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Fourteen Years of Despair (534-521 B.C.)

 

Now that a brief overview has been given on the circumstances of rebuilding the temple and the city of Jerusalem, we need to go back and consider the despair that beset King Zerubbabal and Joshua, the high priest, at the beginning of the story. The reconstruction of the temple was halted almost as soon as it was started and the project “lay dead” for fourteen years. The warlords mocked Zerubbabel and Joshua, and as time went by, these good men were considered impotent and inept by many of their own people. It is true that Zerubbabel and Joshua appeared impotent and inept to the natural eye, but they wisely waited on the Lord.

 

The reconstruction project stopped because the warlords sent letters of accusation (about the past behavior of the Jews) to King Cyrus and the king shut down the rebuilding project until matters could be reviewed and sorted out. There was nothing that Zerubbabel and Joshua could do but wait. One does not run ahead of a sovereign king. Fourteen years is a long time to wait and Zerubbabel and Joshua knew that with each passing year, their opportunity to complete the task became more unlikely. During this period of “gridlock,” the Lord gave the prophet Zechariah several visions to encourage His people.

 

Of course, Jesus saw everything that was going on. He saw the lies and accusations of the warlords. He saw the devil’s efforts to thwart the rebuilding of the temple. Jesus also saw the fragile condition (spiritually speaking) of those Jews who had returned to rebuild Jerusalem. In some ways, the generation that came out of Babylon was worse off than the generation that came out of Egypt. The Jews who came out of Babylon possessed a corrupt religion. They had mixed the laws of God and Moses with the pagan beliefs of the Babylonians and had created a toxic religion. To clean up this mess, God designed the rebuilding of Jerusalem and His temple to purify the rebuilders. He wanted to teach a new generation of Jews the importance of living by faith (doing what is right in God’s eyes without regard for the consequences) because without faith, it is impossible to please God! (Hebrews 11:6)

 

Jesus wanted to rebuild Jerusalem to be a city founded on faith and inhabited by the “faith-full.” Jesus did not want Jerusalem established on human prowess and illusions of self-importance and self-righteousness. Therefore, Jesus put the exiles in a “tunnel of hopelessness.” (This is a helpless situation that is bad, narrow and confining. There is no other way out, forward or backward, up or down. It is a foreboding place where gridlock stops everything but the mighty hand of God.) Almost immediately, God wanted the rebuilders to understand that human effort could not rebuild His temple and His city. There was absolutely nothing that the Jews could do about it. After a few years of hopeless gridlock, God spoke to His people through Zechariah:  

 

[For many good reasons,] The Lord was very angry with the forefathers [and according to His promise, He drove us from His land – Leviticus 25:23]. Therefore [the Lord said to me] tell the people: ‘this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Return to me,” declares the Lord Almighty, “and I will return to you,”’ …[did you notice the order – return to me and I will return to you] ‘Do not be like your forefathers, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.’” But they would not listen or pay attention to me,’ declares the Lord.” (Zechariah 1:2-4, insertions mine)

 

Basically, the Lord says, “If (consider the conditional nature of this offer) you return to me, I will bless you. I have many wonderful things in store for you.” “’Shout and be glad, O Daughter of Zion. For I am coming [to Earth], and I will live among you,’ declares the Lord. ‘[A time is coming when] Many nations will be joined with the Lord in that day and [many Gentile nations] will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to me to you. The Lord will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land and will again choose Jerusalem [as His dwelling place].’” (Zechariah 2:10-12, insertions mine)

 

Israel left a bad taste in the mouths of the Canaanites. This bad taste can be assessed by the hatred that the Gentiles had for the returning Jews. The Canaanites did not want the Jews living in their midst and they did everything possible to keep them from rebuilding. During the period of gridlock, the Lord gave Zechariah a vision concerning Joshua and a vision concerning Zerubbabel. As high priest, Joshua represented the religious condition of Israel and as king; Zerubbabel represented the political condition of Israel. Because the vision concerning Joshua does not directly concern the Two Witnesses, I will reluctantly skip over it. (See Zechariah 3.)

 

Visions Concerning Zerubbabel

 

“Then the angel who talked with me [earlier in the vision concerning Joshua] returned and awakened me, as a man is awakened from his sleep. He asked me, ‘What do you see?” I answered, ‘I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lights on it, with seven channels to the lights. Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.” Then I asked the angel who talked with me, ‘What are these, my lord?’ He answered, ‘Do you [Zechariah, a prophet of God] not know what these are?’ ‘No, my lord,’ I relied. So he said to me, ‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: “Not by [human] might nor by [human] power, but by my Spirit [the temple will be rebuilt],” says the Lord Almighty.’

 

‘What are you, O mighty mountain [of warlords, gridlock and insurmountable difficulties]? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. [My Spirit will remove all the roadblocks set by your adversaries and the temple will surely be rebuilt.] Then he [Zerubbabel, yes King Zerubbabel himself] will bring out the capstone [the finishing stone of the temple] to shouts of “God bless it! God bless it”’ Then the word of the Lord came to me: ‘The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it.  [Tell those who have no faith, those who doubt this vision that when they behold the completed temple] Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you.’

 

“’Who despises the day of small things? [Who complains when troubles are few? God works best when everything else fails.] Men will rejoice when they see [once again] the plumb line in the hands of Zerubbabel.’ ‘(These seven [the seven eyes on the stone set before Joshua] are the eyes of the Lord, which range throughout the earth [they are always on those who fear the Lord. Psalms 33:18].)’ Then I asked the angel [a second time], ‘What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand?’ [After a few moments of unanswered silence] Again I asked him [a third time], ‘What are these two olive branches beside the two gold pipes that pour out golden oil?’ He replied, ‘Do you [Zechariah, a prophet of Israel] not know what these are?’ ‘No my lord,’ I said. So he said, ‘these [the two olive trees and the golden lampstand that stand before the Lord, they] are the two [witnesses] who are anointed [chosen] to serve the Lord of all the earth.’” (Zechariah 4:1-14, insertions mine)  

 

Please notice the key points in this vision:

 

1.   Even though the rebuilding project was in gridlock when God gave this vision to Zechariah, the Lord promised that Zerubbabel himself would present the capstone (the final stone on the temple) to shouts of “God bless it! God bless it!” Jesus wanted the king to know that he would indeed rebuild the temple and the obstacles he faced would be overcome, but not through human strength. “’Not by [human] might nor by [human] power, but by my Spirit [the temple will be rebuilt],’ says the Lord Almighty.”

 

2.   Twice the angel avoided Zechariah’s question about the lampstand and the two olive trees. In fact, the angel’s response, “Do you not know what these are?” was a gentle rebuke because Zechariah, who was both a prophet and a priest, should have understood the meaning of what he saw.

 

We have reached bedrock in our study on the Two Witnesses. The Lord showed Zechariah a golden lampstand that had seven lamps on it. Two olive trees stood beside the lampstand, one on the left and the other on the right. Each olive tree had a golden pipe that was attached to the lampstand. In fact, the two pipes from the two olive trees fanned out into seven channels so that each lamp on the lampstand received oil. The imagery is both elegant and simple. Olive oil perpetually flowed from the two living trees and this enables the lampstand to shine perpetually! What a marvelous design! Zechariah saw an eternal flame. A lampstand fed by two olive trees. (Remember, as we learned near the beginning of this study, the Two Witnesses have existed throughout eternity.)

 

Fresh olive oil was required for the seven lamps that made up the golden lampstand. (Exodus 25:31-40, Leviticus 23:3,4) Zechariah also knew that, “the lamps on the pure gold lampstand [that stood] before the Lord must be tended [each day by humans] continually.” (Leviticus 24:4 italics and insertion mine) Given his intimate knowledge of priestly duties, Zechariah should have connected the dots. He was looking at a symbol of the Holy Spirit (the two olive trees) and the eternal flame of God’s Word (the lampstand with seven lamps on it). The Spirit of God enables the law of God to shine perpetually! As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10,11)

 

Standing before the Lord of the Earth

 

Notice the location of the Two Witnesses in Revelation 11:4: “These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.” The lampstand in Zechariah’s day was located on the south side of the Holy Place, directly across the room from the Table of Shewbread that was located on the north side of the Holy Place. The Table of Shewbread represents the throne of God. In Zechariah’s vision, two olive trees were seen standing on each side of the lampstand, therefore, the two trees also stood before the Lord. When Zechariah pressed the angel a third time, the angel confirmed their importance saying, “These [the two olive trees and the golden lampstand] are the two [witnesses] who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth [Sovereign God].”

 

The Lampstand with Seven Lamps

 

When God gave this vision to Zechariah, the temple in Jerusalem was not in service. This point is made because the temple in Heaven was operating and intact. (Hebrews 8:1-5) Zechariah’s vision should be understood from the perspective of the Heavenly temple, where the Lord sits on His throne. (Psalm 11:4) The lampstand in Heaven’s temple represented the nation of Israel, the agent through whom God’s law was chosen to shine. The seven lamps on the lampstand represent the totality of God’s Truth, the truth that displaces darkness, including the plumb line of His law that defines true vertical.

 

Because of God’s great affection for Abraham, Abraham’s offspring had been chosen as “keepers of the Word of God.” They were trustees of His law. In other words, when Israel was delivered from Egypt, the nation was chosen to serve the world as trustees of the gospel of Christ. (Exodus 19:4-6, 1 Corinthians 10:4) Jesus referred to this responsibility in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told the Jews, “You are the light [the lampstand] of the world….” (Matthew 5:14, insertion mine) In other words, Israel had been selected and anointed to serve the Lord of all Earth as trustees of God’s Word. (Isaiah 42: 6,7; Revelation 14:6) This explains why a single lampstand was placed before the Lord’s throne in the Heavenly temple. That lampstand was a constant reminder before the Lord that Israel needed Holy Spirit power every day to take the light of truth (the perfect law of God) into all the world. “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison [of sin] and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness [of ignorance].” (Isaiah 42:6,7, italics and insertions mine)

 

The seven lamps on Israel’s lampstand represent the sevenfold brilliance that shines from God’s Word. No group of people has been given more blessing and spiritual advantage than the nation of Israel! 

Paul, lamenting Israel’s defiant rebellion against Christ wrote, “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.” (Romans 9:3-5) Did you notice the little superscript numbers? These numbers identify the sevenfold blessing given to Israel. God raised up a people to “prepare the world for the kingdom of God and He gave every blessing and grace to do so, but they refused. “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1:11)

 

When Jesus began His ministry, Israel was thoroughly poisoned with idolatry. Israel worshiped God’s laws instead of God, and their legalism led them to reject the teaching of Jesus. If Jesus came to Earth to minister among Christians today, He would find Christians thoroughly poisoned by idolatry. A majority of Christians worship God’s grace instead of God! This point is proven by the total disregard for God’s seventh day Sabbath. Most Christians disregard God’s Sabbath because they believe the Ten Commandments were abolished at the cross. The pendulum has swung from worshiping God’s law to worshiping God’s grace. In fact, mercy (grace) and justice (law) co-exist because God is love. (Psalm 89:14) Man’s need of God’s grace is based on the eternal presence of God’s law. Where there is no law, there is no need for grace! (Romans 4:15) When the Ten Commandments, especially the fourth commandment, is presented to the world during the Great Tribulation, many Christians will be shocked to hear that they have blasphemed the law of God in the name of Grace. Although the doctrine of grace opposes the doctrine of legalism, they produce the same outcome. Anything that displaces the law of God with rules taught by men is blasphemy. (Isaiah 29:13; Mark 7:7,8)       




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