Our family visit to Israel coincided with Hanukka, the eight day 'festival of lights' celebrated by Jewish people. So for the first time ever, we celebrated Hanukka. We knew nothing about Hanukka, but in John's gospel we see the Lord Jesus, the Light of the World, in Jerusalem at the time of the festival, and the history is fascinating.
It goes back to about 164 BC when Israel was ruled by Greeks and Syrians, a horrible time for the nation. Evil rulers demanded that Jews worship the Greek gods and offer incense to them, and teams went around to each town and village demanding idol worship. To their shame, many Jews of the day were only too happy to comply. One stepped forward to offer incense to a false god, and a Levite (priestly tribe) named Mattathias promptly ran him through with his sword. This one act of courageous defiance sparked a guerilla war lasting years and resulting in victory and 100 years of freedom for Judah (southern Israel).
Mattathias had five sons who joined him in leading the guerilla army. They became known as the Maccabees (the hammers). Jehuda (Judas) Maccabee was the most famous. They hammered any army sent against them, even though they were totally outnumbered many times. They relied on God, and when He is wielding a hammer, ouch, watch out and get outa the way! The Greeks and Syrians eventually did the smart thing and got out of the way, resulting in 100 years of freedom.
One thing that had so dismayed the Jews of the day was that the Syrian ruler Antiochus Epiphanies IV had entered the Temple in Jerusalem (the second Temple of Nehemiah's time) and installed an idol of Zeus, offering a pig, an unclean animal, on the altar to Zeus. The pig blood was sprinkled round.
After Judas Maccabee and his fighters had taken Jerusalem back and entered the Temple, they had to rededicate it. They could not sacrifice animals on the defiled altar, so they dismantled the stones and just piled them in a corner. They built a new altar of uncut stone. Then they went to light the menorah, the 7 branched candlestick which provided the only light in the Holy Place and which was never supposed to be allowed to go out.
But in the war torn city there was no olive oil to provide the fuel. Then someone found a small jar of oil - enough to burn for only one day. They used what they had, always a good principle, and according to tradition, the seven lights burned for eight days! This was long enough to arrange a new supply of oil. The miracle of the eight days is the heart of Hanukka - the sign that God was really with them.
The thought of Jesus walking in the Temple, seeing that pile of defiled stones, knowing that He was the true Light of the World and He Himself had seen to it that those lights kept burning eight days ... and yet being ferociously rejected by the very people He came to save! It is the trajedy of Israel. They rejected Him then and they reject Him now.
The irony is that Judas Maccabee would not have rejected Him! He and his brave family all died and would have gone to Sheol, the underworld, to the compartment Jesus called 'Paradise' or Abraham's Bosom. They would have been waiting there for almost 100 of our years before Jesus died on the cross and then descended into that very place to preach to the spirits of the righteous dead.
I cannot even imagine the stupendous welcoming cheer that must have gone up as the Messiah suddenly came to them. Some of them, like Abraham, had been waiting so long! What joy, what jubilation, what worship, what wonder as they saw the One who had made them, who had Himself become a man so that He could die to pay the penalty for all their sins. No praise could ever be too high, no worship too great, no thanks too prolific.
And then Jesus, their Savior and our Savior (if we put our trust in Him), 'led captivity captive' and led that procession to Heaven, where they all are now, all the righteous people who died before Calvary. The 'Paradise' section of the underworld is empty (see footnote). They are all in Heaven.
Yet in Israel today the Jews are for the most part in total spiritual darkness, no matter how many candles they light. The 'religious' Orthodox Jews still hate Jesus. With some of them the hatred is terrible, a teeth gnashing, spitting variety of angry hatred. They study the Old Testament, or say they do, but they never come to faith. They never see that the Passover Lamb was prophetic and spoke of Jesus. They never connect Psalm 22 with His crucifixion. They avoid Isaiah 53, and parts of the Book of Daniel. Isaiah 9:6-7 should hit the target with them, but somehow it does not. They do not see that Genesis 22, when Abraham was willing to offer his son, his only son, on an altar, that it was a picture of what God the Father was willing to do for us. Etc.
And yet God has not forgotten His ancient people! Because of their hard hearts they will have to suffer terrible things in 'the time of Jacob's trouble' when the Bible indicates that 2/3 of the Jews will be killed in the Great Tribulation. But 1/3 will come through and the entire nation of Israel will one day recognize the Lord Jesus as Messiah. If your church teaches that God is through with the Jews, you need to read Romans 9, 10 and 11. He is far from through! He is just getting started! It is all coming and that is why it is so important to study Bible prophecy.
* If you want to make sure that you are saved, get real with God. Tell Him you want to know Him and His only Son the Lord Jesus. Tell Him you are sorry for all your sins (name all that He brings to mind). Beg Him to forgive you and make you one of His people. Then just accept His free gift of salvation, forgiveness of all sin and assurance of eternal life.
God is real. He will hear that prayer if you pray it. He is not deaf.
Footnote: While the Paradise compartment of the underworld is empty, unfortunately the Hell part has a large population and will not be emptied until the spirits of people there are called up to the Great White Throne judgement, the judgement of the damned. Then those people and Hell itself will be thrown into the Lake of Fire.
There are at least two other sections of the underworld: Tartarus, where fallen angels are chained who molested human women, and The Abyss, where Satan will be chained for 1,000 years while Jesus rules this earth during the Millennium Reign.