God had sent his people into exile because of their persistent unbelief and rebellion. But 70 years later the Lord stirred up the heart of Cyrus, the king of the Medes and Persians, to make a proclamation that the people in exile could return to the Promised Land to rebuild the temple of the Lord. And so, a number of the exiles returned. And in the book of Ezra, we read how they rebuilt the altar in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices to the Lord; and then they began to rebuild the foundation of the temple. But their enemies opposed them and very soon the work to rebuild the temple ground to a halt. And that’s how it remained for a little under 20 years until the Lord raised up the prophets Haggai and Zechariah and sent them to tell the people that it was time for them to finish what they had started. It was time for them to rebuild the temple of the Lord.
And do you remember what we read last week? They hadn’t built the temple, because the people had got their priorities wrong. Instead of building the house of the Lord they had built houses for themselves. Their attitude had been: The Lord and his house can wait. There’s no hurry. We’ll build the temple one day, but not today. And so, the Lord sent Haggai to tell them that today was the day to build the Lord’s temple. And the Lord worked through the preaching of his word to stir up the people so that they obeyed and began to build. And God still works through the preaching of his word today to convince and convert sinners to faith in Christ and to build up believers in the faith. And therefore through the preaching of his word God is building the church, which is the temple of God in our day, because just as God once dwelt in the temple in Jerusalem, so he now dwells in the church by his Spirit.
Today’s chapter contains three more messages from the Lord to his people. The first is addressed to all the people. The second is addressed to the priests. The third is addressed to one person in particular. It’s addressed to Zerubbabel, who was the governor of Judah at that time and who was a descendant of King David. The first message is about the future glory of the temple. The second message is about future blessings for the people. The third message is about a future kingdom. And while all three messages were fulfilled in part in the days of Haggai, the Lord’s message to his people in those days also anticipates what the Lord has planned for his people in days to come.
Verses 1 to 9
On the 21st day of the seventh month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel, the governor, and to Joshua, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. The date is significant. The Lord chose the first day of the month to address his people in chapter 1, because the first day of the month was the day for the new moon festival, when many of the people would have gathered in Jerusalem to bring special offerings to the Lord. And the 21st day of the seventh month was at the end of what was known as the Feast of Booths, or the Feast of Tabernacles, which you can read about in Leviticus 23 and which began on the 15th day of the seventh month and it lasted for seven days. As well as bringing offerings to the Lord, the people lived in booths or huts for the seven days to remember how they used to live in tents whenever the Lord brought them out of Egypt in the days of Moses and led them through the wilderness for 40 years. It was a way to remember God’s kindness to them in the past when he rescued them from their captivity and when he brought them safely through the wilderness to the Promised Land. And in those days, they relied on God every day to sustain them in the wilderness; and they were looking forward in hope to better days to come when they reached the Promised Land. And it was during that feast that the Lord spoke to them again about better days to come.
The Lord’s message to them began with a question:
Who of you is left who saw the house in its former glory?
He’s referring to the old temple, the temple which Solomon built and which lasted for generations, but which was destroyed when the Babylonians invaded the land and destroyed Jerusalem and took the people away into exile. All of that had taken place around 70 years before. So, there wouldn’t be many among the people now who were alive in those days and who could remember the old temple. But there would have been some and they might have remembered the glory of the old temple, because it was a magnificent building. As well as being a large and impressive building, it had once been filled with gold so that it shone with the brightness of heaven. And the old one contained the ark of the covenant which represented the presence of the Lord. The old temple was glorious. So, what do you think of the new one which you’re in the process of building? That’s the Lord’s question to them in verse 3. How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?
And that perhaps rings a bell in your mind, because in Ezra 3, when the people had first returned to Jerusalem and had begun to rebuild the foundations of the temple, the people who remembered the old temple began to weep. They began to weep because they could see that the new temple paled in comparison to the old temple. What they were building was nothing like the old one in terms of its glory. And so they wept. And perhaps there were people weeping in the days of Haggai. And perhaps they were feeling discouraged and depressed. What’s the point? What’s the point in building this temple, because it’s not the same as the old one. In comparison to the old one, this one is rubbish. This is a waste of time. Perhaps the people were discouraged, as we get discouraged when we have a big project to complete and it suddenly hits us how much work it will be. And we wonder if we can we do it. Will we ever finish it? And will it be worth the effort?
But the Lord had a message for his discouraged people. First of all, he said to them:
It’s the same message the Lord sent to Joshua when the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land. In those days, they were nervous about what was going to happen. But the Lord encouraged them to be strong. And it really means: trust in the Lord. Be strong in your faith and trust in the Lord to help you. So, be strong, Zerubbabel. Be strong, Joshua. Be strong, all you people. Trust in the Lord… and work! So, don’t give in to your discouragement. Don’t give up your work. Keep going. Persevere. Keep digging and building, because I am with you. I am with you, said the Lord. I will not leave you alone, but I will be with you to help you.
And then he referred to the time of the Exodus. Do you see that in verse 5? And remember. This is now happening during the Feast of Booths, when they were living in booths or huts to remember the days when the Lord rescued them from Egypt. So, the Lord asks them to remember those days when he rescued them from Egypt and he brought them to Mount Sinai and entered into a covenant with them to be their God and to treat them as his treasured possession so that he would always protect them. And in Exodus 33 he said:
My presence will go with you.
And so, the Lord now refers to that time and to that promise and he reassures them once again that his Spirit remains among them. So, do not fear.
In a little while, he says in verse 6, in a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. He said ‘once more’ because when he met them at Mount Sinai all those years ago in the days of Moses, the mountain shook and there was thunder and lightning and the people were terrified, because of the power of the Lord. So, at that time, the earth shook. And in a little while I will shake the heavens and the earth again and I will shake the nations and the desired of all nations will come. When the Lord refers to ‘the desired of all nations’, he’s referring to the wealth of the nations. Wealth is what people desire. And so, he goes on to refer to the silver and the gold which belong to him. All the silver and the gold in the world ultimately belongs to God, because he made it. It is his and he can decide what to do with it and who to give it to. And so, here he’s promising that he will bring the wealth of the nations into the temple. And the glory of the present house which they’re building will be greater than the glory of the former temple which Solomon built. And in this place, he will grant peace. And the word he uses for peace is that word shalom, which conveys the idea, not only of peace, but of a sense of well-being and contentment and rest.
The book of Ezra makes clear how this was fulfilled partially in Haggai’s own day, because Ezra 6 tells us of the decree of Darius that the money to rebuild the temple should come from his royal treasury. Whatever it cost, the king would pay for it. Furthermore, whatever they needed for their daily sacrifices should be given to them without fail, so that they could offer sacrifices and pray for the well-being of the king and his sons. Whatever they needed should be provided to them. It was a remarkable decree from this pagan king. And so, the wealth of the nations came into Jerusalem and the people were given everything they needed to rebuild the temple. But that’s only part of what the Lord was promising. But for now, let’s move on to the second message in this chapter.
Verses 10 to 19
On the 24th day of the ninth month, the word of the Lord came to Haggai. As far as we know, there’s nothing significant about that date. However, in view of what the Lord will go on to say in verse 18 about the laying of the foundation, some of the commentators think that there was a special ceremony on that day to lay the foundation stone of the temple.
Anyway, the Lord told Haggai to go to the priests and ask them a couple of questions with regard to the holiness code. So, someone is carrying consecrated meat. That is, this is meat which had been offered to the Lord, presumably as a Fellowship Offering. Some of it was burned on the altar, some of it was given to the priests for their food. And the worshipper could take away the remainder for himself and his family. So, he’s carrying this meat in his coat pocket. And since it was offered to the Lord, it’s holy meat. The pocket touches some other food. Does that other food become holy too? And the correct answer is: No. Holiness is not passed on like that. The second question is the opposite. Instead of holy meat, we’ve got an unclean person. If the unclean person touches something else, does it become unclean. And the correct answer is: Yes. Uncleanness is passed on. As one commentator puts it, a dirty hand leaves a dirty mark on whatever it touches, but a clean hand doesn’t leave a clean mark on whatever it touches.
‘So it is with this people and this nation in my sight’, declares the Lord. What does he mean? He means they’re defiled. They’re unclean. And so, everything they do is unclean and whatever offerings they bring to the Lord are unclean. In other words, he’s not pleased with their offerings, because he’s not pleased with them. And though Haggai doesn’t say it, presumably he’s not pleased with them because of the way they neglected to rebuild the Lord’s temple. So, while the temple remained in ruins, they continued to bring their offerings to the altar, thinking that what they were doing pleased the Lord, but he regarded their offerings as unclean and defiled and unacceptable.
But, ‘give careful thought to this’, the Lord says in verse 15. And he asks them to remember what their lives had been like. He’s referring again to what he said in chapter 1 about the ways he sent curses on them because of their disobedience so that while they had food and their crops grew, yet they never seemed to have as much as they expected. So, they were expecting 20 measures of grain, but all they got was 10. They were expecting 50 measures of wine, but all they got was 20. They expected much, but only got a little, because the Lord was against them. And he acted against them to discipline them, so that they would wake up and return to him. But they did not return to him.
However, things were about to change. And so, in verse 18 he asks them to note carefully the date and how from this day on things would be different. Until now, his curses were upon them. But from this time forward, things would be different. Yes, there’s no seed left in the barn. Yes, their vines and trees have not borne fruit. Yes, until now you have struggled. But from this day forward, I will bless you. Instead of having to scrimp and save, instead of having to make do, instead of having to ration their supplies, God would bless them abundantly and provide them with all that they needed.
Verses 20 to 23
And so, we come to the third message in this chapter which is addressed to Zerubbabel. And this message came on the same day as the last one. The Lord commanded Haggai to tell Zerubbabel that he was going to shake the heavens and the earth. And he would overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms. He will overthrow chariots and their drivers; and horses and their riders will fall. And on that day — when God overturns royal thrones — I will take you, Zerubbabel, and I will make you like my signet ring, because I have chosen you.
Now, to appreciate the significance of God’s promise, you need to know that a signet ring in those days was the sign of a king’s authority. For instance, a king would use his signet ring to sign royal documents and declarations. The ring represented the king. And so, when God refers to a signet ring, he’s referring to a king. Now, he’s not saying that Zerubbabel would become king. But his promise to Zerubbabel — who was descended from David — makes clear that God’s earlier promise to David that a long line of kings would come from him still stands. And one of David’s sons will rule for ever. For now, foreign kings like Cyrus and Darius were ruling over God’s people. But one day the Lord will appoint a new king over his people.
And this is not the only place where God promised to send to his people a new king, because elsewhere he announced that a shoot from the stump of Jesse would appear, a king who will rule with righteousness and a king who will give peace to be people.
Christ the King
And in due course, when the time was right, an angel appeared to Mary to announce to her that she would bear a son, and the Lord God will give her son the throne of David; and he will reign for ever; and his kingdom will never end. And when her son, the Lord Jesus, was born, angels announced his birth to shepherds and wise men came from the east to see the new king who had been born. Years later the Lord Jesus asked the disciples, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ And Peter replied: ‘You are the Christ’. That is, you are God’s Anointed King, sent to save us. And when the Lord Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the crowds of people greeted him as their King who had come in the name of the Lord. And though he was arrested and beaten and crucified, the sign over the cross declared him to be King. And after he died and was buried, Jesus Christ the King was raised from the dead and he was exalted to heaven where he rules over all things, far above all power and authority, power and dominion, in this age and in the age to come. He is our Great King and he’s building his kingdom on the earth, a kingdom that will last for ever.
And one day, one day, Christ the King will come in glory and with power and he will do what? He will shake the heavens and the earth and the world as we know it will be destroyed. And all the other kingdoms of the world, which right now seem so powerful and mighty, will be brought down and will be destroyed. They will not last, but will become nothing. And all those who did not yield to Christ the King but who remained in their unbelief and rebellion will be sent away to be punished forever. And the only ones who will be left will be those who trusted in Christ the King, who gave up his life to pay for our sins and who was raised to give us life. The only ones who will be left will be those who trusted in Christ the King; and they will live with him and they will reign with him in the new heavens and earth.
When the Lord said to Zerubbabel that he would shake the heavens and the earth and overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of foreign kings, he was perhaps referring in part to how the Persian Empire would not last, but would be replaced by the Greek and Roman Empires. But ultimately he was announcing the coming of Christ the King, who came the first time in weakness and humility to suffer and to die for his people, but who will come the second time in glory and with great power to shake the heavens and the earth and to overturn royal thrones and kingdoms and to defeat his enemies and to bring his people into the new heavens and earth.
New Heavens and Earth
And that brings me back to the Lord’s first message about the glory of the temple. Yes, Darius gave the order to cover the cost for rebuilding the temple from his royal treasury. He promised to provide the people with everything they needed. And they were able to build a magnificent temple. And so, the Lord’s promise through Haggai was fulfilled in part in Haggai’s own day.
However, the new temple was not as great as Solomon’s temple, because Solomon’s temple was filled with gold; and when it was built, the Lord filled it with his glory-cloud. The new temple was not filled with gold; and we never read that the Lord filled the new temple with his glory-cloud. So, it was a magnificent building, but it was not as glorious as the previous one.
And so, the Lord was promising something else. He was promising something even greater. Something better. In a little while, he said, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And he will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land when the Lord Jesus returns to make all things new and to bring his people into the new heavens and the new earth where we will live as part of the New Jerusalem, which is the church in glory.
And do you remember? We’re told in Revelation 21 that there won’t be a temple in the new Jerusalem, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. In the past, the temple in Jerusalem signified God’s presence. But in the new Jerusalem, we won’t need a temple to signify his presence, because the presence of the Lord Almighty and the Lamb will fill the city.
And John also tells us in Revelation 21 that the glory and honour of the nations will be brought into the new Jerusalem. God spoke through Haggai about a time when the wealth of the nations will come into Jerusalem. But in the new Jerusalem to come, it’s not the wealth of the nations which will come, but it’s the nations themselves. Men and women and boys and girls from every nation will come into the new Jerusalem to live with the Lord for ever.
And the glory of the new Jerusalem, which is filled with the presence of the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb, will surpass the glory of the former temple, because Solomon’s temple, which was magnificent, and which was filled with gold, was only an earthly copy of the real thing. And the real thing — everlasting life in the presence of the Lord God Almighty and of the Lamb — will be far, far more glorious.
But how can sinners like us ever hope to get there? What right do sinners like us have to live in the glory to come? God is holy. He is pure. He is perfect. Sinners like us aren’t able to come into the presence of a holy God and live. We are unclean. We are defiled. We are not holy. We cannot come into his presence with our unholy and unclean hands and hearts.
But the good news is that the blood of Christ the Saviour cleanses you from all your sin and shame. Through faith in him, you are pardoned and declared right with God and your sins are washed away. Though you may have done everything wrong, God promises to treat you as if you have done everything right, for the sake of Christ who lived for us and who died for us. And so, instead of being cursed by God, instead of suffering his wrath and curse, which is what you deserve because you’re a sinner, he promises to bless you by giving you forgiveness and by giving you the hope of everlasting life in his glorious presence. And right now, in this life, he gives you his Spirit to sanctify you and to make you more and more holy, so that you’ll become more and more willing and able to do his will here on earth, while you wait for the time when you will be glorified in his presence and will live with him for ever.
The Lord spoke through Haggai to the people about the future glory of the temple and future blessings for the people and a future kingdom. And he was speaking about Christ the King whose kingdom will last for ever. And he was speaking about the glory of the new heavens and earth which will be filled with the presence of God and the Lamb. And he was speaking about the blessing we receive through faith in Jesus Christ. And so, we should give thanks to the Lord for his kindness to us in sending his Son into the world to cleanse us from our sin and guilt so that we might live with him for ever and for ever in the glory to come.