The Maccabean Revolt
Aug 31, 2015
When Antiochus Epiphanes set up the abomination of desolation in the temple in Jerusalem in 166 B.C., he also banned God’s law and executed anyone who owned a copy of it. He attempted to force the Judeans to convert to Greek religion and to de-nationalize Judea and fully incorporate them into the “superior” Greek way of life. At the altar to Jupiter, which had been set up in the temple, the people were forced to worship and to eat of the sacrifices, including the swine’s flesh offered to idols.
The divine point of view, given in Daniel 11:32, says that he tried to turn people to godlessness by causing them to violate His covenant. Perhaps the angel was referring specifically to Onias, the high priest in Jerusalem, who was also called Menelaus. Josephus tells us that “this man was the origin of all the mischief the Jews had done to them, by persuading [Antiochus Epiphanes] to compel the Jews to leave the religion of their fathers” (Antiquities of the Jews, XII, ix, 7).
During this time, there were ungodly men who coveted the position of high priest. They found opportunity to appeal to the king of the north and to subvert the divine mandate establishing the succession of the high priesthood. This appears to have been one of the root causes of divine judgment upon Judea in allowing Antiochus to desecrate the temple.
The same situation occurred in Jesus’ time when King Herod and his Edomite dynasty appointed high priests who were subservient to him. That era ended with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. It is important to notice this parallel between Antiochus and Herod, because in both cases the priesthood usurped the place of Christ in the temple, bringing divine judgment upon the city and temple.
The Strength of Eleazar
The result was that many fell into apostasy, but others displayed “strength” and took “action,” as we read in Daniel 11:32, 33,
32 … but the people who know their God will display strength and take action. 33 And those who have insight among the people will give understanding to the many; yet they will fall by sword and by flame, by captivity and by plunder, for many days.
There was one old man, ninety years of age, named Eleazar, a well-respected godly man in the community, who boldly refused to comply with the royal decree. Some urged him to pretend to comply, so as to save his life, but he refused, saying that if he made such pretense, many of the younger ones would follow his example, believing that he had eaten of the polluted offerings. He was a witness of the truth, standing up to the Prince of Greece which had cast truth to the ground. We read in 2 Maccabees 5:30, 31,
30 But when he was ready to die with stripes, he groaned, and said, “It is manifest unto the Lord that hath the holy knowledge, that whereas I might have been delivered from death, I now endure sore pains in body by being beaten; but in soul am well content to suffer these things, because I fear Him.” 31 And thus this man died, leaving his death for an example of a noble courage, and a memorial of virtue, not only unto young men, but unto all his nation.
The Mother and her Seven Sons
In the next verse, 2 Maccabees 6:1, the story begins of a mother and her seven sons who were tortured and killed one by one for following the example of Eleazar.
1 It came to pass also, that seven brethren with their mother were taken, and compelled by the king against the law to taste swine’s flesh, and were tormented with scourges and whips. 2 But one of them that spoke first said thus, “What would thou ask or learn of us? We are ready to die, rather than to transgress the laws of our fathers. 3 Then the king, being in a rage, commanded pans and caldrons to be made hot, 4 which, forthwith being heated, he commanded to cut out the tongue of him that spoke first, and to cut off the utmost parts of his body, the rest of his brethren and his mother looking on. 5 Now when he was thus maimed in all his members, he commanded him being yet alive to be brought to the fire, and to be fried in the pan; and as the vapour of the pan was for a good space dispersed, they exhorted one another with the mother to die manfully….
And so all seven of the brothers, from the oldest to the youngest, died by torture, as the king did his best to frighten them into complying with his decree. Finally, their mother suffered the same fate.
The Rise of Judas Maccabeus (“The Hammer”)
It appears that this incident inspired the revolt, as others took courage. Antiochus’ actions made many realize that it was better to die fighting the Syrians in battle than to be tortured at the altar of Jupiter. Immediately after this incident, 2 Maccabees 7:1, 2 says,
1 Let this be enough now to have spoken concerning the idolatrous feasts, and the extreme tortures. Then Judas Maccabeus, and they that were with him, went privily into the towns, and called their kinfolks together, and took unto them all such as continued in the Jews’ religion, and assembled about six thousand men. 2 And they called upon the Lord, that he would look upon the people that was trodden down of all; and also pity the temple profaned of ungodly men.
This began the Maccabean revolt against Antiochus Epiphanes. Judas exhorted the men not to trust in their weapons but to have confidence in the Almighty God. Apparently, he was familiar with Isaiah 31:1, 2, 3, where the prophet chided Israel for relying upon fleshly weaponry rather than upon God for their defense.
Judas and his three brothers became captains of 1,500 men. In their first battle they slew over 20,000 of the Syrian soldiers. Nicanor, the Syrian general, fled to Antioch in disgrace. Meanwhile, Antiochus himself, being on a military campaign in Persia, attempted to rob a temple, but the people of the city came and attacked them and drove them out of the city. This double disgrace put Antiochus in a rage, and he vowed to “come to Jerusalem and make it a common burying place of the Jews” (2 Maccabees 9:4).
However, he died before he could reach Jerusalem.
Antiochus Epiphanes Humbled
2 Maccabees 9:5 says,
5 But the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, smote him with an incurable and invisible plague; for as soon as he had spoken these words, a pain of the bowels that was remediless came upon him, and sore torments of the inner parts… 7 Howbeit he nothing at all ceased from his bragging, but still was filled with pride, breathing out fire in his rage against the Jews, and commanding to haste the journey; but it came to pass that he fell down from his chariot, carried [dragged] violently; so that having a sore fall, all the members of his body were much pained.
The account then says he had to be carried in a litter, “showing forth unto all the power of God.” We are then told in verses 9 and 10,
9 … the worms rose up out of the body of this wicked man, and whiles he lived in sorrow and pain, his flesh fell away, and the filthiness of his smell was noisome to all his army. 10 And the man, that thought a little afore as he could reach to the stars of heaven, no man could endure to carry for his intolerable stink. 11 Here therefore, being plagued, he began to leave off his great pride, and to come to the knowledge of himself by the scourge of God, his pain increasing every moment. 12 And when he himself could not abide his own smell, he said these words: “It is meet to be subject unto God, and that a man that is mortal should not proudly think of himself as if he were God.”
It appears that Antiochus Epiphanes (“God Manifest”) was humbled in the end by his own stench and recognized that God had judged him for his pride. The account says that Antiochus then vowed to give Jerusalem its freedom, restore the vessels to the temple, and “become a Jew himself, and go through all the world that was inhabited and declare the power of God” (2 Maccabees 9:17).
Antiochus then composed a letter to the people of Judea as follows:
Antiochus, king and governor, to the good Jews his citizens wisheth much joy, health, and prosperity. If you and your children fare well, and your affairs be to your contentment, I give very great thanks to God, having my hope in heaven.
As for me, I was weak, or else I would have remembered kindly your honor and good will. Returning out of Persia, and being taken with a grievous disease, I thought it necessary to care for the common safety of all, not distrusting my health, but having great hope to escape this sickness. But considering that even my father, at what time he led an army into the high countries, appointed a successor, to the end that, if anything fell out contrary to expectation, or if any tidings were brought that were grievous, they of the land, knowing to whom the state was left, might not be troubled.
Again, considering how that the princes that are borderers and neighbors unto my kingdom wait for opportunities, and expect what shall be the event, I have appointed my son Antiochus king, whom I often committed and commended unto many of you, when I went up into the high provinces, to whom I have written as follows; therefore I pray and request you to remember the benefits that I have done to you generally, and in special, that every man will still be faithful to me and my son. For I am persuaded that he, understanding my mind, will favorably and graciously yield to your desires.
The account concludes, saying of Antiochus, “so died he a miserable death in a strange country in the mountains.” He left his kingdom to his son, Antiochus V, known as Eupator, “Noble-born.”
Antiochus Eupator Declares War on Judea
Eupator did not respect the wishes of his father, but sent an army of 100,000 foot soldiers, supported by archers in towers on elephants, to lay siege to Jerusalem. He soon had to withdraw the siege, however, in order to quell a rebellion in his own country. So Daniel 11:34, 35 says,
34 Now when they [the godly ones] fall they will be granted a little help, and many will join with them in hypocrisy. 35 And some of those who have insight will fall, in order to refine, purge, and make them pure, until the end time; because it is still to come at the appointed time.
It is unclear whether “a little help” refers to the hypocritical, ungodly ones joining the ranks of the Maccabees once they saw victory in sight, or if this “help” refers to others rising up in revolt against Antiochus. Whatever the case, it happened that Antiochus’ cousin, Demetrius, raised an army of mercenaries, took the king captive, and executed him. Antiochus Eupator had reigned only two years (163-161 B.C.) when his throne was taken by his cousin, Demetrius.
Restoring the Temple
Judas Maccabaeus restored Jerusalem and the temple to its original form of worship, pulling down all the altars of the foreign gods.
Josephus tells us that “so it was, that the temple was made desolate by Antiochus, and so continued for three years.” In fact, he says that the temple was desolated on the 25th day of the month called Appellius (December), and that it was rededicated on the same day three years later. The eight-day celebration of the consecration of the temple became known as Hanukkah, “Lights.” John 10:22 calls it “the feast of dedication.”
Antiochus IV had hoped that Judea would remain subject to his son Antiochus V, but this did not happen. The Judeans set up an independent government
The ungodly high priest, Onias, was dead, but he had been replaced by an equally ungodly high priest, Alcimus. Judas expelled him, and he fled to Antioch, accusing Judas of rebelling. Demetrius was furious and sent an army to Judea to execute Judas and to reinstate Alcimus as the high priest. Nicanor, the general, threatened to destroy the temple if the people did not give up Judas.
Judas, however, completely destroyed the Syrian army, which brought a measure of peace. Alcimus himself died of a stroke, leaving Judas as the sole high priest. Judas began the line of Hasmonean King-Priest who ruled Judea for nearly 130 years until the last of his line was executed by King Herod in 34 B.C. (Josephus himself was of that same lineage.)
Yet the Romans took Judea in 63 B.C., subjecting the last of the Hasmoneans to the rule of Rome. Judea’s independence lasted just 100 years (163-63 B.C.), depriving the third beast empire of a century of rule. This had prophetic implications, because this lost century had to be added to the end of the 2,520-year (“seven times”) dominion that God had granted the beast empires as a whole. Since the 2,520 years ended from 1914-1917, this meant that a Greek-inspired century of beast rule was granted to the Prince of Greece until 2014-2017.
This is part 68 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Daniel." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones