"The Glory of This Latter Temple Shall Be Greater Than the Former" (Haggai 2:1-9)
The people of Judea had recommitted themselves to the work of God and had gotten off to a good new start. Through Haggai, God had exhorted them to the task and then encouraged them with the assurance of His presence with them. But that was of course not enough. This next message of Haggai illustrates the need for ongoing exhortation and encouragement—just as God's people need today and at all times.
This next message comes just under a month from the recommencement of the temple construction. Interestingly, it comes on the 21st day of the seventh month, the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles (see Leviticus 23:33-44). It was at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles that Solomon had dedicated the first temple. And for those who were old enough to remember, the annual Feast of Tabernacles was probably the time of the greatest expression of joy before the splendor of the former temple.
In recalling these things, some measure of disappointment may have set in—just as had happened when the foundation of the second temple was first laid, when those who remembered the former temple of Solomon wept (see Ezra 3:12-13). This could have been part of the reason for previously quitting the reconstruction—the idea of "What's the use? It will never be as good as it was before."
Haggai now "puts the discouraging sentiments into the mouths of the audience. They were all thinking it, and now Haggai has said it. The new is inferior to the old, and that fact along with the other discouraging circumstances had thoroughly depressed the people and stifled their initiative. One account of the effort Solomon put into his temple is recorded in 2 Chronicles 1-4. Compare this with the meager means of the returned exiles, whose temple must have looked small indeed" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, note on Haggai 2:3-5). We can fall into this way of thinking with regards to the spiritual temple of God—His Church, considered either collectively or personally. Perhaps we reflect on the material accoutrements and accomplishments of the Church of God in the last century—with huge congregations, superb buildings and grounds, abundant financial means and a powerful, globe-girdling work. We could then look on the more modest physical situation of today and become discouraged—wondering what the use is of carrying on with the temple-building work God has delegated to us when our physical circumstances will seemingly never match what was there before. Maybe similar reasoning is applied to our spiritual condition if we have neglected our relationship with God: "I was so spiritually focused years ago. But I've made some wrong choices. I've done some bad things. I'll never be where I was before. Why even bother?"
God did not leave the returned exiles hopeless. As Expositor's notes: "Having brought the very problem of discouragement into focus, Haggai next offered the divine antidote: 'Be strong...be strong...be strong... and work. For I am with you' (v. 4). Notice the same imperative thrice repeated—to Zerubbabel, to Joshua, and to all the people. Notice also the threefold repetition of the formula 'declares the Lord.' The problem was essentially one of attitude. So the primary command was to take courage. When the people did that, the command to 'work' would be fulfilled quite naturally. For the Lord to have only said 'work' without giving assurances would have been inadequate motivation These people did not need to be whipped but encouraged—not cudgeled but made optimistic. The most uplifting thing they or anyone could hear was that God was with them....
"The thought must have passed through some minds that God was with them no longer. There must have been those who were theologically naive and doubted that God could be with them if the temple and the ark [of the covenant] in particular were not intact. Undoubtedly fear gripped many of the returnees—fear that God had...[eternally abandoned] Jerusalem, fear that no amount of praying or piety would induce him to bless them again, fear that the whole endeavor was in vain, fear that the political enemies would in fact win, fear that all was lost. Therefore, the words of God through Haggai, which must have had a ring of authority to them, would have been of great comfort And that encouraging word that shored up the sagging spirits of our spiritual forefathers should serve to bolster our spirits as well when we are spiritually discouraged" (note on verses 3-5).
Verse 6 is the only verse of Haggai quoted in the New Testament—in Hebrews 12:26. Haggai 2:5 is a reference to God's Spirit being with the ancient Israelites at Mount Sinai. This is the time when Hebrews 12:26 says God's "voice then shook the earth." Haggai 2:6-7 goes on to describe the time when God "once more...will shake heaven and earth...and...all nations." Hebrews 12:26-28 shows that the final shaking to come will leave only the Kingdom of God. This is certainly an end-time prophecy. It should be noted, though, that, as commentator Charles Feinberg explains, some have viewed Haggai 2:6-7 as referring "to the revolutions in the Persian and Greek empires. There were such shakings in these governments, but they can only be considered as initial and preparatory steps in the long process where the kingdoms are shaken from their position of rule, and finally the kingdom of the Lord Christ is realized upon earth" (The Minor Prophets, pp. 243-244). Given the turmoil at the beginning of Darius' reign, it is conceivable that the returned exiles took this prophecy as applying to events of their own day—and misunderstanding this and the rest of Haggai's prophecy as indicating the imminence of the messianic age.
Verse 7 mentions the "Desire of All Nations" and filling the temple with glory. Many have seen in these words a reference to the Messiah, Jesus Christ—that is, all nations desire a divine Savior and Deliverer and a relationship with the Creator of mankind even though they do not know His actual identity or understand God's will. Others link the phrase "desire of all nations" to the mention of silver and gold in verse 8, seeing the "desire" as the precious things of the gentile nations being brought into the millennial temple of Ezekiel 40-44. Yet the mention of all the gold and silver in the world belonging to God may simply have been His way of telling the people that they need not fret over the absence of such precious metals from their present construction. After all, no matter how things look to them, God states that the glory of "this latter temple" shall be greater than the former (verse 9).
It perhaps seems odd that the millennial temple would be in view here considering that it will be a different temple than the one Zerubbabel built. Zerubbabel's temple, the second temple, later renovated by King Herod, was utterly destroyed by the Romans. The millennial temple, as described in the final chapters of Ezekiel, will not be built until Christ's return. It would seem, then, that the second temple must have been intended on some level here in Haggai 2. Consider that a comparison is being drawn with Solomon's temple, and God is encouraging the people about the temple they are working on. How would it be an encouragement if the point were that the temple they were working on would not receive the greater glory—that the greater glory was instead reserved for a later temple to be built millennia after the one they were working on was destroyed?
Of course, Haggai's immediate audience would not have known any of this bad news. Moreover, we should return to verse 3, where Haggai asks, "Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory?" Feinberg remarks, "From God's viewpoint there was only one house of the Lord on Mt. Zion, whether it was the Temple built by Solomon, Zerubbabel, or Herod later" (p. 243). Indeed, there is continuity between the temples. Nevertheless, we should recognize that a contrast is being drawn between "this latter temple" and "the former."
What, we might ask, did the second temple experience in the way of divine glory? After all, we've already seen that it was smaller. Moreover, factors evident upon later completion could have seemed to belie the idea of greater glory. "The Babylonian Talmud indicated five things were lacking in the Temple of Zerubbabel which were present in the Temple of Solomon: (1) the Ark of the Covenant [containing the Ten Commandments]; (2) the holy fire; (3) the Shekinah glory [the divine presence of God]; (4) the spirit of prophecy (the Holy Spirit); and (5) the Urim and Thummim" (p. 240). Yet consider that to this very temple, as later renovated by Herod, would come the Creator incarnate—God made flesh—Jesus Christ. Furthermore, as we will later consider in reading Acts 2, there is reason to believe that the temple may have been the "house" where Jesus' disciples were gathered in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost following His death and resurrection—where the Holy Spirit came and filled them in a manifestation of power and thousands of gathered witnesses from different countries were converted as a result. This was the beginning of the New Testament Church—the spiritual temple of God as mentioned before—again providing a sense of continuity.
Indeed, the prophecy of the Desire of All Nations and the temple being filled with glory, while perhaps referring in part to events surrounding Christ's first coming, would—given the apparent time frame of following the shaking of all nations—seem to have more direct reference to events surrounding Christ's second coming. And the temple of God of that time referred to in the prophecy could well signify the spiritual one that continued right on beyond the destruction of the second temple and remains to this day—the New Testament Church of God.
Those elements of the first physical temple that were missing in the second have spiritual counterparts in the spiritual temple, the Church. Rather than the ark containing the Ten Commandments, the members of the Church of God have the law of God written on their hearts. Rather than the divinely ignited holy fire for sacrifices, those in the Church of God are offered up as living sacrifices, and their prayers as incense. The Shekinah (indwelling) glory of God abides within the members of His spiritual temple. The Church of God has the "prophetic word confirmed" (2 Peter 1:19). And rather than consult the Urim and Thummim, those in the Church are able to consult the full written Word of God and His ministry and receive discernment through God's Spirit. It is the Church of God, the spiritual temple, that will obtain the greatest glory of all, when it is fully glorified—indeed, deified—at the time of Christ's return. The glorified Church will then dwell with Christ at the physical millennial temple, again providing further continuity of the temple theme—that of a dwelling place, a house, a home for God and His family.
Haggai 2:9 ends with God's promise, "And in this place I will give peace"—shalom, ultimate contentment and satisfaction, with all as it should be. That certainly has not described the history of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount of any age since Haggai wrote. And even the Church, while experiencing a measure of the "peace of God, which surpasses all understanding" (Philippians 4:7), has not received it in its fullness and perfection. That is something that lies yet in the future—the wonderful hope for which we wait.