Thanksgiving has passed and Advent and Hanukkah draw near. The story of the political and religious turmoil that led up to the first rededication of the Temple can be found at 1 Maccabees 1-4; 2 Maccabees 1-10; Josephus’ Wars of the Jews 1.31-40; Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews 13.237-326; and Megillat Antiochus. The story of Hanukkah is a salutary lesson in faithfulness to God, martyrdom, and perseverance. This was a time of much suffering in Jewish history as well as a time of civil strife: the Maccabees fought against both apostate Jews and gentiles under the command of the Seleucids.
Antiochus in his rage could be likened to a wounded beast. The Seleucid dynasty was already in decline: it had lost lands to the ascendant Roman Republic and was compelled to pay war reparations to the same. In the east, the Parthians were taking territory away from the empire, and just when Antiochus thought he could finally conquer Egypt, the Seleucids’ old rival, the Day of Eleusis occurred. This day is possibly the origin of our expression “line in the sand” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Line_in_the_sand_(phrase)). In his wrath he turned against Jerusalem, which was already causing him trouble. A wounded beast is a dangerous foe, against which one should take every available precaution.
Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and of the sea! For the Devil is come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has but a short time.
We are in a spiritual war, a continuation of Satan’s war against Israel. For as long as there have been Christians, there has been persecution of Christians. Faithful Christians also know what it means to be separate from the world and yet in the world, just as the Jews are a people apart and yet live among and surrounded by gentiles. This deep sense of separation can be felt inside and outside one’s circle of Christian acquaintances.
One of the tools of the enemy is to make a Christian doubt himself and the revelation of God he has received. This doubt can be pushed until a Christian fears that he is insane, confused by the fact that those around him seem to have no grasp of the seriousness of our eternal destinies, of the fact that Christ will return and judge the cosmos.
Whom having not seen, you love; in whom, though now you see Him not, yet believing, you rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory
-1 Peter 1:8
It would have been very easy to stop believing in God during Antiochus’ persecution. There was terrible suffering, and until the armies of the Maccabees assembled, there appeared no guarantee of survival. In our own time, though there are reports of miracles in the developing world, the average western Christian does not see the kind of wonders described in the Gospels and Acts. Our polite neighbours, friends, and acquaintances may not openly mock us, but the “humour” Christians receive is still an indication that they are outside the pale of acceptable belief and conduct in our post-Christian, secular societies.
Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: but the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
–2 Peter 3:3-7
The downfall of the Jews at the time of the Maccabees was that many of them had grown weary of the cost of separation. There was a faction that desired to be like the surrounding nations, following the Greek customs of their Seleucid overlords. In the same way, parts of the Church today have become so obsessed with gaining non-Christian approval, that the message of the true Gospel has been lost in those quarters. The scandalous behaviour we see now across the denominations is a warning sign, a harbinger of worse to come, just as the building of a gymnasium at Jerusalem was.
I believe that we shall see the events of the Hanukkah story replayed in our own times. A third Temple will be built and will be desecrated by the Antichrist. Not content with persecuting Israel, he will stir up persecution of Christians as well. Christ, echoing the words of Daniel 12 in Matthew 24, told us that such a time had not existed since the foundation of the world. This is how terrible that coming persecution will be. The Antichrist will seek to take away the daily sacrifice of the Mass and replace it with either a different religion altogether or a syncretistic cult. True Christians will be forced to go underground, except perhaps in countries that resist the Antichrist.
Nor should we assume that Rome will be spared. Identified as a target for Islamic conquest since the birth of Islam, it may find itself vulnerable if American forces are diverted elsewhere. There is a question as to how strong and co-ordinated European military forces are in certain wargame scenarios. Indeed, there is speculation in some Catholic circles that the last secret of Fatima concerns an attack on Rome and the flight of the Pope. Many Catholics do not accept the application of this secret to an assassination attempt against John Paul II.
Thus the story of the Maccabees reminds us of peril, but also of hope. The story does not end with the persecution of the righteous and the desecration of the Temple. Judah the Maccabee was able to purify the Temple, God providing a miracle in extending the life of the holy oil for the full eight days of the rededication festival. Hanukkah soon became a yearly commemoration that was celebrated by Christ Himself and persists to this day.
And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch…
The Menorah shone with light in the Temple; Jesus as the Light of the world shines in the darkness. The darkness does not understand Him and cannot conquer Him, so take heart that the world does not understand you, dear Christian, in your longing for His return, for the establishment of His righteous kingdom on this corrupt earth. He came once before in human frailty to a couple from Nazareth. He will come again in glory to take you to Himself.