Hanukkah and the Desecration of the Temple

Hanukkah and the Desecration of the Temple

Imagine the scene:
The blasphemous king ascends the steps of the Temple in Jerusalem. He has conquered the nation of Israel and now wants to eradicate the Jews by eradicating Judaism. The king enters the Temple, declares himself to be God manifest on earth, and then sacrifices a pig upon the holy altar. He follows up this abominable act by requiring every Jew to present copies of the Bible for burning.

If you are thinking that this is describing the coming of the antichrist, you are only partially correct. The king is actually Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a pagan king who conquered Israel in the 2nd century BC. He desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem and used his full political force to destroy the Jewishness of the Jewish people. None of this took God by surprise; in fact, it was actually prophesied by the prophet Daniel hundreds of years before. Daniel 11:31 speaks of a coming king who would set up an “abomination of desolation” in the Temple and would do blasphemous things, and most interpreters agree that this is a reference to Antiochus.

But this section of Daniel is often confusing to believers. Many of the things in chapters 11 and 12 were not accomplished during the reign of Antiochus, not least of all the tribulation and the resurrection of the dead! In addition to this, there are several other references in Daniel that refer to the “abomination of desolation” (Dan. 9:27, 12:11, cf. 8:13) without a clear picture of how they match up. How can all of this refer to Antiochus?

The Jewish authors of 1 Maccabees (in the Apocrypha—biblical writings not part of the accepted canon of Scripture) believed that Antiochus’ actions in the Temple were the “abomination of desolation” prophesied by Daniel (1 Mac. 1:54). This act of sacrilege left the Temple defiled, requiring that the Temple be purified and rededicated to God. After God enabled the Jewish people to defeat Antiochus, they purified the Temple and decided to enact a new celebration to remember the Temple’s restoration: The Feast of Dedication, as it is called in John 10:22, or Hanukkah, as it is called today.

Yet, as we should expect from the Lord, Yeshua takes the common Jewish understanding of Daniel in a whole new direction. He refers to the “abomination of desolation” several times (Mt. 24:15, Mk. 13:14, cf. Lk. 21:20), but always speaks of it in the future tense. Instead of referring the phrase back to Antiochus, Yeshua has His listeners look ahead. One day, a king even greater, and even worse, than Antiochus will stand in the Temple of God—the antichrist. Yeshua does not deny that Daniel 11:31 refers to Antiochus; rather, for Yeshua, Antiochus is merely a foreshadowing, or a type, of the greatest enemy of God’s people.

This should not be a cause for despair, especially during this Hanukkah season. The sovereign hand of God enabled the Jewish people to rise up and defeat Antiochus, and we celebrate Hanukkah still to this day because of it. Think of it—thousands of years later, and still we celebrate! How much more will we celebrate when God brings His great and awesome deliverance from the antichrist through His Messiah? That battle will be over before it begins (2 Thes. 2).

If Antiochus is merely a foreshadowing of the antichrist, then the joy of Hanukkah is a foreshadowing of Yeshua returning and bringing the full deliverance of His kingdom! During this holiday season, that is something to look forward to!