Hanukkah is an eight day celebration that begins on Kislev 25 (December 25th) unto Tevet 2 (January 1). Hanukkah is also called the Feast of Dedication or the Festival of Lights. Unfortunately, most of the western Church, including Gentile Christians, believe Hanukkah (also spelled Chanukah) is only to be celebrated by the Jewish people (children of Israel). However, as we will discover, Hanukkah is actually a prophetic festival of God and Jesus (Yeshua), and should be observed by Jews and Gentiles. In this article, we will explore Hanukkah’s origin, history, and its’ ultimate prophetic fulfillment that will occur after Messiah’s second coming.
The Origin and History of Hanukkah
The inter-testamental period, which is the period between the Old Testament (Tanakh) and the New Testament (B’rit Hadashah), is a time which is often neglected in modern day Christianity. Interestingly enough, this is the time period in which many Biblical prophecies were fulfilled. It is within this time frame that we discover the origins of Hanukkah. Keep in mind that just because a prophecy has been “fulfilled” at one time does not mean that it cannot have an ultimate fulfillment in the future. God often gives us prophetic foreshadows of future events through historical events, thus leading to the ultimate fulfillment of prophecy. A great example of this is Passover, as the children of Israel were commanded by God to kill the Passover lamb every year on Nisan 14 for 1,500 years until Messiah, the Passover Lamb of the world, ultimately fulfilled this prophecy when He was crucified on Nisan 14 (April). To understand the prophetic foreshadows of Passover and the ultimate fulfillment by Messiah, please review, Exodus 12, Leviticus 23, and Matthew 26-28/Mark 14-16/Luke 22-24/John 13-20.
In 333 B.C., the Medo-Persian Empire was overthrown by Alexander the Great (Grecian Empire), and shortly after his premature death, the Grecian Empire was divided into four regions ruled by four of his generals: Ptolemy, Seleucus, Cassandra, and Lysimachus. In 175 BC, an evil king, Antiochus Epiphanes IV, who was a prophetic foreshadow to the Antichrist, rose to power from the Seleucus division. During Antiochus’ reign, he sought to expand his empire by invading Egypt (Ptolemic Empire) and other regions, aggressively “dominating” the cultures of which he ruled, which included Jerusalem and the Jewish culture. Antiochus was regarded as a tyrant ruler who was erratic, violent, and volatile, thus incurring the nickname “Epimames,” meaning “the mad one,” which was a word-play on his name Epiphanes. Because of Antiochus’ violent and tyrannical nature, he was in direct conflict with the Jewish people, especially the traditionalists who sought to keep the Torah, the pure Jewish traditions, and the priesthood.
In his attempt at the hellenization of the Jews, Antiochus IV disposed of the rightful Jewish High Priest (Kohen-haGohdol) and installed a hellenized Jewish priest to the High Priesthood. He then reportedly sold the position of High Priest to a man, Meneleus, who was not of priestly lineage (Levi). This created a major power struggle in Jerusalem between the traditionalists, who were the true heirs to the priesthood, and the followers of Antiochus IV, the Grecian-Syrian society. After Antiochus IV’s unsuccessful attempt to conquer Egypt in 168 B.C., he became angry and set out to destroy the Jewish people. Antiochus attacked Jerusalem in 167 B.C. and killed approximately 40,000 Jews and sold another 40,000 into slavery. He banned all the Jewish traditions, including the Torah, feast days, dietary laws, customs, circumcision, and everything else that was held holy by the Jewish people upon penalty of death. He also set up a statue of Zeus in the Holy Temple, the first abomination of desolation, and defiled the Temple by sacrificing swine and other pagan offerings on the alter. Antiochus committed many horrendous actions against the children of Israel and YHWH (God). These actions, and many others, gave rise to the Maccabean revolt, which was led by the five sons of the priest Mattityahu (Mattathias), and especially his son Judah “the Hammer” Maccabee (Maccabee is composed of the four Hebrew words: Mi Kamocha Ba’eilim Hashem- Who is like you, O God?).
Despite the fact that Judah Maccabee and his “army” were exiled and lived in caves during the three year guerrilla war that followed, these traditionalists eventually defeated the armies of Antiochus IV! This resulted in the restoration of the priesthood, Torah study, Jewish traditions, and eventually, the reclamation and re-dedication of the Temple in 164 B.C. Thus, the festival of Hanukkah (Feast of Dedication and Festival of Lights) was instituted, which commemorates the Maccabean victory over Antiochus IV. While much of these amazing events are recorded in the extra biblical books of the Apocrypha and other historical accounts (book of Maccabees), modern day Hanukkah tradition is primarily focused on the famous “miracle of the oil.” However, this was not included in the original Hanukkah traditions or historical writings, but was added in the Talmud approximately 600 years later, around A.D. 450-500. This tradition proclaims that after the recapturing of the Temple in 164 BC., there was only enough holy oil to light the menorah for one day, but due to a miracle from God, the oil burned for eight days!
This is why the tradition on Hanukkah is to eat things cooked in oil. While this oil tradition survives today, early writings in fact point to the origins of Hanukkah being a later Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles*) festival, celebrated on Kislev 25 instead of Tishri 15 (Hebrew Calendar). The reason is, in 164 BC, on Tishri 15 (Feast of Tabernacles), the traditionalists (Maccabees) were still fighting the Greek-Syrian armies of Antiochus IV. It was not until the capture and re-dedication of the Temple that they were able to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles followed by the eighth day, Shemini Atzeret.**
*The Feast of Tabernacles
**Shmini Atzeret (The Eighth Day)
In summary, Hanukkah is celebrated in remembrance of the successful Maccabean rebellion during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes IV and the re-dedication of the Holy Temple. This is the reason it is referred to as the Festival of Lights and the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah (חנכה) literally means “dedication”.)
Did Messiah celebrate Hanukkah?
Given this history, many Gentile Christians may ask, “Is Hanukkah a Jewish holiday? Why should Gentile Christians celebrate it?” The simple answer is that Yeshua (Jesus) celebrated Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, the Feast of Dedication!
John 10:22-30, “Now it was the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch. Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.”
Without question, Messiah is in the Temple during the Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah. This is a major event, as just prior to this we are told that Yeshua had a severe conflict with the Jewish religious leaders, who wanted to stone Him (John 8:59) and accused Him of being possessed by a demon (John 10:20). Also, Yeshua was not from Jerusalem, and for Him to travel in Israel during the winter was no small undertaking, thus showing us the importance He placed on the Festival of Hanukkah. During this feast, Yeshua is walking in the Temple, which is where the festival would have occurred, and is surrounded by many people. He then clearly identifies Himself as one with God, who has ultimate authority over all of creation.
Not only did Yeshua (Jesus) understand and celebrate Hanukkah, but it is also very significant to His prophetic timeline. Yeshua was born during the Feast of Tabernacles, on Tishri 15*, which usually occurs on the Julian/Gregorian calendar in mid/late September or early October. Count back nine months, September, August, July, June….and what month does it come to? December-January! This corresponds to Kislev 25 (Dec) – Tevet 2 (Jan), the exact time of Hanukkah. On the prophetic festival of Hanukkah, we can understand that Messiah was conceived into the world during the Festival of Lights/Feast of Dedication, and born during the Feast of Tabernacles (Tishri 15) in order to “tabernacle with men!”
Furthermore, if we look at the traditional celebration of Hanukkah, which centers around the lighting of the Chanukiah, or special nine pointed candelabra, we can also see prophetic symbolism. The candelabra is similar to a menorah, except that it has nine points instead of seven. The center point is generally higher than the rest, and holds the shamash, or servant candle. This candle is used to light all of the other eight candles, one on each evening of Hanukkah, with a recited blessing with the lighting of each candle. Each night the Chanukiah becomes brighter and brighter, as the shamash (servant) lights more candles, until the 8th night when the entire Chanukiah is lit, with the shamash (servant) standing tall. The Chanukiah is not supposed to be used for illumination of any task or room, but rather to be set apart and used only for reflection upon the great miracle of God.
Similar to the shamash, the servant candle, Yeshua (Jesus), the servant of God, first came as the Mashiach (Messiah) ben Joseph, or suffering/ servant Messiah (Isaiah 53). He came not only to be a servant, but to teach us to be servants, as well.
Isaiah 49:5-6, “And now the Lord (Yeshua) says, Who (God) formed Me (Yeshua) from the womb to be His (God’s) Servant, to bring Jacob (Israel) back to Him, so that Israel is gathered to Him (For I shall be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and My God shall be My strength), indeed He (God) says, ‘It is too small a thing that You (Yeshua) should be My (God’s) Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I (God) will also give You (Yeshua) as a light to the Gentiles, that You (Yeshua) should be My (God’s) salvation to the ends of the earth.’”
Please note, the Hebrew word for salvation is Yeshua (Hebrew Strong’s #3468), which translates to Jesus in English.
Matthew 20:25-28, “But Jesus called them over and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and the men of high position exercise power over them. It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life — a ransom for many.”
At Messiah’s second coming, when He comes as Mashiach ben David, or conquering (King) Messiah, He will stand tall (shamash) and reign with his people:
Revelation 11:15, ” The seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven saying: The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Messiah, and He will reign forever and ever!”
Yeshua also identifies Himself as the light of the world!
John 8:12, “Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
John 9:5, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Messiah is the light of the world (shamash), and through Him, we as believers, are the light of the world!
Matthew 5:14-16, “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven."
So, through the candle lighting celebration of Hanukkah, we can see the servant Messiah (shamash), the light of the world, serving others through His sacrifice on the cross. He (shamash) is lighting our lights, and each night this light gets brighter and brighter, until our whole being and the the whole world will be filled with the light until there is not anymore darkness! Amen!
The Glory of the New Jerusalem
Within the Holy Bible, the number eight is often used to represent the time for renewal or dedication. There are seven days in a week, and the “eighth day” symbolizes the “new day.” There will also be seven millennia (7,000 years), with the eighth being the “new millennium,” which is Eternity. (We are about to enter the 7,000th year or seventh millennia, when Messiah will rule for 1,000 years until the 8th). In Genesis 17:2 and Leviticus 12:2-3, we see the “dedication” of the male child in the covenant act of circumcision (8th day), and in 2 Chronicles 7:8-9 we read about the seven day dedication ceremony of Solomon’s Temple with the following eighth day solemn assembly.
In Revelation, we read about the glory of the New Jerusalem, where there is no need for sun or moon, as the glory of God illuminates (lights) the new heaven and earth, the 8th millennia!
Revelation 21:23-27, “The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb (Messiah) is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.”
In the Chanukiah, we see eight candles, all lit in turn by the one shamash (servant) candle. Here we see the time of dedication for the eighth new millennium, where the New Jerusalem will be eternally lit by the light of the Lamb of God, the true Servant (shamash) and Light of the world! Assuredly, there was a miracle that occurred on Hanukkah (Chanukah), and it was not just a simple eight day supply of oil. God, in His supreme power, took a band of homeless, outnumbered, and out-armored warriors and gave them victory over one of the most powerful and tyrannical empires the world has ever known (Grecian-Syrian). God did not accomplish this for sacred oil, temples, or cities, but to show His mighty faithfulness to the everlasting covenants (Abrahamic, Davidic, New Covenants) that He promised, and to preserve the lineage by which He would bring forth the Messiah of the world, Yeshua HaMashiach/Jesus Christ!
It is not by coincidence that “Judah” Maccabee would lead the forces that would destroy the armies of the prototypical Antichrist, and that Messiah, Yeshua, would come from the “Tribe of Judah,” be called the “Lion of Judah,” who will ultimately destroy the Antichrist and reign forever! This eight day celebration begins on December 25th-January 1st, and I pray that you will join us in celebration of this prophetic festival of God Almighty and Messiah! Amen, Amen, and Amen!
Will Hanukkah occur again after Messiah’s Second Coming? The answer is absolutely yes!