A discouraging aspect of the rebuilt temple was that it didn’t measure up to the same standard that the first temple had. Solomon’s temple was magnificent. Its outward appearance was stunning. Before his death, King David had laid out plans and stored up materials for the temple’s construction. In one of his last speeches to the people of Israel, David said, “Solomon my son is young and tender, and the house that is to be builded for the LORD must be exceeding magnifical, of fame and of glory throughout all countries” (1 Chronicles 22:5). In essence, David was saying that God’s temple had to be more impressive than any other building on earth. The words David used to describe the temple’s outward appearance, fame (8034) and glory (8597), suggest that David wanted God’s earthly home to be the epitome of his divine character.
In his second message to the people that had returned from exile in Babylon, the prophet Haggai focused on their delay in rebuilding God’s temple. Haggai asked them, “Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? And how do you see it now? Is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?” (Haggai 2:3). The people knew they could not replicate the awesome appearance of God’s first temple and probably felt it was a wasted effort for them to even try to build something that wouldn’t measure up to the previous temple’s standard, but God encouraged them to go forward. He said, “Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the LORD; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the LORD, and work: for I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts” (Haggai 2:4). The Hebrew word translated work, asah is associated with creation and could indicate a partnership between God and his people in constructing the temple. At the very least, God was telling the people that their effort was necessary for his work to be completed.
God’s people were probably shocked when they learned that the reconstructed temple would surpass the former one in its glory. Haggai told them, “The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the LORD of hosts: and in this place will I give peace” (Haggai 2:9). The reason the reconstructed temple would be more glorious than the first one was not because of its outward appearance, but because Jesus would be there. When Christ came to the earthy temple, God’s presence was evident as it had never been before (note on Haggai 2:7). The Apostle John declared, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, “And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,” full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). God’s temple was supposed to make it possible for him to dwell among his people. In actuality, the purpose of the temple was to remind the people that he was not there.