This article is part of the Christ in All of Scripture series.
One Last Glimpse
Ezra and Nehemiah offer the final piece of Old Testament history, one last glimpse of God’s people living out his redemptive plan before the coming of the Messiah. God’s covenant promises are gloriously on display as this weak, struggling remnant returns to Jerusalem after the exile to live together again as his people, according to his Word.
Ezra in particular highlights God’s redemptive plan. The opening verse declares that God initiates these events that he himself decreed through his prophets. God’s hand is then evident throughout: sovereignly directing the kings and peoples who aim to have a hand in Zerubbabel’s return and rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 1–6), and personally clearing the path for Ezra’s later return to teach the law (Ezra 7–10). All the action unfolds God’s plan, according to his Word.
God’s redemptive plan focuses on a people created to worship him—and the plan provides the means.
A People Created to Worship
God’s redemptive plan focuses on a people. Ezra makes clear who these people are: Abraham’s seed, those whom God promised to make a great nation in whom all the nations would be blessed (Gen. 12:1–3; 15:1–5). In Ezra, this blessed “remnant” (see Isa. 10:20–22) is reassembled and numbered carefully by tribe and genealogy. Ezra’s passion to keep them holy and separate reflects not ethnic elitism but rather a concern to honor the Lord who had redeemed them, reflecting his holiness through their own. Ezra thus sought to bring Israel to demonstrate trust in the Lord by obeying his law. This is the blessed way of life given to this chosen people from whom the promised offspring would come, according to God’s Word. These exiles did not know Jesus’ name, but they carefully traced the seed promises leading to his birth.
God’s redemptive plan focuses on a people created to worship him—and the plan provides the means. Hope continues to rise in this book as we see struggling, sinful exiles released in waves from Babylon and rebuilding the temple that identified their land as the place of God’s people and promise. Their ancient hope for a messianic King was no longer visible in an earthly kingdom (Zerubbabel remained in the line of David, but as the servant of a foreign king). So, by the efforts of the returning remnant of Israel, amid Jerusalem’s ruins, hope emerges more clearly for God’s promised King, who would rule on an eternal throne, and who would release his people finally and fully from their oppressors. In the meantime, God had provided the temple as a witness to his continuing presence and promises—a temple whose sacrifices also pictured and pointed ahead to the perfect sacrifice that would be needed for the eternal deliverance of God’s people.
The ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible features 375,000+ words of gospel-centered study notes, book introductions, and articles that explain passage-by-passage how God’s redemptive purposes culminate in the gospel and apply to the lives of believers today.
This perfect sacrifice and final King would come four centuries after Ezra lived. Jesus gathers up all these ancient longings in his coming to earth. The importance of the temple in Ezra makes us look ahead to the one who is himself the temple, providing access into God’s presence through his blood (John 2:18–22; Rev. 21:22). The plain appearance of Ezra’s rebuilt temple (in contrast to Solomon’s magnificent one) helps us anticipate the spiritual temple that will rise as Christ’s body, the church (Eph. 2:19–22).
Ultimately, God provided his Word, which Ezra the priest set his heart to study and do and teach (Ezra 7:10). Old Testament history comes to a close with a picture of God’s people gathered around God’s Word, yearning for the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises—the fulfillment that would come with the Word made flesh.
This article is adapted from the ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible. Browse other articles in this series via the links below.
Genesis • Exodus • Leviticus • Numbers • Deuteronomy • Joshua • Judges • Ruth • 1–2 Samuel • 1–2 Kings • 1–2 Chronicles • Ezra • Nehemiah • Esther • Job • Psalms • Proverbs • Ecclesiastes • Song of Solomon • Isaiah • Jeremiah • Lamentations • Ezekiel • Daniel • Hosea • Joel • Amos • Obadiah • Jonah • Micah • Nahum • Habbakuk • Zephaniah • Haggai • Zechariah • Malachi
Matthew • Mark • Luke • John • Acts • Romans • 1 Corinthians • 2 Corinthians • Galatians • Ephesians • Philippians • Colossians • 1 Thessalonians • 2 Thessalonians • 1 Timothy • 2 Timothy • Titus • Philemon • Hebrews • James • 1 Peter • 2 Peter • 1–3 John • Jude • Revelation