Today marks the 5th day of Chanukah and when the sun sets, there are many people around the world that will light the 6th candle in their special 9 branched menorah, called a chanukiah. The symbolism of Chanukah for The Believer goes much deeper than 8 crazy nights of latkes, dreidels and presents at competition with the Gentile Christmas!
First, let’s address this common attitude of Chanukah vs. Christmas. I am going to be completely honest. There was a time when I disdained the mention of Chanukah and with a superior attitude thought that it was a made up holiday, kind of like a Jewish version of Christmas. Nothing could be further from the truth! A few years ago, I realized that Jesus celebrated Chanukah! It’s in the Bible, in John 10:22-23, “Then came The Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade.” If we take a closer look, The Lord gives us insight that will “shed some light” on the matter!
In this passage, Jesus refers to Himself as The Good Shepherd and talked about sheep more than in any other Gospel portion. He establishes that He is The Gate to the sheep pen, He’s also the Shepherd Who leads the sheep and what’s more, even lays down His life for them. John 10, verses 7-14, reads “Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”
Keep in mind, Jesus was talking to a Jewish audience and He was referring to all who would believe in Him – both Jew and Gentile together. See how He emphasizes that there is only one Shepherd and one flock! All who trust in Him are part of the same flock, there is no differentiation. Paul addresses this in Galatians 3:28 when He says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2 speaks of Jesus breaking down the enmity, the middle wall of separation between the two. So, this whole competitive spirit has got to go! This ungodly strife keeps many from seeing the spiritual value that comes with celebrating The Festival of Lights! Once we can move past this stumbling block of Chanukah is for Jews and Christmas is for Gentiles– it is very easy to see how Jesus is prominently pictured. After all, He IS The Light of the world! He is The Light in us that is to shine brightly in darkness so that others can be drawn to Him. We don’t have to compete with the neighbor for the best light display – we will BE the display that God intended for us to be! The Godly values of dedication, perseverance, overcoming, shining with God’s light, not compromising, getting oil, and following The Good Shepherd in word and deed are reinforced and become our focus when we celebrate and study Chanukah.
It’s interesting to note that Jesus said He laid His life down for the sheep, because the middle candle used to light all the candles each night is called the shamash candle. In English, that is ”servant”! In Mark 10:42-45, Jesus called His disciples together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Paul exhorts us to have the same humility in Philippians 2:2-7, “Be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, Who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.”
Jesus expressed His equality with The Father at the end of John 10 in 24-30, “The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
We can clearly see the contrast between Jesus, our Righteous and Humble Ruler and the rulers of an ungodly word system. This is quite evident in what Chanukah stems from during the time period between the books of Malachi and Matthew. After Alexander the Great had conquered the world and his empire was divided into 4 parts, the wicked Antiochus IV rose to power in 175 BC and ruled the Seleucid division. He called himself Epiphanes, which meant “God manifest” and was anything but a humble ruler. His attempts to “convert” the Jews to the Greek way of life were very violent. The study and practice of scriptures was forbidden, as well as circumcision, meeting in the temple, and resting on the Sabbath. Many were brutally killed, including women and children for not adopting the Greek way. There were some Jews who did compromise, even going so far as to undo their circumcision. However, there was a remnant of Jews led by the priestly Mattathias Macabee and His sons who would not give in to unrighteousness. Judah Macabee and steadfast God-fearing Jews fought many hard battles over a period of 7 years and finally, miraculously won and reclaimed the desecrated temple for The Lord. The story is that there was only enough consecrated oil to light the menorah for one night, but the oil lasted for eight!
Suffice it to say that there are a myriad of Biblical themes here that whet our appetite for further study – a one-world government, a prototype of the anti-christ, the desecration and abomination in the temple, compromise versus faithfulness, light versus darkness, sheep and shepherds, perseverance, the oil of The Lord, miraculous victories and the cleansing, consecration and re-dedication of the temple! The events that took place are referred to several times throughout scripture, Daniel 2 and 8, Matthew 24, and Hebrews 11. There is much to reflect on in the glow of the Chanukah lights! Perhaps this celebration has been overlooked and crowded out by other traditions in your family. I hope that after reading this, you will consider making room for lighting candles with your friends and family and celebrating being one of His sheep walking in The Light!