HANUKKAH In Relation To Christmas


One thing that is disgraceful and very sad, is the ignorance of Biblical knowledge on the part of born-again believers. This ignorance is nothing new. Ever since the Garden of Eden the majority of believers have ignored the learning and understanding of the Word of God. And because of it, the majority of believers in every generation of human history have suffered, been unhappy, and have missed out on many great blessings from God. Hosea 4:6; "My people (believers) are destroyed from a lack of knowledge." This refers to spiritual information. Knowledge from the Word of God. Then in Hosea 4:14 it says, ".......a people without understanding will come to ruin!"

You may ask, "What does all this have to do with a message concerning Hanukkah?" The answer is this. Over the years, since I have been a teacher of the Word of God, I have heard some ridiculous and idiotic ideas about Christmas, and the celebration of it on the part of Christians. The only reason why many Christians are against Christmas trees, and Christmas lights, and the exchanging of Christmas gifts, is because they are ignorant of truth. They lack Biblical and historical knowledge. And because of their lack of knowledge they are critical of things that they ought not to be critical of.

I can't emphasize enough, the importance of knowing what the Bible teaches. And I'm not talking about a surface knowledge, like so many Christians have. I am talking about an in-depth knowledge that only comes from a life that has self-discipline which causes you to come to Bible class every time it is available. The self-discipline that causes you to listen to Bible lessons on audio cassettes when there are no Bible classes at the church. The self-discipline of learning and growing in the knowledge of the Word every day. That is the only way any Christian can grow spiritually, and the only way any Christian can please God, and the only way any Christian can have true happiness in life and can truly understand God's plan and God's purpose in all things.

Christians who are critical about everything do not have the "peace that passes all understanding." (Philippians 4:7). They do not have the "flexibility and patience" that Paul talks about in Romans chapter fourteen. With all that in mind, let's proceed with the lesson about Hanukkah in relation to Christmas.

Over the years I have heard much criticism and condemnation from fundamentalist Christians concerning the celebration of Christmas. They would say such things as: "December 25th was chosen to celebrate the birth of Jesus because of a compromise with pagan religions who also had a special holiday on December 25th." Some say, "December 25th was chosen to celebrate the birth of Jesus because there were many Jewish Christians in the first century, and the Jews celebrated Hanukkah at the same time." Some say; "The Christmas tree and Santa Claus are of the devil." Here are the facts: In the 4th and 5th century AD Christ's Mass was instituted by the Roman Catholic Church. This is where we get the name "Christmas." In the 8th century an evergreen tree began to be used as a Christmas tree by Christians. The evergreen tree was used to represent the tree of life because it is always green.

Every year in the Hebrew month of KISLEV (December), on the 25th day of that month, Jewish people over the world celebrate Hanukkah. Hanukkah is a popular and festive holiday commemorating the struggle of the Jewish people against Syria for national survival and religious freedom. It is viewed as secondary in importance because it was not one of the seven Biblical holidays which God gave to Israel through Moses (Leviticus chapter 23). Hanukkah is far more than the study of an ancient people's courageous struggle for national and religious freedom. It is far more than the simple custom of burning a nine-branched candelabra in the window each year. Hanukkah is intimately related to the ultimate manifestation of the glory of God in Jesus Christ, and the date chosen for the observance of Christmas was given the same date because the Jewish Christians recognized that Jesus Christ was the light of the world who provided spiritual freedom to all who would believe in Him.

BACKGROUND

In 323 BC Alexander the Great died. Not only had he conquered most of the known world in twelve years, but he spread Greek culture, religion, and language everywhere he went. This Greek philosophy of life was known as Hellenism.

With the death of Alexander, his kingdom was divided among four of his generals. These four kingdoms are known in history as the Hellenistic Monarchies.

One of these four generals controlled a large area north of Israel known as Syria, and established the Seleucid Dynasty. A second general ruled over the Egyptian empire to the south of Israel and established the Ptolemy Dynasty.

For about one hundred years the little province of Israel was under the dominion of Egypt, but eventually, through power struggles and political changes she fell under the control of Syria. A state of war existed between Syria and Egypt that would last for decades. Trapped in the middle, the little Jewish nation existed in a state of uncertainty. At times she did not know to which empire she belonged, and, therefore, she did not know to whom she was to render allegiance and pay taxes.

As a result of these geographical and political problems, two Jewish political parties arose. One party, more conservative, favored Egyptian rule over them because Egypt was less Hellenistic and gave them religious freedom. The other party, more liberal, favored Syrian rule with its Hellenistic culture. This liberal party of the Jews did not realize that Hellenistic culture would have a negative impact on religious life and the worship of God. Many of these Hellenistic Jews even changed their Hebrew names to Greek names, instituted the Greek athletic games and even began to dress according to Greek fashion.

Into this atmosphere there arose a Syrian leader by the name of Antiochus Epiphanes. He would rule Syria from 175 BC to 164 BC.

In 168 BC Antiochus had a successful military campain against Egypt and took control of Palestine. He then proceeded to move down toward Egypt to place it under his control. This would expand his empire greatly.

But history records that on his way to Egypt he met a courier from the Roman Senate. The courier told him that Rome opposed Syria's conquest of Egypt, and that he must cancel his attack against Egypt or face war with Rome. Antiochus became very frustrated and very upset because he was on the verge of a victory that would greatly expand his empire, but he didn't want a war with Rome. Therefore, he turned his army around and headed for home. On the way home, Antiochus stopped in Jerusalem. He had a pig killed on the Brazen Altar in the Temple, and then Antiochus committed the ultimate offense, he had his soldiers carry a statue of Zeus Olympius, the chief Syrian god, into the Holy of Holies in the Jewish Temple. He then demanded that the people bow down and worship his god. Many Jews would not give allegiance to a heathen god, and history records that as many as 80,000 Jews were slain.

Jesus warned the Jews that this type of event will be repeated just before He returns. He said in Matthew 24:15; "When you, therefore, shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (the time of the end is close)." History will repeat itself. About three and half years before the second coming of Jesus Christ, the antichrist will place a statue of himself in the rebuilt Jewish Temple and demand to be worshiped. This is still future.

Antiochus did not plan on the Jews resisting him. But in the little village of Modin, about fifteen miles northwest of Jerusalem, a priest by the name of Mattathias and his five sons rebelled. Under the leadership of his oldest son, Judah, a guerrilla-style war was launched against Antiochus Epiphanes and the Syrian army. Its purpose was to force the Syrians out of Palestine, resist Hellenism, and restore the worship of the true God. After three years of war, the Jews drove the Syrian army out of Palestine. For the victorious Jews, the first order of business was the Temple at Jerusalem. Both the altar and the Holy of holies had been desecrated. A pig had been slain on the altar, and the image of a heathen god had been placed in the Temple. This desecration had occurred on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of KISLEV (December). And exactly three years later, to the day, the altar and Temple were cleansed.

It was this defeat of a pagan army, the cleansing of the altar and Temple and the rededication of that Temple to the true God which gave rise to the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. The Hebrew word Hanukkah literally means, "dedication."

There are at least two major sources outside of the Bible that gives us information concerning Hanukkah, its origin and significance. These sources are the books of first and second Maccabees, and the book "Antiquities of the Jews" by Flavious Josephus. Hanukkah occurred in 165 BC, and first and second Macabees were written in the second century BC shortly after the events occurred. Today the major event surrounding the observance of Hanukkah is the lighting of the candles on the nine-branched Hanukkah candelabra; however, neither first nor second Maccabees makes any mention of Hanukkah lights. The entire emphasis in these books revolves around the Maccabean's victory, the cleansing and rededication of the Temple.

The first person who spoke of lights as an integral part of Hanukkah was Josephus, and he wrote nearly two hundred years after the events had occurred. Josephus refers to Hanukkah as the "Feast of Lights," one candle (the servant candle SHAMMAS) with four candles on each side of it.

From our historical information we know that Hanukkah lights became an important part of the festival sometime shortly after the life of Christ, and continued after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. Therefore, the question is, "Why were the lights added?"

First of all we should note that Hanukkah is specifically mentioned in John 10:22; "And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication and it was winter." Jesus placed enough value on Hanukkah to be in attendance on its observance at the Temple shortly before His death.

Jesus said concerning Himself, in John 8:12; ".....I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but he will have the light of life." Then He said in John 9:5 that "as long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." And in John 11:9 He said, "......are there not twelve hours in a day? If any man walk in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world." And again in John 12:35; "Then Jesus said to them, for a little while the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness come upon you." Each of these references to Jesus as the light of the world in John chapters 8, 9, 11, and 12 surround chapter 10 where the "feast of dedication" (Hanukkah) is being observed. In each of these references when Jesus refers to Himself as the light of the world, He is in the Temple.

Following the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Hebrew Christians identified light with Christ and the Temple at Hanukkah. The servant candle (SHAMMAS) that stood higher than the other candles for the purpose of lighting them refers to Christ. John 1:9 says, "That He was the true light, who lights everyone who comes into the world." Therefore, the lights of Hanukkah were not ancient luminaries pointing to Christ; they were added after His death to point back to the One who alone is the light of the world.

The next question is, "Why did the early Christians set December 25th as the day to commemorate the birth of the Son of God?" December 25th is not the actual date for the birth of Jesus Christ. Shepherds in Israel would not have been out in the fields tending their flocks at night in December. Therefore, why did they choose this date? December 25th was the date that Antiochus Epiphanes chose to desecrate the Temple and establish the worship of his god, Zeus Olympius, because it was already an existing heathen holiday. It is also the date that the Jews cleansed and rededicated the Temple three years later. Light had defeated darkness; the true God had defeated the heathen god, Zeus Olympius.

The purpose of Israel's Temple was that deity should dwell within and that Israel would know the glory of God was present with them. And the purpose of the body of Jesus Christ was that deity should dwell within and that through it divine glory was manifested. John 1:18, "No one has ever seen God, except the uniquely born Son, who is at the Father's side (the place of intimacy), he has made him known." In other words, the glory of the invisible God could be seen in the visible Son. Hebrews 1:3 describes the Lord Jesus this way; "The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word......" In other words, Jesus was an outshining of God's glory and an exact representation of His nature. The glory of God shone out of the Temple and the glory of God shone out of the flesh of Jesus Christ.

So close was the relationship between the Temple on Mount Moriah, in which God dwelt, and the body of Jesus, in which deity dwelt, that when He was pressed for a sign to authenticate His life and teaching to the Jewish leadership, Jesus said in John 2:19, ".....destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." And this commentary is added in John 2:21, "But He spoke of the temple of His body."

The Temple had housed the glory of God, and the body of Christ housed the glory of God. That is why, in a description of the new Jerusalem, the apostle John wrote in Revelation 21:22, "And I saw no temple in it; for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it."

Now when the church, long after the actual record of the date of the birth of Christ had been lost, chose the date to commemorate the time when deity dwelt within a human body, they decided to use the Temple, where deity had also dwelt. The 25th of KISLEV (December) which was an already established date commemorating the cleansing and rededication of the Temple as a dwelling place of God.

The church did not choose December 25th because it was an ancient heathen holiday, but because of the Jewish feast of Hanukkah that occurred on that date, and the added emphasis that Jesus gave to it. This date eloquently testified to the fact that at the birth of Jesus, deity was dwelling in a human body (temple) and shining out to give light in the midst of darkness. The great Hebrew-Christian scholar, Alfred Edersheim, whose writings on this period of time are still classic, said, "The date of the feast of Dedication (Hanukkah), the 25th of KISLEV, seems to have been adopted by the ancient church as that of the birth of our blessed Lord, Christmas, the dedication of the true temple which was the body of Jesus Christ." In the simplest terms, the early church chose December 25th to remind the world that God came down to dwell in human flesh, and from out of that flesh He gave light and life to all those who would put their trust in Him.

The exact date for Christmas is not relevant. What is relevant is that you believe that Jesus Christ came into the world, born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, died on the cross bearing all the sins of the world, rose from the dead three days later, and ascended back to heaven from where He came.

Christmas is a time that is set aside to remember when God became man and dwelt among us. I dare say that many would forget if we didn't have this holiday. Again we see God making it easy for the human race to believe and be saved. No one will have any excuse when they stand before God in judgment.

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Copyright 1999 by Robert H. Kreger. All rights reserved. Anyone is allowed to reproduce this material and distribute it, but it may not be sold under any circumstances whatsoever without the author's written consent.