When the people of Israel had been in slavery in Egypt, God used Moses to rescue them and return them to their homeland. That event was called the “Exodus.” However, the Old Testament prophesied that Israel would sin against God, once again end up captives outside the land, and then God would perform a “New Exodus” where he freed them and returned them to their land (Deuteronomy 4:27-31; Isaiah 11:11-16). In Ezra 1:1-4, the people of Israel had been exiled from their homeland for decades when Cyrus decreed that the people could return home and rebuild the temple. This decree began the fulfillment of the “New Exodus” prophecy.
When the people of Israel left slavery in Egypt, they plundered the Egyptians (Exodus 12:36). Moses told the Israelites to ask the Egyptians for their silver and gold jewelry, and the Egyptians gave them all of those things. Israel would then use that plunder to build the tabernacle where God lived among his people (Exodus 25:1-8). The tabernacle was the precursor to the temple. Just like in the Exodus, the Israelites were enriched before they returned to their homeland in the New Exodus. The Israelites “plundered” the Persians because the Persians were instructed to give them silver, gold and other goods for the Israelites return home (Ezra 1:4). The Israelites then used these treasures to build the temple just like they used the plunder from the Egyptians to build the tabernacle.
However, the point of this passage is not to give you a blueprint or a proof text for your church’s building program, but rather to point to Jesus and his temple. The New Testament temple is different from the Old Testament temple, but it is built in a similar way – with plunder! Ezra 1 is not pointing us to a building program because the New Testament temple is not built with bricks and mortar; it’s a temple of living stones – people. The new temple is the people of God – the church (Ephesians 2:19-22). We do see a similar pattern in the New Testament where Gentiles send their money to enrich the impoverished Jerusalem church (1 Corinthians 16:1-4) just like the Persians enriched the Israelites for the building of the temple.
How is the new temple of living stones built up? Ephesians 4:8-16 says that Jesus builds the New Temple by plundering his enemy and giving gifts to the church that build it up. The plunder that Jesus took from the enemy was gifted people – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers – who then build up the body of Christ, which is the temple of God (John 2:21).