The Hope for All Time
On December 25, much of the world will pause to celebrate Christmas. And though it is a well-documented fact that Jesus was not born on that date, those of us who name the name of Christ as our Lord and Savior see the holiday as a reminder of God’s faithfulness and goodness in sending us a Redeemer to buy back the universe Adam lost when he fell into sin.
Christmas reminds us of the greatest gift this fallen world will ever receive: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (Jn. 3:16).
I can’t help but wonder, however, how many people realize that, if God had not first delivered the Jewish people from the hands of the evil Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV (Epiphanes), Jesus could never have come.
Had Antiochus succeeded in assimilating the Jewish people, Jesus could not have fulfilled the Scriptural requirements to be our Redeemer. The Messiah-Savior had to be a verifiable, direct descendant of King David from the tribe of Judah. There would have been no tribe of Judah because it and all the other tribes would have ceased to exist.
The Battle Foretold
People who think history proceeds along an uncharted course probably don’t read God’s Word. More than 300 years before Antiochus came on the scene, God told the prophet Daniel about him.
When Israel was captive in Babylon because the nation forsook the Lord, God strategically placed Daniel in the service of Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. Later, Daniel served Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson Belshazzar.
In Belshazzar’s third year (551 BC), God sent Daniel a vision that involved animals representing countries and horns representing rulers:
I lifted my eyes and saw . . . standing beside the river . . . a ram which had two horns, and the two horns were high; but one was higher than the other. . . . I saw the ram pushing westward, northward, and southward, so that no animal could withstand him. . . . And as I was considering, suddenly a male goat came from the west, across the surface of the whole earth, without touching the ground; and the goat had a notable horn between his eyes. Then he came to the ram that had two horns . . . and ran at him with furious power.
. . . He [the goat] was moved with rage against him, attacked the ram, and broke his two horns (Dan. 8:3–7).
The goat was an incredibly swift animal that basically flew across the earth. Enraged by the ram, he charged into battle with alarming speed, breaking the ram’s horns, its symbols of power. The ram represents the Medo-Persian Empire; the goat is Greece; and the notable horn represents Greece’s powerful ruler, Alexander the Great.
In June 323 BC, at merely 32 years of age, Alexander died exactly as Daniel prophesied: “The male goat grew very great; but when he became strong, the large horn was broken” (v. 8). Alexander’s vast empire was divided among his four generals: the “four notable [horns that] came up toward the four winds of heaven” (v. 8). Two of these generals are historically famous: Ptolemy, who ruled Egypt and part of North Africa, and Seleucus, who ruled a vast empire that stretched from Asia Minor to modern India.
Then a little horn appears. This is Antiochus IV, also known as Antiochus Epiphanes: “A little horn . . . grew exceedingly great toward the south [Egypt/Ptolemaic Kingdom] . . . and toward the Glorious Land [Israel]” (v. 9).
Antiochus savagely attacked the Jewish people and desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem by sacrificing a female pig on the altar and erecting an image of himself in the holy of holies. He also sent squads of soldiers throughout the length and breadth of Israel, trying to force God’s people to embrace his Hellenistic mandates in order to assimilate the Jews and destroy the practice of Judaism. Antiochus was so cruel and ruthless that he is considered a type of the Antichrist.
His onslaught met resistance at the town of Modi’in, where Judah Maccabee and his family led a rebellion against the forces of paganism. They recaptured the Temple in 164 BC; and Temple worship was reinstituted on the 25th of Kislev, which became the Feast of Dedication (Jn. 10:22). Today it is celebrated for eight days as Hanukkah.
Triumph over the Seleucids was a tremendous victory. The God of Israel provided deliverance over Antiochus and thus preserved the Jewish people, the Jewish religion, and the Messianic line through which our Savior had to come.
The victory back then against all odds also assures us that God ultimately will vanquish Satan and sin completely, just as the Scriptures promise.
This year, the 25th of Kislev begins at sundown on December 18, when Jewish people will light the first Hanukkah candle. Six days later, on Christmas Eve, Christians will begin celebrating the greater significance of that wonderful Jewish victory: God became man to redeem us from sin. And for all eternity, the Jewish Messiah of Israel shall be humanity’s only hope for all time.