As your Jewish friends celebrate Hanukkah this year, let this commemoration also remind you that preparations are presently underway to set the stage for the final countdown.
Each year, around the time we prepare to celebrate Christmas, our Jewish friends celebrate Hanukkah. This year it starts at nightfall on December 8th and continues for eight days through December 16th.
It may come as a surprise to many of our readers that this holiday is alluded to in the New Testament. (Whereas Christmas is not: the observation of Christmas began in 354 a.d. from an adaptation of established pagan holidays. While there are several defendable estimates regarding the birthday of Christ, we know it was not in winter: the flocks were in open field, indicating sometime prior to October.)
In fact, Hanukkah highlights an historical event that Jesus Himself pointed to as the key to understanding the prophecies concerning His return!
The Mystery in John 10
John Chapter 10 is, of course, the famous Good Shepherd discourse. It clearly speaks for itself and won’t be dealt with here. Verse 22, however, seems to be a strange inclusion: right in the middle of this chapter the Holy Spirit notes the following:
And it was at Jerusalem the feast of dedication, and it was winter.
Why is this reference here?
The Importance of our Approach
The most important discovery of my life was the insight that the Bible is an integrated message system. Although these 66 books were written by over 40 authors over thousands of years, we discover that they are a unified whole. Every word, every number, every place name—even the implied punctuation—appear to be the result of supernatural engineering.
The rabbis in Israel have a quaint way of expressing this. They say that we won’t really understand the Scriptures until the Messiah comes. But when He comes, He will not only interpret the passages for us; He will interpret the very words; He will interpret the very letters; He will even interpret the spaces between the letters! I used to think this was just a colorful exaggeration until I re-read Jesus’ own comments on the Scripture:
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one yot or one tittle shall in no way pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
A “yot” or a “tittle” are Hebraisms: a “yot” is one of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet that we might mistake for an apostrophe, or a blemish on the paper. A “tittle” is a tiny notation that distinguishes some of the letters. The phrase that Jesus used is equivalent to our “dotting an ‘i’ or crossing a ‘t.’” These words, from our Lord Himself, seem to verify the rather extreme view of the rabbis.
Thus we discover that every detail of the Bible is there by design. This insight opens an entirely new dimension of Bible study. Every time you find a “mistake” or “contradiction” in the Bible, rejoice: there is a discovery behind that ostensible discrepancy.
The Feast of Dedication
Since we have concluded that nothing in Scripture is accidental or trivial, why does this detail in John 10:22 exist? What is the “feast of dedication”? The dedication is of the Temple, of course. But let’s explore this further.
There have been only two Temples: the original one built by Solomon, which was ultimately destroyed by the Babylonians, and Nehemiah’s, which was built when the captives returned after the Babylonian Captivity. (This “Second Temple” was subsequently expanded by Herod and was the Temple in place during the New Testament period.)
Solomon’s Temple was dedicated in the month of Ethanim, or Tishri.1 This can’t be the reference we’re looking for since this was in the autumn. John 10:22 alludes specifically to a feast of dedication in winter. Nehemiah’s Temple was dedicated in the month of Adar.2 So this can’t be it either since Adar is in the spring. Now we’re really puzzled! The key to this riddle requires some important historical background.
An Historical Reference
A century earlier, in 168 b.c., the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV (“Epiphanes”)3 son of Antiochus the Great, became the successor of his brother, Seleucus IV (who had been murdered by his minister, Heliodorus), as king of Syria (175–164 b.c.). Antiochus was an eccentric, cruel and tyrannical despot. He undertook the total eradication of the Jewish religion and established Greek polytheism in its stead. The observance of all Jewish laws, especially those relating to the Sabbath and to circumcision, were forbidden under penalty of death. Representatives of the crown everywhere enforced the edict. Once a month a search was instituted, and whoever had secreted a copy of the Law or had observed the rite of circumcision was condemned to death. He pillaged the city of Jerusalem, took 10,000 captives, stripped the Temple of its treasures, and built a pagan altar on the Great Altar of Burnt Sacrifices.4
On the 25th of Kislev (Antiochus’ birthday), sacrifice was brought on this altar for the first time.5 He required a swine to be offered in every village.6 (If you know how the Jews feel about pork, you can imagine how that went over! But that’s not all…) He also erected an idol to Zeus in the Holy of Holies.7 This desecrating sacrilege has a technical name: “the abomination of desolation.”
In the village of Modein, an aged priest named Mattathias lived with his five sons. When officers arrived to carry out Antiochus’ decrees, Mattathias killed both the first Jew who approached the pagan altar to offer sacrifice and the royal official who presided, and Mattathias and his sons fled to the hills. This spontaneous revolt grew into a full-scale uprising: Mattathias and his five sons became the nucleus of a growing band of rebels against Antiochus.
Mattathias died soon after, leaving leadership in the hands of his son Judas, whose nickname “Maccabeus” (“the hammer”) became the source of the popular name given to the family and its followers. Under Judas’ brilliant leadership, what had begun as a guerrilla war turned into full-scale military engagements in which the smaller Jewish forces managed to defeat the much more powerful Syrian armies, and they succeeded in throwing off the yoke of the Seleucid Empire.
On the third anniversary of the desecration of the Temple, on the 25th of Kislev, 164 b.c., the Temple worship was reestablished. The altar and all of the vessels used in the earlier sacrilege were destroyed and replaced with new ones, and the Temple was rededicated. It is this rededication that is still celebrated among the Jews to this very day as Hanukkah.
A Key Technical Term
The desecration of the Temple in 167 b.c. included the definitive event known as the “abomination of desolation.” The term “abomination” in the Bible is a common term for idol worship. The “abomination of desolation” refers to the ultimate extreme form of idol worship: placing an idol on the most sacred spot on Planet Earth: in Jerusalem, in the Temple precincts, in the Holy of Holies itself!
So why did the Holy Spirit highlight Hanukkah by alluding to it in the New Testament? Because Jesus Himself pointed to this specific historical detail as the key to understanding prophecy concerning the Last Days.
A Private Briefing
Four disciples came to Jesus privately, asking Him about His “Second Coming.” His response is so significant that it is recorded in two of the Gospels: Matthew and Mark.8 (A similar account in Luke actually focuses on some different elements.) He opened this briefing with a series of “non-signs”: certain things that will occur “but the end is not yet.” Then He highlighted a critical event as the key to the prophecy:
When you, therefore, shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place (whosoever readeth, let him understand), then let them who are in Judea flee into the mountains; Let him who is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house; Neither let him who is in the field return back to take his clothes.
In other words, when this event happens, it will be essential for them to get out of Judea immediately! (You are also “on the spot”: if you read that verse you are under His orders to “understand”!) Jesus’ reference to the “abomination of desolation” was, of course, made two centuries after the historical event now commemorated at Hanukkah. He was speaking of a similar event yet future.
Other Attempts Frustrated
In about 40 a.d., Caligula ordered his image to be installed in the Holy of Holies. Petronius, his general in Judea, realizing how vehement the Jews’ reaction would be, declined to execute the order. When Caligula found out, he ordered the death of Petronius. But Caligula died a few weeks later, and due to a mix-up at sea, the message that Caligula had died preceded the order for Petronius’ execution, so he got off the hook. It is interesting how God intervened to prevent another desecration of the Temple from happening. Has it happened yet?
The Destruction of the Second Temple
Just as Jesus had predicted, in 69 a.d. the 5th, 10th, 12th, and 15th Roman Legions, under Titus Vespasian, laid siege to Jerusalem. Over a million men, women and children were slaughtered in that terrible war. Finally, on the 9th of Av, 70 a.d., the Temple was destroyed.9 It was this event that Luke’s account focuses on. Both Luke and Matthew highlight a group of signs, which Matthew dubs as “the beginning of sorrows”:
And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.
Matthew’s account focuses on what follows this group of signs.10 Luke focuses on the what precedes these signs.11 He warned his audience that when Jerusalem was surrounded by armies, they were to get out of town and don’t let any in the hills go back to town. Luke tells his audience that “this generation will not pass until all be fulfilled,”12 and 38 years later—the same length of the generation that died in the wilderness—Jerusalem fell in 70 a.d.
A Critical Hiatus
The Emperor Nero had ordered his general, Vespasian, and his son Titus, to use force to get things in Judea under control. They had conquered the towns in the Galilee and were preparing to take Jerusalem next. But then Nero died. In Rome, Galba, Otho, and Vitelius vied for the throne; in the subsequent confusion and ambiguity, Vespasian went to Rome and succeeded to take the throne as Emperor. His son Titus was left to complete the siege of Jerusalem.
The Holiday Message
The Holy Spirit put John 10:22 in the New Testament to highlight Daniel’s famous prophecy and to focus our attention on this key milestone in the end-time scenario. When will the “abomination of desolation” occur? When there is, once again, a Temple in Jerusalem. So as your Jewish friends celebrate Hanukkah this year, let this commemoration also remind you that preparations are presently underway to set the stage for the final countdown.
What an exciting time to be alive!
Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvelously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you.— Habakkuk 1:5