The Story – Antiochus Epiphanes
Imagine: Jerusalem is captured by a foreign nation, and suddenly, everything in your life changes. King Antiochus, the ruler of the Syrian Empire has taken your home! Quiet, dedicated religious life in Israel turns to chaos as the new conqueror flips Jewish life upside down.
Antiochus is an evil ruler and a very narcissistic one at that. He is so full of himself, he declares he is a god on the earth. He calls himself Antiochus Epiphanes: god incarnate! Antiochus has conquered much of the Mediterranean coastline from Egypt to Greece. He is fascinated with Greek culture and wants his entire kingdom to assimilate into the Hellenistic culture. This political push made its way through the city and into the unsuspecting Jewish countryside. Antiochus threatens death to any Jew who would not comply to his assimilation culture.
Over time the setting of Jerusalem changes. Greek gymnasiums and temples begin to dot the landscape of Israel, Greek learning is instituted to replace Jewish teachings, and Jewish culture is oppressed. Through trickery, deceit, social and political pressures, Antiochus has seduced important leaders in the Jewish community to join him, including the High Priest of Israel, Jason! Jews are forced to bend to his religious compromise. All Jewish religious rites and traditions are to be forfeited on pain of death. He strategically focuses on rooting out any practices consistent with God’s Word, such as Temple worship, and the Sabbath. The oppression grows so great, mothers and children are killed if the parents attempt to circumcise or bar mitzvah their children in the Jewish tradition.
Antiochus desecrates the temple in Jerusalem and erects an altar to Zeus where he slaughters pigs by the hundreds in direct assault and defiance of the Jewish cleanliness rituals. He erects statues all over Jerusalem and a statue of himself in the temple and orders the people of Israel to bow before the statues. Many Jews compromise and bow down to the Greek Statues of Athena, Zeus and Antiochus out of fear for their very lives and the lives of their children.
THE THEME: CONVICTION
Conviction is a strongly held belief or opinion. Time and time again in history, God’s people have had to choose whether or not they would stand convicted. Over thousands of years, the Jewish people were sold as slaves, Israel was conquered, and people were murdered for their faith. After Jesus resurrection’, many early Christians were martyred. During the 16th century, many across Europe were killed for reading William Tyndale’s Bible in English. During the Holocaust, millions of Jews were killed by Adolph Hitler. Even today, many are still persecuted for their belief in Jesus. In each and every generation, there were people who stood strong, knew what they believed, and fought back!
In the events of Hanukkah, the Jewish people were one such example of conviction! Antiochus’ horrible actions would foreshadow Hitler’s future annihilation of the Jewish people in the 1940’s. Many others over the centuries would come against God’s people.
Today, the world tells us our God is not enough. We face new challenges and struggles every day as our world falls apart. But in the midst of compromise, this is our hope: Jesus is our Savior and our King! We can stand on our convictions in the face of danger, sorrow, pain and even death. Why? Because we know we serve a good God who has conquered death for us! We can engage our culture with a deep conviction in the truth of Jesus. So, when you stand facing your greatest fear, you can stand on the love and mercy and incredible sacrifice of our Messiah Jesus!
So, as we continue the story of Hanukkah, ask yourself:
- In what ways have you chosen to be convicted in the last year?
- How is God calling you to be convicted in the next year?