This all begins with Alexander the Great. Following his death, Alexander’s vast kingdom was divided into fourths. At first, Jerusalem and Israel fell under the rule of the Ptolemaic Kingdom. A Hellenistic (Greek centered) kingdom in Egypt. That kingdom was tolerant of other beliefs, and Israel experienced relative peace. After a time, the Syrian based Seleucidan Kingdom took control of Israel. While also one of the four dynasties which followed Alexander, this one did not tolerate other beliefs. To Hellenize Israel, Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the Jewish Temple in about 168BC. A rebellion followed led by the Maccabees, Israel defeated the Seleucidans and again enjoyed self-rule for a time. In roughly December of 165BC, the Temple was rededicated. That event is still marked today in Hanukkah, or as John’s gospel calls it, the Feast of Dedication.
Now, that bit of ancient history may not seem very important. But it sets the stage for John 10:22-42, which begins, “At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon.”
The Jewish leaders, seeing Jesus, challenged Him to declare openly and clearly His identity as the Messiah. Whether they would have believed Him is doubtful. Jesus instead goes a few steps further, “the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me” and “I and the Father are one.” They may have accepted a Messiah, but could not accept Jesus as God’s son. The results are predictable, they picked up stones to kill Jesus, but they could not capture him.
In the middle of all that drama, Jesus declared, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. “I and the Father are one.”
There are two central points John is making. The first is the continual acknowledgment of Jesus’ identity as God the Son. The second is that God does not forsake those who are His. That is the central point of the Feast of Dedication(Hanukkah) and of Jesus’ declaration
In Hanukkah, the central story is how God enabled the Maccabees to defeat a much stronger Syrian army and the miraculous story of the lamp. Super brief. Part of temple worship is the continuing burning of the Menorah lamp in the holy place. When the Maccabees relit the Menorah, there was only enough oil found for one day, but the lamps burned for eight. God did not forsake them.
Jesus’ proclamation that no one can snatch believers out of His hand or His Father’s hand is also a message that God will not forsake us. And like the lamps, we may only have a day’s worth of oil, but in Christ, we will never go out.
Our day may be dark. Trouble and problems may seem to defile the Temple of our soul. But God has not, will not, forsake us. We are safe in His hands. Earthly power will fail and fade. Just like the mighty empire of Alexander eventually failed and crumbled into dust. Strongmen and mobs will rise to either subvert or desecrate our faith. They can make life miserable, even kill people of faith, but they cannot steal us from God. Our life, all that we are, is safe in Christ.