The Apocrypha, Lesson 12: 1-2 Maccabees, Pt. 2

Cleansing the Temple 2Recap

A representative of Antiochus confronts Mattathias in his town to be the first to offer a pagan sacrifice and become a “friend” of the king.  When Mattathias refuses, another man steps in, hoping to receive favor.  Angry, Mattathias kills both the opportunist and the king’s agent.  The Maccabean revolt begins.

At first, Mattathias focuses, not on the Gentiles, but Jews who have abandoned the Torah.  To reverse the trend of disobedience in Judea, he even circumcised boys left uncircumcised by their fearful or compromising parents (1 Maccabees 2:44-48).


Mattathias Dies

In the thick of the revolt, Mattathias becomes weak and realizes death is near.

1 Maccabees 2:

49 Now the days drew near for Mattathias to die, and he said to his sons: “Arrogance and contempt are present everywhere; it is a time of ruin and furious anger.  50 Now, my children, show zeal for the Law and give your lives for the covenant of our fathers.

51 Remember the deeds of the fathers, which they did in their generations; and you will receive great honor and an everlasting name:  52 Was not Abraham found faithful when tested, and it was credited to him as righteousness?  53 Joseph in the time of his distress kept the commandment and became lord of Egypt.  54 Phinehas our father, because he was deeply zealous, received the covenant of everlasting priesthood.  55 Joshua, because he fulfilled the command, became a judge in Israel.  56 Caleb, because he testified in the assembly, received an inheritance in the land.  57 David, because he was merciful, inherited the throne of the kingdom forever.  58 Elijah, because of great zeal for the Law, was taken up into heaven.  59 Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael believed and were rescued from the flame.  60 Daniel, because of his innocence, was delivered from the mouth of the lions.”

  • What is Mattathias encouraging His sons to believe and do?


New Testament Tie-In: Following Israelite tradition, Mattathias delivers a last will and testament.  We see this with Jacob in Genesis 49, Moses in Deuteronomy 33, Joshua in Joshua 23, Samuel in 1 Samuel 12, and David in 1 Kings 2.  However, Mattathias’ last will and testament differs, for he begins this with a list of the heroes of the faith and tells his sons to be faithful like them.

The New Testament book of Hebrews draws from Mattathias’ precedent in Hebrews chapter 11, where it also catalogues heroes of the faith.  Such a list encouraged by more than remembering people who died.  It also strove to strengthen because the hearers of Hebrews would see themselves as current-day sons of Mattathias, also contending for the faith.  They would see themselves as the faithful Jews, unlike the majority of the Jews in their day, who continued to follow the Old Covenant.


[Mattathias continued:]

65 “Here is your brother Simeon who, I know, is wise in counsel; always listen to him; he shall be your father.  66 Judas Maccabeus has been a mighty warrior from his youth; he shall command the army for you and fight the battle against the peoples.  67 You shall rally around you all who observe the Law and avenge the wrong done to your people.  68 Pay back the Gentiles in full, and obey the commands of the Law.”

  • Who will be the head of the family (or to become head of state)?


  • Who will be the military leader?


  • How does Mattathias change the focus on how to stop the Hellenization of Israel?


Life with the Jews under Antiochus IV

The average Jew living was caught between vying forces, each forcing them to live by a different set of rules.  Of the two, Antiochus was much crueler than Mattathias, so Mattathias understood before he died that he couldn’t “out-cruel” Antiochus (not that would he want to).  

Now, we find out some of what took place among the Jews under Antiochus.

2 Maccabees 7:

1 It also happened that seven brothers and their mother were arrested.  The king was trying to force them to eat pork, by whip and scourge, in violation of God’s Law.  2 One of them, acting as their spokesman, said, “What do you intend to ask and learn from us?  For we are ready to die rather than transgress the Laws of our fathers.”

3 The king became enraged and commanded large pans and kettles to be heated.  4 These were heated immediately, and he ordered his men to cut out the tongue of the one acting as spokesman, to scalp him, and cut off his hands and feet, while the rest of the brothers and the mother looked on.  5 While maimed but still breathing, the king ordered them to take him to the fire and fry him in a pan….

7 After the first brother had died in this way, they brought forward the second for their sport.  They tore off the skin of his head with the hair, and asked him, “Will you eat rather than have your body punished limb by limb?”  8 He replied in the language of his fathers and said to them, “No.”  So he, in turn, suffered the same tortures as the first.  9 And when he was at his last breath, he said, “You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his Laws.”

10 After him, the third was the victim of their sport….  13 After he too had died, they maltreated and tortured the fourth in the same way.  14 When he was near death, he said, “One cannot but choose to die at the hands of mortals and to cherish the hope God gives of being raised again by him.  But for you, there will be no resurrection to life!”

15 Next, they brought forward the fifth and maltreated him….  18 After him they brought forward the sixth….  30 … the [seventh brother] said, “Why do you wait?   I will not obey the King’s command, but the command of the Law given to our fathers through Moses…. “

39 The king fell into a rage, and tortured him worse than the others, resenting the boy’s contempt.  40 So he died in his integrity, putting his whole trust in the Lord.  41 Last, after her sons, the mother died.

  • How bad was it getting for those who didn’t forsake their trust in God?


  • What truth encouraged the sons and mother during their torture? (vs. 9, 14)


New Testament Tie-In

Hebrews 11 is a list of the heroes of the Faith (up to that time).  The list is chronological, moving forward in time.  “4 By faith, Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain did.”  “8 By faith, Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance.”  “28 By faith, [Moses] kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.”  Moving closer to the time when Hebrews was written, we find: “35 Others were tortured, not accepting release, to rise again to a better life.”  Hebrews expects the hearers of its text to know 2 Maccabees.

We also have another tie-in.  While encouraging her last living son, the mother told him:

28 I beg you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed.  And in the same way, the human race came into being, 29 so do not fear this butcher.

The mother encouraged her son by the doctrine of what we call “creation ex nihilo,” creation out of nothing.  Though the current-day, Protestant Old Testament implies God created the universe from nothing (Genesis 1:1; Psalms 124:8, 146:6), only 2 Maccabees 7:28 teaches this doctrine explicitly.

In the New Testament, Paul adapted 2 Maccabees 7:28 and “creation ex nihilo” to move from God creating the universe from nothing to doing the same with the faith someone has.  If the Christians at Rome didn’t see 2 Maccabees as Scripture, Paul would have needed to expound more on faith being all God’s doing.  But he didn’t need to, for he simply took something they accepted and built on that.

That is why [the promise] depends on faith, so that it may be by grace, to guarantee it to all of Abraham’s offspring.  For [the promise] isn’t only for those who were given the Law, but to those who share the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.  As it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations.”  He is our father in God’s sight, in whom he believed, the God who gives life to the dead and calls into existence that which does not exist. [Romans 4:16-17]



Judas Maccabeus

1 Maccabees 3:

3 Then his son Judas, who was called Maccabeus, took command in his place.  2 All his brothers and all who had joined his father helped him; they gladly fought for Israel.

“Maccabeus”: Not a proper name, but a nickname.  The word comes from the Hebrew noun maqqebeth, meaning “hammer” (see 1 Kings 6:7, Isaiah 44:12, Jeremiah 10:4).  Though a hammer can be a weapon, the nickname is to point us not to destruction but rebuilding.

1 Maccabees 3 now breaks out in poetry:

3 He extended the honor of his people,

and put on his breastplate like a giant.

He armed himself with the weapons of war,

and protected the ranks with his sword….

5 He searched out the wicked, hunting them down,

burning them down with the flame….

8 He passed through the towns of Judah,

and destroyed the ungodly out of the land.

He turned away wrath from Israel,

9   and his name was known to the ends of the earth.

He gathered the people who were near to destruction.

The poetry is meant to cause us to view Judas in messianic terms:

  • He does not fight for himself but the people.
  • Burning down the wicked brings out imagery of divine judgment.
  • He delivers and gathers his people who would otherwise perish.


The Showdown Begins

1 Maccabees 3:

38 Lysias chose Ptolemy, son of Dorymenes, and Nicanor and Gorgias, able men among the Friends of the king, 39 and sent with them 40,000 infantry and 7,000 cavalry to go into the land of Judah and destroy it, as the king had commanded.  40 So they set out with their entire force, and when they arrived, they encamped near Emmaus in the plain.  41b And forces from Syria and the land of the Philistines joined with them.

The text breaks out in poetry again to give us a feel of how desperate Jerusalem had become.

Jerusalem lay deserted as a desert;

not one of her children went in or out.

The sanctuary was trampled underfoot,

and the sons of foreigners were in the fortress,

a habitation for the Gentiles.

Joy was taken from Jacob,

and the flute and lyre played no more. [1 Maccabees 3:45]

Judas gathers his army, perhaps thinking this may be his last battle.

And Judas said, “Arm yourselves and be courageous.  Be ready early in the morning to fight with these Gentiles who have assembled against us to destroy us and our sanctuary.  It is better for us to die in battle than to see the misfortunes of our nation and the sanctuary.  But as his will in heaven may be, so shall he do.” [1 Maccabees 3:58-60]

1 Maccabees 4:

6 At daybreak, Judas appeared in the plain with 3,000 men, but they did not have armor and swords such as they desired.  7 And they saw the camp of the Gentiles, strong and fortified, with cavalry all around it; and these men were trained in war.  8 But Judas said to those who were with him, “Do not fear their numbers or be afraid when they charge.  9 Remember how our fathers were saved at the Red Sea when Pharaoh with his forces pursued them.  10 And now, let us cry to Heaven, to see whether he will favor us and remember his covenant with our fathers and crush this army before us today.  11 Then all the Gentiles will know that there is one who redeems and saves Israel.”

12 When the foreigners looked up and saw them coming against them, 13 they went out from their camp to battle.  Then the men with Judas blew their trumpets 14 and engaged in battle.  The Gentiles were crushed and fled into the plain, 15 and all those in the rear fell by the sword….

25 Thus Israel had a great deliverance that day.

2 Maccabees 8:5 credits God for Judas’ victory.  “As soon as Maccabeus got his army organized, the Gentiles could not withstand him, for the wrath of the Lord had turned to mercy.”

  • Against whom was the Lord’s wrath earlier displayed?


  • In what way did the Lord’s wrath turn to mercy?


The Temple is Purified and Rededicated

Then Judas and his brothers said, “See, our enemies are crushed; let us go up to cleanse the sanctuary and dedicate it.” …  There they saw the sanctuary desolate, the altar profaned, and the gates burned.  In the courts, they saw bushes sprung up as in a thicket, or as on one of the mountains.  They also saw the chambers of the priests in ruins.  Then they tore their clothes and mourned with great lamentation; they sprinkled themselves with ashes and fell face down on the ground.  And when the signal was given with the trumpets, they cried out to Heaven.

Then Judas detailed men to fight against those in the citadel until he had cleansed the sanctuary.  He chose blameless priests devoted to the Law, and they cleansed the sanctuary and removed the defiled stones to an unclean place….  Then they took unhewn stones, as the Law directs, and built a new altar like the former one.  They also rebuilt the sanctuary and the interior of the Temple and consecrated the courts.  They made new holy vessels and brought the lampstand, the altar of incense, and the table into the Temple.

Then they offered incense on the altar and lit the lamps on the lampstand, and these gave light in the Temple.  They placed the bread on the table and hung up the curtains.  Thus they finished all the work they had undertaken. [1 Maccabees 4:36-51]

  • In what state was the Temple?


  • Why did they tear down the old altar and build a new one?


Early in the morning on the 25th day of the ninth month, which is the month of Chislev, in the 148th year [164 BC], they rose and offered sacrifice, as the Law directs, on the new altar of burnt offering that they had built….  Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness for eight days, beginning on the 25th day of the month of Chislev. [1 Maccabees 4:52-53, 59]


New Testament Tie-In

The Jews celebrated the Feast of Dedication every year.  In Jesus’ day, it is an eight-day winter festival remembering Israel’s deliverance from Antiochus’ oppression including the cleansing and rededication of the Jerusalem Temple in 164 BC.  (Today, since the Temple is no more, the Feast of Dedication has turned into Chanukah, the Feast of Lights, which didn’t exist back then.)

At this feast, the Jews remembered and celebrated the removal of an imposter who claimed to be God.


John 10:

22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem.  It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the Temple, in the colonnade of Solomon.  24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense?  If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”  25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe….  30 I and the Father are one.”

31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him….  33b “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”

  • Why would Jesus’ words, “I and the Father are one,” make Himself to “be God”?


  • Playing off Antiochus’ false claim of being God, how does Jesus use that event to sharpen His point?


Jesus said, “I and the Father are one,” in the middle of the Feast of Dedication.  Those who believed Him understood Him to be saying, “Yes, I am the Messiah.”  Those who did not, boiled over in anger.  “Here’s this man claiming to be God just like Antiochus Epiphanes.  He should now be in the grave just like him!”  And so they picked up rocks to stone Jesus.

Saying He was one with God during the Feast of Dedication reinforces the point of Jesus’ claim to be God in the flesh.  The backdrop excludes other possibilities because the Feast brings to mind a man who called Himself “the manifestation of God” (epiphanes).  By claiming to be one with God during the Feast of Dedication, Jesus is also asserting that He is the “manifestation of God,” but the real One, the Messiah.


Link to the next Lesson.