When Our Lady and St. Joseph presented Our Lord in the Temple, Simeon prophesied to Our Lady:
“Behold this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed.” (Gospel according to St. Luke 2:34-35)
Our Lord will cause some to rise and some to fall. Some will embrace Him, some will reject Him. He will be a sign of contradiction. I propose that there is an Old Testament type of this prophecy: the reconstruction of the Temple after the Jews returned from their Exile.
Setting the Scene
King Solomon completed the First Temple in approximately the 950s B.C. It stood for several centuries, until the Babylonians conquered Judah in 587 B.C. They destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple and took the Jews into exile in Babylon. There the Jews remained until Cyrus the Great of Persia ordered their return to the Holy land in 539 B.C.
It took until 516 B.C. to dedicate a new temple, known as the Second Temple. As told in chapter 3 of the First Book of Esdras (a.k.a. the Book of Ezra), two men led the reconstruction effort: Josue the son of Josedec, who was the high priest, and Zorobabel the son of Salathiel, who was governor of the Persian province of Judah.
What’s interesting here is the relationship of each of these men to Our Lord:
1.) The name Josue (Joshua in more modern translations) is the same as the name Jesus. Some translations translate the high priest’s name as Jesus the son of Josedec. So the high priest who dedicates the restored temple is named Jesus.
2.) Zorobabel belonged to the house of David; he was a descendant of one of the last Davidic kings of Judah. He appears in both genealogies of Our Lord (St. Matt. 1:12-13; St. Luke 3:27). So one of the men who restored the Temple is an ancestor of Our Lord.
Shouting for Joy, Weeping for Sorrow
When the Second Temple was dedicated, the people exhibited diametrically opposite reactions. The younger people rejoice. The older generation, who still remember the First Temple (which had been destroyed approximately 70 years before), weep with sorrow:
“11 And they sung together hymns, and praise to the Lord: because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever towards Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, praising the Lord, because the foundations of the temple of the Lord were laid. 12 But many of the priests and the Levites, and the chief of the fathers and the ancients that had seen the former temple; when they had the foundation of this temple before their eyes, wept with a loud voice: and many shouting for joy, lifted up their voice. 13 So that one could not distinguish the voice of the shout of joy, from the noise of the weeping of the people: for one with another the people shouted with a loud shout, and the voice was heard afar off.” (I Esdras 3:11-13)
The same event — the dedication of the restored Temple — occasions joy for some and sorrow for others. The joyful celebrate God’s mercy. The sorrowful remain committed to the memory of the perished First Temple. The shout of joy and the sound of weeping commingle in one voice: a sign of contradiction.
Tying the Old Testament Type to the New Testament Antitype
The Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple — namely, the Second Temple, as revamped by Herod — is the antitype of the dedication of the Second Temple in I Esdras 3. Here’s how:
1.) Our Lord is another high priest named Jesus.
2.) He is the descendant of Zorobabel, and hence the rightful King of the Jews.
3.) The restored temple is the soul of the Christian, regenerated in Baptism. The restored temple is also the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. The Second Temple, built after Jews returned from captivity and exile, points to Our Lord, who returns fallen mankind from captivity and exile and incorporates them into the Temple of His Body, the Church.
4.) Per the prophecy of Simeon, Our Lord is a sign of contradiction destined for the rise and the fall of many in Israel. Let us consider the Old Testament type for Our Lord’s contradictory effect on different groups of people. In I Esdras 3, the younger generation celebrated the dedication of the Second Temple, while the older generation — specifically, the Temple establishment (priests, Levites, chiefs of the fathers and ancients) — wept because they vastly preferred the First Temple.
Likewise, in the Gospels, the people who welcome Our Lord form a “new generation” in the new covenant. Those who reject Our Lord — most notably, the Temple establishment (priests, Levites, scribes, Sanhedrin, the chiefs of the Pharisees and Sadducees, etc.) — pine for the Old Testament that is passing away. They have “the foundation of this temple before their eyes” — they see Our Lord, the chief cornerstone of the new and eternal covenant, and they find fault with Him. They reject Him, and prefer the old temple and its order.
A few short decades later, in A.D. 70, God will use the Romans as a vehicle of His justice to sweep away the Second Temple and the Old Testament order of sacrifice, just as He once used the Babylonians to sweep away the First Temple.* Only this time His sentence will last forever. Through the terrible irony of divine justice, the same priests and Temple leaders and their religious descendants down to this day continue to bewail the ruins of the Second Temple, even as they remain blind to Our Lord, the foundation and cornerstone of the heavenly Temple.
*Through divine providence, the Babylonians and Romans both destroyed the Temple on the same day in the Hebrew calendar — Tish B’Av (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tisha_B%27Av).