Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah! I love this season of the year: lights, joy, lots of presents, and the ability to freely focus on our faith in Jesus—the reason for the season. When I say the reason for the season, I am including Hanukkah, not just Christmas!
There is an amazing connection between the two holidays. It is a bit hidden, but I am sure that, once you see it, you will be as thrilled about it as I am. We find this extraordinary link in John 10:30, where Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.”
We know from the gospel that the events in John chapter ten occurred during the Feast of Dedication (John 10:22–23), also called Hanukkah. The Hebrew word hanukkah means “dedication.” It is still the most often used name for this great holiday.
Jesus Celebrated Hanukkah!
Curiously, the only biblical mention of Hanukkah is in the New Testament. The origin of Hanukkah is in the intertestamental literature, particularly in the First and Second books of Maccabees, which many people consider significant records of Jewish history.
The story of Hanukkah serves as the stunning backdrop to the words of Jesus, particularly in John chapter ten and especially in verse thirty.
The saga begins with a well-known historical figure—Alexander the Great.
Upon his death in 323 BC, Alexander’s kingdom was divided among four of his generals. Eventually, the lands that included Israel came under the control of Antiochus Epiphanes in 168 BC. His name alone tells the story—the word epiphanes means “revealed” or “manifestation” and refers to the Greek gods who often took on human form. In this instance, Antiochus probably had Zeus in mind as he desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem by sacrificing to Zeus (1 Maccabees 1:54; 2 Maccabees 6:2).
Antiochus demanded loyalty from the Jewish people to Greek culture and the Greek gods. He sent his emissaries with a statue of himself to each village in Israel and made them bow down to it. According to Jewish tradition, the emissaries entered the town of Modi’in and demanded that the Jewish people bow down and worship the Greek gods and their representative, Antiochus.
But a family of Levitical priests was living there. Mattathias and his five sons refused to bow and began a revolt. Mattathias cried out, “Let everyone who has zeal for the Law and who stands by the covenant follow me!” (1 Maccabees 2:7). His call is one of the grand statements of loyalty and unity that every young Jewish child learns at his mother’s knee.
His family and followers fled to the Judean foothills and waged guerrilla warfare against the Syrian Greeks for the next three years, between 167–164 BC. When Mattathias died, Judah became the leader of the rebel forces.
During that time, Antiochus perpetrated one of the most heinous acts against the Jewish people recorded in all of history. After defeating Antiochius, the Maccabees discovered that he had sacrificed a pig on the altar in Jerusalem, one of the holiest sites in Israel. The Maccabees retook Jerusalem and wanted to cleanse the Temple. However, when they realized that a pig’s blood had defiled the altar, they took it apart and stacked the stones off to one side. In a very intriguing tradition recorded in 1 Maccabees, they left the rocks for someone more powerful to do the cleansing (1 Maccabees 4:46).
They built a new altar, and according to Jewish tradition, only had one day of oil left in the Temple’s eternal light (the seven-branched menorah), although it took eight days to cure olive oil to keep the light shining. The miracle that took place, according to tradition, was that the oil lasted for eight days, which allowed the Maccabees to prepare the oil needed and prevented them from being extinguished.
This legend provides the rationale for why we celebrate Hanukkah over eight days and why the symbol of light is so important. It reminds us that the ner tamid, the ceremonial light that shone in the Temple, must never be extinguished. Of course, the physical Temple was destroyed in AD 70 when the Romans conquered Jerusalem. Many Jewish people fled, and the Romans took the remaining Jewish people as captives. The menorah and other holy implements were looted and brought to Rome by the armies of Titus. To celebrate the victory, the Romans engraved these historical events inside the Arch of Titus, which you can still see today in the Roman Forum, near the Roman Colosseum.
The Declaration of Divinity
Jesus made His declaration of divinity in John 10:30 amid the grand traditions observed during the magnificent Hanukkah celebrations at the Second Temple. These traditions are described in the Mishnah, a collection of rabbinic commentaries on the Bible.
The story of Hanukkah, which would have taken place fewer than two hundred years earlier, was well-known by the Jewish people at that time. The average Jewish person living in Israel would have known that Antiochus Epiphanes, also called “Antiochus the Madman,” had declared himself to be a god. The Jewish people were commanded not to have any other gods but the Lord and were forbidden to worship idols (Exodus 20:3–4).
Indeed, the order to bow down and worship a statue would have been especially repugnant to the Jewish people. To this day, Jewish resistance to incarnation is rooted in the Jewish rejection of idolatry and the belief that God cannot be corporeal.
Resisting the claim that Jesus is God in the flesh has been viewed as a testimony of Jewish loyalty throughout the centuries. The fact that any Jewish person can overcome thousands of years of Jewish faith and tradition and accept Yeshua’s deity is a miracle.
The Deity of the Messiah Is Rooted in the Hebrew Bible
I was raised in a modern Orthodox Jewish home and taught to reject this possibility out of hand, not only for Jesus but for anyone.
I remember when I was thinking about becoming a believer in Jesus and was confronted with the idea that Jesus claimed to be God in the flesh. After reading the Gospels and seeing the way Jesus acted and spoke, I concluded that if anybody was God in the flesh—it would be Him. I am so glad that the Lord worked in my heart and enabled me to accept this glorious and fundamental truth—that Jesus is God, fully divine and fully human.
If Jesus was just a very bright and articulate itinerant Jewish rabbi, then you and I are still walking in our sins and face judgment on the last day. But because He is God in the flesh, His death provides a perfect atoning sacrifice for our sins, allowing you and me to receive forgiveness of sins and stand in the presence of the Lord forever.
I came to realize that the Hebrew Scriptures actually did teach that God could appear in the flesh. Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:6–7, and several other prophetic passages in the Old Testament teach that God would take on flesh one day.
I understand why the Incarnation rubs Jewish people the wrong way. We were raised celebrating Hanukkah and taught that bowing to any corporeal God is idolatry.
I would agree that the Bible teaches against idolatry. Isaiah wrote with a combination of anger and humor, it seems, concerning how idolators worship:
Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, “Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.” But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god.”
Yet, we do not worship a God made of wood or stone but one who became a man while fully retaining His divine nature—a glorious mystery!
There is no stipulation against the true God taking on flesh. Without the Incarnation, Jesus would not fulfill the Messiah’s prophetic description and qualify as the Savior of the world. There is no other way to be the Messiah as no human being could accomplish what the Bible prophesied the Messiah would achieve. The deity of the Messiah is essential to His Messianic role in the story of redemption.
With this background, we understand that Jesus’ declaration that He and the Father are one was a declaration that He is God in the flesh. There is no other. Antiochus Epiphanes was a fraud; the statue was merely an image that was eventually destroyed.
Jesus is not an idol made of wood or stone, nor is He just a man or a great rabbi or miracle-worker. He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies that teach us that the true Messiah and Savior of the world would be God in the flesh.
Dear friend, it is the Incarnation that forms the magnificent bridge between the holidays. I cannot tell you how happy I am that our Messiah Jesus chose Hanukkah to declare Himself God in the flesh. What could be more appropriate? What could be more Jewish?
I hope you enjoy the additional teaching on this great topic in this newsletter.
We are so grateful for your prayers!
Blessings and Merry Christmas,