Did Yeshua Celebrate Hanukkah?
Updated: Jan 7
Then came Hanukkah; it was winter in Jerusalem. Yeshua was walking in the Temple around Solomon’s Colonnade. ~John 10:22-23 (TLV)
A topic of growing debate today pertains to whether or not, based primarily on this lone statement from John 10, Yeshua celebrated the festival commonly known as Hanukkah, also traditionally called the Feast of Dedication and the Festival of Lights. Many argue that it is very clear that if He was at the Temple for this event, He was celebrating it. Others, however, insist that the mention of His presence does not mean anything more than He was there and it happened to be the time of this festival (more on that later).
I want to explore this for a moment and consider a few very important points about why it seems to be the logical conclusion that Yeshua absolutely was in the Temple specifically because it was Hanukkah and as such was likely there to participate in the celebration. If you don’t agree with my assessment, that’s fine. I am certainly not writing this to open up a big argument and I realize that Hanukkah is not one of the celebrations commanded of God’s people in Torah. I do, however, think that we can establish a solid biblical justification for this wonderful holiday, something we cannot do with the other winter holidays that originate from other religions.
The Walk To Jerusalem
I know this is a shocking revelation to many today, but Yeshua did not have a car. Motor vehicles are a modern invention that did not exist in first century Israel. People got around either riding on something like a camel or a horse or they walked.
In all likelihood Yeshua walked whenever He went to Jerusalem. The majority of His time in ministry was spent in the region known as the Galilee. While still in Israel, this area was not all that close to the city of Jerusalem.
I looked up the walking distance from Galilee to Jerusalem. It seems that a determined person could make the trip on foot in six days, while a person going at a more leisurely pace might take up to two weeks. So whenever Yeshua went to the city to visit the Temple, as we read about in various parts of the Gospel records, it was a major undertaking. In fact, it is very possible that every record of His presence in the Temple was connected to a biblical Festival since it seems there would be a very good reason for Him to make such a lengthy journey. Keep in mind as well that when referring to Hanukkah specifically, it was winter when He made the journey we are dealing with in this message. This means He walked from Galilee to Jerusalem during the most inclement time of the year, clearly He did this for a purpose.
The Big Announcement
Then the Judean leaders surrounded Him, saying, “How long will You hold us in suspense? If You are the Messiah, tell us outright!” Yeshua answered them, “I told you, but you don’t believe! The works I do in My Father’s name testify concerning Me. But you don’t believe, because you are not My sheep. My sheep hear My voice. I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life! They will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all. And no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” ~John 10:24-30 (TLV)
Here we have a very important part of the specific event brought to light and quite probably the very reason why John chose this particular Hanukkah to document and no others, even though Yeshua and His followers likely attended the festival every year. This year was different, however.
A question was posed to this Jewish Rabbi named Yeshua: Are you The Messiah?
The answer He gave was more than they anticipated. Not only did He choose in this moment, at the Feast of Dedication, to confirm that He was the Messiah. He took it a step further. He added: “I and the Father are one.”
Think about that for a moment. This man just told the Jewish leaders questioning Him: Not only am I the Messiah, but I am one with the Father. I AM GOD.
This must have taken the religious crowd by surprise. The Jewish people at this time felt that the Messiah would be a great military leader that would overthrow the Roman Empire. They felt he would be a man. A great man, but still a man. For someone to stand up and say that He is more than a man, that He and the Father are one, that seemed to be going too far.
It is no wonder the very next thing we read in the text is that these religious leaders picked up stones to execute Yeshua with. When He questioned this, reminding them of the good works He had done, they said that it was not for any good works they were stoning Him but because He blasphemed by calling Himself God (John 10:33).
Now, I realize there are people today who maintain that Yeshua is not God, but the Son of God. They are entitled to their opinion, but the accepted Judeo-Christian view is that Yahweh the Father, Yeshua the Son, and God’s Spirit of Holiness—Ruach HaKodesh—are all equally God. Regardless of Trinitarian and Unitarian debates, it is a minority that typically does not look at the broad picture of all Scripture on this matter who insist Yeshua has no deity within Him. I maintain that Yeshua holds God-status. If you disagree, you are entitled to your opinion but this is not a matter I am willing to debate about. The top religious leaders of this day of Hanukkah interpreted His words to mean He called Himself God, it's in the biblical record that way, I will go with that. If you are looking for a debate, I know ministers who do those and I will be glad to connect you with one.
No Flipped Tables, No Whips
The Jewish feast of Passover was near, so Yeshua went up to Jerusalem. In the Temple, He found the merchants selling oxen, sheep, and doves; also the moneychangers sitting there. Then He made a whip of cords and drove them all out of the Temple, both the sheep and oxen. He dumped out the coins of the moneychangers and overturned their tables. To those selling doves, He said, “Get these things out of here! Stop making My Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it is written, “Zeal for your House will consume Me!” John 2:13-17 (TLV)
Let’s take a look at a few things here. First of all, this was not a “questioned” festival we read about in John 2—it was The Passover. Second, once again we find Yeshua at the Temple, having made the journey starting in Galilee (vs. 11) and stopping off a few days in Capernaum (vs. 12). His mother, brothers, and disciples accompanied Him on this journey.
From there things begin to get interesting as He goes into the Temple and reacts to things He saw going on that He disapproved of. Mind you, this is a whole eight chapters before the recorded event of Hanukkah, so there was a good amount of time between when He was in the Temple for Passover and when He returned for Hanukkah—at least nine months, and that if both events happened in the same calendar year. However, it is more likely that a year and nine months are between these two events as John 6 mentions that Passover was near, likely the second of three Passover celebrations mentioned in John’s Gospel, the third being the one on which He would be crucified.
So we have it that Yeshua went into the Temple with a whip He had made. He began to chase people out, flip over the tables, dump out the money onto the ground, and scold everyone for their desecration of God’s Holy Temple.
This is interesting when contrasted with the event of Hanukkah in John 10. This event of turning over tables and chasing people with a whip is certainly not the only time we see Messiah rebuking the people. In Mark 7 we find three very interesting things said by Messiah about man-made traditions:
• Having left behind the commandment of God, you hold on to the tradition of men. (vs. 8)
• You set aside the commands of God, in order that you may validate your own tradition. (vs. 9)
• You make void the word of God with your tradition that you’ve handed down. (vs. 13)
Now, let’s think about this real hard for a moment. In John 10 we have the only festival not mentioned in The Bible prior to (unless you have a Bible that includes the Books of 1 & 2 Maccabees as apocrypha). We have established that Yeshua would have walked at least six days, probably more, in the middle of winter to get to the Temple from His home in Galilee. And we have an established precedent of Him rebuking unbiblical practices and man-made traditions that went against Scripture before this event of His presence at the Hanukkah celebration. If He was not in the Temple to engage in the celebration of Hanukkah, certainly there would have been some more tables being flipped over, some more yelling at people, and some more chasing people around with a whip. If He was there to stand against the festival, I assure you the Gospels would make us well aware of it. But that’s not what we read in John 10. On the contrary, we see Yeshua teaching the people and announcing Himself as the Messiah—The Light of the World (John 8) chose to reveal Himself as such at the Festival of Lights!
I think it is very apparent that Yeshua approved of and celebrated Hanukkah. Being a celebration not previously mentioned in the accepted canon of Scripture, this begs another important question during the winter holiday season: Would or does Yeshua approve of the modern winter holiday known as Christmas.
Would Yeshua Celebrate Christmas?
I was listening to an online discussion conducted by a prominent Messianic Jewish ministry about when Yeshua was born. The two major focus points were the winter “Christmas” tradition of December 25th (or January 6th in some parts of the world, based on the Eastern Orthodox tradition) and the biblical Feast of Tabernacles. A few Messianic ministries propose the Nativity took place during Passover, but that was not mentioned in this particular talk. In the discussion, one of the individuals addressing the matter said that since Yeshua “put His stamp of approval on Hanukkah, it would seem logical that He would also approve of Christmas”. I see a number of problems with this line of thinking.
First of all, while it is debated about whether or not the books of 1 & 2 Maccabees should be accepted as canon of Scripture they do record events in the history of Israel that play an important role in the record of what clearly is a part of Scripture and the Gospel records. It is worth noting, however, that 1 & 2 Maccabees are included in The Septuagint and were also included in Martin Luther's Bible, the Geneva Bible, the original King James Bible, and other older English Bibles. The story of the Maccabees is where the Temple in Jerusalem was restored to Jewish control and the proper steps were taken to cleanse it of the defilement from the pagan Greek ruler Antiochus Epiphanes, who sacrificed a pig on the altar in Yahweh’s Temple. This was a very important event in Bible history, as the Temple had to be restored for Yeshua’s earthly ministry.
Christmas, in contrast to this, is the exact opposite. While Hanukkah commemorates the cleansing of God’s Temple from paganism, Christmas is the result of taking Roman paganism—the festival of Saturnalia—and turning it into a “Christian holiday”. This very likely goes completely against the commandment of God from Deuteronomy 12 where we are told: be careful not to be trapped into imitating them after they have been destroyed before you. Do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations serve their gods? I will do the same.’
I know there are people, even in some Messianic and “Hebrew Roots” circles, who insist that Christmas is not pagan. It seems that because a few “Hebrew Roots” ministries made some videos several years ago that turned out to present misinformation, some now see it as their mission to “clean up the mess” by deviating to the exact opposite stance. As such, they are now saying things like: “Christmas is not pagan, but I still don’t celebrate it.” What they are really saying is they don’t want to be associated with controversial groups and instead of supporting what can be legitimately used against it they prefer to remain neutral.
The fact, whether anyone likes it or not, is that the waters are too muddy to know whether or not Christmas itself it truly and wholly “pagan” or just most modern traditions are pagan. Debates will rage on over whether or not early Christians took it from existing pagan festivals or if pagans sought to replace the already established Nativity celebration in late December. Because the waters are so muddied and there is so much about Christmas that absolutely is linked to other religions—including Wicca and the occult—and because there is nothing in The Bible that at all supports it, the most logical thing for a serious follower of Yeshua to do is to just not celebrate it. But don't mislead anyone into thinking there's nothing wrong with it either when all indications are that it absolutely is full of the pagan ways of the nations. We have a winter holiday in The Bible that Yeshua is connected with: Hanukkah!
It may be wrong to dogmatically say without compromise that Christmas IS pagan, but it is also equally wrong to dogmatically insist it is not. Those who would dare to say such a thing are just as much in error and being just as deceiving as those who push the more outrageous claims against Christmas, like the stuff that comes out of Hislop’s heavily debunked work alleging it originates with Nimrod and ancient Babylon, despite no real physical evidence to support this. In fact, the people—especially those from the Messianic and “Hebrew Roots” circles—who are now insisting it’s not pagan are being more deceptive because they are telling Christians not to question it at all. If they are wrong, they will have the blood of Christians on their hands, even if they themselves are admitted into God’s eternal Kingdom. What we should be doing is pointing out the connections to Saturnalia and Yule that can be backed up through academia and noting that nothing in The Bible supports it.
You know, everyone celebrates Christmas. Think about that. I would guess that just as many, if not more, non-Christians celebrate Christmas as the Christians who do. Often I find the most "into Christmas" people I encounter are those who are involved in actual Wicca, Satanism, and other occult religion—because the majority of modern Christmas practices and traditions come from their religion, not Christianity. To my knowledge, the only people who celebrate Hanukkah are those who are in some way committed to following The Bible—Orthodox Jews who at least embrace the Hebrew Bible, Messianic Jews, and a growing number of truly sold out Christians. Clearly the only "winter holiday" that allows the Believer to come out from among them and be separate (2 Corinthians 6:17) and not love the world or the things in the world (1 John 2:15) is the festival of Hanukkah.
Defiant people will always come up with some excuse as to why they can ignore the laws of God and do whatever they want. I recently heard a young preacher who thinks it’s OK to tattoo their body say they were not going to argue doctrine with anyone and if it’s your conviction not to get one that’s fine, “but don’t judge me on why I have my tattoo”. It’s not a conviction, it’s a commandment. You obey a commandment because God said it and you love Him, not because you fear the consequences of it. Conviction and consequences do not exist for the purpose of making you obey out of fear, they are there to give you something to rejoice about when you obey God and as a result are free from whatever curse awaits the defiant.
People who do things that transgress the Torah of God and then say such things as “I’m not going to argue doctrine with you” and “don’t judge me” have a defiant heart and a reprobate mind. I was speaking with a friend who has worked in law enforcement in the past. He explained to me that they refer to this behavior as “spontaneous utterances” and that they are actually admissions of guilt. This makes a lot of sense psychologically speaking. The person who was doing this in regard to their tattoo, for example, was trying to make it sound like those who would speak the truth are being judgmental when in reality this person was admitting their own guilt for breaking God’s commandment from Leviticus 11:28.
Another thing I've heard some people say is that there are plenty of things that we accept daily that have "pagan origins". They like to point out that days of the week, at least some months, and the planets are all named for pagan gods. This is called a strawman argument. It is irrelevant because those things are not the taking of an actual pagan religious festival, changing the name of it and things involved with it, and essentially rebranding it to be appropriated into Christian worship of Yahweh—a direct violation of Deuteronomy 12.
Something else to consider is that after His infancy we see no record of a festival in honor of Yeshua’s birth. While there are some historical records that indicate early Believers may have celebrated the Nativity event during the biblical Feast of Tabernacles, even those sources are not that strong and to my knowledge have not yet been traced back to the time of Yeshua or the Apostles (though one source vaguely alludes to this tracing back to the time of the Apostles, see my article WWJB: When Was Jesus Born).
On top of that, there is a possible connection to the winter solstice celebration of Saturnalia being the celebration of the rebirth of the sun. Now, notice I did not say it was the “birthday of a sun god”. There seems to be no real evidence of a “sun god” being born on December 25th, despite many claims. But the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, and the next day begins the cycle of days getting longer until you get to the summer solstice when the days begin to get shorter. This is a natural occurrence, but various pagan religions deified this and made it a time to worship the sun.
The celebration of the rebirth of the actual sun is very different from “a birthday of a sun god”. It is a fact of nature that the sun is “reborn” on this day and it seems to be a valid historical fact that Roman paganism worshiped this event in their religious system. This makes it very concerning as to whether or not Christians should be celebrating a holiday connected to this as being the “birthday” of Messiah Yeshua, particularly when it seems a biblical impossibility for Him to have been born in the middle of winter (which I also explain in my article WWJB: When Was Jesus Born?).
Think about it. If you were Satan, and you wanted to convince Christians to celebrate one of your festivals instead of those in The Bible, wouldn’t it make sense to put a “Christian mask” on your festival? Wouldn’t it make sense to convince Christians that you can “redeem” a pagan festival and use it for evangelism? This may be the number one reason why God said not to take something from paganism and turn it into Yahwism in Deuteronomy 12. Satan has literally convinced Christians to celebrate one of his holidays and then made it the absolute biggest holiday on the “Christian calendar”. And if you try to tell most Christians about it they think you are the crazy one! If Christmas were a truly biblical holiday, I guarantee it would not be the most popular holiday in the world among non-Christians and it especially would not be so important to actual modern pagans.
If you think I’m wrong, it’s really an easy thing to prove. Just show me Christmas being celebrated in The Bible. Not the story of Yeshua’s birth, but the actual celebration of Christmas. It’s not in there because it’s not biblical! The actual celebration of Christmas is not in The Bible, but it is stated in Wiccan handbooks and the website for the Church of Satan that it is their celebration that Christians took and rebranded for their own use.
It is one thing to say that Yeshua would put His stamp of approval on a wholly Israelite festival that celebrates the cleansing of God’s Temple previously defiled by pagan religion and sacrifices. It is an entirely different matter to say that Yeshua would do the same, and use Hanukkah to support it, of a holiday that appears to do the exact opposite—taking paganism and turning it into Yahwism, in complete defiance to the Torah (Deuteronomy 12). There is no comparison. There is nothing about Hanukkah that violates Torah. There are numerous reasons to say that Christmas violates Torah.
Christians get so defensive if someone would dare speak against their beloved Christmas. But this really makes no sense at all when you think about it. Yeshua was likely born during the biblical Feast of Tabernacles, also known as Sukkot. Tradition holds that Hanukkah was modeled after this Feast because the people did not want to wait another year after rededicating the Temple to celebrate Sukkot. So to come to the knowledge of the truth means you can trade a one-day celebration of unbiblical paganism and secularism for two biblical celebrations that each last for eight days. That’s a total of 16 days of biblical festivities! I really don’t get it at all as to why a true Believer would want to resist such truth. But tradition is one of the greatest strongholds of the religious mind there is.
Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Messiah. ~1 Corinthians 11:1 (TLV)
…whoever claims to abide in Him must walk just as He walked. ~1 John 2:6 (TLV)
A lot of people like to claim that we are not commanded to keep Hanukkah the way we are the Spring and Fall Feasts from Torah. Well, we are commanded to walk as Yeshua walked, so if He celebrated it, perhaps we are commanded to celebrate Hanukkah, in a way.
It’s really simple, you know. The Apostle Paul tells us to follow his lead as He follows the lead of Yeshua. In other words, Yeshua’s not physically here now, but I do what He did, so if you do what I do you will also be doing what He did. The Apostle John tells us that we must walk as He [Yeshua] walked. This was not a suggestion; John said we must do this if we claim to be of His Body and His Kingdom.
At the very least there is the strong appearance that Yeshua celebrated Hanukkah, as He did with all of the other biblical Feasts. It is also very hard to imagine that THE Messiah, who was fully Torah-observant to every detail of The Law, would ever celebrate or approve of a “holiday” that was taken from another religion as such a thing would violate the commandment from Deuteronomy 12. So it seems quite likely that Yeshua would never celebrate Christmas and probably would be flipping over tables and chasing people with a whip out of modern Churches celebrating it.
If we are supposed to imitate Yeshua and walk as He walked, that would include celebrating what He celebrated. It would also involve making sure we don’t violate His Father’s Torah by celebrating a holiday that appears to do just that. The late Charles H. Spurgeon says in his Treasury Of David, speaking specifically of Christmas: "It is as much our duty to reject the traditions of men, as to observe the ordinances of the Lord."
I realize that this is an extremely difficult thing for most people. This is the type of thing that actually requires you to come out from among them and be separate (2 Corinthians 6:17). It’s difficult to go against the grain, especially when you are doing it against Church traditions. But I ask you: Do you love God, or are you addicted to the approval of men?
There are those who claim Yeshua was not at the Temple to celebrate Hanukkah, that He was just there walking around. Proponents of this claim say that the mention of winter and Hanukkah are merely in the text to give a timestamp on when this discourse took place and nothing more. To this I say: Walk as He walked (1 John 2:6). If you are among those who hold this belief, travel to Jerusalem every year at Hanukkah and spend the eight days of the festival just walking around Temple Mount. If you are not going to interpret the text to say He celebrated the festival, then walk as you believe He walked, and walk around Temple Mount every year at Hanukkah for no other reason than to walk as He walked. Don't be a hypocrite now! While you're there, I'll be at home celebrating with family and spending a lot less money than the cost to travel to Jerusalem just to walk around the currently non-existent Temple for eight days in the middle of the winter.
I realize that this is an extremely difficult thing for most people. This is the type of thing that actually requires you to come out from among them and be separate (2 Corinthians 6:17). It’s difficult to go against the grain, especially when you are doing it against longstanding Church traditions. But I ask you: Do you love God, or are you addicted to the approval of men?
It’s not a difficult thing to follow Yeshua. The Bible gives us four entire books committed to just His life and ministry. It tells us what He celebrated. It tells us what He ate—and what He didn’t eat, as He kept the food laws found in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. It tells us what day of the week He kept holy—the biblical Sabbath on the seventh day of a biblical week. It tells us how He kept the Torah up to His dying breath. Then in Galatians 2:20 it tells us that He will come to live in and through you if you submit to Him.
There is simply no excuse for a professing Christian to do things different from what The Bible says. The only thing standing in the way of most Christians is religion, the “Modern Christian Church”, and other so-called professing Christians. Don’t make the mistake most Christians make. Follow the example of the Messiah you read about in The Bible. DO NOT follow the example of other modern-day Christians, including most of the so-called Pastors and Preachers. Those people will lead you down that broad highway to hell Yeshua spoke of. Follow Yeshua through the narrow gate, the one that is actually in harmony with The Bible.
~Blessings and Shalom~
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