Written by Paul J. Bucknell on November, 27, 2020
Ezra 3:1-13 Rebuilding God’s Temple
The church relives the same situation after the Second Temple’s foundation was relaid during Ezra’s time, waiting for its full completion.
Ezra 3 mentions two foundations; the first foundation refers to the altar’s foundation (Ezra 3:1-6), while the second is the temple’s foundation (Ezra 3:7-13). Nehemiah, later, restored Jerusalem’s city wall.
Rebuilding the Altar (Ezra 3:1-6)
On the first day of the seventh month, Israel regrouped under good leadership to begin rebuilding the altar’s foundation (Ezra 3:1) and offering sacrifices (Ezra 3:6). The enemy’s threats instigated the restoration of daily sacrifices (Ezra 3:3). We are not sure which month the Israelites first returned to Israel. Some time evidently had elapsed due to their settling in their cities, before regathering in Jerusalem on the seventh month to restore the sacrifices. No doubt, the encroaching enemies played a part in their sacrifices, for they greatly needed God’s help (Ezra 3:3).
The sacrifice and altar speak of the first change needed in our lives, leading to the church’s revival. The newly offered sacrifices depicted a deepening trust in their Lord. Perhaps, their focus was a bit narrowly focused on protection, but it spurred them on in the right direction to make sure that they first restored the most foundational aspect of life—spiritual worship. The first life question is, “Who do we worship?” The second, in recognizing our sins and flaws, “How do we appease God?”
Rebuilding the Second Temple (Ezra 3:7-13)
After the Emperor’s decision to send the Israelites back to Jerusalem (chapter 1) and a recording of who actually traveled back to Israel (chapter 2), Ezra records the rebuilding the temple’s foundation in chapter 3. This restoration’s timing—an exact seventy years—matched Jeremiah’s prophecy, being aided by Daniel’s prayers.
Although the altar and the sacrifices had been restored, verse 6 tells us that the foundation for the temple had not been laid. “From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord, but the foundation of the temple of the Lord had not been laid” (Ezra 3:6). Verse 10, finally records the celebration following the laying of the temple’s foundation.
“Now when the builders had laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord” (Ezra 3:10; NASB is used unless noted).
A New Testament Perspective
What significance did the relaying of the Second Temple’s foundation have, and what did it mean to them? Moreover, how are we, in the New Testament age, to think of this? The laying of such a foundation was no small matter. With much hard work, the foundation stones were carefully laid in preparation for the completion of the temple building.
Highlighting the different responses of this momentous event can become a sermon in and of itself (Ezra 3:10-13). However, I want to use this relaying of the temple foundation to similarities between the Old Testament and New Testament hopes.
As long as the temple’s foundation was not laid, there remained uncertainty about God’s commitment to Israel. Had God abandoned them? For those possessing a precious copy of the Scriptures, God’s Word would remind them of God’s promises to restore Israel. The Lord fulfilled His promise through Jeremiah after 70 years (Jer 25:11-12). Once they built the foundation, however, many people could visualize God’s greater purposes. The temple’s foundation became a concrete reminder of God’s miraculous ways of orchestrating the rebuilding of the foundation, including stirring up Cyrus, the Persian world emperor (cf. Ezra 1).
Once they saw the foundation, the people’s joy, sadness, and hope came to a crescendo. The foundation is always the hardest to build, often requiring huge extra rocks virtually impossible to move. But with an established foundation, people could enlarge their vision and concretely visualize how the rest could be completed upon that foundation.
I will use two words to expand our understanding, certainty, and hope.
The Certainty of The Temple
Once the Israelites caught sight of the foundation, they knew that the whole temple could be built. God was at work! The most difficult part had been completed. Yes, they would find opposition to this plan (Ezra 4), but the inspiration deriving from the temple’s foundation powerfully drove them. God mightily worked in their midst; He was real and committed to them. The rebuilding of the temple affirmed that God still desired their worship.
The Certainty in the New Testament
The New Testament also provided such certainty with laying the foundation of the Gospel, existing even to our day. God built the cornerstone, now everything else would follow on finishing up the remaining parts of the foundation.
God would see to it. Jesus powerfully stated, “I will build My church” (Mat 16:18). This refers not just to the foundation but also to its completion. Jesus’ second return is the capstone to this promise when the whole temple, the church, will have been fully brought in.
Jesus’ work on the cross and the apostles’ founding of the church became this precious foundation (1 Cor 3:10-11). By sealing the New Covenant with the blood of Christ, God assures us of His commitment to His people. We no longer need to fear for our sin before our holy God (Rom 5:1-2).
The Gospel serves as the foundation of the whole.
One of this modern generation’s chief sins is the familiarity of God, falsely concluding that they deserve God’s loving attention. Only by restraining His wrath does God withhold judgment upon this brazen, sinful world. God’s impressive finishing of the foundational work reminds us of the Lord’s determine design to complete the building, patiently calling His people.
Certainty in God’s salvation brings a mature faith, allowing one’s steady belief to guide one’s future course of life. “Now faith is the certainty of things hoped for, a proof of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). When Christians doubt and are unsure of their salvation; they put off their spiritual armor and flounder (Eph 6:14-16).
The Gospel is the New Covenant’s foundation; it’s already laid, and we can put our complete trust in our Savior’s work. Around 33 A.D., the Romans, in a real historical event, nailed Christ (i.e., Messiah) to the cross, making His life the one-time sacrifice and atonement (1 John 2:1-2). The cross raises our hope, which in turn leads us to increased joy, certainty, and delight in God’s salvation. In time, the whole church will come into Christ’s kingdom. “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Mat 24:14).
The believer not only has certainty in the Gospel but has the hope of God filling one’s heart.
The Hope Found in the Temple
The newly laid foundation also brought into view what would be built. While certainty deals with the definitiveness of completion, hope describes the inspiration associated with its completion. Certainty looks back while hope looks forward.
Away with the naysayers who assert Christ’s work on the cross did nothing (Mat 24:48) or to those awaiting for the Messiah to come (Mat 24:14). The foundation has been laid. We can now take full joy in the hope that arises when we can visualize the whole before us. Listen to Peter boasting about this hope!
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).
“And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9).
The completed works of Jesus Christ in the cross and resurrection makes it easier for all to envision the fullness of God’s salvation plans upon Christ’s return. We can see glimpses of this hope in Ezra with the old-timers who had once frequented the first temple. Although weeping, their lost memories marvelously returned in a flaming hope. They restored the sacrifices but desired the completion of the temple. Though specific details were unavailable, their vibrant hopes faithfully lead them in obedience to God.
“And all the people shouted with a great shout of joy when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. Yet many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ households, the old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, while many shouted aloud for joy” (Ezra 3:11-12).
Certainty looks back while
hope looks forward.
Foundations represent larger works; they must be laid by an enduring vision and strong commitment. A large percentage of the work is done when the foundation is laid. However, the founders must take that certain view and spread it to others so that they will commit and apply themselves to this marvelous work. Jesus did this very thing by commissioning and imparting God’s Spirit to the disciples.
The New Testament’s central message assures us of the sure foundation of God’s saving promises completed in Christ’s work on the cross and resurrection (Acts 2). The church now builds upon their labors—there is but one foundation and one church; it’s all one (Eph 4:4-6). Everyone’s participation becomes valuable. Having been laid, others can easily pitch in here and there to contribute to the building of the whole.
The church, comprised from the many chosen over tens of generations and thousands of years, is still being built by the Chief Architect, Jesus Christ. “I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Mat 16:18).
In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus instructed His people on how to join Him in the completion of the great worldwide building of the church. This remaining portion to be built becomes our mission until He comes again. Upon the completion of the church, Christ will come and reveal His full temple. God reveals His secret at the end of Revelation, namely that the temple is nothing but God’s holy presence. “I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev 21:22).
The laid foundation brings certainty and hope to our lives. The foundation, relaid in Ezra’s time, brought hope to finish rebuilding the Second Temple. Those in the New Testament age are, like the Jews in Ezra’s time, living during an “in-between age.” The Gospel work, the foundation, was finished in Christ’s work at His first coming while waiting for the rest to be completed now through the whole body of Christ coming to know Him.
Meanwhile, we must industriously apply ourselves to this great mission task, allowing the sure, fully-laid foundation to inspire your devotion. God has carefully placed you in this generation to complete His great mission.
Bible Study Questions on Ezra 3
- How many foundations does Ezra refer to in Ezra 3?
- When did they start building the altar’s foundation? How do you know?
- When did they start building the temple foundation? How do you know?
- Which foundation do you think was harder to build and why?
- Why do you think they first worked on the altar foundation?
- It appears that they started making sacrifices when they began rebuilding the altar’s foundation—before its completion. Why?
- If they had relaid the altar’s foundation, why should they go to the effort of rebuilding the more difficult temple foundation?
- What are some responses when the Jews saw the temple foundation relaid?
- If you were one of them, what might be your response, and why?
- How is the New Testament age similar to what we find in Ezra before the temple’s full completion? Explain.
- Did you ever liken God’s use of you to share the Gospel and make disciples is the way He completes the temple of God, the church? Explain your thoughts.
Other Relevant Ezra Articles by Paul J. Bucknell
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Transportation of articles (Ezra 11). Chapter 2 The Returning Exiles (Ezra 2:1-70) A. Men of Israel (2:1-35) B. Men of priesthood and temple service (2:36-38)
Ezra’s response in chapters 9-10 all too clearly confirms the absolute finality of deadly compromise. There is no way to get it back. Once ...
Extra Maps for Old Testament Reference & Study
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