It is 586 BC. The Jews lie in the wake of the Babylonian’s destruction of their homeland and temple. Ripped of their earthly identities, the Jews still had the Lord’s imperishable promises. God, in His assured faithfulness, “stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia” so “that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled” (Ezra 1:1). Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple in 538 BC.
Fast forward to 520 BC in Jerusalem. The exiles have returned, but the temple has yet to be built. About 18 years have passed, and the exiles thank God for His faithfulness by… putting off the rebuilding of His temple? Busying themselves with their own affairs? Preoccupying themselves with restoring anything other than the Lord’s house? This is where we will begin.
A Decaying Temple and Relationship
The word of the Lord comes through the prophet Haggai, and he exposes their futile attempts to regain prosperity.
“Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes” (Haggai 1:4-6).
As the Israelites have attempted to regain materials and satisfaction, the Lord’s temple lies in ruins along with their spiritual lives. Unsuccessful, hungry, thirsty, cold, and without income, the Jews have run out of areas to pursue restoration… except the one place God has called them to restore. They didn’t realize it was impossible to be successful while avoiding the Lord’s work because He is sovereign over all.
They sought satisfaction and restoration in anything other than their unshakable, indestructible unity with God. Meanwhile, He was bringing them fruitlessness in order that they might restore His temple and glory.
Our Purpose is His Glory
The Lord redirects their pursuits not merely for a temple that would again come to destruction, but for His glory. He instructs them to “build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified” (Haggai 1:8). Their delay becomes much more serious when seen as what it truly is: postponing God’s glory for their own prosperity.
However, rather than let them linger in their unfaithfulness, God brought them a wakeup call. While they attempted to reap profit, God “blew it away” because His temple “lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house” (Haggai 1:9). He would not allow the Israelites to ignore their God-exalting purpose. With the physical work of rebuilding the temple, the people would also accomplish the spiritual work of restoring their unity with God.
God knew the new temple would be far less extravagant than the one built in Solomon’s time. However, He tells them to “be strong,” “work, for I am with you,” and “fear not,” for, “the latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former” (Haggai 2:4-9). While God’s statement provided encouragement for the people then, His ultimate promise was veiled from their knowledge.
While Herod would begin to remodel the temple in about 19 BC, Christ would speak of a restoration far more beautiful than earthly adornments. Jesus walked into the temple saying, “destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). As you can imagine, the Jews were taken aback after the lengths they had gone through to continually protect and restore God’s dwelling place among them. Little did they know, God in the flesh was right next to them.
Jesus, who “was speaking about the temple of his body,” would be destroyed but rise on the third day (John 2:19). He would reunite people with God and purify them in a way sacrifices, ceremonial cleaning, and commandments never could.
Ultimately, God, who promised a far greater latter glory, “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). It didn’t matter how beautiful the temple was because God’s most magnificent picture of glory is seen in His son.
God wanted the Israelites to bring glory and honor to Him through the temple, but He promised a latter glory they could only conceive of in the form of a temple. However, just as Moses veiled his face after coming down from Mount Sinai, a veil remained over God’s promises, and “only through Christ is it taken away” (2 Corinthians 3:14). God’s glory would be much greater than a temple. He sent His son whose body, a symbolic temple, would become destroyed and raised again to emanate a glory far greater than the former one.
Now, we stand as the church, “and we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). As the temple formerly brought glory to God, we now “are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:17). God’s latter glory He promised is fulfilled only in the face of Jesus Christ, and his followers are being transformed into his image in order to bring even more glory to God.
Just as the Israelites no longer found satisfaction with a temple in ruins, we will only realize our satisfaction when we join with Christ in the destruction and resurrection of our flesh to behold an inexpressible and glorious joy in the newness of life.
“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9).