How Shall We Keep Hanukkah?
Yeshua and the Feast of Dedication
“Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus (Yeshua) was in the temple area walking in Solomon's Colonnade” (John 10:22-23). The feast mentioned here is a clear reference to the yearly celebration of Hanukkah. John felt that it was necessary for us to understand an important correlation between Yeshua and his presence at Jerusalem during this festival. But what is this correlation?
Some take this verse to mean that Yeshua was in agreement with the celebration and consider incorporating Hanukkah into their worship practices. But did Yeshua really come to Jerusalem to actively participate in the festival as some suppose? I do not think so, Moses warned Israel “do not add” to the commandments for a good reason and Yeshua was perpetually compliant to Law of Moses. The curriculum held within the celebrations commanded by YHWH drew the people to Moses and the teachings he received through YHWH. "I am going to come to you (Moses) in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you" (Exodus 19:9).
But the unauthorized addition of the eight day Hanukkah festival memorialized the works of Judah Maccabee. It impressed an image upon the Jewish mind of what a messianic figure should look like. “He (Judah Maccabee) extended the glory of his people. Like a giant he put on his breastplate; he bound on his armor of war and waged battles, protecting the camp by his sword. He was like a lion in his deeds, like a lion’s cub roaring for prey. He searched out and pursued those who broke the law” (1 Maccabees 3:3-5).
“Maccabee” was a nickname given to the Hasmonian family which means “hammer”. This name gives us the impression that those composing the Hasmonian lineage had a very forceful spirit and their history proves that it was a fitting nickname. Moses on the contrary “Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3). And it was prophesied “YHWH your God will raise up for you a prophet like me (Moses) from among your own brothers. You must listen to him” (Deuteronomy 18:15). The New Testament shows us that the ministry of Yeshua was in stark contrast to that of the Maccabees.
There were some Jews living at the time of Yeshua who were young children when the Maccabeean dynasty was at the zenith of its power. They witnessed the sovereignty of their nation evaporate before their eyes as their countrymen were placed under Roman rule. How they longed for the return to the glory and power of their former days! Every action of Rome to govern the Jews revived images of Antiochus Epiphanies who eventually converted the Jewish Sanctuary into a Pagan Temple.
So if you were a Gentile or specifically a Roman soldier in Jerusalem at Hanukkah, the city would have been a very unwelcome and unsafe place for you. The inscription upon the stone (pictured below) warned all uncircumcised Gentiles who presumed to pass into the courts of the temple of immediate execution by the Levitical guards. “WHOEVER IS CAUGHT DOING SO WILL HAVE HIMSELF TO BLAME FOR HIS DEATH WHICH WILL FOLLOW”. Protecting the precincts of the temple was commanded in the Torah so this was not an unrighteous policy. And considering the past, they recounted the prophecies of Daniel which predicted "His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress … He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods” (Daniel 11:31 & 36).
When Yeshua was walking in the Temple during Hanukkah week and confronted by the Jews, one must consider how the spirit of intolerance had inflamed their hearts. The “Father and Son” teachings of Yeshua were foreign to their ears. So with this in mind, let’s revisit the confrontation between Yeshua and the Jews. “The Jews gathered around him, saying, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly." Jesus answered, "I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me” (John 10:24-25).
Our soft spoken Messiah did not match the brash and forceful image of Judah Maccabee that haunted their minds. Yeshua goes on and says “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life… My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one." Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, "I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?" "We are not stoning you for any of these," replied the Jews, "but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God." (John 10:27-33)
As you can see, the Jews were attempting to live out the Hanukkah story by destroying an invader they believed was going to defile their temple. “Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp. Then Yeshua went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. Here he stayed” (John 10:39-40). Take note that it was at the feast of Hanukkah that the Messiah ran out of Jerusalem to save his life!
"Have you seen this, son of man? Is it a trivial matter for the house of Judah to do the detestable things they are doing here? Must they also fill the land with violence (Ezekiel 8:17)? Ezekiel witnessed the Holy People practicing idolatry in his vision. He saw how it would lead those mesmerized by their idols violence against their fellow man. And through the practice of Hanukkah, there are many lessons for us to consider in our modern religious world.
The ghosts of the great Reformers and Pioneers haunt the minds of the Holy People today. We are commanded to confess that their works (like the works of Judah Maccabee) were mingled with errors, missteps and blatant deviations from the Torah. If we do not keep this in mind, we risk elevating the words and works of these individuals above the words commanded by YHWH in the Torah.
Like the Jews who contended with Yeshua at the Feast of Dedication, many have fallen by measuring present day Torah reformers against the works and teachings of the forefathers they have come to admire. The first commandment prohibits this. It produces the idolatry which grow into violence against the righteous. "All this I have told you so that you will not go astray. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God” (John 16:1-2).