There’s a lot more going on in the Hanukkah story than just candles, dreidels, and potato latkes. The story of Hanukkah annually reminds us of the ongoing spiritual war against God’s people, the threat of religious persecution, and the heroic sacrifices of those who have laid down their lives rather than refusing to compromise their convictions.
Abomination of Desolation
Hanukkah recalls a dark time in Jewish history when the Seleucid Syrian-Greek government made the study of Torah illegal. In those days, circumcising your son could get both you and the child put to death. Jews who kept the Sabbath and holy days risked their lives to do so.
The villain of the Hanukkah story was the king of Syria, Antiochus (IV) Epiphanes. Antiochus Epiphanes was the antichrist of his generation. When the Syrian-Egyptian war (between the Seleucids and the Ptolemys) spilled into Israel, Antiochus took Jerusalem. He encouraged the Jewish people to assimilate into the nations, setting aside the distinctive marks of Jewish identity. He forbade the study and observance of Torah. He set up an idol of Zeus in the Temple, and, according to some versions of the story, he had the craftsmen impose a likeness of his own face onto the idol. The Prophet Daniel foresaw this sacrilege and referred to it as the “abomination of desolation”:
Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate. He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant. (Daniel 11:31-32)
Daniel’s prophecy about the abomination of desolation was fulfilled in the days of the Hanukkah Revolt, but it is not merely a relic of Jewish history. Our Master warned his disciples that history would repeat itself. He told his disciples that, if they should see “the abomination of desolation spoken of by the Prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place,” they should flee from Jerusalem and Judea and take shelter in the hills (Matthew 24:15). These words predicted the rise of another tyrant like Antiochus who would place an image in God’s Temple.
Likewise, the Apostle Paul explains that the antichrist will be “the man of lawlessness” who “exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4). Paul’s might as well have been describing Antiochus Epiphanes. Just as Antiochus IV forbade Torah observance and defiled the Temple with an idol bearing his own image, the antichrist, the “man of lawlessness,” will declare that the Torah is void, create an abomination of desolation, and declare himself divine, deceiving the world to “worship the beast and its image” (Revelation 14:9).
Abominations of the Apostolic Era
Two centuries after Antiochus IV, in the days of the apostles, several Roman emperors did exactly that. The Roman Emperor Gaius Calligula filled the role of antichrist for his generation. He persecuted the Jewish people for observing the Torah, and he dispatched Roman legions from Syria with the assignment of placing an idol of Zeus (the abomination of desolation) in the Temple in Jerusalem. After him came Nero and the Flavian Emperors—all top contenders for the title of antichrist—with Roman legions marching against the Jewish people in the land of Israel. Coincidentally, those legions came primarily from the Roman garrisons in Syria. They overthrew Jerusalem and established a temple of Zeus on the Temple Mount—the abomination of desolation that our Master warned about.
Birth Pains of Messiah
The festival of Hanukkah reminds us of the tyrants of the past, and it warns us about the tyrant yet to come. Again the world teeters closer and closer to Armageddon and the war of Gog and Magog. The birth pangs of Messiah are the daily headlines of our newspapers, and the contractions of the birth pains seem to be increasing in frequency. The current conflict in Syria, home to ISIS and other Muslim terror cells, continues to draw all nations into its intrigue. Perhaps, like his predecessors, the antichrist will strike against us from Syria.
No one knows exactly how the end times will play out, but we know that the prophecies will certainly be fulfilled, one way or another. The story of Hanukkah reminds us that discipleship to Yeshua can be costly. It calls on us to stand up bravely in the face of tyranny and to make sacrifices for the sake of the testimony of Yeshua and the Torah of God.
We live in a period of time that Judaism refers to as “the birth pains of Messiah.” Birth pains are a good thing in that they indicate that the birth of the child is near, but we don’t revel in the birth pains. Instead, we do what we can to alleviate them. Likewise, Hanukkah reminds us to be more diligent in Torah, prayer, and discipleship as we see these things begin to take place.
As you light the chanukiah this year, give thanks to the LORD for the precious gift of Messiah, the light in the darkness who will defeat the antichrist “with the breath of his mouth and bring [him] to nothing by the appearance of his coming” (2 Thessalonians 2:8). Then the abomination of desolation will be toppled, and the Temple of God will be rededicated to the worship of HaShem. May it be speedily, soon, and in our lifetimes.