During this Christmas season, many Christians will listen to the music of Handel’s Messiah. We will join in singing Wesley’s beloved carol Hark! the Herald Angels Sing or his less well known Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus. In either case we will hear musical settings of God’s prophet when he said, “and the desire of all nations shall come.”
We understand that God’s promise in some sense speaks of Christ’s advent. A Jewish rabbi who wrote before the time of Jerome understood the term to mean “Messiah shall come.” Let us look at this promise as we worship Christ.
Haggai prophesied to Israel after the captivity. Ezra records that old men, who had seen Solomon’s temple, wept when the foundation of the new temple was laid (Ezra 3:12). The new edifice was nothing in its glory like the old house of worship. The new temple seemed almost nonexistent compared to the previous one (Hag. 2:3). Yet God commanded them to work and build the structure (Hag. 2:4, 5). He promised them His presence and the power of His Spirit. He reaffirmed His covenant purpose for them as a nation.
Through Haggai God promised to shake the earth and the nations, and fill this house with His glory. We learn the important lesson that the place in which we meet is merely incidental to our worship. God must be the One Whom we worship. His glory must be our motive and desire in our worship. We must remember this critical truth at all times, and it is especially important that we remember it during this season that the world increasingly makes more materialistic and secular.
The Preparation for the Desire of All Nations
Before the desire of nations comes, God declares that He will do some shaking. He announced that He will shake the physical creation, including “the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land” (Hag. 2:6). We must understand this as a literal prophecy that God will fulfill. The author of Hebrews urges his readers to hear and obey God’s Word. He tells us that God shook the earth once at Sinai (Heb. 12:25, 26; Ex. 19:18) and goes on to remind us that God has promised to again shake the earth and the heavens (Heb. 12:26). Peter tells us of that time when God will destroy the earth and bring in “new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Pet. 3:10-13; Is. 65:17; 66:22). Believers are part of that eternal kingdom which will never be shaken (Heb. 12:28). Christ’s kingdom is unshakeable and unmovable.
God also declares that He will shake the nations (Hag. 2:7). Babylon had already fallen by the time Haggai wrote; Persia would follow soon, and Greece would fall as a world empire before Christ’s birth. God fulfilled this promise in Israel’s sight (Hag. 2:21, 22). In about 200 years God shook and removed three world empires, demonstrating man’s frailty and the futility of worldly power.
The Promise of the Desire of All Nations
The promise “the desire of all nations shall come” confronts us with some difficulties in interpretation. First, in the Hebrew the verb “come” is plural and the noun “desire” is singular. The grammar seems to indicate that the “desire of all nations” is a collective term which indicates “the things desired by all nations.”
Some scholars think these things desired of all nations are their wealth, power, or glory, which during the millennium they will bring to Jerusalem (Is. 60:5-7). It is true that this will happen when the nations come to worship God. His house will be filled with glory at that time.
However, it does not seem that these things are what the nations desire. No matter how steeped in man-made religion, nor how obsessed with his own power he is, man still is aware of a great lack in his life. There is that
“…deep and dark feeling of the necessity of supernatural light and influence. Bewildered in the mazes of error and superstition, they could find nothing satisfactory respecting the Divine Being, pardon, emancipation from the power of moral evil, and a future state of existence; and more or less earnestly desired to obtain information in regard to these important and necessary points.”
Keil and Delitzsch, commenting on Isaiah 42, note the same reality.
“…it is an actual fact, that the cry for redemption runs through the whole human race, i.e., an earnest longing, the ultimate object of which, however unconsciously, is the servant of Jehovah and his instruction from Zion (Isa 2:3)-in other words, the gospel.”
The Personification of the Desire of All Nations
“And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts . . . The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former saith the Lord of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of hosts” (Hag. 2:7, 9).
The new temple never matched Solomon’s temple in its physical beauty, nor did the Shekinah Glory (the brilliant light symbolizing God’s presence) ever dwell there. Herod later took the temple down to its foundations and rebuilt his temple on the site. Though it was a new structure, in popular and religious language Zerubbabel’s temple and Herod’s were viewed as one. “Accordingly, nothing is more customary than for Jewish writers to speak of only the first and the second temple.”
Though the new temple never housed the Shekinah Glory of God, God did fulfill His promise and fill the house with glory. When Joseph and Mary brought the infant Christ into the temple, Simeon the prophet held Him and declared: “For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel” (Lk. 2:30-32). Instead of the light symbolic of God’s glory, He Who is the glory of God came into that temple!
Paul tells us that we proclaim “the glorious gospel of Christ” (literally, “the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4). He explains by declaring, “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).
The author of Hebrews teaches us that God spoke to mankind by Jesus, Who is “the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person” (Heb. 1:3). The same verse proclaims that the purpose for which Christ was incarnated was to “purge our sins.”
John informs us that the eternal Word, who is the creator God (Jn. 1:1-3), “was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14).
God did fill the second house with His glory. This time He did not send the symbolic manifestation of His glory to fill the house with light. Rather, He Who is the light and the revelation of God’s glory came to that temple. The second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ our Lord, graced that house with His blessed presence.
God revealed His glory in Christ for a specific reason – to bring the saving Gospel of the glory of God (2 Cor. 4:3-6), to cleanse us from our sins (Heb. 1:1-3), and to take away the sins of the world (Jn. 1:14, 29). One day He will literally shake the heavens and the earth, and He will bring everlasting righteousness (2 Pet. 3:10-13). He satisfies the longings of the heart when He forgives, cleanses and saves a sinner.
Handel and Wesley were right to refer to Christ as “the desire of all nations.” He alone can fill the longing of sin weary hearts. He satisfies the desires of the heart. He is the glory of God Who came to fill the temple with God’s glory and to bring salvation to Adam’s fallen descendents. If you do not know Christ as your Savior, I urge you to turn from your sin and receive Him (Jn. 1:11, 12).
Let us remember that we do not worship the beauty of a physical house of worship, but we worship the God Who revealed His glory to save us. He alone must be the object of our worship and service. Let us enjoy the benefits of this Christmas season, and treasure the time we spend with family and loved ones. But we must remember that Christ is the glory of God, He is the fulfillment of the things desired by the nations. We must put Him first in our observances and celebrations.
Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us; Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation, Joy of ev’ry longing heart.
Fred Moritz serves as a Professor at Maranatha Baptist Seminary and is the Executive Director Emeritus, Baptist World Mission
- Ebenezer Henderson, The Twelve Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980 reprint), 355. [↩]
- Henderson, 356. [↩]
- F. Delitzsch and C. F. Keil, Commentary on the Old Testament (Rio, WI: Ages Software, version 8, 2000), 7:538. [↩]
- Henderson, 358. [↩]
- Charles Wesley, Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus in Sing His Praise (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1991), 425. [↩]