The great Babylonian cleansing of God’s people began in 606 B.C. You’ll remember this is when Daniel entered the court of Nebuchadnezzar as a trainee in the service of the king (Dan.1). These were dark days for Judah. The people had forgotten the sovereignty of Jehovah, fallen into idolatry, and witnessed all of the immorality that accompanies such apostasy. Finally, they had witnessed the last grand symbol of Jehovah in their midst, the temple of Solomon, being plundered and destroyed. The majestic city on the hill was reduced to a smoldering memory for these homesick captives.
Fast forward to 536 B.C. Babylon, the first great world empire, has fallen to the Medes and Persians. The king of this new empire is Cyrus and the unbelievable occurs. Cyrus, in precise fulfillment of divine prophecy (Isa. 44:28; 45:1,13), commissions Ezra and company to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. (Isn’t it amazing that the king of a heathen empire commissioned the rebuilding of the house of God? We should never underestimate the power and resourcefulness of our God as we “rebuild” His house today.)
Now focus on what Ezra says:
When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the LORD, according to the ordinance of David king of Israel. 11 And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD:
“For He is good,
For His mercy endures forever toward Israel.”
Then all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.
But many of the priests and Levites and heads of the fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this temple was laid before their eyes. Yet many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people, for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the sound was heard afar off (Ezra 3:10-13).
There is joy in restoring the house of God! I can feel the emotion. I can almost hear the indiscernible noise of joy and weeping. Some of the older men were crying. They could still remember wistfully the splendor of that original temple. Some were cheering on this glad day of return to righteousness. Verse eleven tells us, though, that songs of praise came from all of the people because “the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.”
Christians should be the most joyful people on earth. We are a part of a mighty restoration. Just as the temple of old had fallen into shambles, so the church, the spiritual house of God fell into a state of disrepair and apostasy shortly after the first century A.D. Just as the glorious city on the hill had been ransacked and destroyed by its enemies, so the spiritual wealth that is found only in the church had been stolen by the enemies of truth. (This apostasy was a fulfillment of prophecy in II Thessalonians 2:3,4 and I Timothy 4:1-3.) By the third century, the house of God as it had existed in the New Testament, was unrecognizable. Its organization, worship, and system of faith had been so altered that few characteristics–just tell-tale relics–of the church as we read of it in the book of Acts, could be found.
But Ezra knew where to find the principles of restoration as he and Nehemiah led in the restoration of Judaism in Jerusalem.
“So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month” (Neh. 8: 2).
“So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading” (Neh. 8:8).
Thank God there were brave Ezras in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries who knew where to find the principles of restoration. Men like Thomas and Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone and others “opened the book in the sight of all the people” (Neh. 8:5), and “read distinctly.” They bravely called the spiritual Israel back to the faith, worship, and practice of the New Testament church. The spiritual house of God, the church, has been restored! We are those who are able to look upon its glory, actually dwell in the new Zion, and shine from that city on a hill for His glory. This is reason for “very great gladness” (Neh.8:17). Will you be remembered for the joy you have because you can be a part of the restored house of God?