Habakkuk, Zephaniah and Haggai
The question of how long will it be until the ultimate restoration of Israel comes up frequently in the Bible (verse 2, Isaiah 6:11-13, Daniel 12:6-13, Zechariah 1:12-17, etc.). A period of seventy years had been specified by the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 25:11-12, 29:10, Dan. 9:1-2, II Chron. 36:21-22). Some who lived during the Persian empire, after the Jews had been allowed to return to Jerusalem, knew of Jeremiah's prophecy and expected a major restoration of the nation at that time. But the book of Daniel clarified the time frame: the “seventy weeks prophecy” of Daniel 9 indicated that the seventy literal years spoken of by Jeremiah (during which the kingdom of Babylon ruled the world) represented a much greater span of time. Four world-ruling empires would exist between the time of Jeremiah and the time of Israel's ultimate restoration at the second coming of Christ. It would not be until after the the fourth world-ruling empire that Israel would be restored and God’s government would rule earth (Daniel chapters 2, 7). The return of the Jews to Jerusalem as a result of Cyrus' decree (Ezra 1:1-4, seventy years after their exile to Babylon) was simply a model of the ultimate restoration of Israel—the whole scenario was a foreshadow of something yet to happen!
The four world ruling empires, or “beast powers,” are a tool in God's hand—His spanking stick—His means of punishing the world's nations and humbling them. He first sends them upon Israel, then upon the rest of the world. See Isaiah 10:5-7, 15, 20-26; 36:1; 39:1-8, Jeremiah 50:23, 51:20-23. You can apply anything about Assyria to Babylon and the other "beast powers"—the prophecies regarding Assyria were transferred to Babylon because God overthrew Assyria to save Judah when King Hezekiah led his nation into national repentance (II Chron. 29-32). God was saying in effect that Assyria was overthrown, but the punishment is still coming.
So Assyrian prophecy becomes Babylonian prophecy, which in turn (as Daniel 2 shows) continues through the histories of Persia, Greece and right on down into the Roman Empire and its resurrections—that is, to our time today! It’s “the beast that was, is not, and will be again” (Revelation 17:8, 10). These prophecies come right down to the second coming of Jesus Christ! See Jeremiah 50:20-34. When Cyrus overthrew Babylon and set up the Persian Empire in its place, he typified what will happen when Jesus returns to wipe out the entire "beast system" at the end-time (Isaiah 44:28, 45:1, Daniel 2:44, Revelation 18).
A side note: why does God allow His nation to endure so much suffering? Look at the Holocaust and ask, why did God allow the Jews to suffer that much? One thing to remember is that God wants to keep the Israelites humble in this age. They still, to this day, haven’t yet learned to obey God fully (Leviticus 26:40-45, Isaiah 64-65, Ezekiel 2-3, Hosea 1:9, Lam. 5:19-22, Romans 9:25-33, 11:25-32). Undoubtedly, if any of the national Israelites and Jews would wholeheartedly turn to God, He would deliver them (Psalms 81 and 91 are a guarantee of this!).
The principle is: first God uses a "beast power" (Daniel 7) as a "rod of correction" to punish Israel, then when Israel is humbled sufficiently, "Babylon" will be punished and destroyed (Jeremiah 25:12, 51:60-64, Revelation 18:21-24). That is the lesson that comes right down to the end-time. It’s how God works.
Now back to Habakkuk. The prophet wanted to know how long it would be until the real thing—how long until Babylon is really wiped out? God’s reply is in chapter 2.
Habakkuk 2:1-4, 14, 20
God's end-time prophecies will come when they come—until then, we have to trust that God will do what He says. We have to have faith, even if Bible prophecy isn't fulfilled in our lifetime. It will come! Wait for it—and be ready for it. You can’t know if perhaps it will come in your time! If it doesn’t come in your life, don’t worry about it. See Hebrews 10:36-39.
That’s the whole message of Habakkuk: always be ready for the second coming of Christ, the Messiah, and the full restoration of Israel to glory, whether or not it comes in your lifetime. It will happen. See Luke 12:35-40, 21:34-36, Mark 13:32-37.
Zephaniah, describing the Day of the Lord, is a response to Habakkuk. A major time of trouble is coming (remember that Habakkuk 2:2-3 says it is certainly coming). Zephaniah 2:2-3 says we should be seeking God and doing His will before the time comes, in order to gain God's protection. There is a real value in knowing God’s plan and obeying Him.
This is just a brief skimming glance at the book's main points. Chapter 3:8-20 is a brief summary of what will happen at the end of this age: first punishment, then restoration, after the human beings who will become the first generation of restored Israel in the world tomorrow have been greatly humbled.
Moses and Aaron are like Joshua and Zerubbabel, in that each set of two men involves a civil leader and a religious leader at a time when God is delivering national Israel from bondage and bringing them to the Promised Land (Canaan). They both symbolize the two witnesses (Revelation 11) who will be full of the spirit and power of Moses and Elijah).
In Haggai’s time, the Israelites didn’t want to build the temple at first. This made God upset. Haggai came to deliver a message from God: “Get on with it.”
In verse 5, God compared this Persian era to the time of Moses and Aaron. That first exodus was a type of the much greater second exodus to come at the return of Christ—the time for which the book of Haggai is really written. See Isaiah 11:16, Jeremiah 16:14-15, 23:7-8.
Verse 6 describes the seventh last plague (Revelation 16:17-21). See Hebrews 12:26-28.
Verse 9 can be looked at two ways. One is that Jesus’ entering the temple (Matthew 21) was God glorifying the physical temple that was built in the Persian time. But in its fullest sense, it means Jesus is returning again to the temple which He is building—the Church of God! (That’s what the fact of the Jews being restored to build the second temple really signified—Jesus building the Church of God, in the “troubled times” (Daniel 9:25) when there is no nation on earth in which God’s laws are being observed, thus inviting persecution from the ruling "beast powers." We’ll get back to that shortly.)
God promises a blessing for building the temple. It is similar to the blessing for tithing (Malachi 3). Laying the foundation of the temple was crucially important to its structural stability. In our time, Jesus is the foundation for the Church—a rock solid one.
Consider how much God wanted that physical temple to be built. God cares much more that the Church, the bride of Christ, will be built.
Look at verses 21-22. This is the answer God gives to the question “how long?” The answer is, “wait for it, it will come.” This is just what Habakkuk said.
In verse 23, this man Zerubbabel has a chief role to play. The literal Zerubbabel was important. (He was even part of the genealogy of Christ.) Some verses in Zechariah make it sound like Zerubbabel was to restore the throne of David to Jerusalem immediately. But let’s get the whole meaning—there's more to it.
If you look at Zechariah 4:9 and link it up to 1 Peter 2:6-8, you realize that Zerubbabel is a symbol of Christ. Jesus is building His temple, the Church: Ephesians 2:20-22 and 1 Corinthians. 3:10-23. See also Hebrews 3:6 and 12:23, and recall that Hebrews 11 is a list of all these “living stones” that Jesus has already finished (the “spirits of just men made perfect”). Like the original temple, the stones of this living temple are finished before they are ever assembled together. Thus with the Church, we all individually are being perfected in our own lifetimes—we'll be assembled together at the first resurrection (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, 2 Thessalonians 2:1, Revelation 20:4-6).
At this point, look at Ezra 1:1. Notice that there is a "spirit in man" which God can influence. Mr. Armstrong loved this verse because it proves that point so neatly. God was determined to have the temple built in the Persian times because that would symbolize the Church. It funnels the Old Testament story and history right into the New Testament. The Old Testament ends with the decree to go forth and build the temple (2 Chronicles 36:22-23 are the final words of the Old Testament in its original, inspired order). Ending the Old Testament this way is not coincidence! God “building the temple” is what the New Testament is about—the great commission of Christ's apostles is the New Testament version of God's command to build the temple!
Daniel 9:1-2, 20-27, Ezra 4:4-5
In Ezra’s time, troubles abounded (Ezra 4 is an example of the troubles facing the Jews of that era). This fulfills Daniel 9:25, which says that the physical temple was to be built amidst persecution. As mentioned earlier, this mirrors the fact that “no smooth sailing is prophesied for the Church of God” (as Mr. Armstrong said). The church is being built now, and the troubles that we go through today strengthen us (Daniel 11:32-35, 12:10). It’s important to note from Haggai 1 that although most people view the troubles as a sign God is not with them, the truth is exactly the opposite. God expects things to come about in spite of troubles. We know there is to be opposition! Don’t back down because of it—be strong because of it.
So we just read this seventy weeks prophecy in Daniel 9, and we know that 69 weeks after the decree to rebuild Jerusalem, the Messiah would come. In Ezra 4:21 there is a statement that can be summed up as “anyone who wants to reckon to the Messiah will have to wait until I [Artaxerxes, king of Persia] make a new decree.” (Dr. Hoeh made that point.)
In Ezra 7:13, we find the decree (dating back to 457 B.C.) from which we can reckon to the beginning of Jesus' ministry at His first coming.
We’ll end on this, because this is where Old Testament history leaves off. We're left looking forward to the Messiah coming. We're also left with a sense of the immense importance of a temple being built, one to which Christ can return (Malachi 3:1). It’s all symbolic of the New Testament. The Old Testament temple itself is called “a copy and shadow of heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5). God will finish the Church in time for the second coming, so Jesus has a bride ready for Him upon His return.
In conclusion: look forward, eagerly, to this second coming and the wonderful world tomorrow—it’s coming soon!
This Bible study was given by Matthew Kalliman on 8/22/09