Last month during Kislev, we took a look at the miracles in the days of the Maccabees and in the life of our Master Yeshua. In Messianic Jewish tradition, Hanukkah commemorates both the victory of the Maccabees and Yeshua's discourse in John 10:22-39.
The celebration of Hanukkah is unique in that it is the only festival that spans two months, beginning on the 25th of Kislev and lasting until the 3rd of Tevet.
There's another side to the Hanukkah story, one that believers in Messiah can readily relate to: persecution. Hanukkah memorializes the cruel oppression of the Jewish people under Antiochus Epiphanes; a time when studying Torah was illegal and those who sought to keep the commandments were slaughtered mercilessly. Our Master also was persecuted during Hanukkah. According to John 10:22-39, the Judeans (an elitist Jewish sect) sought to kill Yeshua for his claim to be the Son of God. He eluded their grasp and fled to the Jordan.
The month of Tevet recalls yet more persecution. 2 Kings 25:1 relates the launch of Nebuchadnezzar's siege against Jerusalem, which is traditionally observed with a fast on the 10th of Tevet. This event began the tragedy that ended with the destruction of the Temple on the 9th of Av. Many communities fast from sunrise to sundown to mourn this calamitous event in Israel's history.
But there's one event that has special significance for believers. As Toby Janicki has shown,1 there is an ancient rabbinic tradition that Simon Peter died on the 9th of Tevet. Like most of the apostles, Peter was martyred. The Master foretold Peter's death:
"'Truly, truly I say to you...when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you to where you do not wish to go.' Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, 'Follow Me!'" John 21:18-19
According to ancient Christian tradition, Peter and Paul were both martyred during the Neronic persecutions around 64 CE. Peter "stretched out his hands" in crucifixion, but not considering himself worthy to die in the same manner as the Master, Peter requested that he be crucified upside down.2
Persecution—not being limited to the past—is a fact of life for many believers throughout the world as they are tortured and killed for their testimony of Jesus. In fact, the twentieth century saw more persecution of believers than any previous century. Even during the Holocaust, those believers who stood up to the ungodliness of the Nazi party suffered side-by-side with the Jewish people. As the Apostle Paul said, "all who desire to live godly in Messiah Yeshua will be persecuted" (1 Timothy 3:12).
1. See "Remembering Yeshua's Chief Disciple: The Apostle Peter in Rabbinic Literature" in Messiah Magazine #94.
2. Attested to in multiple sources, such as 1 Clement, multiple works from Tertullian, Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, the apocryphal Acts of Peter, the apocryphal Acts of Peter and Paul and Fox's Book of Martyrs.