In 165 BC, Israel was under the control of the Syrian ruler Antiochus Epiphanes. A cruel and ruthless dictator, he attempted to force the Jews to embrace the Greek culture of the day and cease to obey the Mosaic Law. Antiochus went so far as to desecrate the temple of Jerusalem by sacrificing pigs on the altar and turning the temple into a place to worship the Greek god Zeus. Many Jews lost their lives resisting this tyranny.
A Jewish priest named Mattathias, along with his five sons, rose up in rebellion against this sacrilege. Mattathias was a member of the Hasmonean family, but he and his sons came to be known as “the Maccabees,” meaning “hammer.” Outnumbered and poorly armed, they defeated the superior Syrian army in battle after battle. Mattathias’ son, Judas, “the hammer,” finally led the people to victory against Antiochus and his army.
Judas purified the temple and proclaimed the 25th day of the Jewish month Kislev (the date three years earlier the temple was initially desecrated) as the beginning of an eight day Feast of Lights, to rededicate the cleansed temple.
As the story goes, there was only enough consecrated oil in the temple to supply the menorah for one day. Miraculously, the menorah burned for eight days. From that time forward, the Feast of Lights has been celebrated annually in December by Jews everywhere. In Hebrew, “Hanukkah” means “dedication.” Hanukkah ends today, December 6th, at sundown.
Jesus attended many of the Jewish feasts as the Gospels inform us, including the celebration of the Feast of Lights (Dedication) in Jerusalem as recorded in John 10:22-23. After all, He is the Messiah, the light of the world (John 8:12)!