The Apocrypha, Lesson 13: 1-2 Maccabees, Pt. 3

Paul and Onesiphorus 2Recap

In 164 BC, with the ouster of Antiochus Epiphanes from Israel, the Israelites began to celebrate a festival every year to remember the dedication, or restoration, of the Temple.  For the one who claimed to be God in human flesh was defeated and proper worship restored.

Jesus used His celebration of this feast (John 10) to assert His divinity in human flesh.  Those who believed understood; those who did not, accused Him of blasphemy.


Excursus: The Palms

During the Feast of Dedication, 2 Maccabees describes the people’s celebration.  “Now, carrying ivy-wreathed wands, beautiful branches, and fronds of palm, they offered hymns of thanksgiving to him who had made the purification of his holy place possible” (2 Maccabees 10:7).

To understand why the people would choose to wave palms goes back to earlier Old-Covenant times.  In 1 Kings 6, following God’s instructions, King Solomon decorated the first Temple.

29 He carved all the surrounding temple walls with carved engravings—cherubim, palm trees, and flower blossoms—in the inner and outer sanctuaries.  30 He overlaid the temple floor with gold in both the inner and the outer sanctuaries.

31 For the entrance of the inner sanctuary, he made olive wood doors….  32b He carved cherubim, palm trees, and flower blossoms on them and overlaid them with gold, hammering gold over the cherubim and palm trees.

33 In the same way, he made four-sided olive wood doorposts for the sanctuary entrance.  34 He also made two doors out of cypress wood; the first door had two folding sides, and the second door had two folding panels.  35 He carved cherubim, palm trees, and flower blossoms on them and overlaid them with gold applied evenly over the carving.

So palms were associated with the Temple.  The people could also have thrown flowers, except it was winter when flowers were not in bloom—but the palm trees still had leaves and branches.

Also, a tradition of celebrating with palm branches already existed for the Festival of Booths, one of the three mandated festivals of the Old Covenant.  “On the first day [of this festival], take branches from majestic trees—palm fronds, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook—and rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days” (Leviticus 23:40).

Based on availability, Temple association, and what palm branches already signified to the Israelites, using palm branches to celebrate became the obvious choice.  What happens here, in the rededication of the Temple, however, is a change in the meaning associated with palm branches.13, Two Israelite Coins during Maccabean Rule

With the Maccabees, palm branches become a symbol of an independent and powerful Israel (or used to project that).  We see this in the coinage a century before and after Jesus rode into Jerusalem when the people waved their palm branches (John 12:13).

So, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the palms relayed the message of hope the people were revealing: freedom from Roman occupation and rule.

They also put their cloaks on the road before Jesus as He entered Jerusalem.  They responded the same way the Israelites earlier welcomed returning kings and generals.13, Jesus riding into Jerusalem and palm branches

  • “Many people in the crowd spread their own coats on the road” (Matthew 21:8).
  • “They quickly took their cloaks and spread them under King Jehu on the bare steps” (2 Kings 9:13).

A century after Jesus’ death, the bloodiest Israelite rebellion against Rome took place.  In 132 AD, Simon bar Kokhba began a revolt against Rome to free Israel.  He led a massive uprising when Roman legions were away from Israel and preoccupied elsewhere.13, Two Israelite Coins during the Bar Kohkba Revolt

At first, the revolt succeeded.  Kokhba’s army evicted the Romans.  Israel now became an independent nation for two years and even issued its coinage.  Again as an independent people, palms emblazoned their coins.

On Palm Sunday, the people cried, “Hosanna,” which means “give us salvation now” or “deliver us now.”

  • What type of Messiah did the crowd want?


The palms reveal the people wanted the wrong Messiah, not one who liberated from sin and eternal death, but Rome!


A Summation of the Rest of Maccabean Rule

The Seleucids and others will continue to skirmish with Israel.  Though Israel remained independent, it was never fully at peace, always struggling not to be overrun.  Judas, whom Mattathias, the father of the Maccabees, appointed to lead the military, died in 161 BC.  The younger brother, Jonathan, replaces him.  During this time, Rome continues to grow in strength.

1 Now Judas heard about the Romans’ reputation as a military power and how loyal they were to all who allied with them, pledging friendship to those who came to them.  17 So Judas … sent [representatives] to Rome to establish friendship, alliance, 18 and also to free the Jewish people from oppression.  For they saw the kingdom of the Greeks as enslavers of Israel.  [1 Maccabees 8:1, 17-18]

  • What does Judas put in place between Israel and Rome?


In 142 BC, Jonathan dies, and Simon replaces him, the last of Mattathias’ sons.  In 134 BC, Simon is killed, and another related to the Maccabees, John (Yohanan) Hyrcanus, succeeds him.  “Hyrcanus” was a nickname, though we do not know its origin or meaning.  1 Maccabees ends with John Hyrcanus replacing Jonathan but tells nothing of his life and reign.

Israel’s alliance with Rome later becomes a pretense for them to intervene in Israel in 67 BC.  Two descendants of the John Hyrcanus vied for power, and both sought Roman intervention.  Having already taken over Syria from the Seleucids, they interceded, and an independent Israel was no more.


The Theological Influence of 1 and 2 Maccabees

“The Great High Priest”

After another battle against the Seleucids, we come across the first use of the term, “Great High Priest,” in the Old Testament.

In the 170th year [142 BC], the yoke of the Gentiles was removed from Israel, and the people began to write in their documents and contracts, “In the first year of Simon the great high priest and commander and leader of the Jews.” [1 Maccabees 13:41-42]

  • What other roles did Simon have beyond the high priest?


  • Does this give Simon more authority than someone who was only a high priest?


The book of Hebrews builds on this term, pointing the struggling Jewish Christians to Someone even more mighty than Simon.

Read Hebrews 4:14-16

Both the Old-Covenant High Priest and Jesus both passed through something.

The High Priest passed through a copy of heaven (Leviticus 16:3-25), that is, the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle.  God commanded Moses on the mountain, “See to it that make them [everything in the Tabernacle] according to the pattern that you were shown on the mountain” (Exodus 25:40).

Old-Covenant worship involved a “pattern” God mandated for his people.  Later, the Apocrypha book of Wisdom 9:8 tells us more.  “You [God] gave me [Solomon] the command to build a temple on your holy mountain and an altar in the city that is your dwelling place, a copy of your holy tabernacle, which you established from the beginning.”  In Hebrews, we learn, “They [the Temple priests] serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven” (Hebrews 8:5).

Unlike the High Priest, who only passed through a copy or shadow of what is in heaven, Jesus is in heaven as our Great High Priest!

  • What does this allow us to do in our time of need, which not even Simon can do for us in heaven? (vs. 16)


The obvious conclusion is why would you (Jewish Christians) what to go back to something inferior?


Prayers for the Sainted Dead

After a battle against Israel’s enemies,

39b Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bury them with their relatives in their ancestral tombs.  40 Under the tunic of each of the dead, they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear.  Everyone then knew why these men had been killed.

41 So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; 42 and they turned to supplication, praying that the sin that had been committed might be entirely blotted out. [2 Maccabees 12:39-42]

  • Why did Judas believe about those who died in battle?


  • What did he lead his men to do?


Historically, we know the Jews prayed for someone in the Covenant who had died.  For we find such a practice in 2 Maccabees 12:42.  We also know this was a practice within Judaism before and during the time of Christ.  (In Judaism, such prayers continue to this day, called the “mourner’s kaddish,” offered after a family member dies.  At the funeral, the El Maleh Rachamim is prayed, asking for God’s mercy on the soul of the deceased.)

Now, if such a practice were wrong, we might find Jesus condemning it in the New Testament (“might” because the Gospels do not record everything He said).


Jesus and Martha

Read John 11:17-22

  • Lazarus just died. Based on the setting, what was Martha asking Jesus to do when she said, “Whatever you ask from God, He will give you”?


The events would lead us to think Martha asked Jesus to pray for Lazarus since he just died.  But this is not certain.  So, let’s see how Jesus responds.

Read John 11:23-24

  • What does Jesus’ response show how He understood whom Martha wanted Him to pray for?


  • What does Martha’s response show what she wanted Jesus to pray for something else?


  • If prayers for those who died are wrong, why didn’t Jesus reprimand Martha when He understood she was asking him to pray for Lazarus?


Read John 11:38-39

  • How does Martha’s response show us she didn’t want Jesus to pray for Lazarus to rise from the dead?


Read John 11:40-42

  • When Jesus prayed aloud, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me,” what had He already done? Based on the setting, for whom?


Jesus then raised Lazarus from the dead.


Paul and Onesiphorus

In Christianity, we find archeological evidence from inscriptions in the catacombs (dating from the 2nd century!) that testify to praying for the sainted dead.  We also have writings from Church fathers and other documents that show such prayers were simply part of the Church’s practice.  For example, Church fathers Tertullian (160-225 AD), Cyril of Jerusalem (315-386 AD), and Ambrose (340-397 AD) speak of this practice.  The Canons of Hippolytus (336-340 AD) and The Apostolic Constitutions (375-380 AD) also mention prayers for the dead, as well.

Judas Maccabees didn’t initiate this practice.  He responded in crisis and grief over those whom they understood to be damned because they wore amulets testifying to belief in another god.

Read 2 Timothy 1:16-17

  • When Paul wrote, “May the Lord grant mercy to …” what was he doing?


  • What did Paul say Onesiphorus did for him? Were those deed in the past or present tense?


“he often refreshed me”: This is in the past tense because Onesiphorus was no longer around to encourage Paul.  Paul mentioned his family twice (here and in 2 Timothy 4:19), although it was Onesiphorus, not his family, who helped him in prison and served the congregation at Ephesus.  Paul’s second mention of Onesiphorus is striking: He didn’t ask Timothy to greet Onesiphorus but, instead, “Greet… the family of Onesiphorus” (2 Timothy 4:19).

Paul spoke of Onesiphorus’ earthly deeds in the past tense.  Paul even praised “the service he rendered [past tense] at Ephesus,” without referring to any service in the present tense, there or anywhere else.

All this reveals that Onesiphorus had died.  Paul’s prayer in verse 16 now makes better sense: “May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus” because he was no longer there.

Read 2 Timothy 1:18

  • What does Paul do for Onesiphorus in this verse?


  • What is “that Day” that Paul speaks of concerning Onesiphorus?


“the Lord grant him”: Here, Paul speaks of Onesiphorus in the present and future tense.  He prays, “The Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day!”  Paul is praying for Onesiphorus after he died, entrusting him to God’s mercy as they both anticipate Christ’s return, the final judgment, and the new creation.

Remember Jesus’ response to Martha, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23).  Both Paul and Jesus operated from a worldview that the saints on earth pray for the saints in heaven toward the reality of the resurrection!


The Lord’s Prayer in All This

Jesus gave His Disciples His words to pray (Luke 11:2).  His prayer for us begins with “Our Father.”  The Question is, Who is the “our”?  For whom is God the Father, to whom His people pray?  Are they only the saints on earth, or do they include the saints in heaven?  How big is the Church for whom we pray?


13, Lord's Prayer


Our Lutheran Confessions mention praying for the dead in one place, in passing.

  • “Regarding the adversaries’ quoting the Fathers about the offering for the dead, we know that the ancients speak of prayer for the dead, which we do not ban.” (Ap 24, para 94)
  • “Epiphanius declares that Aerius [Arius] maintained prayers for the dead are useless. He finds fault with this.  We do not favor Aerius either.” (Ap 24, para 96)


Link to the next Lesson.