Facing a God-Given Opportunity

Key Verse: “Who is there among you of all his people? 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 the God,) which is in Jerusalem.”
—Ezra 1:3

Lesson Scripture:
Ezra 1

THE PERSIAN KING CYRUS the Great, defeated both the Medes as well as the Babylonians, who had earlier conquered Judah and carried many of its people into captivity. In the first year of Cyrus’ reign in Babylon, he issued an order which was the fulfillment of God’s promise recorded in Jeremiah 25:11-13 and 29:10. These prophecies speak of a period of seventy years during which the people of Judah would be in subjection to Babylon, but that after this time was complete, they would be able to return to their own land. After decades in captivity, the words of Jeremiah became a message of hope, an assurance that the time of oppression would soon come to an end.

The royal decree of King Cyrus, given in the Key Verse, allowed the Jewish exiles to leave the land of their captivity and return to their homeland; but more than this, it encouraged them to rebuild their Temple in Jerusalem, which had been destroyed when the Babylonians conquered the city. Clearly, Cyrus’ approach to ruling the Jewish people was quite different from that of his predecessors. He believed that peace within his empire could be best maintained by presenting himself as a liberator and protector. He favored benevolent control rather than ruthless oppression, and instituted religious tolerance in the place of forced conformity.

For the Jews, however, much more was evident in the actions of Cyrus than simply benevolent and tolerant policies. They realized that favor shown by the Persian king was in reality an act of God, and saw Cyrus as God’s chosen instrument. Isaiah 44:28 and 45:1 express this understanding, and, in most remarkable language, refers to Cyrus as God’s “anointed”—the same word in the Hebrew as ‘messiah.’ This is the only place in the Old Testament where this term is used for a person who is non-Jewish.

How beautifully Cyrus pictures Jesus, the one who would bring about the liberation, not just of the Jews, but of the entire world of mankind, by his dying as man’s Redeemer. In Jesus’ own words he stated his mission, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19) It was through the redemptive work of Jesus that the entire world will have the opportunity in Christ’s coming kingdom to return from the captivity of sin and death to a condition of perfection and life here upon the earth.

In that coming kingdom there will be a symbolic New Jerusalem, a new righteous government, which man will have the opportunity to turn to, just as the Jews were encouraged by Cyrus to return to literal Jerusalem. This New Jerusalem, however, will not contain a literal temple. As stated, “I saw no temple therein [in the New Jerusalem]: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it.”—Rev. 21:2,22,23

Dawn Bible Students Association
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