4:1 Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the Lord, the God of Israel, 2 they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ houses and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here.” 3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of fathers’ houses in Israel said to them, “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.” 4 Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build 5 and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. 6 And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.
Seventy years have passed in exile and now the “people of Israel” who have lived through the punishment of exile and years of slowly being assimilated into a foreign culture are finally “home.” By the good grace of a king, Cyrus, they can rebuild the temple and once again be able to offer the sacrifices of their heart to God in His dedicated house. Now they’re faced with a new problem; who are the foreigners here? The “people of the land,” the who have occupied this place for 70 years are accusing them of being the foreigners and disputing the edict of the king that made their homecoming possible. The years of exile have resulted in the loss of their identity as “the people of Israel” in the eyes of their adversaries. Now they are only “the people of Judah.” That’s a subtle and discouraging slur.
Some who still remember witnessing the destruction of that first Holy temple have returned with hope that rebuilding this temple will restore God’s glory to all Israel while others born during the time of exile have only heard the stories of that historical glory and have come longing to finally experience God’s glory for themselves in a proper place of worship. They’re “home” now but discouraged, outnumbered and surrounded by occupiers on all sides.
It’s true, they’ve returned to rebuild the temple, but the big restoration God has planned for them is more than a new building on this holy site. It’s purpose is greater than walls that identify their territorial rights as the “people of Israel.” God has restored these exiles to establish this new temple as a visible sign to the people of the land that the glory of God is made visible through their efforts to reveal their true identity as the “people of the Lord, the God of Israel.”
John 16:5 “But now I am going away to the one who sent me; and none of you seems interested in the purpose of my going; none wonders why. 6 Instead you are only filled with sorrow. 7 But the fact of the matter is that it is best for you that I go away, for if I don’t, the Comforter won’t come. If I do, he will—for I will send him to you. 8 “And when he has come he will convince the world of its sin, and of the availability of God’s goodness, and of deliverance from judgment. 9 The world’s sin is unbelief in me; 10 there is righteousness available because I go to the Father and you shall see me no more; 11 there is deliverance from judgment because the prince of this world has already been judged. 12 “Oh, there is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t understand it now. 13 When the Holy Spirit, who is truth, comes, he shall guide you into all truth, for he will not be presenting his own ideas, but will be passing on to you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. 14 He shall praise me and bring me great honor by showing you my glory. 15 All the Father’s glory is mine; this is what I mean when I say that he will show you my glory. TLB
What is the general theme of the passage?
This small group has been bound together to function as “one” with Jesus in everything they’ve done and everywhere they’ve gone, until now. Jesus is going away and they are only filled with sorrow. The “one” that has been their purpose is now going to send a new identity into the world that will ease their sorrow and help them fulfill His purpose for “many” others…a Comforter. That Spirit of Holiness will convince the world sin is a destructive truth of man but Jesus is God’s truth about righteousness that will separate their identity from the world, relieve the sorrow of their sin and replace it with the shared glory of Jesus and His Father.
What does it say about God (or Jesus or the Holy Spirit?)
…it is best for you that I go away, for if I don’t, the [Holy Spirit] won’t come. If I do, he will—for I will send him to you.
What does it say about people?
…none of you seems interested in the purpose of my going; none wonders why. Instead you are only filled with sorrow [but] When the Holy Spirit, who is truth, comes, he shall guide you into all truth,
Is there truth here for me?
Jesus WAS their purpose and now He’s going away. No wonder they’re filled with sorrow. How will they identify themselves now? I was struck by the subtle difference between those two words, purpose and identity, and how similar this moment in those disciple’s lives is to my life as a follower of Christ today. My relationship with Jesus began with a purpose, to learn to be like Him. Purpose is like a placeholder but identity is what fills that place. That’s exactly what Jesus was doing here. He’d been the placeholder for these chosen men and His purpose had become their own but now it was time for more. A new Spirit of Holiness that would fill His empty place with their new identity as placeholders for many others to find their identity in Jesus. It’s amazing to think that right from the beginning of creation God’s purpose was that Jesus should live on earth, as a man free of sin, to become my placeholder too. The “one” place where even in sorrow I might discover His new identity for me was that I could be a placeholder too.