Welcome to the Mountjoy Ministries Blog

This blog was authored by Bryan W. Sheldon, author and Bible teacher. His books are listed below. The studies in the blog are offered in the desire that they may be helpful in directing readers to the truths contained in the Bible.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Hanukkah in History and Prophecy

The Significance of Hanukkah in Prophecy

The prophetic significance of the Hanukkah festival is most clearly seen in its negative aspect, that is, pointing to an event when the rebuilt Jerusalem Temple will be defiled. This future defilement will be so severe that it we have no record that the Temple survived it. Jesus speaks of it as a punctuation mark in a future period of turmoil and trouble for the Jewish nation. This very important but highly emotive piece of information was delivered when He was nearing the time of His death. During those last days He often spoke about future events. So when He left the Temple for the last time as a free man and walked towards Bethany, Jesus paused on the slope of the Mount of Olives at a place that overlooked the Temple buildings—He had more information to impart!

Their location and the comments of the disciples provided the perfect opportunity for what we now call ‘the Olivet discourse’. The location, because they were overlooking the Temple and had a direct line of sight to the entrance of the Holy Place, and beyond that to the giant veil which would be breached at the time of the crucifixion; and the comments of the disciples, because they were lost in admiration for the Temple complex. Jesus used the occasion to warn them that the rejection of His Messianic claim by the nation’s leaders would lead to difficult times when the Temple would be destroyed. That would be in the then near future, but He also had advice for a generation of Jews in a more distant future:

“… when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand), “then let those who are in Judea flee … For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened (Matt. 24:15–22).

Here He refers to the section of Daniel’s prophecy that is illuminated by the event that gave rise to the Hanukkah Festival. He spoke of a time yet to come when there will be a period of great tribulation for the Jewish nation which will far exceed the persecution under Antiochus. It will be similar in character to the atrocities committed by the Syrian tyrant but in quality and quantity far worse. This future persecution of the Hebrew people will go far beyond the ambition to make them conform to the culture of the world; its aim will be to exterminate them. Set in a large, world-wide context, the background to these troubles will be the war in heaven between the archangel Michael (and the forces for good) and Satan (with his fallen angels). That war will end with defeat for Satan, who will be cast down to the earth. The Scripture reference is:

And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that  serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him (Rev. 12:7–9).

This is another step in Satan being ‘the cast-down one’. He had been cast down before; Jesus spoke of  his first fall from grace, which occurred before the    foundation of the world; “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). This seems to be the event that Isaiah described?  

“How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!
How you are cut down to the ground,
You who weakened the nations!

 “For you have said in your heart:
‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.’

“Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol,
To the lowest depths of the Pit (Isaiah 14:12–15).

Satan said, “I will ascend” but God has said, “you shall be brought down”. His fall is yet to include the bottomless pit (Rev. 20:2, 3), and the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10).

During the tribulation period, Satan being cast down to earth is bad news:  

“Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time” (Rev. 12:12).

This particularly impacts on the Hebrew nation for part of his strategy is to persecute the Jews to extinction: Jesus warned of it: “unless those days were shortened, no flesh (that is, no Jewish flesh) would be saved” (Matt.24:22). This is preceded by an arrangement that will be established between the Jews and the Anti-Christ. Then he (the Anti-Christ) shall confirm a covenant with many for one week” (Dan. 9:27). The ‘week’ is a week of years, that is, seven years. The signing of this covenant will be at the beginning of a seven year period of tribulation when a world-wide persecution of God’s ancient people is planned. Those Jews who are party to the agreement believe their accord with the Anti-Christ will save them from the oppression, but they will have a rude awakening.

During the first half of the tribulation a large number of Jews are persecuted and many will be martyred but those who are party to the covenant (the “many” of Daniel 9) will escape the worst of it. They will be permitted to occupy Jerusalem and operate the Temple (a Temple that was not sanctioned by the Lord). The priestly culture based on the Mosaic Covenant will function on the Temple Mount (just as it did before Antiochus Epiphanes began to interfere). The priesthood will offer their intercessions; festivals will be observed (from Passover to the feast of Tabernacles, even to Hanukkah); and sacrifices will take place. Because of the pact with the charismatic world leader (Anti-Christ), a large section of the nation will be lulled into a false sense of security. But as    always, Satan (Anti-Christ’s master) is following a   hidden agenda. The Temple that the Jews intended to be dedicated to the worship of YHWH will be forcibly taken and used for the worship of Himself and his prodigy. This is in harmony with his ancient ambition. He has always wanted worship. Remember how this selfish ambition was expressed in Isaiah’s writings, the ‘I wills’ of Satan:

“I will ascend into heaven,

I will exalt my throne above the stars of God;

I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the  farthest sides of the north;

I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,

I will be like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:12–15).

His blasphemous ambition was restated at the time of the incarnation when he offered power and wealth to the Messiah if He (Jesus) would worship him (Satan). Revelation 13:4 tells us that during the tribulation he will get people from all nations to worship him and the Anti-Christ. 
So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast?” 

But God dealt with his unlawful ambition before the foundation of the world by casting him down and will do so again.
But before that will happen, the New Jerusalem Temple will be dedicated and function as in days of old. Israel will celebrate the feasts, and remember their deliverance from Egypt in the Spring, and confess their sins on the Day of Atonement in the Autumn. During this period they will still maintain their original stance whereby they rejected the Messianic claims of the Lord Jesus. This is regardless of the fact that there will be Jewish evangelists preaching that Jesus Messiah had already died as their Passover Lamb, and borne away their sins like the Scapegoat, and been raised from the dead at the Feast of Firstfruits. But Satan will have lost the battle in heaven and will commit himself to causing as much distress as he can to any and all Jews on earth. His anger will overflow because he cannot stop God’s army of Jewish evangelists (some 144,000 of them) preaching throughout the world, leading souls to salvation in Christ. Those that hear them and recognise Jesus as their Messiah and Redeemer will not be offered a way of escape from persecution – indeed many will be martyred - but they will receive the gift of eternal life.

During this time, Satan will deduce that it is not in his interests that the Temple sacrificial system should continue. The Sanctuary ritual, rich in spiritual significances, coupled with the witness of the gospel preachers, might change the mind-set of the nation’s leaders. They may even realise that Jesus had been their perfect sacrifice. With such a possibility and an operating Temple they might even call for the return of their Messiah. What if they confessed their sins on the Day of Atonement and in repentance and faith uttered the Messianic greeting from the Hallel, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”?  This, of course, would signal Satan’s doom. The Bible tells us the Adversary will return to an old but often successful strategy – get God’s ancient people to sin – then God will judge them. Perhaps idolatry might work for him—it worked in the past – it took care of the ten tribes and ultimately cost the nation the land, the city and the Temple when the Chaldeans invaded. All he needs to do is to replace the worship of YHWH in the Temple at Jerusalem with the worship of another. He will elevate the reputation of the Anti-Christ. As events unfold his plan takes shape. It will be in two familiar stages – death and resurrection! But God is never taken by surprise and He who keeps Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps. He has provided pertinent information in the writings of His seers. Daniel reveals that the Anti-Christ will be killed in a quest for domination: … he shall come to his end, and no one will help him (Dan. 11:45), and John tells us he will be resurrected later: “and I saw one of his heads as if it had been mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed (Rev. 13:3). This will lift the standing of the Anti-Christ to an all-time high, and according to Revelation 13, the inhabitants of the earth will worship him as king and God. The centre of this idolatry will be the Temple in Jerusalem. The worship of YHWH and the sacrificial system will end just as Daniel predicted:
Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; But in the middle of the week He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate, Even until the consummation, which is determined, Is poured out on the desolate”  (Dan. 9:27).

This then is the event referred to in the Olivet discourse of the Saviour:
“Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand), “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains (Matt. 24:15–16).

But neither in Matthew nor in Revelation is there given any description of what the abomination is. But there is extra information provided by Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians. Paul wrote:
Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God (2 Thess. 2:3–4).

In these verses the Anti-Christ is described as seating himself in the Temple of God declaring to the world that he is God. Here we have echoes of the activities of Antiochus Epiphanes. But Antiochus erected an image of Zeus. The Anti-Christ goes one step further and commissions an image of himself to stand in the      Jerusalem Temple. Satan approves and gives life to it (Rev.13). This image remains there for 1,290 days (a little over three and a half years).

The Bible makes this event pivotal in the unfolding of the tribulation period. It is the final attempt by Satan to get the Jews to commit to idolatry - but their Babylonian exile cured them of that particular sin, and they will not go back to it, whatever the inducement.

Next Time: A national Hanukkah