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One common theme between Chanukah and Christmas is lights!
Everywhere, there are lights and more lights! And, even though lights
are an important theme for the holiday, there is much more of a
connection between these two holidays (and the religions from which they
emanate) than meets the eye.

Some Christians (for example) have never noticed that Chanukah is
mentioned in the New Testament at John 10:22-23 wherein it says, “And it
was at Jerusalem, the Feast of Dedication, and it was winter, and Jesus
walked in the Temple in Solomon’s Porch.”

The reason why this may go unnoticed by some is because the word for
“dedication” in Hebrew (Chanukah) is translated rather than left in the
Hebrew (and transliterated). Now, why would Jesus be walking in the
Temple Porches during the Feast of Chanukah? Is this just the tip of an
iceberg that represents a very large and deep connection?

Yes it is!

It turns out that the Jewish people had been observing the 25th day
of the ninth month (Kislev) for centuries, going even further back than
the obvious commemoration of the military victory of the Maccabees over
the Syrian Greek oppressors. It is also the case that the Syrian Greeks
chose this very day, the 25th day of Kislev, to desecrate the Second
Temple and
bar the Jews from observing their religion. Three years later, the
Hasmoneans (who are also called the Maccabees) also chose that very same
date to rededicate the Temple, even though the last battle was won on
the third day of Kislev. Why was this date so very important? Because
that date, the 25th of Kislev, had enormous religious and historical
significance to
the Jewish people all during the Second Temple Period.

Anyone who has studied the Book of Haggai immediately sees the
connection to the story of Chanukah. Haggai, chapter 2, verse 18,
implies that the construction of the Second Temple began on the 25th of
Kislev. And this is the very same temple that was defiled by the Syrian
Greeks trying to demoralize the Jewish people on a very special day.
Seems like everyone in that day and age knew the significance of this
date.

Important prophetic pronouncements

Jeremiah had prophesied that the Jewish people would be taken off
into the Babylonian captivity for an exile which would last 70 years.
And they did indeed return after 70 years of exile, but only by a
trickle (not everyone came back). And so, while Jeremiah’s prophecy of
the return in 70 years (in 29:10-14) came true, his prophecy about the
extent of the return from the exile was only partially fulfilled (in
23:7-8) where he says, “assuredly, a time is coming, declares the Lord,
when it shall no longer be said ‘As the LORD lives, who brought the
Israelites out of the Land of Egypt,’ but rather ‘As the LORD lives, who
brought out and led the offspring of the House of Israel from the
northland, and from all the lands to which I have banished them. …’”
Even though the Jewish people are back in their ancestral land (since
1948) in fulfillment of prophecy, still the full extent of their
prophesied return is yet to be realized.

At the end of the 70 years of exile, Babylon’s great empire fell to
the Persians (just as Jeremiah had predicted). Cyrus the Great, the
first king of the newly found Persian Empire, issued an edict allowing
the Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild their Temple. And even though
this was a very generous decree, it granted the Jews religious autonomy
only, and not political sovereignty. Only a very small percentage
of the people of the exile returned, and this small percentage built the
altar, but they were highly demoralized. Attempts at building the Second
Temple were thwarted by the local non-Jewish population. Eighteen years
later, as Darius the Great assumed the throne of Persia, there was a new
attempt to rebuild the Temple.

But the people lacked the necessary enthusiasm to pursue the
construction of the Second Temple. Haggai presented a straightforward
challenge to the people: First they should build the Temple, direct
their nation’s devotion to G-d, and then the people of Israel would be
worthy of attaining to their sovereignty as a nation and to
economic prosperity. The people, as recorded in the first chapter of
Haggai, accepted his idea and they began to prepare the materials for
rebuilding the Temple. Then on the 24th of Kislev, Haggai delivered his
concluding message. In the prophecies that he delivered on this day,
Haggai emphasizes the same central points that he made earlier. Not only
will economic prosperity return, but political sovereignty will as well:

    And the word of the LORD came to Haggai a second time on the 24th
    day of the month. Speak to Zerubabel the governor of Judah, “I am going
    to shake heaven and earth, and I will overturn the thrones of kingdoms
    and destroy the might of the kingdoms of the nations. I will overturn
    chariots and their drivers, horses and their riders shall fall”
    (2:21-23).

Important aspects of the Second Temple period

But in Haggai’s day, although the Temple was built, this vision was
never fulfilled. Some believe that it will only be fulfilled now for the
Third House. There are differences between the First Temple and the
Second Temple that are related to the failure of Haggai’s prophecy to be
fulfilled at that time. First, the Second Temple never held the
furniture and Ark of the Covenant built by Moses and used in the
Tabernacle. Second, the Shekina (or “Presence of G-d”) did not
fill the House, as it did in the Holy of Holies in the time of the First
Temple. Third, during Second Temple period, there was no holy anointing
oil made by Moses, the last of it had been used up in the time of the
prophets ending with Malachi. Fourth, the Second Temple period did not
include the kind of teshuva (repentance and a return to G-d and
His will) as was prophesied by Zechariah and that was required if the
Jewish people were to prosper and achieve the prophesied political
sovereignty.

The Book of Zechariah also opens in the Second year of Darius’
reign. In contrast to Haggai, who focused on the nationalist and
sovereignty aspects of redemption, Zechariah focused on a more spiritual
message. His opening prophecy implores people to perform proper
“repentance.” Only then will G-d return to His people (see
Zech 1:3).

The next six chapters continue with Zechariah’s visions describing
the return of G-d’s divine presence to Jerusalem. These Hebrew prophets
strike a balance between two seemingly conflicting ideas about the
redemption process. Economic and political growth, however essential to
national revival serve only as vehicles to attain a higher goal of
creating a nation devoted to G-d, and which will bring the gentile
nations closer to the G-d of Abraham, about whom it was said he was
“selected by G-d” due to the fact he would teach his household
righteousness (tzedekah) and justice (mishpat). Zechariah
balances the important nationalistic aspirations of Haggai with the need
for repentance due to having gone astray from G-d’s ways. This
repentance was an indispensable prerequisite for the return of G-d’s
presence (Shekina).

Unfortunately, the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah — of
prosperity, national sovereignty and of the return of G-d’s presence –
never did materialize during that time period of the Second Temple. No
wonder the most persistent teaching of John the Baptist (immersing in
the Jordan River) was for “repentance.” And it is also little wonder
that the most common teaching of Yehoshua (Jesus of Nazareth) was about
the Kingdom of G-d, or the Kingdom of Heaven, alluding to the time when
G-d’s sovereignty again would reign in Israel as a theocracy and when
the Jewish people would no longer be under any foreign domination or
oppression. We now know that all of Jesus’ parables and teachings about
the Kingdom of G-d pertained to the overthrow of this oppression and
foreign domination in Israel, and which much later took on a more
spiritual and “other-worldly” meaning.

Although still unrealized, these vital prophecies had most likely
earned their place in the collective Jewish consciousness, as they
reflected the optimistic goals of the Second Temple period from its very
foundation. And one might conjecture that the people annually
commemorated the anniversary of the original construction date of the
Second Temple, the foundation having been laid on the 25th of Kislev.
They may have viewed this day as an appropriate time to recall the
hopeful prophecies of Haggai, pronounced on the preceding day, on the
24th of Kislev. It’s no wonder that the Syrians used this date for
desecrating the Temple and outlawing Judaism as a religion.

This is also most likely why we find the New Testament mentioning the
“Festival of Dedication” in John 10:22-23. Later on, even after the
destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D., Jews continued to celebrate
Chanukah, the religious freedom that this holiday symbolizes, and the
hoped for realization of the complete fulfillment of these prophecies in
Haggai and Zechariah. It also explains why the disciples asked Jesus in
the book of Acts, chapter 1, verse 6, if he was going to “at this time
restore the Kingdom to Israel.” This restoration was expected, as
prophesied, and it was understood by that time that restoration would be
performed by an “agent of G-d,” His Anointed (Hebrew: Mashiach).
It is still expected by many Christians today, that King Messiah will do
exactly as the Hebrew prophets had declared. And the Jewish people are
also still awaiting these prophecies of “national restoration,” under
G-d’s rule of law and teachings (Torah).

The lights at Chanukah remind them of this restoration, and of the
lights within the House of G-d (in the Temple, represented by the
Menorah) which will one day glow again from within the city of
Jerusalem. Today, some scholars believe that the earliest Jewish
followers of Jesus’ teachings observed the 25th of Kislev as a “Festival
of Lights” (Chanukah) and only centuries later did this day take on the
additional connotation of celebrating Christ’s birth. But for whatever
reason you celebrate this day, may you have a chag sameach
Hebrew for a “joyous festival.”

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