Jesus on Hanukkah

I was fascinated the other night, when I was reading in John, to run across this in John 10:22-23:

And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon's porch.

What got my attention was that I've read this passage dozens of times and never noticed the "feast of the dedication." I couldn't think of a feast surrounding the dedication of either temple except for that of Hanukkah, and looking it up, only Hanukkah took place in winter. I hadn't realized it was ever mentioned in the Bible, and it turns out I was wrong.

Historically, Hanukkah was a celebration of a military and religious victory, led by Judah Maccabee, over the ruling Greeks, culminating in the rededication of the temple and restoration of worship there. (There's no support for the story of one day's worth of oil burning for eight days in the early documents.) I think the nationalistic nature of the celebration, especially in those days, sheds a bit of light on what happens next (John 10:24):

Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.

Many Jews of that time expected the Messiah to be a Judah Maccabee-like figure, a military and political leader who would lead the Jewish people to freedom. In the context of a nationalistic feast, it makes sense that they would expect a man they thought might be the Messiah to announce it publicly.

The enraging effect of Jesus' answer, which they perceived as blasphemy — they tried to stone Him for it — must have been compounded by its peaceful and extra-national nature (John 10:25-30):

Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father which gave them me, is greater than all, and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.

I and my Father are one.

So in the middle of a jingoistic celebration of a military victory, Jesus is asked if He is the expected leader that will come to save the Jewish people from oppression. He responds with an answer that promises salvation from a very different sort of oppression, for a people that is His own, drawn from many nations, and then He claims equality with God the Father.

It's no wonder the people he spoke to were angry; He was clearly not one to be swayed by public opinion. But His Messiahship was a far greater blessing than that which people expected of Him!