Surprisingly, the only place in the Bible where we find the festival of Hanukkah mentioned is in the New Testament’s Gospel of John (10:22-30). In the context of this eight-day celebration of the “Feast of Dedication” [Hanukkah, means dedication in Hebrew], Jesus was teaching in a broad, open colonnade of the great Temple in Jerusalem, known as the “porch of Solomon.” This setting forms the backdrop to a “Hanukkah Message” from Jesus.
The gospel writer tells us that many Jews surrounded Jesus and asked, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ (Messiah), tell us plainly” (vv. 22-24).
The Savior from God
During this winter-time celebration each year, the Jewish people remember the victory God gave to a militant group of Jews, the Maccabees, in 139 BC. They revolted and threw off the evil oppression of the pagan Seleucid empire, based in Syria, who had desecrated the Jewish Temple. The Maccabeees rededicated the temple and restored true temple worship, during which the menorah burned miraculously for eight days, despite having only enough oil for a day.
Each Hanukkah season thereafter, the Jewish people would remember this historic victory and desire their prophesied Messiah from God, to come and free them from yet another oppressive enemy. In Jesus’ day, this enemy was the Romans.
When the Jews questioned Jesus if he was this Messiah (10:24), the long-awaited savior from God, it was a timely question. Yet, Jesus (whose Hebrew name was Yeshua, meaning “Salvation”) did little to satisfy their human expectation for a political warrior to lead them, with his simple answer. “‘I told you, and you did not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you'” (John 10:25-26).
Jesus’ critics challenged His miracle ministry (John 5:16-18), His integrity (7:12), His paternity (8:41), and His spiritual purity (8:48). So Jesus wisely responded, “I’ve already told you.” In both word and deed, He had already repeatedly answered their question (John 8:58, 10:25).
More than a mere, temporary solution, for which the Jews desired, God provided the eternal salvation, for which all mankind needs. The Maccabean victory, cleansing and rededication of the Temple were short lived. But Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection would rescue our “desecrated temple” and restore us, so we might walk in continued, eternal fellowship with Father God.
The Shepherd to God
Jesus continued His Messianic teaching, by using the familiar allusion to a shepherd (John 10:27-28). He said that His sheep will recognize Him and respond to Him, in obedience: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life. They shall never perish, nor shall anyone snatch them from My hand.”
Earlier, in verse 16, Jesus told His disciples that He had “other sheep…which are not of this fold.” This anticipated the mission, which His disciples would undertake after His resurrection and empowerment by the Holy Spirit, eventually included the Gentiles and their incorporation into the one “sheepfold” of God. Jesus of Nazareth, the Jewish Messiah and the Gentile’s Savior, is the Great Shepherd of Father God’s one flock!
The Son of God
Jesus concluded His Hanukkah message by declaring that He is one with Father God and is His Son. In John 10:29-30 He said, “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them from My Father’s hand. My Father and I are one.”
Yeshua’s statement, that He is one with the Father, is meant to give assurance to His followers. Frustration is found in measuring our lives by our problems, rather than by the greatness of our God. Despite temporary trials, there is ultimate victory in Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God. As such, the Messiah demands a greater loyalty than the Maccabees, because He provides greater security.
This Christmas and Hanukkah season, I invite you to trust in Jesus (Yeshua) as Savior, Shepherd and Son. Following Him brings us victory, in this life and the eternal life to come!