When Tradition Obscures Truth
Hanukkah is such a great example of how tradition can slip into our system of beliefs and literally obscure the true meaning of this feast. Most Jews are surprised when they learn that the miracle of oil may have never really happened.
From early childhood, I was always taught that Jews at Hanukkah were called to celebrate the legend of the miracle of oil. The story says that when the small Jewish army of Maccabees entered the desecrated Temple, they discovered that Antiochus had defiled all the jugs of oil for lighting the menorah. After much searching, they found a single small flask of oil still bearing the unbroken seal of the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest. That meant that the oil in this container was holy and ready for use. However, it contained only enough oil to keep the menorah burning for a single day. Miraculously, as the legend goes, the menorah’s flame continued to burn for eight days until new pure oil could be prepared. It is a beautiful story but was added centuries after the event.
The main sources for our information on Hanukkah come from the Books of Maccabees, the first century Jewish historian Josephus, and the Jewish oral law, the Mishnah. None of them mention this miracle at all. The miracle of the flask of oil is an aggadah, part of a story found much later in the Babylonian Talmud.
Opposition From Antiochus and the Antichrist
So, what is Hanukkah all about? Hanukkah brings us back about 175 years before the first coming of Yeshua and marks a critical phase in the history of Israel, which we commonly call the 400 silent years. However, the feast will show us that those years were anything but silent.
A better title would be “a time of great turmoil” which also greatly resembles the times preceding the second coming. We will find a striking relationship between these two periods of time. Hanukkah stands right at the threshold of the first coming of the Messiah so as we consider the history of that time, we can see how the forces of evil were trying to prevent His coming. The main villain of Hanukkah is Antiochus Epiphanes who forbade the Jews to read their Scriptures and forced them to do things against the Law. He shares many prophecies with the Antichrist. Both find themselves, respectively, at the threshold of one of Messiah’s comings, His first and second.
Stealing the Word from the People
How did Antiochus cause so much chaos in Israel? Hanukkah is situated at the time when the Greek empire was falling apart, and the Roman empire was rising. After Alexander the Great’s early death, his generals divided his kingdom into four branches. Two of his most troubled ones were Egypt and Syria. The land of Israel sits right in between. These two kingdoms, Syria and Egypt went to war, and the northern one prevailed. One of the last kings of the south was Antiochus who was stationed in Israel.
It was an ideal situation for the forces of evil to desecrate the land and the Temple. With such havoc, the Messianic prophecies of the first coming could have been interfered with. So what did Antiochus do? He tried to eradicate any belief in God and Torah, forcing his own religion on the people instead. Before him, the Babylonians, the Persians, and even his own people, the Greeks accepted religious diversity. They were polytheistic, but Antiochus undertook to completely annihilate the religion of God as it is in the Scriptures. It was the first time in history. It is a powerful foreshadowing of what the Antichrist will do in the Tribulation to come.
We can read about what he did in the book of 1 Maccabees. It says that at one point, Antiochus sent letters all over Israel saying: “49 To the end they might forget the law, and change all the ordinances. 50 And whosoever would not do according to the commandment of the king, he said, he should die.”
That they might forget the Law. Let me ask you a question. What would be an effective way to separate Israel from her God? How might she forget about the law? How might she, Israel, be separated form her coming Messiah? Yeshua? Deprive the people of the Word of God. Without the Scriptures, we will lose track of our Creator and begin to fashion a god after our own image and likings.
The Prophesied Mad Ruler
For the first time in history, Antiochus sentenced to death whoever was caught reading the Bible. Why would he do that?
One reason is that he thought he was God himself. Notice his name of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The word Epiphanes means “God manifest”. He thought he was God in the flesh. How appropriate to give himself such a title just before the Messiah was to be born in Israel. By calling himself son of God he diminished the importance of the genuine Son of God. The Jews changed his name from Epiphanes to epimanes which means “mad”, thus calling him Antiochus the mad man.
When Antiochus entered the Temple, he desecrated it by erecting an altar to Zeus and sacrificing pigs within its sacred walls. That was the greatest sign of rebellion – the desecration of the holy. It is what Daniel calls the abomination of desolation.
While these events occurred some 175 years before the coming of Yeshua, He Himself, in His prophecies of the end times, spoke of this very abomination of desolation occurring one more time – just before His second coming. This is what Yeshua said concerning this prophecy in Matthew 24:15–16: Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains.
As the Jewish people fled to the mountains of Judea during the events of the feast of Hanukkah, during the first abomination of desolation, so Yeshua asks that Jews do the same when they see the second act of the abomination of desolation in the third Temple, the one that Israel is getting ready to build.
To the Jew First
Hanukkah then is really a prophecy of the coming of an even greater abomination of desolation with the Antichrist. For Jews today, it is so far from what we are used to seeing, or what we have been taught before.
Let’s see one more point. Have you noticed how in the beginning, a war that erupted between two factions of the Greek empire and strife that grew between the Romans and Greeks ended up by degenerating into a war against God and His people? Israel was sandwiched in between both times. It’s really not new. We find the principle in Romans 2:9: Tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Gentile.
Because of the covenant that God made with Israel and because Jerusalem is the place where Jesus will come back and establish His kingdom, demonic forces try to make sure that Israel always finds herself surrounded by tribulations. The verse says: Tribulation and anguish to the Jew first. When we see antisemitism rising in this world, let’s not be surprised. It is a powerful harbinger of the end times. The word tribulation in Roman 2:9 conveys the idea of distress and oppression. Literally, it means “to press” or “to squash.” Anguish speaks of hardship and difficulty. That is why Paul went as far as to say in Romans1:16: For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Gentiles.
Today, many believers argue about the verse and ask why we should go to the Jews first. In reality, they rarely, if ever, go to a Jew at all with the good news found in the Bible. The city of Montreal has around 100,000 Jews. Do you know of a church that has a ministry to the Jews? I have not found one yet. Why do many Christians avoid sharing the good news with the Jews? Because they think they are already saved. Or they think that Jews know more about Scriptures than they do and are too intimidated to speak to them. Or they just don’t like them enough and so avoid presenting the gospel to them.
If every Gentile Christian spoke to only one Jew in their lifetime, many Jewish people would know about their great heritage in the Scriptures and come to a saving knowledge of the Jewish Messiah, Yeshua. The gospel, then, is the power of God to at least one Jew.