The Light Of The World

by Joseph Hunting

At the time when the Christmas rush is getting into high gear with its attendant commercial hysteria, there is a festival quietly observed in Jewish homes that is one of the most beautiful religious ceremonies.

This festival is called Chanukah, or the Festival of Lights, and has been observed by the Jewish people for over 2,000 years.

It may be surprising for some of our readers to know that the Christ of Christmas also observed the Jewish festival of Chanukah. John records: "And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication (Chanukah) , and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the Temple in Solomon's porch." (John 10:22-23)

Chanukah commences on the 25th of Kislev, the ninth month in the Jewish calendar, which corresponds to the Gentile month, December. Although the dates of Chanukah and Christmas correspond, it is there the similarity ceases.

On the 25th Kislev a candle is lit on a special eight-branched candle-stick, similar in design to the more familiar seven-branched Menorah. Then on each successive day another candle is lit until eight candles are aglow on the eighth day.


Nineteen centuries ago, when Jerusalem was crowded with worshippers who had come up to the Holy City to observe the Festival of Lights, the Messiah gave sight to a man born blind from birth, and again John records: "And as Jesus passed by He saw a man who was blind from his birth. And His disciples asked Him saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?

"Jesus answered, neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. I must work the works of Him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh when no man can work. As long as I am in the world I AM THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD." (John 9:1-5)

To understand the deeper meaning of Christ's claim that He was the Light of the world let us turn back the pages of Jewish history for the origin of Chanukah.

Two centuries before the observance of Chanukah described by John in the New Testament, Antiochus Epiphanes perpetrated shocking crimes against the Jewish people. Josephus the historian has left a record of cruelty and fiendish hatred of the Jewish people that could only be matched by the Nazis and their treatment of the Jews during the holocaust.

Among the acts of desecration committed by Antiochus was the offering of swine upon the altar in the Temple. And to add insult upon insult he ordered altars to be built in the cities and villages upon which swine were to be offered every day.

One Mattathias, a priest, was required to officiate at the offering of a pig upon the altar. He refused, whereupon a renegade priest offered to make the sacrifice. In a moment of righteous indignation Mattathias not only slew the priest, but also some of the soldiers standing by.

Realizing that his action would bring about certain death by torture, Mattathias fled to the wilderness with those Jews who supported his action. Then began a guerilla-type warfare against the armies of Antiochus, led by Mattathias and later by his son Judas, better known as Judas Maccabaeus (the hammer).

Judas led numbers of the Jews who revolted and moulded them into a mighty army. The enemy was defeated again and again. Finally Judas led his victorious army into Jerusalem and captured the Holy City. The Temple of God had been defiled, and he commenced the task of sanctifying the altars and the holy vessels.

When the task was completed, the Jewish warriors gathered together to re-dedicate the Temple, but to their dismay it was discovered that the golden seven-branched candle-stick had been stolen by Antiochus. Furthermore sufficient oil for only one day's burning was found.

With great joy an iron Menorah was made and the limited supply of oil was lit, and the Temple re-dedicated to the Lord on the 25th Kislev. To their amazement, the Menorah burned for eight consecutive days. Josephus records: "Now Judas celebrated the festival of the restoration of the sacrifices of the Temple for eight days and omitted no sort of pleasures thereon . . . and he honoured God by hymns and psalms. They were so very glad at the revival of their customs that they made it a law for their posterity, that they should keep a festival, on account of the restoration of their Temple worship for eight days."

There is a paradox in the anniversaries observed on the 25th Kislev and the 25th December. Tragically, the deeper significance of both has been obscured by tradition. For Jews and Christians alike, the "Light of the World " and the Christ of Christmas blend into the one majestic and peerless Messiah and Saviour Whose birth in Bethlehem was also illumined by the light of a Star.