Zerubbabel's Temple—Lessons For Us Today
The books of Haggai, Zechariah, Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles are extremely important. The time period they represent—that of the restored Jewish community in the days of the Persian empire—is like the narrow passage of an hourglass through which all previous Biblical history is funneled, linking the Old and New Testaments together.
The writers of the New Testament understood the significance of these books. So did their readers—the first-century Christians. When we realize the importance of the restored Jewish community, we can better understand what the New Testament is telling us.
Let’s dig into some background material as an introduction to these books.
There were three periods of time during which Nebuchadnezzar's Babylonian army carried away the people of Judah into captivity (Jeremiah 52:28-30). The captivity which occurred in the days of king Jehoiachin was special—God likened these people to “good figs“ (Jeremiah 24)—they would be spared the horror of the fall of Jerusalem—they were being transplanted to Babylon for safety. After seventy years (Jeremiah 25:11-12, 29:10; Daniel 9:2) their descendants would be allowed to return to their homeland.
In Jeremiah 22:24-30 God said that no son of king Jehoiachin (also known as Jeconiah) would be allowed to sit on the throne of David. He and his family would be carried away to Babylon (Matthew 1:11). King Jehoiachin, however, was treated well in Babylon (2 Kings 25:27-30). One of his descendants, Zerubbabel, was used by God to help restore the Jewish community and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem (Matthew 1:12, Haggai 2:20-23).
God inspired Jeremiah to write a letter to the Jewish captives in Babylon (the good figs) in order to encourage them (Jeremiah 29:1-19). He said that after 70 years (verse 10) they would be allowed to return to Judah. He instructed them to marry, bear children, and preserve their nation while in Babylon, because God would bring bring them back to their homeland. The prophet Ezekiel was a part of Jehoiachin's captivity (Ezekiel 1:2).
As the 70-year period was about to expire, the prophet Daniel made a prayer to God confessing the sins of his people and reminding Him that the time of restoration was approaching (Daniel 9). God's reply was the “70 Weeks Prophecy” (in which God revealed that a much longer time would elapse before the complete, glorious restoration of Israel—at the end of “seventy weeks of years”).
Chapters 2 and 7 of the book of Daniel reveal that four world-ruling empires would come and go before the kingdom of God is established over all the earth. The “head of gold” in chapter 2 represented the 70-year period of the original Babylonian empire. The entire statue represented a period of over 2,500 years. The small-scale restoration of the Jewish community which occurred during the Persian empire was merely a foreshadow of the truly glorious end-time restoration of Israel at the second coming of Jesus Christ and fall of Babylon the Great. (But that's getting a little ahead of the story!)
In 2 Chronicles 36:20-21 Cyrus, king of Persia, decreed that the Jews could return home to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. Ezra also recorded this in the first four verses of his book. Cyrus told the captive Jews who wanted to return to their homeland, in effect, “Go back, live in Jerusalem, and bring your brethren there all the necessary supplies and money to rebuild it.” This was a BIG DEAL—like the Exodus—when Moses and Aaron led Israel out of captivity in order to return to the land which God had originally promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants forever (Genesis 17:8). In Ezra 2:1-2, Zerubbabel and Joshua were the counterparts of Moses and Aaron—one Israel's civil leader, the other its high priest.
At this time 42, 360 people returned to Jerusalem (Ezra 2:64). It may sound like Jeremiah’s prophecy of restoration was indeed complete. It was—for that time, but the ultimate restoration of Israel was yet future (Acts 1:6-7).
The genealogical material found in Ezra 2:1-3:1, Nehemiah 7:6-8:1, and 1 Chronicles 1-9 was intended to help the Jews of the Persian period understand their roots. Nehemiah stated that God inspired him to record this material (Nehemiah 7:5). These sections included the origin of the Levitical priesthood. Joshua’s father, Jehozadak, was in the “good fig“ captivity. The line of Joshua and his sons, through Jehozadak, dated back to Aaron (1 Chronicles 6:3-15; Nehemiah 12:1, 10-11, 26). Joshua was the high priest of his day even before the temple had been built. He and his descendants were the bona fide priests of the Persian era.
1 Chronicles 3:1-19 lists the kingly line. Zerubbabel was of royal descent through king Jehoiachin. Zerubbabel and Joshua were a king without a throne and a priest without a temple, but they were also “high quality” men of the highest pedigree.
Ezra 4:1-5 gives a brief synopsis of the troubles which the Jews under Zerubbabel and Joshua faced. God had prophesied that the city and temple would be rebuilt “in troublesome times“ (Daniel 9:25). Although Ezra 4:5 and 4:24 do not specifically state the time element, there was a period of 17 years when the work of rebuilding the temple had ceased. The reason God caused the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to come on the scene was to revive that work (Ezra 5:1-2, 6:14-15). This is what we’re really going to get into now. The year was 521 BC and work on the temple had been lying dormant for 17 years. At this point we turn to the books of Haggai and Zechariah.
Haggai and Zechariah had to give the people this message: “Get going with the work of rebuilding the temple!” They lived in very troubled times and had assumed that the many heavy trials which they faced meant that God didn’t want the temple to be built. Nothing could be further from the truth! Realize that Zechariah 4:6-7 applies as much to the church of God today as it did to the Persian Jews. The history is prophetic. God is building the true temple through Jesus Christ today. We must understand this Persian restoration story in order to understand the message of the New Testament for our time!
Continuing, Haggai’s message was that when the people resumed their part in the work of rebuilding the temple, then God would restore His blessings upon them. God had withdrawn His blessings while the work lay idle. Now He promised to bless them again if they would get busy and continue on with the work.
Remember that the Persian restoration was a miniature model of the full restoration of Israel which will occur after the final resurrection of the fourth world-ruling empire at the close of this age. Recall also that the actual fall of Jerusalem in the time of Jeremiah and Ezekiel symbolized the coming great tribulation (Jeremiah 30:7; Ezekiel 5:4, 9, 12; Daniel 12:1, Matthew 24:21).
God wanted the temple of Zerubbabel to be built! It was the very symbol which God used to represent Jesus Christ building the church of God. The church is the temple to which Jesus will return (Malachi 3:1; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 2 Corinthians 6:17). (Realize that, as Mr. Armstrong stated a number of times, Bible prophecy does not require another physical temple to be built in Jerusalem prior to the second coming of Christ, since the church is the temple of the New Testament.)
“This temple will be more glorious than the first,” God said. What should we make of this? Was the second, later known as the Herodian temple, greater than Solomon’s? God is really talking about the church which Jesus would build in the New Testament. The book of Haggai is ultimately for the church of God. We need to have “prophetic vision” in order to know what God is saying here. The history is prophecy. Remember that Zerubbabel and Joshua were counterparts of Moses and Aaron, and that the whole story reflects the Exodus (verse 5). Haggai 2:9, first of all, reflects the fact that Jesus Himself (who was ”God with us”—Matthew 1:23) came to the second temple (Matthew chapters 21-24, etc.). This definitely glorified it with His divine presence. But when you “put on the prophetic glasses” so to speak—Haggai 2:9 is really talking about Jesus’ second coming, when He comes to the genuinely glorious temple—His bride, the church, which will consist of divine, resurrected, immortal spirit beings (1 Corinthians 15:50-54)!
Verse 8: God owns everything, and He is the source of all true blessing. Verse 9 is a reference to the world tomorrow—the first time Jerusalem will really come to know true and lasting peace (Isaiah 2:1-5). Verses 10-19 expound the message, “When you resume building My temple then I will bless you!” Verses 20-23 are of utmost importance—in the prophetic sense referring to the time of the ultimate fall of Babylon and the second coming of Christ (Hebrews 12:26-28, Revelation chapters 14-19).
Remember that Zerubbabel was a direct descendant of king Jeconiah. His father's name was Shealtiel. Compare Haggai 2:23 with Jeremiah 22:24. Zerubbabel was used by God not only to carry on the kingly line to the time of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:12-13), but also was used as a symbol of the Messiah Himself in building God's temple! More on this when we come to Zechariah.
The year was 521 BC, at the end of the 17-year hiatus in the work of finishing the temple. Zechariah 1:2-6 recalls that, seventy years earlier, God had punished Jerusalem—the forefathers of the current people of Judah—for rejecting the message of God’s prophets. The Jews of Zechariah's time were supposed to learn a lesson from that! “Now listen to My prophets Haggai and Zechariah,” God was saying.
Zechariah 1:12-17 asks the often-posed question, “how long?” (in reference to the duration of Israel’s punishment, e.g., Isaiah 6:11; Daniel 12:6). The only answer ever given is, “Don’t worry, it is coming; it will come.” Go to verses 10-11 of chapter 2. The “Me“ here is actually referring to Jesus. “And you will know that God has sent Me to you.” This is referring to both of the comings of Jesus Christ (Acts 3:18-21). When Jesus first came to earth, His words and deeds proved who He was to those who had eyes to see (John 5:36). When He comes the second time, there will be no doubt to anyone that Jesus was and is the Messiah (Zechariah 11:12-13, 12:10, 13:7; Revelation 1:7)! All will come to know and obey Christ. These verses here in Zechariah are veiled references.
During the Persian restoration, a great evil was committed in Judea—interracial marriage defiled not only the common people but also the priesthood (see our Bible study on Nehemiah 12:28.) In this chapter we see the need for Joshua to be cleansed of filthy garments (so that the sins of Israel could be put away on the Day of Atonement), and here also the “Branch” is introduced. Taken literally it seems to be saying that “Zerubbabel will restore the throne of David to Jerusalem now that the priesthood has been cleansed.” But that is figurative language. Zerubbabel was a literal crown prince, but no throne would be restored to Jerusalem until Jesus Christ. Verse 9 is talking about the church: compare “these 7 eyes“ to the church eras of Rev. 2-3. The “day“ is the Day of Atonement and verse 10 means the world tomorrow (compare to Micah chapter 4). This all ties in with the seventy weeks prophecy and the 2,300 days in the book of Daniel. When the priesthood, meaning symbolically the church, is cleansed, Jesus will return to take the throne of David. (Compare these verses with Daniel 9:24, 8:14 and 26.) The “Branch” is Jesus (Isaiah 11:1-10, Jeremiah 23:5-6; 33:15-17). Remember also that at Christ’s first coming, people in general were not able to recognize Him as the Messiah (Isaiah 53:2-3, John 12:37-41).
This chapter is all about the seven churches and the two witnesses. The oil from the two olive trees powers the churches. God was using this Persian restoration to picture something really big—the church of God! Literally, olive oil flowed into the lampstand within the temple to give light. Figuratively, it’s much more. Notice in verse 7 that God would move mountains for Zerubbabel as needed! Compare this to Jesus’ teaching that faith will move mountains when needed. God was absolutely determined that nothing would prevent His temple from being built! This determination symbolizes the absolute high priority which God places on the character development of the saints who form the New Testament church. This is God's top priority because these saints are the people who will marry Christ and become part of the world-ruling government of God at His return.
This entire chapter is about fasting properly. The restoration Jews weren’t doing so. They merely fasted to commemorate the tragic events of the past. The fasts were: 1.) in the fourth month (2 Kings 25:3 and Jeremiah 52:6) to commemorate the time when food supplies ran out completely during the siege of Jerusalem; 2.) in the fifth month (2 Kings 25:8 and Jeremiah 52:12) to mourn for the fall and burning of the temple and Jerusalem; 3.) in the seventh month (2 Kings 25:25 and Jeremiah 41:1) to remember the time when Gedeliah (a righteous leader of surviving Jews after the fall of Jerusalem) was assassinated; and 4.) in the tenth month (2 Kings 25:1, Jeremiah 52:4, and Ezekiel 24:1-2) to commemorate the moment the siege of Jerusalem began. (Ezekiel’s wife died on that very day in order to symbolize the fall of God's wife, Jerusalem.)
These are likely the days which Paul advised Christians not to observe (Galatians 4:9-10). God considered them to be useless fasts because the people were fasting out of a desire to influence God to do their will, instead of seeking to do His will. They were fasting without repentance. The attitude of pride renders a fast useless. God wants to see a good attitude before He will answer prayers. He wanted the Jews to start obeying Him, instead of just fasting. He informed them that they had not yet learned the lesson of the original reason for their captivity. (This all ties in with Isaiah 58. Do not fast merely to obtain a blessing; fast to draw closer to God and to seek a clean heart instead.) The apostle Paul did teach Christians to observe God's Holy Days (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).
Notice now Zecharah 7:8-10. The “Golden Rule” is the heart of God’s law—His code of conduct. The message of the pre-captivity prophets, which the people of Zechariah's day had not yet learned, was that God’s law is love: love toward God and toward fellow man.
Zechariah 7:11-14 reflects the same message as Isaiah 65:12: When God's people won't obey His law—and refuse to listen to His prophets—then God won’t listen to their prayers as they cry out to Him and go into captivity. God isn't persuaded by His people going hungry or remembering former bad times (these were the reasons the Israelites were fasting so often). Rather, God wants to see holy, righteous character in the hearts of His people (Leviticus 19:2; 1 Peter 1:15-16). When this becomes the nature of Israel, then God will indeed restore the nation (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 18:30-32, Psalm 81:13-14).
The ultimate restoration of Israel had certainly not occurred. This is a prophecy of something yet to come. It will come! But note verses 14-17. Israel needed then, as they do now, a new heart and the Holy Spirit. God will accomplish this on the Day of Atonement, after the great tribulation has humbled them (Jeremiah 50:20; Zephaniah 3:11-13; Zechariah 13:8-9). (The kind of humble, loving and obedient nature which God desires can only be created in a carnal-minded nation by their going through a trial that will bring them to real repentance.) Note that Zechariah 13:8-9 places the ultimate time of Jacob's trouble (Jeremiah 30:7, Daniel 12:1) as a yet future event, in relation to when it was written. From Zechariah's perspective, it had not yet occured.
Nehemiah 5 shows that during this mini-restoration, the Jews were oppressing each other. The rich ones and the leaders were taking advantage of the poorer ones. This was hardly the kind of character God would bless—certainly not representative of the world tomorrow.
Zechariah 8:18-23 is a good theme on which to end this study: God will turn the sorrow (of trials) into joy (of restoration) and all fasts of mourning into feasts of gladness (as in Psalm 126:5)! In the world tomorrow, Jerusalem will have a steady stream of visitors, befitting its status as world headquarters (Isaiah 2:1-4; Ezekiel 46:3, 9). These passages may be linked with Zechariah 14:16 and Isaiah 66:23.
The message that God absolutely intends to restore Israel in full glory was what inspired the Jews to finish building the temple back in the 500s BC. The history of that period is just as prophetic as the literal prophecies which describe the future time of restoration. The building of the temple in Zerubbabel's time was deeply symbolic of the work Jesus has been, and is now doing in preparing the saints for the first resurrection. The church—God's temple—will be made ready and Israel will be restored. The most exciting things of all history are just around the corner, about to happen—right now, in our time today!
This Bible study was given by Matthew Kalliman on 9/12/09