God’s Rescue Plan for the World – That is my description of the unified story line of the Bible, brought to fulfillment in the incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return of Jesus, with the end result being the perfection of the new heaven(s) and the new earth Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; Revelation 21:1; the home of righteousness 2 Peter 3:13.
The story of the Bible from Genesis 3 through Revelation 20 is the rescue plan – promised and illustrated throughout the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and fulfilled in the New Testament. Genesis 1, 2, the account of creation with Adam and Eve in Garden of Eden, predate what we call the “fall,” man’s rebellion and consequent alienation from God. Revelation 21, 22 reveals the rescue completed with “a new heaven and a new earth” now fully experienced. The whole story, all of the stories combined together, is God’s Rescue, the Good News or Gospel.
Last March, when I purposed to resurrect my blog, I started a series, The Gospel in the Old Testament, focusing on the various elements of God’s Rescue. During 2013, I posted on each Old Testament book in order with the title, “The Gospel of Genesis…. Exodus… Leviticus…” and all the way through 2 Chronicles, the first fourteen books of the Bible. At the outset, I stated that I did not expect to do “The Gospel of…” for all 39 books, but have since changed my mind. My intent in 2014, as I read from Ezra through Malachi is to complete this project and give evidence and support for the Gospel in every book of the Bible. So, let’s get started with Ezra.
Where is the Gospel in Ezra? Three things stand out.
1. God’s declaration that He was not giving up on His people.
2 Chronicles ends with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, seemingly the end of the once powerful kingdom of David and Solomon. The people were exiled to Babylon. But there are two verses at the end of 2 Chronicles that match the first 2 1/2 verses of Ezra, giving hope.
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing:
2 “This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:
“‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. 3 Any of his people among you may go up… [2 Chronicles ends here as Ezra continues] …to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them.
God’s rescue plan has not been abandoned. Ezra and Nehemiah are two fast paced narratives showing that God keeps faith with Himself and His promises to restore his people.
2. The Rebuilding of the Temple and the celebration of Passover.
When the first exiles returned to Jerusalem, the first action was to rebuild the temple, a declaration that their return was not primarily to Jerusalem, but to God. They started with building the altar for the sacrifices, chapter 3. Refresh your mind with The Gospel of Leviticus to see how all the sacrifices, so limited, point to the much greater sacrifice of Jesus. Then, they started on the temple, a massive project calling for everyone’s involvement. They stopped to celebrate the completion of the foundation. With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the LORD: he is good; his love to Israel endures forever. Ezra 3:11.
In the midst of much opposition, and the distraction of focusing on their own homes (Haggai), over twenty years, the temple was rebuilt and the Passover was celebrated. What does the Passover mean? This takes us back to the Gospel of Exodus where the blood of the lamb was the means of temporal salvation from Egypt, but symbolic of a much great salvation from sin through Jesus, the ultimate Passover lamb, who was sacrificed for our sins. Thus the Book of Ezra restores the hope of future rescue, a far greater salvation.
3. The Fulfillment of Two Dramatic Prophecies
Ezra begins with the fulfillment of two of the most powerful prophecies from Isaiah and Jeremiah.
a. The Prophecy of Cyrus – This pagan Persian king, declares that the LORD, the God of heaven commissioned him to build the temple in Jerusalem. But even more amazing is that at least 140 years prior, the prophet Isaiah declared that God would raise up his anointed…Cyrus… Isaiah 45, to do His work of defeating Babylon and restoring Israel.
Why did God do this? Here is the answer in Isaiah 45,
…so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name. For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me. 5 I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, 6 so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting people may know there is none besides me. I am the Lord, and there is no other. 7 I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.
8 “You heavens above, rain down my righteousness; let the clouds shower it down. Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up, let righteousness flourish with it; I, the Lord, have created it. Isaiah 45:3-8
b. The Prophecy of 70 Years – Before the Jews were exiled to Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah (25:11, 12) declared that they would be exiled and that it would be for seventy (70) years.
Whoops! Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 BC. The first exiles returned around 537 BC, only 50 years later. Did Jeremiah get it wrong? Did a prophecy fail? Is the bible in error? Not at all! There were three deportations to Babylon, the first exiles taken in 605 BC; Daniel and his three friends among them, the second in 597 BC and the third in 586 BC when the temple was destroyed. So it was 68 years from the first exile to the first return – 70 is a round number so 68 clearly fulfills it. What’s more, it was almost exactly 70 years from when the temple was destroyed in 586 BC until it was rebuilt and dedicated in 516 BC. So either way you figure it, Jeremiah’s prophecy was right on target.
On multiple levels, the Book of Ezra declares the Gospel, the Good News of God’s Rescue Plan for the World.
Now, see where you can find the Gospel in Nehemiah.