Have you ever wondered what Jesus did during Hanukkah?
Imagine yourself in the first century in Jerusalem. You are there to draw closer to God and to celebrate Hanukkah, to remember the dedication of the temple after a man had desecrated it and claimed to be God. You’re walking between a great stretch of pillars east of the temple just outside the court of the Gentiles. To the east, you can see the Mount of Olives. You can imagine Bethany just beyond the hill. Looking south, you see the hills near Bethlehem. You turn around, and the sun has lit the court of the Gentiles and the crowd gathered there.
The temple glistens in bright sunlight, and you dream of what it would be like to pass beyond the veil and approach the menorah. You imagine it miraculously lit for eight days with only enough oil for one. You know you’re near the presence of the Almighty God, the Everlasting Father, but you can’t go beyond the next veil. You can’t see him. You can’t touch him. You can’t hear his voice, but you know he is real. You’ve heard the stories, and lately, you’ve even seen him working through a prophet they call Yeshua. The Greeks call him Jesus.
All at once, the crowd seems to get louder and press closer. You see a man you’ve never seen before, but somehow, you know it’s him. Jesus. He’s the one they say turned water into wine. He heals the sick. He evens calmed the sea. His gaze meets yours for a second, and you feel his words in your heart as though he called your name and read your life like an opened scroll.
The crowd presses around him, and one of the Pharisees shouts, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are God’s Anointed One, tell us.”
Jesus looks at the man with no expression. “I told you, and you don’t believe. Everything I’ve done in my Father’s name tells you, but you do not believe because you’re not one of my lambs. My sheep hear my voice.”
When he said those words, you felt a chill—a knowing chill. And you saw yourself, in that moment as one of his precious lambs. Could he be the Son of David, the Beloved One, God’s Anointed? There goes that wave of goosebumps. He is! He’s the Messiah.
The Pharisee seems unfazed, but Jesus continues. “My sheep hear my voice. I know them. And they follow me.” His eyes narrow, and he presses his gaze into the Pharisee’s soul. “I give them eternal life. They will never die. And no one can take them out of my arms. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them from him.” He pauses and looks around the crowd. Then he lifts his chin and his voice booms. “I—and the Father—are one.”
Your chills turn to fire that burns through you. He is the Messiah, and He is the Son of God. You want to scream and shout Hallelujah, but several around you pick up stones. Jesus doesn’t move. “I have shown you many good works from the Father. Which one makes you want to kill me?”
White knuckles wrap around the stone that Pharisee raises against him. “It is not for any good work that we are going to stone you. It’s for blasphemy, because you are a just a man, but you claim to be God.”
In a flash, you remember the stories your grandfather told you about the Maccabees and about the man who had claimed to be God. But that man hated God and defiled his temple. He was nothing like Jesus. That wicked man lived and died by his own lies. Surely, that couldn’t happen to God’s Anointed.
Jesus raises his hand and says, “Doesn’t the Torah say, ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods to whom the Word of God came, and the Word of God can’t be broken, how do you say of him whom the Father consecrated—” He looks at you, and you feel as though time has stopped so he can speak into your soul. Without a word, it’s as though he says to you, “I am the consecrated oil who lights the menorah. I am the menorah, the light of the world.”
Then Jesus looks at the Pharisee again and continues. “How do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I’m not doing my Father’s works, don’t believe me. But if I do them and you know I do, then believe the works, so you can know and understand the Father is in me, and I am in the Father.”
At those words, you imagine yourself inside the temple. Jesus looks at you, and you feel something lifting. Every burden. Every sour thought. Every harsh word. He has taken them all from you, then he turns toward the Most Holy Place. As the veil opens before him, brilliant light blinds you and you fall to your knees—there on Solomon’s porch. The crowd disperses, and Jesus is nowhere to be seen. Stones begin dropping. So do your tears.
There you are outside the temple courts, and you’ve never felt closer to God.
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I hope, after reading this narrative, you will read John 10:22-39 as though for the first time.
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In case you want a little more history on Hanukkah...
In the fourth century before Christ, Alexander the Great conquered Persia and most of the ancient world. His conquests made the Greek language and Greek thought an integral part of ancient cultures across much of Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and even India. But when he died, his four generals fought and divided the empire.
Seleucus, one of Alexander’s generals and the governor of Babylonia seized control of Judea. His son, Antiochus I, reigned after him, and the family’s rule continued for five generations. When Antiochus IV ruled over Judea, he defiled everything God had ordained and ordered the Jews to build shrines to Greek deities. He ordered Jewish priests to sacrifice pigs and other unclean animals. He prohibited any public or private display of Jewish religion. He even outlawed circumcision and observance of the Sabbath. His defiance toward God and his people culminated when he erected a statue of Zeus in the temple and filled the temple with idols. He then declared himself the “manifest God” taking the name Antiochus Epiphanes.
To the ancient Jews, a man claiming to be God was the ultimate blasphemy.
Many Jews had adopted Greek culture to survive, even taking Greek names. But defiling the temple proved too great an insult for those who remained faithful to God. About a thousand Judean men initiated a revolt. Antiochus responded by destroying much of Jerusalem, killing 40,000 Judeans and forcing as many into slavery.
His Judean opposition grew stronger and more fierce. They became known as the Maccabees, the hammers. When they regained Jerusalem, the Maccabees sought to cleanse the temple and rededicate it to God. The story is told that once the temple had been cleansed, and it was time to light the golden lampstand, the menorah, there was only enough consecrated oil to burn for one night.
Rather than wait until enough oil could be consecrated, the priest lit the lamp, and the lamp held its flame for eight days and nights.
The light of the world never fades or falters.