Like his contemporary, Jeremiah, Ezekiel lived and prophesied in the darkest days of the Jewish people, during the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. Unlike Jeremiah, who was in Jerusalem during this time until he eventually ended up in Egypt, Ezekiel’s ministry was in Babylon, the capital of Babylonia. However, through visions, he observed Jerusalem and witnessed the devastating experience of the Glory of God departing from the city. Ezekiel 11:23 .
Ezekiel was a priest, exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon in 597 BC, His call to prophetic ministry at the age of thirty was in Babylon, where he lived throughout and presumably died. He was married. He had a house in Babylon and apparently suffered no major hardship there, unlike Jeremiah’s suffering back in Jerusalem.
Similar to other prophets, but more sharply delineated, there are three sections:
1. Judgment on Judah and Jerusalem
2. Judgment on the surrounding nations
3. Restoration for Judah and Jerusalem
Ezekiel is one of the most precisely dated books in the Bible, thirteen specific dates included in the text from July 31, 593 BC to April 28, 573 BC. Ezekiel includes numerous visions, starting with an elaborate heavenly vision of “the mobile throne of God.”* The final lengthy vision of the book provides extended detail of the restoration of Jerusalem and the Glory of God returning to the city.
Another characteristic of Ezekiel is a series of acted out parables or “street theater”** in which Ezekiel is the solo actor acting out the siege and destruction of Jerusalem or speaking in parables using a variety of images, such as lions, vines, swords, fire, a bride, two sisters, watchmen, etc. This makes for fascinating reading that draws the imagination into his message.
But where is the Gospel? The last section is filled with hope of restoration, but a much more explicit Gospel theme is found in several places, the Good News that would eventually be fulfilled in Jesus.
Ezekiel 4:4-8 – An example of Ezekiel’s street theater is when God told him to make a model of Jerusalem on a clay tablet and build toy siege works with camps and battering rams. An iron pan was put between Ezekiel and his model city to symbolize the siege, the threat of a sure and devastating judgment. Then he was to lay on his left side for 390 days to symbolically bear the sin of the house of Israel. Then he was to lay on his right side for 40 days for Judah. Ezekiel could not actually bear Israel’s sin, nor Judah’s, because it was “representative rather than a substitutionary bearing of sin.”*** But it does hint of one to come who would truly bear the sins of others and take the punishment for them
Ezekiel 11:17-20 – God’s promise to restore Israel to the land and to transform their hearts. This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will gather you from the nations and bring you back from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you back the land of Israel again. “They will return to it and remove all its vile images and detestable idols. I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.
Ezekiel 16:59-63 – In a parable of Israel as God’s unfaithful bride worthy of eternal judgment, God says, I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you… So I will establish my covenant with you and you will know that I am the LORD. Then when I make atonement for you for all you have done, you will remember and be ashamed…” Even as declarations of judgment are made, God declares that in some powerful sense, the covenant is eternal. Atonement will be made to resolve sin. Salvation will come.
Ezekiel 33:11 – I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that that they turn from their ways and live. God declares the same in the New Testament, delaying his judgment because the Lord…is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9
Ezekiel 36:24-29 – For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God.
This is clearly the pinnacle of Ezekiel’s prophecy, the Old Testament formulation of what Jesus said in John 3:3-8, I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again…I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Ezekiel speaks of the cleansing of impurities and the transformation of the heart, the new birth, regeneration, the essence of Christian conversion which brings transformation from the inside out. This is truly Good News!
Ezekiel 37 – the Valley of Dry Bones. This classic vision shows a valley filled with disconnected human bones that begin to rattle and move and connect to other bones to restored skeletons, then restored with tendons and flesh, then brought to life as a vast army. Then, the explanation: This is what the Sovereign LORD says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’”
Ezekiel 40-48 – the last nine chapters include detailed descriptions (similar to Exodus 35-40), of the promised rebuilding of the temple and the resumption of temple worship, the highlight of the vision being the return of God’s Glory, The glory of the LORD entered the temple through the gate facing east.
This book of judgment is filled with Good News that will be finally realized in Jesus Christ.
One final point — Scattered throughout this prophecy, more than sixty times, you will find the words with slight variation, Then they will know that I am the LORD or Then You will know that I am the LORD. Isaiah has a similar emphasis with the words, I an the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (43:3) I am the LORD, and there is no other (45:5)
The ultimate Good News is that we celebrate “the Glory of God through the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.”****
* Carson, D.A., For the Love of God, volume 2, August 29
** ESV Study Bible Introduction to Ezekiel
*** NIV Study Bible note on Ezekiel 4:4
**** Purpose Statement of Faith Church Indianapolis, which is followed by our specific mission, “Equipping followers of Christ to Reflect Him to the World.