Is Chanukah Relevant
for Christians?

Tricia Miller, Ph.D. and Dexter Van Zile

Dear Christian Leaders,

As Jews around the world are in the midst of celebrating Chanukah, we would like to take this opportunity to offer some thoughts concerning the relevance of the festival for Christians. The Hebrew word, Chanukah, means dedication, and the holiday is an eight-day "Festival of Lights" that commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem approximately 2,200 years ago. This year Chanukah began Thursday evening, December 10th, and will end Friday, December 18th.

Chanukah memorializes the victory of a small band of faithful but poorly armed Jews, led by Judah the Maccabee, over the mighty Greek Seleucid army, which occupied Judea in the early second century before the birth of Jesus. After years of fighting, the Maccabees successfully regained Jewish control of Jerusalem and forced the Seleucids out of the land of Israel.

Upon recapturing Jerusalem, the Temple had to be cleansed and rededicated because the Greek king, Antiochus Epiphanes, had desecrated the Temple by erecting an altar to the god Zeus and by sacrificing pigs. When they entered the Temple, the victorious Maccabees found one jar of oil to light the Temple menorah, which was only enough for one day. However, the oil lasted eight days, which is why the celebration of the rededication of the Temple during Chanukah is observed by the lighting of candles for eight days.

The Seleucid occupation of Israel was a dangerous time for the Jewish people because the very survival of Jewish identity was at stake. This is because the Greeks attempted to force the people of Israel to reject their belief in the one true God and accept instead the polytheism of the Greek Empire. Jews were also expected to abandon their obedience to Torah, and indeed, central tenets of Judaism such as Sabbath observance and circumcision were outlawed.

However, in the face of incredible persecution and against all odds, the Maccabees refused to reject their faith, drove the mightiest army on earth at the time from the land of Judea, and rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem to the service of God.

These historical events are significant for us as Christians today for two important reasons.

First, if Judah the Maccabee and his Jewish army had not been victorious, it is entirely possible that the Greeks would have been successful in their efforts to wipe out Jewish identity and observance in the land of Judea almost two hundred years before Jesus was born.

If that had happened, Jesus would not have been born as the recognizable, clearly identifiable Jew who is revealed as such throughout the Christian Testament. In other words, Jesus would not be who we know him to be and the events of his life would not have happened as revealed throughout the Scriptures. In short, there would be no Christmas without the events that are celebrated at Chanukah!

Furthermore, there would be no Christian faith, since our faith is deeply rooted in the faith of Israel. As the Apostle Paul demonstrates through his analogy of the olive tree in Romans, chapter 11, Israel is the root of the tree of faith and Gentile believers are branches that have been grafted into that tree.

Secondly, the events that Chanukah commemorates are significant because they provide inspiration and encouragement at a time of increasing world-wide opposition to the Christian faith in particular and to religious freedom in general. May we as Christians be strengthened to stand as the Maccabees did in the face of persecution and against all odds.

Moreover, in light of the rise of global antisemitism and anti-Israel activism, let us rededicate ourselves in our commitment to stand in solidarity with the Jewish people and in support of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state.

May the celebration of Chanukah be a reminder of the necessity of the survival of Jewish faith and identity, and of the importance of the victory of good over evil, of godliness over paganism, and faithfulness to the one true God over polytheism.

As we look forward to our celebration of Christmas, remember that there would be no Christmas without Chanukah!

For the sake of Israel,
Tricia Miller and Dexter Van Zile


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