History of Hanukkah

Posted on December 19, 2017 by Steve Willis in Article from The Messenger

For followers of Christ, this week is holy due to its commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ.  For the Jewish people, this week is special for another reason.


After Alexander the Great's death in 323 B.C., his kingdom was divided into four kingdoms under the leadership of his four main generals (as Daniel had predicted).  Seleucus and his family ruled the geographical area that contained Israel.  Though Seleucus and most of his descendants followed the example of Alexander and gave the Jews self-rule, in 168 B.C., Antiochus IV Epiphanes, proved less benevolent. He outlawed the Jewish religion and ordered the Jews to worship his pagan gods. When they refused, he sent his armies into Jerusalem, killing thousands of people and desecrating the temple by erecting an altar to Zeus and sacrificing pigs on its altar.

A Jewish priest, Matthathias, led a desperate rebellion against the Greeks. When Mattathias died in 166 B.C., his son Judah, known as Judah Maccabee (“the Hammer”), eventually defeated the Greek armies, relying largely on what we would call today “terrorist” activities.  Judah called on his followers to cleanse the Second Temple, rebuild its altar and light its menorah – the gold candelabrum whose seven branches represented knowledge and creation and were meant to be kept burning every night.

According to the Jewish tradition, even though there was only enough kosher olive oil to keep the menorah candles burning for one day, the flames stayed lit for eight nights.  By the end of that time, they had time to find more oil and begin cleansing the temple.  It is for this reason that Jews to this day celebrate Hanukkah, the festival of lights, for eight days in December. This is the same time of year they fought off armies of Antiochus Epiphanes IV. Though the story of Hanukkah does not appear in the Bible, the celebration of the holiday is included in the New Testament as the “feast of dedication” or the “festival of lights.”  We see Jesus celebrating this holiday in John 10.

If Jesus was actually born during this time of year, He would have been born as the Light of the world during the same time the Jewish people were celebrating the festival of lights. It's another story that is just a copy and shadow of the real thing.  Plus, if Jesus celebrated it, it should probably have some significance for us.  Celebrate light this time of year. The Light of the world has come!