Being a preacher who grew up Jewish, I often get asked questions about the links between Judaism and Jesus. Around this time of year, the question usually gets asked, “Did Jesus celebrate Chanukah?” To that, I respond, “No doubt!” But maybe our definition of “celebrate” needs discussion.
Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version of history:
During the ~400 year “intertestamental period,” the Greeks dominated much of Central Asia and the Mediterranean Sea. After the death of Alexander the Great, his empire divided primarily into Ptolemies (Egypt) and Seleucids (Syria). The Seleucids practiced extreme “Hellenization” (forcing Greek language, beliefs, and practices on those they conquered). Around 175 BC, Antiochus Epiphanes, in an effort to stamp out Judaism altogether, sacrificed a pig on the altar and desecrated the 2nd temple.
In the revolt that followed, the Jews drove out their persecutors and restored a general peace and self-rule in the land. When the Jews tried to cleanse the Temple and resume worship, they needed oil for the consecration and sanctification of the holy objects that had been defiled. It is said that they had only 1 day of oil, but it lasted an amazing 8 nights, thus the 8 nights of the Jewish festival.
Now, back to Jesus and Chanukah…
In Jesus’ day, the commemoration celebration we call Chanukah, or the Festival of Lights, was called “The Feast of the Dedication” (John 10:22). John records that, as the Dedication Feast is taking place, Jesus goes into the Temple and teaches people to follow Him. But the Dedication Feast was not merely the candle lighting, gift giving occasion that Jews celebrate today. It was packed with Messianic meaning.
The Jews were looking for a Messiah (anointed one) as prophesied in scripture. He was supposed to come in the days of the Roman Empire, in the line of Judah through David, born in Bethlehem, and proven by signs and wonders. So when Jesus walked into the Temple during THAT week…he received quite an audience! They asked, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ (Messiah), tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me” (John 10:24-25).
So, did Jesus “celebrate” Chanukah?
Well, the Bible doesn’t technically record Jesus playing with a dreidel, lighting candles, or eating yummy latkes. But consider what “celebrating” really means:
- He celebrated the spirit of Chanukah by cleansing the Temple in John 2, and again in Matthew 21 and Mark 11, of the impure money changers, just as the defiled temple had to be cleansed after the sacrificing of a pig on the altar.
- He celebrated Chanukah by giving us a pure Temple and Priesthood – His body, rather than the stained, Roman controlled temple & priesthood of the day (John 2:21; Hebrews 6:20).
- Jesus offers believers a perfect temple, not made by human hands (Acts 17:24), but God dwelling with His people in glory, in Heaven, forever (Revelation 21:22).
Regardless of whether we can prove Jesus “celebrated” Chanukah, He definitely celebrated true Dedication, and so should we! Whether you light a candle or give gifts this week, be sure to celebrate the REAL reason for Chanukah – God’s people dedicating themselves to worshiping Him as commanded in scripture (John 14:21). God bless, and Happy Chanukah!