Rev. Hanko is pastor in the Protestant Reformed Church of Lynden, Washington.
The Second Prophecy (cont.)
3. Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? And how do ye see it now? Is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?
God is reminding the people in this verse of the poverty of the temple they were building. He was doing that because Christ was coming soon. His coming was only a little while away, less than 500 years away. To help these Old Testament believers look for His coming, God began to take away the pictures and types, in some cases by removing them altogether, as with the ark, and in other cases by taking away their glory and beauty, as with the temple building. That was necessary because the pictures and types were very beautiful and the Jews sometimes became enamored of them. At the time of Jesus’ death, for example, they were so enamored of the types and shadows that they could eat the Passover lamb the night before Jesus was crucified and never recognize Him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. They continued to bring their sacrifices without seeing that they pointed to the sacrifice of Christ. They continued to worship in the temple without seeing that He was the true temple.
Perhaps God is doing the same today. Perhaps He is taking away whatever external glory the New Testament church once had, making her smaller and more insignificant in the world in order to prepare us for the second coming of Christ. That would not be at all surprising in light of the fact that this prophecy speaks of the lesser glory of God’s house in the latter days. It would seem on the basis of this prophecy that we have no reason to expect that in the last days the church will become the dominant force in human society, controlling politics, education, and the other areas of human life. Before Christ comes again, the New Testament church will be reduced to nothing. Jesus Himself prophesies that when He asks: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?”
The wonderful thing is, though, that when the glory of the church is reduced to nothing, as it shall be in the latter days that are coming, then we have every reason to hope that Christ will soon appear. As Jesus says: “When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh” (Luke. 21:28).
The lesser glory of God’s house in these latter days, though no excuse for sloth and indifference, is a sign that our final redemption is near.
4. Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the Lord; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the Lord, and work: for I am with you, saith the Lord of hosts:
5. According to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, so my spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not.
In these verses God is promising His people that He will reveal His presence and glory in the temple they were building, even though the building itself did not compare to the temple of Solomon. That promise is bound up in the words “I am with you,” words that are at the heart of God’s covenant with His people, the covenant that was symbolized and typically realized in the Old Testament temple.
God’s covenant is, above all, a relationship between God and His people that flows from and is part of the relationship between the three persons of the Trinity. That relationship is consistently summarized in Scripture by the promise, “I will be your God, and ye shall be my people,” words that become a kind of formula for the covenant in Scripture. That promise comes in various forms, among them the promise of God to be with His people or to dwell among them.
That relationship between God and His people was symbolized by the temple as the house of God. It was in that house, through the ministry of the priests as mediators, that God lived with and was with His people, revealing Himself as their Father and taking them under His fatherly care and counting them as His children.
That God has this covenant in mind is clear from the triple use of the name Jehovah in verse 4. That name is preeminently His covenant name, for it speaks of His unchangeable faithfulness to His people. It was also the name that He first revealed when He brought them out of Egypt, an event referred to here and an event that proved that He was their God and they His people. That He in one case calls Himself the Lord of hosts does not change this, but simply reminds them that, as always, He rules all things—they are His hosts—for their sakes.
The reference to God’s covenant is further confirmed by the fact that God says literally here that He “cut” His word with His people when they came out of Egypt, language that is ordinarily used of the covenant in the Scriptures. The Hebrew for making a covenant is almost always, literally, “cutting” a covenant, in reference to the solemn ceremony of cutting animals in pieces as part of covenant making.
God, in fact, speaks of His covenant in verse 5, when He describes the promise of Exodus 29:45, 46 as a word He had “covenanted” with them. That promise reads:
And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, that brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them: I am the Lord their God.
Not only does that promise include all the elements of the covenant, God promising to be the God of His people and to dwell among them, but it was given in connection with the setting up of the tabernacle and the promise of God that He would meet with the children of Israel there and speak with them (Ex. 29:42-44). That promise was all that the people of Judah needed as an answer to their discouragement. They had to understand, and did understand if they were at all spiritually minded, that the size and glory of the building they were working on were of little account. What mattered was God’s presence.
That promise, even today, remains the hope and blessedness of the church. If God is not present in the church, then nothing else matters—not the number of members, not the many programs and ministries that are carried on in the church, not the approval of the membership, not the fact that the church is growing. If God is not present, then the worship of the church is a sham, its preaching in vain, membership in it of no more account than membership in any other worldly organization. Nothing matters so much as the presence of God, the covenant God of His people.
That presence of God is proved in the New Testament church by the pure preaching of the gospel, biblical worship and sacraments, and the carrying out of Christian discipline, what are sometimes called the marks of the true church. Really, though, they are not marks of the church, but of God’s presence in the church through Jesus Christ. That is the reason, too, why membership in the visible church is so important. It is a matter not just of loyalty to one or another group of Christians, but a matter of seeking God and finding God Himself and of following Christ.
That promise is not only the promise of Christ, of which we will have much more to say in connection with the following verses, but is also a promise of the Spirit. Just as it is only through Christ that God is the God of His people and dwells with them, so is it only by the Holy Spirit that the promise is realized. When God, therefore, speaks of His Spirit in verse 5, He is speaking of the Holy Spirit as the one through whom and by whom He dwells in His church and of the coming of the Spirit to the New Testament church at the time of Christ’s ascension into heaven.
That does not mean, of course, that the Spirit was not present in the church of the Old Testament. God makes it clear here that His Spirit always was and always would be among them. He would “remain” among them. Nevertheless, it is only in the New Testament, through the outpouring of the Spirit as the Spirit of the risen Christ, the one who testifies of Christ crucified and risen, that the promise is fully realized.
The promise of the Spirit here brings us closer to the New Testament, however, for in the New Testament it is through the Spirit and not through types and shadows that God dwells among His people. The Word of God reminds us of this in Ephesians 2:22, where the church is described as an habitation of God through the Spirit. Now in Haggai’s time, after the return, the types and shadows through which God was present with His people begin to vanish and He promises to dwell among them by His Spirit, just as in the New Testament.
That promise of the Spirit parallels the promise of Jesus at the last Passover. The presence of the Spirit was so important, He said then, that it was expedient for Him to go away so that the Spirit might come (John. 16:7). The Spirit, after all, is the one who works in our hearts, giving us what Christ earned for us on the cross and applying to us the words that He speaks to us. It is by the Spirit that our hearts are stirred up and we fear God. It is by the Spirit that we obey God’s commands, and by the same Spirit that we labor in God’s house as builders.
So God tells Judah not to fear enemies or other discouragements,but rather to be strong—strong in faith—and to continue with the work He had given them to do. We must understand, though, that God does not just say this, but by this word He gives them the hope and faith and strength they needed. His word is always His own power unto salvation and gives what it requires. His word is for us also.
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.
This passage is the key to the whole prophecy, not only because it speaks of Christ, but because it reveals the future history of God’s house all the way to the end of the world, and declares that through Christ that house will become ever more glorious until its glory entirely eclipses the glory of Solomon’s temple in the new heavens and earth. There are two main parts to the passage, the prophecy concerning the shaking of all things, which is quoted in Hebrews 12:25-29, and the prophecy concerning the coming of the Desire of all nations. These two are related, the coming of the Desire of all nations being the cause of the shaking of all things, and the shaking of all things not only accompanying the coming of the Desire of all nations, but being the means by which God’s house receives its greater glory in the latter days.
This shaking refers not only to earthquakes, including the great earthquake that will destroy this present creation, but also to political and social disturbances that God uses to shake the nations and the hearts of men. The destruction of Gog in Ezekiel 38:14-23 is described as a shaking, as is the destruction of Egypt in Psalm 68:7ff. Isaiah, too, describes the overthrow of Babylon and the return of Israel to Canaan as a shaking (Is. 13:1-22).
Once again God speaks as the Lord of hosts, His principal name in the books of Haggai and Zechariah. The word “hosts” in this name refers to all created things (Dan. 4:35) in heaven and on earth, and to the fact that they are all God’s great army, which serves Him willingly or unwillingly, knowingly or unknowingly, and through which He accomplishes His own sovereign purpose. In this case those “hosts” include the heavens, the earth, the sea, the dry land, and the nations, as well as the wealth of the creation.