We saw yesterday that after the exile God sent the prophet Haggai to the people of Judah to warn them against pursuing their own luxury and prosperity while neglecting the worship of the Lord. The temple had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar decades earlier and while the people had begun the hard work of building a new temple, that work stopped as they focused on building their own “paneled houses” (Haggai 1:4). Haggai was sent to warn them that life without worshiping God was empty and vain. He told them that God had called for a drought in response to their refusal to work.
As the story continues, the people—beginning with Zerubbabel their governor and Joshua their high priest—repent and believe the Lord. Haggai tells us the Lord “stirred up the spirit” of the people and they began work again (Haggai 1:13–15). They worked hard and finally finished the temple. However, the people did not have the wealth God had given to Solomon all those centuries before when he built Jerusalem’s first temple. The prophet Ezra tells us that some of the older folk who remembered Solomon’s temple before it was destroyed wept when the saw the size and rather less grandeur of the new temple (Ezra 3:12). God responds to them in Haggai 2.
“Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to all the remnant of the people, and say, ‘Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes? Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the LORD. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the LORD. Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. For thus says the LORD of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the LORD of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the LORD of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the LORD of hosts.’”Haggai 2:2–9 ESV
Notice how God refocuses their misplaced priorities. While the temple structure was small and less luxurious than Solomon’s temple had been, the promise remained: I am with you; my Spirit remains in your midst. This is the very promise Moses clung to in the wilderness when Israel worshiped God in a tent. What the people needed most was not a luxurious and beautiful space in which to worship. What they needed was God in their midst. The presence of God is what leads to true worship, for true worship is a response to who God is and what he has done.
When God promises that the latter glory of the temple will exceed the former glory, the promise would be fulfilled in two ways. First, in several centuries Herod would greatly expand and beautify the temple in Jerusalem. Many scholars have speculated that if the finished temple had lasted longer than a mere seven years (construction was completed in AD63 and it was destroyed by Rome in AD70) it would have been one of the greatest wonders of the ancient world. But there’s a greater fulfillment than this.
When John had a vision of the new heavens and new earth, he saw the earth beautifully adorned with gold and jewels, but even that is not the glory God promised:
And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.Revelation 21:22–27 ESV
One day God himself will walk on the earth again and will remain with his people. The nations will bring their glory into the new city. Whereas they had once held onto their silver and their gold—and their paneled houses—by God’s grace they all recognize the truest treasure is God himself.
What is central to the promise of the gospel is that we get God. God is the treasure hidden in a field and through Jesus Christ we are reconciled to him. Let’s thank him and praise him today for his promise to always be with us, knowing that the day is coming when we will always be with him.