Ezra tells the story of a small number of Israelites who returned from exile to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. He also records for us a number of challenges and oppositions that they faced, many of which came from outside the people of Israel. Political rivals, persons with an ax to grind, those with a stake in the desolate territory often came against the people of God to try to stop their momentum (which never, by the way, went fantastically well; one governor who tried to put a stop to the rebuilding ended up being ordered by his higher-ups to fund it).
For the most part, the people seem to ignore these intrusions, to roll with the punches, and to live with grace. But in Ezra 6, we learn that that wasn't always the case. Here, we're told that those who tried to interfere with the rebuilding of the Temple were impaled on a beam from their own homes and lifted up in sight of the whole community.
It's interesting because a few generations later, a Guy is going to show up who will claim that He has come to be the cornerstone of the new Temple, who will claim that He is going to rebuild it, who will be accused of saying they should destroy the Temple and let Him rebuild it in three days. There is a Guy who is coming who will say that the Temple isn't what it seems to be and that the real Temple is in the hearts of God's people.
And He will be impaled on a beam and lifted up in sight of the whole community, with a sign over His head that reads, "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews."
This is the kind of stuff it's all too easy for us to miss in our Bibles. It's the stuff we read right past because we don't really get into it with our sanctified imaginations, don't watch it play out before us. If you can see in your heart's eye these men lifted up around the rebuilding of the Temple, hanging there on the beams of their own houses, you can see Jesus lifted up outside Jerusalem just the same. The image becomes clear.
We think that the Romans crucified Jesus. We think that the Jews took Jesus to the Romans to do what they didn't have a paradigm for doing, but that's not entirely the case. They had a clear precedent to crucify Him and there was a time in their own Jewish history where, seeming to stand in the way of the Temple, the Jews themselves would have nailed Him up.
He's compared, most graciously, to the bronze snake in the wilderness that was lifted up to heal the people, but any faithful Jew who knew the history of Jerusalem and the Temple would also have seen lifted up the same trouble that plagued Ezra's generation - someone who was a threat to the Temple.
Let us not fail to see this, too.
For it's part of the glory of who Jesus is, and it's evidence that He taught what He taught - that the Temple isn't central any more; it's intimate. That the Temple isn't a building; it's an indwelling. That the Temple doesn't dominate the faithful life; the heart does. This Jesus is for real.
The Cross testifies to that, in more ways than we often realize. In ways just like this.