It may surprise many to learn that Hanukkah, the movable eight-day Jewish festival being celebrated this year from Sunday, is actually about the coming of the Messiah.
Appropriately enough, therefore, it falls around Christmas each year, sometimes even coinciding.
The strength of its connection to Christ came home to me while listening to my pastor preach on Daniel chapter 8, outlining the rise and fall of empires that would follow the prophet’s time on earth.
Specifically, it relates to the emergence of the Syrian-Greek tyrant Antiochus Epiphanes launching a furious attack on the people of Israel and desecrating their Temple by sacrificing a pig there.
It all happened some 300 years later, just as in Daniel’s vision. It was a blatant attempt to wipe out the Jewish nation and thus prevent the coming of God’s Messiah through them.
We hear much about the rage across Europe, as the media has been describing lockdown riots, but this wicked despot raged across the Middle East like a madman, unleashing his venomous fury on the people of God in particular.
However, his brutal oppression of Israel was limited to just seven years (the 2,300 days of Dan 8:14), culminating in the re-dedication of the Holy Place, which opened the door for the coming of Jesus 160 years later.
Could this period of terror be seen as a precursor to the Great Tribulation under the Antichrist immediately preceding the return of our Lord (Matt 24:21 – see also Dan 9:27)?
Following a brave fight against all odds by Judah Maccabee and his men, the Temple’s re-consecration took place on December 25th 164 BC, exactly seven years after Antiochus launched his murderous assault on the Jews.
Since then, Jews everywhere have celebrated this great victory with an annual feast, also known as Hanukkah or the Festival of Lights, symbolised by a nine-branched menorah – nine, because the seven-branched Temple menorah had burned miraculously for eight days, despite having only enough oil for a day. And the Shammash (the central, or servant candle) is used to light the rest – one for each day of the festival.
Hanukkah has Jesus (and Christmas, for that matter) written all over it. For it was actually during the feast, which Jesus attended, that the controversial subject of whether or not he was the Messiah became a big talking point (see John 10:22-24). And it was later, when asked about signs of the end of the age, that Jesus referred to Daniel’s prophecy of the events that led to Hanukkah – clearly indicating a sort of ‘action replay’.
“So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel…then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains…” (Matt 24:15f)
The last days, he said, would be a terrible time of suffering unequalled in history. Antiochus was evidently a type of the Antichrist to come when the desecration of the Holy Place would be repeated. But, as with the Greek dictator’s seven-year torment, it would be limited in time – otherwise no-one would survive.
Then the heavens would reveal the Son of Man, our Lord Jesus, coming on the clouds with great power and glory (Matt 24:30).
Another Antichrist figure, Adolf Hitler, arose in relatively recent days to try to prevent the re-establishment of Israel and the subsequent return to rule there of Christ our Saviour. Worse is surely to come, but the Prince of Peace will finally execute righteous judgment on his enemies.
It is interesting to note that, at the Hanukkah feast Jesus attended, he was asked: “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” (John 10:24) Daniel also asks the question, “How long…?” (Dan 8:13) but he wants to know how long his people have to be tortured, and he gets a clear answer.
So it was that, in the very place where Antiochus had stood – a man who named himself Epiphanes, ‘God made manifest’ – Jesus, God incarnate, now stood.
Many Jews are intrigued by Christmas, and there are great similarities in the way the two feasts are celebrated, particularly with the multitude of colourful lights that I have witnessed around the restaurants, shops and malls of Jerusalem at this time of year.
The Shammash (or servant) candle, used to light the other eight during Hanukkah reminds us of Jesus, the “light of the world” (John 8:12) and our Servant King, who lights the way for each of his followers.
Sam Gordon tells the story of when a persecutor of the Jewish people in Russia asked a Jewish man what he thought the outcome would be if the wave of persecutions continued. The man answered: “The result would be a feast! Pharaoh tried to eradicate us, but the consequence was Passover, Haman attempted to exterminate us, but the upshot was Purim. Antiochus Epiphanes sought to eliminate us, but the corollary was Hanukkah. Just try to destroy us, and we will start another feast.”
One last thought. The Messiah has come to fulfil all our hopes and dreams – both Jew and Gentile. In him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, light for the darkness all around us, and life in abundance forever more.
Another story is told of an aristocrat who, on hearing the first performance of Handel’s Messiah, praised it as ‘a noble entertainment’, to which Handel replied, “My Lord, I should be sorry if I only entertained them; I wished to make them better.”
Handel’s majestic music was to declare the wonders of our God, which was undoubtedly also the purpose of a contestant in the BBC’s Young Chorister of the Year competition (girls’ section), who wowed the judges with her rendition of He will hold me fast – not just because she sang it beautifully, but because she so obviously meant every word of it. It clearly came from a heart filled with love for Jesus, along with a true understanding of what he came to do as ‘Emmanuel’ – God with us.
Charles Gardner is author of Israel the Chosen, available from Amazon; Peace in Jerusalem, available from olivepresspublisher.com; A Nation Reborn, available from Christian Publications International; and King of the Jews, also available from Christian Publications International.