Judas Maccabeus was a Levite and also of the priesthood. He lived in the time between the Old and New Testaments. This was when the Greeks ruled the Holy Land under Antiochus Epiphanes. Judas was appointed by God to be captain (military leader) of the Jews. The story of Judas Maccabeus is told in the books of Maccabees in the Apocrypha.
Under the king, Antiochus Epiphanes, there were abominations committed in Judea. A wicked ruler of the Jews named Menelaus arranged for the murder of the high priest, Onias. Then the king appointed Menelaus as high priest in exchange for gold, even though Menelaus was not of the tribe of Levi. The king also took all of the money collected for the welfare of the widows and fatherless and put it in his royal coffers. Then he set up altars throughout Judea to the Greek gods and had pigs sacrificed in the temple in Jerusalem. This was called the abomination of desolation. “Now the fifteenth day of the month Casleu, in the hundred forty and fifth year, they set up the abomination of desolation upon the altar, and builded idol altars throughout the cities of Juda on every side; And burnt incense at the doors of their houses, and in the streets. And when they had rent in pieces the books of the law which they found, they burnt them with fire.” I Maccabees 1:54-56. Eventually Antiochus Epiphanes was brought down by God. “So that 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. And the man, that thought a little afore he could reach to the stars of heaven, no man could endure to carry for his intolerable stink.” II Maccabees 9:9,10.
Every battle that Judas Maccabeus fought was a victory for the Jews until his pact with the Romans
During this terrible time for the Jews, when thousands of them were murdered because they would not worship the Greek gods, Judas Maccabeus gathered an army of Jewish objectors and marched against the Greeks. Though outnumbered more than three to one, they defeated the Greeks, cleansed the temple, and destroyed all of the heathen altars in Judea. The Jews today celebrate this cleansing of the temple with the festival of Hanukkah. The Greeks would not accept this defeat. The king, who was the son of Antiochus Epiphanes, gathered a huge army with cavalry and elephants to take back Jerusalem. “But when the battle waxed strong, there appeared unto the enemies from heaven five comely men upon horses, with bridles of gold, and two of them led the Jews. And took Maccabeus betwixt them, and covered him on every side with their weapons, and kept him safe, but shot arrows and lightnings against the enemies: so that being confounded with blindness, and full of trouble, they were killed.” II Maccabees 10:29-30.
Every battle that Judas Maccabeus fought was a victory for the Jews until he made a pact with the Romans for protection from the Greeks, and he was finally killed in battle. The brothers of Judas Maccabeus were then driven into the wilderness with their army and the Greeks took the country again, but when a Jewish traitor, Alcimus, went to destroy the wall of the inner court of the temple, God struck him down with palsy and he died. Jonathan, the brother of Judas, then became captain and high priest of the Jews and delivered the city from the Greeks. This was the time of civil war among the Greeks, and Jonathan made peace with one faction of the Greeks and war with the other faction. He had a successful career until he renewed the peace pact with the Romans, after which he was killed in battle. His brother Simon then took over as ruler and high priest. He ruled the Jews until he was old, but when he was invited to a banquet put on by his son-in-law, he was treacherously killed. The books of Maccabees end with Simon’s son becoming high priest.
This family of Levites was instrumental in preserving the worship of God in the Jewish nation, in preparation for the coming of Christ. They were not prophets, but God’s Spirit was upon them to give them constant victories over Greek armies and to defend the temple in Jerusalem. Their story shows how God used members of the tribe of Levi to accomplish his divine purposes.