Shalom in the name of our glorious Messiah!
On behalf of the Chosen People Ministries global family, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!
For many of my fellow Jewish people, the very idea of linking these two holidays together is awkward. It still feels a little strange to me, even after being a Jesus follower for the past fifty years. Yet, I realize that having one without the other is impossible.
Let me explain. The story of Hanukkah describes the ways God protected and preserved His chosen people. If Antiochus Epiphanes destroyed the Jewish people, then how would Mary have given birth to the Jewish Messiah, Jesus? In other words, “Without Hanukkah—there would be no Christmas!”
I continue to reflect upon the similarities and differences between Christmas and Hanukkah. The similarities include the theme of lights, giving gifts, families gathering, and viewing the God of Israel as the deliverer of His people. Yet, the differences between the holidays loom large because there is no other time of year when Christians think more about the incarnation—God becoming human—than on Christmas.
HE IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON!
It is still astounding to me, and largely unknown by my Jewish people, how the only mention of Hanukkah in the Bible is found in the Gospel of John chapter 10. But, of course, if you have read our newsletter for a while or spent time on our website, you know Jewish people do not accept the New Testament as God’s Word. I do, as does all our staff, but again, this is not a typical Jewish view.
The traditional Jewish view of the New Testament is one of the most difficult challenges we face in bringing the gospel to the Jewish people.
I still remember the day I realized Jesus was the Messiah. It happened after I read the New Testament and understood Jesus was Jewish and celebrated the Jewish holidays—including Hanukkah! Then, as I continued reading, I realized the New Testament, especially the Gospels, seemed like part two of the Hebrew Scriptures.
In the Old Testament, we read about the promises of God to the Jewish people and the nations of the world. In the New Testament, we see how those promises are fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah. The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, tells one magnificent and seamless story of God’s plan for redemption.
GOD IN THE FLESH
This incredible story, told through both testaments, made perfect sense to me. Even more importantly, I fell in love with the Messiah Jesus and believed He was indeed God wrapped in human flesh!
Yet, accepting His deity is difficult for most Jewish people, as we are raised to believe God has no physical form. Jewish people expect the Messiah to be a religious, political, and military leader, not God in the flesh.
Modern Judaism considers the first two commandments—to have no other gods before us nor to create graven images of God—the reason why the very idea of an incarnation is unacceptable.
The Christmas/Hanukkah season intensifies these differences as it is increasingly difficult for Jewish people to avoid the issue of Jesus’ deity! Every nativity scene reminds us of the New Testament teaching about how God became a man. As believers, we know the Messiah’s deity is true and fulfills God’s promises to the Jewish people found in Isaiah 7:14 and again in chapter 9, verses 6 and 7.
In Micah 5:2, we learn this leader in Israel, the Messiah, was to be born in Bethlehem, whose “goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.”
The Hebrew Scriptures present unshakable evidence for the deity of the Messiah throughout its pages, yet most Jewish people do not recognize or accept it. This conflict over the deity of Jesus is at the heart and core of Christmas and Hanukkah.
It was during the celebration of Hanukkah when Jesus made one of the clearest statements about His deity. We also see how the Jewish people of His day took exception to His declaration of divinity:
“I and the Father are one.” The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” The Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.” Jesus answered them, “. . . If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.” Therefore they were seeking again to seize Him, and He eluded their grasp. (John 10:30–39, emphasis added)
Have you ever wondered why the Jewish leaders had such a strong reaction to Jesus’ pronouncement? It seems to stretch far beyond theological disagreement as, after all, they wanted to stone Him! It is impossible to understand the reaction of the Jewish leaders without knowing the background of Hanukkah.
THE HANUKKAH STORY
So, I hope you do not mind me telling you the Hanukkah story. It is always a blessing for me.
You will not find the story of Hanukkah in the Bible. Instead, it appears in the books of the Maccabees, which are part of the Apocrypha, writings outside the canon of Scripture. Jewish people view these books as historical documents but not divinely inspired Scripture.
Again, please allow me to summarize the story of Hanukkah in my own words.
Antiochus IV Epiphanes was a Seleucid king who reigned from 175–164 BCE over part of the Greek Empire, which Alexander the Great’s four generals divided among themselves upon his death. Antiochus bore the title Epiphanes (God manifest), implying his “incarnation” of the Greek god Zeus. Jewish people called Antiochus the madman (Epimanes) because of his cruel and erratic behavior.
This polytheistic madman wanted the Jewish people to follow Hellenistic ways and periodically outlawed Jewish worship and practices. Finally, he sent his emissaries throughout Israel along with a portable statue of himself and demanded the Jewish people bow down and worship him as a Greek god incarnate. But those faithful among the Jewish community could not stomach idolatry and would not bow to the statue of Antiochus Epiphanes!
The Jewish people who lived in a small town called Modi’in led a grassroots rebellion against the Syrian Greeks from 167–160 BCE under the leadership of Mattathias, a Levitical priest, along with his son Judah.
The Maccabees fought hard for seven years and in 160 BCE defeated the Syrian Greeks, retaking Jerusalem and the Temple. But their joy turned quickly to horror when they discovered that Antiochus sacrificed a pig on the Temple altar.
The Maccabees dismantled the holy altar and removed the stones, which they believed to be beyond cleansing. Jewish tradition tells us they heaped the stones into a pile in the Temple area where they would await the coming of a great prophet to cleanse them. Then, they built a new altar.
JEWISH LOYALTY TO THE ONE TRUE GOD
Hanukkah celebrates the victory of faithfulness over idolatry—more specifically, worshiping the image of a man who believed he was the incarnation of a false god. In this instance, it was Antiochus. Jewish spiritual loyalty resisted idolatry and refused to worship the image of a man claiming to be god.
May I speculate? I believe this spiritual loyalty and resistance to the idea of an incarnation was a strategy the devil used to repel the Jewish people from the actual incarnation of God as predicted by the prophets of Israel. Who can blame the Jewish leaders for resisting what, in their understanding, was an idolatrous statement by Jesus in declaring His oneness with the Father (John 10)? The religious loyalty of the Jewish leaders blinded them. They did not recognize God was fulfilling the promises of Scripture through taking on flesh and dying for the sins of the Jewish people and the world (Isaiah 9:6–7, 53:1–12; Micah 5:2, etc.)!
I cannot blame my people for resisting idolatry. However, the leaders already observed a Messiah who healed, performed miracles, and claimed to fulfill the prophecy of the One who was indeed God in the flesh. He opened the eyes of the blind, fed multitudes miraculously, cast out demons, and fulfilled the messianic qualifications peppered throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.
My prayer is for both Jews and Gentiles who have not yet concluded that Jesus is God in the flesh. Understanding this and coming to know the One who is the reason for the season, the son of David, and the Savior of the world is life changing! I pray the Lord will lead each of us to make the truth of His deity known among both Jews and Gentiles in the days ahead.
Thank you so much for your prayers and sacrificial support of Your Mission to the Jewish People. We have some incredible outreach projects on the horizon, which I will tell you about in the future. Meanwhile, I pray your love for the Messiah will grow more profound as you reflect upon the miracle of the incarnation!