“Not by Might nor by Power”

Christians can take comfort in a couple of ancient prophecies about the rebuilding of the temple, since God has the same commitment to building His Church.

The exiles, most on foot, had traveled hundreds of miles from Babylon to Jerusalem. The journey had taken months, but 50,000 of them had returned to the Promised Land between 538 and 536 B.C.

With great zeal and determination, they completed the foundation of the second temple in 536 B.C.

The local political situation, however, soon arrested their progress (Ezra 4:23-24). So the temple foundation lay bare for the better part of two decades.

It was at the end of this period of inactivity that Haggai and Zechariah came on the scene. God had sent these two prophets to stir up His people to complete the temple.

Messages of hope

Zechariah’s “message was one of hope and promise at a time when the situation in Judaea could hardly have appeared worse” (Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 5, p. 1043).

One oft-quoted verse in the book he wrote sums up his message about how God’s work would be completed. “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).

The people had taken their eyes off of God and His will, focusing instead on their physical circumstances and their political opposition. Zechariah told them that what human strength could not accomplish, God’s Spirit could, and would!

With this encouragement, the Jews who returned from exile completed the temple by about 515 B.C. Work had begun under Zerubbabel, and it was Zerubbabel who completed the temple (Zechariah 4:9)—strengthened by the power of God.

Another encouraging prophecy

A couple of chapters after the admonition to look to God and His Spirit to complete the temple is another prophecy about God’s temple:

“Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH! From His place He shall branch out, and He shall build the temple of the LORD; yes, He shall build the temple of the LORD. He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule on His throne” (Zechariah 6:12-13).

The word Branch, widely acknowledged as a messianic term (Isaiah 11:1), helps show that this prophecy must refer to a different time and a different temple. Zerubbabel may well have been a type of the Messiah, but he was not the Messiah who will complete the temple of Zechariah 6.

It is God who does the work. He has begun the work in Christians who have been baptized and received the Holy Spirit, and He will finish that work.If this second prophecy does not apply to the returned exiles rebuilding the temple under Zerubbabel, then to whom does it refer?

The second temple was still standing during the ministry of Christ. In fact, the Gospel writers tell us that in the temple precinct Jesus drove the moneychangers out (Matthew 21:12), healed the sick (Matthew 21:14) and taught. This second temple was destroyed in A.D. 70 by the Romans.

Other parts of the Bible let us know that there will be another temple built during the millennial reign of Christ (Ezekiel 40-48). Yet Zechariah’s prophecy about the Branch building the temple is not limited to this physical, third temple.

The spiritual temple of God

The apostle Paul would have been quite familiar with the history of the physical temple of God. He would have known the inspiring story of a beleaguered group of Jews rebuilding the temple after an exile of 70 years. It’s a story that continues to provide encouragement today.

Even while the second temple was still standing, he had come to understand that the physical structure of God’s temple, which symbolized the presence of God, was less important than the actual presence of God’s Spirit in the hearts and minds of believers.

Paul would have known the prophecy of this indwelling of the Spirit in the book of Jeremiah: “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jeremiah 31:33).

Paul had come to understand that through this indwelling of the Spirit, the Church itself is the spiritual temple of God now (Ephesians 2:19-22), and in another sense, individual Christians are the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16).

Just as the Jews building the second temple would accomplish it through the power of God’s Spirit rather than through their human strength, so, too, the work of God through the Church and within the lives of believers has been and always will be accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit.

What does this mean for us?

This is an important lesson for us today. It is God who does the work. He has begun the work in Christians who have been baptized and received the Holy Spirit, and He will finish that work. This should be encouraging and comforting to all Christians.

It is God who begins the process of conversion (John 6:44). And He will not quit something He has begun!Any mature Christian will readily acknowledge that on our own, we are not capable of living as God would have us live. Paul himself expressed this. He devoted most of Romans 7 to this internal struggle, writing that “the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice” (verse 19).

Close to the end of that chapter he exclaimed, “O wretched man that I am!” (verse 24). This feeling of helplessness resonates with anyone really trying to live according to the will of God. Paul even asked, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

The next verse reflects a dramatic change of tone. Paul gives thanks to God, recognizing that the only real path forward is “through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

God is not a quitter!

The book of Isaiah also shows that God is not a quitter. After painting a word picture of rain and snow watering the earth so that it can “bring forth and bud,” Isaiah conveys some of God’s most encouraging words to His people: “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).

God did not quit when working with Zerubbabel. It was Zerubbabel who had begun construction on the temple, and it was Zerubbabel who completed it—strengthened by the power of God.

It is God who begins the process of conversion (John 6:44). And He will not quit something He has begun!

He has promised us His Spirit, so we can be confident, and we can take comfort in this knowledge, but we can never allow this understanding to lull us into complacency, as though nothing is required of us as Christians.

On the contrary, Paul admonished the Christians at Philippi to be sure that their conduct was “worthy of the gospel of Christ” and that they would continue “with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27).

Later in that same letter, Paul frankly admitted that through his own personal experiences, some of which were quite difficult, he had learned how to accept the circumstances of life. He had learned “both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (Philippians 4:12).

How did he manage to stay positive in the midst of the many trials he faced? How could he cope? The next sentence of his letter to the Philippians tells us: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (verse 13).

“Not by might nor by power” in the Christian life

The same God who promised Zerubbabel that the temple would be built, but “not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,” has promised help to all His people through the centuries.

Zerubbabel and the returned exiles in Jerusalem were not allowed to leave the temple foundation bare. Instead, Haggai and Zechariah exhorted the exiles to get back to building the temple. The words of Zechariah let them know that they would be working in partnership with God.

The Church today, and believers individually, also work in partnership with God!

As Christians, then, we must walk a straight path, avoiding the ditches. On the one side is the ditch of complacency. We cannot merely sit back, leaving everything to God. On the other side is the ditch of despair. We should never lose hope as we strive to live righteous lives, sometimes failing because our flesh is weak.

Relying on God and His Holy Spirit and using that strength to do everything we can to love and serve God, we can be confident, just as Paul was, that “He who has begun a good work in [us] will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

About the Author

Bill Palmer

Bill Palmer attends the Birmingham, Alabama, congregation of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association.

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