PROPHECY & A JEWISH HOLIDAY
Happy Thanksgivukkah! What in the world is that, you ask? Good question, because it’s a term that was just recently coined; one that went internet viral in just a few days—to explain an event that won’t occur on the Jewish/Roman calendars for another 77,000 years. The phrase is a clever mixture of the uniquely American Holiday of Thanksgiving with the exclusively Jewish celebration of Hanukkah, which just happened to coincide this year. The eight days of Hanukkah began on Thanksgiving eve, whereas usually Hanukkah more closely tracks on the calendar with the Christmas season. In fact, Hanukkah’s normal proximity to Christmas down through the ages has given rise to its increasing prominence, even sometimes referred to as the “Jewish Christmas” which, of course, it’s not. With one notable exception: both Hanukkah and Christmas emphasize lights … Menorah candles and Christmas tree lights, respectively.
We all know about the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving. Although most have heard the term Hanukkah (Happy Hanukkah) not too many know what it means … why it has become one of two enormously important holidays for Jews that are not part of the original seven festivals (as found in the books of Exodus and Leviticus) given by God through Moses and to Jews for generations thereafter. With the exception of the two most revered Jewish Holidays of Passover and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), these two events are the most widely celebrated throughout Israel and by Jews world-wide. *Note: Sukkot, (Feast of Tabernacles) comes close.
The first non-Mosaic celebration is called Purim and occurs mostly in our month of February. It is a jubilant celebration of God’s deliverance of the Jews from genocide at the hands of the wicked Persian official, Haman. You remember the story: God, through a Jewish government official named Mordecai asked (pleaded with) Queen Esther (approximately 483 BC) to daringly approach and appeal to King Xerxes to spare the Jews from annihilation. At risk of her very life, she accepted the challenge to deliver her people for “such as time as this.”
The second post-Mosaic festival celebration of Hanukkah became a vital part of Jewish tradition following the stunning campaign of a Jewish priest named Mattathias, his five sons, and a relatively small group of followers—later to be known as the Maccabees—against a vastly superior force of Syrian Greeks led by Antiochus IV (historians estimate the Jews were outnumbered a thousand to one). This evil ruler reigned over the northern kingdom, one of four kingdoms that emerged from Alexander the Great’s fragmented empire. Historians recognized the impossible odds facing the Maccabees, which is why the final victory through a series of battles is considered miraculous. But then another miracle occurred, which is as much of an integral part of Hanukkah as the defeat of the Greeks: the supply of oil to keep the Menorah candles burning for eight days. So, what is so supernatural about that? Because the fact is: The Maccabees found only enough oil for one day of candle burning!
Some Jewish rabbinical scholars maintain that the primary reason for celebrating Hanukkah is not necessarily the stunning military victory, nor even a one-day supply of oil lasting for eight days. Rather, they assert: It is to remember the remarkable renewal of the (2nd) Temple back to its consecrated holiness for and service to God, before Antiochus IV defiled it with pagan sacrifices; not the least of which was his order to erect a statue of Zeus in the Temple followed by the sacrifice of a pig to insult the Jews and blaspheme their God.
The resistance began in 167 BC, when Mattathias refused to comply with a decree to offer a sacrifice to a pagan idol. When a Jew (there were many Jews who had resigned themselves to subservience to Antiochus IV and the Syrian Greeks, to the extent that they abandoned God and their faith in Him to appease their captors) began to comply with the Syrian order of idol sacrifice, Mattathias killed the Jew and ripped down the idol. Then he and his five sons escaped to the hills of Judea and began their revolt against the cruel Greeks.
In 164 BC, Mattathias’ third son, Judah Maccabee, with his band of freedom fighters, defeated the Greek armies, recaptured the Temple, and then cleansed the Temple. On the 25th day of Kislev (which is the Jewish calendar month that overlaps our months of November and December), the menorah was rekindled and for eight days the Jews celebrated the Temple’s renewal. In fact, the Hebrew word hanuka basically means the inauguration or rededication of the Temple on Kislev 25th.
Antiochus IV Epiphanes
Obviously it was the sacrilegious brutality of the Seleucid Empire in general and Antiochus IV in particular that led to the Jewish revolt and recapture of their sacred Temple. Which, in turn, initiated the annual observance of this magnificent accomplishment through Hanukkah, a Holy Day (holiday) that is passionately celebrated to this very day. Were you aware that the Bible predicted the rise of Alexander the Great, then the division of his empire into four kingdoms (one of which was the Seleucid dynasty)? Of course. you say; It’s all found in Daniel Chapters 2 and 7 … complements of Nebuchadnezzar’s vision of the monumental statue and Daniel’s terrifying vision of the four beasts; that the third beast represented Alexander the Great’s ancient Greece. And you would be totally right on!
But did you also know that two other chapters in the amazing book of Daniel provide extensive prophetic facts on two of the four lesser empires (the Seleucids in Syria and the Ptolemy’s of Egypt) that emerged after Alexander’s sudden and early death? The prophecies of the ram and goat, of the one large and four prominent horns, of the king(s) of the north and king(s) of the south and all of the intricate future events explained in Daniel Chapters 8 & 11 were explicitly fulfilled over a period of time some 200-375 years later … during the reigns of Antiochus II, Antiochus III the Great, Seleucus IV (Seleucids) and Ptolemy I, II, V, & VI (Egypt).
However, the most notorious of these rulers was Antiochus IV, whose deplorable exploits are recorded in Chapter 8 and then resumed in the 21st verse of the 11th chapter of Daniel that says: “The next to come to power will be a despicable man who is not in line for royal succession. He will slip in when least expected and take over the kingdom by flattery and intrigue.” Secular history confirms the amazing accuracy of Daniel’s prophecies. Then beginning primarily in Daniel 11:36 to the end of the chapter, this astounding prophecy switches from Antiochus IV to another future and later king, which clearly is the Antichrist—as later confirmed by the book of Revelation.
Antiochus IV given name was Mithridates; he assumed the name of Antiochus upon ascension to the throne, having succeeded his brother, Seleucus IV, although Seleucus’ son, Demetrius I Soter, should have been the rightful heir. Time and space boundaries of this article do not permit elaboration on how all these things took place, but it does allow for some highlights of what the Bible clearly portrays Antiochus IV to be: a representative prototype or precursor of the Antichrist, which in Daniel is called the “little horn” and a “prince who is to come.” Moreover, Antiochus IV was the first Seleucid king to inscribe divine epithets on coins. One example of these markings was the Greek word epiphanies which means, “Manifest god.” He arrogantly added that divine designation to his regal title, which is how he was known then and remembered in history … Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
The English word epiphany is almost an exact transliteration of the original Greek words, epiphaneia (appearance) or epiphainein (to manifest), and the parent Greek word, phainein (to show). Likewise, the modern definition and understanding of epiphany is an appearance or manifestation of a divine being. Biblical scholars have accurately and rightfully employed this word to explain the pre-incarnate appearances of Christ as found in several Old Testament passages, then later during the spectacular post-incarnate appearance of Jesus to John in the book of Revelation.
And, were you aware that it was an epiphany appearance of Christ to Daniel with the pre-incarnate Jesus interpreting the visions given to Daniel as recorded in Chapters 10 and 11. Some of Daniel’s other visions were interpreted by the angel Gabriel, but most of the prophecies that deal with the future rulers (Antiochus and the Antichrist—who we know is Nero) were explained by Christ, himself. And there’s a rock-solid reason for that: Who better or more qualified than Messiah, himself, to expose these two evil men, who would dare to manifest themselves as God or anti-Christ?
Comparisons of Antiochus IV & Antichrist
The hideous atrocities of Antiochus IV and Nero some 200 years later (only to be exponentially intensified when Nero returns at the outset of the Tribulation) are a matter of historical record. Whereas, Antiochus and his armies killed some 40,000 Jews (men, woman, and children in just three days of carnage), and Nero vented his wickedness by slaughtering thousands of Christians, we find extraordinary similarities between the two. To wit.
- Both tyrants set themselves up as gods; Nero carried and will again carry it one step farther, “…exalting himself and claiming to be greater than every god, even blaspheming the God of gods…” (Daniel 11:36). See Revelation 13:5-6.
- Both of these despots ascended to the throne but not as the rightful heir; rather through a series of unlawful and deceitful maneuvers.
- Both Antiochus IV (Daniel 11:31) and the man of lawlessness (II Thessalonians 2:4 & Matthew 24:15) would desecrate and defile the Jewish Temple by stopping the Jewish sacrifices and setting up a “sacrilegious object” … as applied to Antiochus, the 2nd Temple; as applied to Nero, the yet-to-be rebuilt 3rd Temple.
- Both would do battle with a king(s) of the south as explained in Daniel 11, with verses 40-42 applying to the Antichrist.
- Both would reward their allies by distributing plunder, wealth, and land, which is a rare thing for any dictator to do.
- After engaging their enemies to the south, both would return to their northern based empire by going through Israel and, while in the holy land, inflict great damage and destruction on Israel. This is exactly what Antiochus did to the Jews on his way back from war with Ptolemy VI of Egypt. (Daniel 11:28 for Antiochus and verses 41-42 for the latter king—Antichrist).
- Both would inexplicably halt their conquest of Israel because of alarming news from other battle fronts and their evil reigns would abruptly end. Their time would run out, because that was God’s plan for them. Antiochus IV died suddenly from a mysterious disease in 164 BC. Regarding Antichrist: “…But while he is there (meaning at Megiddo), his time will suddenly run out, and no one will help him” (Daniel 11:45). See also Revelation 19: 19-21.
Of course there a few dissimilarities, because they are two distinct rulers and operate in different periods of time. But in parallel terms of character flaws, egotism, pride, godlessness, brutality, they are two wicked peas in a warped pod.
It wouldn’t surprise me … in fact, I fully expect Nero to put a stop to the sacrifices and offerings (Daniel 9:27) of the Jews during the time of the Great Tribulation at the beginning of or during the 8-day celebration of Hanukkah.
Understanding the Value of Prophecy
So then, what’s the significance of and application to us in today’s world? What does it matter that a Greek demigod of ancient times even existed or that yesterday’s and today’s Jews celebrate his demise and cherish the astounding events that returned the sacred Temple to their control? The answer is: RELEVANCY!
Prophecy creates an incredible connection between the past and the present; and it also marks a clear path for the future. From God’s vantage point (and as much as we can grasp with finite minds) what happened hundreds/thousands of years ago might as well have occurred last week. Thus, we can better understand the timeless attribute of our God, who knows the end from the beginning, who sees everything in the present tense. And then we remember that, “…A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day” (II Peter 3:8).
Once again, we see the fascinating link between events of long ago with what is happening in today’s world. Biblical prophecy and history combined with secular history shows us the profound significance of ancient Israel’s victory over the forces of an evil tyrant and its relevance to the nation of Israel down to this very generation. It is a time of thankful remembrance for God’s providential control over Gentile nations and corresponding deliverance of his special possession, Israel. The lighting of the Menorah reminds Jews all over the world that they were chosen to be a light to the nations. As Christians, we are grafted into the tree that is Israel. We are one new man (Jew and Gentile, one in Christ) in God’s eyes. Our very salvation comes from the Jewish Messiah, who is THE Light of the World.
And, we better understand and appreciate our God; who providentially brings everything together according to his magnificent plan for Israel and for the Church. In this case the evil ruler, Antiochus IV—who in a fit of rage over events in Egypt (King of the South) took out his vengeance and frustration on Jerusalem and the Temple—was almost an exact prototype of the coming ruler (Antichrist) who also will vent his anger on the Jewish people. “Then at the time of the end, the king of the south will attack the king of the north. The king of the north (Antichrist) will storm out with chariots, charioteers, and a vast navy. He will invade various lands and sweep through them like a flood. He will enter the glorious land of Israel, and many nations will fall…” (Daniel 11: 40-41).
By making these connections, the saints of the Tribulation period and a remnant of the Jews will wisely perceive the true intentions of Nero (Antichrist), who is essentially an exact replica (only on a global scale) of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. They will remember their history and fully realize that Daniel’s prophecy now applies historically to Antiochus and prophetically (during the Tribulation) to the beast. Here’s what Daniel said: “His army will take over the Temple fortress, pollute the sanctuary, put a stop to the daily sacrifices, and set up the sacrilegious object that causes desecration. He will flatter and win over those who have violated the covenant. But the people who know their God will be strong and will resist him” (Daniel 11: 31-32, italics for emphasis).
Then we see another correlation: Just like the miraculous victory of the Maccabees over Antiochus IV’s armies, and the equally miraculous burning of the Menorah lights for eight days with only one day’s supply of oil, so will The Light of the World (Messiah Jesus) completely conquer the Antichrist beast of Revelation and his armies. But this time, Messiah will come—not as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world—but as the Lion from the tribe of Judah, with power and great glory!
And we more passionately long for world-wide righteousness, justice, and peace that our glorious Messiah will bring in Daniel 7:14: “He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed.”
Thus, we learn even more that our Lord is completely trustworthy because what he says will happen, does happen; and what he says he will do, he does.
Things to Ponder
- I would never criticize anyone for not being all that interested in Biblical prophecy. In and of itself, there’s nothing erroneous about an indifference to prophecy. We’re not even supposed to judge someone for the bad things they do, let alone their personal preference for certain parts of the Bible. But to minimize or overlook prophetic passages in Scripture means that we’re missing approximately 1/3 of the entire Bible!