Please read John 10:22-30
Then came Hanukkah (Feast of Dedication) in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem). It was winter, and Yeshua was walking around inside the Temple area, in Shlomo’s Colonnade (Solomon’s porch). John 10:22-23 CJB
Hanukkah is not a “biblical” holiday. That is, it is not one of the seven feasts which Moses instructed the Israelites to keep in the Torah, the first five books of the Holy Scriptures. Nor is it mentioned anywhere in the Hebrew scriptures (like Purim is described in the book of Ruth). Yet Yeshua made a special trip to Jerusalem for this festival that commemorated the re-dedication of the Second Temple in which He now stood and taught.
For more details on when and why this Jewish celebration began see: The Maccabean Revolt and Hasmonean Period 166-40BC.
Hanukkah celebrates God’s deliverance from the hand of Israel’s enemies and the re-dedication of the Temple after its defilement under the evil Antiochus IV. 1 Maccabees 4:59 tells us:
Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislov.
Thus, Hanukkah is a winter festival, in 2022 Hanukkah was from the evening of Sunday, 18th December until the evening of Monday, 26th December.
Hanukkah originally resembled Sukkot (Festival of Booths / Tabernacles), partly because the Maccabees had been unable to properly celebrate Sukkot while in fierce battle against the much larger army of Antichus IV’s men who were occupying Jerusalem and desecrating the Temple. 2 Maccabees 10:6 tells us:
They celebrated it for eight days with rejoicing, in the manner of the Festival of Booths, remembering how not long before, during the Festival of Booths, they had been wandering in the mountains and caves like wild animals.
Hanukkah was thus established to echo Sukkot and to commemorate the triumphs of this band of brave Jews who fought against overwhelming odds for their right to worship the one true God as He had commanded them – and won. There is no fasting or mourning in this festival, it is a celebration of victory and joy.
According to later rabbinical tradition:
When the rule of the Hasmoneans prevailed and they defeated the Hellenes, they searched and finally found a tiny pitcher of oil which bore the seal of the High Priest. In it was enough oil to last no more than one day. And a miracle occurred—it endured for eight days! For this reason, a period of eight days was marked off for thanksgiving and praise.
A traditional saying arose from this Hanukkah story: “nes gadol haya sham,” which means, “a great miracle happened there.” The miracle of Hanukkah is the miracle of God’s preserving power over the evil Antiochus IV and his mighty army, and God’s miraculous provision of oil for lighting the Menorah during the eight days of dedication until more sanctified oil could be made.
In the late First Century AD, Josephus recorded some detail about how Hanukkah was celebrated from the time of the Maccabees up to when the Temple was destroyed in AD 70:
Now Judas celebrated the festival of the restoration of the sacrifices of the temple for eight days; and omitted no sort of pleasures thereon: but he feasted them upon very rich and splendid sacrifices; and he honored God, and delighted them by hymns and psalms. Nay, they were so very glad at the revival of their customs, when, after a long time of intermission, they unexpectedly had regained the freedom of their worship, that they made it a law for their posterity that they should keep a festival, on account of the restoration of their temple worship, for eight days. And from that time to this we celebrate this festival, and call it Lights. I suppose the reason was, because this liberty beyond our hopes appeared to us; and that hence was the name given to that festival.
Hanukkah was initially focused on the Temple, with joyous celebration of it being the place where God’s presence dwelt (2 Chronicles 20:9) and of their regained freedom to worship and offer the daily sacrifices there. While not an official Pilgrimage Festival, as were Passover, Shavuot (feast of weeks/Pentecost) and Sukkot (festival of tabernacles), Hanukkah centered on the Temple and Yeshua travelled there to celebrate it with His countrymen and teach them through it.
The miracle of eight days’ oil for the Menorah has led to celebrating this festival with a nine-candlestick menorah—one for each day the oil burned, plus the shammos “servant candle” used to light the other eight. The “servant candle” sits in the middle of the others and its candleholder places it above them.
Every day for eight days the candles are lit by the servant candle: one on the first day, two on the second, etc., until on the last day all eight candles are lit by the servant.
With this focus on the light of the candlesticks Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights. God spoke through His prophet Isaiah: “My servant shall bring light to the Gentiles.” (Isa. 42:1) John’s Gospel states, “Jesus is the true Light that lights everyone who comes into the world” (John 1:9). Yeshua Himself declared two months earlier, at the close of the Feast of Tabernacles, “I am the light of the world; he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12), just like the servant candle lights each of the other candles.
Many Hanukkah celebrations begin in full darkness, then the light of a candle – the first Hanukkah candle, the servant – pierces the darkness, and then – more candles and more lights! It’s very beautiful and very impressive! One of the central songs sung during Hanukkah is called BANU CHOSHECH LEGARESH – “WE CAME TO DRIVE AWAY THE DARKNESS” – and this is indeed the overwhelming feeling one gets during these celebrations: The light came to overcome the darkness!
In the world’s darkest hour, the light comes! This reminds us of the words of John’s Gospel about Yeshua: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The Light of Yeshua also came at a time of the darkness and foreign oppression; the hand of Rome was heavy upon Israel, the nation could hardly bear this oppressive yoke. That was not the only darkness, there was corruption in the priesthood, prideful arrogance in religious leaders, and violent conflict between different Jewish sects. The Light of the world stepped into this darkness and it could not overcome Him.
WHAT ARE THE ORIGINS OF CELEBRATING CHRISTMAS?
The word “Christmas” literally means Christ’s Mass.
“Christ” comes from Greek Χριστός (Christós), meaning anointed, which is a translation of Hebrew מָשִׁיחַ māšîaḥ (anointed) that has been incorporated into the English language as “messiah”.
“Mass” is from Latin missa, which refers to the remembrance of Messiah through eating bread and drinking wine as His body and blood.
(Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20 & 1 Cor.11:23-26).
Thus Christmas is a festival that commemorates the incarnation of Messiah – Emmanuel, God with us (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:18-25) – who suffered and died to give us new life.
The birth of Jesus was celebrated by a large army of angels:
Shepherds were in the fields near Bethlehem. They were taking turns watching their flock during the night. An angel from the Lord suddenly appeared to them.
The glory of the Lord filled the area with light, and they were terrified.
The angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid! I have good news for you, a message that will fill everyone with joy. Today your Savior, Christ the Lord, was born in David’s city. This is how you will recognize him: You will find an infant wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly, a large army of angels appeared with the angel.
They were praising God by saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those who have His good will!”
Luke 2:8-14 GW
The birth of Jesus was celebrated by shepherds.
The angels left them and went back to heaven. The shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see what the Lord has told us about.”
They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph with the baby, who was lying in a manger. When they saw the child, they repeated what they had been told about him.
Everyone who heard the shepherds’ story was amazed.
Mary treasured all these things in her heart and always thought about them.
As the shepherds returned to their flock, they glorified and praised God for everything they had seen and heard. Everything happened the way the angel had told them. Luke 2:15-20 GW
Some time later…
The birth of Jesus was celebrated by ‘wise men’ from the East.
After Jesus’ birth wise men from the east arrived in Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the one who was born to be the king of the Jews? We saw his star rising and have come to worship him.” …
The star they had seen rising led them until it stopped over the place where the child was. They were overwhelmed with joy to see the star.
When they entered the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary.
So they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Matthew 2:1b-2, 9b-11 GW
The birth of Jesus was not celebrated by the apostles.
Whereas all the Jewish leaders at the time of the temple rededication had been deeply involved in the events commemorated in Hanukkah and thus made it a law for the Jewish people to celebrate it annually, none of the apostles was present to witness the birth of Yeshua so it was not something that they testified to or celebrated – their commission was to be witnesses to what they had seen and heard (Acts 1:20-22, John 21:24), preach the gospel, make disciples of all nations, baptising and teaching them to do everything He had commanded.
(Matt. 28:18-20, Mark 16:15, Luke 24:46-49)
How the 25th December was Chosen
The first church figure recorded discussing the date of Jesus’ birth was Clement (c. 200), an Egyptian preacher from Alexandria. Clement writes: “There are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord’s birth, but also the day; and they say that it took place in the 28th year of Augustus, and in the 25th day of [the Egyptian month] Pachon [May 20 in our calendar] … And treating of His Passion, with very great accuracy, some say that it took place in the 16th year of Tiberius, on the 25th of Phamenoth [March 21]; and others on the 25th of Pharmuthi [April 21] and others say that on the 19th of Pharmuthi [April 15] the Savior suffered. Further, others say that He was born on the 24th or 25th of Pharmuthi [April 20 or 21].”
Around 200 C.E. Tertullian of Carthage reported the calculation that the 14th of Nisan (the day of the crucifixion according to the Gospel of John) in the year Jesus died was equivalent to March 25 in the Roman (solar) calendar. Following a very Jewish idea – that the beginning and the end of important redemptive events often happen on the same date (Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashana 10b-11a) Tertullian concluded that March 25 was therefor also the date of Jesus’ conception (it was later recognized as the Feast of the Annunciation). Exactly nine months later, he reasoned, Jesus was born – on December 25.
Sextus Julius Africanus, (born c. AD 180, Jerusalem—died c. 250), was the first Christian historian to produce a universal chronology, Chronographiai (221) – a five-volume treatise relying on the Bible as the basis of his calculations, on the history of the world from Creation (which he placed at 5499 BC) to AD 221. In this work Sextus also proposed that Jesus’ birth was on December 25th.
In the beginning of the third century, Tertullian reported that since he knew precisely when Jesus died (14th of Nissan or March 25), he also knew exactly when he was conceived. If Jesus was conceived on March 25, then counting forward to the 9 months of Mary’s pregnancy would place His birth on December 25. This is especially intriguing because January 1st used to be celebrated as the Day of Christ’s circumcision (8 days from the evening of Dec. 24).
It wasn’t until some 70 years after western Christians had settled on December 25 as the date of Jesus’ birth, in 274 CE, a Roman Emperor declared December 25 to be, “The Day of the Unconquered Sun,” (Sol Invictus).
This reasoning appears to have been fairly widely accepted in the church. An anonymous Christian treatise titled On Solstices and Equinoxes, which appears to come from fourth-century North Africa, states: “Therefore our Lord was conceived on the eighth of the kalends of April in the month of March [March 25], which is the day of the passion of the Lord and of his conception. For on that day he was conceived on the same he suffered.” And Augustine writes in On the Trinity (c. 399–419): “For he [Jesus] is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also he suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which he was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which he was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before him nor since. But he was born, according to tradition, upon December the 25th.”
In the East, too, the dates of Jesus’ conception and death were linked. Bishop Epiphanius of Salamis writes that on April 6, “The lamb was shut up in the spotless womb of the holy virgin, he who took away and takes away in perpetual sacrifice the sins of the world.” However, instead of working from the 14th of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar, the easterners used the 14th of the first spring month (Artemisios) in their local Greek calendar—April 6 to us. April 6 is exactly nine months before January 6—the eastern date for Christmas and the Epiphany (celebration of Jesus’ baptism).
When was Christmas first Celebrated?
There is no mention of birth celebrations in the writings of early Christian writers such as Irenaeus (c. 130–200) or Tertullian (c. 160–225). Origen of Alexandria (c. 165–264) goes so far as to mock Roman celebrations of birth anniversaries, dismissing them as “pagan” practices—a strong indication that Jesus’ birth was not marked with similar festivities at that place and time.
It is reported that Telesphorus, who was martyred in 136AD, declared that Church services should be held to celebrate “The Nativity of our Lord and Saviour.”
About A.D. 200, Clement of Alexandria (Stromata I.21) says that certain Egyptian theologians “over curiously” assign, not the year alone, but the day of Christ’s birth, placing it on 25 Pachon (20 May) in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus. Clement also tells us that the Basilidians celebrated the Epiphany, and with it, probably, the Nativity, on 15 or 11 Tybi (10 or 6 January).
During the persecution under Emperor Diocletian in 312 C.E. an Egyptian Christian group called the Donatists emerged, and they remained stubbornly attached to the practices of that moment in time. In about 400 C.E., Augustine of Hippo mentions the Donatists kept Christmas festivals on December 25 but refused to celebrate the Epiphany (celebration of Jesus’ baptism) on January 6, regarding it as an innovation.
In an old list of Roman bishops, compiled in A. D. 354 these words appear for A.D. 336: “25 Dec.: natus Christus in Betleem Judeae.” December 25th, Christ born in Bethlehem, Judea. This day, December 25, 336 (during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine), is the first recorded celebration of Christmas, although the practice may have existed in various Christian congregations well before it was officially recorded in a document that survived the years.
At this time of celebrating God’s deliverance from the hand of Israel’s enemies there was strong messianic fervor as the people cried out for Messiah to come and deliver them from Roman occupation and oppression. The popular picture of the Messiah in Yeshua’s time was that he would be a “super-Maccabee,” a warrior priest who would destroy Israel’s enemies and bring in everlasting peace. It was easy to ‘forget’ that the Maccabees brought only a very fleeting peace. After 67 years the conflict between brothers for power over God’s people had descended into a 6 yearlong bloody civil war that killed over 50,000 Jews. Only 25 yrs after that civil war ended, they had descended into self-destruction of the nation once more, to the extent that soon each side was asking the Romans to come and assist them in dethroning the other. (For details see: The Maccabean Revolt and Hasmonean Period 166-40BC and Second Temple Period Under Roman Rule). Just 101 yrs after the Maccabee’s victory and cleansing of the temple, in 64 BC, Roman armies marched into Jerusalem at the behest of all the leaders of the Jewish people and their oppression under Roman rule began. What was needed was so much more than just a mighty warrior, Jewish history had proven that they needed someone to conquer their sinfulness before any peace could be lasting.
It was with this expectation of a “super-Maccabee” messiah that the Jews gathered around Yeshua as He taught in Solomon’s porch, a roofed and column-lined walkway, or portico. Winter is the wet season in Israel, so He may have been in the portico to keep out of the rain. According to Josephus, Solomon’s Portico was a double-columned porch on the east side of the Temple near the court of the Gentiles. It was about 23 feet wide (15 cubits), and the columns were about 40 feet tall (25 cubits). Josephus described them as white marble with cedar-panels for a ceiling (Antiq. 15.11.3-5, §391-420; JW 5.5.1 §184-185). This was on the east side of the temple. The walkway itself was elevated from the surrounding land, and partly walled in. Because of the layout, a person walking along this portico had the temple on one side, and either a solid wall or a sheer drop on the other. A large portion of the outer edge was walled off. This meant Yeshua was in an area with only one reasonable means of exit: through the temple. The men who approach Him here were clearly intending to block off His escape route.
The Jews surrounded him. They asked him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
Jesus answered them, “I’ve told you, but you don’t believe me. The things that I do in my Father’s name testify on my behalf. However, you don’t believe because you’re not my sheep. My sheep respond to my voice, and I know who they are. They follow me, and I give them eternal life. They will never be lost, and no one will tear them away from me. My Father, who gave them to me, is greater than everyone else, and no one can tear them away from my Father. The Father and I are one.” John 10:24-30 GW
In the gospel of John, the phrase “the Jews” is most often a reference to the religious leaders in Jerusalem and their followers. These are the Pharisees, scribes, and other officials. It is with these men that Yeshua has His most cutting and divisive conflicts. Yeshua is “surrounded” by religious leaders. The Greek term used is ekyklōsan, which literally means “to surround, encircle, or encompass.” It’s a term often used to describe the act of siege. In other words, hostile religious leaders are ensuring Yeshua has no means of escape from where He has been teaching in the temple.
Later verses will describe them lifting stones to attack Yeshua (John 10:31)—but this is inside the grounds of the temple, where suitable stones are not simply laying around. Those who later sort to stone Him had brought rocks in advance, and with murderous intent. In this incident, Yeshua is not simply being challenged, He’s being threatened as they dare Him to repeat His former claims to give them an excuse to launch their rocks upon Him. The phrase “keep us in suspense” is tēn psychēn hēmōn aireis, which literally implies “holding our souls” or “restraining our spirits.”
Yeshua’s response brought both comfort to His followers, and condemnation to those determined to reject Him. For those of us who have responded to His voice and are following Him there’s the sweet assurance that He gives us eternal life, we will never be lost, and no one will tear us away from Him. Our lives are kept safely in our Father’s all-powerful hands.
1. HELPS Ministries. The Discovery Bible. [Online] https://thediscoverybible.com/.
2. Stern, David H. Complete Jewish Bible (CJB). 1998.
3. Hershey, Doug. Hanukkah: Why Did Jesus Celebrate the Feast of Dedication? Fellowship of Israel Related Ministries. [Online] December 10th, 2020. https://firmisrael.org/learn/hanukkah-why-jesus-celebrated-feast-of-dedication/.
4. Bloom, Julia. Jesus Celebrated Hanukkah! Preach It Teach It. [Online] [Cited: October 10th, 2022.] https://preachitteachit.org/articles/detail/jesus-celebrated-hanukkah/.
5. Brickner, David. Jesus’ Celebration of Hanukkah. Jews for Jesus. [Online] December 1st, 1998. https://jewsforjesus.org/publications/newsletter/newsletter-dec-1998/jesus-celebration-of-hanukkah.
6. Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. John 10. Bible Gateway. [Online] God’s Word Mission society, 1995. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John%2010&version=GW.
7. Bible Ref. John 10:24 Parallel Verses. Bible Ref.com. [Online] Got Questions Ministries. [Cited: October 21st, 2022.] https://www.bibleref.com/John/10/John-10-24.html.
8. Long, Philip J. Acts 5:12 – Solomon’s Portico. Reading Acts. [Online] February 3rd, 2019. https://readingacts.com/2019/02/03/acts-512-solomons-portico/.
9. Marian, Jakub. Origin of the Words Christmas and Xmas . Jakub Marian Language Learning, Science & Arts. [Online] [Cited: October 21st, 2022.] https://jakubmarian.com/etymology-of-the-words-christmas-and-xmas/#:~:text=The%20word%20Christmas%20comes%20from,word%2C%20is%20not%20entirely%20clear..
10. The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Sextus Julius Africanus”. Britannica. [Online] July 20th, 1998. [Cited: October 22nd, 2022.] https://www.britannica.com/biography/Sextus-Julius-Africanus..
11. Hillerbrand, Hans J. Christmas. Britannica. [Online] Encyclopedia Britannica, October 25th, 2021. [Cited: October 22nd, 2022.] https://www.britannica.com/topic/Christmas.
12. Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Dr. Eli. Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday? The Times of Israel. [Online] May 8th, 2021. https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/is-christmas-a-pagan-holiday/.
13. Rickard, Stanley Edgar. Thesis. THE MOORINGS. [Online] Bible Studies at THE MOORINGS. [Cited: October 22nd, 2022.] https://www.themoorings.org/Jesus/birth/date.html.
14. McGowan, Andrew. How December 25 Became Christmas. Biblical Archaeology. [Online] July 23rd, 2022. https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/how-december-25-became-christmas/.
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…
*How would you describe the Jewish feasts?
* What do you think God’s attitude is towards their celebrating additional feasts to those He commanded Moses?
* What celebrations does your church have and how do you celebrate?
* Why would a “super-Maccabee” be an inadequate Messiah?
* Have you had, or witnessed, false expectations about God and how is what He did better than what people were asking or expecting Him to do?
*What protection did Jesus have when they tried to arrest him during the Hanukkah celebrations?