The Feast of Dedication, which was once also called the Feast of the Maccabees, was an eight-day winter festival celebrated by the Jews in the month of December or sometimes late November, depending on when it fell in the lunisolar Jewish calendar. Today, this festival is called Hanukkah or the Festival of Lights.
The history of the Feast of Dedication goes back to the intertestamental period and the Maccabean Revolt. After the Seleucid king Antiochus Ephiphanes profaned the Jewish temple and forced the Jews to abandon their sacrifices and adopt pagan rituals, a group of Jewish freedom fighters rose up, defied the oppressive pagan regime, and overthrew the Seleucids. The temple in Jerusalem was re-dedicated to God; ever since then, the Feast of Dedication has been celebrated to commemorate this meaningful event in Jewish history.
The original Feast of Dedication involved a miracle, according to rabbinic tradition. When the Jews re-entered the temple they could only find one small, sealed jug of olive oil that had not been profaned or contaminated by the Seleucids. They used this to light the menorah in the temple, and though the oil was only enough to last one day, it miraculously lasted eight days—time for more oil to be made ready. This is the reason Hanukkah lasts for eight days.
The Bible mentions the Feast of Dedication by name in the Gospel of John. “Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade” (John 10:22–23). This is the scene in which Jesus claims oneness with the Father, for which the unbelieving Jews try to apprehend and stone Him (verses 24–39).
The Feast of Dedication, with its roots in the miracle of the menorah, has always been associated with lights; it is sometimes called the Festival of Lights. Illuminating houses and synagogues is a tradition that was probably carried over from the Feast of Tabernacles. The recitation of Psalm 30:1–12 is also an important part of the Feast of Dedication because of its themes of God-given victory over enemies and the replacement of mourning and sorrow with hope and joy (Psalm 30:5, 11).
Hanukkah, or the Feast of Dedication, is not one of the festivals instituted by God through Moses as part of the Law. That is not to say, however, that the festival is unbiblical or unpleasing to God. From Daniel to Jesus’ disciples to Jews persecuted under Hitler’s power and Christians persecuted in the Orient, both Jews and Christians have a long history of showing extraordinary courage in the face of intense persecution, just as the Jews did during the Seleucid oppression. The Feast of Dedication is about the darkness of persecution and the light of God that leads His people through the darkness of those figurative nights with a promise of joy in the morning (Psalm 30:5).
Most Jews today do not believe in Jesus Christ as the incarnation of Yahweh. However, the Maccabees were followers of Yahweh, and Jesus’ disciples were still Jewish, even though they believed that the Great I Am had revealed Himself in the person of Jesus (Exodus 3:14; John 8:58). Christianity has its roots in Judaism, and Christians can look to the Feast of Dedication as a celebration of God’s protection and the victory He gives His faithful people who are willing to bravely continue to worship Him in the face of persecution.