During Hanukkah, we celebrate the Jewish people’s miraculous deliverance when Judah Maccabee rose up with his brothers to lead a revolution that defeated the Seleucid army, liberated Jerusalem, and rededicated the Temple.
The Hanukkah revolution followed after the wicked King Antiochus issued this decree:
Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, and abandon their particular customs. All the Gentiles conformed to the command of the king, and many Israelites delighted in his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath. The king sent letters by messenger to Jerusalem and to the cities of Judah, ordering them to follow customs foreign to their land; to prohibit burnt offerings, sacrifices, and libations in the sanctuary, to profane the sabbaths and feast days, to desecrate the sanctuary and the sacred ministers, to build pagan altars and temples and shrines, to sacrifice swine and unclean animals, to leave their sons uncircumcised, and to defile themselves with every kind of impurity and abomination; so that they might forget the law and change all its ordinances. Whoever refused to act according to the command of the king was to be put to death. (1 Maccabees 1:41-50)
King Antiochus desired not to annihilate the Jewish people but to rid the world of Torah and, ultimately, God. When we celebrate Hanukkah, we are not only looking at a miracle of God’s deliverance of his people but also a miracle about God defending his Torah in the world.
According to traditional New Testament interpretation, once Yeshua died on the cross and rose from the dead, the Torah became irrelevant and was no longer required for Jewish believers in Yeshua. The Temple and its sacrificial system lost meaning and became obsolete. This seems to suggest that God ordained King Antiochus’ evil decree 200 years after he miraculously allowed his people to defeat and overturn the ruling. Could this really be the case? There seems to be something wrong with our story if that is really what God ultimately intended. The Jewish people should have just laid down their arms and openly accepted the Hellenization of the Seleucid Empire, as many of them did.
A major disconnect exists if, before Yeshua’s birth, God fought the battle for the Jewish people to uphold his laws, and then, just a few centuries later, he punished them for trying to hold onto those same laws and even made them obsolete.
Let’s take a step back and look again at the story of Judah Maccabee and the life of Yeshua. We find some interesting parallels between the main hero of the story of Hanukkah and Yeshua.
The festival of Hanukkah celebrates the occasion on which Judah cleared the Temple of idolatry and restored the Temple to its original function as the House of God:
They rose early on the morning of the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, that is, the month of Kislev, in the year one hundred and forty-eight, and offered sacrifice according to the law on the new altar for burnt offerings that they had made. On the anniversary of the day on which the Gentiles had desecrated it, on that very day it was rededicated with songs, harps, lyres, and cymbals. All the people prostrated themselves and adored and praised Heaven, who had given them success. For eight days they celebrated the dedication of the altar and joyfully offered burnt offerings and sacrifices of deliverance and praise. (1 Maccabees 4:52-56)
Yeshua also took part in restoring the Temple:
Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” (Matthew 21:12-13)
Both Yeshua and Judah knew the importance of God’s house, and both sought out its sanctification and restoration even at the risk of their own lives.
Judah functions as a precursor of Yeshua’s second coming. Yeshua will rebuild the Temple upon his return and once again establish the priestly service. He will fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 56, which he quoted in Matthew 21:13, and truly establish the Temple as a house to which all nations will ascend.
The book of 1 Maccabees tells us of all of Judah’s exploits and military successes. He conquers cities from the mighty Seleucid Empire and cleanses Israel of her enemies. He partially fulfills the prophecy of Leviticus 26:8: “Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand, and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword.” That same prophecy will ultimately be fulfilled by Yeshua when he returns. Yeshua will defeat the enemies of the LORD and establish Israel as the kingdom of God on earth.
The most important element of the story of Judah Maccabee is the deep zeal and passionate loyalty that he, his brothers, and the people of Israel have for God’s Torah. Without that love for and loyalty to God’s laws, the Jewish people would not have been inspired to rise up against the Greeks. Yeshua also upholds this love and zeal for God’s laws. He does not teach against the Torah or any Scripture. He presented himself as a teacher of Torah, and he sought after the secularized and Hellenized Jews of his day (the lost sheep of Israel), calling them to return to Torah. Yeshua will return and reestablish the Temple, but he will also teach God’s laws to the whole world. All nations will say, “‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3).
This may be why Yeshua was in the Temple during Hanukkah in John 10:22-23. Perhaps Yeshua contemplated the life of Judah and his soldiers. Perhaps he considered his own role to play. As Messiah, Yeshua eagerly desired to bring the final redemption and complete Judah’s work. That means that he desired to establish the Temple as God’s house, to expel Rome and defeat all of Israel’s enemies, to establish the Torah as God’s righteous standard for all humanity, and to bring about God’s kingdom on earth through one thousand years of peace and prosperity. Let’s contemplate the same this holiday season as we consider the miracles taking place in our day and the true restoration that is being brought by God. May he send us our Messiah soon and in our days, to carry out the ultimate Hanukkah miracle.