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The Festival of Lights


The lighting of the Menorah for Hannukkah. The eighth light is still unlit. Credit: Steven Crawford/Flickr/Creative Commons

The lighting of the Menorah for Hanukkah. One light is still unlit. Credit: Steven Crawford/Flickr/Creative Commons

We have an odd Jewish festival taking place this month called Hanukkah. Also called Chanukah or Festival of Lights, it’s different because it is not included as one of the seven festivals that the Jews were told to commemorate in the Book of Leviticus.

In fact, there is no mention of this feast taking place anywhere in the Jewish Old Testament and from a Biblical perspective the only mention is found in the New Testament, which of course the Jews don’t consider as part of their Scripture.

Yet despite this, some suggest Hanukkah is arguably the best known of the Jewish festivals because it typically falls in December coinciding with the Christian Christmas. The festival that follows the Hebrew calendar can start as early as late November to mid December and goes for eight days.

This year, it starts December 12 and runs to December 19, 2017

Over the eight-day festival a candle is lit each night on a nine-light menorah. The center candle traditionally serves as the one to light the other eight. Some of today’s Hanukkah menorahs now use electric lights, but follow a similar tradition.

Hanukkah commemorates the re-dedication of the Jewish second Temple that took place in 165 BC, after Malachi, the last book of the Jewish Old Testament, was written.

The festival’s roots are found in historical books 1 and 2 Maccabees that are not considered scripture by the Jews and surrounds overthrow of the oppressive regime of Antiochus IV who was ruling Judea.

In 168 BC, Antiochus looted the Jewish temple massacring hundreds of Jews in the process. He stopped the Jewish sacrifices and banned circumcision. He also set up an altar to Zeus in the temple where he sacrificed a pig, considered unclean by the Jews.

In 167 BC, a group of Jewish rebels rose up against Antiochus and were able to drive out the oppressors two years later. They cleansed the Jewish temple and rededicated it to God. As part of this celebration, they set up a Menorah.

However, after scouring the Temple they were only able to find a small supply of sealed holy oil (sealed to prevent contamination) used in lighting the Menorah. It was actually created by a High Priest who served during the time of the prophet Samuel.

But this one day supply of oil miraculously kept the Menorah lit for eight days until they were able to properly manufacture more Holy oil.

Every year since then, the Jews have celebrated the driving out of Antiochus, the re-dedication of the Temple and the miracle of the Menorah.

Though not mentioned in the Old Testament, the Gospel of John reports that Jesus participated in the Festival of Dedication (Hanukkah) where he got into a heated debate with the Jews:

22 At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; 23 it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon. 24 The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ [Messiah], tell us plainly.” (John 10:22-24 NASV)

In the discussion that followed, Jesus said the He and the Father are one (v 30) and the Jews understood that Jesus was calling Himself God and wanted to stone Him (v 31-33).

It was at this festival that we see Christ’s clearest statements about His unique relationship to the Heavenly Father and that He was the Son of God (v 36).

Remembering that the eight-day Hanukkah celebration centers around the miraculous provision of the oil, Jesus cited His miracles as confirmation about His claims:

38 but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.” 39 Therefore they were seeking again to seize Him, and He eluded their grasp. (John 10: 38-39 NASV)

But John also seems to allude to the Menorah and possibly Hanukkah in the two chapters just before this incident took place, when Jesus calls Himself the Light of the world:

12 Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” (John 8:12 NASV)

And then again in John chapter 9 when Jesus healed a blind man saying:

12 Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” (John 9:12 NASV)

These references to Jesus being the Light of the world may indirectly be referring to the lighting of the Menorah that took place during the eight-day festival. If so, it would seem to suggest that they took place around Hanukkah.

The Apostle John understood that there was a deep spiritual connection between Jesus and the temple. John said that Jesus’s body, the church, was going to replace the Temple that would eventually be destroyed:

19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” 21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body. (John 2: 19-21 NASV)

So it should not surprise us if John also connects Christ to the Menorah, the true Light of the world.

Sources:

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