These two chapters seems intrusive. The oracles against the nations ended in Ezekiel 32, followed by the announcement of Jerusalem’s fall (ch. 33) and a transition to the future hope of Israel (ch. 34). Chapters 35-36 are an oracle against Edom (“Mount Seir”) followed by more restorative language in Chapter 36. This episode explains why Ezekiel 35 isn’t interruptive because, for the Israelite and OT theology, the judgment of Edom was part of Israel’s restoration to her former glory. Chapter 36, more obviously about the future hope of Israel, raises important questions about eschatology. Specifically, many
Bible students assume the chapter’s comments about the coming of the Spirit and restoration of God’s people to the land pertain to a future millennial kingdom. However, the NT quotes the chapter several times, at least two of which have fulfillment in the first century or the OT period itself. Ezekiel 36 therefore raises the issue of whether any element of Ezekiel 36 awaits fulfillment in the distant future—a question that is appropriate the rest of the way (Ezekiel 37-48).
So let's just jump to Ezekiel 36. Ezekiel 35 is pretty transparent and we summarized it there. I want to quote from Taylor again as we jump into chapter 36. He writes:
Ezekiel’s promises of restoration for Israel began in chapter 34 with the prospect of new leadership in the person of the Lord as the good Shepherd and the Davidic Messiah as his nominee. The future hope is now taken up again with the prospect, first, of a new land and then finally of a renewed people to dwell in it.
That's really what chapter 36 is about. As far as structure, there are different parts of it. The first part of it is an oracle to the mountains of Israel, just like we had an oracle to the mountains of Edom (Mount Seir) in chapter 35. Here we get in the first fifteen verses an oracle to the mountains of Israel, which in and of itself has two parts. That oracle is the first fifteen verses. Verses 1-7 contain a promise or a vow that the nations round about Israel (and Edom in particular) will suffer reproach for the way they treated Israel. Then in verses 8-15, we have a future restoration of the mountains of Israel that Edom helped beat up on (Edom helped in their conquest). So we get this future restoration of Israel and the repopulation of the land by returning exiles. So those fifteen verses are broken up into two sections like that and are an important part of the chapter.
Once we get past verse 15, in verses 16-21 we get a flashback to Israel's past— a flashback that basically explains why God allowed his people to suffer. In these five or six verses it was "concern for his holy name." Remember, the name of God is God's identity—it concerns identity, reputation, his sanctified presence, all that sort of stuff. So when the people become corrupt… This is why in Israelite thinking and in Torah thinking, the people become corrupt and the land becomes corrupt. That just defiles both God (in terms of reputation and person) but also the place that is supposed to be his dwelling—the place that is his allotted inheritance—this land of Canaan or Israel. So this is why I'm bringing part of the name theology in here. This is part of understanding what's going on here.
After verse 21, you get three short oracles about new blessings, which are to come once this whole process is initiated. I want to be a little selective here when it comes to some of the things in chapter 36 because I'm essentially going to drill down in a few places that I think are the most important. I’ll try to sort of set the stage again (just like we did in the previous episode with Ezekiel 33 and 34) that you're starting to get an eschatological flavor to some of the discussion because, naturally, when the subject of Israel's restoration comes up, that is future to the time that Ezekiel is writing.
What Future and When?
What Future and When?
That raises this question of, well, the future that Ezekiel describes—does that mean the remote, distant future that's still future even to us (this whole concept of a future Millennial Kingdom, a future to us in the 21st century, a future regathering of Israel), or is that future something closer to Ezekiel's time (namely, the actual return from exile and then the events of the New Testament)? Which future are we talking about here? That's going to come up again. We brought that up a little bit in that prior episode because we're going to run into again with Ezekiel 37, 38, 39, and even the whole temple vision of 40-48. This question of which future we're talking about in terms of fulfillment for these chapters that remain in the book... Is this remotely distant, or is it something that was closer to Ezekiel's time or the New Testament time, and therefore already fulfilled? That's a lingering question behind all this stuff.
So when it comes to chapter 36, the first fifteen verses, again, are pretty self explanatory. You have a vow to the nations round about Israel, that they're going to suffer. I'll just read a couple verses and then we'll start moving through here quickly. (1-2)
“And you, son of man, prophesy to the mountains of Israel, and say, O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God: Because the enemy said of you, ‘Aha!’ and, ‘The ancient heights have become our possession,’
This is kind of an interesting phrase. "Ancient heights" actually shows up in Deuteronomy 32:13. It could be sort of the heights of the north idea—the place of the divine council, holy ground, sacred ground—because in Psalm 48 the heights of the north refers to Zion and that kind of thing. You could have some of that here (and I think you do have that lurking in the background conceptually). And if you do, you have the nations (specifically Edom) essentially saying, "We're going to take Yahweh's land. We're going to take his home spot, his inheritance." And so this is why God reacts to it.
It basically says, "You're not getting away with this!" So the first fifteen verses of this are saying "you're not going to get away with it" and then verses 8-15 are transitioning to restoration of this place to its rightful people and to Yahweh himself. So that's really the first fifteen verses—pretty self-explanatory.
That becomes an illustration here. "You've defiled the land" is essentially the point. What you have done has, in fact, defiled holy ground, and this is why all this happened to you. Verse 21:
But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came.
How'd we do that? We defiled the land. How'd that happen? Because of this whole litany of sins that we did. Sin among the people of God defiles the land. In New Testament terminology, this is why sin needs to be expelled from the Church—from the people of God. The Church is where the presence of God now is. This is why you get the idea of church discipline when you have an unrepentant sinner. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5 to put that person out; the community is to deliver him unto Satan. Why is that language there? Because that's where sin belongs. It belongs outside the camp, to use Old Testament language. The idea is you put them outside the camp, outside holy ground (which is the community of believers) with the hope that they will want to come back. The idea is restoration. The key is to repent and then you're brought back into fellowship. So it's a very "holy ground," "sacred turf," kind of idea behind church discipline thinking. Here we have it in its own Old Testament context.
What I want to sort of focus on for the remainder of the episode is verses 22-32. This is the section that talks about putting the spirit within the people of God. I'm just going to read the whole section to the end here.
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord God; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.
That's the end of the chapter. Now here's the issue. There are places in this passage that are very clearly linked to events in the New Testament. Just by way of illustration, let's go back to verse 24:
24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land.
You say, "Well, didn't that happen at the return from exile?" If you know your Old
Testament history, God eventually brings the people back from Babylon into Canaan. We have lists of them in Ezra. They are people from Judah. We do not have all the tribes accounted for in the lists of the returns as the Bible records them, so we have this idea that the ten tribes are still lost. Indeed, when you get to the Gospels (and we talked about this when we did a few episodes on the tribulation period and Jesus and eschatology), the New Testament has this sense that Jews really thought of themselves as still being in exile. They're still waiting for some of these things to happen and for the Messiah to return. The Messiah, who is the Good Shepherd—the True Shepherd—(Ezekiel 34) is going to be linked to what's described here in chapter 36. He's going to be linked to what's described in Ezekiel 37. He's going to be linked to 38 and 39 and all this other stuff. So they view all these things as part and parcel of one big package. In their minds, Israel is still... All twelve tribes have not been restored. And you look and this and think, wait a minute... "You have profaned my name among the nations." That's a problem. "I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land." All the countries, not just Babylon or anything that could be associated with the Babylonian/Persian occupation and empire, from which the people of the tribe of Judah returned in the days of Zerubbabel. Here it says "all the countries." So you look at this and you go, "Okay, some of this kind of happened at the return in Old Testament times, but the rest of it seems really to reflect a New Testament situation— namely Acts 2." There you have Jews coming back into the land from all the countries round about—not just Babylon and Persia. Again, they hear about the
Messiah, they hear about Jesus rising from the dead, three thousand of them
believe, and then they go back to these countries and they begin... they're like cell groups. They're like a virus that goes back into the Gentile nations that also will need to be reclaimed to reverse what happened at Babel. They become these agents of evangelism to tell the Gentile about what happened here.
Now when Paul goes into these places, he does go to the Jew first because Jews are going to go back and most of the time they're going to tell their countrymen—they're going to tell Jews—"Hey, our messiah showed up and this is what happened!" They have friends who are Gentiles. Gentiles are going to start hearing about this. We meet them in the book of Acts. You meet random Gentiles that have heard about the messiah and even some that have believed. It's because of the activity... The Gospel has gone into these places because of the events at Pentecost. Paul is sort of going to throw fuel on the fire, so to speak, and just blow this whole thing up once it becomes very apparent that this is also very clearly for the Gentiles (the reports in the book of Acts, the whole Council of Jerusalem thing). Without going down the Acts rabbit-trail here, you have parts of Ezekiel 36 that don't really fit the return from Babylon that we get in the Old Testament. It's bigger than that. You can look at it and say, "Okay, well that happened in Acts 2." Why? Look at verse 25:
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.
God says, "I'm going to clean you up from all your idols. I will cleanse you." And that's sort of referenced in Hebrews 10:22.
Get it? It's a reference to this Ezekiel 36 idea and the book of Hebrews was written in the first century—this is New Testament times. Verse 26 [Ezekiel 36]:
26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.
When did that happen? When did the Spirit come and indwell people? Well, that is a direct description of—and a derivative thing from—the events at Pentecost in Acts 2. Continuing with verse 26:
And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
You read 2 Corinthians 3:3. Again, this is New Testament stuff. Paul is speaking to Gentiles in Corinth. It says:
3 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
The fleshy heart... other translations use words like that in this verse. This is a reference to Ezekiel 36:26 and other passages, like Jeremiah 31 (the New Covenant passages). In verse 27 of Ezekiel 36, it says point blank:
27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
In other words, the Spirit of God is going to be dwelling in you now to prompt you to not do all this awful stuff again that led to the exile. In other words, you're going to have the Spirit of God indwelling you to help you do this. Again, this is a description of New Testament stuff. This raises—and "propels" really might be a better word—end-times issues and end-times questions. If we can just put it in the form of one question it would be something like this: Is there anything in Ezekiel 36 that wasn't true or that wasn't fulfilled when the exiles returned in Old Testament times, or in Acts 2 (the book of Acts)? Is there anything in chapter 36 that can't be covered by that ground? Maybe—depending on how you read it— verse 35. I'll read that again, starting in verse 34:
And the land that was desolate shall be tilled, instead of being the desolation that it was in the sight of all who passed by. And they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’
Now some would say, "Okay, that's a reference to the New Earth, the Edenic global Eden and what-not. Could be. Others would say it's kind of more generic and just refers to the fact that this land that was desolate and now—with a little hyperbole here—is just flourishing. It's blossoming; it's wonderful, whereas before it was just a dirt pile because of what happened to it. You could read it either way, but verse 35 is the only thing (at least to my reading) that doesn't
sound at least possibly like it could be accounted for in the historic return and the events of Acts—first century stuff.
Why is this important?
Why is this important?
Why do I bring it up? The question is relevant because of what follows: Chapter 37—the dry bones. Chapter 38 and 39—the Gog and Magog thing. Even chapters 40-48—the temple vision. We're going to have to ask the same question of these chapters. Are these chapters (like chapter 36, apparently) also fulfilled either at the historic Old Testament return or in the more comprehensive return that included all the tribes in Acts 2 and in the events of the first century in the book of Acts? Should we read those chapters and ask that question? I would say that we have to because scholars do and Bible readers do, but are these chapters that a lot of Christians just sort of reflexively put in the remote distant future—the dry bones vision, Gog/Magog, the temple (they say that's a new temple that's going to be built during the Millennium and all that sort of stuff)… Is it plausible to read all these chapters the same way that we would apparently look at chapter 36? That basically, everything in here is already fulfilled. Now, that in turn is relevant because of the whole Christian discussion of eschatology—the way systematic theologians talk about these things.
The amillennialist, of course, wants all this prophetic talk (from chapter 36 all the way to the end book and all the prophetic talk in the prophets) to be about the return from exile—either the historic return, the events of the New Testament, and maybe the Second Coming. If it's the Second Coming, the amillennialist will abstract the talk that deals with the Second Coming. They'll still abstract it to be a reference to just the Church generally. It's never a reference to the nation of Israel. It's never a reference to a literal human antichrist. The amillennialists that I know don't believe in a personal, specific antichrist. The antichrist for them is a symbol of evil that confronts the Church. That's what I mean by abstraction. So an amillennialist will look at all this and the questions that we've asked and say, "It's all about the historic return from the Old Testament, the events of the first century, and the Church. That's it, and now we're waiting for the Second Coming. We're not going to have a literal tribulation period. None of this is about the nation of Israel in any way. None of this is about a real, personal, individual antichrist." The antichrist, again, is sort of a symbolic talk for Satan and evil, that sort of thing. That's the amillennialist perspective.
On the other side, you get militant pre-millers or pre-millers with something at stake—somebody like Hal Lindsey or John Hagee. They're basically committed to the other side of an all-or-nothing question. The amillennialist says it's all the Church abstracted and stuff, but the premillennialists will say, "It's all future. Everything's future. Future, future, future." None of this talk about the prophets and these passages being fulfilled in Old Testament times, and none of it was fulfilled in the first century. It's all remote future. It's all even future to us. So there are a lot of premillennialists who just go all the way with that. They're the other extreme to the amillennialists.
Then you have another model, and this is the model I've sort of been arguing for for a long time. That is: Why does it have to be both of these polar opposite things? Why must it be an either/or issue? Why must eschatology be either this or that? Why can't it be both/and? And I think it can, and I'm not alone here. The already-but-not-yet model acknowledges that much of the Old Testament prophecy talk in the prophets is already fulfilled in the historic Old Testament return and Acts chapter 2—the events of the first century. But it doesn't abstract what remains in relation to a Second Coming. In other words, it holds out the possibility—or even the likelihood—that there will be a real antichrist. There will be a real tribulation period. The number is incidental. Even among pretty staunch pre-millers, it doesn't matter to many if it's seven years. Again, there's no verse that actually says that. We assume that... that school of thought assumes that. If you're like Marv Rosenthal with the pre-wrath rapture group, they don't assume that but they believe in a pre-tribulational rapture because they define the tribulation as part of the second three-and-a-half year section of the seventieth week of Daniel. There's a lot of variety here.
Again, the issue is that if you're with the already-but-not-yet model and you're not saying that everything's past and you're not saying everything's future—you're in the middle. Frankly, that's just where Scripture points. There's an already-butnot-yet feel to a lot of passages. So yeah—a lot of it's fulfilled already, but we're still going to have some real-time events that we would look at and call a tribulation. We would look and say that this is an antichrist. Some "already-butnot-yetters" include a rapture and others don't, because of the whole splitter/joiner question (are you a splitter or are you a joiner?).
So I wanted to take this opportunity in chapter 36 just to show you why you have
these different perspectives. A lot of people listening, I imagine, can't comprehend amillennialism at all because they're raised in a pretty staunch Hal Lindsey/John Hagee kind of thing. They just think amillennialism is out there to deny prophecy whenever they can, like it's some kind of liberal thing. It's just not that at all. They will look at a passage like Ezekiel 36 and say, "Look, is there really anything in here that wasn't already fulfilled in the historic return or Acts 2 at Pentecost?" And for them the answer is, "No, we can account for all of it, so we should." And that's where it will end. They won't think about how going ahead and moving forward when it comes to the Second Coming… that maybe we shouldn't just abstract everything to the Church. Maybe there's a literalistic aspect to this, too. And, of course, the pre-millers are on the other side. But I wanted to show you from this chapter why these different views emerge, especially one that I'm thinking might be foreign to a lot of people, and that is the amillennial view.
We'll be more granular than this as we proceed through some of the other chapters, but again, this sort of sets the stage (like the previous episode on Ezekiel that I did) for this question: What future are we talking about when it comes to when Ezekiel utters these words or writes these words? What future are we talking about? A future near to the prophet or a future remotely distant? Where are we at here? You're going to get a variety of answers, and I want to try to explain why the different views are what they are as we go through this, and then articulate that my sense of a lot of this is already-but-not-yet. When it comes to the particulars of it, you all know (at least if you've been listening any amount of time) that I believe that prophecy is deliberately cryptic. I don't think we're given granular knowledge of exactly how to articulate all this stuff, and I think that's by design. But glomming onto that idea, I do believe in the already-but-notyet framework. Within that framework, we get some specificity in some places and in other places we don't. That's deliberate; that's just the way it is.
So hopefully you can listen to this episode and get a feel for why people think the way they do moving forward.