The temple represented God’s presence with his people. This temple was designed by God himself, but built with human hands. Its sole purpose was to unite the one God with his people. It was here that the very presence of God would dwell (1 Kings 8:10-13).
But it would not always be so. The sins of the people separated themselves from God so that his glory left the temple (Ezekiel 10). Then, God orchestrated the destruction of the house built for him (2 Kings 25). While Nebuchadnezzar was the instrument of destruction, the plan and the power came from above (Jeremiah 7:14). The people had come to trust in the temple, in much the same way as they had trusted in the Ark of the Covenant years earlier (Jeremiah 7:4, 11, 12).
But God’s plan was not thwarted. A new house was built, humble at first (Haggai 2:3). While God’s presence would not dwell in this temple as in the first, better things awaited this building.
“For thus says the LORD of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the LORD of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the LORD of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the LORD of hosts” (Haggai 2:6-9).
What a thought! This house is bound for greater things. God will shake the heavens and the earth, he will shake all nations. This place will be a place of peace.
Malachi prophesied of God coming and filling the temple again:
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 3:1).
What a surprise then, when a humble babe, forty days old, entered the temple for the first time and began to fulfill prophecy (Luke 2:22-38). This was the true glory of God in human flesh. He was to be called Immanuel, for this was the true substance of God’s presence. As Zechariah prophesied, this God-man would bring light from on high and guide our feet into the way of peace (Luke 1:78, 79).
A righteous man named Simeon had waited for the consolation of Israel (see Isaiah 40:1-5). He was told he would live to see the Christ (Luke 2:26). His inspired declaration was that he had viewed God’s salvation, he had seen the light (Luke 2:30-32).
The focus was never intended to be on the building but on the one who filled it. Just as the builder of the house has more honor than the house (Heb. 3:3), so God has much more glory than the house built for him. The temple was a shadow of the true substance. The true temple was Jesus (John 2:19).
The Jews trusted in what they could see. They trusted in the glory of the temple. We should learn from their mistakes.
Let us not glory in physical things. Let us not desperately pursue possessions that will leave us wanting. Let us not be awed by the things built by man’s hands. For, “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here” (Matthew 12:6).