Herod the Great was the King of Judea who oversaw the reconstruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. The Roman client king took almost one and a half year to complete the task. However, historians say that it took eighty more years to complete the out-buildings and the courts. In fact, in the Gospels, we find that it took Herod forty-six years to complete the task. This may suggest that the Temple was not completely done in the times of Jesus.
Herod employed about 1000 priests as masons and carpenters. They are the only ones who were allowed under the Mosaic law to enter the Temple. As a matter of fact, documented history indicates that Herod started accumulating building materials way before bringing down the now dilapidated Second Temple. The Temple had been built by the likes of Zerubbabel, Jeshua and Ezra as prophets Haggai and Zechariah cheered on.
The kind of an undertaking Herod was engaged in is proof of his excellent planning, problem-solving and communication skills. He did perform well in management, notwithstanding his slaughter of baby boys when news reached him of a newborn king.
Bearing this in mind, it is shocking when Jesus in John 2:19 challenges the Jews to destroy the ‘temple’ and see how He would reconstruct it in three days. This must have confounded friends and foes. “How can you tell us that the Temple that has taken all these years to construct can be destroyed and then rebuilt in three days? Are you round the bend?”
I cannot criticise these guys for confusing the two temples: the Temple of Solomon, or if you like it, the Second Temple and Jesus the Temple. Navigating Scriptural and spiritual truth with our carnal minds is a complex engagement.
Sadly Herod’s Temple would be destroyed in 70AD by General Titus and his Roman soldiers. The man Gessius Florus, a Roman Procurator in charge of Judea at the time, was the catalyst for this catastrophe. He loved money and hated Jews. He had little regard for Jewish religious sensibilities, and when tax revenues hit rock bottom, Florus invaded the Temple and carted away with Temple silver. The Jews could not stomach it. They were appalled, and the procurator responded by sending soldiers to murder almost 4000 Jews. This action set in motion a great revolt that saw the Second Temple completely destroyed except for a portion of the Western Wall (the Wailing Wall) that still stands.
The Temple of the Lord
The Book of Prophet Haggai is unparalleled among the Books of the Old Testament because of one reason: Haggai spoke, and the people listened. The Jews had just returned from exile. They had put their focus now on rebuilding their lives. They were now carrying out outstanding housing projects. In the process of the busyness of life and trying to reconstruct their deconstructed socio-economic systems, they tended to forget their God, Yahweh, and the Temple of Solomon – which was in a sorry state. The Temple had been destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon when he overran the Kingdom of Judah.
In Haggai 1:4, God asks them a question “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your panelled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” Don’t you think God is still asking the same question save to a different audience?
It was unwise for Herod to spend much time on the physical Temple and forget about the spiritual Temple. He invested in what is temporary and gave a wide berth that which is permanent.
Jesus left the Temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; everyone will be thrown down.”
It was imprudent for the Jews returning from exile, in times of Haggai, to channel all their energies in building their own houses and forget the Temple of their God. The route they had taken was full of mines, and Haggai had to redirect them. They heeded Haggai’s voice.
I find this message symbolic, and it cuts down to the core of my heart. The Bible in 1 Corinthians 6:19 remind us that we are the Temple of the Holy Spirit; the Third Person of the Triune God. What am I doing to ensure the Temple of the Holy Spirit is majestic? Am I busy with my own projects at the expense of the Temple of the Holy Spirit? Am I spending most of my time building what is physical and perishable at the expense of what is spiritual, permanent and eternal?
Herod and Jews of his days committed one mistake; they built a splendid physical temple and forgot about the Temple of the Holy Spirit.
The Jews of prophet Haggai’s time committed one mistake; they concentrated on building their houses and forgot about the Temple of God. Thank God they later paid attention to Prophet Haggai.
Are we still committing the same mistakes?
How much time and means do we commit to the things of the Kingdom?
It is high time we went back to the drawing board and redo our priorities. May God help us.