The rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple was prophesied by Jeremiah to occur at a very specific time. We can trace the fulfillment of the prophecy through the biblical book of Ezra and the parallel historic records of Babylon and Persia.
If you have ever done one of those reading programs that get you though the whole bible in a year you know some books are difficult to get through... list of genealogies, temple functions, records of kings and kingdoms, years of rule etc.. The book of Ezra can be like that... but this book also serves a very specific function within the bible.
The book of Ezra documents the fulfillment of a prophecy. Today we will to review the fulfillment of God's prophetic word [given through Jeremiah]. That true worship would be restored in Jerusalem after 70 years of exile in Babylon for Judah.
Prophecy often speaks of God's judgment and punishment for sin, and assures us of its unstoppable march forward which cannot be thwarted. Prophecy also speaks to His promise of life giving restoration, and establishment of Godly governance on earth also marches forward with unstoppable sureness. The book of Ezra carefully documents the fulfillment of just such a prophecy.
Ezra 1:1 Ezra 1:1Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying,
American King James Version× here is the statement of purpose for the book of Ezra. Now, let's take a look at the prophetic words of Jeremiah referred to here.
Jeremiah 25:8-11 Jeremiah 25:8-11  Therefore thus said the LORD of hosts; Because you have not heard my words,
 Behold, I will send and take all the families of the north, said the LORD, and Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will bring them against this land, and against the inhabitants thereof, and against all these nations round about, and will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, and an hissing, and perpetual desolations.
 Moreover I will take from them the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones, and the light of the candle.
 And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.
American King James Version× Israel refused to listen to sound instruction and warning. So God opted for corporal punishment to address their violation of the covenant. But with the promise of judgment and punishment also comes a promise of restoration, read verses 12-14.
Jeremiah 29:10 Jeremiah 29:10For thus said the LORD, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place.
American King James Version× Babylon has crushed Judah dragged off most of the people and the royal family, they have installed the king's brother as a puppet king. A tiny remnant is still in Jerusalem. Jeremiah is among that tiny remnant still in Jerusalem while the rest of the nation is exile. At this point the temple constructed by Solomon is still standing.
Jeremiah writes from Jerusalem to those in exile and tells them to settle in for a long haul. He warns them not to listen to false preachers predicting a quick return and restoration of the chosen people. He reminds them that have been punished as warned. But with punishment comes the promise of restoration. However, it will be on God's timetable, not your own read verses 4-14.
Some interpret the 70 years to apply to the existence of the Babylonian kingdom itself... "when 70 years are complete for Babylon". The kingdom of Babylon can be calculated as lasting 73 years or 66 years depending on what beginning or end points you use... close but not right on. This casts doubt on the accuracy of the prophecy and its fulfillment.
The prophecy and its fulfillment are measured from the destruction of the temple in 586 BC and the rebuilding completed in 516 BC. The rise and fall of kingdoms is of lesser importance in God's thoughts than keys dates and events in true worship and the chosen people.The Destruction of the Temple Begins The Countdown
2 Kings 25:8-12 2 Kings 25:8-12  And in the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month, which is the nineteenth year of king Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, came Nebuzaradan, captain of the guard, a servant of the king of Babylon, to Jerusalem:
 And he burnt the house of the LORD, and the king's house, and all the houses of Jerusalem, and every great man's house burnt he with fire.
 And all the army of the Chaldees, that were with the captain of the guard, broke down the walls of Jerusalem round about.
 Now the rest of the people that were left in the city, and the fugitives that fell away to the king of Babylon, with the remnant of the multitude, did Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carry away.
 But the captain of the guard left of the door of the poor of the land to be vinedressers and farmers.
American King James Version× several years earlier much of the population had already been deported to Babylon. Egged on by his advisers, Zedekiah the puppet king decides to rebel against The Babylonians occupying the country. Babylon brutally puts down the rebellion, demolishes the temple [plus much of the city], and deports most of the remaining people to Babylon.
Nebuchadnezzar came to his throne in 605 B.C.. He destroyed the Jerusalem temple in his 19th year of rule, which would make the year of the temple destruction 586 B.C. This is the event that marks the beginning of the 70 years. The clock is now ticking... so, we should expect to see the temple restored in 516 B.C.
Did we just pluck these out of the data stream of history because they best fit the prophecy? Or, do we have any biblical reason to calculate the 70 years from the destruction of the temple to the time its rebuilt? Answer: we do have some biblical statements that agree with the rebuilding of the temple as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah.
Zechariah 1:12-17 Zechariah 1:12-17  Then the angel of the LORD answered and said, O LORD of hosts, how long will you not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which you have had indignation these three score and ten years?
 And the LORD answered the angel that talked with me with good words and comfortable words.
 So the angel that communed with me said to me, Cry you, saying, Thus said the LORD of hosts; I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy.
 And I am very sore displeased with the heathen that are at ease: for I was but a little displeased, and they helped forward the affliction.
 Therefore thus said the LORD; I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies: my house shall be built in it, said the LORD of hosts, and a line shall be stretched forth on Jerusalem.
 Cry yet, saying, Thus said the LORD of hosts; My cities through prosperity shall yet be spread abroad; and the LORD shall yet comfort Zion, and shall yet choose Jerusalem.
American King James Version× when asked when this restoration of the chosen people would occur... God answers "I will return to Jerusalem, and My house [temple] shall be rebuilt".
Zechariah 4:7-9 Zechariah 4:7-9  Who are you, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace to it.
 Moreover the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
 The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it; and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.
American King James Version× its is by the rebuilding of the temple that you will know My spirit is at work making this come to pass. Note: Zechariah was one of the prophets sent to the people who were tasked with rebuilding. We will hear his name a bit more later.
Ezra 1:1-4 Ezra 1:1-4  Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying,
 Thus said Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he has charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.
 Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem.
 And whoever remains in any place where he sojournes, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.
American King James Version× the date of this decree is 539 B.C. which is the year Cyrus and the Persian army conquered the Babylonians. From the the Jewish respective this was "the first year of Cyrus", the first year of Cyrus' rule over them [in place of the now conquered Babylonians].
But wait... this is 23 years ahead of schedule! By the word of prophecy the temple is not to be rebuilt until 516 B.C. The proclamation of Cyrus is only setting the wheels in motion to make the rebuilding project possible. The decree will get at least some of the tribe of Judah back to the land so they can start the rebuilding, it also declares the means for financing the project.
Ezra 1:5-8 Ezra 1:5-8  Then rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, with all them whose spirit God had raised, to go up to build the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem.
 And all they that were about them strengthened their hands with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, and with beasts, and with precious things, beside all that was willingly offered.
 Also Cyrus the king brought forth the vessels of the house of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had brought forth out of Jerusalem, and had put them in the house of his gods;
 Even those did Cyrus king of Persia bring forth by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer, and numbered them to Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah.
American King James Version× the return to Jerusalem only involves the three tribes that stayed loyal to the royal line of David [Judah, Benjamin, and Levi]. The other 10 tribes are not involved. In fact, there is no record of them ever returning to the land. They are commonly referred to as the 10 lost tribes of Israel.
Next, more details are provided on the financing and the return of the temple articles: verses 9-11 list the items that were to be returned [5,400 in total]. The entire process of rebuilding the temple and fulfilling the prophecy of Jeremiah is scrupulously documented and detailed.
Ezra 2:1-2 Ezra 2:1-2  Now these are the children of the province that went up out of the captivity, of those which had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away to Babylon, and came again to Jerusalem and Judah, every one to his city;
 Which came with Zerubbabel: Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mizpar, Bigvai, Rehum, Baanah. The number of the men of the people of Israel:
American King James Version× Now we get a listing of who was involved in the project. Zerubbabel is of the royal line of David and is sent to oversee and administer the project. Joshua [Jeshau, Jesus] is sent to re-establish the priestly line. He is most likely the same person as Sheshbazzar who was give charge over all the temple goods being returned. These two figure prominently in the book of Zechariah the prophet.
The rest of the chapter gives list of priests, Levites, temple servants who would supply the manpower for the restoration project.An Altar Is Built
Ezra 3:1-6 Ezra 3:1-6  And when the seventh month was come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered themselves together as one man to Jerusalem.
 Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brothers the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brothers, and built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God.
 And they set the altar on his bases; for fear was on them because of the people of those countries: and they offered burnt offerings thereon to the LORD, even burnt offerings morning and evening.
 They kept also the feast of tabernacles, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number, according to the custom, as the duty of every day required;
 And afterward offered the continual burnt offering, both of the new moons, and of all the set feasts of the LORD that were consecrated, and of every one that willingly offered a freewill offering to the LORD.
 From the first day of the seventh month began they to offer burnt offerings to the LORD. But the foundation of the temple of the LORD was not yet laid.
American King James Version× the religious zeal of those returning shows here. They re-establish the offering of sacrifice on the first day of the 7th month which is the feast of Trumpets. The sacred calendar is restored and the announcing of the appointed feasts of God resumes with the sighting of the first new moon.
The restoration of righteous worship of God in Jerusalem happens at the time of the fall festivals [which pictures the re-establishment of God's rule on earth]. These events take place in the year 539/538 B.C. depending on how you sync up the biblical calendar with the secular Gregorian calendar.
But wait... we are still way ahead of schedule! Notice that verse 6 makes appoint of telling us the temple is not yet built, the foundation has not even been laid yet.
Ezra 3:7-13 Ezra 3:7-13  They gave money also to the masons, and to the carpenters; and meat, and drink, and oil, to them of Zidon, and to them of Tyre, to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea of Joppa, according to the grant that they had of Cyrus king of Persia.
 Now in the second year of their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, began Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and the remnant of their brothers the priests and the Levites, and all they that were come out of the captivity to Jerusalem; and appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to set forward the work of the house of the LORD.
 Then stood Jeshua with his sons and his brothers, Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together, to set forward the workmen in the house of God: the sons of Henadad, with their sons and their brothers the Levites.
 And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the LORD, after the ordinance of David king of Israel.
 And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks to the LORD; because he is good, for his mercy endures for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.
 But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy:
 So that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people: for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off.
American King James Version× for the first year they get the farms up and running so they have food, and produce to trade. Next they lay the foundations for the temple. It is an occasion for great joy but also sadness because the restored temple will be small and insignificant compared to the glory of the glorious temple that had been destroyed about 50 previously [some of the elderly people among them were old enough to remember the temple that once was, and they cried when they thought about it].
Ezra 4:1-2 Ezra 4:1-2  Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity built the temple to the LORD God of Israel;
 Then they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief of the fathers, and said to them, Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as you do; and we do sacrifice to him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up here.
American King James Version× The land of Israel they were returning to was not completely empty. People still living there but they are not the 10 tribes of Israel or a remnant of Judah. These people in the land specifically refer to themselves as having been placed in the land by the Assyrians 200 years earlier. The northern 10 tribes of Israel had been deported by Assyria But unlike Judah they never returned. The Assyrians imported others from unknown lands to populate the empty territory [see 2 Kings 17:14-39 2 Kings 17:14-39  Notwithstanding they would not hear, but hardened their necks, like to the neck of their fathers, that did not believe in the LORD their God.  And they rejected his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their fathers, and his testimonies which he testified against them; and they followed vanity, and became vain, and went after the heathen that were round about them, concerning whom the LORD had charged them, that they should not do like them.  And they left all the commandments of the LORD their God, and made them molten images, even two calves, and made a grove, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal.  And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire, and used divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.  Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight: there was none left but the tribe of Judah only.  Also Judah kept not the commandments of the LORD their God, but walked in the statutes of Israel which they made.  And the LORD rejected all the seed of Israel, and afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of spoilers, until he had cast them out of his sight.  For he rent Israel from the house of David; and they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king: and Jeroboam drove Israel from following the LORD, and made them sin a great sin.  For the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did; they departed not from them;  Until the LORD removed Israel out of his sight, as he had said by all his servants the prophets. So was Israel carried away out of their own land to Assyria to this day.  And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelled in the cities thereof.  And so it was at the beginning of their dwelling there, that they feared not the LORD: therefore the LORD sent lions among them, which slew some of them.  Why they spoke to the king of Assyria, saying, The nations which you have removed, and placed in the cities of Samaria, know not the manner of the God of the land: therefore he has sent lions among them, and, behold, they slay them, because they know not the manner of the God of the land.  Then the king of Assyria commanded, saying, Carry thither one of the priests whom you brought from there; and let them go and dwell there, and let him teach them the manner of the God of the land.  Then one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and dwelled in Bethel, and taught them how they should fear the LORD.  However, every nation made gods of their own, and put them in the houses of the high places which the Samaritans had made, every nation in their cities wherein they dwelled.  And the men of Babylon made Succothbenoth, and the men of Cuth made Nergal, and the men of Hamath made Ashima,  And the Avites made Nibhaz and Tartak, and the Sepharvites burnt their children in fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim.  So they feared the LORD, and made to themselves of the lowest of them priests of the high places, which sacrificed for them in the houses of the high places.  They feared the LORD, and served their own gods, after the manner of the nations whom they carried away from there.  To this day they do after the former manners: they fear not the LORD, neither do they after their statutes, or after their ordinances, or after the law and commandment which the LORD commanded the children of Jacob, whom he named Israel;  With whom the LORD had made a covenant, and charged them, saying, You shall not fear other gods, nor bow yourselves to them, nor serve them, nor sacrifice to them:  But the LORD, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt with great power and a stretched out arm, him shall you fear, and him shall you worship, and to him shall you do sacrifice.  And the statutes, and the ordinances, and the law, and the commandment, which he wrote for you, you shall observe to do for ever more; and you shall not fear other gods.  And the covenant that I have made with you you shall not forget; neither shall you fear other gods.  But the LORD your God you shall fear; and he shall deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies.
American King James Version×].
These are the Samaritans we read about in Jesus' day. The Samaritans had a weird mixture of pagan Canaanite religion mixed together with YHWH worship... which is probably why they thought they should get involved in this rebuilding of a temple to YHWH.
Ezra 4:3-5 Ezra 4:3-5  But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel, said to them, You have nothing to do with us to build an house to our God; but we ourselves together will build to the LORD God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.
 Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building,
 And hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.
American King James Version× the returning exiles flat out reject their offer of assistance which causes a lot of hard feelings. From this point on the Samaritans will go out of their way to frustrate and delay the project. And they succeeded in stopping the rebuilding from the remaining time of Cyrus until King Darius takes the throne 14 years later.
Ironically, the Samaritan delaying tactics were what kept the project from being completed before the 70 years were up... and in effect, kept the timeline of rebuilding the temple on track with the prophecy. Nothing happens that God is not aware of and cannot use to fulfill His purpose.Methods Used to Delay The Project
Chapter 4 of Ezra is an inset, or sidebar. It gives examples of how the Samaritans were able to derail the rebuilding of the temple. The examples are in the form of letters sent to the king and other officials warning about conspiracy and sedition in the realm if they let the project continue.
What can be a bit confusing to some is that the example letters the book of Ezra uses are from a later period that actually took place after the temple had been restored. The example letters relate to the rebuilding of the defense walls around the city during the reign of Artaxerxes. I presume they used these example letters because they could not get their hands on actual copies of the letters sent to Cyrus.
The important point is made in Ezra 4:24 Ezra 4:24Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. So it ceased to the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.
American King James Version×. This is how the project was delayed.
Ezra 5:1-2 Ezra 5:1-2  Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, even to them.
 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.
American King James Version×14 fourteen years have passed and then God sends two prophets to stir the people up to get started on the project again.
Ezra 5:3 Ezra 5:3At the same time came to them Tatnai, governor on this side the river, and Shetharboznai and their companions, and said thus to them, Who has commanded you to build this house, and to make up this wall?
American King James Version×-7 the Samaritans complain again and send another letter to the king looking for direction. But now there is a new man on the throne, Darius.
The letter repeats the Samaritan objections to the project. It puts forward the Jews claim they are simply following through on the original decree of Cyrus which can be found in the official court records.
Ezra 6:1 Ezra 6:1Then Darius the king made a decree, and search was made in the house of the rolls, where the treasures were laid up in Babylon.
American King James Version× they find the original decree of Cyrus in the archives. Darius reads it and writes back.
Darius says he didi find a copy of the decree in the archives and the Jews are correct in their claims. He tells the Samaritan police/troops to stand down and not interfere with the project any more. Darius also offers additional financing for he project from the Persian treasury.
Ezra 6:13-15 Ezra 6:13-15  Then Tatnai, governor on this side the river, Shetharboznai, and their companions, according to that which Darius the king had sent, so they did speedily.
 And the elders of the Jews built, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they built, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.
 And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king.
American King James Version× the date here is cited from the Babylonian calendar. Presumably to tie the date in with the secular calendar used by most nations outside Israel. This date would be March 12 516 B.C. . Seventy years after the destruction of the temple of Solomon in 586 B.C. The prophecy of Jeremiah has been fulfilled right on time, according to the prophetic word.
Ezra 6:19-22 Ezra 6:19-22  And the children of the captivity kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the first month.
 For the priests and the Levites were purified together, all of them were pure, and killed the passover for all the children of the captivity, and for their brothers the priests, and for themselves.
 And the children of Israel, which were come again out of captivity, and all such as had separated themselves to them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land, to seek the LORD God of Israel, did eat,
 And kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for the LORD had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.
American King James Version× the dates cited here are now using the biblical calendar. This makes sense because we are now talking about the keeping of the fall festivals and the restoration of true worship to the city of Jerusalem.
The Book of Ezra documents an important fulfillment of prophecy. In so doing it helps establish the true and historical validity of he scriptures. Plus, this fulfillment is an important and encouraging reminder that prophecy is about more that judgment and tribulation… it is about restoration, rebuilding, and redemption.
The slow and steady march forward of God’s plan to restore righteous rule, establish peace, and administer justice are certain… they are coming… and they will not be stopped.