For seventy years after Nebuchadnezzar’s raids, the city of Jerusalem lay desolate. Its walls were toppled and burned, and the once awesome temple of God had been razed to the ground. Streets which had once been overrun with noise and clamor were as silent as the grave, and any houses that remained upright stood silently collecting the dust of seven decades. Centuries of God’s people rejecting His way and His protection had finally wrought the city’s destruction—those who hadn’t been slain in the battles were living as captives in a foreign land. Jerusalem was empty.
Empty, but not deserted. The God whose “eyes… run to and fro throughout the whole earth” (2 Chronicles 16:9) had never stopped watching over the city of His people—and even in the quietude of desolation, He was arranging events to bring His people back. At the end of the timeframe established by God and at the command of a king whose name had long ago been prophesied (Jeremiah 25:12; Isaiah 44:28), a decree was made:
“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. Who is among you of all His people? May his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel (He is God), which is in Jerusalem. And whoever is left in any place where he dwells, let the men of his place help him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, besides the freewill offerings for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.”
After seventy years of captivity, the Jews were free to go home to their country, and even King Cyrus had been divinely inspired (Ezra 1:1) to know the reason why:
It was time to build.
Your purpose on earth
Let me ask a question. Why are you here?
It’s not a new question. The human race has been looking for an answer ever since it left the garden of Eden, and in that time we’ve managed to invent a staggering number of solutions…some mildly more coherent than others. But if you’ve been in the Church for any length of time, you know the real answer: we’re here because God is building a family, and because He wants us to be part of it.
But why are you here, specifically? If becoming part of God’s family is the ultimate goal, what’s the reason for this stint on earth as a human being? Why this life? Why this existence? Why are you here?
We talk sometimes about fighting the good fight (1 Timothy 6:12), about putting on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:11), and about standing “against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10). These are all important things, and they are things a Christian can and must be doing. But are they the reasons we’re here? Did God put us on this earth just to fight against Satan and his demons?
A lesson from the exiles
The Jews in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah had the need to take up arms as well. Returning from captivity, they faced opposition from antagonists who wanted nothing more than to stop the reconstruction of God’s temple. When mountains of red tape and intimidation tactics ultimately failed, these adversaries resorted to a plan of outright bloodshed. They decided to attack and kill the Jews, reasoning that “They will neither know nor see anything, till we come into their midst and kill them and cause the work to cease” (Nehemiah 4:11).
Except God’s people caught wind of it. They took up swords, spears, and bows and stood watch wherever the wall was weak or unbuilt, and Nehemiah spurred the people on:
“Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses.”
And it happened, when our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had brought their plot to nothing, that all of us returned to the wall, everyone to his work. So it was, from that time on, that half of my servants worked at construction, while the other half held the spears, the shields, the bows, and wore armor; and the leaders were behind all the house of Judah. Those who built on the wall, and those who carried burdens, loaded themselves so that with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon. Every one of the builders had his sword girded at his side as he built. And the one who sounded the trumpet was beside me.
The Jews had not returned from captivity to fight. Circumstances, however, forced them to adapt, building with one hand and ready to fight with the other. Under Nehemiah’s guidance and God’s blessing, these former captives became a force to be reckoned with—they became warrior builders, prepared to do battle with anyone seeking to destroy what God had called them to build.
Does any of this sound familiar? A chosen people, called out of captivity to build the temple of God under oppression from relentless adversaries. If you’re noticing a common thread, there’s a reason. One of the vital lessons of the books of Nehemiah and Ezra is why God’s people were there—and one of the vital truths we need to understand today is why we are here.
God did not put us on this earth just to pit us against Satan.
That’s not to say we don’t need to fight Satan. Like the adversaries of Nehemiah and Ezra, the devil and his demons are seeking to derail the work God is doing. Taking up the armor of God and fighting the good fight is an absolute necessity, but it’s not the main reason we’re here.
The people under Nehemiah were not warriors who had taken up remodeling as a hobby. They were builders who had taken up arms in order to protect what they had been divinely commanded to build. We likewise are not given the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17) in order wage a one-man crusade against Satan. We take up the whole armor of God so that we can have the strength to “stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:13), but nowhere are we told to go pick a fight with him. No, we’re here for a much greater reason.
The greatest temple
God’s temple had several iterations throughout Israel’s history. King Solomon was the first to build it—a glorious house ornamented with precious metals, colorful threads, and beautiful woodwork. That temple was ultimately destroyed in the raids that desolated Jerusalem and placed her inhabitants into captivity. After seventy years, the temple was rebuilt and defended under leaders like Ezra and Nehemiah… but it, too, was destroyed after God’s people again fell into a pattern of rejecting Him.
But there’s another temple being built. Unlike the previous versions, this temple cannot be built with human hands or with human tools. Paul writes about it, asking, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, emphasis added). This new temple is God’s Church.
Peter writes about us as “living stones,” who “are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ… a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy” (1 Peter 2:5, 9-10). We’re a work in progress. There’s still a great deal of building to be done, but that’s okay, because that’s why we’re here.
We just looked at Paul’s declaration that God’s temple is now composed of His people, but let’s back up just a few verses and get the context. Paul wrote,
For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
(1 Corinthians 3:13-16)
God has given us a set of plans for the greatest temple of them all—His Church. His family.
You are here to help build it.
Until next time,