Sunday Study: The Feast of Hanukkah

HANUKKAH: Hebrew ‘dedication

After miraculously overcoming the superior forces of their Hellenist oppressors, the Jewish people anxiously looked forward to once again lighting the sacred menorah which stood in the Temple.

The Hellenists’ aim (Greece’s values of paganism, strength, assimilation, drama, sports, education and philosophy) had been to deny the religious practices of the Jews and cause them to forget their Torah and God’s commands to them, in order to accept their pagan Hellenistic culture. They had forbidden Shabbat, circumcision and the Jewish calendar of months and holy days. But the Jews were not a pagan people fortunate to be brought a step up into Greek culture. The Jewish people were the chosen people of God. To them it was a huge step down to a world without the true God, into a world of darkness.

An Evil King

We pick up the story in 323 BC, the death of Alexander the Great at age 33. Leaving no heirs, Alexander’s kingdom was divided among his four generals: Seleucus, Ptolemy, Lysimachus and Cassander.

For the next two hundred years, the nation of Israel, which was a strategic land bridge between Asia and Africa, was tossed like a leaf in the wind between the Seleucid (Syria) and the Ptolemaic (Egypt) empires.  In 171 BC, Antiochus IV, an evil king, arose over the Seleucid throne (Daniel 11:21).

Antiochus took on the name Epiphanes, or visible god, but quickly earned the nickname, Epimanes, or madman. Antiochus banned practicing the Jewish faith & religion. He banned brit milah (circumcision) and ordered pigs to be sacrificed at the altar of the temple. He banned the celebration of the Sabbath and of all the Jewish holy days. Dark days of terror and persecution followed for the Jewish people. Multitudes of Jews were killed for their faith. Soon afterwards a Jewish rebellion started.

In a foreshadowing of the final abomination of desolation that will be carried out by the Antichrist, Antiochus turned his attention to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (Daniel 11:31-32). Syrian soldiers hacked and smashed the porches and gates. took all the golden vessels and treasures out of the temple and on 15 Kislev 168 BC Antiochus put up a statue of the Greek god Zeus in the center (holy altar) of the Jewish Temple (but it had the face of Antiochus!). He made the Temple into a shrine to Zeus. The Talmud says that “if you never saw the Second Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple), you never saw a beautiful building in your life.”  The Beit HaMikdash was called the “eye of the world.”

This era was dubbed the exile of darkness, because the Greeks made every effort to make Jews see and understand the world in a way which was alien to the Torah. A world of Darkness, because nothing is as dark as the enslavement of the human mind.

On the birthday of Zeus, December 25, Antiochus slaughtered a pig on the holy altar.

Rise of the Maccabees

The diabolical plan of Antiochus to Hellenize Israel and to eradicate Judaism continued in the towns of Israel until he ordered an altar to be built in the town of Modin (17 miles northwest of Jerusalem) to honor Zeus.

The soldiers ordered an aged priest, named Mattathias, to offer a pig on the altar. After he refused, an apostate Jewish priest asked permission to offer the pig. In defiance, Mattathias ran the sword through the priest and a soldier, and together with his five sons the revolt of the Maccabees began.

The Miracle of Hanukkah

For three years the siege of the Maccabees raged until the Jews scored stunning victories at Beth-heron and Emmaus, opening the road to Jerusalem.

They then met the Syrians in open battle and defeated them. A small band of faithful Jews achieved a miraculous victory over superior forces and regained freedom to practice their religion.

When they got back to Jerusalem, the Temple was in ruins and the statue of Zeus/Antiochus was still standing. They cleaned the Temple. They rebuilt the Jewish altar and on 25 Kislev 165 BC, exactly three years after the statue was put up, the altar and Temple was rededicated to God.

According to the Talmud, after the forces of Antiochus IV had been driven from the Temple, the Maccabees discovered that all of the ritual olive oil had been profaned (contaminated). But a small vessel of concealed olive oil with the seal of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) was discovered in a spot which escaped enemy eyes, and, although it had only enough in it to fuel the Menorah for one night, the oil burned for eight nights (the time it takes to have new olive oil pressed and made ready).

The tradition of the eight days of Hanukkah began; a time of lights, celebration, and gifts.


In the New Testament, John 10:22–23 says, “Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade” (NIV).

Hanukkah expresses the victory of light over darkness. Christians are to illuminate the Greatest Light in the world which gives us eternal life.

Christians can also celebrate our freedom of religion by practicing and living out our faith, by not keeping quiet about our Jewish roots and sharing the Gospel with all (Matthew 5:15).

Jesus told us “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12.

What a wonderful time of the year to remember and commemorate the great miracle that God has done for us, by giving us new light and new life.