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The Greater Glory of Zerubbabel's Temple

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Do you ever have any times when it seems like the work you do for the kingdom of Jesus Christ doesn’t amount to very much? Sure, you raise your children in the fear of the Lord, maintain a good testimony at work and perhaps occasionally even take advantage of an opportunity to witness to an unbeliever. But then you remember a Christian friend who goes out of his way to evangelize everyone he comes into contact with, or you come to church on Sunday to hear how everyday certain missionaries are literally putting their lives on the line for the gospel in far-off lands. Your comparison makes you question the value of your own service.

Let’s face it: there’s not one person here today who couldn’t be doing at least a little better in every area, and we should constantly challenge one another to improve. But let’s not think that God can’t use our work just because it’s not as obvious as someone else’s. There were a few believers in the church at Corinth who depreciated the value of their own gifts. Paul admonished them as follows: For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body (I Cor. 12:14–20).

This is essentially the same situation that Haggai faced in today’s text. The temple, as it was being rebuilt, just didn’t measure up to Solomon’s standards. Those who were doing the work thought that it just wasn’t worth the effort.

God’s Covenant with his People

Haggai’s second sermon, which he summarized for us in the first nine verses of chapter 2, was in response to the situation I’ve just described. Again, the first verse gives us the exact date that he preached it: the twenty-first day of the seventh month. On our calendar, that would be October 17, 520 BC — about a month and half after his first sermon, and a little less than a month since the actual work on the temple had begun.

This date is also important. It was the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles (cf. Lev. 23:34, 36, 40–42), and the next day was a “holy convocation” or a day of rest (cf. Lev. 23:36, 39). In other words, the Jews were commemorating their deliverance from Egyptian slavery almost a thousand years earlier. It was an opportunity for them to look back to the past, which would have invited them to ponder their present situation as well. The purpose of the Feast of Tabernacles was to make them thankful, but on this particular occasion it made them discouraged. In terms of God’s blessing, they had taken huge steps backwards. The glory they had was as nothing compared to the glory of the united kingdom under David and Solomon, and the glory of their temple was overshadowed by the greater glory of the edifice that Solomon had constructed.

Thankfully, the Lord is not one to leave his people in despair. He sent Haggai his servant to them once again, this time to lift their spirits.

Haggai’s second sermon, like the first, began by reminding the people of his message’s divine origin and authority. Jehovah, their covenant God, mercifully addressed their concerns. And once again, Haggai spoke directly to Zerubbabel, the political leader, and Joshua, the religious leader, but he also addressed himself to the people as a whole. Everyone needed the prophet’s encouragement.

Although Haggai left us only a very brief summary of his message, it’s clear that he immediately went right to the heart of the problem. The people were comparing what they had before the Babylonian captivity with what they had afterward. The prophet said, “Okay, if that’s what you’re worried about, then let’s talk about it.” Note here that he didn’t pull any punches. In verse 3, he asked three rhetorical questions that emphasized that the people were right: their temple would not be anywhere near as glorious as Solomon’s. First, he asked if there was anyone present who could remember the former glory of Solomon’s temple. In spite of the fact that seventy years had gone by since its demise, the book of Ezra (3:8–13) indicates that there was a significant number of people still living who had seen the first building. Perhaps even Haggai had seen it. He then asked them how it looked. Remember that they were less than one month into a four-year project, so the building was nowhere near completion, but the prophet wanted them to make an educated guess based on its present status. He then asked them, “Don’t you think it looks a little shabby?”

In addition to the fact that the present building was smaller and shabbier than the first, the Babylonian Talmud lists five things that it lacked that contributed to its lesser glory: the Ark of the Covenant, the holy fire, the Shekinah glory, the spirit of prophecy (the Holy Spirit), and the Urim and Thummim. It’s no wonder that the older men wept!

Here the prophet almost seems cruel. The people were concerned that their building would not measure up to its former glory, and Haggai comes along and says, “Do you know what? You’re right. Your temple is really pitiful.” It sounds at this point like his purpose was merely to rub salt in their wounds, but this was not the case at all. To the contrary, he wanted them to start looking at the temple from God’s perspective. The Lord often sees things differently than we do. I Samuel 16:7 says, But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart. In regard to the temple, God definitely saw something that the people of Haggai’s day could never have seen apart from divine revelation.

Before explaining this further, the prophet encouraged people in verses 4 and 5 with a reminder of God’s covenant favor. He told them no less than three times to be strong in their work, and then cited two reasons for this, viz., God’s covenantal presence among his people, and his commitment to keep his covenantal promises. You might remember that this is exactly what David said to Solomon when he gave him the directions for building the first temple (cf. I Chron. 28:10, 20).

In a sense, it doesn’t really matter whether their temple would match Solomon’s in size and beauty. What’s important is that the people walk with the Lord, trusting him to keep his promises and obeying his commandments.

The historical context shows up again in verse 5. As the Jews celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles, they thought about how God had delivered their forefathers from Egyptian slavery. At that time, he took them out into the wilderness and renewed his covenant with them. They also affirmed their obedience to it as well. As long as they remained faithful, God himself guaranteed his favor toward them. That promise had not changed, even though nearly a thousand years had passed in between.

We tend to think that God changes as much as we do, but this was a good reminder of his never-changing faithfulness to those who put their trust in him.

The Glory of God’s House

So, if God does not see the temple as man sees it, then how does he see it? Haggai answered this in verses 6 through 9, where he also explained why Zerubbabel’s temple would surpass that of Solomon’s in glory.

The first thing he said here is that God will shake the heavens, the earth and the sea one more time. The fact that he would do this one more time meant that he had already done it once. The Jews knew exactly what Haggai meant. When the Persian king Darius assassinated his predecessor, several provinces that had been under Persian control revolted. Darius then shook heaven, earth and the sea to squelch their rebellion. He succeeded in this after nineteen separate battles.

Haggai, on the other hand, wrote that a much greater shaking would take place in the future with the coming of the Messiah. Daniel also described this shaking as follows: And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure (Dan. 2:44–45). In preparation for the Messiah’s coming, the work of rebuilding the temple was even more necessary. The temple was to become the religious center of the world (cf. Isa. 2:2–4), but it would only find its meaning in the finished work of Jesus Christ, who in his flesh made one sacrifice for sin forever.

Lest anyone object that the shaking of the heavens, the earth and the sea in Haggai’s prophecy must be understood literally, let it be noted that Peter in his sermon on Pentecost did not give a literal interpretation of a similar prophecy from the book of Joel (Acts 2:19–20; Joel 2:30–31). He said that the sun became dark and the moon turned to blood with the coming of Jesus Christ. In the Bible, the disruption of cosmic forces is often a metaphor for God’s judgment of the nations. Verse 7 of our text specifically says that this is what Haggai intended: God will shake the nations. This is also how we should understand similar statements in Matthew 24:29 and Revelation 6:12–14.

But which nations did Haggai’s prophecy include? To answer this, we go back to the second chapter of Daniel, which foretold the rise and fall of four successive world kingdoms: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. By the time Haggai wrote, the Lord had already removed Babylon from the picture. This left the other three. One at a time they would appear on the scene, and one at a time they would be destroyed.

Only one thing would remain after the Lord shakes heaven and earth, viz., the kingdom of God. Hebrews 12:25–29, which includes a quote from Haggai 2:6, says that God shakes the entire creation in order to remove everything that stands in the way of or is opposed to the kingdom of Jesus Christ. It’s an exhortation to believers to pay careful attention to the Word of God and to embrace the kingdom of Jesus Christ, which alone will stand firm and endure throughout all ages. Hebrews says, See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven: whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:25–29).

In the midst of all this shaking, verse 7 says that the desire of all nations shall come. There are a couple different opinions about what this desire is. Probably the most common interpretation today is that it refers to the gold and silver of the nations themselves, which will be brought into the treasury of the Lord. However, I tend to stick with the older view that the desire of all nations (חֶמְדַּת) is the Messiah himself. The chief objection to this view is that the Messiah does not seem to be desired by anyone, including his own people, much less by all the nations. Isaiah wrote, For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him (Isa. 53:2). But two things can be said in response to this. First, Jesus is the desire of all nations in the sense that he offers freedom from the curse of the fall, which all men want. They do not want him as their deliverer, nor do they want his blood to be the means of deliverance, but they do want the result. And second, he is the desire of all nations because his work established a new humanity of men, women and children who call out to him for mercy. Revelation 7:9 says that a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues will stand before his throne and sing his praises.

In these words, the prophet Haggai gave the people of his day the reassurance that they needed. They were concerned about the glory of God’s house, but the fact that the desire of all nations would come to their temple meant that it would have a glory beyond anything that Solomon ever imagined. Jesus Christ is the Shekinah glory, whose presence filled the earthly temple. He is the one who “tabernacled” (ἐσκήνωσεν) among men in order to make his Father known (John 1:14–18). By his sacrifice, he put an end to all the ceremonies of the earthly temple, which was ineffectual at removing sin anyway, and brought blessing and salvation to all nations. Although Haggai’s contemporaries thought that their part in all of this was relatively small, he encouraged them to look at the bigger picture (Zech. 4:8–10). What they were doing was indispensable in God’s overall program of redemption!

Before Solomon built the first temple, his father David gathered massive amounts of gold and silver and other precious materials that would be used in its construction. By comparison, the people working with Zerubbabel had very little. It’s understandable that they were concerned that their building would not be precious enough for a God who dwells in unimaginable glory. In answer to their concern, the Lord graciously reminded them in verse 8 that all the silver and all the gold in the entire universe already belongs to him. If he had wanted a temple decorated with precious metals, he would have made it so. But this is not what he wanted. He wanted the faith and obedience of his people.

Furthermore, the temple that they were building would ultimately bring forth something that no amount of gold and silver could ever buy. It would bring peace. Verse 9 says, The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the LORD of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the LORD of hosts.

We might expect to find peace in Jerusalem, whose very name means “the city of peace.” But Jerusalem was anything but a city of peace. Historically, more wars have taken place there than just about anywhere else in the world. True peace would be found in the Messiah. Earlier Isaiah had predicted that the Messiah would be called the Prince of Peace. He also said that there would be no end to the increase of his government and peace (Isa. 9:6–7). When Jesus was born, the angels sang, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men (Luke 2:14). By giving us peace with God, he also secured our peace with one another. Thus, Paul wrote, For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;… and came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh (cf. Eph. 2:14–22, esp. vv. 14 and 17). This gospel is a gospel of peace (Eph. 6:15), and Christ’s ministers proclaim peace and the good news of salvation (Isa. 52:7; Rom. 10:15).

What Zerubbabel’s temple lacked in outward adornment and size, it more than made up for in substance and reality.

Was the temple worth it? Yes. Were the labors of the people in vain because they did not result in an edifice equal in glory to Solomon’s? No. There was a value to their labors that was far beyond anything that they could have anticipated.

Augustine’s mother Monica prayed for her wayward son every day. Augustine himself once wrote that she wept more for his spiritual death than most mothers would for the physical death of a child. It seem like such a small service to pray for one person —her own son, in fact — and yet that one person was predestined by God to be one of the most influential Christian thinkers in the history of the world. Both Martin Luther and John Calvin attributed their basic theology to him.

Likewise, the very last words that William Tyndale uttered as the flame of martyrdom consumed his flesh were a prayer to God: “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes!” Shortly afterward, a translation of the Bible based heavily on Tyndale’s was presented to King Henry VIII, who had persecuted him for his Protestant faith. Tyndale’s name did not appear in it. The king not only approved of this Bible, which he believed would emancipate England from the pope’s tyranny, but authorized the sale and reading of it throughout his kingdom. Tyndale’s prayer was not the kind of thing that would make a headline in the news, but it had a greater impact on the Church of England than the lifetime work of a dozen other men.

Concerning the rebuilding of the temple, the prophet Zechariah asked, For who hath despised the day of small things? (Zech. 4:10). The fact is the we all do, although we know that we shouldn’t. The Lord uses each of us to accomplish his will perfectly in his church. His goal for the church is given in Ephesians 4:13 — Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.

So, beloved, let us not despise the work that God gives us to do. Instead, let us embrace this work as enthusiastically as we can and trust the Lord Jesus Christ to do great things to his own honor and glory. Amen.

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