Mother of Idolatry
Because of sin, primarily idolatry and rebellion, God caused the ten northern tribes of Israel to be conquered and scattered throughout the world by the Assyrian Empire in 721 BC.
About a hundred years later, the world power Babylon, led by King Nebuchadnezzar, conquered the two southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin and carried them down to Babylon where they were slaves for seventy years from 606-536 BC. The prophet Jeremiah prophesied this enslavement in Jeremiah 25:1-14.
Babylon, as a nation, was the mother of idolatry. The Jews were cured of that sin through that experience and have never been guilty of it since.
Though some started to return to their homeland in 1948, most are still scatterted throughout the world to this day.
Jump ahead to Revelation 17 and there you will read of the final fall of Mystery Babylon, the idolatrous, ecumenical church headquartered in Rome. Then read Revelation 18 and read of the destruction of the global economic system of the Anti-Christ. We are already starting to see the disintegration of this system world-wide as America, as well as other nations, sink into obscene debt and as inflation heats up and we see the value of the dollar plummeting.
While Judah was in Babylonian captivity the Prophet Jeremiah wrote to the captives in Jeremiah 29:1-19 to encourage them to settle down there, build homes and get married and have children for they would be there for seventy years, regardless of what the false prophets told them, and then they would return to their homeland.
Psalm 137 describes the mental and spiritual state of the Jews while they were in captivity. They were depressed and had no desire to sing their songs of Zion and glorify God. That’s the spiritual state of every Christian who is far from God.
CYRUS OF PERSIA CONQUERS BELSHAZZAR OF BABYLON
Under Cyrus of Persia, Judah had freedom that they had not experienced under Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Cyrus challenged and encouraged them to return to Jerusalem and rebuild it. His philosophy of ruling was to allow those he conquered to go back to their homes, which were now part of the Persian Empire. This philosophy made for more contented citizens. The prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 51 had prophesied 50 to 70 years earlier that Cyrus would free his captives to go back to their home.
Most amazing, Isaiah in Isaiah 44:23-28 and 45:1-13 had called Cyrus by name and prophesied what he would do concerning Judah 200 years before he was born. No wonder Cyrus was so congenial with his captives from Judah. He knew God’s hand was upon him. He knew his purpose in life.
Not only did Cyrus free and challenge Judah to return to their homeland; but he even helped finance the rebuilding of their temple which Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had destroyed seventy years earlier. Furthermore he took the temple’s treasured vessels of gold and silver which Nebuchadnezzar had plundered and put in his storehouse and he returned them to the Children of Judah to replace in their temple.
Did it ever occur to you that there were EIGHT TEMPLES? The thought occured to me as I was preparing to preach this message. Let me list them for you.
1. The Tabernacle which Moses set up in the wilderness as Israel traveled from Egypt to Canaan, was a prototype of the temples that would be built.
The Tabernacle had the same rooms, Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. And it had the same temple furnishings, including the altar of burnt offerings and the Ark of the Covenant..
2. Solomon built the first temple as a permanent building in 957 BC
3. Ezra built the next temple in 538 BC. This is the temple we will be considering in our study of Ezra.
4. Later King Herod refurbished Ezra’s temple in 20 BC and it was known as Herod’s Temple. This is the one in which Jesus cleansed during His ministry. This temple was destroyed in 70 AD by the Romans, leaving not one stone upon another. Luke 21:6
5. The fifth temple is the body of the believer during this Church Age. Paul reminds us as Christians in I Corinthians 6:19-20 that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit; and as such, we are to keep them holy, not allowing sin to continue unconfessed. Our local churches themselves are not temples. They are just buildings in which Christ’s Temple dwells whenever Christians are gathered together in His name.
6. Near the end of the Church Age and just before, or perhaps immediately after the rapture of Christians, a temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem. This is the temple which the Anti-christ will defile during the midst of the Tribulation. Following this Abomination, God will pour out His wrath on this earth and its inhabitants to the degree no one has ever experienced. That will take place during the last 3 ½ years of The Tribulation. This is referred to in Daniel 12:7-13, Matthew 24:15, Revelation 13:1-9 and II Thessalonians 2:1-4.
The fact that the Jews are even now making plans for this newly rebuilt temple shows us that the end may be much closer than we can imagine. That temple must be there for the Anti-christ to defile.
7. The seventh Temple is the Millennial temple. It is prophesied and described in Ezekiel chapters 40-48. It is the temple to which the nations of the earth will come during the Kingdom Age on this earth to worship and learn of Christ, the Messiah.
8 The eighth and final temple will be Christ Himself in eternity. In Revelation 21:22 we learn that in Heaven there will be no need of temples to point us to Jesus. Christ Himself will be that temple.
And so returning to our original thought, God in His providence, totally orchestrated the deliverance of His people back to Jerusalem and Judah in two stages.
Stage one was led by Zerubbabel, also known as Sheshbazzar. This is described in Ezra 1-6.
Stage two was led by Ezra, the scribe and it is described in Ezra 7-10. As the deliverance of Judah was totally the work of God, so our salvation is totally the work of God, Surely the king’s heart is in the hand of God, as Proverbs 21:1 states. God miraculously moved in the heart of King Cyrus to give the Jews permission and his blessing to return to their homeland. All of this was in preparation for Jesus to be born and live and die in Judah just 400 years later.
Not only did God move in the heart of King Cyrus to give this freedom to the Jews to rebuild their land, but God also put it in the hearts of the people to do the rebuilding.
LESSONS FOR US AS CHRISTIANS IN ALL OF THIS
1. Ezra did not force the people to rebuild the temple. He asked for volunteers. God has a purpose and plan for each of us as Christians. Only the surrendered and yielded to God will ever discover this plan and the blessings that accompany it. God’s army is a volunteer army; not a drafted army.
2. Here’s a warning for us! Ezra was a scribe who knew and wrote and preached God’s Word. The scribes and Pharisees of Jesus day just 400 years later had become so cold spiritually, that even though they knew the Word, they had become enemies of God and were instrumental in the crucifixion of Jesus. God help us as we continue our study of Ezra that we allow His Word to sink into our hearts and change us and give us a love for Christ. Otherwise, we will just become cold, heartless legalists adding burdens to the lives of others.
So it is in this spirit of love for Christ and His Word that we approach our study of Ezra.
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