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Day 262: Why the Second Temple Was So… Meh (Haggai 2:3)

A Spurgeon Snapshot

“‘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?”
‭‭Haggai‬ ‭2‬:‭3‬ ‭ESV‬‬

I am using the Spurgeon Study Bible for my Bible Read Through in 2023. All of the study notes are quotes from Charles Spurgeon’s sermons and writing. For more on Charles Spurgeon, click here. The Spurgeon Study Bible is available from Lifeway, Christianbook.com, and Amazon.

One of the remarkable features of Zerubbabel’s temple was that it wasn’t that remarkable at all. We get the first clue that it’s not that much to look at from Ezra 3:12:

“But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy,”
‭‭Ezra‬ ‭3‬:‭12‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Zechariah also infers that some people were disappointed with the second temple when he implored them not to “despise the day of small things (Zechariah 4:9-10).

So why wasn’t the second temple more magnificent? Was there an economic downturn? Supply chain issues?

The issue wasn’t a lack of funding. Even if the money given by the family heads had not been enough (see Ezra 2:69), the decree from Darius (Ezra 6:8-9) meant they would have all the financial resources needed to restore the Temple to its former glory.

The issue wasn’t a lack of political support. Cyrus actually approved plans for the second temple to be bigger than the first one: twice as high, three times as wide (compare Ezra 6:3-4 to 1 Kings 6:2).

So if money was no object, and there was no bureaucratic red tape, and they had all the permits they needed to build a huge, magnificent temple, why didn’t they?

Spurgeon’ a commentary on this passage gives an insightful answer. He argues that the second temple was never supposed to be as magnificent as the first. The first temple, he wrote, was to be the “full embodiment of the glory of the dispensation” of God— providing all the symbols and types of what it takes for our sins to be atoned: the altar, the offerings, the Mercy seat, and the High Priest. But it was intended to pass away.

Had it been God’s providence that a temple equally magnificent as the first should be built, it might have been easily accomplished…

But in God’s providence it was not arranged that it should be so, and though Herod lavished a good deal of treasure on the second temple for the pleasure of the nation he ruled and to gain some favor from them, he profaned the temple more than he adorned it.

Spurgeon noted that during the time the second temple stood, Christ came into the world. And from the moment “the dispensation of Christ was softly melted” into our time and space, the temple became irrelevant.

The outward worship was to cease there. It seems right [therefore] that it should cease in a temple that had not the external glory of the first. God intended to light up the first beams of … his true temple, the church, and he would put a sign of decay on the outward and visible [second temple.]

So when Haggai says that “the final glory of this house will be greater than the first” (Haggai 2:9), he isn’t just trying to put a positive spin on an unimpressive temple. He was speaking prophecy. The final glory of the house isn’t a building, or a holy veil, or a golden box.

The final glory of the house is Christ Himself. And Christ dwells in His people. Jesus visited the Temple. But He lives in us.

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