Rev. Hanko is pastor in the Protestant Reformed Church of Lynden, Washington. Previous article in this series can be found in the May 1, 2004 issue, p. 354.
The Second Prophecy (cont.)
6.For thus saith the Lord of hosts; yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land;
7.And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts.
The shaking to which this passage refers takes place in “once, a little while,” whichHebrews 12:26, 27 interprets to mean “yet once more.” The first shaking was at Mount Sinai, when God’s voice shook the earth only. This shaking would take place once more and in a little while in the overthrow and destruction of the Persian empire by Alexander the Great, but the yet once more refers especially to the shaking that takes place in the New Testament in connection with the coming of Christ, and throughout the New Testament when there will be a shaking of all things in earth and heaven, temporal and spiritual.
Hebrews 12:27, however, clearly indicates that this shaking takes place at the end of the world, for when it happens, Hebrews says, the things that are made shall be removed and only those things that cannot be shaken shall remain. However, it is clear from Haggai that this shaking also takes place in connection with the incarnation of Christ, for the coming of the Desire of all nations is first fulfilled then. It was that shaking especially that the Jews looked for in Haggai’s days.
How can that be? We should understand that the coming of Christ in Scripture is always viewed as one event, which includes His incarnation, His coming through the Spirit (John. 14:16-18), and His coming at the end of the world. They are one in principle because through the coming of Christ God accomplishes His one purpose in the salvation of His church and the judgment of the world. It was from this perspective that the Old Testament prophets did not even see that there are different events that are part of the coming of Christ. Joel, when he spoke of blood and fire and smoke and darkness (Joel 2:30, 31), did not realize that he was prophesying both of the coming of the Spirit (Acts 2:16-21) and of the end of the world (Rev. 6:12-14).
One must, in reading the prophets, think of the whole New Testament as one day on God’s time clock, the one day in which He finishes his work and cuts it short in righteousness (Rom. 9:28). It may be difficult for us to grasp that (after more than 2000 years of New Testament history have passed), but we must remember that the passage of time means nothing to God. One day with Him is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as a day (II Pet. 3:8).
There is, then, a progressive fulfillment of this prophecy, as there is of most prophecy. That is not often seen, but should be evident, since to say that prophecy has only a single fulfillment at one point in history is really to say that the prophecy is of no significance for the people of God living at other times. A progressive fulfillment of prophecy means that prophecy is always relevant and always applies to the times in which we live. We live in the middle of the fulfillment of the prophecy of Haggai concerning this shaking.
The “yet once more,” therefore, is the whole New Testament and is fulfilled again and again in the events of the New Testament, until finally the word of God in Hebrews 12:27 is fulfilled and the things that are made are shaken to pieces and removed. It is fulfilled in the shaking of Herod’s heart at the time of Christ’s birth, in the shaking of the nations that brought the wise men to Bethlehem, in the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles, and whenever hearts and minds are shaken by the truth concerning Christ. It is fulfilled in the shaking of the earth at the crucifixion, in the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost, in every earthquake that shakes this present world, and in the great earthquake at the end of the ages (Is. 24:19, 20;Rev. 6:12).
This shaking, as Hebrews 12teaches us, is a shaking of all things that destroys everything but that which cannot be shaken (Heb. 12:27). It shakes this present creation and all the works of man to pieces, in order that only God’s work may remain. It does that in the judgments and destruction that come upon and destroy the ungodly and their world and that leave only God’s work of grace in the hearts of His people unshaken. But even in them, that which is made is removed, and only God’s work remains, when they are translated by means of this shaking into the everlasting kingdom of Christ (Heb. 12:28).
We must not set our hearts on those things that can be and shall be shaken and removed, nor labor for them. We must seek those things that cannot be shaken, the things of the everlasting and enduring kingdom of Christ, the kingdom that cannot be moved, the kingdom that is centrally the church and that is found always in the institute of the church. Even that shall be shaken, however, and much that does not really belong to that kingdom of Christ shall fall away and be destroyed, both those who are hypocrites, as well as the sins of God’s people, and those things that belong now to the life of the church in the world but shall not be necessary in the life to come.
Of this shaking, every earthquake is a sign. Each is a beginning tremor of that great earthquake that shall shake not only the dry land but the sea, not only the earth but the heavens. Even the nations are and shall be shaken by this earthquake. And all but God’s work through Jesus Christ shall be shaken to pieces and destroyed. What a thing it is to experience an earthquake, when we understand this prophecy of Haggai! An earthquake is a frightening experience in any case, when the ground beneath our feet becomes unstable and unsafe. How much more frightening when it is seen as the beginning of that greatest of all quakes.
This shaking, then, takes place as a revelation of God’s righteous judgments on the world in which we live and on those who live in it. The things that are made are removed. Through that judgment comes salvation, however (Is. 1:27; I Pet. 4:17, 18), for those things that cannot be shaken remain, the glorified church in the new heavens and earth (Heb. 12:28).
Though Hebrews interprets Haggai’s words to mean “yet once more,” the “yet a little while” of Haggai is also true. Always, beginning with the coming of Christ in Bethlehem, it is but a little while and this shaking is felt again. From Bethlehem to the cross is but a little while. From the cross to Pentecost, from Pentecost to the gathering of the Gentiles, from the ingathering of the Gentiles to the coming of Christ—each is but a little while. Even the whole period from the first to the second coming of Christ is but a “little while,” one day, the day of the Lord, in biblical terms.
This shaking accompanies and is caused by the coming of the Desire of all nations. We take this, like Handel’s Messiah, as a reference to the coming of Christ, first in His humiliation and then in His glory as the judge of the living and the dead. The grammar, however, is quite difficult. It has caused much controversy and led to very different interpretations of the passage. The RSV translates, “The treasures of all nations shall come in”; the NKJV, “They (the nations) shall come to the Desire of all nations”; and the NIV, “The desired of all nations shall come” — a few samples of the many differences in translation that are the result of the grammatical difficulties.
The difficulties are two. The word translated in the KJV as “desire” is feminine and plural, so that literally the phrase would read: “The desires of all nations shall come.” This is the reason why some versions and commentators do not find in it a reference to Christ but to the precious things, the gifts, that the Gentiles bring when they come into the kingdom of Christ (cf. Is. 60:6). The other difficulty is that the verb “shall come” is singular and masculine and does not seem to fit with the word desire. That second difficulty is not solved, however, by making the noun subject refer to the Gentiles and their gifts instead of to Christ.
Without going into a detailed explanation of the grammar, we believe that the word “desire” does refer to Christ, and the prophecy is similar, therefore, toII Samuel 23:5. That the word is plural can only be, then, because it refers not only to Christ but to all the riches of His glory and grace. The masculine singular verb, we believe, confirms the fact that the passage is a reference to Him alone. It is difficult to see how the passage could refer to anything or anyone else, since the glory of the temple, which is the main subject here, is not in its members but in Him.
That He is called the Desire of all nations is a reference to the fact that in His saving grace and power He is lovely to the people of God. They say of Him: “He is altogether lovely. This is my beloved and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem” (Song 5:16). They say this, of course, only by grace, for without grace He is not seen as lovely, but is despised and rejected. He is called the Desire of the nations especially, however, because He is the fulfillment of everything the temple represented, the covenant and fellowship with God as members of His family under one roof.
He is literally the “Desires” of the nations, because all pleasant and desirable riches are found in Him. One of the early church fathers, Ignatius, says of Him:
Hungerest thou and desirest food? Long for Jesus! He is the bread and refreshment of Angels! He is manna, containing in Him all sweetness and pleasurable delight. Thirstest thou? Long for Jesus! He is the well of living water, refreshing, so that thou shouldest thirst no more. Art thou sick? Go to Jesus. He is the Saviour, the physician, nay, salvation itself. Art thou dying? Sigh for Jesus! He is the resurrection and the life. Art thou perplexed? Come to Jesus! He is the Angel of the great counsel. Art thou ignorant and erring? Ask Jesus! He is the way, the truth and the life. Art thou a sinner? Call on Jesus! For He shall save His people from their sins. To this end He came into the world: This is all His fruit, to take away sin. Art thou tempted by pride, gluttony, lust, sloth? Call on Jesus! He is humility, soberness, chastity, love, fervor: He bare our infirmities, and carried, yea still beareth and carrieth, our griefs. Seekest thou beauty? He is fairer than the children of men. Seekest thou wealth? In Him are all treasures, yea in Him the fullness of the Godhead dwelleth. Art thou ambitious of honors? Glory and riches are in His house. He is the King of glory. Seekest thou a friend? He hath the greatest love for thee, Who for the love of thee came down from heaven, toiled, endured the Sweat of Blood, the Cross and Death; He prayed for thee by name in the garden, and poured forth teats of Blood! Seekest thou wisdom? He is the Eternal and Uncreated Wisdom of the Father! Wishest thou for consolation and joy? He is the sweetness of souls, the joy and jubilee of Angels. Wishest thou for righteousness and holiness? He is the Holy of holies; He is everlasting Righteousness, justifying and sanctifying all who believe and hope in Him. Wishest thou for a blissful life? He is life eternal, the bliss of the saints. Long then for Him, love Him, sigh for Him! In Him thou wilt find all good; out of Him, all evil, all misery.1
Because the temple in the Old Testament was the place of God’s covenant it was sometimes referred to as the desire of God’s people. ThusEzekiel 24:21:
Speak unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord God; behold, I will profane my sanctuary, the excellency of your strength, the desire of your eyes, and that which your soul pitieth.
And Psalm 84 says the same, though in different terms:
How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God…. For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness (vv. 1, 2, 10).
Of that temple and house of God Christ is the reality to which the pictures pointed, the true temple of which the Old Testament temple was but a shadow. That He is that true temple is clear from John 2:21. There the Word of God adds to Jesus’ words concerning the destruction and rebuilding of the temple this explanation: “But he spake of the temple of his body.” He is that true temple because in Him God dwells with His people and is their God. As Paul says in Colossians 2:9, 10: “In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him….”
¹Quoted from E. B. Pusey, The Minor Prophets: A Commentary Explanatory and Practical, (Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, 1977), vol. II, pp. 312, 313