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The prophecy of Haggai and the coming of Jesus
Weighing in at only two chapters, the book of Haggai is underappreciated among the prophetic books. But this book contains expectations about the future that have to do with Christ and his church.
A Rebuilt Temple
In approximately 520 BC, Haggai and Zechariah ministered to reinvigorate the complacent Israelites. The Israelites had attended to their paneled houses while leaving the temple of God in ruins. The reason for the ruined temple was the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. Now, more than a generation later, the temple should have been fully rebuilt by those who returned from exile. Yet decades passed without the temple being completed.
Haggai told them the word of the Lord: “Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified” (Hag. 1:8).
The rebuilt temple, however, was less impressive than the former temple under Solomon. The Solomonic temple had been a work of grandeur and beauty. The rebuilt temple was not like this.
The word of the Lord addressed the people, “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?” (Hag. 2:3).
The “former glory” referred to the first temple, the one Solomon built. The rebuilt temple in the days of Haggai was inferior to it. Their present temple was not as glorious as in the days of David’s son.
But the present state of things wouldn’t last forever. God said, “I will fill this house with glory” (Hag. 2:7). A temple being filled with God’s glory is reminiscent of earlier texts, as when the glory of God filled the tabernacle (Exod. 40:34) and also Solomon’s temple (1 Kgs. 8:10–11). Interestingly, in the days of Haggai there was no report that the glory of God filled the rebuilt temple. God simply says, “I will fill this house with glory” (Hag. 2:7). But when?
According to Haggai 2:9, “The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts.” Now ponder that promise. The Lord is speaking of future glory, future temple glory. And this future glory would be greater than not just their present disappointing temple but greater than the former glorious temple in Solomon’s day. That would be great glory indeed!
Since the Solomonic temple and the rebuilt temple were actual buildings, it’s understandable for interpreters to associate the “latter glory of this house” with a future physical temple. But we need the New Testament to direct us here. How does the New Testament employ temple language with regard to God’s plan and kingdom?
Jesus told some Jews, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). He was referring to the temple of his body (2:21). The Lord Jesus had come to fulfill the purposes of the Old Testament tabernacle and temple.
The incarnation was the tabernacling of the Son of God: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Echoing the idea of a tabernacle dwelling with the Israelites in the Old Testament, Jesus tabernacled—or dwelt—among sinners. And as the tabernacle and temple were associated with God’s glory, there were disciples who beheld the glory of Christ.
In a staggering claim to the Pharisees, Jesus said, “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here” (Matt. 12:6). In the Old Testament, the temple was a sacred place because it denoted the presence and glory of God. But in Christ something greater than the Jerusalem temple had arrived. Despite how glorious the Solomonic temple was, greater glory had now come.
Visualize the promise in Haggai 2:9 like this:
Former Glory Rebuilt Temple Latter Glory
(Days of Solomon) (Days of Haggai) (Days of Messiah and Church)
The Temple Builder
Temple language in the New Testament pertains not only to Christ. United to Christ by faith, the people of God are depicted as a temple. Because Christ is the tabernacling presence of God, our union with him establishes our temple-identity as those in whom the Spirit dwells.
Peter told his readers, “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5). Paul said, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own” (1 Cor. 6:19). Also, “For we are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor. 6:16).
The “latter glory” predicted in Haggai 2:9 is fulfilled in Christ and his church. The people in Haggai’s day had neglected the temple of God, but Christ doesn’t do that. His body was torn at the cross and then raised from the dead. He dwells in everlasting bodily life, a temple that shall never be destroyed.
In Christ, we are God’s temple, filled by his Holy Spirit. The Son of David has come, and he is a temple builder. Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). And he does. Stone by stone, the Lord Jesus builds his church to be a mighty temple indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Pet. 2:5). We are living stones because we are united to Christ the Temple Builder.
Haggai 2:9 isn’t predicting a future physical temple to be built at some point in Jerusalem in the end times. The words of the Lord in that verse are about what Christ would accomplish in himself and with his church. The word of the Lord told Haggai’s contemporaries that something greater than their temple was coming. And Jesus of Nazareth told his generation, “Something greater than the temple is here.”
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