Summary: In the middle of the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah), where the people remembered the Most Holy Place being reconsecrated, Jesus says He is consecrated and set apart by the Father just like the Most Holy Place and just like the Temple.
It is now winter. The fall harvest complete, the skies are now a darker hue, and the festivals are over. The Israelites have kept God’s ordained festivals and now the long, cold wet winter descends until the spring festivals begin.
We can easily lose our focus on God during this time when we walk the muddy roads, roads rutted by the winter rains. No sooner do footprints appear then the rain washes them away, unable for the physical eye to see. And we wander, our dedication waning with each washed-away footprint of Jesus we are trying to follow.
But we find Jesus’ footprints again! And we see He has made His way to the Temple to celebrate a festival. But this festival is different; for it is not a festival that God had set up for His people, but one that His people started in response for what God had done for them.
And so we must learn the story of the Feast of Dedication, of reconsecration of the Temple, of Hanukkah. But tonight we learn of the real Hanukkah, the Hanukkah began in the second century before Christ.
We find ourselves going back to the 167 BC. Antiochus IV was the occupier of Israel. He didn’t care much for Israel’s worship of Yahweh and he turned the Jerusalem Temple into a shine for Zeus. And to throw gasoline on the fire, Antiochus IV insisted that others called him Antiochus Epiphanes, the manifestation of God.
While all this going on, a Jewish resistance leader arose, named Judah Maccabees. He arose at a time, not only when hatred toward foreign rule was growing, but internal dissensions within Israel were deepening.
On one side there were those who took God’s Law seriously. They called themselves Chasidim, “the holy ones.” But the Chasidim also added traditions and observances of their Jewish ancestors to God’s Law and claimed an even deeper holiness beyond the Old Testament’s Ceremonial Law. Yet, the Chasidim properly believed in life after death, in heaven and hell, in the body’s resurrection, and in angels and spirits.
It was from the Chasidim that Judah Maccabees got his support. They became most of his army of resistance fighters. (The descendants of this movement also became the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.)
The other great division called themselves Zadikim, “the righteous ones.” They believed in the Law of Moses, accepted the prophets, but denied the traditions of the fathers that the Chasidim held so dearly. But they did not believe in life after death, a resurrection, and angels or spirits. They believed this life was heaven or hell depending on how one lived it.
The Zadikim would later become bitter foes of the Pharisees. They would make up most of the judges and priests in Jesus’ day. And if it seems to you that the Zadikim seemed a bit like the Sadducees, you are right. It is from the Zadikim that the Sadducees descended.
At first, Judah Maccabees and his followers focused their efforts against the Zadakim. And Judah was successful, so successful that the persecuted Zadakim sought outside help. The Zadakim, the forerunners of the Sadducees, appealed to the Syria for help. And Syria responded, giving the people more war than they wanted.
At first, Syrian forces hastily went in with an ill-equipped force to destroy Judah Maccabees and his movement. The Syrians underestimated the tactical skills of Judah and the fighting prowess of his men. By the battle’s end, Judah had captured and killed the governor of Syria.
A couple of more attacks against Judah took place all orchestrated by Antiochus Epiphanes. But each attack from this General, who claimed to be God, and his underlings failed. And after each failure, the followers of Judah grew more in number and in zeal, until his following became a ten-thousand man army of crack, disciplined troops.
Finally, Antiochus sent in a force to defeat the Israelites for good. He was tired of that pestering little country and wanted the problem of Israel to go away. So he gathered an army of 60,000 men and 5,000 cavalry. With these he began his land campaign against Judea from the south.
With a force of only 10,000, Judah met the Syrian army. Syria should have soundly defeated Israel with such numerical superiority. But instead of a crushing defeat, Judah and his army were the victors. And with the victory, Judah Maccabees controlled all of Judea and Israel was once again in independent nation.
In great joy, Judah and his army entered Jerusalem, surrounded the powerful garrison fortress called the Citadel, and cleansed the temple. They found weeds and shrubs growing in the courtyards, the priests’ quarters destroyed, and the entire temple area profaned. After cleansing the area, they rebuilt the altar of burnt offering, replaced the sacred vessels from their war spoils, and consecrated priests. An eight-day feast of dedication or reconsecration was held on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month of Kislev in 164 BC. Today this celebration is called Hanukkah.