In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (John 1:4-5)
Today, December 24, 2016, begins the Jewish Festival of Lights otherwise known as Chanukah (pronounced (with a guttural “H”) hah-noo-kah). The festival is observed for eight days, and while it is not one of the “Feasts of the Lord” (Leviticus 23) nor is it recorded anywhere in the Old Testament, it is nonetheless an important commemoration of God’s provision. Most Gentiles are vaguely aware of the celebration in that it takes place around Christmastime, but besides that, they really do not know much about it.
Chanukah originated in the second century B.C. during the “silent” period of the Bible – between the Old and New Testaments. It came about as a result of a Jewish rebellion against the Greek (Syrian) ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes for his desecration of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem in 168 B.C. This act was prehistorically recorded by the prophet Daniel: “Then shall he return into his land with great riches; and his heart shall be against the holy covenant; and he shall do exploits, and return to his own land … And arms shall stand on his part, and they shall pollute the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that maketh desolate.” (Daniel 11:28, 31, emphasis mine). Antiochus IV defiled the temple by erecting a statue of Zeus in the sanctuary and sacrificing a pig on the altar. This incited the Maccabean Revolt, and, as prophesied by Daniel: “the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits. And they that understand among the people shall instruct many: yet they shall fall by the sword, and by flame, by captivity, and by spoil, many days” (Daniel 11:32-33, emphasis mine). Two years later, 164 B.C. the Jews managed to expel the Syrians out of Jerusalem and take back their temple.
With the Greeks out of the way, the Temple had to be cleansed and rededicated. Part of the consecration required that the menorah, the “candlestick” or “lampstand,” that stood on the south wall of the Holy Place (Exodus 26:35), remain constantly lighted (Exodus 27:20). The problem was that there was only enough pure oil, i.e. oil that was undefiled, to last for only one day. So, they lit the menorah, and miraculously, the lamp continued to burn for eight days until sufficient oil was produced to replenish the supply from then on. And so, the Temple was dedicated. “Chanukah” means “dedication.”
Jesus celebrated Chanukah. We see in John’s Gospel “And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch” (John 10:22-23, emphasis mine). Just before this, He made the claim “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12, emphasis mine). This He said after forgiving the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). Not long after, He healed a man who was blind from birth (John 9) saying, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5, emphasis mine). That light would soon be extinguished, but not for long. In the spring following that Chanukah, Jesus would be nailed to a cross, and for three long days the world would be without the Light. The Sunday before His crucifixion, Jesus prepared His disciples (and us), “Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light” (John 12:35-36).
The menorah in the Temple was permanently extinguished in 70 A.D. when the Romans razed Jerusalem. Now it is only remembered on Chanukah. The Light of the World was temporarily extinguished, but He rose again, and His glory fills the heavenly Temple. Yet on Earth, His light still shines in those who are “the children of light.” “[Y]e are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11, emphasis mine). Since you are “sanctified,” that means you are “dedicated,” and Jesus said, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid … Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14, 16, emphasis mine). So, shine!