A Hanukkah Challenge

Staff - Life in MessiahBy Staff - Life in MessiahDecember 16, 20227 Minutes

Information from surprising or unlikely sources often teach us lessons not soon forgotten.

When was the last time you opened the New Testament to learn something important about Hanukkah?[1] If you’re thinking this may seem like an unlikely place to start, read on. You may be surprised!

Believe it or not, Hanukkah is indeed mentioned in the New Testament – and in connection with Jesus! This should not be surprising. After all, Jesus is Jewish. And the New Testament – just like the Tanakh[2] – was given to us from God through the Jewish people.

The New Testament mention of Hanukkah is found in John chapter 10:

At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple area, in the portico of Solomon. The Jews then surrounded Him and began saying to Him, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Messiah, tell us plainly” (John 10:22-24 [NASB]).

It might be easy to shake one’s head in puzzlement and think, So, what’s significant about the mention of Hanukkah (the Feast of Dedication) here?

The key to understanding its importance in this passage is the context: the where, when, why, and what.

Jesus is in Jerusalem three to four months before Passover (when He will be sacrificed as the Lamb of God!). He was in the Temple area during the festival commemorating the heroics of Judah the Maccabee[3] and his followers.

[In the second century BC a Syrian king[4] had desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem and tried to force pagan worship on the people of Israel. The Maccabean Revolt led by Judah defeated these forces, driving them out of Judea. The Temple was cleansed and rededicated for the Lord’s service. Judah became known as a “savior” for defeating the forces of the Seleucid Empire[5] that had subjugated the Jewish people.]

In John 10 we read that Jesus was now in the same place where these events took place . . . and at a time in history when Israel again was ruled by an oppressive Gentile kingdom! Jesus had performed miracles and confronted religious leadership. The Jewish people may have been wondering: Could this be the next Judah Maccabee – or perhaps one even greater? The time was ripe for messianic expectations in Israel!

Jesus knew the thoughts and desires of His people. It was no coincidence that He chose this time and place to give a message in which He identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd.[6]

Jesus wanted the people to know who He was and what they truly needed. His words echoed the words of the prophets Ezekiel, [7] Jeremiah, [8] Isaiah, [9] Zechariah, [10] and others. His self-identifying words were meant to open the eyes and ears of the Jewish people.

Now at Hanukkah Jesus stands in the portico of Solomon[11] where teachers of the Law spent their time. One could look out over the court of the Gentiles, which lay between the portico and the area where sacrifices took place. Here Jesus taught about the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep. And He spoke of His sheep from another field whom He would bring in as well, making the two into one flock.

Jesus’ words were clear: He was the Shepherd of Israel of whom the prophets spoke. He would lay down His life – as the prophets foretold. Other sheep (Gentiles) would be included in His flock because of His sacrifice. Indeed, this Shepherd would have His flock lie down in green pastures, lead them by quiet waters, restore their souls, and enable them to dwell in the house of the LORD forever.[12]

When people asked Jesus to plainly tell them if he was the Messiah, He told them He had already proved this through the wondrous works He had done. He once again asserted His total identification with the Father, claiming “I and the Father are one.” [13]

Hanukkah does not point to Jesus. But Jesus used this special festival to declare that more than another Judah Maccabee, the Jewish people needed the Good Shepherd. In His generation, as today, people wanted the King Messiah to reign in power and might.

But first, Messiah needed to come as the Suffering Servant to provide an atoning sacrifice, laying down His life for His sheep. Then, by faith in what Messiah Jesus has accomplished through His death and resurrection, anyone could now enter through “the Door”[14] into a right relationship with God through the forgiveness of sin He provides.

So, here is our Hanukkah Challenge: will you choose to lean deeper into the words of the Good Shepherd by investigating for yourself the Scriptures we’ve cited? You may be surprised by what you find this holiday season as you ask God to open your eyes to the truths in His Word.

Written by Jeff, LIFE Staff  


[1] “Hanukkah” means “dedication” in Hebrew. The Feast of Dedication is also known as the Festival of Lights. See https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/hanukkah-history/,

[2] Tanakh is a Hebrew acronym for the Jewish Scriptures, aka Old Testament.

[3] Known in Greek as Judas Maccabeus; “maccabee” is “hammer” in Aramaic.

[4] Antiochus IV Epiphanes reigned from 175 to 164 BC.

[5] Following the death of Alexander the Great, the Greek Kingdom was divided between his four generals. Seleucus I Nicator ruled the Province of Syria (aka Coele-Syria), which included the Jewish homeland. His successors were known as Seleucids.

[6] 10:1-18 is an echo of Psalm 23 – where the Good Shepherd is the LORD Himself!

[7] Ezekiel 34:11-16.

[8] Jeremiah 31:10.

[9] Isaiah 49:1-11.

[10] Zechariah 13:7; Mark 14:27.

[11] Also called porch or colonnade.

[12] Psalm 23:1-6.

[13] John 10:30.

[14] John 10:9-10.