The Feast of Dedication:
There were 400 years of prophetic silence between the last book of the Old Testament (Malachi) and the first book of the New Testament (Matthew). But many significant events occurred: from the development of the synagogue system, to the rise of the Pharisees and Sadducees, to the domination of Jerusalem by Rome.
None of those developments were more important than the events that gave rise to the feast of Hanukkah.
An Evil King
We pick up the story in 323 BC, the death of Alexander the Great at age 33. Leaving no heirs, Alexander’s kingdom was divided among his four generals: Seleucus, Ptolemy, Lysimachus and Cassander.
For the next two hundred years, the nation of Israel, which was a strategic land bridge between Asia and Africa, was tossed like a leaf in the wind between the Seleucid (Syria) and the Ptolemaic (Egypt) empires. In 171 BC, Antiochus IV, an evil king, arose over the Seleucid throne (Daniel 11:21).
Antiochus took on the name Epiphanes, or visible god, but quickly earned the nickname, Epimanes, or madman. Dark days of terror and persecution followed for the Jewish people. While many Jews fled to the wilderness, many thousands died at the hands of the madman.
In a foreshadowing of the final abomination of desolation that will be carried out by the Antichrist, Antiochus turned his attention to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (Daniel 11:31-32). Syrian soldiers hacked and smashed the porches and gates. They stripped the temple of its golden vessels and treasures, and on December 15, 158 BC Antiochus erected an idol of Zeus on the holy altar.
On the birthday of Zeus, December 25, Antiochus slaughtered a pig on the holy altar.
Rise of the Maccabees
The diabolical plan of Antiochus to Hellenize Israel and to eradicate Judaism continued in the towns of Israel until he ordered an altar to be built in the town of Modin (17 miles northwest of Jerusalem) to honor Zeus.
The soldiers ordered an aged priest, named Mattathias, to offer a pig on the altar. After he refused, an apostate Jewish priest asked permission to offer the pig. In defiance, Mattathias ran the sword through the priest and a soldier, and together with his five sons the revolt of the Maccabees began.
The Miracle of Hanukkah
For three years the siege of the Maccabees raged until the Jews scored stunning victories at Beth-heron and Emmaus, opening the road to Jerusalem. The holy altar was rebuilt and rededicated to the Lord exactly three years from the day it was defiled.
According to the Talmud (Shabbat 21b), the Maccabees found one small case of unpolluted oil which still bore the unbroken seal of the High Priest. It was only one day’s supply of oil for the golden lamp stand. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days.
The tradition of the eight days of Hanukkah began; a time of celebration and gifts.