Faithful WaitingJuly 10, 2018
by Stephen Coleman
The joy and optimism surrounding Israel’s release from captivity soon fades as the disappointing realities of postexilic life settle in. Israel has passed through the crucible of God’s judgment and returned to the Promised Land, but now they are only a tiny remnant of God’s people. Their national autonomy is gone; the rebuilt temple lacks its former glory; and Zerubbabel, the scion of David, is not a king but a governor serving under the lordship of the Persian Empire. Even the priesthood, though faithful for a time under Joshua the high priest, eventually degenerates, adopting the corrupt and self-serving practices that characterized Israel’s worship prior to the exile. Understandably, many in the postexilic community regard their day as a “day of small things” (Zech. 4:10) and their efforts in obedience to be of little significance. Doubt, complacency, and resignation take root in the hearts of God’s people.
Into this context the postexilic prophets, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, come bearing a message of hope. Yes, much has changed for Israel. However, these prophets announce that the most important thing has not changed: Israel’s God and his gracious purposes for his people remain the same. God will bless his people, and through them bless the nations. God will one day destroy every evil in this world and every threat to his people. Finally, God will establish his eternal kingship over the entire world, a kingdom comprising men, women, and children of every tongue, tribe, and nation, just as he had promised. As the Lord says to the prophet Malachi, “I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed” (Mal. 3:6). Through powerful oracles, visions, disputations, and sign-acts, the postexilic prophets announce that God is indeed present with his people and will one day display the glory of his presence in a manner never before seen in Israel.
We need to be reminded of God’s faithfulness in the past and . . . his ability to save to the uttermost those whom he has elected.
Central to the prophetic message is the coming Messiah. Through the Messiah’s sufferings and glory, God will fulfill his promises of judgment and salvation (Luke 24:26–27). While the postexilic temple, kingship, and priesthood are dim shadows of what they had once been, they nevertheless foreshadow clearly the work of Jesus. Jesus will come as the true temple in which God will dwell with his people, and through whom God will be worshiped in Spirit and in truth (John 1:14; 4:21–26). Jesus will come as the perfect priest who, on account of his own moral perfection, will be qualified to offer himself as the final sacrifice for sins. Jesus will come as the righteous King who will shepherd his people in justice and yet lay down his life for his sheep as the stricken shepherd (John 10:14–15). Through types, shadows, promises, and prophecies, Christ is held forth as Israel’s hope in the midst of trial.
The message of the postexilic prophets is as relevant today as it was for the postexilic community. Like Israel, who was surrounded by the power and permanence of the Persian Empire, we are constantly confronted with claims to power and permanence heralded by the kingdoms of this world. And yet, like Israel, we too are called to look forward to a heavenly kingdom that cannot be shaken, whose designer and builder is God (Heb. 11:10; 12:28). We are tempted to spiritual lethargy and halfhearted worship, and we need God’s uncomfortable word of judgment and warning to uncover our sins. Then we too might respond to his gracious call, “Return to me, and I will return to you” (Mal. 3:7; compare Zech. 1:3). Like Israel, we are tempted to doubt the promises of God, and we have difficulty imagining the glorious future in store for those who trust him. Thus we need to be reminded of God’s faithfulness in the past and of his ability to save to the uttermost those whom he has elected.
The postexilic community lived in a time between promise and fulfillment. Israel had experienced God’s deliverance in their return from the exile, and yet she awaited an even greater deliverance in the future. Christians today have the privilege of knowing that greater deliverance, accomplished through Jesus’s atoning death and resurrection. Nevertheless, we too await God’s final deliverance, when Christ will return in glory. Although the new creation has dawned in the resurrection of Jesus, it has not yet been consummated. Therefore we must wait with patience, enduring the sufferings and trials of this life by faith in Christ in the sure hope of the glory yet to be revealed to us (Rom. 8:18). In all these ways and more, we need to hear the message of the postexilic prophets. As he called Israel, so God calls us to remember his faithfulness in the past, to trust his promises in the present, and to look forward to the (second) coming of his Messiah and the consummation of his kingdom.
This piece is adapted from Stephen Coleman, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi: A 12-Week Study (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 91–93. Used with permission of the publisher.
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