Root: חֲנֻכָּה (chet, nun, kaf, hey)
The word Chanukkah is translated as “Dedication” and it is only used a handful of times in the Hebrew Scriptures… mostly connected with celebrating the building or rebuilding of YHWH’s Tabernacle or Temple. But the word really takes its cultural significance from the Jewish Festival of Chanukkah, which occurs this year from sunset on December 12th-December 20th.
To start let’s address two questions: 1. What does Chanukkah celebrate?… and 2. Did Yeshua (Jesus) celebrate Chanukkah?
1. Chanukkah, or the Feast of Dedication, is an annual remembrance of the Maccabean Revolt, which occurred between 167-160 BCE. It was a Jewish Revolt against their Syrian/Greek oppressors. Antiochus IV, the Syrian/Greek King massacred Jews, prohibited the Jewish religion, took over the Temple and erected an altar to Zeus. They even sacrificed pigs (an unclean animal in Jewish tradition) within the Temple.
This act of desecration within the Temple was the last straw for the Jewish people. Although many at this time opted to assimilate into the Greek culture as an easier road to travel, God’s faithful had had enough.
The revolt was instigated by a Levite priest, Mattathias the Hasmonean, and his five sons: John Gaddi, Simon Thassi, Judah the Maccabeus, Eleazar Avaran, and Jonathan Apphus.
It was Judah the Maccabeus (“the Hammerer”) that took charge of the militant revolt. There are, at least, seven large battles during this time. Guerilla warfare and seven years of determination eventually led to the success of the Jewish faithful and the return of the Temple to their custodianship.
There was a great rededication (chanakkah) of the Temple to YHWH. Legend says that upon returning to the Temple they only found a tiny jar of oil, enough only to light one candle of the menorah. That tiny jar managed to produce enough oil to light eight candles and this is why Chanukkah is often referred to as the Festival of Lights.
2. The Maccabean Revolt took place about 160 years before Yeshua was born to Mary. Was Chanukkah celebrated during the time of Yeshua? Did Yeshua celebrate Chanukkah?
Yeshua was not a resident of Jerusalem, but like all devoted Jewish people He went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish feasts. The Gospel of John frequently notes that Yeshua went to Jerusalem to take part in the Festivals. It is mentioned twice that he went during Passover (John 2:13, John 12:12), once during an unidentified feast (John 5:1), once during the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:10), and once during Chanukkah, the Feast of Dedication:
At that time the Feast of Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple courts in Solomon’s Colonnade. So the Jews gathered around Him and demanded, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” “I already told you,” Jesus replied, “but you did not believe. The works I do in My Father’s name testify on My behalf. But because you are not My sheep, you refuse to believe. My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them out of My hand. My Father who has given them to Me is greater than all. No one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” At this, the Jews again picked up stones to stone Him.
Now within the Old Testament the word Chanukkah is tied specifically to four places/instances: Moses Tabernacle (Numbers 7:10, Numbers 7:11, Numbers 7:84, Numbers 7:88), Solomon’s Temple (2 Chronicles 7:9, Psalm 30:1), Nebuchadnezzar’s golden idol (Daniel 3:2-3), and the rededicated Temple after the Babylonian captivity (Nehemiah 12:27 (x2), Ezra 6:16, Ezra 6:17).
The first time Chanukkah shows up in the Old Testament is when Moses finishes setting up the Tabernacle he anoints and consecrates the Tabernacle, and all its furnishings:
Numbers 7:1, 10-11
Now on the day that Moses had finished setting up the tabernacle, he anointed it and consecrated it with all its furnishings and the altar and all its utensils; he anointed them and consecrated them also… When the altar was anointed, the leaders brought their offerings for its dedication [chanukkah] and presented them before the altar. For the Lord had said to Moses, “Each day one leader is to bring his offering for the dedication [chanukkah] of the altar.”
YHWH’s Tabernacle/Temple is anointed, consecrated and dedicated. I suggest these words are specifically chosen for immediate, and prophetic, understanding:
Anointed: the root word for “anoints” in Hebrew is מָשַׁח Mashach (Strong’s 4886). From that root word we get מָשִׁ֫יחַ Mashiach (Strong’s 4899), which we translate in English to be “Messiah”. Yeshua HaMashiach is Jesus the Messiah, or Jesus the Anointed One.
Consecrated: the word קָדַשׁ Kadash (Strong’s 6942) comes out of the word root word Kodesh, meaning “Holy“. So, kadash, (to consecrate) is “to make holy”.
Dedication: The Temple is anointed; it is set above all others. It is consecrated; made holy in the sight of God. Now the people can come and show their reverence. They come and bring an offering of dedication to the alter.
This idea of a consecrated, anointed Temple, that we should bring an offering of dedication to, takes a new perspective when you consider Yeshua’s words:
Yeshua answered, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.” “This temple took forty-six years to build,” the Jews replied, “and You are going to raise it up in three days?” But Yeshua was speaking about the temple of His body.
Now before we dive into that we need to take a Coles Notes assesment of Temple history:
Before Solomon’s great Temple the house of God was a Tabernacle or portable tent which Moses dedicated. King David wanted to build something permanent and grand, but for various reasons which we won’t explore here, God said ‘No’. Instead David’s son, King Solomon, built the first Temple.
Solomon’s Temple was a phenomenal architectural achievement. It was meant to be a meeting-place between God and his faithful followers. At the Dedication (2 Chronicles 7:9) God says that He had chosen and consecrated (made holy) this house, that His name would be there forever, His eyes and heart were there perpetually.
About 360 years later Jerusalem would be crushed under the might of the Babylonians and the Temple destroyed, thereby disconnecting God and his faithful followers. After a horrible 70 years of captivity, (which must have felt rather Godless), the Hebrew people were released and were given the option to return to their homeland. Those who chose to return came home and began to build a new Temple… a new meeting-place between themselves and God. They dedicated it with great joy:
…celebrate the dedication [chanukkah] with gladness, with hymns of thanksgiving and with songs to the accompaniment of cymbals, harps and lyres.
The Temple meant a physical reconnecting with God, so a “chanukkah” of great joy and celebration perhaps is understatement. It is this post-Babylonian Temple that is still around in 167 BCE when the Maccabean Revolt begins.
King Herod “the Great”, always one for a grand gesture, renovated the Temple beginning in 19 BCE. This is the version of the Temple that Yeshua would have been familiar with.
In 70 CE that Temple was completely destroyed by the Roman Empire, only a few decades after Yeshua’s death. Emperor Julian the Apostate made plans to rebuild the Temple in 362 CE, but for various reasons (which you can read about here) construction never fully began. To this day the Temple has not been rebuilt.
YHWH stated that His presence is forever and perpetually in the Temple. But the Temple building was destroyed 1947 years ago. How is God perpetually in a place that no longer exists? Where is God?
When Yeshua says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again,” He is making a pretty bold statement! He is not talking about tearing down the Temple (which would have raised the eyebrows of those listening!), scripture clearly states he was talking about his body (although the congregation of listeners would not have understood that). Yeshua in this statement is putting forward that He is the anointed (Messiah), consecrated (Holy), Temple… the meeting-point between God and humanity.
God cares more for people than for bricks and mortar. The Temple was once a physical meeting-place where humanity could connect with God. With the building gone Yeshua becomes the meeting-place through whom we can connect to YHWH. Every time a new Temple is built there is a joyous party of dedication/chanukkah. Yeshua, as the New Temple, deserves our dedication!
1 Peter 3:14
But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear their intimidation; do not be shaken. But in your hearts dedicate Christ as Lord…
For the Temple of God went from a building (three times dedicated in Hebrew scripture) to the Body of Christ (risen after three days). Yeshua is where we should place our JOY and our worship and our thanksgiving!
Chanukkah points to Yeshua in another respect as well. The Festival of Chanukkah (Dedication) is also known as the Festival of Lights because of the miracle of the small bottle of oil for the menorah. Interesting that Yeshua consistently refers to Himself as “the light”:
Then Jesus cried out, “Whoever believes in Me does not believe in Me alone, but in the One who sent Me. And whoever sees Me sees the One who sent Me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in Me should remain in darkness.“
2 Corinthians 4:6
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Dedicate/chanukkah your life to Yeshua and celebrate the New Temple with great joy! For Yeshua is the Light that frees us from darkness. Happy Chanukkah, everyone!
Next week: Bethlehem