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. Then you will know that the LORD Almighty has sent me to you. Who despises the day of small things? Men will rejoice when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.” Zechariah 4.8-10.
On one level, Zechariah’s prophecy in this morning’s reading related to the re-building of the temple, started by Zerubbabel after the Exile in 537-536 BC and completed by him, twenty years later, in 516 BC. On another level, however, it (and indeed the whole book of Zechariah) related to the future time when the Messiah would come — a Messiah represented jointly in the book of Zechariah by Zerubbabel (a king of the line of David) and Joshua (the high priest).
So what is this reading about in Messianic terms? Surely it is about the church. In his letter to the Christians in Ephesus, Paul speaks to them of how they have been brought to God through the blood of Christ . “Consequently,” he says, “you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Ephesians 2.19-22). The temple built by Zerubbabel in Zechariah is the church built by Jesus in Ephesians.
And Zechariah has some encouraging things to say about the temple/church. The first is that the one who started to build it will finish building it. A day will come when every (living) stone will be in place. None will be missing. There will no gaps in the walls, no holes in the roofs. That is a thought I need to hang on to when I see much of the church throughout the western world in a state of decline. Though it may look to me as if the work will never be complete, the word of God tells me I am wrong.
Indeed, that is the very next thing that God, speaking through Zechariah, has to say to me. “Who despises the day of small things?” There were, it seems, those in Zechariah’s day who had scoffed as they watched Zerubbabel mark out the foundations of the temple and begin to build it. Progress was so slow. So little was achieved day by day, month by month, and it was easy to become contemptuous of the whole enterprise. “Don’t be!” said God. And he says it to me today. I may want a great outpouring of God’s Spirit in my local church. I may want “revival” and crowds flocking through the doors. But I am to rejoice in that new young family who came just because they wanted their baby baptising but have kept on coming and are becoming more and more committed to Jesus. It is a small thing, but it is a God thing and I am to rejoice in it and see it is a sign that the building, the church, will one day be complete.
That day will be a day of rejoicing, not because of a “plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel” but because of Zerubbabel “putting the last stone in place” (The Message) — the word ebel can mean either a plummet or a stone but the latter is surely the meaning here. I wonder who that “last stone” will be? Someone yet to be born or someone presently walking this earth but who has not yet received Jesus as saviour and Lord? It doesn’t matter. There will be a last stone and then Jesus will return and the church will at last be seen in all her completeness and perfection and glory.