Tobit prophesies the Messiah

The other day, I came across this little gem, towards the end of the book of Tobit – 14:4b-7 to be precise.

Our brethren will be scattered over the earth from the good land, and Jerusalem will be desolate. The house of God in it will be burned down and will be in ruins for a time.  But God will again have mercy on them, and bring them back into their land; and they will rebuild the house of God,  though it will not be like the former one until the times of the age are completed.  After this they will return from the places of their captivity, and will rebuild Jerusalem in splendor. And the house of God will be rebuilt there with a glorious building for all generations for ever, just as the prophets said of it.  Then all the Gentiles will turn to fear the Lord God in truth, and will bury their idols.  All the Gentiles will praise the Lord, and his people will give thanks to God, and the Lord will exalt his people. And all who love the Lord God in truth and righteousness will rejoice, showing mercy to our brethren.

It’s a prophecy about the destruction and rebuilding of the Temple, and the arrival of the Messiah!  Let’s check this out in more detail.

Our brethren will be scattered over the earth from the good land, and Jerusalem will be desolate. The house of God in it will be burned down and will be in ruins for a time.

Tobit was an Israelite (northern kingdom) living in exile; his story took place after Israel was conquered by Assyria, and before Judah was conquered by Babylonia.  Here he’s prophesying that Judah, too, will be defeated and the Temple destroyed.  Perhaps he received this prophecy from God himself, or perhaps was just actually listening to other prophets like Isaiah.  Either way, he knows what’s goin’ down.

But God will again have mercy on them, and bring them back into their land; and they will rebuild the house of God,  though it will not be like the former one until the times of the age are completed.

This is a neat insight to see – the presence of God never did return to the Temple like it was in the first.  At least, not until a certain couple – Mary and Joseph and their newborn baby – came in to offer a sacrifice.  In the incarnate Son, Jesus, God has finally returned to his Temple!  During his ministry, Jesus’ visits to the Temple were also quite memorable events.  The arrival of the Messiah was the end of that age and through his ascension and sending of the Holy Spirit, the age of the Spirit was inaugurated.  Back to Tobit’s words, the Temple did not enjoy the glorious presence of God until “the times of the age” were completed.

After this they will return from the places of their captivity, and will rebuild Jerusalem in splendor. And the house of God will be rebuilt there with a glorious building for all generations for ever, just as the prophets said of it.

From here, the prophecy’s fulfillment takes on a more spiritual nature.  (The part about the destruction & rebuilding of the Temple was a physical prophecy, the “not like the former one” comment was the transition, both physical and spiritual, since it points to the presence of God in his Messiah, and thereafter the fulfillments are spiritual.)  There is a physical semi-fulfillment of the first part: on the day of Pentecost there were Jews gathered in Jerusalem from all over the world.  But the glorious new house of God was no longer a stone building, but the Body of Christ.  Just as Jesus, himself, was a Temple, so too is his Body the Church a Temple.  Thus, the new Temple literally can last “for all generations for ever,” for even the best-constructed physical buildings eventually fall apart.  Furthermore, the “captivity” mentioned can just as validly refer to the bondage of sin that Christ has saved us from.

Then all the Gentiles will turn to fear the Lord God in truth, and will bury their idols.  All the Gentiles will praise the Lord, and his people will give thanks to God, and the Lord will exalt his people. And all who love the Lord God in truth and righteousness will rejoice, showing mercy to our brethren.

Of course, one of the most striking features of the New Covenant is that Gentiles have equal footing within it; it’s no longer tied to the Jewish ethnicity.  A number of prophets in the Old Testament also prophesied this day of Gentile inclusion, as I’ve noted before.  The final image is always the universal worship of God and the reign of love among his people.

So whether you think the book of Tobit belongs in the Bible, next to the Bible, or completely separated from the Bible, one can at least see this cool biblical prophecy clearly in line with the big-name prophets of the Old Testament.  It’s wonderful to see such a clear explanation of how God planned to save his people (and the rest of the world).

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About Fr. Brench

I'm a Priest in the Anglican Diocese in New England interested in spiritual formation, theology, and the growth of God's Kingdom.
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