Question: "What was Zerubbabel’s temple/the second temple?"
Answer: In 538 B.C., Zerubbabel was part of the first wave of Jewish captives to return to Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1-2). The Persian king appointed Zerubbabel as governor of Judah (Haggai 1:1), and right away he began rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem with the help of Joshua, the high priest (Ezra 3:2-3, 8). It had been 70 years since the destruction of Solomon’s temple, also known as the first temple, by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. (2 Kings 25:8-10).
It took Zerubbabel two years to rebuild the foundation of the temple. Then construction was delayed by Samaritan settlers whose friendly overtures masked a hidden hostility (Ezra 4:1-5). As a result of the opposition to the temple construction, Persia withdrew support for the project for 17 years (Ezra 4:21).
The temple had remained unfinished long enough. Finally, God sent the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to encourage and support Zerubbabel (Ezra 5:1-2), and the work resumed. Four years later, in 515 B.C., the temple was completed and dedicated with great fanfare (Ezra 6:16). It was also celebrated by the observance of the Passover (Ezra 6:19). It’s interesting that Zerubbabel is never mentioned in connection with the dedication ceremonies, nor is his name mentioned again after Ezra 5:1. For this reason, Zerubbabel’s temple is also referred to simply as the “second temple.”
It is obvious that the Lord God was pleased with Zerubbabel’s efforts not only in returning the captives to Jerusalem, but in reestablishing the temple worship (Ezra 3:10). With God’s prompting, Haggai gave Zerubbabel a special blessing: “On that day, declares the LORD of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the LORD, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the LORD of hosts” (Haggai 2:23).
As the temple was being rebuilt, there was a group of Jews in Jerusalem who were rather disappointed. Older Jews who could recall the grandeur of the first temple regarded Zerubbabel’s temple as a poor substitute for the original. To their minds, it did not even begin to compare with the splendor of Solomon’s temple. It was true that Zerubbabel’s temple was built on a smaller scale and with much fewer resources than Solomon’s temple had been. Also, Solomon’s temple had housed the Ark of the Covenant, had witnessed fire from heaven, and had been filled with the Shekinah. Still, Haggai prophesied that this second temple would one day have a magnificence to outshine the glory of the first temple (Haggai 2:3-9). Haggai’s word was fulfilled 500 years later when Jesus Christ entered the temple (Luke 2:22, 46; 19:45). Zerubbabel’s temple was not as outwardly impressive as Solomon’s, but it had a greater glory: the Messiah Himself walked the courts of the temple Zerubbabel helped build.