The bringing up of Israel from bondage, whether it be their exodus out of Egypt or the return out of Babylon, is prophecy contained in history. Many of the prophecies will have their literal and complete fulfilment in the salvation and gathering of Israel in the day of the manifestation of the Lord Jesus Christ in glory.
There is a part fulfilment in the return of the remnant from Babylon. Here is a prophetic picture of a coming day. In Zerubbabel we have the type of the coming King, the Son of David. In Jeshua we have the type of the coming High Priest. In the two associated at the head of the returned remnant we have the type of the coming King Priest (Melchizedek) who will sit as "priest upon his throne" (Zech 6.13). In the returned remnant we have the type of the coming godly remnant who, recovered and redeemed, will become the nucleus of the new nation. Therefore, their return is dated in Ezra 3 in relation to the first day of the seventh month (vv.1,6) which is the Feast of Trumpets followed by the Feast of Tabernacles. They build up the altar and offer burnt offerings. All this is a picture of that day when Israel will find her acceptance before God in the perfection of the one sacrifice of Christ. However, setting aside the prophetic picture, we can glean practical things that are applicable to us today.
"The people gathered themselves together as one man to Jerusalem" (v.1). There was complete unity and harmony: not one was missing. We read that in an earlier day Israel was "of one heart to make David king" (1 Chr 12.38). We as the people of God should be of one heart in giving Christ His rightful place in our lives. How vital this is in relation to the local assembly where Christ is Lord and where there should be undivided allegiance to Him and to His Word. In Acts 4.32 we read of the assembly at Jerusalem being "of one heart and of one soul". They were united in heart having the same affection for Christ and for each other. They were united in soul or spirit with the same desire to live for Christ. We are exhorted in Philippians 3.16 to walk by the same rule and mind the same thing, to live according to the rule of God and to be occupied with Christ. What a blessing this would be if it was true in every assembly.
"As it is written" (vv.2,4). The returned remnant sought to carry out the teaching of the Word of God. The only authority for the people of God and the only safeguard against false teaching or wrong practice is the Word of God. Every local assembly should adhere to the unchanging principles of the His Word. The early saints "continued stedfastly in the apostles doctrine" (Acts 2.42), but, sad to say, today many have turned away from that teaching enshrined permanently for us in the Word of God. The only way to secure the blessing and approval of God is by a return to the teaching of the Scriptures.
"For fear was upon them because of the people of those countries" (v.3). They realised their own weakness and were aware of the opposition against them. However, they were answering to the mind of God and were acting in keeping with His will, so they looked to Him for help. In dependence upon God they continued in the will and work of God. Have we learned the importance of dependence upon God? Only through His grace and in the strength He imparts can we maintain things for Him. As we seek to continue in His will and work we must remember His words, "without me ye can do nothing" (Jn 15.5). Paul could write, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Phil 4.13).
"They kept also the feast of tabernacles" (v.4). This is a pointer to the millennial reign of the Messiah when Israel will know the joy of restoration and dwell in the fullness of salvation. In that day they will be in the good of atonement, enjoying the gladness of peace and pardon, and shall know the joy of the Lord. Although we will enter into the fullness of joy in a coming day (Jude v.24), we should already have the joy of salvation in our hearts and should be rejoicing in the Lord always (Phil 4.4). We ought to be in the enjoyment of our acceptance before God, rejoicing evermore (1 Thess 5.16).
"Burnt offerings" (vv.2-4,6); "the continual burnt offering" (v.5). The burnt offering was all for God and ascended as a sweetsmelling savour to Him. This speaks of the infinite delight and pleasure brought to God in the absolute devotion and complete surrender of His Son that took Him to the death of the cross for the glory of God. We know how to apply this: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable (well pleasing) unto God, which is your reasonable service" (Rom 12.1) - willingly surrendering our lives to God. In light of what God has done for us we should yield ourselves to Him, living holy and devoted lives.
"Willingly offered a free will offering unto the Lord" (v.5). They were ready to give freely to the Lord in appreciation for what He had done for them. The grace of God has bestowed rich spiritual blessings upon us. That grace experienced and enjoyed should move us to give ourselves to the Lord and to give of our material things to meet the needs of others (2 Cor 8.5). God loves a cheerful giver who with purpose of heart gives willingly and ungrudgingly out of love (2 Cor 8.24; 9.7). God ministers to us not only for our benefit but that we might give to meet the needs of others (Eph 4.28; 2 Cor 9.8-10).