As the book of Ezra opens, 70 years have elapsed since the captivity began. Persia has followed Babylon in world dominion, and Cyrus is upon the throne. He learns by reading the prophecy of Isaiah (Isa 44:28; 45:1,2) that he is the one who is to see that Jerusalem and the temple are rebuilt. Cyrus issues a proclamation; a company of volunteers from among the exiles returns to the city of Jerusalem, led by Zerubbabel. They build an altar, offer sacrifices, and begin to construct a temple. Although the effort is met with fierce opposition and resulting delays, the temple is finally finished and dedicated.
Some 50 years later, Ezra the scribe leads a second company of people back to Jerusalem, bringing the golden vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had taken [from the temple when it was destroyed]. When he learns that the Jews have intermarried, he calls upon them to confess their sins and put away their foreign wives. Ezra's name means ''help.'' The theme of the book is found in this key verse: ''...to build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem'' (Ezra 1:5).
But does this book speak of Christ, and does Christ speak to us in this book? Indeed, a number of lessons emerge from the book of Ezra, and we shall consider several of them.
Approximately 170 years beforehand, Isaiah had written [the words of the Lord], ''Who saith of Cyrus, He is My shepherd, and shall perform all My pleasure; even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid'' (Isa 44:28). Isaiah records this further word about Cyrus, ''I will direct all his ways; he shall build My city, and he shall let go My captives'' (Isa 45:13). When we read the context of this chapter, we see clearly that Jehovah was speaking of Cyrus. Very possibly, Daniel [who was among the captives taken to Babylon, and who was still living during Cyrus' reign] had given the scroll of Isaiah or Jeremiah to the king. Remember, God sets into motion the machinery of nations in order to carry out His will.
Mark it well, whatever God's prophets predict will surely come to pass. God's promises will be fulfilled, not figuratively nor allegorically, but exactly and literally.
The second form of opposition which the workers experienced was cooperation (4:1-3). The adversaries wanted to join in and help the Jews build the temple. How subtle the work of Satan! The answer from Zerubbabel and the leaders was firm, ''Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the Lord God of Israel'' (4:3). The opposition hired counselors and lawyers to write letters back to Babylon, leveling charges against the builders. Soon a directive came from the king ordering the work to stop. At this point, God raised up two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, whose encouragement caused Zerubbabel and Jeshua to begin again the work God had sent them to do.
The third form of opposition was a call to compromise. This is a standard trick of Satan. When he cannot beat down a work of God by force, he offers compromise. This is exactly what happened. The people of Israel, the priests, and the Levites had taken daughters, of the heathen nations surrounding Jerusalem, as wives for their sons. So ''the holy seed have mixed themselves with the people of those lands'' (9:2). When Ezra found out about it, he tore his garments and fell upon his knees and began to pray. His prayer will give you a sense of real confession of sin (see Ezra 9:5-15). Chapter 10 lists those who came to confess and offer sacrifice: 17 priests, 6 Levites, 4 singers and porters, and 86 others.
Before the returning remnant could begin any work, they had to erect an altar and offer sacrifices. This is always the starting place, as the author of Hebrews points out. ''And almost all things are by the law purged with blood, and without shedding of blood is no remission'' (Heb 9:22). No works are acceptable to God until a sacrifice for sin has first been appropriated. In fact, not only are good works of no help unless sins are forgiven, they are a hindrance.
The names of all those who had sinned were written down (Ezra 10:18-24). God is still keeping records. Man must not trifle with God, lest as Andrew Bonar, the old Scottish preacher, wrote, ''He awaits the terror of his doom, the judgment and the pain.''
In like manner, the rebuilding of the temple foreshadows that millennial temple which Ezekiel said would be erected in Jerusalem (see Ezekiel 40-48). The keeping of the feasts by the remnant that returned under the decree of Cyrus speaks typically of the future time when restored Israel will keep the feast of tabernacles in the millennial age. Zechariah spoke of that time, saying, ''And it shall come to pass that everyone that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles'' (Zech 14:16). Seated upon that throne will be David's greater Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.