The Temple that Nehemiah had built still stood and the priests still sacrificed animals for the sins of the people. But God was fed up. The last prophets had warned over and over that the Lord no longer had joy in their sacrifices. And then, for 200 years the prophets fell silent.
Israel had fallen into the depths of sin, forgetting just about everything connected with God, except ritual; she was about to be overrun by new enemies - this time the enemy would come
in the form of a decaying Seleucid Empire - today remembered only by scholars. But the Seleucid line of conquerors were none other than the Greek descendents of one of Alexander the Great’s four generals who carved up Alexander’s enormous empire after his mysterious death in 323 BC.
An Antichrist forerunner prophesied by Daniel
An angel had foretold these exact events to the prophet Daniel centuries before they happened.
…realm of Greece. And a mighty king will arise…[but] his kingdom will be broken up and parceled out toward the four points of the compass. (Daniel 11:2-4)
General Seleucus had gone east. He set up his base in Babylon, extending his rule over Syria and began ruthlessly expanding his power. However, after 150 years of rule, the Seleucid dynasty was going downhill fast. When kingdoms begin to disintegrate, the power vacuum always generates a bloodbath as contenders for the throne kill in order to rule. In 175 BC Antiochus Epiphanes (meaning god manifested), the brother of the current king, killed his
nephew, the heir apparent, and usurped the throne.
Immediately, he murdered the High Priest of the Lord, Onias III, who was the last of the direct line of priests from Aaron, brother of Moses. Antiochus then sold the office of high priest for
money and through his puppet pseudo priest - even the form of true and holy worship at the Temple ended.
Meanwhile in 171 BC, Antiochus decided to conquer Egypt, but there he clashed with the armies of the rising Roman Empire. According to Josephus Flavius, the great Jewish historian
of the first century AD, a rumor spread in Jerusalem that Antiochus had been killed in battle. Jerusalem was ecstatic; the Jews organized a revolt and threw out the puppet high priest.
But Antiochus was very much alive, and swept into Jerusalem enraged, regained the city, killed some 40,000 Jews, forced his way into the very Holy of Holies, and destroyed the scrolls of the Holy Scriptures. Then, to the horror of the Jewish people, he took a pig and offered it on the sacred altar. He cooked the sow, and with the broth sprinkled all the implements in the Temple, completely defiling the sanctuary.
The pigs he continued to slaughter on the Altar of the Lord were given to Jewish men to eat. According to the 1st Book of the Maccabees, those who refused, he cut their tongues out, scalped them, cut off their hands and feet and burned them on the Altar. Antiochus forbad Sabbath observance, study of the Bible, and circumcision, all laws which were given by God to the Jewish people to observe.
Antiochus Epiphanes is most certainly a symbol and forerunner of the Antichrist. The angel Gabriel had described to the prophet Daniel the coming abomination of a king who would put a stop to sacrifices and desecrate the sanctuary. The deeds of this ruler provided a backdrop for Yeshua the Messiah’s description of another king yet to come, who would enter the Temple, call himself god and defile the sanctuary in the last days.
In fact, the book of Daniel spoke so clearly about Antiochus as a successor of one of Alexander the Great’s four generals, that modern critics refuse to this day to believe the text was written before the time of Alexander the Great. See Daniel 8:9-27.
The Maccabees Fight for Their God
Out of this supreme crisis for the Jewish people, who risked losing all knowledge of the One True God, rose a family of warriors from the priestly line of Aaron. When Antiochus’ representatives demanded that the priest Matitiyahu offer sacrifice to the Greek gods, not only did he refuse to comply, but slew with his own hand the Jew who had stepped forward to do so.
The aged priest and his five sons, Jonathan, Eleazar, Johanan, Judah and Simon, soon to be known as the Maccabees, led what we would call a spiritual revival, struggling against the secularization and growing paganism of their people, but at a great cost in human lives, as the book of Daniel forewarned.
The people who know their God will display strength and take action… yet they will fall by sword and by flame, by captivity and by plunder, for many days. (Read Daniel 11:32-36)
In the many battles fought by the Maccabees, Matitiyahu and ultimately all his sons were killed, as were many thousands of Jews. Nevertheless, although greatly outnumbered, the Maccabees won battle after battle against Antiochus and actually freed the Jewish people from Syrian rule. In 164 BC, they succeeded in cleansing the Temple. Josephus describes the pathos at the site of the desecrated Temple.
“But when he [Judah the Maccabee] with the whole multitude came to Jerusalem and found the Temple deserted, its gates burned down, and plants growing in the Temple of their own accord because of the desolation, he and those with him began to lament in their distress at the sight of the Temple.
“…When therefore he had carefully purged it he brought in new vessels the menorah, the table and the incense altar, which were made of gold, and hung up the veils at the doors and restored the doors themselves. He also took down the altar and built a new one of stones… [that] had not been hewn with iron tools.” (Antiquities 12.7.6-7 316-325)
And then on the 25th day of the month Kislev (November - December) - they relit the lights that were on the menorah and offered incense upon the altar, laid the loaves upon the table, and offered whole burnt offerings upon the new altar.
And so Judah and his fellow citizens celebrated what became known as the Festival of Hanukkah - meaning “dedication” and the restoration of the sacrifices of the Temple for eight days, “feasting and honoring God, delighting themselves with psalms of praise and the playing of harps. And they made it a law for their posterity that they should keep a festival celebrating the restoration of their Temple worship for eight days.” (Ibid.) Yeshua himself went to the Temple on Hanukkah, the Feast of Dedication. (John 10:22)
It was only later in the Talmud that the story about the oil miraculously lasting eight days until fresh oil could be consecrated became a legend, repeated every year until this day. However, it is a wonderful holiday that all Israeli children love to celebrate. Today, Hanukkah is also called the Festival of Lights. (The menorah of Hanukkah, called a hanukkiah, has nine candles so as not to reproduce a replica of the holy menorah of seven candles that God commanded be set in the Holy place.)
As a result of the Maccabees’ victory, for the first time in 400 years, Israel became again a semi-independent state, free to worship the God of Israel as the Bible instructed. Jonathan the Maccabee became high priest until he was killed in battle and then his brother Simon was chosen by “the priests and the people and of the elders of the land” to be high priest and the ruler, although many Jews did not accept him as king because he was not of the line of David. When he was murdered by his own son-in-law, his son John Hyrcanus I took on both roles he became high priest and a powerful king.
John Hyrcanus I was a pivotal character for the future of Israel. He was a brave and brilliant military leader, with an energetic and able style of leadership, together with the zeal of his forebears. But John Hyrcanus I became a full fledged Hellenist (loving the worldly Greek life style), the very thing that his grandfather, Matitiyahu and the family had fought so hard to banish.
A three and a half year war, Josephus describes the desolation of the Temple in accordance, he said, with the prophecy of Daniel which had been made four hundred an eight years before. An angel told Daniel that the holy place would be trapled for 2,300 evenings and mornings. This probably means 1,150 evening sacrifices and 1,150 morning sacrifices, which comes to about three and a half years. That is the time it took for the Maccabees to reconquer Jerusalem and rededicate the Temple, 167-167 BC.
The Pharisees and Sadducees Parties Arise
During his reign the two parties of the Pharisees and the Sadducees came into their own.
The main theological difference between these two sects was that the Pharisees followed the Oral Law of the Rabbis, believed by them to be additional laws given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai, while the Sadducees accepted only the written Word. However, they began to discredit the concept of life after death.
When one does not believe in the immortality of the soul, the human heart is less motivated to keep his relationship intimate with God. And being that the Sadducees were generally wealthier, more conservative, and better connected politically than their rivals, they were more easily assimilated and prone to enjoy the luxuries of the pagan-influenced Greek way of life. Today’s language would describe such a movement as backslidden, swallowed up by the cares of this world, while the Pharisees became legalistic - their god being form, ritual, and tradition.
One single act was to radically affect the history of the Jewish people. John Hyrcanus I extended his reign eastward past the Dead Sea and demanded the Edomites convert to Judaism, forcing their sons to be circumcised! A century later, an Edomite convert by the name of Herod became King of the Jews. It is this Herod the Great who, upon winning the throne, beheaded the last of the high priests descending from the original Maccabees, thus ending their dynasty. It was Herod the Great who had no problem slaying all the babies under two in Bethlehem when Yeshua was born.
The Hasmonean Dynasty Becomes Completely Corrupt
For the next hundred years, all the good which had been accomplished by the Maccabees, (their descendants became known as the Hasmonean Dynasty) disintegrated into a legacy of unspeakable corruption, intrigue, murder and lawlessness. Family members slaughtered and tortured each other. Great darkness overtook the descendants, who in the beginning brought hope and light to their Jewish people. The Pharisees and Sadducees rose and fell in power, depending on the religious persuasion of the various Hasmonean rulers. It is said that one king alone killed up to 50,000 Jews in his war against the Pharisees, including the crucifixion of 800 rebels. (The New Century Book of Facts)
More often than not, children murdered or dethroned their parents, and various contenders formed alliances with all sorts of foreign rulers in an attempt to become the next despot. The debacle reached its climax when two brothers - Aristobulus (a Sadducee) and Hyrcanus II (a Pharisee) - fought each other with armies. Weakened by civil war, they succumbed to Roman occupation in 63 BC and thus ended the independent Jewish state.
No wonder Yeshua’s disciples were so desirous to know when Yeshua, the true King, would restore the kingdom to Israel!
Lord, is it at this time you are restoring the Kingdom to Israel? Acts 1:7
Restoring meant a King from the line of David and a worthy High Priest.
Yeshua’s direct answer to their question was, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” to preach redemption and restoration to the world.
Meaning - when there is a Hanukkah (cleansing and dedication) of the Temple of God in the hearts of all those chosen to be His followers, then the true King of the Jews will reign over all the earth.
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Two Kings: Herod and Yeshua
Herod’s influencial family, Edomites whose forebearers had converted to Judaism, rubbed shoulders with the greats in Rome and Herod became governor of Galilee at the age of 25. His close friend, Roman general Mark Anthony, then made him “King of the Jews.”
But that was only the beginning of intrigues as Herod worked to stay at the top of the heap. Caesar was murdered, and Roman rulers came and went as they vied for the throne. Herod changed sides whenever necessary and managed to keep his throne. He ruled from 37 BC to around 4 BC.
He killed the last of the Hasmonean high priests, Antigonus, who tried to take the throne from
him. Herod then married Antigonus’ daughter, Mariamme I, thereby in some sense securing
the continuity of the Maccabean priestly line, and giving him, he hoped, more credibility with the Jewish people.
For all his life, Herod was paranoid that he would be assassinated and his throne taken away
from him, and indeed, Herod’s position was never totally secure. Neither the Pharisees or
the Sadducees accepted his Jewish credentials.
Waiting for the Messiah
Herodium, the man made volcano-like hill that Herod built as a possible place of escape from enemies and for his burial. Eight miles from Jerusalem it is deep in the Judean Desert.
To make matters worse for this king of the Jews, there was a general anticipation, an expectation that the Messiah, the true King of the Jews, was about to come. Some Jewish scribes had calculated that seventy-six generations had passed since the Creation, and there was a tradition among the Jews that the Messiah was to deliver Israel from its foreign rulers in the seventy-seventh generation. (http://www.livius.org/) Herod had reason to fear. Certainly there were many prophecies in the Holy Scriptures that interested devout Jews such as Ananias and Anna - and also Herod.
Herod’s decision to slaughter all the male children under the age of two in Bethlehem was totally in character. During his entire 33 year reign he slaughtered anyone who got in his
way. However, within months of the Bethlehem massacre, he himself died. But before he did, he murdered another two of his sons, next in line for the throne.
He was undoubtedly the greatest builder the Holy Land had ever known, except, perhaps, Solomon. He built impressive monuments, fortresses, palaces and even whole cities. He built Massada, the massive fortress near the Dead Sea where in 73AD the last 936 Jewish zealots committed suicide rather than be captured for slavery or execution by the Romans. Herod built the wall around the city of Jerusalem and of course rebuilt the Temple - the very building where Yeshua preached, calling it “My Father’s House.”
His grave was uncovered this year after a search of thirty years by Israeli archeologists in Herodium.
Herod’s Descendants Influence Events of the New Testament
His legacy lived on through his sons he left alive. His son Herod Archelaus was such a poor
ruler that he was finally banished by the Romans. But during the short time he was king, Yeshua’s parents, Joseph and Mary, settled in Galilee because they were afraid to go to the territories ruled by him.
A second son was Herod Antipas, who took his half brother’s wife and then killed John the Baptist for rebuking his adultery.
King Herod Agrippa I was a grandson of Herod the Great. Because of the favor he had with the
Roman emperor, he was the first descendant of Herod given the title “king.” His grandmother was the same Mariamme I, a direct Jewish descendant of the Hasmonian dynasty, started by the Maccabee priest so far back in history. He killed James, the brother of John, and meant to
also kill Peter, who escaped death by an angel who led him out of the jail.
Only months later, he received worship from his constituents and the Bible says “the Lord struck him down and he was eaten by worms and died.” Acts 12:23
His son, King Herod Agrippa II, was the King to whom Paul said, “I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies.” At the end of his speech, Paul said, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”
God gave this king, the descendant of a decadent lost dynasty, the chance to receive the truth. His answer was, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28) He was the last of the Herod’s to rule.
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HAPPY HANUKKAH FROM MAOZ ISRAEL MINISTRIES!
Lighting One Candle at a Time
Dear Ari, Shira and Partners,
We are still in shock from your completely unexpected grant! Your support, along with our congregation's assistance, also provided everything we need to cover a full year of our daughters' education and day care so that Leah can finish writing her doctoral dissertation through the Hebrew University in Jerusalem on Messianic Jewish Identity in Israel. Words cannot express how grateful we are for your decision.
As you well know, we live on a shoe-string budget in comparison with our professional western colleagues because of our principed decision many years ago to live on the Israeli economy as our friends and neighbors do. But unlike them, our forthright testimony of faith in Yeshua, the Messiah of Israel, has cut off many sources of financial support that would gladly receive us if we would only compromise on our faith or principles.
But we know that God is raising up a new generation of young Messianic Jewish professionals in Israel who will be able to not only independently support our local spiritual leadership, but will also join them in leading our people to faith in Yeshua and restoring our role as a light to the nations. Your decision to invest in our calling, at a time when so many of our fellow believers are struggling just to survive the daily economic, cultural and spiritual stresses of modern Israeli life, is testimony to your long-term commitment to our shared vision for a vibrant, mature and indigenous Messianic community in Israel.
Indeed, our new congregation has grown out of yours, and shares a deep desire to be rooted in the land, faith and culture of our forefathers, centered in the Messiah and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Over twenty years have past since we first began sending our monthly tithe to Maoz Ministries as young college students living in the States. In our family, (this is not an exaggeration) the Maoz envelope was holier than the blue collection tin of the Israel National Fund because you were our most consistent family connection to the Messianic Jewish community in Israel.
Your work has always represented honesty, stability and a prophetic understanding of our future direction. To be on the receiving end of such an amazing work, and by a magnitude that no other Messianic organization in Israel has even begun to approach, is simply impossible to comprehend at this time.
We are so honored that you have always been encouraging and supportive at the milestones of our life's work and calling: marriage, children, public engineering management, language acquisition, congregational life, developing richer music and more creative and culturally relevant expressions of community worship, military reserve service, professional development and continuing education. Now our prayer is that the trust and faith that you have invested in us will yield a great harvest for the Kingdom of God and the people of Israel whom we love so much.
Please receive our heartfelt gratitude and this meager attempt to express how you have strengthened our arms to pursue excellence without having to compromise the spritirual values that we need in order to hasten the restoration of our people and land. As the prophet Jeremiah wrote, "Turn us, O Lord, and we will return. Renew our days as of old."
Chaim & Leah
Congregation Ahavat Yeshua, Jerusalem
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Investing in Israel
By Jonathan Bernis
I am grieved that much of the money goes to organizations that oppose Jewish evangelism
AS A MESSIANIC JEWISH BELIEVER, I am grateful to evangelical Christians for being Israel’s best friend. Evangelical Christians have done much to support the modern State of Israel and
have been responsible for helping tens of thousands of Jews return to their homeland.
Having said that, I want to address how Christians who love Israel and Jews determine where to invest their money.
Although I am appreciative of the millions of dollars donated each year, I am grieved that much of the money goes to organizations that directly oppose Jewish evangelism. In fact, some of the funds are given to anti-missionary groups that resist the gospel and persecute Messianic Jewish believers.
Let me give you one example. Rabbi Yechiel Z. Eckstein, founder of the prominent organization International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, raised more than $50 million last year from a database of 400,000 evangelicals to help needy Jews in Russia and Israel.
Much of the money donated is a result of infomercials that air on Christian TV and feature music by well-known Messianic artists. The programs give the impression that Eckstein is a Messianic Jewish believer. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The following quotes were taken from his book What Christians Should Know About Jews and Judaism:
“The notion that Jews are damned without Christ and that only through him and Christianity can they find fulfillment is utterly rejected.”
“A Jew who accepts Jesus as Lord or Messiah effectively ceases to be a Jew. … He is like a defector who walked out on his God and his family.”
“From a Jewish point of view, Messianic Jews are a front for evangelical Christians who try to wean Jews away from their ancestral faith by lulling them into believing that they can accept
Jesus as Lord and still remain Jewish.”
As you can see, the rabbi is clearly opposed to Jews’ hearing the gospel, yet well-meaning Christians continue to send millions of dollars to his organization.
In light of his stated opposition to Jewish evangelism and Messianic Judaism, should we expect that even a small portion of the millions of dollars he receives is used to help Messianic
Jews living in Russia get back to Israel or to help needy Messianic Jews in Israel with food or clothing?
When Christians donate money to help Jews immigrate to Israel, they often give to an organization called The Jewish Agency. But contrary to what most people think, the agency is
not part of the Israeli government. It is a private organization.
Because many Orthodox Jewish leaders are anti-Messianic, a percentage of their budgets go to combat the spread of the gospel in Israel. Christian Zionists need to be cautious of this problem and give to ministries that do not withhold the truth from Jews. There are excellent Christian organizations that help Israel, but they do so in the name of Jesus.
When the apostle Paul raised money for Jerusalem while on his missionary journeys, he always did it for Jewish believers in Yeshua (see Acts 24:17; Rom. 15:26-27; 1 Cor. 16:1-3).
The next time you donate money to a Jewish organization or ministry, please ask yourself the following questions and let your responses be the criteria for confirming which group you should give to:
Is the organization committed to reaching Jewish people with the gospel, or is it opposed to evangelism?
Will your giving directly benefit your Messianic brothers and sisters in Israel?
Are you donating to organizations that support the cause of Christ?
By all means, please continue giving to Israel, but do so wisely. Make it a priority to support Messianic Jews in Israel and Jewish organizations that promote the gospel.
Jonathan Bernis is founder of Hear O Israel Ministries, and executive director of Phoenix-based Jewish Voice Ministries International. He is a board member of Maoz Israel Ministries. Reprinted with permission from Charisma Magazine.
Ways to Maximize Your Giving to Maoz Israel Ministries
Think beyond the bounds of a normal cash gift and watch your generosity go even further.
Stock People who give are givers. And they regularly give to their church and other well-deserving ministries. Instead of donating cash, you may find it beneficial to give your next gift or year-end gift in the form of stock or mutual funds. By donating stock you are legally exempt from paying taxes on the appreciation, and you can still claim a charitable deduction for the full market value of the stock. It’s a win-win situation—as well as a great example of smart stewardship.
IRA For the remainder of this year, individuals 70 1/2 and older are able to make tax-free distributions of up to $100,000 from their traditional or Roth IRA. This is very useful if you are already comfortable with your current income and do not want to be taxed on your required IRA distribution. To be exempt from these taxes, you can ask your IRA administrator (Fidelity, Ameritrade, Scottrade, Merrill Lynch, or others) to make a distribution directly to Maoz Israel Ministries. This will save you a considerable amount on your taxes, and be a great blessing to us.
Charitable Gift Annuities It is possible to support Maoz Israel Ministries financially
and also receive a fixed income you can count on— all through a Charitable Gift Annuity. In exchange for a gift of at least $5,000, Maoz Israel Ministries will promise to send you regular payments for the rest of your life. There are several options available to suit your particular
circumstances, and a Gift Annuity is simple to set up.
Our Stewardship Department is ready and willing to help you maximize your giving by showing you sound, smart strategies when it comes to your giving. Call Jim today at 800-856-7060. Or, in the UK, call either Dan at 020-8692-2831 or Stewardship at 020-8502-5600. Our team will be able to assist you and help you see firsthand just how far your charitable dollars or sterling can go!
Dear Maoz Partner,
Because He lives, we live.
Because He gave, we give.
We, His Body around the world, take on the image, the personality and the heart of the Head.
The Messiah’s strategy is clear: the Gospel is the power of God to salvation... for the Jew first and also for the Greek.
His mandate is: Bring salvation to the Jewish people because their fullness will mean “much more” for the Gentiles. (Romans 11:12)
The fund of istandwithisrael.com exists to help build up the Body of Messiah in Israel to lift up the poor and needy, many of whom have immigrated from Russia, and others from Eastern Europe, India, Ethiopia and even the Western world.
The elderly believers without Hebrew language skills often struggle to exist, taking menial jobs if their health permits. Some are ill and cannot work. Middleaged or young families often must support parents and relatives, besides their own family. Many of these families both immigrant and native born are single parents.
It is an act of grace to help these families who, as they get on their feet, can certainly become a far more productive part of God’s army in Israel.
Moreover, there is also a whole new generation of believers joining the ranks. Many of their families were immigrants, but this second generation, of course, are full-fledged native-born Israelis.
We can help these young believers to obtain better employment through higher education and technical and career training. We send new immigrants to study Hebrew so they can function effectively both in the market place and as Messianic believers.
The goal of istandwithisrael.com is simply to help Israeli Messianic Jews permanently raise their standard of living.
istandwithisrael.com is also committed to helping Israeli Arab Christians in need. And we give to believers who suffer persecution for their faith Jewish, Arab, and Druze.
Israel’s Jewish body of believers is a tiny minority. Its 15,000 members are less than three tenths of one percent!
But we ARE gaining ground! Our numbers are growing! Our testimony of faith in Yeshua the Messiah is becoming more and more known to the general Israeli public.
Giving to istandwithisrael.com is a strategic way to help bring life to Israel’s Messianic community, and thus to the nation, and ultimately to the world.
All you have to do is be on board! We are grateful for every one of you who is part of the istandwithisrael.com family. Because it makes a difference!
Lighting one candle at a time,
Ari & Shira Sorko-Ram
P.S. Check out our istandwithisrael.com website.