Updated: Nov 11, 2019
I saw this picture on Facebook. It is the marquee at a First Baptist Church saying the sermon would be on Hanukkah Feast of Dedication John 10:22-31. I am guessing the person who originally posted the picture was noting the irony of a pastor at a Baptist church doing a sermon with Hanukkah mentioned. Perhaps the pastor should have come up with a different title to his sermon. Or perhaps not, because this title may have drawn people to come to church out of curiosity.
Hanukkah is mentioned in the Bible! I did not know this. I did know about the history that led to Hanukkah because I teach on the Intertestamental history - the 400 years between the Old Testament and New Testament. During this time period God made the nations ready for Christ. Greece united the civilizations of western Asia, southern Europe and northern Africa, and established one universal language – Greek. Rome made one empire of the whole world, and Roman roads made all parts of it accessible and travel fairly safe. The Dispersion of the Jews among the nations paved the way for the propagation of the Gospel of Christ in their synagogues. Galatians 4:4 tells us, But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law,. Understanding what happened in the Intertestamental Period greatly enhances your reading of the New Testament. This is the time period when synagogues became necessary… when some of the Jews broke into sects such as the Pharisees and Sadducees… when the Romans occupied Judea… when the hearts of the people were prepared for their Savior. And when Hanukkah occurred.
During the Syrian Era (198 – 165 BC) the Syrian Seleucid Empire took control of Judea. They wanted to spread Hellenism throughout their empire. (Hellenism is the process of adopting Greek culture and religion.) The Seleucid kings were cruel, but when Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-163BC) took over, he brought cruelty to a whole new level. He forbid the Jews to practice their traditional way of life, including their religion. The Jews were persecuted. He hellenized Jerusalem, outlawed Judaism, enforced paganism and pagan sacrifices, plundered Jerusalem, turned the Jerusalem temple into a pagan shrine and he offered a sacrifice to the god Zeus on an altar in the Most Holy Place!
Many Jews died because capital offenses included: Jewish sacrifice, circumcision, observing the Sabbath or Jewish festivals, and possessing scrolls of Scripture. Jews were forced to eat pork and to sacrifice to idols!
One day an elderly priest named Mattathias of the Hasmonean family refused to offer a pagan sacrifice. Another Jew was going to comply and Mattathias killed him and then killed one of the Seleucid soldiers. The Maccabean revolt began! Mattathias, his five sons and others fled into the hills and started fighting the Seleucids. Mattathias dies and leadership fell to one of his sons, Judas (called “Maccabeus”.) The revolt lasted for 3 years. The Jewish people won! Thus began The Maccabean Era (165 – 63 BC).
The Maccabees retook Jerusalem, cleansed the temple, and restored worship. This event was commemorated with the Feast of Dedication/ Hanukkah/ Feast of Lights. The Jewish people had 70 years of independence before they invited the Roman General Pompey in to restore order. From 63 B.C. on the Jewish people lived under foreign rulers. (Well, until they became the country of Israel in 1948.)
The history of the revolt is found in First Maccabees 1 and 4 and Second Maccabees 6 and 10. These books are in the Apocrypha which are the books written during the Intertestamental period and are not part of the canon of Scripture. This history is also recorded in other ancient writings.
Back to the picture of the marquee and the sermon on John 10:22-31.
John 10:22-23 (NASB) At the time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon. This is the only place in the Bible that Hanukkah is mentioned. Hanukkah is a Hebrew word for “dedication.” Bibles call it the Feast of the Dedication (KJV and NASB); the Feast of Dedication (ESV); the Festival of Dedication (HCSB and NIV); and Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication (NLT); Hanukkah (The Message).
According to Dr. Gary M. Burge in his book, Jesus and the Jewish Festivals, (affiliate link) Hanukkah was considered a minor festival of Judaism. It was not one of the festivals that required a pilgrimage to the temple. It was never a biblical festival – having come about in the Intertestamental period. It was celebrated in Jesus’ day and since Jesus is Jewish, He would have celebrated this festival. Dr. Burge says “the gospel records are not exhaustive, and so we should not conclude He failed to celebrate others as well.”(1)
Prior to John chapter 10 we see that Jesus had many debates and run-ins with the Jewish leadership of Jerusalem in chapters 7, 8, and 9. The portico of Solomon is also referred to as Solomon’s Porch. There was a massive porch around the temple which provided shelter from the weather. Solomon’s Porch was a porch on the eastern side of the temple and overlooked the Kidron Valley.
In John 22-31 Jesus is standing around on Solomons’ Porch at the temple for the Feast of the Dedication (perhaps mentioned to give us a time frame) talking to the Jews. The Jews ask Jesus if He is the Christ. ("Christ" is the Greek word for "Messiah.") They don’t just ask, they say “tell us plainly.” Jesus replies about sheep and the sheep hear His voice and follow Him. Especially interesting is what Jesus says in verses 28-30. Jesus gives His sheep eternal life and they will not perish. And He says, “I and the Father are one.” Jesus is saying He is God! The Jews knew exactly what Jesus was saying. What was their response? To pick up stones to stone Him for blasphemy.
Jesus says He is God. The choice comes in believing it.
I bet it was an interesting sermon!
(1) Gray M. Burge, Jesus and the Jewish Festivals, (Zondervan, 2012), 88-90. (affiliate link)