Zerubbabel was the head of the tribe of Judah during the time of the return from the Babylon exile. He was the prime builder of the second Temple, which was later re-constructed by King Herod. He led the first group of captives back to Jerusalem and began rebuilding the Temple on the old site. For some 20 years he was closely associated with prophets, priests, and kings until the new Temple was dedicated and the Jewish sacrificial system was re-established.
The second Temple was consecrated in about 516 BC, which was 70 years after the destruction of the first Temple by the Babylonians, in 586 BC.
Zerubbabel was the grandson of Jehoiachin, the captive king of Judah (1 Chr. 3:17). A descendant of David, he was in the direct line of the ancestry of Jesus (Luke 3:27; Matt. 1:12). With the blessing of Cyrus (Ezra 1:1-2), Zerubbabel and Jeshua the high priest led the first band of captives back to Jerusalem. They also returned the gold and silver vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had removed from the Temple.
After rebuilding the Temple foundation the first two years, construction came to a standstill for 17 years, because of, among other things, opposition from settlers in Samaria. The Samaritans disrupted the building project (Ezra 4:4).
Urged by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah (Ezra 5:1-2), Zerubbabel resumed work on the Temple in the second year of the reign of Darius Hystaspes of Persia (Hag. 1:14). Zerubbabel received large grants of money and materials from Persia, and continuing encouragement from the two prophets.
The Temple was finished in four years, around 515 BC and dedicated with great pomp and rejoicing (Ezra 6:19). Historians designated the second Temple as "Zerubbabel's Temple." On God's instructions, Haggai promised Zerubbabel a special blessing: "I will take you, Zerubbabel My servant, the son of Shealtile, says the Lord, and will make you as a signet ring; for I have chosen you" (Haggai 2:23).
Many scholars, who believe that Luke's genealogy of Jesus traces his bloodline through his mother Mary, believe that Zerubbabel is a common ancestor for Mary and her husband Joseph, who was Jesus' adoptive father.