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Hanukkah and the Identity of Jesus

Hanukkah, the Feast of Dedication, celebrates the successful revolt led by five Jewish brothers—the Maccabees—against the Seleucid Empire during the second century B.C. More specifically, this festival commemorates the rescue and rededication of the Jerusalem Temple in 164 B.C., three years after King Antiochus IV had captured and polluted it.(1)


The New Testament records teaching of Jesus given at Hanukkah (John 10:22-39). Readers of John's Gospel may wonder what Jesus thought as he walked at the Temple during that festival (vv. 22-23). In John 2:13-17 we see Jesus' "zeal for God's house" as he drove the money-changers out of the Temple during Passover season.


On the other hand, Jesus knew and prophesied that within a generation the Temple would be destroyed. Further, he taught that after his crucifixion and resurrection, God would be worshiped "in spirit and truth" by many people in many locations (John 4:19-24). Could Jesus have been considering all of these things and more as he strolled through the colonnade of Solomon?


Others at the festival were undoubtedly thinking about the exploits of the Maccabean heroes and wondering if a new champion, the promised Messiah, would arise and deliver the nation from the domination of the Roman Empire. They also wondered whether Jesus, whose miracles and provocative sayings were causing no little excitement, might be that Messiah. Some of them told him, "If you are the Christ, tell us plainly" (v. 24).


Jesus, who steadily revealed his identity while being careful not to start a political uprising, replied that his works of power spoke for themselves (v. 25). He added that his faithful followers knew his identity and that he and God the Father were united in granting eternal life to those disciples (vv. 26-29). "I and the Father are one," he concluded (v. 30). This answer was not what the questioners anticipated. Jesus had stated no political ambitions but had indicated a oneness with God well beyond what any mere man could claim. His words sounded to them like blasphemy (vv. 31-33).


Jesus responded by quoting from Psalm 82:6. To understand his application of this verse, we will need to take a closer look at the context of this psalm. The first verse sets the stage, "God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment."


The divine council is mentioned in several places in the Hebrew Scriptures. It is also known as the "council of the holy ones" (Ps 89:7) or "assembly of the holy ones" (Ps 89:5). Its location pictured is "in the skies" referring to the realm of the supernatural (Ps 89:6). Its members are called gods, holy ones, heavenly beings, or sons of God (Ps 89:5-7; Ps 29:1; Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7). We often refer to them as angelic beings or God's heavenly host.


The Bible emphasizes that Yahweh is unique, higher than all the "small g" gods (Exod 15:11; Ps 86:8; 95:3; 96:4; 97:9; 136:2). Indeed, Yahweh created all the gods. He needs no assistance in ruling the universe, but he chose to create the heavenly host and has invited them to share in the administration of his creation. Similarly, he created human beings as his "imagers" to govern the earth under his authority.


In 1 Kings 22:19-23 the prophet Micaiah described a meeting of the divine council, illustrating God's style of "shared governance." God had decreed that King Ahab of Israel was to die in battle, and he initiated a brainstorming session with his heavenly host to decide how Ahab might be persuaded to go to battle. One council member volunteered to be a lying spirit in the mouths of Ahab's prophets, and God approved this suggestion.


There are hints in the Bible that God gave some council members authority to oversee parts of the earth. According to Deut 32:8, when God "divided mankind" at the Tower of Babel (Gen 11), "he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God," giving sons of God responsibility for various nations. God himself chose to govern Israel directly as "his allotted heritage" (v. 9). There is further evidence of such an arrangement in Daniel 10:13, where a spiritual struggle is mentioned involving "the prince of the kingdom of Persia," apparently a divine council member overseeing Persia.(2)


God endowed his council members with free will like us, meaning some may choose a path of rebellion. In Psalm 82 God reprimands gods who have abused their responsibilities, urging them to govern with righteousness and justice. If they do not change their ways, he says, these gods will "fall like any prince" (vv. 6-7).


The Master’s use of Ps 82:6 served to remind his listeners that there are divine sons of God charged with carrying out God's will. The implication is that he was more than a mere mortal human. His works, he asserted, should help people "know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father" (John 10:38). These words link to the description of a special angel who would guide the ancient Israelites on their journey to the Promised Land (Exodus 23:20-23). This being was distinct from God and yet closely identified with God, since he could pardon transgressions, obeying him constituted obedience to God, and God's Name was in him. John 10:38 hints that this divine agent may indeed have been a Christophany—a pre-incarnate manifestation of the Christ.


As in his Son of Man sayings (John 1:51, e.g.), Jesus on this occasion suggested that he was a preexistent divine figure as well as a human being. His questioners understood, they sought to have him arrested for blasphemy but "he escaped from their hands" (John 10:39).


Fittingly, on that feast so long ago Jesus described himself as the one "whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world" (v. 36). During this celebration of rededication, he further revealed himself as one uniquely dedicated by God as the true Temple, the special dwelling place of God's holy presence. Hanukkah ultimately points to our Lord as the only Son of God and the world's true light (John 8:12; 9:5).


Footnotes:

(1) See the book of 1 Maccabees, especially 4:36-59.

(2) Further discussion of the divine council can be found in The Unseen Realm by Michael S. Heiser (Lexham Press, Bellingham, WA, 2015).


* Editor's note: Dr. Michael Heiser will present at a Haverim Lecture Series in Dayton, OH on March 23, 2019. Join us if you can

 

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