Selected highlights from this sermon.
Looking at the building, destruction, and rebuilding of God’s temple, and the events surrounding those periods, we see how God disciplines His people, and even scatters them. But during the 70 years of captivity between the destruction of Solomon’s temple and its rebuilding, God saved a remnant of His people—those with a zeal for Him, who would once again proclaim His message.
And then, 20 years before the birth of Jesus, Herod begins building on top of that temple...
Download the two charts that Pastor Lutzer uses throughout this series:
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The Bible is a very remarkable book. It’s simple because we believe its promises and there are those favorite passages that we love to read, but it’s also very complex. If you have a Bible before you notice the Table of Contents. You can turn to that Table of Contents right now.
The first five books of the Old Testament are the Books of the Law. Then you have historical books. You have wisdom literature such as Psalms and Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, and then as you continue you have all of the Prophets, and you must keep in mind that these Prophets and these books are not chronological. They are not all in chronological order.
Now the Bible has a remarkable unity. In fact, I am going to be stressing that in my next message in this series to show you that these 66 books written by 40 different authors provide a unity that in many respects is breathtaking. But at the same time, if we don’t understand its chronology, we don’t know where all the books fit. And that’s why we prepared a chart for you, and I want you to take the chart right now and open it because this gives you the historical timeline of the Bible. It is indeed the drama of redemption, and if you are watching this today online I need to tell you that I’ve been told that there is an electronic version of this chart on our website. As you look at this chart you can see that there are some books that move history forward. They are, by and large, the red books, and then there are those that support the story, or those that go on at the very same time concurrently. For example, 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles cover essentially the same history but from a different point of view.
What I’ve encouraged you to do is to read the Bible through, five chapters a day, so that if you miss a day or two you will be caught up. Actually if you read four chapters a day you could read the Bible through, and some of you might like to first of all just read the historical narrative as you trace its journey and then later on come and read its supporting material. But it is so important for you to read it.
In my last sermon I spoke to you about the fact that I believe that there are parts of the Bible that you should skim, and I suggested that unless you want to camp on the book of Leviticus and understand it well, skim the book of Leviticus. This past week I read the first ten chapters of Numbers with all of those lists of the people who are going back and all of the things that they took, and I have to confess I scanned most of it, always looking for things that the Holy Spirit might reveal to me. You say, “Well, isn’t all the Bible so rich?” Of course, it is rich. If you stop to study the book of Leviticus you could be there all year and be blessed, but you’re not going to read the whole Bible through if you stop and you think about or you analyze every single chapter. Remember the difference between seeing Washington, D.C., by car and seeing it by plane.
Now the Word of God is going to change you. That’s why we’re all reading it together. It’s going to change you because the Word of God converts us. It says in the book of James, “By his own will he begat us by the word of truth.” The Word of God and the Spirit of God combine together to give us the life of God. The Word of God cleanses us. “Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” The Word of God grows us. “As newborn babes desire the sincere milk of the word that you might grow thereby.”
Now this has been my experience and it’s been the experience of others. If you neglect the Bible, you will not miss it in your life. You’ll be able to go on without reading it day after day, come to church on Sunday and learn something about it. It will be there on the shelf and you will not miss it. If you begin to read it, if you begin to meditate on it and study it and think about it, you will discover soon that you can’t live without it. If you miss it, something will be missing. You see, the more we read it, the more we love it, and we must love God’s Word.
Well, today the series is going to continue. We began last week, and if you weren’t here last time, I suggest you get the CD and listen to it with the chart that you have before you, and then you’ll be able to see these books in context, because today we are going to jump basically almost to two-thirds of the chart, and I’m going to tell you about the nation Israel, which was in captivity, but I do need to just recap briefly.
Remember the story of redemption is that God said to the serpent that there would be the seed of the woman that will crush the serpent’s head. The whole story of the Old Testament is the outworking of that promise. We know that it comes through Abraham. After Abraham there comes, of course, Joseph, who goes into the land of Egypt. Israel is in the land of Egypt, and then they come out and then they come back into the land under Joshua, and then they want a king, and the first king that they get is Saul, and he turns out to be a disappointment.
David is especially loved by God, and because of that love God says, “David, the seed is going to come through you. I’m going to give you a son who is going to reign over your throne forever,” and that is fulfilled in Jesus. After David comes Solomon, and Solomon is noted for his great temple. This is the First Temple period in Israel’s history—a marvelous structure and lots of gold because Solomon loved grandeur and greatness. And Solomon dies and he gives the kingdom to one of his sons by the name of Rehoboam. Rehoboam increases taxes rather than decreasing them, so ten of the tribes revolt. So you have the kingdom split and you have the northern kingdom with its capital in Samaria, and you have the southern kingdom with its capital in Jerusalem. Now this gets very confusing, folks, because the northern kingdom is referred to now as Israel. You say, “Well, isn’t Israel the entire land? Don’t we speak of Israel today?” Yes, that’s true, but in those days it was Israel, and then you had Judah, because it’s the larger tribe in the south, and it is through Judah, you see, that Jesus Christ is going to come. So that’s why the prophets will prophesy either to Israel or to Judah. Most of them were to Judah. The only prophets that prophesied up north were actually Hosea and Amos. All the others prophesied to the southern kingdom. But there is so much idolatry because they don’t want to go to Jerusalem to worship, and so God sends the Assyrians in 722 BC and the Assyrians take all the northern ten tribes captive and we never hear from them again. They are interspersed among the nations. They are known as the Ten Lost Tribes.
The southern kingdom continues for another 132 years, and they fall into idolatry too. Jeremiah spends 40 years saying, “Judgment is coming.” There are false prophets that say, “Oh, it’s wonderful. God is going to bless you. He’s going to make you healthy. You don’t have to deal with your sin,” and suddenly you have the destruction of the Temple. 350 years after it was built, Solomon’s Temple is destroyed because the Babylonians come to Jerusalem and the southern kingdom, Judah, is taken into captivity into Babylon.
What an experience they have there. That’s where the book of Daniel takes place. Daniel is a marvelous example of how we have to live in a culture that is hostile to us, because the Jews now find themselves living in a culture that is not disposed to their own viewpoint and their own religious rituals, and so that’s where they are—in captivity.
And then after they are there, God decides, of course, to bring them back. By the way, when Solomon’s Temple was destroyed, Josiah took the Ark [of the Covenant] and he hid it in Solomon’s house. The Ark was never seen again—that is the Ark of the Covenant, that box where God said He would dwell upon it. Where did the Ark go? Two rabbis said that they saw it (and this is, I believe, a credible story) in one of the caverns under the Temple area in Jerusalem. It is almost certainly not in Ethiopia like all of the television specials seem to imply, and want to believe.
Solomon’s Temple is destroyed. That’s the First Temple period. The Jews are in Babylon 70 years and God brings them back, because He predicted that it would be 70 years.
Babylon is off the map because Persia conquers Babylon. Cyrus the king rises up and he allows the Jews to go back to their land, and they return in three different waves, coming back now to their homeland 70 years later.
First of all, you have Zerubbabel. He comes and he builds his temple. Now this is the only passage I would like you to turn in the book of Ezra, because Ezra is on hand when the second return takes place, but he writes the book that has his own name, and he tells us about the earlier experience of Zerubbabel and the Temple. It says in Ezra 3:10, “And when the builders laid the foundations of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord, according to the directions of David, king of Israel. And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, ‘For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.’ And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.”
Why are the old people weeping? Well, they are remembering that Solomon’s Temple was so much greater, and the foundation of Zerubbabel’s temple was so small in comparison to Solomon’s that well might they weep.
Interestingly, the three prophets (and this is shown on your chart) who are prophesying during this time are Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. If you read Zechariah 3 and 4, he recounts this incident because he is there, and he is thinking about the disappointment of the people and he says, “‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord,” and then it says, “For who has despised the day of small things?” And so the prophet, Zechariah, encourages Zerubbabel, and those who are weeping because they remember Solomon’s great temple.
So we have then the first return, which is the rebuilding of the temple. The second return are some laws that were instituted by Ezra (some reforms), and then the third wave is when the temple is finished but the wall has not been built, and Nehemiah comes back and he builds the wall. And Nehemiah is famous for crying up to the Lord of Heaven. He brings the third group of people back from Babylon, which is now Persia, and he allows them to come back to the city and they, against much opposition, build the wall around the temple that Zerubbabel had built, and in the book of Nehemiah, Ezra continues to do his teaching. He was a scribe, and he was a priest before God, and interestingly, it says that as he taught them there was an interpreter present. Why did they need an interpreter? Well, you see after 70 years in Babylon they had lost all the Hebrew they knew. At least the children didn’t know how to speak Hebrew. They learned Aramaic, which is a related language, and so now they needed interpretation so that they would understand what was being said.
And so the Old Testament closes with a little temple in Jerusalem with a wall built around it, and with Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi being the last prophets, and a few of the Jews, now a remnant, are back in the land, living in Jerusalem, fighting off their enemies. And you can see according to the chart that now we have the Intertestamental Period. The Intertestamental Period is, of course, the period between the Testaments and is known as the 400 silent years, because during those years God didn’t speak. There were no prophets. The Jews simply existed decade after decade. On and on they went.
Now, those of you who were raised with a Catholic background know that the Catholic Bible has more books than the Protestant Bible and you may have wondered why that is. Many of the books that we as Protestants call the Apocrypha were written during this period of the 400 silent years. For example, 1 and 2 Maccabees, the time of the Maccabees when Tychicus Epiphanes also marches into Jerusalem and antagonizes the Jews and has a sow put on the altar, took place during this period of time.
Now we think that the Apocrypha might have some good historical value, but we do not accept it as Scripture, because it was never a part of the Old Testament. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew apart from a few chapters in Daniel, which are in Aramaic, and the Apocrypha is in Greek. And there are other reasons as well as to why we don’t accept it, but keep in mind that when Jesus was here on earth, the Bible he quoted from was the Old Testament, and that Bible had the very same content as our Old Testament has today. The books were in a different order, but the content was the same, so the Apocrypha was never accepted by Jesus or the Apostles, or quoted from as Scripture.
But now the 400 years are over. Do you remember Jacob and Esau? They were twins and when they were in the womb of their mother, God said two nations were in her womb, and the older was going to serve the younger. And then you think of Esau growing up, of course, and having antagonism with his twin brother, Jacob, and later on Esau goes in one direction and Jacob goes in another. Esau and his descendants become known as Edomites, and they live in what today is called Petra, that some of us have had the opportunity of visiting. And what you have in history all throughout the Old Testament is antagonism toward the Jews, and especially toward the seed of the woman. I have no doubt that Satan often thought to himself, “I wonder who is going to bear the Messiah,” and so he would try to work his wonders so that he would prevent the purpose of God from being accomplished. As a matter of fact, there were times in the Old Testament when it seemed as if the line that God had chosen was almost wiped out, but God always kept a remnant, and that line kept progressing throughout history until we get to Jesus, but it was always attacked. And the Edomites, of course, were a part of those who antagonized Israel. Israel wanted to go past them; the Edomites didn’t let them. The Amalekites are descendants of the Edomites, and these Amalekites attacked Israel, and God said, “I will have war with Amalek from one generation to another generation.”
But one day in the land that we today call Israel, there was a king who was an Edomite, and he was a descendant of Edom, and his name was Herod the Great. And Herod the Great was a mad man, and one of the things that he did was to continue to attack the seed of the woman, didn’t he? When he heard that Jesus was born in Bethlehem he said to the Wise Men, “Come and tell me about it because I want to worship him too,” and they were on to him, and they didn’t do that, and he became angry and he killed all of the boys in Bethlehem who were two years of age and under, hoping to kill Jesus. As a matter of fact, Herod the Great even killed his own family members. He was a very evil king, but one of the interesting things about Herod is that he really loved to build, and he wanted to build the Jews a temple. The Jews said, “No, we have Zerubbabel’s temple.” Herod said, “Okay, I won’t build you a temple. I’ll simple renovate Zerubbabel’s temple.” Actually he rebuilt it all. As a matter of fact, the tearing down of the old one and the building of the new one happened simultaneously, and it was a huge glorious temple. In fact, he trained a thousand priests as masons to work on it to make sure that the Jews were satisfied. He himself indicated that he was converting to Judaism, so he was doing them a huge favor, but he also was trying to give himself a great position in history. And so Herod’s temple was built.
Today when you go to Israel they’ll talk about the First Temple period. They mean Solomon. And then they’ll talk about the Second Temple period, and the Second Temple period is basically Herod’s temple. You say, “Well, what about Zerubbabel’s temple? By in large in history, it didn’t play a big part, and because it was absorbed into the great Herod’s temple, Zerubbabel’s temple is not spoken about, but Herod’s temple is.
All right now, let’s do the math. Herod begins it about 20 years before Jesus is born, building this massive structure. When Jesus comes on the scene, the building is not yet finished. Now mind you, the inner part was, but the outer part was still being built, and Jesus was sitting on the opposite side of the Mount of Olives, looking at Jerusalem, and he said to the disciples, “Look at the stones that are here,” and in Herod’s glorious temple they were everywhere. He said, “Not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be hewn down.” Wow! Jesus said that this temple would be destroyed because the Jews did not know the day of their visitation.
It was finally finished in about 64 AD and a few years later in 70 AD this glorious temple that was built by Herod, the temple to which Jesus was brought as a child when his parents took him to Jerusalem, was taken down stone by stone. It is said that when the Romans came (and Titus came) and conquered the city, they believed that there was gold in the stones, and so it was totally and completely dismantled in accordance with the words and the prophecy of Jesus. The temple was gone.
Today you can go to Jerusalem and there are no artifacts of Herod’s temple except for a retaining wall that was left, and that retaining wall is known as the Wailing Wall. It was an outer wall to hold in the temple area, and the mounds of dirt that were moved into the area to build the temple are all that was left.
Whenever you go to Rome, please go to the Roman Forum because there you can see the Arch of Titus, which commemorates the victory of the Romans over Israel, and on the arch there is a replica of a candelabra (candelabrum) that was taken from the temple area of Jerusalem and brought to Rome.
Now if you were to go to the temple area today, what would you see? Today you would see what is known as the Dome of the Rock. The Dome of the Rock which was built in the latter part of the seventh century is a Muslim shrine, and when you are at the Mount of Olives and you are looking toward the temple area you can see the wall. Of course on the other side of the wall is the Dome of the Rock, and before you is the Kidron Valley, and the best place to see it really is from the Garden of Gethsemane, which is then your opportunity to see Jerusalem. But today there is this Muslim shrine and when you are at the shrine you notice many different inscriptions from the Koran, and one of those inscriptions heaps basically a curse on Christians who believe in the Trinity, saying that there could not possibly be the Son of God. God could not have a son.
What happens when you go inside the Dome of the Rock? Inside the Dome of the Rock, as you might expect, you find a rock. This rock is the top of a mountain. I’ve been in the Dome of the Rock many times and what I see are people who come and chisel pieces from the rock, but it’s the top of a mountain. Years ago when I was studying in Israel (more than 40 years ago) I wrote a paper on Herod’s Temple and also on the Dome of the Rock, and according to my studies this rock is probably the place where the burnt offering altar was. So you can understand that this is a very historical site. It is a site that is very holy to the Jews because it is here that the Temple stood. It is a shrine built by the Muslims condemning Christianity, and it is a holy place to them, and no wonder so much of the history of the world has taken place and still will take place on this particular piece of real estate.
But let’s look at that rock again and let’s think now. The Bible says in 2 Chronicles 3:1 that Solomon built his temple on Mount Moriah on the very hill David had purchased from Barona the Jebusite where he might worship the Lord. So Solomon built his temple on Mount Moriah. That’s interesting. Where else do we find Mount Moriah in the Scripture? Well, we actually find it earlier. Do you remember way back in Genesis 22 God said, “Abraham, I want you to take your son and I want you to offer Isaac on Mount Moriah?” So as far as we know, it was on top of this mountain (this hill) where Abraham came. You say, “Well, I don’t see the mountain.” Well, you have to remember that we’re talking about many years before Christ (1,800 years before Christ). This area was filled in so that the temple could be built, so when you look at that rock you realize it has a tremendous unbelievable history. Perhaps right there is where Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac.
So let me say again, it’s holy to the Jews. Their temple was here. It’s holy to the Muslims because they built this shrine here. It is not a mosque. It is a shrine—the Dome of the Rock.
What about the Christians? Well Christianity is spoken against in the Dome of the Rock, and if you go less than a half a mile—maybe a third of a mile—you get to the very spot in Jerusalem where Jesus Christ was Himself crucified. So the spot also is holy to Christians. Is it any wonder that peace is very elusive in the Middle East?
Well, I have brought you right up to the time of Jesus, because the next message in this series is going to pick up with the New Testament, but where does this leave us? What’s the take home? Why should our lives be changed forever because we know this history? There are a couple of reasons.
First of all, notice that God disciplines His people. You know, I read the story of the Old Testament and I just can’t get over it. As I explained the last time, the Israelites were always falling into sin. They had this love of idolatry, and God was constantly warning them and constantly punishing them.
I think of those two beautiful temples. I think of the Temple of Solomon. Yes, it did exist for 350 years. It was a glorious temple. God comes along and says, “Because of your rebellion and your sin the Babylonians are going to destroy it.” I think of Herod’s temple. What a wonderful tourist attraction it would have been today, and there’s no doubt it could have easily stood the test of time—2,000 years. Other buildings have come close to that, but Jesus is saying, “Because of your disobedience and because you didn’t accept me as Messiah, you’re going to be destroyed,” and so the Romans come and Titus comes, and he says, “Surely, God was on our side or we could not have done this,” as he destroys the city and the temple.
Isn’t it amazing how God apparently is willing to do anything when people continue to sin? Our nation of the United States is under judgment. There’s no question about it. That’s a longer story, but judgment has come to us, and so we have to ask ourselves, “How do we live in a society that clearly is abandoning God and facing the consequences?”
But you know he disciplines individual believers too. The Bible says in the book of Hebrews that those whom the Lord loves He chastens and He scourges every son that He receives. As a matter of fact, it says that if you are not disciplined, you are not a child of God. No Christian can leave God and live in sin without God’s discipline and chastisement. Maybe it’ll be mental torment. Maybe it will be guilt. Maybe it will be consequences, but in some way or another God disciplines His people. If there’s a lesson to be learned from all of this, it is that God really genuinely hates sin. That’s the first lesson. God disciplines us.
Secondly, God restores us. Isn’t it interesting that the ten tribes go off into Assyria and they are never heard from again? They are obliterated to history. They intermarry and they are gone. But God made a promise. God promised Abraham that through his seed he would find that the promise of Jesus, the promise of a redeemer would come about. And then that promise can be traced through the pages of the Bible. It comes through Judah, and God fulfills His promise, but He fulfills it only to a remnant. The Old Testament is filled with uses of that word remnant. What does the word remnant mean? Well, if you look it up in the dictionary it says a small part or a fragment. It also says that it is a piece of cloth, frequently, that is left over—an unused piece of cloth. Maybe you’ve gone into a store intending to purchase some cloth and they say, “Well, we don’t really have that, but we have this remnant over here.” You know, God often works just through a remnant. He works through a few.
There are some religions in the world that say that the truth of their religion is proved by our military conquests. Jesus says something very different from that. He says to his people, “Fear not, little flock. It is God’s intention to give you the kingdom.” God often works through small churches, sometimes in small ways. He always works through a remnant—never, never through an entire nation. It is always through the righteous within that nation that God restores us.
Could I say that God also redeems us? In the end, as we shall learn next time, Jesus comes and fulfills all the prophecies of the Old Testament. He turns out to be the seed of the woman and He does indeed crush the head of the serpent. The serpent’s head is there in the dust, and Jesus comes and proves who he really is, and He comes and He does die on the cross, and He does die for sinners such as you and me to reconcile us to God and to bridge the gap between our sin and God’s holiness so that we can belong to God forever.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, how can I belong to the remnant?” I’ll tell you how. What you do is admit to your sinfulness, admit to your need, trust Christ as your Savior, recognize that it is your sin that has separated you from God, and come in humility and repentance. And even in the Old Testament God’s grace and mercy was clearly seen for those who came with repentance and faith, and He is there for us as well.
Thank you so much for being with me in this very, very quick survey of hundreds of years of history, but at the end of the day, remember it is the drama of God’s redemption that is always triumphant. God will always win. Always!
Would you join me as we pray?
Father, we ask that You will help us as we contemplate studying your Word, and reading your Word. Help us to put it together. Help us, Lord, to understand its context, but most of all, give us hearts that are willing to receive it, willing to listen, willing to respond. And for those who may be here today who need to be restored, those who need to be redeemed, we ask that You will do that. Thank you so much for the coming of Jesus, and the fulfillment of Your purpose and promise. And now before I close this prayer, if you need to pray, if you need to talk to God, you do that right now.
Hear our prayer, oh Lord God. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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