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Monday, December 21, 2009

A Reflection on Jesus, Chanukah, and Salvation

When I was younger, the discovery that the Jewish holiday of Chanukah is mentioned in the New Testament came as quite a surprise.

And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And
Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch. (John 10:22-23).

The purpose of this is to call attention to Jesus’ redemptive work. Redemption brings us back to an ancient Near Eastern world, in which people go into bondage due to their inability to repay debts. However, they have hope in a wealthy kinsman who may discharge their debts and redeem them from slavery.

How then, is Jesus work like this?

The feast of Chanukah—first mentioned in the apocryphal books of the Maccabbees-- celebrates the re-dedication of the Jerusalem temple to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel after that center of Judaism had been defiled by pagan rites under the Greek Seleucid emperors. Once again, the sacred place was used by the Jews to present their sacrifices; once again it was the place of atonement. The Judaism into which Jesus was born was not an easy, laissez-faire religion; but one with a very deep and pervasive sense of the seriousness of sin, and the need for atonement. The temple, unlike a synagogue or church, was not a place primarily for prayer and teaching, but for sacrifice—and these animal sacrifices of the Old Testament addressed the need for atonement. A great historical drama appears in the history of the Jews after the Babylonian exile, in which joy at being restored to the land and permitted by the Persian Empire to rebuild their temple, followed by the sudden revocation of their privileges under the Seleucid Antiochus. No wonder the successful revolt of the priestly family of Judah the Hammer caught the imagination of devout Jews to the point where they made a prominent holiday out of an event not mentioned or enjoined in the Hebrew Bible itself.

In John 10, Jesus discusses his person and mission. He speaks of giving his life for his sheep, giving them eternal life, and how no man is able to pluck his sheep from his Father’s hand (John. 10:29). This is a quick outline of the redemptive work Jesus performed for us. His death is a sacrifice rather than martyrdom, for he is offering himself not as dissenter, but as the Anointed of God by whose wounds and stripes his people are healed (Isaiah 53). In this he fulfills his role as the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). He takes us from the dominion of sin and death to return us to his God and Father. So great is the debt our sins have piled up that it cannot be discharged save by one infinitely greater, more holy, and more righteous who takes it on himself. In this, he is our redeemer from sin. For this, the Messiah was named Jesus—Yehoshua—or “Jehovah saves” (Mt. 1:21).

Just as Judah the Hammer and his family rededicated the temple after its defilement, let us rededicate ourselves to our God, showing thankfulness for the redemption he sent when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Let Jesus be our true temple and the presence of God with us. Immanuel.


  1. Thanks Peter, that gives me much to meditate on.

  2. Thanks, Craig. I visited your blog and saw that you were reading Unamuno. My father also made much of Unamuno's _Tragic Sense of Life_. Now I have to read it. However, I'm still struggling with Spinoza.