What did Ellen White mean when she said the history presented in the book of Haggai “will be repeated”? 1 On its face, it is an odd statement. After all, Haggai was written during the time of the reconstruction of the temple after the return of the Jews from the Babylonian exile. What could that have to do with us, today? Did she mean the temple would be rebuilt in Jerusalem? Or that a modern day equivalent of the Babylonians would again attack a nation of Israel? Is it a cryptic reference to unknown prophetic events?
To understand the statement, we must understand the circumstances Haggai confronted. You see, the temple reconstruction turned into a painfully stilted affair. It was begun with great gusto, and then petered out. The Jews were back in their Promised Land. But tragically, the temple remained a hollow shell; a hollow shell that should have been a living metaphor for salvation through faith in Christ.
What caused the neglect of the temple? It turns out that people back then weren’t so different than we are today. You see, they lost their focus on building God’s house, because they were so busy building their own houses—their “panelled houses”. (Haggai 1: 1-4). Their focus diverted from God to themselves.
Similarly, we today find it easy to become distracted by our own business and our own works, and in the process take our focus away from the sacrifice of Jesus. But salvation isn’t about us, our works or our plans—it’s found entirely and totally in Christ.
Haggai stirred up the people and they finally completed the rebuilding work. They rebuilt the temple, not because the building had an intrinsic value, but because it would have its function restored—the work of cleansing sin, by pointing to the great sacrifice that was to be made to save sinners through faith.
In Haggai 2, the Lord said the glory of this second temple would be greater than the former (Solomon’s temple). How could this be? There is almost universal agreement that the second temple was far inferior to the first. And this second temple was defiled by Antiochus Epiphanes’ order to sacrifice pigs on its altar before the idol of Zeus he erected within it. Even after Herod extensively renovated the second temple soon before Christ’s birth, it was nothing compared to Solomon’s original.
So how did this second temple surpass the first? Simple. It was in this second temple that the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, would one day walk. And through Him, the metaphor so beautifully played out in the sacrificial system over the millennia, would be fulfilled and our salvation would be assured. His sacrifice ensured that there would be no need, ever, for a third temple here on earth.
It’s now more than 100 years since Ellen White wrote that had the church of the time accepted the message of 1888 (justification by faith—the Gospel) they would have been in heaven. But we are still here. Is it because we have committed the sins of the people in Haggai’s time and taken our focus away from Christ and turned our attention to our own lives and our own works? Do we talk about us living the Christian life, instead of looking to Jesus?
The good news is that the delay in rebuilding the temple in Haggai’s time was not permanent. The people responded to his call; the second temple was completed and the services symbolising salvation through Christ began anew. It’s time for that history to be repeated! It is my prayer that the story of our people in this time will similarly end with a recommitment to salvation by faith in Christ, and through our collective acceptance of Christ’s perfect gift of justification, He will use us to finish the work He’s entrusted to us.
1. EG White, Review & Herald, Dec. 5, 1907.
Graham Morris is a retired journalist and teacher who attends Lilydale church in Victoria.