Hanukkah and the Identity of Jesus

by Doug Ward

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 a teaching of Jesus given at Hanukkah (John 10:22-39). Readers of John's Gospel may wonder what Jesus was thinking as he walked at the Temple during that festival (vv. 22-23). Earlier in this Gospel we see Jesus' love for the Temple, his "zeal for God's house" as he drove away the money-changers during one Passover season (John 2:13-17). On the other hand, Jesus knew that the Temple would be destroyed within a generation, and that in the future, after his crucifixion and resurrection, God would be worshiped "in spirit and truth" by many people in many locations (John 4:19-24). Jesus could have been considering all of these things and more as he strolled through the colonnade of Solomon.


Others at the festival surely were thinking about the exploits of the Maccabean heroes and wondering if a new hero, the promised Messiah, would deliver the nation from the domination of the Roman Empire. They also wondered whether Jesus, whose miracles and provocative sayings were causing excitement, might be that Messiah. Some of them told Jesus, "If you are the Christ, tell us plainly" (v. 24).


Jesus, who had been revealing his identity while being careful not to start a political uprising, replied that his powerful works spoke for themselves (v. 25). He added that his true followers knew who he was, and that he and God the Father were united in granting eternal life to those followers (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).


The Divine Council

Jesus responded to their concerns by quoting a verse from Scripture, Psalm 82:6. To understand his application of this verse, we will need to take a closer look at Psalm 82. Its first verse gives the setting: "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 is pictured as "in the skies"-i.e., in the supernatural realm (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, greater 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 over the 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 supernatural struggle is mentioned involving "the prince of the kingdom of Persia", apparently a divine council member overseeing Persia.2


God has given his council members free will, and 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).


A Unique Son of God

When Jesus quoted Ps 82:6, he gave a reminder that there are divine sons of God who are charged with carrying out God's will. In doing so, he implied that he was more than a mere mortal human. He further asserted that his works should help people "know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father" (John 10:38). These words remind us of Exodus 23:20-23, a description of a special angel who would guide the ancient Israelites on their journey to the Promised Land. This angel was distinct from God and yet closely identified with God, since the angel could pardon transgressions, obeying the angel constituted obedience to God, and God's Name was in the angel. John 10:38 hints that this angel may have been a Christophany-a preincarnate manifestation of 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 sought to have him arrested for blasphemy, but "he escaped from their hands" (John 10:39).


On that Feast of Dedication, Jesus also described himself as "him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world" (v. 36). During a celebration of the rededication of the Temple, he portrayed himself as one consecrated or dedicated to God, the true Temple and special dwelling place of God's presence. Hanukkah ultimately points to Jesus, the unique Son of God and light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5).


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

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

Issue 33


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On 19 Aug 2018, 14:51.