Chapter 1

Proper Temple Building

From the booklet Ezra and Nehemiah—Building God’s Temple

Anciently, in Israel, God’s chief concern was with the events happening inside the nation and temple. At that time, the temple was the only place on Earth where God’s work could be found. History shows, as things went in the temple, so went things with the nation. Study Judah’s annals. Its kings either led the people to God and His temple or astray into paganism. God holds the same concern for His temple, or Church, today. God’s primary concern is always His temple. Why? God’s work is always done from His temple.

Hezekiah is Tested

There are many lessons we must learn from this ancient history. Hezekiah was considered one of Judah’s greatest kings. At one point in Hezekiah’s reign, Assyria was about to destroy the nation. Hezekiah appealed to God through Isaiah and God miraculously saved the nation. He turned another nation against Assyria and then dispatched an angel to slaughter 185,000 Assyrian soldiers that tried to besiege Jerusalem. God solved this major problem for Hezekiah and the nation of Judah. You can study more about this incident in Isaiah 37.

Hezekiah then had to face another big problem. “In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came unto him, and said unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live” (Isaiah 38:1). Isaiah came to Hezekiah and told him that he would die as a result of his sickness. This came as quite a shock to Hezekiah. At this point in his life, he handled the situation correctly.

“Then Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall, and prayed unto the Lord, And said, Remember now, O Lord, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore” (verses 2-3). Hezekiah turned to God and prayed. At this point in his life, Hezekiah was close to God. Look at how God responded to Hezekiah’s prayer. “Then came the word of the Lord to Isaiah, saying, Go, and say to Hezekiah, Thus saith the Lord, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years” (verses 4-5). God saw that Hezekiah was walking by faith. He saw Hezekiah’s tears. Isn’t it impressive that God took note of his tears? God added 15 years to Hezekiah’s life.

Then God performed another great miracle for Hezekiah. “And I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria: and I will defend this city. And this shall be a sign unto thee from the Lord, that the Lord will do this thing that he hath spoken; Behold, I will bring again the shadow of the degrees, which is gone down in the sun dial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward. So the sun returned ten degrees, by which degrees it was gone down” (verses 6-8). God reversed the rotation of the Earth to prove to Hezekiah that He would fulfill His promises to him. Although God performed some mighty miracles in his life, the end of the story about Hezekiah is not a happy one.

Hezekiah’s Fatal Mistake

Not long after his healing, Hezekiah had to face another difficult problem. The king of Babylon sent communication to Judah’s king that he was very concerned about his illness. But was he really concerned about his illness?

“At that time Merodach-baladan, the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present to Hezekiah: for he had heard that he had been sick, and was recovered. And Hezekiah was glad of them, and shewed them the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious ointment, and all the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah shewed them not” (Isaiah 39:1-2). This time Hezekiah fell into a serious trap. He became all puffed up knowing that the king of Babylon was so concerned about him. In his vanity, he showed the king’s messengers all of his treasures—a fatal mistake.

Isaiah was more suspicious and wise about the king of Babylon’s message. Isaiah came to Hezekiah and asked him some hard questions. But Hezekiah did not respond to all of Isaiah’s questions. “Then came Isaiah the prophet unto king Hezekiah, and said unto him, What said these men? and from whence came they unto thee? And Hezekiah said, They are come from a far country unto me, even from Babylon. Then said he, What have they seen in thine house? And Hezekiah answered, All that is in mine house have they seen: there is nothing among my treasures that I have not shewed them” (verses 3-4). Notice here that Hezekiah does not answer Isaiah’s first question—he completely ignores it! He does answer Isaiah’s second question. Why did Hezekiah not answer the first question? Could it be that at this point he was beginning to turn away from God?

Remember, God did add 15 years to his life. This proved to be tragic for this great king. Hezekiah fell away from God during these additional years allotted to him. By the end of the story, it looks as though Hezekiah had lost it all spiritually. Could it be that Hezekiah did not answer the first question because he was cozying up to Babylon? The fruits of Hezekiah’s life prove this to be so!

Too Close to Babylon

Hezekiah’s vanity got to him. Notice that he answered Isaiah’s question in a boastful manner. A king from a far country was interested in him. He told Isaiah that they were come “unto me.” Hezekiah showed them all of his treasures. In his vanity, he allowed potential enemies to see all that God had blessed him with. Never did it dawn on Hezekiah that these men could possibly want to destroy him and carry off his treasures.

Isaiah was concerned about Hezekiah’s actions because he could see far better than Hezekiah could—spiritually speaking. Isaiah did not trust the king of Babylon. He recognized that Hezekiah was getting too close to Babylon. He prophesied about the end result of Hezekiah’s relationship with the king of Babylon. Isaiah showed that this relationship would prove to be fatal, not only for Hezekiah’s descendants, but for the nation of Judah as well. “Then said Isaiah to Hezekiah, Hear the word of the Lord of hosts: Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the Lord. And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon” (verses 5-7). What a tragic end for Hezekiah. These actions by Hezekiah were the beginning of the undoing of his family’s lives and the undoing of the nation of Judah. The king of Babylon destroyed God’s temple and carried the nation of Judah away captive.

Facing Hard Questions

There is a very clear lesson here for all of us. What was Hezekiah’s main problem? He evaded some hard questions from God’s prophet. He did not want to tell Isaiah what the messengers from Babylon said. At times it is so easy for us to evade hard questions. Carnally, we want to let the hard questions slide. Facing, or not facing, hard questions generally marks a turning point in our lives. Being willing to face hard questions can turn our lives around spiritually. Evading hard questions can take us away from God.

Hezekiah evaded a hard question from Isaiah. But Isaiah pinned him down (verse 4). Isaiah wanted to show him that he was beginning to rely on his own treasure or strength, instead of God. Isaiah wanted Hezekiah to recognize that he was beginning to rely on Babylon. Unfortunately, Hezekiah was not moved by his discussion with Isaiah. The whole nation was conquered by Babylon. What a terrifying punishment!

What about us? Sometimes God, through His ministers, has to ask us some very hard questions. Do we evade the questions or do we face them? What is the main problem with the Laodiceans today? They do not want to face the really hard questions like—why all of these doctrinal changes? They don’t want to face the really hard question—was Herbert W. Armstrong God’s end-time Elijah? Why? Because they want to be a part of Babylon. They want to rely on their own treasure and Babylon. God’s Laodicean Church isn’t much different than the people of the United States and Great Britain. They are all trusting in Babylon. And they are all going to be enslaved by Babylon—modern Germany and the European Union.

Rebuilding God’s Temple

As God’s people, we must learn that we cannot cozy up to Babylon and also be close to God. We cannot hold back or compromise with God and His way of life. If we do, we will receive a free trip to Babylon like the ancient Jews did. This will be a terrifying punishment.

Today, the Laodiceans are making alliances with Babylon and destroying God’s temple in the process. They have forgotten that God is measuring His temple now (Revelation 11:1). God’s Church is His temple on Earth today. God is not going to allow the Laodiceans to destroy what He built through Mr. Armstrong without punishment. The history surrounding Hezekiah teaches us this lesson.

After 70 years of domination by the Babylonian Empire, including the enslavement of Judah and the destruction of the temple, God stirred up the mind of a carnal leader, the Persian king Cyrus, to allow the building of the second temple. A group of Jews returned to Jerusalem to begin this construction project. The history of this phase of Judah’s past shifts from Isaiah and Jeremiah to several books of the Bible known by the scholars of this world as the minor prophets.

Most religious scholars and even Laodicean ministers teach that the minor prophets primarily contain history. They believe that the minor prophets have no great value for us today. This is radically different from what Herbert Armstrong taught. Mr. Armstrong knew—and taught—that the minor prophets contained vital prophecies for today.

The minor prophets are end-time books. “In that day, saith the Lord of hosts, will I take thee, O Zerubbabel, my servant, the son of Shealtiel, saith the Lord, and will make thee as a signet: for I have chosen thee, saith the Lord of hosts” (Haggai 2:23). This verse shows that Haggai is an end-time book. Remember, the phrase “in that day” always refers to the end time.

An End-time Temple

The events discussed in the book of Haggai have great meaning and significance for our time now. This book in particular shows the special relationship between the second temple and Zerubbabel. It shows that there was to be an end-time Zerubbabel commissioned by God to build a glorious temple. Mr. Armstrong knew and taught the Church that he fulfilled this role in the end time. Any Laodicean minister or member who knew Mr. Armstrong and willfully denies this fact is not only deceived, but has become very corrupt—spiritually.

God used Mr. Armstrong very powerfully to raise up the Philadelphian era of God’s Church. What the ancient Zerubbabel accomplished physically, Mr. Armstrong accomplished spiritually. We must all come to see the great spiritual significance of the work Mr. Armstrong established. This is one of the major keys to understanding end-time prophecy. “And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts” (verse 7). This verse alone connects the building of the second temple with the end time. The second temple was destroyed in a.d. 70. Christ did not shake all nations then. But Christ is about to shake all nations very soon. He is going to have an end-time temple that is full of glory—spiritual glory!

Mr. Armstrong always connected books like Haggai and Zechariah with the end time. Here is some of what he wrote in a coworker letter: “During the conference, God revealed something important to me, which came sharp and clear like a bolt of lightning. One night—or early morning before going to the conference, I don’t remember which, I was reviewing once again the book of Haggai and the 4th chapter of Zechariah.

“A certain number of the house of Judah had returned to rebuild the temple at Jerusalem. The high priest among them was Joshua. The governor was Zerubbabel. God spoke to Zerubbabel through the Prophet Haggai.

“Fourteen years before, the foundation of the temple had been laid, and some progress made on the building itself. But the building had been interrupted. And now the Jews were saying, ‘The time is not come, the time that the Eternal’s house should be built.’

“Jeremiah had prophesied the rebuilding of the temple after 70 years. These returned Jews had misfigured dates. They thought the 70 years had not yet come—but it had. Then God said to them, through the Prophet Haggai: ‘Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house lie waste?’

“They were building elegant houses for themselves to live in, but they were neglecting to build the house for God to dwell in.

“So, ‘Thus saith the Lord of hosts; consider your ways. Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the Eternal.’

“Then Zerubbabel and all the people obeyed the voice of God. Zerubbabel was the leader in the construction. Then God said to the people: ‘I am with you, saith the Eternal.’ …

“Zerubbabel was chosen by God to build God’s house—that is, to be the human leader in it. Now this whole two-chapter book of Haggai is a prophecy. It applies to us, today” (January 20, 1964).

Ezra Established the Law

Haggai and Zechariah were the two leading prophets used in rebuilding the second temple. More importantly, these two prophets focus mainly on the end time. Two of the leading builders on the second temple were Zerubbabel and Joshua. But more importantly, they are two key figures in the building of God’s end-time, spiritual temple.

We shall see that Haggai, Zechariah, Zerubbabel and Joshua are all key players in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. That means Ezra and Nehemiah can give us important spiritual insights into end-time prophecy.

Since the beginning of the Philadelphia Church of God (pcg), we have come to know that in addition to Haggai and Zechariah, there was also Malachi. In a sense, Malachi closed, or turned out the lights, on this whole period. But was there anyone else involved in the rebuilding of the temple?

Ezra and Nehemiah were also very much a part of this period in Judah’s history. We must also connect the books of Ezra and Nehemiah with this second phase of Judah’s history. In that sense then, Ezra and Nehemiah also contain information necessary for this end time. If we are going to be God’s true end-time temple, then we must understand the message of these two books. In actuality, the two books were written as one book. The two books should be read as one book. They contain a strong message for proper temple building—spiritually!

There is some question as to when Ezra entered the picture of the rebuilding of the second temple. But it is evident that Ezra was on the scene while the second temple was being built. It is clear from the Bible that Ezra’s main job was to re-establish the law. Nehemiah’s job focused on building a wall around Jerusalem. But both men understood the importance of law.

Remember the Law

Human nature always degenerates toward catastrophe or disaster. The solution to this problem is always to get back to the law of God. Nehemiah understood this very well. “And said, I beseech thee, O Lord God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments” (Nehemiah 1:5). God is a great God of mercy to those that love Him and keep His commandments. He always keeps His part of a covenant. But He can be a God of terrible punishment to those who disobey Him.

“Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father’s house have sinned. We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses. Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations” (verses 6-8). God always gives very clear instructions or warnings about punishment. Nehemiah recounts here that God warned the ancient Israelites that He would scatter them throughout the nations if they disobeyed Him. The people dealt corruptly against God. He did punish them.

God has also made a covenant with His end-time spiritual nation—the Church. God expects us to wholeheartedly obey His commandments, statutes and judgments. God’s end-time Laodiceans have become lukewarm in their law-keeping. Terrible punishment is coming. God is using the pcg to warn them. One of the main thrusts of our commission is to have God’s people remember the law. “Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments” (Malachi 4:4). God always warns—remember the law of Moses! Let’s now look more closely at these fascinating books of the Bible!

Purify the Ministry First

God announced the rebuilding of the second temple through a carnal, human leader. “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing …” (Ezra 1:1). In Ezra, we learn that the word of the Eternal about the rebuilding of the temple came by the mouth of Jeremiah. But God also used a carnal king to get the project started. We must realize that God can use carnal men in high places to help His work. If we need friends in high places, God will provide them for us.

We also see in Ezra that the true success of the temple construction project depended upon the purification of the ministry. God’s ministers, or priests, are the temple guardians. “And the children of the captivity kept the passover upon the fourteenth day of the first month. For the priests and the Levites were purified together, all of them were pure, and killed the passover for all the children of the captivity, and for their brethren the priests, and for themselves. And the children of Israel, which were come again out of captivity, and all such as had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land, to seek the Lord God of Israel, did eat, And kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for the Lord had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel” (Ezra 6:19‑22). A corrupt king and priesthood led to the destruction of Solomon’s temple. A purified priesthood was necessary for the temple to be rebuilt.

Any successful temple building must begin with a pure ministry! All the priests and Levites were “purified together.” Notice that the priests were cleansed first and then the people (verse 20). God expects the ministers to keep themselves pure of heathen filthiness. And He also expects the people to keep themselves pure. When God’s people corrupt themselves, God begins their cleansing by purifying the ministry first.

When God’s ministry purifies itself, then we can be sure that we have all the power of God behind us. Anciently, when the priests and people purified themselves, God performed great miracles for them. Verse 22 shows that God even turned the heart of the king of Assyria to help them. This was a great miracle!

God’s Work Always Starts Small

When the pcg began, it started very humbly and small in numbers. It began with two full-time ministers. God began working first with Gerald Flurry and John Amos. God began the work of the Philadelphia Church with two ministers who would not submit to heathen filthiness. Then God added 10 other people. The same was true anciently. In comparison to the former nation of Judah, only a few returned to rebuild the temple and Jerusalem.

The Jews who returned to Jerusalem were made up of Levites, priests and laymen. “Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem. And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem. Then rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, with all them whose spirit God had raised, to go up to build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:2-5). Ezra 2:64 shows that the total number of people who went back to Jerusalem was 42,360. Comparing this number with the 2 or 3 million people who were taken into captivity, it is a very small number. Also notice that the people were primarily from the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi. Some scholars want to say that the people from the house of Israel also returned to Jerusalem at this time. This is just not true. The people who returned to Jerusalem were “children of Israel,” but they were not from the tribes of the “house of Israel.”

God always raises up a people to do His work. But He always starts small. And the job God requires is generally a very big one. When a small group of people accomplishes an enormous, miraculous task, it shows that God is behind that work. However, all of the credit must be given to God. But it still takes effort and sacrifice on the part of the people.

Not many people accepted the challenge to return to Jerusalem. But the people in Babylon gave generously to support God’s work. “And all they that were about them strengthened their hands with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, and with beasts, and with precious things, beside all that was willingly offered. Also Cyrus the king brought forth the vessels of the house of the Lord, which Nebuchadnezzar had brought forth out of Jerusalem, and had put them in the house of his gods; Even those did Cyrus king of Persia bring forth by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer, and numbered them unto Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah. And this is the number of them: thirty chargers of gold, a thousand chargers of silver, nine and twenty knives, Thirty basons of gold, silver basons of a second sort four hundred and ten, and other vessels a thousand. All the vessels of gold and of silver were five thousand and four hundred. All these did Sheshbazzar bring up with them of the captivity that were brought up from Babylon unto Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:6-11). It is amazing to recognize the wealth of the captives in Babylon. This could be the reason that so many did not want to return to Jerusalem. Remember, Jerusalem was totally destroyed and had become a desolate wasteland. Many captives probably reasoned that it was far better to live in Babylon than to return to a destroyed Jerusalem.

The wealth of the captives also shows the great depth of God’s mercy. Even in captivity, God richly blessed these people. We must recognize that God can control anyone’s fate if they repent. God can protect anyone—even in captivity. However, it is still best to repent before the captivity begins.

This is a message that must be delivered to the Laodicean Church. Because of the great spiritual wealth God gave the Laodiceans, their coming captivity will end in the loss of their physical lives—for one half of them, their spiritual lives will be lost as well! There is still time to repent—but the window of opportunity is closing rapidly!

Continue Reading: Chapter 2: Rally Around God