The Feast of Dedication

Throughout the Gospel of John there are repeated references to Jewish feast days. Jesus goes to Jerusalem for a “feast of the Jews” (John 5.1), feeds five thousand near the time of the Passover (John 6.4-14) and returns to Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles or “Booths” (John 7.2). However, in John 10.22 Jesus attends a feast that is absent in scripture up to this point: the “Feast of Dedication”.

In Leviticus 23 the Israelites were given many days to observe; the Sabbath, Passover, the Feast of Firstfruits (or Unleavened Bread), the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost or Shavuot), The Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah), The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), and the Feast of Booths (Sukkot). The Feast of Dedication, which is more widely known today as Hanukkah, was not established until much later. According to Josephus (Antiquities 12:7:6-7) this feast was not established until 165 B.C., following the re-consecration of the Temple and the altar of burnt offerings after its desecration by King Antiochus IV in 168 B.C. This explains why the Feast of Dedication, although absent from the Law, is still being observed during the life of Jesus.

Jesus, as any devout Jew would, attended these festivals. The assemblage of so many people provided Jesus with ample opportunities to teach. In John’s gospel, Jesus’ teaching or actions during a particular Jewish feast often coincide with the theme of the feast. For example, Jesus describes Himself as the “Bread of Life” in the same context as the Passover feast (John 6.48), and He who (when consumed) will provide eternal life (John 6.54). During the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus refers to himself as the source of the living waters through belief in Him (John 7.37-39) and on the final feast day a ceremony is performed involving the pouring out of water before the LORD. Jesus’ death would occur on the very day the Passover lambs were to be slaughtered throughout the land of Israel (Ex. 12.3-6; John 12.1, 12; Luke 23.44-46, 54). This gives us reason enough to examine Jesus’ teaching in John 10 through the lens of the Feast of Dedication. Here are three connections between the Feast 0f Dedication and Jesus that will deepen our understanding and appreciation of this account.

First, consider the significance of Jesus’ presence in the Temple during this Feast. First of all, it seems too much of a coincidence that John mentions Jesus’ location in the Temple: the colonnade (or portico) of Solomon (John 10.23). It was Solomon who had built and dedicated the original Temple in 1 Kings 6-8, and in the midst of the prayer he offers in 1 Kings 8.22-53 a rather incredible question is asked. “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!” (1 Ki. 8.27) Solomon is praising God for His awesome power and majesty, which of course could not be contained by any manmade structure, and in John 10 we find IMMANUEL (God with Us) walking in the colonnade named for Solomon!

In that same prayer of dedication Solomon begs the God of Heaven to hear their prayers: “And listen to the plea of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen in heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive” (1 Kings 8.30). Remember it was Jesus who said following the parable of the persistent widow: “And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?” (Luke 18.7). Jesus’ presence in the Temple that day confirms that God did hear the prayers of those calling out for justice and mercy, and in short order the ultimate sacrifice would be given on their behalf, once and for all.

Second, a significant connection is found between the nickname of the villainous king who defiled the altar and Jesus’ own claim to be the Son of God. The Temple was desecrated by Antiochus IV of the Seleucid Empire in 168 B.C., whose persecution of Jews had been so severe it sparked the Maccabean Revolt (i.e. Judas Maccabaeus). This king gave himself a very peculiar surname: Epiphanes, meaning “God Manifest”. This is the very claim  the Jews want Jesus to plainly declare in John 10.24: “So the Jews gathered around Him and said to Him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’” After Jesus confirms who He is, they take up stones to stone Him, and notice their rationale for doing so: “The Jews answered him, "It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” (John 10.33) The last person to enter Jerusalem and declare himself to be a god had defiled the Temple and the altar, and Jesus has already declared that He would destroy the temple (John 2.19) and here declares Himself to be one with God not once but twice (John 10.30, 38), during the very feast which celebrates the re-consecration of the Temple! No wonder the Jews attempt to apprehend and stone Jesus each time!

One final connection with Jesus to the Feast of Dedication is in the original name for the feast. Josephus records that the original name for the feast of Dedication, or Hanukkah, was the “Festival of Lights”. “And from that time to this we celebrate this festival, and call it Lights. I suppose the reason was because this liberty beyond our hopes appeared to us; and that thence was the name given to that festival.” (Antiq. 12:7:7). In John 10 the liberty from our condemnation due to sin was bodily present in the Temple. The Light of the World, “the true light, which gives light to everyone” (John 1.9b), was walking the colonnade of Solomon during the Festival of Lights! “I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.” (John 12.46)

It is Jesus that purifies and consecrates His spiritual temple today: His church and His people! “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” (Titus 2.11-14).