The Undying Flame:
A Portrait of Christ in
By Steven Charles Ger, ThM/Dallas Theological Seminary
Director, Sojourner Ministries
© 1999 Sojourner Ministries, Inc.
Each year as winter approaches and we prepare to celebrate
the birth of the King of the Jews, we often remain oblivious to the companion
holiday of the season, Hanukkah. Although overshadowed by Christmas, The Festival
of Lights graphically illuminates the Messiah’s life and ministry.
Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration beginning each year
on the 25th of the Jewish month Kislev, which usually falls in
December. It celebrates Jewish religious freedom and commemorates the revolt by
the Maccabbees against the Syrian Greeks in 167-164 BC. Although commonly known
as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah actually means Dedication. The Jews
liberated the Temple
and rededicated it to the service of God.
It is not commonly realized that this holiday is found
within the pages of Scripture. Jesus celebrated Hanukkah as recorded in John 10:22ff.
22Now it was the Feast of Dedication
(Hanukkah) in Jerusalem,
and it was winter. 23And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s
porch. 24Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long
will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
It was on Hanukkah that Christ
publicly revealed his Messianic identity by proclaiming to them,
“I and the Father are One.”
The events of Hanukkah are relayed within the apocryphal
books of 1 and 2 Maccabbees. Upon Alexander the Great’s death in 323 BC, his
kingdom split into four pieces, ruled by different dynasties. The Seleucid
dynasty ruled Syria and is
the slice of Alexander’s kingdom pie which controlled the land
of Israel, in those days called Judea.
171 BC, a ruler ascended named Antiochus 4th, called Epiphanes,
which means the manifest God. Antiochus Epiphanes’ passionate goal was
to unify his kingdom, including Judea, into
one monolithic Hellenistic (Greek) culture. And so began a massive struggle
between cultures: Judaism vs. Hellenism.
167 BC Antiochus Epiphanes marched to Jerusalem,
entered the Temple
and ransacked it. Antiochus set up an image of his god, Zeus. On the sacred Temple altar, he
sacrificed a pig.
another man from the village volunteered to collaborate with the Syrian Greeks.
As the man approached the pig, Mattathias suddenly ran forward and assassinated
the collaborator. The five sons of Mattathias drew their weapons, struck down
the soldiers, and headed for the hills. They were joined by many fellow
revolutionaries, and so began a lopsided revolt against the mighty Syrian Greek
after, the leadership of the ragtag Jewish army passed to Mattathias’ son,
Judah, nicknamed the Hammer, or in Hebrew, Maccabbee. Thereafter,
the revolutionaries were known as The Maccabbees.
three years of Jewish guerilla warfare, the rebels achieved victory. On the 25
of Kislev, 164 BC, exactly three years from Antiochus’ abomination of
desolation, the Maccabbees triumphantly entered the defiled and half-demolished
then began the process of rededication.
undying, eternal flame of the Temple Menorah, the great seven-branched candelabra so
central to the worship of Israel,
had been extinguished. The Greeks had desecrated nearly allof the sacred oil
used for the Temple
Menorah. Only a small
container remained, containing a one day supply. It would take eight days for
the priests to consecrate more oil. Nevertheless, although all they had was
enough oil for just one day, the Maccabbees lit the Menorah.
The Menorah burned for one day. Then a miracle
occurred. The Menorah kept burning for eight full days. Judah Maccabbee declared
that these events would be commemorated by an annual holiday, Hanukkah,
the Feast of Dedication.
the people also called it Hag ha Urim – the Festival of Lights. As the
holiday became popular, a tradition of lighting miniature menorahs began within
Jewish homes during the eight-day celebration. These special menorahs had eight
branches, one candle for each evening of the holiday, with an additional ninth
branch elevated in the center. This center candle is known as the shamash,
Hebrew for servant, which is used to light the other candles as they are
added each evening.
As we prepare for the celebration of Christmas and make a
mad rush toward the Bethlehem
manger, let us pause for a moment at the menorah and contemplate its meaning.
When we look at the menorah, we see a beautiful portrait of our Messiah. Each
candle is specially lit by the shamash, the servant candle. Scripture
teaches us that Jesus is God’s shamash – the servant of the Lord. And
this shamash is the Light of that World. The true light which came into
the world and illuminates us all. He is the true eternal and undying flame,
which spreads its light one candle at a time, until all are enlightened.
And it is the light of the world, the shamash, the
one who in the Temple
boldly declared His divine identity, who is the true Epiphanes, the
manifest God. Antiochus Epiphanes was simply a cheap counterfeit whose flame
sputtered briefly and then died out.
rededication of the Temple
was a turning point in Jewish history. But that magnificent Temple no longer stands. The New Testament
teaches that each one of us – each individual illuminated by the Shamash,
is now the Temple
of God. How can we
dedicate or rededicate this personal Temple
answer is found in the two prominent symbols of Hanukkah, light and oil.
Do we let our light so shine before men that they glorify our father in heaven?
Or do we choose to hide our light under a bushel? No! We’re going to
let it shine!
is our oil burning? Sometimes an oil change is necessary. Or perhaps we are
simply a quart low. Maybe we feel like all we have left is one day’s supply. We
recall the tune, “give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning…” It is
reassuring to remember that the Bible teaches that more oil is always available
when the undying flame has been ignited in our souls.
Let us focus on the menorah, and remember that we have
been illuminated by the Shamash, the Servant, and have an eternal supply
of oil to keep the Undying Flame burning brightly in our hearts throughout the