It was a remarkable time. Zerubabbel and Jeshua led a small group of conquered Israelites to begin rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. Construction was halting; resources were scarce. Once, Israel had been the envy of the ancient Near Eastern world, with kings and queens dropping in to behold the glory of the kingdom. Now, God’s people were captives in their own land.
They persevered nonetheless. After a year had elapsed, the leaders and the people had “made a beginning.” The Levites were called on to supervise the work. When the foundation of the temple was laid, they held a worship service, singing praise to God for His goodness. In Ezra 3:11–13, we gain a sense of the emotional nature of this event.
The Bible does not always give voice to the deep emotions that run through the human experience as it describes events and reports prophecy. In many cases, we must work a little to discern the way God’s people felt during their trials and triumphs. But here we get a sense of just how impactful this ceremony was.
Some of the people of God “shouted aloud for joy,” being carried away in exultation by the temple’s renewal. This was a wholly understandable response, for nothing more signified the presence of God with His old covenant people than the temple. They were not altogether assimilated or defeated; there, in Jerusalem, they rediscovered their identity as the Lord’s chosen, a fragment of the holy nation.
A second group, however, “wept with a loud voice” as they watched the stones shift into place. This was also understandable. They knew of the glory that once accrued to the nation, a glory that came from being the beloved of the Lord. The temple was at the center of this, for God was in the midst of His people. Yet His glory had departed. As the Levites stood beside the temple, those whose very identity was bound up in serving the Lord could not help but remember all that had been, and mourn what was lost.
The Jerusalem temple is no more. The center of God’s kingdom is not a building any longer, but a person, Jesus Christ. He is and ever will be the foundation of our faith and the object of our worship, as He has brought a new covenant into existence by the priestly shedding of His blood. As we remember His death, we find ourselves not unlike the old Levites: weeping for the cruel fate that befell Him, and yet rejoicing in the purchase of our redemption.
This is the paradox, even the calling, of the Christian life: to sorrow and to rejoice. We weep for all that has been lost, but we much more exult in what is being built (2 Cor. 6:10). This kingdom is made without hands, and it is both unstoppable and indestructible. Soon, it will cover all the earth, and we will make a great shout, joy with no admixture of sadness.