Is Hanukkah the Jewish Christmas?

Is Hanukkah the Jewish Christmas?

The Enemy

        In 168 B.C., the Syrian emperor Antiochus came from the north and defeated Egypt.  During the process of celebrating his victory he was pressured by Rome to withdraw. In his anger at this reversal, he directed his resentment towards, and made a swath through, the land of the Jews.  He set out to destroy Judaism making any observance of the Jewish religion illegal.  It is recorded that he would torture mothers and children publicly and then would execute them.  He defiled the Temple by sacrificing a pig on the altar to the god Zeus Olympus, and then looted the Temple (Daniel 8:11-19; 11:21-35).

The Hero

         It looked as though this notorious Syrian emperor was unstoppable.  However, in Modi’in, three miles north of Jerusalem, a Kohen (priest) named Mattathias, along with his five sons began a revolt against the Syrian monarch.  This small band grew in number throughout the Judean hills, and within three years, drove the Syrian invaders out of Jerusalem, and the surrounding area.  It is said, that on the 25th day of Kislev (November/December), exactly three years to the day, after its desecration, the Temple and altar were rededicated.

The Miracle

         The Jews “wept” when they saw the desecration of the temple and began to restore it to a “state of ritual purity.”  Jewish tradition records that when the heroic Jews set about to rekindle the Perpetual Light (candle stand; seven candle menorah) there was only enough consecrated oil to last only for one day. It would take eight days to prepare ritually permitted oil. The miracle was that the oil in the menorah, which was to only last for one day, remained lit for eight days, until the special oil was procured. 

The Rescue

         Today, Jews throughout the world light candles each night during the eight-day celebration of this miracle of God.  The miracle is the emphasis, not the military victory.   Hanukkah, which means “Dedication”, proclaims a divine miracle, not a human victory.  The reason the rabbis emphasize the spiritual, although the Bible regarded some wars as just, was simply they did not allow human bloodshed to be associated with worship.  David, for example, was not permitted to build the Temple because his life had been devoted to the quest of war.  Hanukkah marks the rescue of Judaism, as a faith, and a way of life from annihilation.

Bible and Apocrypha

         The story of Hanukkah is referred to in the writings of Daniel.  Daniel 8:23, predicts the rise of Antiochus, and in Daniel 11:32, the rise of the people’s resistance to Antiochus.  In John 10:22 – 23, Jesus, during Hanukkah, declared His deity, “I and My Father are one” (10:30). However, the complete story of Hanukkah is found in the Apocryphal writings 1 and 2 Maccabees.

The 25th Day

         It is interesting how Hanukkah, and Christmas are similar, in some ways.  Both originated in the same land, by the same people, Israel and the Jews.  Both are celebrated the same day in their respective months – 25th day of Kislev (November/December), and the 25th day of December (though, it is unlikely Jesus was born in December.  Celebrating the Incarnation in December, evolved from European pagan traditions, concerning the Winter Solstice).  Gifts are exchanged during these holidays, special foods are prepared, candles are lit, and spiritual songs are sung. Both commemorate an historical event.

Jewish Christmas?

         However, Hanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas – it is a celebration of the rededication of the Temple, and the miracle regarding the menorah.  Christmas, is the celebration of God becoming man (Incarnation), through a virgin birth in Bethlehem. Two different celebrations. Nevertheless, there is an important connection, as we will see below.

The Servant

         The “Servant” is prominent in both holidays.  The “shamash”, or servant candle, which is usually in the middle, or the side, of the nine-candle menorah, (called a ‘hanukkiyah’), is higher than the other eight candles.  The shamash is used to light the other eight candles.  The rabbis teach it was the flame of faith which brought about the miracle.  Its motto is found in the prophetic portion read during the festival, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).  The Hanukkah Menorah is usually placed near a window, so that all can see them from the street.  This is in fulfillment of the rabbinic mandate “to publicize the miracle.” According to Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), the eight candles correspond to the name of God, which means, “I shall be” (Exodus 3:14). 

The Light

         The shamash was given a special purpose, to light the other eight candles.  On the first night, one candle is lit.  The second night, two candles are lit.  The third night, three candles are lit, and son on, until all eight candles are flickering with flame. The shamash, or the ninth candle, is the candle used to light the others. The flame of the shamash, or servant candle, gives of itself to create an additional flame without losing any of its own brightness.  Thus, man gives of his love to his fellow man without losing anything of himself.  The Messiah, who came not to be ministered unto but to minister as a “servant” said in the context of Hanukkah, “I am the light of the world; he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).  Just as the menorah is put in the window to pierce the darkness, so it is with Jesus, who pierces the darkness of the heart and brings light.

        Also, Messiah Jesus said of himself in direct connection to Hanukkah, during the “feast of dedication” (Hanukkah), “I am the good shepherd (shamash), and the good shepherd (shamash) giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11,22). Jesus chose Hanukkah as the time to reveal who He was.  The evil Syrian Antiochus had a second name, “Epiphanes”.  His complete name and title was King Antiochus Epiphanes.  Epiphanes means “God Manifest.”  You’ve guessed it, Antiochus called himself God. Jesus took this opportunity, during the celebration of Hanukkah, to proclaim that He IS God (John 10:24-42).  The psalmist said there would be such a declaration.  “I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day I have begotten thee” (Psalm 2:7).  How do we know that the psalmist was speaking of Jesus?  Luke confirms this when he wrote, “And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee” (Acts 13:32,33).

The Shema

        Jesus said in John 10:30 during this time of Hanukkah, “I and My Father are one.” This is another reminder of Antiochus.  Jesus is saying that he was not only “God Manifest”, but also “One” with God.  The word translated “one” comes from the Hebrew echad which is the same word used in Deuteronomy 6:4, Sh’ma, Yisra’el! Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad [Hear, Israel! Adonai our God, Adonai is one]. Therefore, Jesus without a doubt said, “Israel, Hear! (listen to me Israel) I am God.”

The Resurrection

        The apostle Paul described Jesus, using a Hanukkah principle, in Philippians 2:5-11.  In these verses, you will find the Messiah lowering himself taking on the form of a “servant” giving life to all who believe.       

        Jesus came not to be ministered unto but to minister as a “servant”, “Shepherd”, and “Light”.  The resurrection confirms His deity. 

         Beloved, may we be reminded of God’s love for us, humbling himself, becoming a man, taking on the form of a servant, being born in Bethlehem’s cave, born of virgin to die on a cross for our redemption and forgiveness. It is truly joyous to know that Jesus is the “Light of the world”!  And, to believe in Him is to receive the gift of eternal life.

“For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:17).