Shalom from Jerusalem! Tonight begins the first night of the eight-day festival known as Hanukkah. I hope you are ready to celebrate!
This week I have watched the Hanukkah menorahs set up all over town, and it is kind of exciting! Actually, the nine branch menorahs are called “hanukkiahs”, and differ from the temple menorah in that it only has seven. This is to accommodate the eight days of Hanukkah.
I’ll forego an in-depth explanation on the history of Hanukkah (that’s what the internet is for), although it is worth the effort to search out and discover this amazing event in the history of G-d’s people.
Known by two names—the Festival of Lights, and the Feast of Dedication, Hanukkah is mentioned only once in the Bible, the New Testament/Covenant book of John: “At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; 23 it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon.” (10:22-23).
This was well into the third year of Jesus’ ministry and after developing quite a national following, His popularity was beginning to wane while the controversy around Him increased. And on this occasion, the conversation ended in a not-too-friendly exchange, about a mile from where I am sitting writing this.
The spiritual leaders of Israel—here noted as “The Jews” which, since they were all Jews, can be interpreted as “the Judeans” (as opposed to “the Galileans”) or “Jewish leaders”—were challenging Jesus’ claim to Messiahship: “The Jewish [leaders] then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” (v. 24). To which He answered in the affirmative, citing His works and role as the Shepherd of Israel as His credentials. He then answered their question and took it up a notch: “I and the Father are one.” (v.30). Not only is He the Messiah, but He is equal with the Father.
Recently I had a discussion with an alleged believer in Jesus, but he denies the Deity of Yeshua, that is, that Jesus is God. He gave some lengthy explanations with quite a few supporting Scriptures, but He could never address what Jesus said in John 8:58, 8:24, and here in John 10:30. And just to be clear, Jesus’ audience understood exactly what He was saying: “Jesus answered them, ‘I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?’ 33 The Jewish [leaders] 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.’”
And that is who He is.
Light of the World, Hanukkah and Christmas?
A lot of things are going on during this season, not the least of which is Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus. It is fairly certain that Jesus was not born in December, but more likely in the late summer or early fall. There are a few reasons for this, a couple of which I will sketch out quickly and you can do your own study.
As King David approached the end of his life, he was busy preparing the Temple to be built by his son Solomon, as well as setting up admin duties for the Kingdom of Israel. One thing he did was to have the sons of Levi (the temple priests) divided into 24 groups and set up a schedule where they would serve in the Temple twice a year (see 2 Chronicles 24:20-31).
Fast forward about one thousand years and we find that “In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah…. Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense” (Luke 1:5-9). On this occasion Zacharias is told by and angel that he and his wife (both of whom were beyond natural child bearing age), would have a son, and name him John. This would be John the Baptist.
About six months later an angel visits Mary, a young woman engaged to be married and tells her that she will miraculously conceive and bear a child, and “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David” (Luke 1:26-38).
So we have Jesus evidently conceived about six months after that of John the Baptist. With John conceived probably around June or July (according to the schedule), he would have been born according to the natural manner of life nine months later, around Passover. This is interesting in that according to Jewish tradition Elijah is believed to return at Passover and herald the coming of the Messiah (see Isaiah 40:3-5/Luke 3:4-6), and John came in the Spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17; John 11:14).
Now fast forward six months and this brings us to the Fall Feasts of Trumpets, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot/Tabernacles. This would be the time that Jesus is born, and perhaps John the Apostle gives us a subtle hint when he writes, “And the Word became flesh, and tabernacled among us” (1:14).
So, where does Hanukkah fit into all of this? Well, back up from Tabernacles about nine months, and you arrive around the latter part of December, or Kislev on the Jewish calendar. With Hanukkah beginning on the 25 of Kislev the question has to be asked: Is it possible that the announcement for the Birth of the Messiah—the Light of the World—occurred during the Festival of Lights? Could it be that G-d would dedicate Himself in His Son to mankind as our redeemer on Hanukkah?
I don’t know for sure, but yes, it is very possible!
So whether or not Jesus/Yeshua was born in December, the overriding issue is not so much when He came, but why He came: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
In this—that a great miracle happened here in Israel—we can rejoice! How great is the love of our God toward us! Tonight, light a candle in His Name! And may you meditate on these great and mysterious truths this holiday season, and during the Festival of Lights, let your light shine before all—people need to know Who the Light really is.