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Haggai: Prophet of the Greater Temple

Haggai prophesied in the years after the end of Judah's captivity to Babylon. The first major project was to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. This project actually prophesied of a greater temple that was yet to be built made of living stones.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Chapter 6

Herod Remodels the Temple

Haggai 2:1 says,

1 On the twenty-first of the seventh month, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet saying…

This word came to Haggai about seven weeks after his first word. Hag. 1:1 dates the beginning of his revelation as the first day of the sixth month, and that word was successful in stirring up the people. They met to start work on the 24th day of the same month (Hag. 1:15), and it took a week to set up the altar of burnt offering.

No Comparison

Chapter 2 then gives the word of the Lord after the people had been working on the temple for nearly a month. Haggai 2:2, 3 continues,

2 “Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, saying, 3 ‘Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem to you like nothing in comparison?”

They had barely begun their work. The foundation had not even been laid yet, and they were still cutting the beams and preparing the stones. But the plans were drawn up, and it was apparent to all that this rebuilt temple was nothing in comparison to the former temple. They lacked the resources and skill to duplicate Solomon’s temple.

Haggai knew that the people could easily become discouraged on account of the simplicity of the second temple. Remember that this temple did not become one of the seven wonders of the world until King Herod took it apart and rebuilt it, beginning about 16 B.C.

Reconstructing Zerubbabel’s Temple

Josephus tells us that the original Herod (“The Great”) conceived the project in his 18th year.

“And now Herod, in the eighteenth year of his reign, and after the acts already mentioned, undertook a very great work, that is, to build of himself the temple of God, and make it larger in compass, and to raise it to a most magnificent altitude, as esteeming it to be the most glorious of all his actions, as it really was… (Antiq., XV, xi, 1)

Herod’s reign began in 37 B.C. So the 18th year of his reign was 19 B.C. Josephus tells us again,

“And this was the speech which Herod made to them; but still this speech affrighted many of the people, as being unexpected by them, and because it seemed incredible, it did not encourage them, for they were afraid that he would pull down the whole edifice, and not be able to bring his intentions to perfection for its rebuilding; and this danger appeared to them to be very great, and the vastness of the undertakings to be such as could hardly be accomplished.” (Antiq. XV, xi, 2)

We see that when Herod announced his intentions, many became alarmed, thinking that he would take down the temple without having the time or the resources to rebuild it. So he promised to gather all the building materials first. Josephus continues,

“But while they were in this disposition, the king encouraged them, and told them he would not pull down their temple till all things were gotten ready for building it up entirely again. And as he promised them this beforehand, so he did not break his word with them, but got ready a thousand wagons, that were to bring stones for the building, and chose out ten thousand of the most skilled workmen… and then began to build; but this not till everything was well prepared for the work.” (Antiq. XV, xi, 2)

Josephus also tells us that once the work on the temple actually started, “the temple itself was built by the priests in a year and six months” (Antiq. XV, xi, 6). Construction of the “cloisters and the outer enclosures” took another eight years” (Antiq. XV xi, 6), being finished, presumably, about the year 8 B.C. Yet there was much more to be built.

Herod died in January of 1 B.C., long before the rest of the project was completed. He died just a few months after Jesus was born, and one of his last paranoid acts was to kill the children in Bethlehem. Then his son, Archelaus, took the throne in his place (Matt. 2:22).

Archelaus was the son of Herod by his wife Malthace (a Samaritan woman). He was proclaimed king by his army, but he declined this honor until he should go to Rome to receive the title officially. First, however, because of unrest in Jerusalem (caused by his father’s prior acts of injustice), he sent troops into the city at the feast of Passover and killed 3,000 protestors. In fact, he sent out public notices that Passover was cancelled that year (April of 1 B.C.).

He then immediately embarked for Rome to lay claim to his title. However, his own family opposed him, and Rome gave him only a title of Ethnarch, which was somewhat less prestigious. Josephus tells us,

“When Caesar had heard these pleadings, he dissolved the assembly; but a few days afterwards he appointed Archelaus, not indeed to be king of the whole country, but ethnarch of one half of that which had been subject to Herod, and promised to give him the royal dignity hereafter, if he governed that part virtuously.” (Antiq. XVII, xi, 4)

So he was given Judea, and so the building of the temple continued until the tenth year of his reign. In 8 or 9 A.D. he was banished to Vienna. His rule over Judea had been as cruel as his father’s, and so he was accused before Augustus Caesar of violating the order to govern “virtuously.” Josephus tells us,

“And when he was come [to Rome] to Caesar, upon hearing what certain accusers of his had to say, and what reply he could make, both banished him, and appointed Vienna, a city of Gaul, to be the place of his habitation, and took his money away from him.” (Antiq., XVII, xiii, 2)

After Archelaus was banished, Roman procurators ruled Judea until the time of King Herod Agrippa, a grandson of Herod, who was given the province of Judea in 41 A.D. Josephus tells us,

“And now Archelaus’s part of Judea was reduced into a province, and Coponius, one of the equestrian order among the Romans, was sent as a procurator, having the power of [life and] death put into his hands by Caesar.” (Wars of the Jews, II, viii, 1)

There was a long gap between 9 and 41 A.D., while Judea was ruled by Roman procurators. There was another Herod as well, one called Herod Philip I, whose mother was Mariamne II, a daughter of Herod the Great. Herod Philip I was married to Herodias, whose daughter Salome was instrumental in the execution of John the Baptist in 30 A.D. He was actually a private person who lived most of the time in Rome. The sheer number of Herods at that time in history makes it difficult to keep track of them.

The temple was finished under the oversight of Rome itself, although the priests and other laborers did the actual work. Judea itself was incorporated into the province of Syria, ruled from Antioch. Josephus tells us,

“So Archelaus’ country was laid to the province of Syria; and Cyrenius, one that had been consul, was sent by Caesar to take account of people’s effects in Syria, and to sell the house of Archelaus.” (Antiq., XVII, xiii, 5).

This was the same Cyrenius who had been entrusted with the task of enrolling the names of all the Roman subjects in Syria and Judea in the months leading up to Jesus’ birth in September of 2 B.C. That enrollment had been done to ratify the Roman senate’s proclamation (in February of 2 B.C.) that Augustus was Pater Patriae, “Father of the Country” on his 25th anniversary (since 27 B.C.). It is the registration that took Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-5).

Forty-Six Years to Build the Temple

By 30 A.D., near the start of Jesus’ ministry, the construction had been going on for 46 years (John 2:20). The precise date of the 46 years cannot be ascertained with certainty, but if the workmen hired by Herod began to construct the temple in 17 or 16 B.C., then 46 years later would have been in 30 or 31 A.D.

Although the statement regarding 46 years was made during the first Passover recorded in the book of John (John 2:13, 20), it is not certain that this was truly the first Passover in Jesus’ ministry. In fact, we know that John rearranged the three Passovers in his account in order to subordinate the chronology of events to the prophecies of the seven days of the feast of Tabernacles.

Hence, the second recorded Passover (John 6:4) was the one where John the Baptist was executed. We know this because it was at that time Jesus fed the 5,000 and then received news that John had been beheaded by Herod (Matt. 14:10-13). Matthew tells us that when Jesus heard the news, He withdrew to the wilderness, where the multitudes followed Him. He then fed the 5,000.

After Jesus was baptized in September of 29 A.D., He limited His ministry (John 2:4) until John was cast into prison, and He did not fully enter His ministry until John was executed in 30 A.D. This was because as long as John the Baptist was alive, Jesus had not fully received the high priesthood, by which He was able to complete His ministry.

John had been God’s choice as high priest—the last of the Levitical priests before the Order of Melchizedek was established. John died childless, and so his position passed down to his first cousin on his mother’s side—that is, Jesus.

But since Jesus was of Judah, rather than of Levi, He did not qualify as a Levitical priest, but of Melchizedek instead. The death of John gave Jesus the high priestly office (from God’s perspective), so that He qualified to enter the Temple in heaven carrying His own blood to sprinkle on the altar (Heb. 9:11, 12).

Because the apostle John subjected chronology to the prophecy of the feast of Tabernacles, we do not know precisely when the word was spoken concerning 46 years. For that matter, we also do not know the precise year when Herod began to build the temple. Yet we know approximately the time, because it began a short time after 19 B.C. (Herod’s 18th year), when he first conceived of the idea. Forty-six years later takes us to the early part of Jesus’ ministry (30-33 A.D.)

We return now to the building of the second temple in Jerusalem in the days of Zerubbabel.