1 Belshazzar the king made a great feast for a thousand of his lords, and drank wine in the presence of the thousand. 2 While he tasted the wine, Belshazzar gave the command to bring the gold and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple which had been in Jerusalem, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. 3 Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken from the temple of the house of God which had been in Jerusalem; and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. 4 They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone.
Belshazzar was having a feast and he decided to take the vessels of the Lord and put wine in those vessels. What was he doing? He was mocking God.
What was happening outside of the city while this party was going on? Yes, A siege was going on, led by Cyrus, the general of the army of the Medes and Persians.
Let me ask you a question, when Nebuchadnezzar took the people of Israel into captivity, what did he do to the temple? He destroyed it, of course.
Now, notice what Isaiah prophesied about Cyrus.
27 Who says to the deep, ‘Be dry!
And I will dry up your rivers’;
28 Who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd,
And he shall perform all My pleasure,
Saying to Jerusalem, “You shall be built,”
And to the temple, “Your foundation shall be laid.” ’
1 “Thus says the Lord to His anointed,
To Cyrus, whose right hand I have held—
To subdue nations before him
And loose the [loins] of kings,
To open before him the double doors,
So that the gates will not be shut:
Where did God prophecy that Cyrus would go? Into the deep. The Bible prophesied that Cyrus would dry up the river going into Babylon.
While the revelry went on, Cyrus was descending into the now dry riverbed and opening the gates that protected Babylon from attacks from the river. The simple version of the story goes like this: Babylon fell and Cyrus became king. But God wasn't just interested in the changing of the guard. Cyrus was called by God to set the captive Israelites free, and not just for the sake of being free; there was a reason that God wanted them free.
2 Chron 36:22-23
22 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, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying,
23 Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: ‘All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. Who is among you of all His people? May the Lord his God be with him, and let him go up!’
What did Cyrus accomplish with this proclamation?
After he set the captives free, he told them, “God has commissioned me to build him a temple in Jerusalem.” In other words, you’ve been set free to go build God's house.
But it's not just about the temple.
13 I have raised him up in righteousness,
And I will direct all his ways;
He shall build My city
And let My exiles go free,
Not for price nor reward,”
Says the Lord of hosts.
What is the prophecy that Adventists talk about relating to the rebuilding of the temple?... It’s the 70 week prophecy found in Daniel chapter 9.
25 “Know therefore and understand,
That from the going forth of the command
To restore and build Jerusalem
Until Messiah the Prince,
There shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks;
The street shall be built again, and the wall,
Even in troublesome times.
We’re not going to look at all the details of this prophecy, we just want to find the decree that begins it.
How many decrees were given to the Israelites in this time period? Four.
1st Decree—Cyrus—536 BCE—Ezra 1:1-3
1 ...the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying,
2 Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. 3 Who is among you of all His people? May 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 God), which is in Jerusalem.
Note that the decree Cyrus gave was a proclamation. We'll need that little point to connect this story with our reality in a little bit.
Cyrus’ decree pointed the people to a temple that had lain in ruins for 70 years. But notice that this decree only pointed to the temple, not the reconstruction of the entire city like Daniel 9 prophesied.
Ezra tells us that Zerrubbabel led 50,000 Israelites to carry out this decree (see Ezra 2:2, 64-65).
2nd Decree—Darius—520 BCE—Ezra 6:6-7 (16 yrs later)
6 Now therefore, Tattenai, governor of the region beyond the River, and Shethar-Boznai, and your companions the Persians who are beyond the River, keep yourselves far from there. 7 Let the work of this house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews build this house of God on its site.
Darius’ decree was against the enemies of God’s people. The enemies had begun to make completing the work difficult for God’s people. This decree freed the Israelites to do the work again.
3rd Decree—Artaxerxes—457 BCE—Ezra 7:7, 9, 13, 25-26 (63 yrs later)
13 “I issue a decree that all those of the people of Israel and the priests and Levites in my realm, who volunteer to go up to Jerusalem, may go with you.
25 And you, Ezra, according to your God-given wisdom, set magistrates and judges who may judge all the people who are in the region beyond the River, all such as know the laws of your God; and teach those who do not know them. 26 Whoever will not observe the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily on him, whether it be death, or banishment, or confiscation of goods, or imprisonment.
This third decree gave Israel autonomy. They now became their own nation. The temple had been built. The enemies of God’s people were shoved back. Now, the third degree gives Israel autonomy with an emphasis on the Law of God.
This is the decree that marks the beginning of the 70 week prophecy in Dan 9.
Finally there is a fourth decree...
4th decree—Artaxerxes—445 BCE—Nehemiah 1:2-4, 2:6 (13 yrs later)
2 ...Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. 3 And they said to me, “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.” 4 So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
2:4 Then the king said to me, “What do you request?”
So I prayed to the God of heaven. 5 And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.”
6 ...So it pleased the king to send me...
Nehemiah was under the impression that Jerusalem was all good after the 3rd decree had been given, and that the work was done. But that was not the case. Ninety-one years had passed since the first decree and the work of building the city and its walls had not been finished yet.
Let's start making some connections so this story can become relevant to us.
Babylon is overthrown. Then cyrus gives a decree—a proclamation—bringing attention to a temple that had been made desolate. But opposition arises to the work, and a second proclamation needs to be made rebuking the enemies of God’s people so that the work can go forward. Those first two decrees only dealt with the temple. A third decree had to be given to separate Israel and provide their own land, territory, and political authority. After the third, a fourth proclamation was given which was really part of the third because the people had failed to finish the work of rebuilding the city that the third proclamation had provided for.
It was Nehemiah, a lay person, who had a burden to finish the work. Under Nehemiah’s leadership he aroused God’s people to finish the wall and streets because He knew that in order for Messiah to come Jerusalem had to be rebuilt. (Remember Daniel 9? That prophecy was all about Jesus first coming, and the first part hinged on the rebuilding of the city.)
In the book of Revelation the Bible describes a power which it calls Babylon. It is also described as a city and a woman, who held God’s people in subjection for 1,260 years, known as the dark ages. But something happened in 1798. What happened? Babylon received a deadly wound.
Can we compare Babylon's deadly wound with Cyrus’ overthrow of Babylon? If we can compare those two events then we should expect that sometime after 1798 a proclamation would be made directing God’s people to a temple that had been left desolate for many years. We call this proclamation the first angel’s message and you can read about it in Revelation 14:6.
Notice this statement. I just want you to read half of the sentence: “At the proclamation of the first angel’s message...” (Spirit of Prophecy V 4 p 239)What is the first angel’s message? A proclamation directing God’s people to the Heavenly temple that had been desolate during the dark ages under the reign of Babylon.
We might say that the people that brought forth that message from 1833 to 1844 represent the work of Zurrabbabel and the people he brought with him from Babylon. An interesting fact that may have little or no relevance is that William Miller had a following of about 50,000 people according to the history records.
If there was a first decree. We might rightly assume that there was a second decree to come—the second angel’s message, which would declare the enemies of God’s people to be fallen. You can read this decree in Revelation 14:8.
In fact we read this in Early Writings p 23:
As the churches refused to receive the first angel’s message, they rejected the light from heaven and fell from the favor of God. They trusted to their own strength, and by opposing the first message [just like the enemies of God's people under Darius’ decree] placed themselves where they could not see the light of the second angel’s message. But the beloved of God, who were oppressed, accepted the message, "Babylon is fallen," and left the churches.
And then, a third decree. The third angel’s message.
It’s under the third decree that Israel received its autonomy.... Do you know when the third angel’s message began to be proclaimed? In 1844. And under that third angel’s message, the Adventist church was formed (1863), and gained its autonomy, just like the Israelites under the third decree.
So what is the point of this message?
We are living between Ezra and Nehemiah. There is a fourth decree to come. That decree is the fourth angel’s message. The message in Revelation 18:1 where John saw an angel descending from heaven, with a glory that lighted the earth.
Nehemiah was very sad. He thought the third decree would have been enough to finish the work. And when Nehemiah heard that the work had not been finished he realized that it was a reproach to the people of God.
Let me say it plainly. Every new year that we celebrate is a reproach to the people of God. This year we mark 150 years since our church was formally organized. What's happening with our work of rebuilding Jerusalem—has it been finished yet?
Where are the Nehemiahs?
Did you know that Nehemiah finished building the city in 52 days? It had taken 92 years and still nothing had been accomplished on the street and walls, but when Nehemiah came on the scene, it took less than two months.
How did he do it?
28 Beyond the Horse Gate the priests made repairs, each in front of his own house. 29 After them Zadok the son of Immer made repairs in front of his own house.
Nehemiah had a few things going for him—persistence, determination, trust in God, a clear purpose—but the one thing he did that made the work move quickly, was that he put the people to work on the closest part of the wall, the part near their home.
What if we took this same approach? What would that look like?
Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour (1) mingled with men as one who desired their good. He (2) showed His sympathy for them, (3) ministered to their needs, and (4) won their confidence. Then He (5) bade them, "Follow Me."
Ministry of Healing pg 143
This really isn’t rocket science. If we spend time with the people closest to us—our family, neighbors, friends and coworkers—pay attention to the things that matter to them (sympathize), and help them where we can (minister), then we’ll win their confidence and be able to ask them to follow Jesus.
We mingle with people in their workplace, in the hospital or nursing home, in a social setting, and in their own homes.
Speaking of homes, think about this statement...
“House-to-house labor, searching for souls, hunting for the lost sheep, is the most essential work that can be done.”
Letter 137, 1898, p. 3. (To Brethren Irwin, Evans, Smith and Jones, April 21, 1898.)
Notice the words, “Searching”, “Hunting”. These are active, intentional, and full of purpose.
How do you go about doing this “house-to-house” work? Where should you start?
“Wherever a church is established, all the members should engage actively in missionary work. They should visit every family in the neighborhood and know their spiritual condition.”
The Southern Watchman, July 3, 1902
Notice the challenge: visit every family in your neighborhood. Imagine what would happen if you took this challenge seriously. Imagine if our entire church took this challenge seriously!
The call is simple: Finish the work, and start by getting to know the spiritual condition of the people nearest you—your neighbors.
While its important that each of us take up the work that is nearest, we must remember that our work is part of a larger work. There is a cycle of evangelism, and it would be good to put our home mission field work in the context of this cycle.
We need leaders, Nehemmiahs that will put us to work doing what lies closest.