Calculating the Best Route: Christ in the Book of Haggai by Alex Loginow
“Calculating the Best Route: Christ in the Book of Haggai”
by Dr. Alex Loginow
The city of Detroit is designed like a spoked wheel. Each major road in the city converges at a park called Campus Martius, which is at the center. Widely traveled streets like Woodward Avenue, Michigan Avenue, and Fort Street all meet at Campus Martius. In terms of infrastructure, this urban park is at the heart of the city.
In the first century, it was said that all roads lead to Rome. In the Motor City, all roads lead to Campus Martius.
A similar principle is at work in the Bible. Every passage leads to Christ. He is the hero and the heart of each story.
A great deal has been written about Christ-centered hermeneutics in recent years, but much of it has been arguing for the interpretive theory in general. How do we apply a Christ-centered interpretation to specific Old Testament books and passages that aren’t Psalm 110 and Isaiah 53? Is there a hermeneutical GPS that can help us navigate the road to the gospel?
Let’s use the book of Haggai as a test case. Haggai is ideal because it’s a member of the Book of the Twelve AND it’s the second smallest book in the Old Testament (which means it can potentially be overlooked).
The Four Horizons of Christ-Centered Preaching
Many scholars and pastors in the Reformed, gospel-centered camp agree we must preach Christ from the Old Testament. Disagreement ensues when we try to nail down HOW it’s done. Can we calculate the best route together? I think so.
Dr. Brian Payne offers a methodology that is biblically faithful and readily reproducible. Payne offers four horizons of expository preaching — though this method is not only for preachers. Any Bible reader can apply this interpretive lens to their Scripture reading and study.
The first horizon is the contextual horizon. This is what many theologians have called the grammatical-historical method. The goal is to properly understand the historical and literary context of a passage. For example, who was Haggai? Why did he write his prophecy? What was the intended meaning to the first hearers/readers? If we want to truly understand the book of Haggai, we need to understand the intention of the original author.
Understanding the human author’s intention is essential, but it’s not everything. Both human authors and a divine author wrote the Bible, and so the goal of the subsequent horizons is to understand the intention of the divine author.
The second horizon is the covenantal horizon. Each of the distinct contexts described above is set within a specific epoch of redemptive history. Every epoch is signaled by a covenant that God gives his people. The covenantal horizon is the vehicle through which the story of the Bible leads readers to Christ. To faithfully understand each text, we must ask: Under which covenant is God acting? What is specific to this covenant that colors how I should read this passage?
The third horizon is the canonical horizon. The goal of the canonical horizon is to place the pericope within the big story of the Bible. The Spirit is the divine author of the Bible, and every passage is a part of the greater whole. Every text must be understood in light of its fullest context – the canon. We use the covenantal clues that God has left us to find our way to Jesus, such as (1) what promises were made that are fulfilled in Christ; (2) what pictures, or types are given to point us to Jesus; (3) what problems, or sin, are addressed in the text that are only answered in the gospel?
The final horizon is the contemporary horizon. The first three horizons answer the “what?” question (what does the text mean?). This last horizon will answer the “so what?” (Why is the text important?), and “now what?” (How should I respond?) questions. How does this ancient text apply to my contemporary situation in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Now let’s use the book of Haggai as a test case for this roadmap.
Christ in the Book of Haggai
As we explore the contextual horizon of Haggai we see that it’s set after the Exile. Haggai is the prophet, who speaks to Zerubbabel the governor (doing the administrative work of a king) and Joshua the Priest (Hag 1.1). Haggai calls Israel to rebuild the Temple now that they’re back in the land (Hag 1.8) and the people obey (Hag 1.12). He then prophesies that the Second Temple will be greater than the first (Hag 2.9). The book ends with a declaration that Zerubbabel will rule as YHWH’s king (Hag 2.20-23).
After this historical and literary snapshot of Haggai, we must ask ourselves about the covenantal context. Haggai is nestled at the intersection of three covenants, the Mosaic, Davidic, and New Covenants. Israel is living under the Mosaic covenant. The law was the governing rule for Israel from the time of Sinai through the end of the Old Testament. God’s salvation through the Exodus was the catalyst that birthed Israel’s national identity.
Now Israel had experienced something of a second Exodus from exile. As Israel is called to obedience, they are reminded of their covenantal responsibilities and the consequences of disobedience. The Mosaic covenant is the reason that the people are experiencing hardship (Hag 1.6-11; 2.10-19). They have disobeyed the covenant. They have neglected the dwelling place of God for their own homes. When Israel ignores their covenantal obligations, they experience the curses.
Second, Israel had the Davidic covenant. God had promised David that he would have a son whose throne would be established forever (2 Sam 7:12-17). Yet now Israel had been sent into exile and there was no Davidic king on the throne in Jerusalem. Had the Lord abandoned his people? Did he renege on his promise? Is Zerubbabel the answer to the promise to David? These are covenantal concerns for Israel during the restoration period.
The final covenant is the New Covenant, which had been promised (Jer 31:31-34; Ezek 36-37), but it had not yet been established. This is the covenantal tension of the people of Israel in this narrative. God’s people already lived with the hope of the New Covenant but it was not yet realized. All three of these covenants are looming in the shadows of Haggai.
Through the vehicle of these three covenants, we see that the book of Haggai is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Jesus is true Israel, who is zealous for the presence of God, unlike Israel in Haggai 1.1-11. Jesus fights for and cleanses the Temple when no one else will do so (John 2:13-22). Like no other human, Jesus is truly obedient to God (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15). He kept the law perfectly (John 8:29, 55); he never broke the covenant.
Like Haggai, Zerubbabel, and Joshua in Haggai 1.12-15, Jesus is the true prophet, priest, and king who came to lead God’s people in covenantal obedience. Jesus is the true and final Temple promised in Haggai 2.1-9. Jesus is God who became man and “tabernacled” among his people (John 1:14). Jesus is “greater than the Temple” (Matt 12:6). He is physically the true Temple (John 2:18-22). If the Jews were to tear down the Temple – destroying all of the work that Haggai had called Israel to do centuries earlier – Jesus would rebuild it in three days (John 2:19). John says Jesus was speaking about his own body (John 2:21). He is the place where God dwells among his people (Matt 1:23; 28:20).
Jesus is the final cleansing that Israel needs in Haggai 2.10-19. Israel was unclean because of their covenantal infidelity. Jesus brought true and final cleansing to God’s people. Jesus purified God’s people by living a righteous life in their place. He is the true Israelite who followed the law perfectly. He was tempted as all men are, but he did not sin (Heb 4:15).
Jesus is the true and final king promised in Haggai 2.20-23. Since Genesis 3:15, and specifically within the line of David, the messianic hopes of Israel were transferred down via descendants. The Davidic covenant was initially fulfilled in the birth of Solomon, but continued to live on through his sons. This is what is happening with Zerubbabel. The charred remains of the messianic expectation have been all but extinguished by the Exile. Now YHWH reignites the Edenic flame through the line of Zerubbabel. Jesus is the son of Zerubbabel, the son of David (Matt 1:1, 6, 12-13, 16).
Zerubbabel is also a type of Christ. The language applied to Zerubbabel does not merely harken back to King David, but it also peers forward to King Jesus. In Zerubbabel, the people of Israel have a signpost pointing them forward to one who would rule as the eternal king. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus has inaugurated the Kingdom of God and presently rules over the cosmos. Jesus is the King of kings (Rev 19:16), and one day every knee will bow and tongue will confess his kingship (Phil 2:10-11).
The last horizon to consider is the contemporary horizon. How does this ancient text speak to our twenty-first century lives in light of the gospel? A first application of the book is ecclesial. In Christ, now God’s presence is experienced in the church, the house of God (Eph 2:19; 1 Tim 3:15; Heb 10:21; 1 Pet 2:5; 4:17) and the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16-17; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:21; Rev 3:12). As Israel was called to build the second Temple, so are Christians called to spiritually build the church. This task is possible because Jesus rebuilt his temple in three days (John 2:19, 21).
A second application is eschatological. The only New Testament text where Haggai is explicitly quoted is in Hebrew 12.26-27, and it’s applied to the second coming of Christ. Hebrews applies Haggai’s prophecy to the return of Christ, the judgment, and the new creation. Just as the earth shook when God gave the law to Israel, so will the earth shake again in the end. When God shakes the cosmos, everything will fall away except for the kingdom of Christ. That kingdom cannot be shaken. The kingdom where Jesus reigns as the righteous king of his people and the dwelling place of God is with humankind (Rev 21:3). In this new world, Jesus will be the eternal Temple of the people of God (Rev 21:22). Our call as Christians is to cling to this blessed hope and live like it’s true.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon famously said,
Don’t you know . . . that from every town and every village and every hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London? So from every text of Scripture there is a road to Christ. And my dear brother, your business is, when you get to a text, to say, now, what is the road to Christ? I have never found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if I ever do find one, I will go over a hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savor of Christ in it.
There’s no need to climb any hedges or dig any ditches to get to Jesus from Haggai. Like the many roads of Detroit that lead to Campus Martius, there are many roads to Christ. These four horizons are the best roadmap I’ve found to get from every textual village to the metropolis of Christ.
See Ryan Fullerton, Jim Orrick, and Brian Payne, Encountering God through Expository Preaching: Connecting God’s People to God’s Presence through God’s Word (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2017), 35-60.
David Murray, How Sermons Work (Carlisle, PA: Evangelical Press, 2011), 53-56. Also see Chappell’s discussion of the “Fallen-Condition Focus” in Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 50.
Pieter Verhoef, The Books of Haggai and Malachi (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), 141.
Ronald Hanko, The Coming of Zion’s Redeemer (Jenison, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2014), 29-32.
Quoted in Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 153-54.