And it came to pass, when I prophesied, that Pelatiah the son of Benaiah died. Then fell I down upon my face, and cried with a loud voice, and said, Ah Lord GOD! wilt thou make a full end of the remnant of Israel?
14 Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
15 Son of man, thy brethren, even thy brethren, the men of thy kindred, and all the house of Israel wholly, are they unto whom THE INHABITANTS OF JERUSALEM HAVE SAID, GET YOU FAR FROM THE LORD: UNTO US IS THIS LAND GIVEN IN POSSESSION. (Ezekiel 11:13-15)
I spoke with an old acquaintance sometime back about why I am not a Zionist any longer. I attempted to explain some of the very clear teachings of the New Covenant of Jesus Christ which I had learned (not from any man as such but which the Holy Spirit had taught me). He accused me of believing ‘Replacement theology,’ and has subsequently left off further contact with me.
In the course of our discussion, he brought up Ezekiel 36, and 37 as being an eschatological (end-time) passage which speaks of the return of the Jews to the land of Palestine in the last days.
The assumption that the chapter speaks of the last days (to evangelical Christian Zionists) is somewhat predicated on the following chapter (38) speaking of Gog, and Magog referenced also in the Revelation.
Unfortunately, this interpretation of Ezekiel 36, and 37 as speaking eschatologically (that is, of the end of days) is actually an antichrist interpretation; that statement may shock you, or seem closed-minded, but let me explain: Ezekiel 37:21-28 (transcribed below) is a prophecy of the initial coming of Jesus Christ, which should be pretty clear to the Christian reader.
To deny that Jesus Christ fulfilled the prophecy is – technically speaking – an anti-Christ interpretation of the passage. Yet, this passage is seen as a proof-text (among Christians) in support of modern day Zionism. This much should be expected from non-Christian Jews who do not believe that Jesus was the Messiah and therefore see this passage as speaking of something that could be fulfilled in the contemporary, but from the Christian perspective it can’t be reasonably used for a proof-text for Zionism in the last days as the prophecy is fulfilled in full at the coming of Jesus Christ.
Before looking at Ezekiel 37, let’s dive into some context to understand what is really going on in the prophecy, and in the ministry of Ezekiel. You’ll notice that I actually started this post with a passage from Ezekiel 11, that’s because Ezekiel 11 contains a paralell prophecy which is somewhat of a precursor to the prophecy of chapter 37.
But, let me jump back and give a general overview:
Ezekiel had been taken captive in the first siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians; the narrative of the book of Ezekiel took place among the first Hebrew captives to Babylon. Ezekiel was a contemporary prophet to Jeremiah whose ministry took place in Jerusalem about the same time (the BEGINING of Daniel’s ministry also took place during the ministry of Ezekiel and Jeremiah); Jeremiah was still in Jerusalem when most of the book of Ezekiel was written.
The focus of both Jeremiah, and Ezekiel’s ministries was that God was punishing the nation of Judah through the conquest of the Babylonian empire. Jeremiah had been prophesying that Jerusalem would be conquered by the Babylonians who would destroy the city and disperse the people of the nation throughout the world. When the first conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonians occurred – the one in which Ezekiel, and many other captives were taken, the leaders of Jerusalem began to believe that the prophesied punishment predicted by Jeremiah was completed.
However, Jerusalem had not yet been completely decimated as Jeremiah had claimed that it would; the conquest was not anywhere near as thorough, or as devastating as he and the other prophets had predicted would be. Jeremiah continued to prophesy that the punishment on Jerusalem through the Babylonian conquest was not yet complete.
Ezekiel, likewise began to prophesy among the captives by the Chebar river that the punishment on Jerusalem was still to come. Ezekiel had been taken in a vision to Jerusalem which vision he recounts in chapters 8-11 (remember, he is still in Babylon physically, and ministers the vision to the captives where he physically was after it occurred), in that vision Ezekiel was taken to the temple where he saw the 70 members of the Sanhedrin worshipping ‘every form of creeping things, and abominable beasts, and ALL the idols of the house of Israel’ which were portrayed in illustrations on the walls of a secret chamber in the temple. (Ezek. 8:7-12)
After seeing this, and two other great abominations, God sent angels to kill all those working abominations in the city; FIRST he sent an angel to mark those who were repentant of the abominations of the city. (Ezek 9 & 10)
Then God told Ezekiel (still in the vision) to prophecy to the POLITICAL leaders of the city. There were two men among them whom Ezekiel knew personally, and named, one of these fell down dead at Ezekiel’s feet as he prophesied; thus indicating he was one whom the angel had not marked as repentant over the abominations of the city.
As Ezekiel knew this gentleman – and evidently must have assumed he was a good man – and was deeply grieved, and cried out to God.
But God responded to Ezekiel declaring that it was the political leaders who were driving the people away from God, why? BECAUSE THEY BELIEVED THEY WERE ENTITLED TO THE LAND. (11:15) I try not to make too much political commentary, so any parralell with modern events is strictly… biblical. (Incidentally, the reason that the Sanhedrin murdered Jesus when He came in the flesh was ALSO because they believed they were entitled to the land, for discussion on that see: The Leaven of the Pharisees (Mark 11-12:12 pt. 1))
BUT the prophecy of Ezekiel 11 doesn’t end there. God declares that because they have driven people away from Him so that they could have the land, He would indeed return them to the land, and when He did, He would give them a new heart and put a new spirit within them (Ezekiel 11:15-21). BUT them that would not be changed, but would walk after these same abominations (including their entitlement to the land), God would ‘recompense their way upon their own heads’ (v. 21).
This is a clear prophecy of the coming Messiah. God declares to Ezekiel that AFTER the Babyonian exile, He would bring the earthly nation of Israel back to the land, and while they were in the land, He would send the Messiah to give them a new heart, and put a new spirit within them.
Now this prophecy of chapter 11, is a foreshadow of the more specific prophecy of chapter 37. Both speak of the same event, God’s regathering the exiles after the Babylonian exile, and sending the Messiah at some point while they are gathered together as a single nation.
Thankfully, the Old Testament did not end with the prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah predicting the Babylonian exile, and what would follow. Later there was Daniel who realized that Jeremiah had predicted the exile would last only 70 years; Daniel began fervently to pray for t he return of the captives to Israel. Nehemiah, Ezra, and Zechariah the son of Berechiah held ministries during the promised return of the exiles, ensuring that not only were the ruins rebuilt, but that the people repented and followed the covenant and the law on their return (at least during the time of Nehemiah).
Before Jerusalem was conquered, Israel had been split into two nations, Judah, and Israel. Ezekiel prophesied that when the captivity returned there would be only one nation to which the Messiah would come, and that He would establish a New Covenant with the house of Israel. Sure enough, when Jesus Christ was born, lived and had his ministry, the two kingdoms were a single nation. They may have been under the oppression of the Romans, but Ezekiel’s prophecy (again, transcribed below) was completely fulfilled when Jesus Christ came and established a new and better covenant not only with Israel, but with all peoples of the earth, who are now not entitled to land, but to the inheritance of God’s Kingdom: an eternal dwelling in the heavens.
21 And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land:
22 And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all:
23 Neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions: but I will save them out of all their dwellingplaces, wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them: so shall they be my people, and I will be their God.
24 And David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them.
25 And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children’s children for ever: and my servant David shall be their prince for ever.
26 Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore.
27 My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
28 And the heathen shall know that I the LORD do sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore.
I believe the reason that this passage seems to be considered in the future tense is hermeneutic; the Zionist interpretation assumes that this prophecy is not wholly fulfilled because Jews have not remained in Palestine – as verse 25 states ‘for ever.’ The problem here is that the entire prophesy of the coming Messiah is transitional unto the tenants of the new covenant. The tenants of the new covenant supersede those of the old (Heb. 8:13); accordingly, this statement in verse 25 was also fulfilled in that the people returned to Israel and dwelt there until the coming of Messiah who in establishing the New Covenant also 1) pronounced His final judgment on the nation who rejected Him as king when He came to be the One ruler and shepherd over them (as according to Ezekiel 11:21); and 2) established the fact that the Kingdom of God, and heavenly Jerusalem (which are eternal) are the inheritance of the new covenant, not land (which is perishable).
The next thing that the reader will notice is the emphasis placed upon the ‘tabernacle’ being among them. Whereas this is also fulfilled in the New Covenant, for the Church (those Jews and Gentiles who received the Messiah) are the body of Christ, and the habitation of His person in the earth. Whereas an earthly nation will eventually be destroyed for the whole earth will be consumed with fire, yet the temple of living stones will live forever.
To interpret this prophecy as culminating in the temporal establishment of a nation misses the point entirely of the New Covenant in which God’s tabernacle is now with men (Revelation 21:3).
Thus the prophecy of Ezekiel here, was for the comfort of the Jews as they entered the Babylonian exile, that God would bring them back and establish the kingdom and reign of Messiah, which would be an eternal kingdom, not a temporal one which could be destroyed by an earthly empire. The prophecy is not that God will re-establish an earthly temple in earthly Jerusalem at the end of the Messianic era, but that the fulfillment of the Messiah’s kingdom would come to the Jews after God had united them back in Israel after the Babylonian exile.
For YE ARE NOTcome unto the mount that might be touched [i.e., it is not a PHYSICAL, TEMPORAL inheritance that can be touched and handled physically, but the True Spiritual fulfillment of God’s kingdom], and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest,
22 But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,
23 To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,
24 And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.
25 See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven:
26 Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.
27 And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.
28 Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:
29 For our God is a consuming fire.