The Book of Haggai is tucked away in that back part of the Old Testament that tends to gather dust. We don’t often have time for these minor prophets, what with their doom and gloom and locusts and all. But perhaps there’s still something there for us. Maybe…
The message this prophet delivered to the people must have sounded crazy. Keep in mind that when Haggai prophesied, a group of exiles had come back to Judah after being gone into captivity for 70 years. Their golden city, Jerusalem, was only 1/5 of its former size. The whole province of Judah was only populated to 1/3 of the amount it once was. To make matters worse, there was a tremendous drought and inflation brought on by Persian taxation. And about those Persians… these Jews weren’t free. They were still ruled by a foreign power.
Haggai’s message to these people was simple: “Rebuild the temple.”
It no doubt met some opposition, perhaps with good reason. Rebuild the temple? With what? There’s a drought and we don’t have much money. And even if we did rebuild the temple, there’s no way it’s going to be even a shade of its former glory. Nope, don’t think so. We’re barely getting by anyway. As the people put it, “The time has not yet come to rebuild the house of God.”
Given all these objections based on the people’s circumstances, we might well ask along with them: “What’s the big deal? Why must they rebuild this structure?” But to answer that question, you’ve got to ask another one: “What’s the big deal about the temple anyway?”
The temple was never meant to be a house for God, per say. As if the God of the universe needs a nice roof so He can keep dry from the very rain drops that He causes to fall. No, the temple is about God’s enduring desire to be among His people. To walk with them as He did in the garden. The same desire that will eventually be fulfilled, as recorded in Revelation 21:3: “Look! God’s dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.”
Consider the questions that must have flooded through the minds of these people after God sent them into exile:
“Does He still love us?”
“Are we still His people?”
“Has God abandoned us?”
The construction of the temple answers all these questions. God, indeed is still their God. He is still for them. He has not abandoned them. His desire for the temple is a validation of His desire.
But there’s another objection of a practical nature that these people might have raised at a business meeting or the like:
“This is going to cost a ton!”
Indeed. It would. But God is well aware of the cost of building a temple. Because if you fast forward to the New Testament, you see that the temple is not a building any more; it’s you and me. For in us, the Spirit of Christ dwells. God is now firmly and intimately close to His people. And the cost of this temple? Well, it’s more than even these exiles could have imagined. But it’s a cost that God took upon Himself.
The new temple cost the life of His Son.
God is the ultimate and final builder of the temple.