Zerubbabel was a key figure in the rebuilding of the Temple of Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile, beginning around 538 B.C.E. He was a also descendant of King David in whom the prophets Haggai and Zechariah saw a potential messianic figure, God's "signet ring," before whom God would make kings fall and mountains crumble.
The rebuilding of the Temple of Jerusalem is an important moment in the Divine Principle's view of restoration history. Historically, it was followed by the 400-year period of preparation for the Messiah. However, this moment seems to have been ripe with messianic potential. The Divine Principle holds open the possibility that the Messiah may have come at other periods, such as just after the time of Moses, around the time of kings David and Solomon, or at the end of the period of Divided Kingdoms, if the providential conditions had been met. Was Zerubbabel's time another such moment? Or was it already predestined that the Jews would have to pay indemnity for 400 years to make up for the loss for the 400-year period of Divided Kingdoms?
We do not know for certain. However, the prophecies of Zechariah and Haggai seem to indicate that these prophets saw in Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua two "anointed" leaders who would not only rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem, but, in Zerubbabel's case, could restore the Davidic dynasty as well. In this sense, the theory of Ernst Sellin that Zerubbabel was killed by the Persians after attempting to restore Jewish sovereignty as a messianic king is worth considering.
Was there a providential opportunity that Zerubbabel missed? One possible such moment may be when the mixed-race worshipers of neighboring areas offered aid in rebuilding the Temple but were rebuffed by Zerubbabel and Joshua with the excuse that such aid was not in accord with the orders of King Cyrus. This decision led to those who offered the aid taking an adversarial attitude, causing delays in the rebuilding process and probably resulting in the emergence of the Samaritans as a separate people from the Jews, with their own temple on Mount Gerizim. If the Samaritans and Jews had been united, it is not out of the question that they could have established independence. In that case, Zerubbabel may have indeed emerged as a Davidic king in whom the messianic prophecy of Isaiah may have been fulfilled:
In that day the Root of Jesse [David's father] will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious. In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria… Ephraim's jealousy will vanish, and Judah's enemies will be cut off; Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah, nor Judah hostile toward Ephraim. They will swoop down on the slopes of Philistia to the west; together they will plunder the people to the east. They will lay hands on Edom and Moab, and the Ammonites will be subject to them. (Isa. 11:10–14)
In any case, even as the governor
of Judea and Jerusalem
who succeeded in rebuilding the Temple, Zerubabbel is a providential figure of much larger importance than he is usually accorded.