The first Hanukkah occurred between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament - called the Silent Years. However, that does not mean there was not a lot going on during this time. This period of history was prophesied by Daniel.
In the third year of the reign of Belshazzar, Daniel was in the palace at Susa along the Ulai River (Dn 8:1-2), a tributary of the Tigris River, and approximately 200 miles east of Babylon. Daniel had a vision in which he saw a ram with two horns, with one horn higher than the other, which pushed north, south and west without anyone being able to resist its power (Dn 8:3-4). He then saw a he goat with one large horn in the middle of its forehead which was in the west and pushed eastward so swiftly that its feet did not seem to touch the ground (Dn 8:5). This he goat smote the ram, broke off the ram’s two horns, and utterly destroyed the ram (Dn 8:6-7). The he goat became very strong but then the one horn was broken off and 4 horns took its place (Dn 8:8). Then out of one of the horns came another smaller horn which became mighty and pushed south, east, and toward Israel. It then became very boastful and tried to magnify himself as great as God Himself and the daily sacrifice was taken away from the temple for 2,300 sacrifices at which time the temple was again cleansed (Dn 8:9-14). The daily sacrifice was made both morning and evening (Ex 29:38-39); therefore, this number of sacrifices would represent 1,150 days, or just slightly over 3 years.
Daniel tried to understand this vision but could not, but then the angel Gabriel came forward and explained it to Daniel (Dn 8:15-17). The ram was the kingdom of Media and Persia and the he-goat was Greece (Dn 8:20-21). Alexander the Great conquered the then known world very quickly with little resistance and did all of this by the age of 32 but then died in Babylon in 323 BC. When he died, his kingdom went into civil war until 315 BC when four of the generals divided Alexander’s kingdom up among themselves: (1) Ptolemy Lagi ruled over Egypt, Palestine, and Arabia. He was assisted by a general named Seleucus, who had originally been given Babylon, but who was later forced out by Antigonus. (2) Antigonus controlled Syria, Babylonia, and central Asia. (3) Cassander ruled over Macedonia and Greece. (4) Lysimachus was the ruler of Thrace and Bythinia. However, civil war continued among the generals until the battle of Ipsus in 301 BC which left the kingdom into, again, 4 major parts but somewhat different rulers: Empire of the Ptolomies (mainly Egypt but also included Israel and southern Syria), Empire of Seleucids (mainly Persia), Empire of Lysimichus (mainly Asia Minor), Empire of Greece and Macedonia ruled by Antigonus II Gonatas.
The Seleucid Empire gained control of Palestine in 198 BC during the Seleucid reign of Antiochus III the Great who took control over from Ptolemy V Epiphanes (meaning “illustrious one”). In 190 BC Antiochus the Great had a major battle with Rome and had to pay dearly for the defeat including his son Antiochus IV being taken to Rome. When Antiochus the Great died, Seleucus IV took the throne. In order to pay Rome, he taxed his subjects heavily. In Israel, Onias the High Priest resisted the Seleucids but his brother Jason tried to get on their good side so that he could usurp his brother and become High Priest. In 175 BC, Antiochus IV murdered Seleucus IV and took control. He named himself Antiochus Epiphanes and took Jason up on his offer, removed Onias from the position as High Priest and instated Jason in that position. Later Menelaus offered Antiochus IV more money so Jason was out and Menelaus was in. Those of the Hasidim (“the pious ones”) who were trying to live righteously were outraged
at these events and labeled Antiochus IV “Epimenes” (“the madman”). Antiochus IV tried to retake Egypt from the Ptolomies, but at one point Rome forced him to retreat which enraged him greatly and he took his frustration out on Jerusalem. This was not entirely rash as he hated the Jews because most were resistant to him. He tore down part of the city wall, defiled the temple by having sex with prostitutes within the temple and punished many of the Jews for their practices and later offered a pig on the temple altar and set up a statue of Zeus within the temple. According to 1 Maccabees, this occurred on the 15th day of the 9th month (Kislev) (i.e., December 15, 168 BC).This was the final straw that started the Maccabean Revolt.
Antiochus Epiphanes’ persecution on the Jews escalated. One army delegation was sent to the village of Modein, about 17 miles northwest of Jerusalem. Mattathias Maccabaeus, the leader and priest of the city was expected to offer a sacrifice to honor Antiochus’ pagan gods. When Mattathias refused, another Jewish man agreed to do so fearing for the people’s lives. Mattathias in a zealous rage killed the man before he could make the sacrifice and then killed the army soldiers. The revolt had begun. This continued for 3 years under the leadership of Mattathias’ five sons: John, Simon, Judas, Eleazer, and Jonathan. According to 1 Maccabees, on the 25th day of the 9th month (Kislev) (i.e., December 25, 165 BC), slightly over 3 years after Antiochus Epiphanes had defiled the temple’s altar, Judas Maccabaeus was able to free Jerusalem from Seleucid control. This time period between the desecration and cleansing of the temple equates exactly to the time specified in Daniel’s vision (Dn 8:14). The Greek calendar had an intercalary month every other year with each regular year containing 360 days (30 days per month). Therefore, two years with intercalary months and one regular year plus 10 days equals exactly 1,150 days. It is interesting, yet prophetic confirming, that although Daniel did not know or use the Greek calendar when he had the vision, God knew the future and knew what type of calendar would be used during the fulfillment of the prophecy given.
Judas Maccabaeus had the temple rededicated and this event became known and celebrated as Hanukkah, also called the Feast of Lights or the Feast of Dedication (Jn 10:22). Antiochus Epiphanes then sent his general Lysias with instructions to wipe out the Jews. Lysias with 120,000 men and 32 war elephants met Judas Maccabeus and his small band of rebels 10 miles southwest of Jerusalem and Judas’ men were unable to prevail. However, Lysias received word that the Seleucid capital was under siege so he made an agreement with Judas that the Jews could worship as they pleased if they continued to remain politically loyal to the Seleucid empire and Judas agreed. As recorded in 1 Maccabees, the news of the failed conquest put Antiochus Epiphanes in such shock that it made him physically ill, and he never recovered even though it seems that in the end he regretted his actions and felt that his dying was payment for what he had done.
Gabriel also told Daniel that this vision he had experienced was also of the last days (Dn 8:17). Therefore, it seems that Antiochus Epiphanes was a prototype of the Antichrist yet to come. They have many similarities: both will have power over the earth, be satanically influenced, will wage war with the holy people and cause them to be destroyed in the name of peace, will desecrate the temple, and will proclaim himself to be as God and therefore be at war with God Himself, but will not ultimately succeed (Dn 8:24-25). Daniel was told that these events would not occur for some time, but the vision affected him so greatly that he was physically sick for some days but then recovered and went about his daily work (Dn 8:26-27).
Jesus also speaks of this in what has become known as his Olivet Discourse (Mt 24-25). His disciples had asked him what would be the signs of the time when he would set up his earthly kingdom. Therefore, Jesus was telling them of what to expect to happen shortly before his second coming. For one of these signs, Jesus spoke of an end-time vision given to Daniel (Mt 24:15) where an "abomination that causes desolation" (Dn 9:27) will be set up within the temple - a similar event that Antiochus Epiphanes performed earlier in history. This would be a sign of much suffering to come for Israel and those able should flee for their lives. Therefore, it seems the first Hanukkah was prophetic for what will occur during the time known as the Great Tribulation when the Antichrist will cause such great suffering on this earth.
Hanukkah is mentioned one other place in the Bible and is called the Feast of Dedication (Jn 10:22). It was called Feast of Dedication because the temple was cleansed and rededicated to God on that first Hanukkah. Tradition has it that there was just enough olive oil for the temple menorah for one day but it lasted for eight days to give the priests time to prepare more consecrated olive oil for the temple. Whether this miracle occurred or not I am not sure anyone really knows, but it does demonstrate that God provides. Actually, this was the message that Jesus had on that Hanukkah when he taught the people and the Jewish leaders at the temple that day. Jesus stated that God had provided for his people and sent them the Messiah to whom they had looked for millennia. Jesus told them that his works proved from where he came, he would provide eternal life to all those who would believe in him, and he and the Father were one and the same (Jn 10:25-30). There is no other way these claims could be true if he and God were not equal. He even proved to them that even David knew that his Messiah would be equal to God Himself (Jn 10:34-38; Ps 82:6). Unfortunately, the Jewish leaders would not believe. They had just lit the menorah which gave light but could not see the light that was right in front of them. Let us not do the same.
Twelfth Day of Christmas: Epiphany