Typically Christians don’t celebrate Hanukkah. Why is that? Undoubtedly because we don’t know the backstory to help us understand the importance of the celebration. As we relate the Old to the New Testament, lower and upper story, the divine connections are amazing.
The Hebrew word chanak means to dedicate or inaugurate (begin) something with purpose. We find a dedication of the altar within the Tabernacle in Num. 7:84, 88 and again with Solomon (2 Chron. 7) as he dedicated the Temple of the LORD (Ps. 30). These were holy places, designed by God, to house His Presence. This lower story is important as we develop the tradition of Hanukkah today. God required a holy, dedicated, and sanctified place of honor among His people.
Seventy years after the Babylonians destroyed Solomon’s Temple, God allowed His people to return, in stages, and rebuild (Neh. 12:27). There was a re-dedication of the wall with great celebration as God returned to live among His people.
Eventually, as Daniel prophesied (ch. 11), the Greek Empire took control from the Persians and began to rule what was then called Palestine. Within a few years an evil man, Antiochus Epiphanes, ruled over this area including the Jews. He sacrificed a pig on the altar and erected an idol of Jupiter thus rebelling against the God of the Jews and polluting their Temple (168AD). Keep in mind this historical account was occurring during the 400 year silence between the Old and New Testaments. God was not communicating with His people during this intertestamental period but life continued under Greek rule.
Approximately 150 years before the birth of Christ, the long-awaited Messiah, a Temple needed to be ready for Him. A re-dedication of this second Temple is a Hanukkah and it was again sanctified. The feast or celebration included a reading from Ezekiel 34 which was an indictment against the shepherds or pastors of the Jewish people. God, therefore, declared that He will seek, gather, rescue, and feed His sheep by the One Shepherd, His servant David (Messiah).
Fast forward to the time of Jesus and we read in John 10 that it was winter, during the time of the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah), where Jesus identified Himself as the Good Shepherd, the Ezekiel Shepherd. He was undoubtedly referring to this prophecy as He celebrated Hanukkah. That’s the lower story but what about the upper story?
God’s desire remains to dwell with His people yet not in one place; He now dwells in a believer’s heart and remains there. We are called to dedicate and re-dedicate ourselves to Him daily, therefore, living in the power of His Spirit. As the Good Shepherd reminds us, we know Him, hear His voice, and are accepted into His fold.
Historically, the Jews celebrate the Feast of Lights (Hanukkah) as a miraculous, historical event. A day’s oil was not depleted for eight days in the Temple after the victory over Antiochus: a miracle. But, as miraculous as that was, the true miracle is the opportunity to rededicate our lives to His service and the true Hanukkah for a Christian.