The history of the temple in Jerusalem is very interesting and complex. First, God had Solomon build the temple. The temple Solomon built was constructed over a seven years (actually seven years and six months) period from 967 BC to 960 BC.
But after many years of putting up with the people of Israel’s disobedience the Lord brought judgment upon the nation of Judah by permitting the Babylonians to destroy Solomon’s temple in the year 587 BC. At that time the people of Israel were also carried away captive into Babylon.
After a grievous 70 year period, the Lord turned again the captivity of His people Israel as Cyrus, the king of the Medes and the Persians took the kingdom of Babylon in the year 539 BC. One of Cyrus’ first tasks was issuing a proclamation that set the Jews free and allowed them to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. It was during this time, the time after the captivity that the temple was rebuilt by a man named Zerubabel.
The temple Zerubabel was tasked to build faced many obstacles, including many adversaries of the Jews that did not want to see the temple rebuilt at all. A few years after the temple reconstruction began in the year 537 BC, the enemies of Israel wrote a letter to a new king of the Medes and Persians. A king that was not as favorable towards Israel. They made several accusations against the Jews and the king sided with them and commanded that the temple’s construction be halted.
Ezra 4:21 Give ye now commandment to cause these men to cease, and that this city be not builded, until another commandment shall be given from me.
23 Now when the copy of king Artaxerxes' letter was read before Rehum, and Shimshai the scribe, and their companions, they went up in haste to Jerusalem unto the Jews, and made them to cease by force and power.
24 Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.
We’re not told exactly how long the work ceased. But it was for a very significant length of time. But then, the Lord moved a couple of prophets (in the 2nd year of Darius, another king of the Medes and Persians) to speak to the people to go about the job of rebuilding the temple once again:
Ezra 5:1 Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied unto the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, even unto them.
2 Then rose up Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem: and with them were the prophets of God helping them.
The Old Testament books of Haggai and Zechariah both recorded this event and confirm that it took place in the 2nd year of Darius the king.
After the Jews returned to their work on the temple they were once again interrupted by outside forces. Only this time, when they wrote the king about the renewed temple construction, the king (Darius) was a king that showed favor to the Jews:
Ezra 5:8 Be it known unto the king, that we went into the province of Judea, to the house of the great God, which is builded with great stones, and timber is laid in the walls, and this work goeth fast on, and prospereth in their hands.
9 Then asked we those elders, and said unto them thus, Who commanded you to build this house, and to make up these walls?
10 We asked their names also, to certify thee, that we might write the names of the men that were the chief of them.
11 And thus they returned us answer, saying, We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and build the house that was builded these many years ago, which a great king of Israel builded and set up.
12 But after that our fathers had provoked the God of heaven unto wrath, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house, and carried the people away into Babylon.
13 But in the first year of Cyrus the king of Babylon the same king Cyrus made a decree to build this house of God.
14 And the vessels also of gold and silver of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took out of the temple that was in Jerusalem, and brought them into the temple of Babylon, those did Cyrus the king take out of the temple of Babylon, and they were delivered unto one, whose name was Sheshbazzar, whom he had made governor;
15 And said unto him, Take these vessels, go, carry them into the temple that is in Jerusalem, and let the house of God be builded in his place.
16 Then came the same Sheshbazzar, and laid the foundation of the house of God which is in Jerusalem: and since that time even until now hath it been in building, and yet it is not finished.
17 Now therefore, if it seem good to the king, let there be search made in the king's treasure house, which is there at Babylon, whether it be so, that a decree was made of Cyrus the king to build this house of God at Jerusalem, and let the king send his pleasure to us concerning this matter.
The search revealed that an earlier king of the Medes and Persians (Cyrus) had issued a decree that the house was to be built. And since the decree of a Persian king could not be altered or changed Darius commanded that the Jews be left alone and the construction project continue until completion.
The house finally was completed in the 6th year of Darius.
Yet, there is something interesting about this account in Ezra that should be noted. When the Jews were asked about their work on the temple, they said this:
Ezra 5:16 Then came the same Sheshbazzar, and laid the foundation of the house of God which is in Jerusalem: and since that time even until now hath it been in building, and yet it is not finished.
From the above verse we gather that from the time the foundation was laid (537 BC) until the time they have returned to work on the house, has been a very long time. An extended time period. Again, Solomon’s temple was completed in 7 years (7 yrs. 6 months). How long did it take to build Zerubabel’s temple?
“From that time even until now hath it been in BUILDING...”
This language reminds of what the Jews said to Jesus in the New Testament concerning the temple:
John 2:19 Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.
20 Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?
21 But he spake of the temple of his body.
Jesus made a reference to His body. The Jews thought He was referring to the physical temple that was located in Jerusalem. Now the temple that existed in Jesus’ day was Zerubbabel’s temple. Zerubbabel’s temple was never destroyed like the temple Solomon built was destroyed. It still stood at the time Jesus entered into the world.
Some theologians tell us that the Jews were making reference to ‘Herod’s temple’ when they said this temple was forty and six years in building. However, there are major problems with that understanding:
1. God carefully commanded first Solomon, and then Zerubbabel (at the decree of Cyrus) to build temples. Building a temple of God is not something that just anyone can undertake. It must be done at the commandment of God. Herod never had any such commandment from God to build a temple for Him.
2. Theologians call it ‘Herod’s temple’ even though they know that he did not build it, but only renovated it. Solomon’s temple was a built temple. Zerubbabel’s temple was a built temple. Herod never ‘built’ a temple. The Jews specifically said: “Forty and six years was this temple in BUILDING”. It was in building Not renovating.
3. One of the major issues the Jews adversaries had with them in the building of Zerubbabel’s temple was that the people that were non Jews wanted to help with the building of the temple:
Ezra 4:1 Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the LORD God of Israel;
2 Then they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief of the fathers, and said unto them, Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither.
3 But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel, said unto them, 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, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us.
4 Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building,
The non Jewish people were not allowed to help with building the temple. Yet theologians tell us a non Jew (Herod) was the builder of the temple of God that was in Jerusalem. If this were so we can be sure that Jesus would not have worshiped within it. But He did worship within it because it was not ‘built’ by Herod. It was built by Zerubabel and the Jews that helped him at the command of Cyrus and Darius.
So you may be wondering what is the significance of this? Who cares if Zerubabel built the temple or Herod?
The significance is that the Jew’ statement to Jesus: “Forty and six years was this temple in building” gives us a timeline for the construction of Zerubabel’s temple.
Also, the 46 years mentioned is very interesting. It agrees with the following time periods:
From 13 BC (11,000 year of earth’s history and beginning of 2300 tribulation period before Christ’s birth in 7 BC) to the cross in 33 AD = 46 calendar years
From 1988 AD (13,000 year of earth’s history and beginning of 2300 tribulation period before Spirit poured out in 1994 AD) to possible 2nd coming of Christ in 2033 AD = 46 inclusive years
The temple of God has always been a portrait of all those that God saved through His election program. The completion of the temple naturally points to the end of time.
The Jews statement (which Jesus did not disagree with) of the temple being built over the course of 46 years does indeed tie in with the 1st coming of Christ and may tie in with the 2nd coming of Christ as well.