s temple menorah that pointed to the coming Messiah, and what it means today that our lives are the temple of God. It’ s an opportunity for us to think about rededicating the temple of our lives to him, to be pure and holy, free of idols and dedicated to worshipping the God of Israel alone. Clear out the temple! Rededicate it all back to God, and light the fire again!
You can learn more about Hanukkah from a Messianic perspective here: https://www.oneforisrael.org/bible-based-teaching-from-israel/hanukkah-is-a-housewarming-party/