Rev. Hanko is pastor in the Protestant Reformed Church of Lynden, Washington. Previous article in this series: February 15, 2005, p. 231.
The Fourth Prophecy (cont.)
2:23. In that day, saith the Lord of hosts, will I take thee, O Zerubbabel, my servant, the son of Shealtiel, saith the Lord, and will make thee as a signet: for I have chosen thee, saith the Lord of hosts.
In this last verse of the prophecy of Haggai, Zerubbabel, the political leader of the Jews, is both the person addressed and the subject of the prophecy. Insofar as this promise applies to Zerubbabel himself, it is a promise that Zerubbabel will be God’s representative, the representative of His own divine rule among the people, and that God will use him in the work of rebuilding.
That God is speaking to and about Christ under the figure of Zerubbabel is also clear from the prophecy. Zerubbabel is referred to not only as a signet, but also as the servant of Jehovah and as His chosen. Both of these are important names for Christ, especially in the prophecies of Isaiah to which Haggai very obviously has reference (Is. 41:8, 9; Is. 43:10; Is. 44:1, 2). That these names refer to Christ in the book of Isaiah becomes clear when we realize that the servant passages all climax and come to their conclusion in Isaiah 53, which describes this chosen servant of the Lord in His sufferings.
Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.
Such passages prove beyond any doubt that it is not finally Zerubbabel but Christ of whom the prophet was speaking.
That Christ is spoken of as a signet ring on the hand of God refers first of all to the fact that He is the representative of the kingly majesty and power of God. He is that in a way Zerubbabel could never be, for Zerubbabel was but a man, and Christ is the one in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Col. 2:9).
There is a passage in the New Testament that comes very close to describing Christ in the same terms used here. Hebrews 1:3 speaks of Christ as the express image of the person of God. Those words, “express image,” literally describe the stamp or impression left by a signet ring. That is what Christ is as God’s Son come in the flesh, as the bodily representative of God Himself.
God speaks of Zerubbabel, and through him of Christ as King, to show how completely He would provide for His people and fulfill the promises that He had made to them. Not only would Christ be the true temple, the Desire of all nations, but He would also be the great temple builder. That was the role of Solomon and of every king of Judah, to build and keep in repair the house of God. Solomon fulfilled that task by building the first temple. Men such as Jehoshaphat and Asa kept the temple open and in repair, and later kings such Hezekiah and Josiah restored it when it had fallen into disrepair.
That God has Zerubbabel in mind as the builder of the temple is especially clear fromZechariah 4:7-10:
Who art thou, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it. Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me saying, The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundations of this house: his hands shall also finish it; and thou shalt know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto you.
Now God assures His people not only that the temple would be built and that its glory would be complete, but that He would Himself take the responsibility for seeing to it that the work was finished, not only in this earthly house that they were working on, but in the true temple, the body of Christ, the church. We have, then, in this closing prophecy of Haggai, God’s word to the church of all ages that He, through our Lord Jesus Christ, will build His church. That does not take away the calling we have in His house, nor leave us idle, but the work is really His and is accomplished through His Son, even when He uses us in that work.
That Christ is both temple and builder is somewhat difficult to understand, but is true because all the Old Testament pointed to Him. He is both the temple and priest, both priest and sacrifice, both sacrifice and altar. There really is no other name but His. That He is both temple and builder is clear from John 2:19, 21:
Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up…but he spake of the temple of his body.
He builds the temple in all of His work. In His death and resurrection He lays the cornerstone, through His Spirit He gathers the living stones of which that house is built. He preserves His church in the world and brings her to perfection in glory, where His house is built unmovable and everlasting, and in that house He is the one in whom and through whom God dwells with His people as one family, taking them as His people and revealing Himself as their God and giving them the blessed vision of His own face in the face of His beloved Son.
The promise of Christ under the figure of Zerubbabel is the encouragement of every true temple builder from now until the house of God is finished. It is the guarantee that our labors are not in vain in the Lord (I Cor. 15:58). It is the assurance that we too are chosen and precious in God’s sight, and that we will receive from Him every blessing necessary for the work He has given us to do. It is the assurance that God’s promises are not failing, even when it looks so to us—when all appears hopeless, and the cause of God is very small in the world, left like a hut in a garden of cucumbers and like a besieged city (Is. 1:8).
We must remember that in Zerubbabel the Jews could no longer see anything of the former splendor and power of the throne of David. Zerubbabel was nothing more than a minor official under a foreign king. And because he had none of the power of David, there was in him no assurance that the temple would be built, and when built, be preserved. It is little different in these last days, now that Christ has gone away for a while and His church is left alone in the world, small and despised. No wonder that so many have abandoned and given up on the church and forsaken her to run to their own homes. They have, however, forgotten that nothing depends on us, that God has promised to build His church through our Lord Jesus Christ, and that therefore and in Him our labors are not in vain.
God promises to raise up the throne of David once again, not in Zerubbabel, but in Him who is to come, to make Him the visible representative of the power and dominion of God Himself, and thus to insure the building and preservation of His house. That promise we have as we take up yet again in the New Testament, in the work of the church and in the work of church reformation, the building and rebuilding of the house of God.
Let us not be slothful, then, in these latter days, but build as we have been commanded—build in the assurance that the true temple, the Desire of all nations, will come soon, that God will build His church with a view to that coming day of Christ, when the church shall be, as the body of Christ, part of that true temple, and in the hope that the true temple of God shall remain when heaven and earth and all things in them are shaken and removed.
May our prayer be that of Calvin as we consider what Haggai, through the inspiration of the Spirit of God, has written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come:
Grant, Almighty God, that…as thou hast favoured us with so great an honour as to make us the framers and builders of thy spiritual temple, may every one of us present and consecrate himself wholly to thee: and inasmuch as each of us has received some peculiar gift, may we strive to employ it in building this temple, so that thou mayest be worshipped among us perpetually; and especially, may each of us offer himself wholly as a spiritual sacrifice to thee, until we shall at length be renewed in thine image, and be received into a full participation of that glory, which has been attained for us by the blood of thy only-begotten Son. Amen.¹
¹John Calvin, Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets, trans. Rev. John Owen, (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, n.d.), vol. IV, p. 326.