Zerubbabel was the first governor of the province of Judah, after it became part of the Persian Empire in the 6th century BC. He was a royal descendant of King David and an ancestor of Christ (Matthew 1:12-13; Luke 3:27). He oversaw the rebuilding of the Temple of Jerusalem, which had been destroyed by the Babylonians 50 years earlier.
His story begins after the exile, when King Cyrus of Persia gave permission for the Jews to leave Babylon, return to their homeland and rebuild the temple. Many chose to remain, but around 50,000 decided to go back. Since he was the grandson of the last king of Judah, Cyrus appointed Zerubbabel (which means “born in Babylon”) as their governor.
He was accompanied by Joshua the high priest and Nehemiah, who later became governor of Judah. After a long journey, the migrants arrived home in Jerusalem. Seven months after their return, they rebuilt the altar of the temple on the same site, and the daily sacrifices began again.
Zerubbabel, with the help of fundraising ordered by King Cyrus, and using cedar wood sourced from Lebanon, began the massive task of rebuilding the temple. He started by laying the foundations. However, political meddling by bureaucrats brought the reconstruction work to a standstill. He also had to deal with a lack of interest from within the Jewish community.
Seeing the slow progress, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah made it their mission in life to motivate Zerubbabel. Zechariah preached: “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of the house, and his hands will complete the work.” (Zechariah 4:9) Haggai, for his part, told the governor that God has specifically chosen him to undertake the project (Haggai 2:23).
Filled with new enthusiasm, Zerubbabel and the people who had returned from Babylon got back to work and were eventually able to finish the reconstruction. The Second Temple, also known as the Temple of Zerubbabel, was completed in the late 6th century BC and became the new centre of Jewish worship and religious life.
The Second Temple was where Christ was presented as a baby, was found talking to the doctors as a teenager and where he frequently worshipped as an adult. Quoting the Prophet Isaiah, Christ referred to the Temple of Zerubbabel as “a house of prayer for all the nations” (Mark 11:17; cf Isaiah 56:7).
This stained glass image of Zerubbabel is found within the Blessed Sacrament Chapel of the Cathedral of Our Lady and St Philip Howard, in Arundel. It forms part of a window picturing Christ’s family tree (also known as the ‘Jesse Tree’). The window traces the royal ancestry of Jesus through his foster father, St Joseph, with Zerubbabel being among those featured.
The stained glass dates to 1881 and is the work of John Hardman Powell of Hardman & Co. The governor is pictured here holding a chalice. This probably symbolises the precious temple utensils that had been stolen by the Babylonians. Zerubbabel retrieved them from Babylon and put them back in the rebuilt temple (Ezra 5:14-15). He is described using the Latin version of his name, Zorobabel.
See the full image:
Where to find this work of art
The Cathedral of Our Lady and St Philip Howard, Arundel
Read the relevant passage
On a similar theme:
- From the Old Testament: The Prophet Haggai encouraged Zerubbabel to rebuild the temple.
- From the New Testament: Zerubbabel was one of the ancestors of Christ.