Key verse: “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah” (Ezra 1:2).
After 70 years of exile, the Jewish exiles could return to Jerusalem. They were exiled due to God’s judgment when God sent the Babylonians at first into Israel around 606 B.C. and, ultimately, to bring the last of the Israelites out of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. The prophet Jeremiah prophesied that they would be exiled 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11-12, Ezra 1:1). So, in 538 B.C., Cyrus issued this edict, thus starting off Ezra’s book in showing how God fulfilled His promise.
God stirred up the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and the Levites (who at the time of the exile were the tribes which constituted the Southern Kingdom of Judah) and stirred up Cyrus to give them back their Temple furniture. How many came back? Go to Ezra 2:64-66 and you see that around 50,000 people went back to the Holy Land to rebuild the Temple.
God keeps His promises! When you read in 2 Corinthians 1:20 that all the promises are “yes” in Christ, you see how God is establishing His steadfast love and faithfulness (Psalm 136) into His people’s hearts. If God would keep a promise of this nature, this gave them hope that God would keep the promise of all promises—the Messiah would come to deliver the true Israel (the Church—Galatians 6:16) out of the exile caused by their sin and back to the promised land of forgiveness and eternal life!