You claim that Haggai 2 points to the fact that the Messiah had to come before the Second Temple was destroyed, since it says in verse 9 that the glory of the Second Temple would be greater than the glory of Solomon’s Temple. Actually, Haggai is speaking about only the physical splendor of the Second Temple, which surpassed Solomon’s Temple in the days of Herod.
Although there are some clear references in Haggai 2 to an abundance of gold and silver that would be used in rebuilding the Temple, there can be no doubt that the phrase “to fill with glory” refers to the manifest presence of God and not to physical splendor. We can therefore ask, In what way did the glory of the Second Temple surpass that of the First Temple? The answer is inescapable: The Messiah, the King of Glory, the very embodiment of the presence and power of God, visited that Temple.
We dealt with this objection in a different context in vol. 1, 2.1, pointing out several compelling reasons that the references to the Temple being filled with glory could not be explained with primary reference to the physical rebuilding of the Temple with massive amounts of silver and gold. Rather, Haggai’s prophecy must ultimately be understood as meaning that the Temple would be filled with the splendor of God’s glorious presence. Before expanding on this in more depth, let’s read the relevant verses in Haggai’s prophecy:
This is what the Lord Almighty says: “In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,” says the Lord Almighty. “The silver is mine and the gold is mine,” declares the Lord Almighty. “The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,” says the Lord Almighty. “And in this place I will grant peace,” declares the Lord Almighty.
How can we be sure the prophet is not simply declaring that the Second Temple would be built more beautifully than Solomon’s Temple? After all, the Hebrew word kavod can sometimes refer to wealth and riches, as in Genesis 31:1: “Jacob heard that Laban’s sons were saying, ‘Jacob has taken everything our father owned and has gained all this wealth [kavod] from what belonged to our father.’ ” And the context in Haggai 2 makes reference to the abundance of silver and gold that God would send for the rebuilding of the Temple. What then gives me the right to insist on a primarily spiritual interpretation to this passage?
First, the Lord is making a specific comparison between the glory of the First Temple and the glory of the Second Temple, and the Scriptures are very clear about the nature of the glory of the First Temple: The supernatural presence of God was there. The fire of God was there. That was the glory of the First Temple (see 2 Chron. 7:1–4). Second, God promises to “fill this house with glory,” and the expression “fill with glory” always refers to the divine manifestation in the Bible (see vol. 1, 2.1).
Third, the Talmud and later Rabbinic literature noted that some of the most important elements found in the First Temple—some of the very symbols of the glory of God, I might add—were not found in the Second Temple, namely, the ark of the covenant, the divine fire, the Holy Spirit, the Shekhinah, the Urim and Thummim.297
How then could it be said that the glory of the Second Temple would surpass that of the First when the Second Temple was devoid of the very manifest presence of God that defined the First Temple’s glory? Fourth, the ancient Jewish sages could not agree on the meaning of the passage, some claiming that the glory would consist in the longer duration of the Second Temple (i.e., it lasted longer than the First Temple did; cf. b. Baba Bathra 3a). This argument, however, is so weak that even the sixteenth-century refutationist Isaac Troki—an arch opponent of Christianity—decisively refuted it, stating,
Nor can we admit that the glory of the second temple consisted in its longer duration—a point discussed in the Talmud (Baba Bathra), for the Scripture makes no mention of the glory being attributable to the length of the time during which the temple was constructed or lasted. And even if the duration of the second temple had exceeded by double the time that of the first temple, the word glory could not have been assigned to this distinction.298
And if the promise was merely one of physical glory and splendor—which, as we have noted, falls far short of the description of being filled with God’s glory—why then is an additional promise offered in Haggai 2:9, namely, that in the Second Temple God would appoint peace?299 It is because the Lord is promising several things for the Second Temple: (1) It would be built with the riches of the nations; (2) it would be filled with the glory of God; and (3) the Lord would appoint peace there.
So clear was this last word that Ibn Ezra actually raised the possibility that the promise of peace in Haggai 2:9 was conditional, the conditions being “if they will be completely righteous, as Zechariah said, and if they will diligently hearken and obey.”
Ibn Ezra’s interpretation reminds us of the interpretative problems faced by Rabbinic Judaism, since there are prophecies that were supposed to be fulfilled in the days of the Second Temple—Messianic prophecies of fundamental importance—but that were never fulfilled, according to the ancient rabbis (see vol. 1, esp. 2.1).
Other prophecies were read as possibilities, since the Scriptures predicted that the Messiah would come on the clouds of heaven, exalted and glorious (Dan. 7:13), and also declared that he would come riding on a donkey, meek and lowly (Zech. 9:9). According to the Talmud, if Israel was righteous and worthy, he would come on the clouds; if Israel was sinful and unworthy, he would come riding on a donkey.
But the Bible did not say these were mere possibilities and only one of them would prove true; rather, they were inspired prophecies, both of which would prove true. First the Messiah came riding on a donkey (in point of fact, we were not worthy of his coming then); when we repent and welcome him back (thus becoming worthy to receive him as King), he will return in the clouds of heaven.
And it is Messiah’s coming to the Second Temple that explains Haggai’s prophecy. Something more wonderful than the divine fire would visit that place; something greater than the cloud of glory would be manifest there. The Son of God himself, King Messiah, the glorious Word made flesh, would come to that Temple, teaching, preaching, cleansing, refining, and working miracles. It would be the ultimate divine visitation, far greater than anything that took place in Solomon’s Temple.
The Second Temple was also the place of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Shavuot (the Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost), as recorded in Acts 2, as well as the place of miraculous healings through the Messiah’s emissaries (see Acts 3; and note especially Acts 2:43; 5:12). Surely that Temple was filled with glory! And it was in the Second Temple that the one who gave his life as an offering to make peace between God and man, and between Jew and Gentile, came and offered peace (cf. also Luke 1:79; 2:14; 19:42; Acts 10:36).300
297 Another Rabbinic list omits the Shekhinah and separates the ark of the covenant from the mercy seat with the cherubim, thus making five missing items.
298 Troki, Faith Strengthened, 170. For the comparison between the First and Second Temples, cf. esp. b. Yoma 21b and 52b; see further H. N. Bilalik and Y. H. Ravnitzky, eds., The Book of Legends: Sefer Ha-Aggadah, trans. W. G. Braude (New York: Schocken, 1992), 161, #11; cf. also ibid., 165–66, #28, for b. Yoma 9b and Eyn Yaakov.
299 For Troki, this promise also excluded the possibility of fulfillment in the days of the Second Temple; see vol. 1, p, 223, nn. 12–13. Troki’s own answer was a counsel of despair: The prophecy referred to the Third Temple! See vol. 1, ibid.
300 Cf. vol. 1, 2.6 (explaining Matt. 10:34); regarding the greater glory of the Second Temple, cf. Batei Midrashot 2, 24:11, listing the five elements missing from the Second Temple that will return to the final Temple, based on Haggai 2: the fire of the Shekhinah, the ark, the kapporet and cherubim, the Holy Spirit, and the Urim and Thummim.