What does Hanukkah have to do with the average Christian? Besides the Feast if Dedication is the background of John 10, every Jewish person who celebrates Hanukkah is familiar with the stories of the Maccabean martyrs. The books of 2 and 4 Maccabees record that God judged the Jewish through Antiochus Epiphanes IV because of the nation’s religious apostasy (cf. 1 Maccabees 1; 2 Macc 7:32).2 Maccabees 7 details Antiochus Epiphanes’ graphic torture and execution of seven Jewish brothers and their mother for their refusal to eat pork.
Over the years many Christians can’t understand why Jewish people can’t see that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah 53. It would be nice if it was so simple. One of the most common questions is whether the New Testament authors were familiar with Isaiah 53 or any other texts in the Tanakh (the Old Testament) that pointed to a suffering messianic figure. After all they were Jewish and had read the Scriptures all their lives. But there is no doubt that the early followers of Jesus had a hard time accepting the fact that Jesus was going to suffer and die: A couple of passages prove my point:
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you! (Matt 16:21)
He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise. But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. (Mark 9:31)
Also, with the exception of 1 Peter 2: 24-25, the New Testament passages that quote Isa. 53 don’t address the atoning significance of the Servant’s suffering. However, we do see Jesus is a Passover sacrifice (e.g, Jn. 19:14;1 Cor. 5:7-8); an unblemished sacrifice (1 Pet.1:19; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 7: 26-28; 9:14; 1 Pet. 2:21-25); a sin offering (Rom 8:3; 2 Cor. 5:21) and a covenant sacrifice (e.g., Mk. 14:24; 1 Cor. 11:25).
But some might ask how could any Jewish person believe in an atoning Messiah such as Jesus.
The story of the Maccabean martyrs can help shed some light in this issue. The martyrs die as penal sacrifices of atonement for the nation’s sins because the fundamental reason behind their deaths was Israel’s disobedience to Torah, and they died to end God’s judgment against the nation’s sin and to save the nation from his wrath (2 Macc 7:32–38; 4 Macc 6:28–29; 17:21–22). If you read about the Maccabean martyrs, while there is some difference between their deaths and Jesus, some of the features of their deaths sound similar to what Jesus did:
Note: this info is adapted from J. J. William’s book, Maccabean Martyr Traditions in Paul’s Theology of Atonement: Did Martyr Theology Shape Paul’s Conception of Jesus’s Death?
- The books of 2 and 4 Maccabees record that God judged the Jews through Antiochus Epiphanes IV because of the nation’s religious apostasy (cf. 1 Maccabees 1; 2 Macc 7:32).
- God poured out his wrath against Israel through the invasion of Antiochus because of its disobedience to the Torah prior to 4 Macc 17:21–22 (1 Macc 1:1–63; 2 Macc 5:1–7:38; 4 Macc 4:15–6:29).
- 4 Macc 6:28–29 states that Eleazar offers his “blood” to be a “ransom” so that God would “be satisfied.” A passage in 4 Macc 17:21–22 states that the Jewish martyrs die a propitiatory death for the nation.
- The martyrs die as penal sacrifices of atonement for the nation’s sins because the fundamental reason behind their deaths was Israel’s disobedience to Torah, and they died to end God’s judgment against the nation’s sin and to save the nation from his wrath (2 Macc 7:32–38; 4 Macc 6:28–29; 17:21–22).
- 2 Maccabees 7:37-38: “I [the youngest of the seven sons martyred one by one in front of their mother], like my brothers, give up body and life for the laws of our ancestors, appealing to God to show mercy soon to our nation and by trials and plagues to make you confess that he alone is God, and through me and my brothers to bring to an end the wrath of the Almighty that has justly fallen on our whole nation.”
- 4 Maccabees 6:27-29: [Eleazar prays] “You know, O God, that though I might be saved myself, I am dying in burning torments for the sake of the law. Be merciful to your people, and let our punishment suffice for them. Make my blood their purification, and take my life in exchange for theirs.”
- 4 Macc. 6:27–29: Eleazar (one of the Jewish martyrs who died for the nation) asked God to use his blood to be a ransom so that he would be the means by which he purified, provided mercy for, and to be the means by which he would satisfy his wrath against the nation. The author interprets the significance of the martyrs’ deaths in 4 Macc. 17:21–22 by stating that they purified the homeland, that they served as a ransom for the nation, and that their propitiatory deaths saved the nation.
- 4 Maccabees 17:22: “And through the blood of those devout ones and their deaths an atoning sacrifice divine Providence preserved Israel that previously had been mistreated.”
- 4 Maccabees 18:4: “Because of them [those who gave their bodies in suffering for the sake of religion; 18:3] the nation gained peace.”
1.The martyrs suffered and died because of sin (2 Macc 7:18, 32; 12:39–42; 4 Macc 4:21; 17:21–22; cf. Lev 1:1–7:6; 8:18–21; 16:3–24).
2. The martyrs’ blood was the required price for the nation’s salvation (2 Macc 7:32–38; 4 Macc 6:28–29; 7:8; 17:21–22).
3.The martyrs’ deaths ended God’s wrath against the nation (1 Macc 1:1–64; 2 Macc 7:32–38; 8:5; 4 Macc 17:21–22).
4. The martyrs’ deaths provided purification and cleansing for the nation (4 Macc 6:28–29; 17:22; cf. Lev 16:16, 30; Isa 53:10).
5.The martyrs’ deaths spared the nation from suffering the penalty for their own sin in the eschaton (2 Macc 5:1–8:5; cf. 2 Macc 7:1–14).
6. The martyrs died vicariously for the nation (2 Macc 7:18, 32; 4 Macc 4:21; 17:21–22).