“Then the Festival of Dedication took place in Jerusalem, and it was winter. Jesus was walking in the temple complex in Solomon’s Colonnade.” John 10:22-23.
This evening marks the beginning of one of the most iconic Jewish holidays, Hanukkah. The Festival of Lights, or Festival of Dedication, as it is sometimes referred to as, celebrates a miraculous victory of the Jews over a foreign occupation of Israel and the dedication of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Here in John’s Gospel, we see that Jesus, observant Jew that He was, in the Jerusalem Temple to celebrate Hanukkah.
The Jewish books of 1 and 2 Maccabees tell the Hanukkah story. In the time between the Old Testament and the New Testament, the Jews of Judea were conquered by the Seleucid Empire. A man named Antiochus IV came to rule the Seleucids, and he especially hated the Jews and their customs and culture. He went as far as to outlaw the practice of Judaism and performed sacrilegious practices in the Temple–even as far as to sacrifice pigs on the alter. During this time, many Jews quit practicing their religion, and some even began assimilating into Hellenistic culture. 1 Maccabees says that some men tried to “hide and reverse the marks of their circumcision.”
A righteous priest, Judah Maccabee, grew tired of the mistreatment of his people and the apostasy that was sweeping through Judea. The term “Maccabee” means “sledgehammer,” and Judah organized an armed revolt against Seleucid rule. This uprising came to be known as the “Maccabean Revolt,” and Judah and his followers, the Maccabees, fought to expel the Seleucids from Judea. This uprising went on for several years, and posed great problems for Antiochus IV. The Maccabees were ultimately successful; they reconquered Jerusalem, and retook their Temple. Several years after the rebellion, Antiochus IV was forced into exile where he died.
The Maccabees were faced with a serious problem when they retook the Temple. They had to cleanse the Temple and rededicate it so that they could again use it for worship. This ceremony would take seven days, and the candelabra in the Temple had to be lit for the entirety of the dedication ceremony. However, there was only enough oil in the Temple for the candelabra, or menorah, to burn for one day. Judah Maccabee knew that God would provide for His people, and he decided to proceed with the dedication ceremony. Miraculously, the oil in the menorah lasted for eight days, more than enough for the dedication ceremony, and Judah Maccabee proclaimed that all the Jews would commemorate this miraculous provision each and every year for eight days. Hanukkah is unique from all other Jewish holidays in the respect that it is the only one not given to the Jews in the Torah.
Hanukkah celebrates the Jewish victory over oppression and persecution, but it also reminds us that God provides for His people. In this world of sin and darkness, God’s holiness shines forth like a bright light. We, as His followers, must let His light shine through us and we must help to illuminate the world. During the Festival of Lights, dedicate yourself to God and His work, and let your light shine brightly to all around you.