Jesus is our Hope
Dear friend in the Messiah,
Shalom in His peace, Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas!
Most of what we know about Hanukkah comes from the writings of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus and the apocryphal books of 1 and 2 Maccabees, which Jewish people and Christians view as history, not Scripture.
Though Hanukkah is not one of the major festivals listed in Leviticus 23, it was a recognized Jewish holiday when our Messiah walked the earth. The apostle John explicitly mentions the Feast of Dedication—Hanukkah—in John 10:22. Jesus celebrated the holiday and used it as the occasion for one of His most straightforward statements of His deity, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).
The Hanukkah Story
Allow me to present a brief summary of the holiday story.
We begin with the role of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Syrian Greek ruler of the Holy Land during the second century bce. He persecuted Jewish people, trying in every way to turn the children of Israel into Hellenists and worshipers of the pantheon of false Greek gods. His nickname among Jewish people was Antiochus the Madman, and he did not win many popularity contests in Israel at the time!
He sent representatives to towns throughout Israel, demanding Jewish people bow to his statue as an expression of their political and religious loyalty. As with similar pagan leaders, Antiochus presented himself as a god and not as a mere mortal.
The Jewish citizenry in the little town of Modi’in, still a vibrant city today in modern Israel, refused to bow to the pressure of idolatry. They killed the emissaries of Antiochus and began three tough years of guerilla warfare led by the Levitical priest Mattathias and his sons, whom we know as the Maccabees. They won the war and overthrew Antiochus’ rule over Israel. However, the Maccabees discovered Antiochus had commanded his soldiers to slaughter a pig on the holy altar within the Temple. This desecration was tragic and infuriated Judah Maccabee and his small cadre of priestly warriors.
Judah and his brothers considered cleansing the altar but tore it down to the last stone and built a replacement altar instead.
The Miracle of the Oil
In Jewish tradition, there is another story of a miracle taking place at the same time. It seems the Maccabees only had enough olive oil to fuel the eternal light in the Temple for one day, and it took eight days to crush the olives and cure the oil to make a new batch. The great miracle of Hanukkah is the one day of oil lasting for eight, which is why we celebrate Hanukkah for eight nights. This tale is wonderful and charming, but since this miracle does not appear in the Bible, we cannot be sure it really happened. Nevertheless, I grew up enjoying this story as it became the basis for receiving eight presents during the holiday—one for each night!
Soon after becoming a believer in November 1970, I began to ponder the relationship between Hanukkah, the holiday with which I was raised, and Christmas, a holiday brand new to me. The holidays were just around the corner, and as a new Jewish believer, I felt I had to choose between the two. Often, our friends and family who do not know the Lord believe the holidays identify whether you are a Jewish person or a Christian when we know we can be both! We have a saying I like, “Christmas is really a Jewish holiday,” which celebrates the birth of the Jewish Messiah and Savior of the world.
Parallels between Hanukkah and Christmas
Some of my brothers and sisters might differ on the date and details of Christmas and various traditions associated with the season. Yet, we all agree Jesus—or Yeshua (His Hebrew name)—was born of a Jewish virgin, as Isaiah predicted (Isaiah 7:14).
He is God in the flesh, and the deliverance we experience through Him is greater than the deliverance Jewish people experienced at the first Hanukkah. Our salvation brings the gift of eternal life and enables us to overcome slavery to sin and death. The national deliverance celebrated during Hanukkah commemorates the deliverance of Jewish people from Greco-Syrian rule and a return to self-governance.
Both are wonderful, but there is no comparison between the two, as Jesus Himself said, “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
These two great holidays are “joined at the hip,” yet the bonds go much further than giving presents, lighting candles, and even the wonderful family togetherness we enjoy during this season.
The most profound linkage is this . . . if it were not for Hanukkah, there would be no Christmas. Had Antiochus destroyed all Jewish people during the first Hanukkah, the Messiah could not have been born to a Jewish virgin, as promised.
God Preserves His People
We might also look at the continued existence of the nation of Israel as another Hanukkah miracle! Every year, Hanukkah reaffirms our belief in God’s faithfulness to His covenants and promises (Genesis 12:1–3 ff.). The Lord will keep His covenant with Israel—His chosen people will never be destroyed (Jeremiah 31:35–37; Romans 11:29).
We can never forget what happened to innocent Israelis on October 7, 2023. Hamas terrorists crossed into Israel with the sinister purpose of destroying human life in the most gruesome ways. They came to kidnap, rape, and slaughter—in effect, trying to burn Israel to the ground. The attacks were inhuman!
The hatred of Jewish people we see today is part of the devil’s plot to destroy Jewish people, embarrass God, and prevent Israel from fulfilling her role in the plan of God!
Jewish people have been the object of Satan’s ire for millennia, and the evil one has used complicit nations to attack His chosen people. We know the battle will be over one day as our one true and all-powerful Messiah, the son of David, will ascend His rightful throne to reign as King over a redeemed and renewed earth.
The Lord promised to preserve His people:
Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; the Lord of hosts is His name: “If this fixed order departs from before Me,” declares the Lord, “then the offspring of Israel also will cease from being a nation before Me forever.” Thus says the Lord, “If the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth searched out below, then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 31:35–37)
We need to remember the future is glorious, according to the prophets of Israel. Isaiah wrote, “The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; and you will be called by a new name which the mouth of the Lord will designate. You will also be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God” (Isaiah 62:2–3).
Hope During War!
We have hope for tomorrow, but we also are grateful for all He is doing today during the difficult and dark days of war. The staff of Your Mission to the Jewish People in Israel is providing love and comfort, meeting both the physical and spiritual needs of those Israelis suffering during the war.
We are serving Israelis who are displaced and evacuated from their homes active soldiers who need blankets, toiletries, food, and more. We are also serving the elderly by providing nourishment and spiritual comfort. So many of them cannot even make it to bomb shelters. They are alone and scared and desperately need our prayers and the comfort that only God can give.
I recently heard from one of our staff serving the Lord in the North, where they are under attack from Hezbollah operating in Southern Lebanon.
Here in Nahariya, we are in a war and waiting for the fighting to spread. Nahariya is a massive military base, and the IDF has set up fighting points on the beaches and main highway. There are armed soldiers all over the place.
The artillery fire on the border six miles away can be seen and heard almost every day. Surprisingly, there have only been two red alerts in the past two weeks. I am reminded we are at war, and the artillery is a harsh reminder.
Pierre and I have been out giving away our soldier gift bags, which have been well received. We are preparing a second wave of gift bags. Or HaGalil Congregation is holding regular meetings and trying to encourage one another.
Highlights of the
in Israel Today
Without question, the present growth and maturing of the believing community in Israel is the work of God. As we consider the history of ministry in Israel, we can learn some important lessons about how the Holy Spirit works. Since the rise of the modern Messianic movement in the 1970s, many faithful servants of God have sacrificially spread the gospel across the Holy Land.
Ministry to children and youth has especially built up the church in Israel. To appreciate the scope of ministry in Israel today, we spoke with a few key leaders who have their hands on the pulse of the state of the Messianic community in Israel today. They lead children’s camps, disciple young adults, and have provided war relief to hundreds of people in Israel over the past several months.