In my service for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, one of the things I set out to accomplish this fall was to study the subject of Hanukkah in order to bring special messages on that topic.
With God’s help, I was able to do so in three churches, along with sharing the material in a Bible study group that I teach regularly—and I have greatly enjoyed the experience!
As I strive to make clear when I present educational Passover Seder demonstrations, as well, I am not Jewish by heritage, nor do I claim to have any personal background that bestows expertise in the historical, religious and cultural aspects of these issues. But, as I always say, I am a Bible teacher, and thus I have the ability to research and speak before congregations in these vital areas.
As I have studied and taught on the origin, meaning and significance of Hanukkah this year, however, I have become overwhelmed with the reality that the events of the Hanukkah story are absolutely essential to our understanding, as Christians, of the New Testament, the gospels and the life of Christ.
But this revelation has also left me pondering on a question.
Why do we seem to know so little about Hanukkah—when the elements behind it are ultimately foundational to the storyline of the Bible? It is really quite remarkable—almost shameful—that we are not exceedingly familiar with them for that reason alone. This is to say nothing of the need to learn about Hanukkah for the purpose of relating to our Jewish friends at one of their most important seasons of the year.
Read Part 3.
Light is essential for life, and light is a central subject in the Bible. It literally bookends the storyline, from its creation (Gen. 1:3-4) to the point where it becomes obsolete—aside from the light that emanates from the Son of God Himself (Isa. 60:19-20; Rev. 21:23).
In between, He is “the light of the world” (John 8:12; 9:5; see 12:46). As such, He is “the light of men” (John 1:4), and “the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world” (John 1:9).
The word light is found 180 times in the Old Testament and 98 times in the New Testament—with 20 of those uses appearing in the gospel of John. Truly, we could sum his gospel up in this one verse, which has been our theme in this series: “The light shines in the darkness” (John 1:5).
As God’s people waited for centuries in darkness (Isa. 8:22; 9:2; Matt. 4:16), they often experienced fear and hopelessness (Ps. 88:1, 6, 18; 143:3). Oh, there was certainly light available, as we have seen. At times, it was even brilliant and blazing (Ex. 33:18-23; 34:29-35). The nation of Israel found light for guidance in the law that God had revealed (Ps. 119:105) and in the presence of God Himself (Ps. 27:1). Still, in the grand scheme of history, the darkness was palpable. All of the centuries before the Messiah came were a time of waiting and watching “for the morning” (Ps. 130:5-6).
I have never been a stargazer, at least not in the sense that some are. I have known people who will brave any kind of weather and stay up all night to watch for the appearance of some unique star.
But, while I admire their beauty and am amazed at their nearly incomprehensible qualities, stars have never been my hobby—to say nothing of my passion. Suffice it to say, I would need another lifetime, and greatly increased interest, to become any kind of an expert on the stars.
It is necessary, however, that we recognize the importance that the Bible places upon the stars. The description of their very creation demonstrated the vital role that they would play all throughout history (Gen. 1:14). Stars were at the center of the episode that once and forever demonstrated the significance of the covenant that God made with Abraham (Gen. 15:1-6). This same event bears a critical role in our understanding of the central Biblical concept of justification by faith (Rom. 4:1-25).
Read Part 1.
As the darkness gives way to the daylight, we notice long shadows—perhaps moving directly upon us.
Shadows have the capacity to unnerve—even frighten us. Sometimes the shadows may be mistaken for something real. At other times, something real may be hiding in the shadows.
Shadows make us uncomfortable. They represent incompleteness and uncertainty—”variation or shadow of turning” (Js. 1:17).
Shadows create a sense of darkness. In reality, however, the shadows prove the existence of the light—although it is hidden from view.
As the Old Testament saints looked ahead toward the ineffable brilliance of their Messiah’s first coming, they saw enormous signs between it and them, casting shadows back upon them.
There were gigantic figures like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Samuel, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Daniel. These men, and others who followed their examples, pointed—albeit in a very finite and limited way—to the coming of the One that God had promised to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15, the “Seed” of “the woman.”
Darkness, to our sight, corresponds to silence, in our hearing. It is the absence of any stimulus to inform, direct or encourage us.
But darkness also entails a moral component. Darkness, by its very nature, spreads a covering over sin (see John 3:19-21; 8:12; 12:35, 46; Eph. 5:11-14).
Furthermore, darkness is symbolic of Satan and evil, as Jesus stated during his arrest in Luke 22:53: “This is your hour, and the power of darkness.”1 The Apostle Paul also referenced this theme regarding the depravity of the human heart in Ephesians 5:8, stating: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” Other passages that use the same imagery include Isaiah 5:20, Matthew 27:45 and Acts 26:18.
Beyond that, darkness may picture hell itself—even the eternal lake of fire (see Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30).
The word darkness appears 99 times in the Old Testament and 42 times in the New Testament. Darkness represents ignorance and frustration—even despair (see Isa. 42:6-7; 58:10: 59:9). Darkness is ominous and threatening—indicating impending danger (see Isaiah 8:22; 45:7; 60:2).
The declining daylight at this time of year reminds us in a tangible way of the darkness that God’s people felt as they waited for their Messiah to arrive. This was sensed most keenly during the 400 silent years that followed the last utterance of true, Biblical, prophetic revelation that was given before Christ.