Handel's Messiah: The Person and Work of Christ

6. 'The Lord...Shall Come Suddenly to His Temple'

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
When Messiah came to His temple, how many people actually expected Him?

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part 6 of a series. Read part 5.

When Messiah came to His temple, how many people actually expected Him?

After reciting God's declaration, "I will shake all nations," from Haggai chapter 2, the bass soloist continues Handel's Messiah with this prophetic declaration from Malachi:

The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the messenger of the Covenant, whom you delight in; behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 3:1)

The Coming of the Owner

The Holy Spirit chooses the names that He uses for deity in each place in the Word of God very carefully and deliberately. It is not a matter of happenstance or accident. In this particular case, "the Lord" is the Hebrew Adon. This name of God is most often used in situations in which the force of the passage refers to God's superintendence over all things, or His ownership of specific things. As we shall see, the Holy Spirit's use of Adon in this declaration through the prophet Malachi is very significant.

Who Truly Sought Him?

The Hebrew word translated "seek" in this passage denotes seeking the face of someone. We find this manner of seeking mentioned frequently in the Old Testament. For example, David in Psalm 27 wrote these inspired words which have a direct relation to the prophecy of Malachi:

One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple.

For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; in the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock.

When You said, "Seek My face," my heart said to You, "Your face, Lord, I will seek." (Psalm 27:4-5, 8)

But when God the Son entered this world as a virgin-born infant, who was seeking Him in such a way? When Jesus finally came to the temple at the beginning of His earthly ministry, who was truly expecting Him? The fact is, very few.

Messiah the Unexpected

God through Malachi speaks of the incarnate Messiah coming "suddenly" to His temple. The word in the Hebrew signifies the coming of someone unexpectedly. And indeed, the Lord Jesus Christ came to the temple at Jerusalem unexpectedly on several significant occasions. The first, which is recorded in Luke chapter 2 beginning at verse 21, was when Mary and Joseph presented the infant Jesus before the Lord at the age of eight days for circumcision, as commanded by the law of Moses.

How many among the crowds that were typically present at the temple on any given day understood that on this day the infant Messiah of Israel was being presented? How many were expecting Him at that moment? How many would have recognized an infant being brought by a young Jewess and her betrothed husband, a lowly carpenter, as the Son of God?

We are told of only two people present that day who truly understood Who had come.

The first was a man named Simeon:

And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said:

"Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel."

And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him. Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, "Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed." (Luke 2:25-35)

The second was a woman named Anna:

Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38)

Jesus also came unexpectedly to the temple on another occasion, at the age of twelve:

His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day's journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him.

Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, "Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously."

And He said to them, "Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?" But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. (Luke 2:41-50)

Jesus also came unexpectedly to the temple at both the beginning and the end of His earthly ministry - in both cases, to cleanse the temple of those who had made a long practice of desecrating it.

On the first occasion, recorded in Luke 2:13-17, He spoke of the temple as "My Father's house." On the second occasion, recorded in Luke 19 and Mark 11, He spoke of it as "My house." In both cases this harkens back to Malachi 3:1. The Lord - Adon, the Owner - had suddenly, unexpectedly, come to His temple and cleansed it of the desecrations of the merchants and money-changers.

Messiah Comes "Suddenly" to Make Temples of Our Hearts

Likewise the Lord comes "suddenly" to take up residence in the temples of human hearts, to save and to sanctify. As we read in John's Gospel, believers are "born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (1:13). As Jesus told Nicodemus,

Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water [that is, physical birth] and the Spirit [the new birth], he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, "You must be born again." The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit. (John 3:5-8)

And so God has declared through His apostles and prophets

the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:26-27)

And since the Messiah has come - "unexpectedly," not by our own efforts - to live within us the Owner of His temples of flesh asks and exhorts every believer,

[D]o you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Just as Messiah during His public ministry was driven by an all-consuming zeal for the sanctity of His earthly temple and the worship that was to take place within it, our ascended Lord's zeal is now for the sanctity of those whose bodies as His living temples in this present evil world.

There are comparatively few in this world who "seek the Lord while He may be found" (Isaiah 55:6). But for those who do, there is infinite blessing:

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder (literally, a continual rewarder) of those who diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)


Next: The Messenger of the Covenant


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