Summer – 2005
After the first temple was destroyed by Babylon in 586 BCE it was 70 years before the second and less glorious temple was erected. In this article we will look at the scriptures, timing & dating as well as the problems encountered with the building of the second temple. Then we will focus on the promise that was given by God and its fulfillment in the coming of the Messiah.
The books of the Bible that contain the significant verses on the second temple or found in Ezra 3-6, Daniel 9:27, the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah and of course the Gospels. A good historical narrative is given in 1 Maccabees with the liberation and re-dedication of the second temple after its defilement by Antiochus Epiphanes the Seleucid Greek Syrian leader in 175 BCE.
Timing & Dating of the Second Temple:
The first (1) period of time demonstrates the struggle and problems with rebuilding the Temple. Upon arriving in Jerusalem in the seventh month (Ezra 3:2-3) of 536 BCE, Joshua and Zerubbabel built the altar of God to offer burnt offerings. They then observed the Feast of Booths (3:4-5), but the temple was not yet built. In the second month of the 2nd year or 535 BCE [Iyar or Apr-May] they began to lay the foundation of the temple itself (3:8). When the foundation was laid, the people celebrated (3:10-11) but the old men wept. They remembered Solomon’s temple (3:12) in all its glory and compared it to the foundation that had just been lain, which was smaller (Haggai 2:3). The LORD, through the prophet Haggai, tells the people that this temple will be greater than Solomon’s Temple (Haggai 2:9).
There are several significant comparative differences between the two temples. There were two very important objects absent from the second temple: (1) first the Shechinah Glory of God was not present as in the first temple. Compare the dedication of this temple in Ezra 6:16-18 with the dedication of Solomon’s temple in 1 Kings 8:1-11. (2) The second thing that was absent was the Ark of the Covenant. God did not dwell in this temple as He had in the previous one but according to God this temple would have greater glory then Solomon’s Temple. We know that the Ark of the Covenant and God’s glory were not present during this time because of its complete absence in the biblical narrative. This by itself should erase all speculation as to the whereabouts of the Ark of the Covenant. The priest or leadership in Ezra’s day did not know the whereabouts of the Ark of the Covenant at the time of the dedication or thereafter. As a result they were unable to place the ark in its proper location. We do know that when Israel returned to the land to rebuild, Cyrus returned to them all the instruments and utensils that Babylon had removed from the temple in 586 BCE (Ezra 5:13-15), but the Ark evidently was not among those items. Secular history also tells us that in 63 BCE the Roman General Pompey, who took the city, entered into the temple and went behind the vail. He was not struck dead by the Glory of the LORD because the LORD was not present. Pompey further made reference to the fact that nothing was in the Holy of Holies, the room was empty.
Major Problems during the Second Temple Period:
After they celebrated the laying of the foundation, the Samaritans asked to be included in the building of the temple which created the first major problem. When the Jewish leadership refused their offer (Ezra 4:1-3), the Samaritans in response began to discourage the people of Israel. They continued to frustrate the rebuilding project by hiring counselors to go before King Cyrus to weaken and trouble Judah (Ezra 4:6-24). So the temple rebuilding stopped for nearly 15 years until the “word of the LORD” came to Haggai the Prophet on four occasions (Haggai 1:3; 2:1, 10, 20). Ezra 4:24 records the resuming of the rebuilding the temple began in November 520 BCE. The rebuilding spanned 5 years and was finally completed on the 3rd day of the 12th month [Adar or Feb-Mar] in the sixth year of Darius, or in 515 BCE – 21 years after they began to rebuild (6:15). Passover (6:19) and the feast of Unleavened Bread were then observed at the 2nd temple in Jerusalem (6:22).
The problems caused by the Samaritans concerning the rebuilding of the temple delayed it for 15 years. Couple this with the reaction of the older people who remembered Solomon’s Temple. When the foundation was laid the weeping of the older people was so mingled with the rejoicing that you could determine if the crowd was weeping or rejoicing. The internal weeping of the older people and the external Samaritan opposition discouraged the people in building. Beyond this problem the Persians empire did not hassle Israel. So Israel faced two obstacles, one was external, the Samaritans, and the other was internal, Israel themselves. As a result of the external problem an internal problem developed. The external stopped the rebuilding effort so the people focused on rebuilding homes and farming instead of God’s house (Haggai 1:3-11). Israel remained loyal to the Persian Empire throughout its history as can be seen when Alexander the Great came and demanded Israel allegiance and they refused to change loyalties.
The next (2) major problem occurred 250 years after that when Israel was faced with the defilement of the temple by the Greek Syrian Antiochus IV Epiphanies in 175 BCE, and his forced Hellenization upon the Jewish nation. This resulted in the Maccabean revolt which liberated Jerusalem and Temple from Syrian control in 168 BCE and the purification and re-dedication of the defiled temple. As a result of this you have the story of the “Miracle of Hanukkah.” The book of 1 Maccabees recounts the story. Later the Maccabees enlarged the temple mount area, around 141 BCE, and added a bridge from the upper part of the city across the Tyropoeon Valley to the temple platform.
The final (3) major problem encountered occurred in 63 BCE. The Hasmonean dynasty (Maccabees) for 40 plus years had been in spiritual decay which resulted in political decay. The final result was a civil war between brothers as to who would be the ruling heir. One of them asked the Roman General Pompey to intervene. The result of General Pompey intervention was that he conquered Israel and made it a province of Rome. Where upon General Pompey entered the temple mount and went behind the vail into the Holy of Holies, nothing happened for the Glory of the Lord was not present. Religiously Rome gave Israel complete religious freedom, but politically independence was complete lost. There would be continued war in Israel until Herod who was appointed by the Roman senate would subdue completely all zealot forces to gain full and complete grip on his empire.
Rome put Herod in charge of Israel in 37 BCE. He secured the land but was a cruel despot, a mad man. However, in 23 BCE wanting to endear himself to the Jewish people, he proposed to completely refurbish Zerubbabel’s Temple rebuilt in 516 BCE. They did not trust him, and rightly so. But after 4 years of negotiating the complete refurbishing of the second temple began in 19 BCE. Herod paid for it from his own personal wealth.
God promised that the glory of this house would be greater than the former temple, Solomon’s (Haggai 2:9). The emphasis of the verse is upon the word “glory” and not on the word “house.” But what is this glory? Is the silver and gold mentioned in verse 8 or is it the glory of the personal presence of the Lord, the Shechinah? Admittedly Herod made this second temple larger, more costly and more beautiful than Solomon’s temple. How would it be possible for the Lord to be present when His glory was not dwelling in this temple to begin with? And in what way would His presence give this latter temple more glory? The answer I believe is found in one major passage in the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures).
Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom you seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom you delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts. Malachi 3:1
In reading this passage Malachi makes a distinction of persons. There is much to be said about the larger context of this passage but the space within this article will not permit me to expound upon all of it. The speaker is Yahweh and as the “LORD of hosts” He states that He will send “my messenger.” When that is coupled with Malachi 4:5-6 and Isaiah 40:3 we understand that the messenger that God is referring to John the Baptist who was the Messiah’s forerunner (Matt 11:10-14; Luke 3:4; Jn 1:19-28) or the “my messenger” in His first coming. The second person mentioned in verse 1 is the Lord [Adonai], who in this lone passage is called the “messenger of the covenant.” When studying this verse you find that Yahweh is speaking and “the messenger of the covenant” will come to “his temple.” You have a clear reference to the Messiah as “the messenger of the covenant” coming to “His” temple. The first “messenger” of Yahwehcomes to prepare the way for Adonai (Lord). Adonai, the second “messenger” is further identified as “the messenger of the covenant” who comes to His temple. What is significant is that the first messenger will prepare the way for the second messenger, who is the Lord [Adonai], “the messenger of the covenant.” If you turn to Judges 2:1, “the angel of the LORD” states that He made the covenant with the Fathers a direct reference to the Abrahamic Covenant of Genesis 15. Consider as well that in Genesis 15:1, 4 it is “the word of the LORD” who came and spoke to Abraham, the Memra or Logos of John 1:1. So the second person of the tri-unity of God made the covenant and this is the one who will be coming to “his temple.”
The New Covenant (New Testament) clearly connects the temple with the Messiah in passages such as Matt 21:12-15; Mk 11:15-17; Luke 19:46; Jn 2:13-19. In Daniel 9:27 it clearly states that the Messiah will be executed and the second temple will then be destroyed because of the rejection of the Messiah. The Jewish leadership had a dilemma when the temple was destroyed, because since the inception of the Mosaic Law, given by God to Moses, over 1400 years earlier, the trespasses and sins of the people against God was dealt with by a blood sacrifice. Suddenly the sacrifices stopped and, from a Jewish standpoint, there has been no revelation, not prophet, no word from the Lord as to what the Jewish people are to do for well over 1900 years. Rabbinic Judaism rose up to fill the gap by substituting new laws (oral law) and regulations. But was God silent as Judaism supposes? No. They missed Yahweh’s “messenger” (or forerunner) and they also missed “the messenger of the covenant,” the Messiah of Israel, who is the LORD, who did come to “his temple.”