IS YOUR MESSIAH TOO SMALL?

Then came Hanukkah at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the Temple area walking in Solomon's Colonnade. The Judeans gathered around him, saying, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly." (John 10:22-24)

What size Messiah do you want: large or small? The answer to this question underlies the incident above. Unbelievably, some commentators have seen the reference to the season and location as incidental! In fact, the season and location mentioned are pregnant with meaning.

Those were dark days for Judah. Herod, an Edomite convert to Judaism, ruled as a usurper to the throne. Outwardly he professed adherence to the God of Israel, yet, in the Hellenistic cities he had built, he erected heathen temples containing statues of the emperor. Herod "surrounded himself by foreign mercenaries, and reared fortresses around his palace and the Temple which he built....he placed over the great gate of the Temple of Jerusalem a massive golden eagle, the symbol of Roman dominion.... Pilate sought to introduce into Jerusalem images of the emperor...."1 What a contrast with the glorious days of the Maccabees! How tragic! Once again a program of hellenization and pagan influence was being carried out in Israel, but this time lead by King Herod!

Hanukkah, celebrated today by lighting the menorah, spinning the dreydel (top), giving gifts, and making latkes (potato pancakes), reminded the people of Jesus' day of deliverance from tyranny. In 168 B.C. the Syrian-Greek ruler, Antiochus Epiphanes, as a means of consolidating his power, carried out a merciless program of hellenization in Israel. The Temple and priesthood were recruited for pagan worship and sacrifice. A statue of Antiochus as Zeus was erected in the Temple in Jerusalem and pigs were offered on the altar. A priestly family, the Maccabees, lead by Judah Maccabee, revolted in the name of the true God and triumphed over the heathen, in spite of overwhelming odds against them. Tradition has it that, when the Temple was rededicated, a one-day's supply of oil for the sacred Temple light lasted eight days.

Edersheim said of Hanukkah: "It commemorated a Divine Victory, which again gave to Israel their good land, after they had once more undergone sorrows like those of the wilderness; it was another harvest-feast, and pointed forward to yet another ingathering. As the once extinguished light was relit in the Temple _and, according to scriptural imagery, might that not mean the Light of Israel, the Lamp of David?_ it grew day by day in brightness, till it shown quite out into the heathen darkness, that had once threatened to quench it."2

Do you see why the question of John 10:22 is pregnant with meaning? The people were hoping for the Messiah, conceived as another Judah Maccabee, who would be raised up to vanquish the heathen occupation forces. The Temple, lit up, as was the whole city, in commemoration of that earlier victory, made them very conscious of the Roman presence in Jerusalem. How the people longed for another military hero to lead them in a revolt to throw off the shackles of the oppressor!

The Messiah they hoped for was too small. The real Messiah was not, so to speak, the Messiah of Hanukkah, a deliverer bringing temporal victory, but rather the Messiah of Christmas, the timeless God incarnate, bringing a greater and eternal deliverance.

Is your Messiah too small? The Judeans of that day stumbled because they had not heeded the scriptures. They had forgotten the messianic promise which stated: "It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth." (Isaiah 49:6). They were hoping for a messiah just for them, a messiah who would bring political restoration and national security. When such a "messiah" came upon the scene later, in the person of Bar Kochba, they followed him in revolt and suffered a great defeat.

Is your Messiah big enough to deliver from the greatest oppression of all? Do you look to him for your eternal destiny? Jesus isn't a temporary fix for coping with life's hardships. He is the Eternal Savior who gives us the ultimate victory. He defeats sin, raises the dead and gives an eternal inheritance. In this life we all face death and tragedy, but the eternity we will spend with God outshines whatever we suffer. No matter what sin you struggle with, no matter what suffering you face, Jesus is the ultimate deliverer.

Is your Messiah too small? Do you believe he has come to bring salvation to the "ends of the earth"? Or do you see Christianity as for only your own people and nation? Do you believe Jesus is Lord of the whole earth? Do you believe he intends to conquer the unbelief of pagan darkness with the light of his truth? Do you believe "the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea"? (Isaiah 11:9) Is your Messiah really that big?

Hanukkah is a festival of light. Isaiah said: "...in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles....The people walking in darkness have seen a great light, on those living in the shadow of death a light has dawned. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government there will be no end." The nation would be enlarged and go forth in triumph, but not as a merely temporal political victory. Messiah would bring an eternal kingdom which would increase without end. The true light would come into the darkness. It would be a light no one could extinguish. (See Isaiah 9:1-7.) Jesus is that promised light of the world.

"In the last days the mountain of the LORD's Temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream into it....Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD" (Isaiah 2:2 and 2:5).

"But you have come to Mount Zion, to the Heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands and thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven...." (Hebrews 12:22-23).

"You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual Temple to be a holy priesthood....you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" (1 Peter 2:9).
"I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it" (Rev. 21:22-24).

Notes:

1. Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, (c) 1993, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., Peabody, MA, p. 61, (1.89 in older editions).

2. Ibid, page 632, (2.228 in the older edition.)

(c) 1996 Fred Klett


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