December 14-15 sermon resource

Rebuilding of the Temple

  • Main Text: Ezra 1:1-4; 3:1-4, 10-13
  • Accompanying text: Luke 2:25-32

What this passage means to us

“The strong sense of continuity between Ezra 3 and the building of the first temple reminds us of God’s continuing faithfulness to the Covenants He made with the people under Moses and David. The Temple had a key place in both these covenants and in His sovereignty God has brought the exiles back to rebuild it. Remembering that God keeps his covenants point us forward too. There are covenant words which are yet to be fulfilled. The physical temple looks forward to a spiritual house — Christ himself, with us being built up into Him (1 Peter 2:4-8). This is where the theme of covenant continually will lead” [1].

In this remarkable story King Cyrus of Babylon is presented as a deliverer of God’s chosen nation and in that way becomes a type of Jesus Christ. In biblical thinking the type is usually of lesser spiritual significance than the antitype. Examples are Adam and Jesus (I Corinthians 15:45), Aaron and Jesus (in the order of Melchizedek) (Hebrews 7:11), the Old and the New Covenant (2 Corinthians 3:7), and the physical temple and the spiritual temple (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; Ephesians 2:19-22).

Isaiah 45 mentions Cyrus by name as someone anointed to release the exiles from their captivity in Babylon. The whole chapter discusses this. Interestingly, Cyrus is a Gentile deliverer, not someone from the house of David. He is called God’s “righteousness” (Isaiah 45:13), and also the Shepherd who will rebuild the Temple (Isaiah 44:28). The comparison’s to Jesus, the antitype of Cyrus, are obvious: Jesus is the Promised anointed one, the Messiah, the deliverer of all the nations, Jesus is the righteous one, the Shepherd through whose Spirit the spiritual Temple is built.

For us there is much to learn from the approach of the exiles. They are called out of physical captivity as we are called out of the captivity of sin, they leave their previous life behind in doing so as we do (bear in mind that Cyrus treated the captives relatively well), they support the work of building the temple and yet their enthusiasm wanes so much God sends Haggai and Zechariah to stir them up and encourage them to continue. In a sense the exile is a type of Christian.

An important point to note is the role of Zerubbabel, who is descended from David. The captivity did not destroy the Davidic covenant. From the time of Zerubbabel to the time of Joseph and Mary the royal line continues.

Context and Story Line

“In the books of Ezra and Nehemiah we encounter a form of devotion to Yahweh strongly pervaded by a legalist spirit — an exclusiveness that characterised post-Babylonian Judaism. Both Ezra (Ezra 9:1-4; 10:1-5) and Nehemiah (Nehemiah 13:23-29) refer to their efforts to enforce the separation of the returned exiles from the pagan peoples in the land. Intermarriage was forbidden and mixed marriages were broken up in what appears at first sight to have been very harsh and inhumane…it was through resolute particularism that the faithful sought to preserve the religious inheritance of Israel. Admittedly, it also inevitably led to the development of a superiority complex and a sense of self-righteousness…The rebuilding of the Temple and the repair of the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah) did not bring about the Messianic Kingdom…A disappointed, struggling people eventually became disillusioned about God. This generated an erosion of their commitment to him” [2].

Although many exiles did return to Jerusalem to help with the work of Ezra and Nehemiah, not all of those previously involved in captivity joined them. Jewish communities began to gather elsewhere in the Mediterranean countries and in the Middle East where they became part of the Jewish diaspora. An example is of the Jews in Persia at the time of Esther. Such communities were also established in cities such as Alexandria and Rome. They were far from Ezra’s restored temple and their worship became centred around the synagogues, which feature often in the New Testament. An advantage of the synagogue style was that it could accommodate proselytes more easily. Some among these groups would make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem on the Levitical Festival dates, such as occurred in Acts 2.

In the course of time, after the efforts to rebuild the Temple, the exiles became nominal in their religious outlook, an approach that was condemned by the prophet Malachi, who pointed out that they saw involvement with God as a burden and that they would “sniff at it contemptuously” (Malachi 1:13).

 “From the time of Zerubbabel to the time of Antiochus Epiphanes the history of this Temple was comparatively uneventful…In the year 168 Antiochus, as a part of a policy to enforce Hellenistic practises on the Jews, robbed the Temple of its candlestick, golden altar, table of showbread, and veils (these being its distinctive furniture), and compelled the high priest to sacrifice swine upon its altar. This led to the Maccabean revolt” during which the Jews “regained possession of their Temple and rededicated it” [3]. It is this Second Temple that Herod the Great repaired and furbished completely, making it into the showpiece of Judaism, which was destroyed, as predicted by Jesus, by the Romans in 70 AD, 585 years after Ezra’s exiles completed the restored Temple “in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius” (Ezra 6:15).

Thus, the scene was set for the arrival of the Messiah, the promised descendant of David, through Zerubbabel (Matthew 1:6, 12; Luke 3:27, 31) into a politically and religiously tense world that would be hostile to the good news he brought with him. Something was to happen in the very Temple that Ezra rebuilt, an event which led to a complete change in the course of history, but more of that next week.

Scripture Resources

  • Ephesians 2:19-23
  • John 2:13-22

Other GCI resources

Footnotes and references

  1. Adrian Reynolds, Teaching Ezra: from text to message (Ross-shire, UK, Christian Focus Publications Ltd: 2018). 103.
  2. Arthur F Glasser, Kingdom and Mission (Pasadena, USA, Fuller Theological Seminary School of World Mission: 1989). 104.
  3. accessed 21/11/2019
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