(John 10:22) And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter.
Beginning on the evening of December 22nd this year (2019) the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah began its eight-day season of light (it is alternately called the Festival of Lights) and feasting. It is the “feast of the dedication” noted in our text. Commonly in the New Testament in the King James Version of the Bible, one can find cross-references that a publisher has provided to many of the prophecies, laws and feasts, etc. found in the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament. But this “feast of the dedication” has no basis in the Old Testament canon, and any cross-reference on it usually refers to the books of 1st and 2nd Maccabees which (with others) were written in what is called the intertestamental period between the close of the Old Testament canon and the coming of Christ. These writings are called The Apocrypha.
Concerning the apocryphal books, the Jews did not consider them as part of the canon of Scripture. Also, the Lord Jesus Christ excluded them when He spoke about the canon. Christ said, “...all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures,” (LUK 24:44-45). This referred to the three-fold division of the Jewish canon of Scripture which consists of the same body of knowledge that we have in the Old Testament of our Bible (with variations only in the compilation). The last division (the psalms) ended with Chronicles. Christ was proving Himself from the scriptures of which He earlier had said, “Search the scriptures...they are they which testify of me” (JOH 5:39). If the Apocrypha were indeed scripture, one would think He would have included them in His proof of Himself. But He omitted them.
Elsewhere, Christ in denouncing the Pharisees, said, “That the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation; From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation” (LUK 11:50-51). Compare “required” here with the last words of Zacharias when he was slain, “...The LORD look upon it, and require it” (2CH 24:22), an amazing censure, prophecy and also an implication that Jesus Christ is the LORD God manifest in the flesh. LUK 11:50-51 was Christ’s roll-call of the Old Testament martyred prophets, and it did not include anyone slain in the Jewish national struggles of the intertestamental period. That prophetic “dry spell” only ended with the coming of John the Baptist, of whom Jesus said, “...there is not a greater prophet...” (LUK 7:24-28). In essence, Jesus was saying that the line of the blood of the righteous prophets stretched from Genesis to Malachi, no further, thus excluding the apocryphal books as inspired prophecy. No prophets means no prophecy, ergo, no inspired scriptures (since all scripture is by inspiration of God, 2TI 3:16).
There were three annual feasts commanded by Moses which the men of Israel had to attend (EXO 23:14-17). These were therefore feasts ordained by prophecy and each of them solemnly honored God in some way. They were by definition religious festivals and holy-days. By contrast, the feast of the dedication was not given by prophecy but by policy; it was a good time rather than a holy time, like the Feast of Purim (EST 9:20-28). It was not a religious festival but rather a civic festival. This is a notable distinction, similar to the distinction between celebrating Easter or Christmas (religious festivals imbued with professed adoration of the Godhead) and celebrating July 4th or Thanksgiving Day (a civic commemoration).
Details about the feast of the dedication are variously noted in ancient sources like the Books of Maccabees, the Jewish historian Josephus’ writings and a few others. It is said that between the Second and First Century B.C., Judea was being absorbed into the Hellenic Greek culture around it and it became part of the Seleucid Empire of Syria. Whether as an act of pure tyranny and belligerence towards the Jews and their religion, or at the request of one of the internal factions in Judea (historians differ on the point), Antiochus IV Epiphanes attacked Jerusalem, killing 40,000 and enslaving another 40,000. He fits well that prophecy of a vile person in DAN 11:21. He is said to have ordered an altar to Zeus to be constructed in the temple, ordered pigs to be sacrificed at the temple altar and a broth made from this sprinkled all over the temple. In short, he defiled and profaned the temple. This provoked a revolt led by the Jewish priest, Mattathias, and his five sons. One of those sons was Judah, who distinguished himself as a heroic military leader whose actions eventually routed the Seleucids and liberated the temple. He is known as Judah Maccabee (Judah the Hammer), celebrated in the composer Handel’s oratorio, Judas Maccabeus. In 165 B.C., a ritual cleansing of the temple of its pollutions was ordered, the temple rededicated for holy use again, and a commemorative festival of pleasure ordered to be observed yearly (Feast of dedication). Let the record show a difference: this rejuvenation of the temple after its defiling by heathen was wrought by militancy, not by Israel’s repentance, as when a humbled Israel returned years after the Babylonians had defiled it (PSA 74:3-7 c/w EZR 9-10), and the Maccabean occurrence was not included in the canon of Scripture. God ordained the alienation of the temple because of sin and the cure for the alienation to be repentance (2CH 7:19-22 c/w 2CH 6:36-39).
All of this should give Bible-believing Christians pause, and not only because God saw fit to bless the Maccabean rebellion to restore temple purity (assuming the details are historically accurate). There is something else to consider. It is palpably ironic that in December while unbelieving Jews are celebrating the ancient cleansing of their temple, many Christians are celebrating the present pollution of theirs. The church of Jesus Christ (His temple, 1CO 3:16-17) is supposed to be as devoid of heathen pollutions as the Jewish temple (even more so). See 1CO 10:19-22; 2CO 6:14-18, etc. Yet how many churches bring in a green tree and decorate it after the manner of the heathen who decorated trees to honor their idol gods (JER 10:1-4)? How many churches have done as did the backsliding Galatian churches who blended together elements of their former paganism and of abolished holy-days with New Testament Christianity unto their own bondage (GAL 4:8-11)? How many Christians do as the heathen who concocted myths about deities by promoting the omniscient, omnipresent Santa Claus who miraculously and invisibly distributes carnal gifts (and the best ones to the richest children)?
I think that as a Bible-believing Christian, I can say “Happy Hanukkah” with a clearer conscience than saying “Merry Christmas.”
Where are the Christian Maccabees?