Many Christians do not understand the significance of Hanukkah, since it is not one of the biblical feasts of Israel. The fact that Jesus celebrated Hanukkah, however, should make us curious enough to investigate the possible importance of the festival to our faith.
To start, had it not been for Hanukkah, there may have not been a Christmas—Hanukkah helped prepare the way for the birth and ministry of Jesus. Hanukkah is also a good opportunity for Christians to express solidarity with the Jewish people by acknowledging and celebrating the holiday with them!
The Story of Hanukkah
The story of Hanukkah begins during the period in between the Old and New Testaments, when Antiochus IV Epiphanes became the ruler of the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire. While the Hellenization of the region already threatened the survival of the Jewish religion, Antiochus seemed obsessed with ensuring the demise of Judaism and thereby, the future of the Jewish people.
He not only murdered the High Priest, Onias III, but he slaughtered 40,000 inhabitants of Jerusalem. The observance of the Sabbath and feast days were prohibited as were sacrifices and temple services. In the final assault on Judaism, Antiochus ordered an idol to Zeus be erected in the temple and a pig slaughtered on the altar, thereby desecrating it.
A family from the priestly line of Aaron, the Maccabees, led a revolt against this evil ruler and miraculously experienced victory after victory over the mighty Seleucid forces, until at last the temple could be purified and its services restored. This rededication of the temple to the God of Israel is celebrated during Hanukkah, originally known as the Festival of Dedication. Hanukkah is a Hebrew word derived from the word “to dedicate.”
Saving the Jews from Extinction
The defeat of the Seleucid forces by this small band of Jewish zealots was nothing short of a miracle. God had once again demonstrated His faithfulness to His people by saving them from this existential threat. The Maccabean revolt was a turning point in history that saved the Jewish people, their religion, and their calling from extinction.
It meant God’s promise to Abraham that the Jewish people would one day be a blessing to “all the families of the earth” could still be fulfilled (Gen. 12:3; Gal. 3:8). God’s plan to bring redemption to the fallen world could now continue! Therefore, 150 years later the Christmas story began with the priest, Zacharias, serving in the temple, while a relative, a young Jewish girl named Mary, is chosen to give birth to the Jewish Messiah, the Son of David.
Imposing Anti-Jewish Ideologies
This story also has an important lesson for us today. Antiochus IV Epiphanes was no different from many other tyrannical leaders in his attempt to impose the ruling culture and ideologies of the empire upon the people. Hellenization of the Jews meant their adoption of elements of paganism and the immorality it fostered in society, as well as the ruling philosophies of humanism, reason, and pursuit of knowledge. Forcing conformity to the ruling culture and ideologies of their empire is how kings imposed their rule over the people in their domain.
Today, many world leaders are attempting to impose ideologies of secularism, globalism, and moral relativism on all of us. Once these ideologies take hold, the masses can then be easily controlled; they will have no loyalty to a religious creed, national identity, or moral code.
Israel, a Jewish nation-state, is antithetical to all three of these modern ideologies. Therefore, its Jewish national identity is accused of being racist by secularists and globalists. The very nation that gave the world the Ten Commandments, on which Western civilization bases its legal code and definition of morality, is hated by those attempting to impose their ideology of moral relativism—the belief that there is no right or wrong, truth or falsehood, good or evil.
The Battle Is Ours Too
This is a battle against both Judaism and Christianity, and Christians need to stand up on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people because their Bible, history of faith, and moral code is also ours.
The Hanukkah story should serve as an encouragement to us all that when we stand up against the mighty powers of our day, we do so not in our own strength, but with God’s help. Standing in solidarity with the Jewish people at Hanukkah is a stance in support of the very root of our own faith.
Therefore, I wish all of our Jewish friends—and my fellow Christians— a Happy Hanukkah!