The Gospel in the Book of Haggai

Every book of the Bible invites us to use different stories, language, themes, and metaphors to describe the good news of what God has done in Jesus. If you’re a youth pastor or small group leader, here are three ways to talk about Jesus as you teach the book of Haggai.

Haggai is About Reconstruction After an Age of Deconstruction

Haggai represents a little-studied corner of our Bibles. This prophetical book contains powerful truths for teenagers inheriting a church subject to deconstruction, decline, and the moral failure of its leaders.

The beginning of Haggai’s prophecy finds Israel returning to the land after 70 years under Babylonian oppression (God’s punishment for the sins of Israel’s leaders). Now, a new and younger generation of God’s people are working to rebuild God’s earthly dwelling place, the temple. Long before Haggai’s prophetic ministry, God had promised that when his own presence dwelled among his people, the life-giving power of God would flow from him into their land (Deut. 28:1-14, Haggai 1:1-4). So, in hopes of experiencing God’s promises after a long season of exile, the people begin to rebuild.

Unfortunately, the temple rebuilders quickly become distracted from the project at hand. They stop working on the temple to build their own houses (Hag. 1:1-4). Meeting their immediate needs takes priority over rebuilding God’s temple. But this priority doesn’t work out well for them in the end. Haggai points out that no matter how much they sow in their fields, the returned exiles are reaping less and less. Every day, their rations get thinner, and they feel just a little thirstier (Hag. 1:5-6). Haggai says their diminishing returns are a result of their failure to prioritize rebuilding the temple, the place of God’s presence (Hag. 1:10-11). But he also promises that if they recommit themselves to the temple project, all the blessings and life they hope for will return (Hag. 2:7-8, 18-19). This new generation listens to Haggai and starts making plans for the project’s next phase.

But before the people lay one more stone, God promises something greater than the earthly temple. He pledges to establish his kingdom on earth. God’s Spirit falls on them and empowers them for the task ahead (Hag. 1:14-15). One month later, when the work is going slower than expected, Haggai announces that God’s presence is already with them, even without the temple (Hag. 2:4). And Haggai prophecies that God will most certainly finish what his people have started (Hag. 2:7-9). Two months later, as they place the first stone of the foundation, God interrupts the proceedings. God tells them that not only is his presence with them, not only will they finish what they have started, but he has also chosen a man to be their King (Hag. 2:20-23). Before the returned exiles have rebuilt the temple, God promises his coming king and kingdom.

Haggai is for Teenagers Now

Israel experienced national deconstruction at the hands of the Babylonians. In a similar way, today’s teenagers are watching dozens of churches fall apart. They’re observing the deconstruction of their friends as well as once-Christian celebrities. Many of those who are deconstructing grew up in youth groups like ours. Researchers have theories as to why deconstruction is so commonplace: the moral failures of religious leaders, a global pandemic sending church members into mini-exiles in their own homes, the enmeshment of politics with everyday religion, the lack of thick intergenerational communities—pick your poison. Regardless of the reason, most researchers admit a rapid decline in church attendance almost everywhere

As a new generation of teenagers passes through our ministries and (by God’s grace) enters into church life and leadership, there is a real sense that they are like the rebuilders of Haggai’s day. They will soon be the ones rebuilding our religious institutions in a world increasingly hostile to them. And they will face the same temptation as God’s people returning to Israel did—to prioritize their well-being over the health of God’s Church. 

Haggai has much to say to this generation. But perhaps his most significant message is that God was with his people even before they rebuilt the temple. God didn’t need an earthly temple in order to dwell with his people. Even so, he waited for a few young ex-refugees to pick up a trowel in faith. And God promises that he will be with our teenagers even before they take their last steps out of the youth group door and their adult lives begin. 

Haggai is About the Gospel

od isn’t waiting for a whole bunch of obedient young people to “finish the job” to prove their allegiance. Instead, he offers his presence through the Person and work of Jesus. As those who lead young people. we invite teenagers to trust his leadership and to be filled with his Spirit.

What’s amazing about the book of Haggai is that God’s Spirit falls on his people while the temple is in ruins. What’s more, God promised his people a king who would lead them into victory, after they had laid just one stone. God didn’t need a new temple; ultimately, he planned to fill his people with his Spirit as they trusted him in faith.

By Jesus’ day, the temple project was complete, and the second temple was even more beautiful than the first. But rebuilding the temple didn’t improve the quality of life for God’s people. The temple leadership was corrupt, Rome was Israel’s overlord, and God’s promised presence and Spirit had not yet come. 

But God used a teenager’s simple faith so the life-giving power of God would flow into the world. The Son of God himself dwelled inside a human womb, and God’s presence was born in the person of Jesus. Wherever he went, the life-giving promises of God came true. People were healed. The hungry were fed. The imprisoned were exorcized. God’s presence, life, and blessing came to earth. Jesus promised those who followed him that his life would flow out of them into the world around them (John 4:14).

But first, just as Israel’s temple burnt down, Jesus died. Jesus allowed the center of God’s presence, the temple of his body, to lay in ruins for a time (Matt. 12:40). But three days later, God raised him from the dead. He is proving to us that Jesus’ temple can never be destroyed and that God’s life-giving presence is forever available. We don’t have to build a temple. By God’s amazing grace, when we trust him, we become his temple. He fills us with his Spirit, empowering us to join the new kingdom he is building on the earth.

Your students may perceive any number of reasons to abandon God’s Church and his mission in the world. But Haggai teaches us that God is gracious and gives his Spirit, his life-giving presence, to all who trust him. God is calling the next generation to pick up their trowels, rebuild God’s church, and see God’s grace and power for themselves. 

If you’re looking for more resources on teaching Haggai’s message to your teenagers, our prophets curriculum package contains a three-lesson inductive study on the Book of Haggai.

Seth Stewart is a husband and a dad, and after a decade in student ministry is now working as the Editor-in-Chief at Spoken Gospel. Spoken Gospel creates online resources that point to Jesus from every passage of Scripture. Seth spends his day writing, speaking, and being his family's chef.

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