A Great Commission Challenge from Israel’s Prophets for Us Today

By | September 5, 2021

After 70 years of captivity, Israel returned to her land in 538 BC (Ezra 1:1–4). The nation began to rebuild the temple in 536 BC. When the foundation was complete, some people shouted for joy, but the old men wept because the remembered the first temple and knew that this one was not the same (Ezra 3:10–13). Couple this response with foreign opposition (Ezra 4:1–24), and we understand why Israel stopped working on the temple for 15 years.

But what got them working again? God raised up Haggai and Zechariah to prophesy in 520–518 BC in order to motivate Israel to finish the temple. Moved by the prophets, Israel’s governor Zerubbabel and her high priest Jeshua arose and led the people to finish (Ezra 5:1–2; cf. 6:14).

And just what did Haggai and Zechariah say to the people? And just what might we learn from this message to motivate us when we are discouraged from ministry by other Christians and enemies of the cross?

A verse from each prophet captures at least one of the lessons that we need to remember as well—the work of the Lord may seem small to us, but it is glorious in the eyes of God.

Haggai may have been among the old men, but he was not one of the ones to weep. Instead, he gave a rebuke: “Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes?” (Haggai 2:3). Zechariah noted this crowd as well and said their attitude would change: “whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice” (Zechariah 4:10).

And what would move these people to joy? In short—the presence of God. Zechariah promised, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). Haggai promised the same: “My Spirit remains in your midst” (Haggai 2:5). With God on Israel’s side, the nation was told to fear not, be strong, and work (Haggai 2:4–5). These prophets spoke God’s Word from 520 to 518 BC, and Israel completed the temple in 516 BC. Their attitude had changed. Israel “celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy” because “the Lord had made them joyful” (Ezra 6:16, 22).

Like those who compared the temples, we, too, can sometimes have nostalgia and weep because what is now is not what was then. But, if we are faithfully carrying out the Great Commission, we can also know that God is with us through Christ and the Spirit to do His work today (Matthew 28:18–20). And what we think was better than the present may not be quite what we thought it was.

Whatever the past may have been, we know God is with us today. In light of the Great Commission, fear not, be strong, and work!