The Dwelling Place of God

Then he measured the wall of the temple, six cubits thick, and the breadth of the side chambers, four cubits, all around the temple. And the side chambers were in three stories, one over another, thirty in each story. There were offsets all around the wall of the temple to serve as supports for the side chambers, so that they should not be supported by the wall of the temple. And it became broader as it wound upward to the side chambers, because the temple was enclosed upward all around the temple. Thus the temple had a broad area upward, and so one went up from the lowest story to the top story through the middle story. I saw also that the temple had a raised platform all around; the foundations of the side chambers measured a full reed of six long cubits. The thickness of the outer wall of the side chambers was five cubits. The free space between the side chambers of the temple and the 10 other chambers was a breadth of twenty cubits all around the temple on every side. 11 And the doors of the side chambers opened on the free space, one door toward the north, and another door toward the south. And the breadth of the free space was five cubits all around.

12 The building that was facing the separate yard on the west side was seventy cubits broad, and the wall of the building was five cubits thick all around, and its length ninety cubits.

13 Then he measured the temple, a hundred cubits long; and the yard and the building with its walls, a hundred cubits long; 14 also the breadth of the east front of the temple and the yard, a hundred cubits.

15 Then he measured the length of the building facing the yard that was at the back and its galleries on either side, a hundred cubits.

The inside of the nave and the vestibules of the court, 16 the thresholds and the narrow windows and the galleries all around the three of them, opposite the threshold, were paneled with wood all around, from the floor up to the windows (now the windows were covered), 17 to the space above the door, even to the inner room, and on the outside. And on all the walls all around, inside and outside, was a measured pattern. 18 It was carved of cherubim and palm trees, a palm tree between cherub and cherub. Every cherub had two faces: 19 a human face toward the palm tree on the one side, and the face of a young lion toward the palm tree on the other side. They were carved on the whole temple all around. 20 From the floor to above the door, cherubim and palm trees were carved; similarly the wall of the nave.

21 The doorposts of the nave were squared, and in front of the Holy Place was something resembling 22 an altar of wood, three cubits high, two cubits long, and two cubits broad. Its corners, its base, and its walls were of wood. He said to me, “This is the table that is before the Lord.” 23 The nave and the Holy Place had each a double door. 24 The double doors had two leaves apiece, two swinging leaves for each door. 25 And on the doors of the nave were carved cherubim and palm trees, such as were carved on the walls. And there was a canopy[j] of wood in front of the vestibule outside. 26 And there were narrow windows and palm trees on either side, on the sidewalls of the vestibule, the side chambers of the temple, and the canopies. Ezekiel 41:5-26 ESV

The level of detail in Ezekiel’s vision is staggering. His guided tour of the Millennial Temple was conducted by “man whose face shone like bronze” (Ezekiel 40:3 NLT), who held “a linen measuring cord and a measuring rod” (Ezekiel 40:3 NLT) in his hand. Each time they entered a new area of the temple complex, “the man” provided detailed measurements to indicate the exact dimensions involved. The temple itself, which was the focal point of the entire compound, was an elaborate, multi-storied structure surrounded by three rows of antechambers. There were 90 of these small rooms stacked three stories high along three different sides of the temple. There is no information given regarding their purpose but they would have formed the outer wall of the temple itself. It seems that with each successive story, the rooms became slightly larger in size. 

To the west of the temple was another free-standing building that was roughly 116 feet deep and 150 feet wide. There is no indication as to the nature or purpose of this structure. But from all the details provided, it is clear that this future temple complex is far larger and more complex than any of the previous iterations of the temple. And its dimensions dwarf the original tabernacle used by the Israelites during their wilderness wanderings.

In verses 16-26, Ezekiel records the dimensions and decorative embellishments of the temple’s interior. The walls are paneled in wood and “decorated with carved cherubim and palm trees” (Ezekiel 41:25 NLT).  These images are meant to convey a powerful message regarding the temple’s occupant.

“In these figures aspirations of life and prosperity (palm) and security (cherubim) coalesce. In Israelite thought, the divine resident of this house was the source of both. – Daniel I. Block, The Book of Ezekiel

God is the giver of all life and the sole source of man’s prosperity and protection. God had already told Ezekiel that the day would come when He would restore His people to their land and take up residence among them once again.

“I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” – Ezekiel 37:26-27 ESV

God’s house will be of immense proportions and feature beautifully ornate architectural embellishments designed to reflect His divine glory and greatness. Everything about the temple and its surrounding grounds will be striking and attention-getting. This beautiful building will be a showcase of God Almighty and serve as a permanent reminder of His presence and power.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Most Holy Place

44 On the outside of the inner gateway there were two chambers in the inner court, one at the side of the north gate facing south, the other at the side of the south gate facing north. 45 And he said to me, “This chamber that faces south is for the priests who have charge of the temple, 46 and the chamber that faces north is for the priests who have charge of the altar. These are the sons of Zadok, who alone among the sons of Levi may come near to the Lord to minister to him.” 47 And he measured the court, a hundred cubits long and a hundred cubits broad, a square. And the altar was in front of the temple.

48 Then he brought me to the vestibule of the temple and measured the jambs of the vestibule, five cubits on either side. And the breadth of the gate was fourteen cubits, and the sidewalls of the gate were three cubits on either side. 49 The length of the vestibule was twenty cubits, and the breadth twelve cubits, and people would go up to it by ten steps. And there were pillars beside the jambs, one on either side.

1 Then he brought me to the nave and measured the jambs. On each side six cubits was the breadth of the jambs. And the breadth of the entrance was ten cubits, and the sidewalls of the entrance were five cubits on either side. And he measured the length of the nave, forty cubits, and its breadth, twenty cubits. Then he went into the inner room and measured the jambs of the entrance, two cubits; and the entrance, six cubits; and the sidewalls on either side of the entrance, seven cubits. And he measured the length of the room, twenty cubits, and its breadth, twenty cubits, across the nave. And he said to me, “This is the Most Holy Place.” Ezekiel 40:44-41:4 ESV

Ezekiel’s vision of the Millennial Temple included a view of two chambers located just outside the northern and southern inner gates. In Hebrew, these rooms are described as liškâ šîr, which might best be translated as “the chambers of the singing men.”

These would have been members of the tribe of Levi who served as priests in the temple but also functioned as musicians as part of their service to God. The book of 2 Chronicles mentions these men.

And the Levites who were musicians—Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun, and all their sons and brothers—were dressed in fine linen robes and stood at the east side of the altar playing cymbals, lyres, and harps. They were joined by 120 priests who were playing trumpets. The trumpeters and singers performed together in unison to praise and give thanks to the Lord. – 2 Chronicles 5:12-13 NLT

These men were responsible for providing musical praise to God as part of peoples’ worship.

Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals, and other instruments, they raised their voices and praised the Lord with these words:

“He is good!
    His faithful love endures forever!”  – 2 Chronicles 5:14 NLT

And the book of 1 Chronicles states that they lived in special rooms dedicated to their use in the temple.

The musicians, all prominent Levites, lived at the Temple. They were exempt from other responsibilities since they were on duty at all hours. All these men lived in Jerusalem. They were the heads of Levite families and were listed as prominent leaders in their genealogical records. – 1 Chronicles 9:33-34 NLT

The Psalms are filled with descriptions of music as a form of worship and singing as a means of praising God for all He has done.

Come, let us sing to the Lord!
    Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come to him with thanksgiving.
    Let us sing psalms of praise to him. – Psalm 95:1-2 NLT

Shout to the Lord, all the earth;
    break out in praise and sing for joy!
Sing your praise to the Lord with the harp,
    with the harp and melodious song,
with trumpets and the sound of the ram’s horn.
    Make a joyful symphony before the Lord, the King! – Psalm 98:4-6 NLT

And, according to Ezekiel’s vision, this musical expression of praise and glory for God’s goodness and greatness will continue into the Millennial Kingdom.

The praise of God will never cease in the Millennial Kingdom as God’s people express their heartfelt gratitude for all that He has done. And these priests will be accompanied by others who be responsible for maintaining the temple itself as well as all the elements associated with the altar and the sacrificial system. Each priest will perform his duties with joy and gladness so that the temple may function seamlessly and in full compliance with God’s decrees.

And Ezekiel is told that these men will be the descendants of Zadok, who served as a priest during the reigns of David and Solomon. This ensures the prophet that God will miraculously maintain the line of Zadok so that they may serve Him in this future temple.

As the vision unfolds before Ezekiel’s eyes, he is escorted into the actual doorway of the temple itself, through a portico or inner room that opens into the temple proper. As he moves forward into the recesses of the temple, Ezekiel passes through the Holy Place and into the Holy of Holies. With each step, he moves into a progressively smaller space that is meant to focus his attention on the significance of his final destination: The most holy place.  This was the innermost room of the temple where God’s presence was said to dwell above the mercy seat. In Solomon’s temple, this room was highly restricted and off-limits to anyone but the high priest, who could only enter one day out of the entire year, on the Day of Atonement. God had told Moses to warn his brother, Aaron, the high priest, not to venture into the Holy of Holies on any other day or he would face certain death.

The Lord said to Moses, “Warn your brother, Aaron, not to enter the Most Holy Place behind the inner curtain whenever he chooses; if he does, he will die. For the Ark’s cover—the place of atonement—is there, and I myself am present in the cloud above the atonement cover.” – Leviticus 16:2 NLT

Aaron was given a series of ceremonial tasks to perform so that he might offer a sacrifice on behalf of the people. It all began with his personal purification and included cleansing of the Holy of Holies, the altar, priests, the congregation, and the tabernacle itself. It all concluded with the release of the scapegoat.

“He will lay both of his hands on the goat’s head and confess over it all the wickedness, rebellion, and sins of the people of Israel. In this way, he will transfer the people’s sins to the head of the goat. Then a man specially chosen for the task will drive the goat into the wilderness. As the goat goes into the wilderness, it will carry all the people’s sins upon itself into a desolate land.” – Leviticus 16:21-22 NLT

What makes this so important is that, in the future Millennial Kingdom, there will be no need for the scapegoat because of Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice. He bore the sins of mankind with His death on the cross and provided a permanent means of forgiveness for all those who place their faith in Him. Yet, God told Moses and the people of Israel that His commands concerning the Day of Atonement would be permanent.

“This is a permanent law for you. In future generations, the purification ceremony will be performed by the priest who has been anointed and ordained to serve as high priest in place of his ancestor Aaron. He will put on the holy linen garments and purify the Most Holy Place, the Tabernacle, the altar, the priests, and the entire congregation. This is a permanent law for you, to purify the people of Israel from their sins, making them right with the Lord once each year.” – Leviticus 16:31-34 NLT

But what makes the future temple so unique is that it will exist as part of the Millennial Kingdom of Jesus Christ, who will reign as King over Jerusalem, the land of Israel, and the rest of the world. Because of His sacrificial death, resurrection, ascension, and ultimate return as the King of kings and Lord of lords, there will be no need for future purification of the temple. The scapegoat will be unnecessary. Cleansing from sin will no longer be needed.

The Most Holy Place will be permanently holy. The people of God will be eternally righteous, cleansed, and forgiven. Because God and His Son will take up permanent residence with His people.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Nothing But the Blood of Jesus

17 Then he brought me into the outer court. And behold, there were chambers and a pavement, all around the court. Thirty chambers faced the pavement. 18 And the pavement ran along the side of the gates, corresponding to the length of the gates. This was the lower pavement. 19 Then he measured the distance from the inner front of the lower gate to the outer front of the inner court, a hundred cubits on the east side and on the north side.

20 As for the gate that faced toward the north, belonging to the outer court, he measured its length and its breadth. 21 Its side rooms, three on either side, and its jambs and its vestibule were of the same size as those of the first gate. Its length was fifty cubits, and its breadth twenty-five cubits. 22 And its windows, its vestibule, and its palm trees were of the same size as those of the gate that faced toward the east. And by seven steps people would go up to it, and find its vestibule before them. 23 And opposite the gate on the north, as on the east, was a gate to the inner court. And he measured from gate to gate, a hundred cubits.

24 And he led me toward the south, and behold, there was a gate on the south. And he measured its jambs and its vestibule; they had the same size as the others. 25 Both it and its vestibule had windows all around, like the windows of the others. Its length was fifty cubits, and its breadth twenty-five cubits. 26 And there were seven steps leading up to it, and its vestibule was before them, and it had palm trees on its jambs, one on either side. 27 And there was a gate on the south of the inner court. And he measured from gate to gate toward the south, a hundred cubits.

28 Then he brought me to the inner court through the south gate, and he measured the south gate. It was of the same size as the others. 29 Its side rooms, its jambs, and its vestibule were of the same size as the others, and both it and its vestibule had windows all around. Its length was fifty cubits, and its breadth twenty-five cubits. 30 And there were vestibules all around, twenty-five cubits long and five cubits broad. 31 Its vestibule faced the outer court, and palm trees were on its jambs, and its stairway had eight steps.

32 Then he brought me to the inner court on the east side, and he measured the gate. It was of the same size as the others. 33 Its side rooms, its jambs, and its vestibule were of the same size as the others, and both it and its vestibule had windows all around. Its length was fifty cubits, and its breadth twenty-five cubits. 34 Its vestibule faced the outer court, and it had palm trees on its jambs, on either side, and its stairway had eight steps.

35 Then he brought me to the north gate, and he measured it. It had the same size as the others. 36 Its side rooms, its jambs, and its vestibule were of the same size as the others, and it had windows all around. Its length was fifty cubits, and its breadth twenty-five cubits. 37 Its vestibule faced the outer court, and it had palm trees on its jambs, on either side, and its stairway had eight steps.

38 There was a chamber with its door in the vestibule of the gate, where the burnt offering was to be washed. 39 And in the vestibule of the gate were two tables on either side, on which the burnt offering and the sin offering and the guilt offering were to be slaughtered. 40 And off to the side, on the outside as one goes up to the entrance of the north gate, were two tables; and off to the other side of the vestibule of the gate were two tables. 41 Four tables were on either side of the gate, eight tables, on which to slaughter. 42 And there were four tables of hewn stone for the burnt offering, a cubit and a half long, and a cubit and a half broad, and one cubit high, on which the instruments were to be laid with which the burnt offerings and the sacrifices were slaughtered. 43 And hooks, a handbreadth long, were fastened all around within. And on the tables the flesh of the offering was to be laid. Ezekiel 40:17-43 ESV

The temple complex in Ezekiel’s vision revealed an outer wall with three gates or entrances; one to the north, another to the east, and a final one to the south. The wall surrounding the temple was over ten feet wide and ten feet tall. The eastern gate, which faced the Kidron Valley across from the Mount of Olives, had a set of steps leading up to its gate. This was the main entry point to the temple complex and led to an outer court. On the perimeter of the wall’s interior were a series of rooms that lined its northern. eastern, and southern sides. No explanation is given for the purpose of these rooms.

The distance between the outer eastern gate and the inner eastern gate that led to the inner court was 166 feet. This expanse formed the outer court. In Solomon’s temple, this would have been called The Court of the Women. But in his vision, Ezekiel is provided with no designation for this expansive space.

Upon entering the outer court, the three entrances to the inner court came into view. These three inner gate complexes were similar in size and design to the outer gates and provided access to the temple itself. There is a repeated pattern or design intended to regulate entrance into God’s presence. And upon passing through one of these three gates, one would find themself inside the inner court and the place of sacrifice. A room was dedicated to the washing of the animals planned for sacrifice. The priests would purify each animal before offering it up to God as a burnt offering. On the outside of this room were eight stone tables, where the sacrificial animals were slaughtered for the burnt offerings, sin offerings, and guilt offerings. Four additional stone tables held the priests’ butchering implements and were where the prepared meat was placed before being offered as a sacrifice.

Ezekiel was also shown two rooms, one was “for the priests who supervise the Temple maintenance” (Ezekiel 40:45 NLT) and the other was for the priests in charge of the altar” (Ezekiel 40:46 NLT). And Ezekiel was informed that these priests are “the descendants of Zadok—for they alone of all the Levites may approach the Lord to minister to him” (Ezekiel 40:46 NLT). In other words, this future temple will be administered according to God’s original command. He had ordained that the tribe of Levi would serve as keepers of the tabernacle and later, the temple.

…the Lord your God chose the tribe of Levi out of all your tribes to minister in the Lord’s name forever. – Deuteronomy 18:5 NLT

From among the Levites would come the priests who were tasked with offering the sacrifices on behalf of the people. Zadok was a descendant of Levi and had served during the reign of King David. It will be the priestly descendants of Zadok who serve in this future millennial temple. This is another sign that God will restore everything to the way He had intended it to be from the beginning.

But there is one question that comes to mind when considering the presence of the temple, priests, and blood sacrifices in the millennial kingdom. Why would God reinstitute this ritual when the book of Hebrews states that Jesus offered His life as a final, once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of mankind?

So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever. – Hebrews 9:11-12 NLT

The original sacrificial system was intended to purify the ungodly, including the priests themselves, making them worthy of coming into God’s presence and capable of receiving His forgiveness.

For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.

That is why the Tabernacle and everything in it, which were copies of things in heaven, had to be purified by the blood of animals. But the real things in heaven had to be purified with far better sacrifices than the blood of animals. – Hebrews 9:22-23 NLT

Jesus provided a better sacrifice, a new-and-improved way of being made right with God. He offered His own life, shedding His own blood, in order that sinful men and women might receive new life and a restored relationship with God.

Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. – Hebrews 9:28 NLT

So, why is Ezekiel given a vision of what appears to be a renewed sacrificial system in the millennial temple? The author of Hebrews provides insight into this seeming contradiction. He states that the Old Testament priests served “in a system of worship that is only a copy, a shadow of the real one in heaven” (Hebrews 8:5 NLT). In other words, their priestly duties, including the blood sacrifices they offered as atonement for the sins of the people, were a foreshadowing of Jesus’ ultimate and final sacrifice. They pointed forward to something far greater. It seems that in the Millennial temple, these sacrifices will look back, commemorating the atoning work of Jesus. Rather than redemptive in nature, they will be commemorative. Much like the New Testament Church celebrates the death of Christ through the ordinance of the Lord’s Table.

The author of Hebrews goes on to state that the blood sacrifices “actually reminded them of their sins year after year. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:3-4 NLT). But in the future, those very same sacrifices will be used to remind people of their Savior.

Again, the author of Hebrews provides helpful insight into this future scene that Ezekiel was privileged to see.

“This is the new covenant I will make
    with my people on that day, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
    and I will write them on their minds.”

Then he says,

“I will never again remember
    their sins and lawless deeds.”

And when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices. – Hebrews 10:16-18 NLT

There will no longer be any need to offer sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins because Christ has paid the full and final price for those sins. Yet, there will be ample reason for people to offer sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving for the gracious gift of eternal life they have received.

As the author of Hebrews makes clear, “it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 NLT). But in Ezekiel’s vision, he is shown that the blood of bulls and goats can do what it was always intended to do: Point to the blood of Christ that made possible mankind’s full and complete redemption and restoration to God. As the apostle, John reminds us, “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 2:17 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

I Will Put My Temple Among Them

1 In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was struck down, on that very day, the hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me to the city. In visions of God he brought me to the land of Israel, and set me down on a very high mountain, on which was a structure like a city to the south. When he brought me there, behold, there was a man whose appearance was like bronze, with a linen cord and a measuring reed in his hand. And he was standing in the gateway. And the man said to me, “Son of man, look with your eyes, and hear with your ears, and set your heart upon all that I shall show you, for you were brought here in order that I might show it to you. Declare all that you see to the house of Israel.”

And behold, there was a wall all around the outside of the temple area, and the length of the measuring reed in the man’s hand was six long cubits, each being a cubit and a handbreadth in length. So he measured the thickness of the wall, one reed; and the height, one reed. Then he went into the gateway facing east, going up its steps, and measured the threshold of the gate, one reed deep. And the side rooms, one reed long and one reed broad; and the space between the side rooms, five cubits; and the threshold of the gate by the vestibule of the gate at the inner end, one reed. Then he measured the vestibule of the gateway, on the inside, one reed. Then he measured the vestibule of the gateway, eight cubits; and its jambs, two cubits; and the vestibule of the gate was at the inner end. 10 And there were three side rooms on either side of the east gate. The three were of the same size, and the jambs on either side were of the same size. 11 Then he measured the width of the opening of the gateway, ten cubits; and the length of the gateway, thirteen cubits. 12 There was a barrier before the side rooms, one cubit on either side. And the side rooms were six cubits on either side. 13 Then he measured the gate from the ceiling of the one side room to the ceiling of the other, a breadth of twenty-five cubits; the openings faced each other. 14 He measured also the vestibule, sixty cubits. And around the vestibule of the gateway was the court. 15 From the front of the gate at the entrance to the front of the inner vestibule of the gate was fifty cubits. 16 And the gateway had windows all around, narrowing inwards toward the side rooms and toward their jambs, and likewise the vestibule had windows all around inside, and on the jambs were palm trees. Ezekiel 40:1-16 ESV

Over the next nine chapters, Ezekiel is going to describe a vision given to him by God. The length of this vision rivals the one that the apostle John experienced and recorded in the book of Revelation. Ezekiel’s vision came not long after God’s declaration of His future plans to restore Israel to the land of Canaan and renew His covenant relationship with them. Part of that plan was to rebuild the temple and reintroduce the sacrificial system.

“…I will put my Temple among them forever. I will make my home among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And when my Temple is among them forever, the nations will know that I am the Lord, who makes Israel holy.”– Ezekiel 37:26-28 NLT

Ezekiel was given a vision of that future temple in all its glory and majesty, and it would be nothing like the temple that the Babylonians had destroyed. According to Ezekiel’s dating, he was given this vision 12 years after having received news of the fall of Jerusalem and the original temple’s destruction.

In the twelfth year of our exile, in the tenth month, on the fifth day of the month, a fugitive from Jerusalem came to me and said, “The city has been struck down.”– Ezekiel 33:21 ESV

Now, more than a decade later, he records, “In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was struck down, on that very day, the hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me to the city” (Ezekiel 40:1 ESV).

But rather than finding the temple in a state of disrepair and decay, he sees “a structure like a city to the south” (Ezekiel 40:2 ESV). Before his eyes lay a massive complex of buildings and walls that appears more like a city than a temple. In his vision, Ezekiel receives a guided tour of the temple complex by a divine guide. And this is not the first time Ezekiel has met this individual. Back in chapter 8, he records a previous encounter with what appears to be the same “man whose appearance was like bronze, with a linen cord and a measuring reed in his hand” (Ezekiel 40:3 ESV).

Then I looked, and behold, a form that had the appearance of a man. Below what appeared to be his waist was fire, and above his waist was something like the appearance of brightness, like gleaming metal.He put out the form of a hand and took me by a lock of my head, and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the gateway of the inner court… – Ezekiel 8:2-3 ESV

But in Ezekiel’s prior vision, what he saw taking place in the temple was disturbing and disconcerting.

“Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations that the house of Israel are committing here, to drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see still greater abominations.” – Ezekiel 8:6 ESV

In that vision, Ezekiel was given a glimpse into the temple in Jerusalem where the priests and leaders of Judah were committing idolatry and apostasy. They had denigrated the name of God by worshiping false gods in the very temple that had been dedicated to Him alone.

But that vision had taken plan two decades earlier and now the temple was a pile of rubble. Nebuchadnezzar’s forces had completely destroyed the once-glorious house built by King Solomon for the glory of God. Yet, God provided Ezekiel with a telescopic view into the distant future so that He could see a rebuilt and more magnificent temple that far exceeded Solomon’s temple in glory and grandeur. And the whole purpose for this second visit to the temple in Jerusalem was so that Ezekiel might tell his fellow exiles what he saw.

Son of man, watch and listen. Pay close attention to everything I show you. You have been brought here so I can show you many things. Then you will return to the people of Israel and tell them everything you have seen.”– Ezekiel 40:4 NLT

In interpreting the meaning behind this vision, it is important to consider the audience to whom it was given. Ezekiel is specifically told to give this message to “the people of Israel.” Some have concluded that this vision is purely spiritual in nature and is not to be taken literally. They posit that everything Ezekiel saw was predicting the coming of the church after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Therefore, the images are figurative and not literal. But this view does not explain the great details found in the vision regarding the temple’s size and structure. It is impossible to spiritualize all that Ezekiel sees.

Another view is that this vision was fulfilled when the Israelites returned to the promised land under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. But the temple they rebuilt had no resemblance to what is described in Ezekiel’s vision. And the later expansions to the temple under King Herod would still lack any similarities to what Ezekiel saw in his vision.

The most logical explanation is that Ezekiel was given a view of a literal, eschatological temple that will exist during the millennial reign of Christ. God had already promised Ezekiel that the day was coming when He would put His temple among them forever. Therefore, it cannot be a temporary structure built with human hands. It must be of a supernatural design and built to last throughout eternity.

“Why did Ezekiel take so much space to describe the millennial temple? Here are two reasons: (1) The sanctuary was the visible symbol of God’s presence among His people. The prelude to Israel’s judgment began when God’s glory departed from Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem (Ezek. 8-11). The climax to her restoration as a nation will come when God’s glory reenters the new temple in Jerusalem (43:1-5). (2) The new temple will become the visible reminder of Israel’s relationship to God through His New Covenant. Since God gave detailed instructions for building the tabernacle to accompany His inauguration of the Mosaic Covenant (cf. Ez. 25-40), it is not unusual that He would also supply detailed plans for His new center of worship to accompany the implementation of the New Covenant. This temple will be the focal point for the visible manifestation of Israel’s new relationship with her God.” – Charles H. Dyer, Ezekiel

What Ezekiel receives is a literal blueprint for the millennial temple complex. When Noah received God’s blueprint instructions for the ark, God expected him to build it. But that is not the case here. Ezekiel was not expected to use these detailed measurements to construct this future temple. That would be the work of God. But God wanted Ezekiel to be able to describe in minute detail what he saw in the vision. It would have been next to impossible for Ezekiel to put into words what he saw. And it would have been difficult for his audience to grasp the glory of this eschatological temple without the measurements to provide some idea of its scope and size. And God left nothing out.

From the height of the surrounding wall to the threshold of each gate, God provided Ezekiel with precise measurements for each part of the temple complex. Guard rooms, alcoves, courtyards,  and gateways were all included in the guided tour. And the amount of emphasis on gates and guard rooms suggests that the future temple will have restricted access. God will prevent anyone who is unclean or unworthy from entering His holy temple. It will once again be a place of righteousness where God’s presence dwells and God’s people can gather to offer their sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Never Again

25 “Therefore thus says the Lord God: Now I will restore the fortunes of Jacob and have mercy on the whole house of Israel, and I will be jealous for my holy name. 26 They shall forget their shame and all the treachery they have practiced against me, when they dwell securely in their land with none to make them afraid, 27 when I have brought them back from the peoples and gathered them from their enemies’ lands, and through them have vindicated my holiness in the sight of many nations. 28 Then they shall know that I am the Lord their God, because I sent them into exile among the nations and then assembled them into their own land. I will leave none of them remaining among the nations anymore. 29 And I will not hide my face anymore from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, declares the Lord God.” Ezekiel 39:25-29 ESV

In verse 25, God singles out the patriarch, Jacob, for special attention, and God makes it a point to use Jacob’s old name. Jacob was the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham, whose name (yaʿăqōḇ) means “heel-holder” or “supplanter.” According to the Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon, it can also mean “layer of snares.” And Jacob lived up to his name. He was a deceiver, an old-fashioned con artist who repeatedly used his uncanny ability to manipulate others for self-promotion. He somehow convinced his slightly older twin brother, Esau, to sell his birthright for a bowl of stew. Later on, with advice from his mother, Jacob tricked his own father into giving him the blessing of the firstborn that rightfully belonged to Esau. Years later, Jacob would use further subterfuge against his unsuspecting father-in-law in order to build his own flock while decimating the flock of Laban.

It was not long after leaving the land of Haran where he had lived as part of Laban’s family for 20 years, that Jacob received his new name from God.

“Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” – Genesis 32:28 ESV

At this encounter with God, Jacob received far more than a new name; he was given a new identity. Just moments earlier, he had been engaged in a wrestling match with an unidentified “man” who he later recognized as none other than God.

I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” – Genesis 32:30 ESV

Jacob had literally wrestled with God, who had appeared to him in human form. But Jacob had not bested God. There was no cry of “uncle” from the lips of God. Jacob had tried to manipulate God by demanding a blessing from Him, but the blessing had been Jacob’s all along. No manipulation was necessary. Jacob didn’t need to try and manhandle God to get what he wanted. It was already his. So, based on the context, Jacob’s new name, Israel, would be best translated “let God rule.” The Almighty was placing on Jacob an expectation of willful submission to His sovereign authority.

The new name given to Jacob is Israel, and the explanation following is that Jacob has struggled with God, and with men have succeeded. There is a play on sound in yiśrā’ēl (“Israel”) and śāritā (“you have struggled”). The original meaning of Israel is much debated (“God rules?”, “God heals?”, “God judges?”), as is the relationship between yiśrā’ēl and the verb śārâ (“struggled”). Uncertaintly about the meaning of śārâ is engendered by the fact that it occurs only one other time in the OT, Hos. 12:4. Hosea’s reference to Jacob, “he strove with [śārâ ‘et] God.” The ancient versions disagreed on the meaning of śāritā in Gen. 32:29. LXX, Vulg., and Pesh. derive it from srr (Aramaic), “be strong.” Aquila and Symm. derive it from śārâr, “to rule.” As already noted, Targ. Onqelos attempts to eliminate the idea of a mortal engaged in combat with God: “For you are great [or: ‘a prince,’ reading sar for śāritā] before the Lord and among men, therefore you have prevailed.

It seems that in Gen. 32 one must interpret Israel as “El will rule or strive,” or “Let El rule,” rather than as “he has striven with El. For one thing, it is very unusual for the theophoric element in a personal name to serve as anything but subject. Up to this point in Jacob’s life Jacob may well have been called “Israjacob,” “Jacob shall rule” or “let Jacob rule.” In every confrontation he has emerged as the victor; over Esau, over Isaac, over Laban, and even more startingly over this “man.” – Victor P. Hamilton, Genesis

In verse 25 of Ezekiel 39, God uses both names to drive home an important point.

“Now I will restore the fortunes of Jacob and have mercy on the whole house of Israel.” – Ezekiel 39:25 ESV

The “fortunes of Jacob” refers to God’s promise of a land, a seed, and a blessing. It was the same promise given to Abraham and Isaac.

“I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. – Genesis 28:13-14 NLT

Jacob, the deceiver, and manipulator, had been graciously given the promise of the inheritance offered to Abraham and Isaac, and he had done nothing to deserve it. In fact, his progeny had continued to follow his deceptive practices, living in open rebellion against God. They feigned obedience through the observance of His required feasts and festivals but, all the while, their lives were marked by idolatry and immorality. Yet, God promises to restore their fortunes by returning them to the land and restoring them to a right relationship with Himself.

And God states that He will “have mercy on the whole house of Israel.” By using Jacob’s new name, God is including all 12 tribes of Israel, the descendants of Jacob’s 12 sons. Even though the kingdom of Israel was divided immediately after the reign of King Solomon and remained two separate kingdoms for centuries, God announces that there will be a grand reunion and reunification of His chosen people. He will show mercy to them all and, for the first time since their inception as a nation, they will “let God rule.”

“For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.” – Ezekiel 36:24-27 NLT

“I will give them hearts that recognize me as the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me wholeheartedly.” – Jeremiah 24:7 NLT

God has punished His people for their sins. The audience to whom Ezekiel spoke and for whom he penned the words of this book were experiencing the reality of God’s judgment. They were living as exiles in Babylon, as divine punishment for their failure to “let God rule.” And even when future generations of Israelites find themselves graciously relocated and restored to the land of promise, they will fully recognize how undeserving they are of this marvelous act of mercy from God.

They will accept responsibility for their past shame and unfaithfulness after they come home to live in peace in their own land, with no one to bother them. – Ezekiel 39:26 NLT

God states that He will vindicate His holiness in the sight of many nations. How does He intend to do that? By making the unholy holy. By transforming His unrighteous and disobedient children into faithful sons and daughters of God. And this miraculous transformation of His people will allow Him to take up residence among them – for eternity.

“I will unify them into one nation on the mountains of Israel. One king will rule them all; no longer will they be divided into two nations or into two kingdoms. They will never again pollute themselves with their idols and vile images and rebellion, for I will save them from their sinful apostasy. I will cleanse them. Then they will truly be my people, and I will be their God.” – Ezekiel 37:22-23 NLT

“I will make a covenant of peace with them, an everlasting covenant. I will give them their land and increase their numbers, and I will put my Temple among them forever. I will make my home among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And when my Temple is among them forever, the nations will know that I am the LORD, who makes Israel holy.” – Ezekiel 37:26-28 NLT

There is a day coming when God will restore the fortunes of Jacob and have mercy on the whole house of Israel. God’s people will no longer suffer division, dispersion, attack, or mistreatment. They will no longer be apostate, idolatrous, and immoral. And they will never have to fear falling from God’s grace again.

“And I will never again turn my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit upon the people of Israel. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!” – Ezekiel 39:29 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

A Vision of Two Valleys

1 “And you, son of man, prophesy against Gog and say, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. And I will turn you about and drive you forward, and bring you up from the uttermost parts of the north, and lead you against the mountains of Israel. Then I will strike your bow from your left hand, and will make your arrows drop out of your right hand. You shall fall on the mountains of Israel, you and all your hordes and the peoples who are with you. I will give you to birds of prey of every sort and to the beasts of the field to be devoured. You shall fall in the open field, for I have spoken, declares the Lord God. I will send fire on Magog and on those who dwell securely in the coastlands, and they shall know that I am the Lord.

“And my holy name I will make known in the midst of my people Israel, and I will not let my holy name be profaned anymore. And the nations shall know that I am the Lord, the Holy One in Israel. Behold, it is coming and it will be brought about, declares the Lord God. That is the day of which I have spoken.

“Then those who dwell in the cities of Israel will go out and make fires of the weapons and burn them, shields and bucklers, bow and arrows, clubs and spears; and they will make fires of them for seven years, 10 so that they will not need to take wood out of the field or cut down any out of the forests, for they will make their fires of the weapons. They will seize the spoil of those who despoiled them, and plunder those who plundered them, declares the Lord God.

11 “On that day I will give to Gog a place for burial in Israel, the Valley of the Travelers, east of the sea. It will block the travelers, for there Gog and all his multitude will be buried. It will be called the Valley of Hamon-gog. 12 For seven months the house of Israel will be burying them, in order to cleanse the land. 13 All the people of the land will bury them, and it will bring them renown on the day that I show my glory, declares the Lord God. 14 They will set apart men to travel through the land regularly and bury those travelers remaining on the face of the land, so as to cleanse it. At the end of seven months they will make their search. 15 And when these travel through the land and anyone sees a human bone, then he shall set up a sign by it, till the buriers have buried it in the Valley of Hamon-gog. 16 (Hamonah is also the name of the city.) Thus shall they cleanse the land.

17 “As for you, son of man, thus says the Lord God: Speak to the birds of every sort and to all beasts of the field: ‘Assemble and come, gather from all around to the sacrificial feast that I am preparing for you, a great sacrificial feast on the mountains of Israel, and you shall eat flesh and drink blood. 18 You shall eat the flesh of the mighty, and drink the blood of the princes of the earth—of rams, of lambs, and of he-goats, of bulls, all of them fat beasts of Bashan. 19 And you shall eat fat till you are filled, and drink blood till you are drunk, at the sacrificial feast that I am preparing for you. 20 And you shall be filled at my table with horses and charioteers, with mighty men and all kinds of warriors,’ declares the Lord God.

21 “And I will set my glory among the nations, and all the nations shall see my judgment that I have executed, and my hand that I have laid on them. 22 The house of Israel shall know that I am the Lord their God, from that day forward. 23 And the nations shall know that the house of Israel went into captivity for their iniquity, because they dealt so treacherously with me that I hid my face from them and gave them into the hand of their adversaries, and they all fell by the sword. 24 I dealt with them according to their uncleanness and their transgressions, and hid my face from them. Ezekiel 39:1-24 ESV

Gog, this future world leader, who will form an alliance of nations to attack the reestablished nation of Israel, will find himself with a very powerful enemy: God Himself. So, God has Ezekiel write down a message for this as-yet-to-be-born, self-appointed conqueror of Israel.

I am your enemy, O Gog, ruler of the nations of Meshech and Tubal. I will turn you around and drive you toward the mountains of Israel, bringing you from the distant north. – Ezekiel 39:2-3 NLT

From this point forward, God makes it clear that everything Gog does will be according to His plan. Repeatedly, God states, “I will…,” declaring His sovereign plan to use Gog as a means of accomplishing His preferred and predetermined end. Having Ezekiel record this message in written form ensures that it will last long after the prophet’s death. As a divinely inspired portion of Scripture, the message is eternal as well as reliable. What God has said will actually happen. And whether this man, Gog, ever receives this message from God, all those who read it over the centuries will know that both his ambition and ultimate annihilation are the work of God.

God will be the driving force behind this entire end times event. The participants will not be unthinking pawns in His hands, operating like automatons or robots. They will be acting out their own selfish desires and operating according to what they believe is their own free will. But God will be using them to accomplish His predetermined will. When Gog and his allies make the fateful decision to come against the defenseless people of Israel, they will find themselves in a battle with God Almighty.

I will knock the bow from your left hand and the arrows from your right hand, and I will leave you helpless. You and your army and your allies will all die on the mountains. I will feed you to the vultures and wild animals. You will fall in the open fields, for I have spoken, says the Sovereign Lord. And I will rain down fire on Magog and on all your allies who live safely on the coasts. Then they will know that I am the Lord. – Ezekiel 39:3-6 NLT

This will be a lopsided battle ending in the total annihilation of the enemy’s army and the divine destruction of their homeland. This day of judgment will deliver a powerful message to every person who happens to be alive at the time. Even at this late date in human history, the world will be filled with idolatrous and unrighteous people who have refused to acknowledge Yahweh as the one true god. The apostle Paul provided Timothy with a description of the spiritual climate in those days.

…in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. – 2 Timothy 3:1-5 NLT

But with His utter destruction of Gog and Magog, God will send a message to the world.

I will make known my holy name among my people of Israel. I will not let anyone bring shame on it. And the nations, too, will know that I am the Lord, the Holy One of Israel. – Ezekiel 39:7 NLT

It will be painfully clear that this display of supernatural destruction is the work of God, just like the judgments of the seven trumpets and seven bowls recorded in the book of Revelation. No one will be able to miss the message God is sending. He is God alone and no one can resist His sovereign will.

In verses 9-16, Ezekiel records the horrific aftermath of this one-sided battle. The bodies of the slain will cover the ground as far as the eye can see, and it will take seven months to bury all the dead. The size of Gog’s fallen army is so great that the Israelites will be able to use the wood from their shields, spears, bows, and arrows as fuel for a period of seven years. The valley in which the bodies of the fallen will be buried will be called, “The Valley of the Multitude of Gog.” And for seven months after the last body has been interred, a special team of men will scour the land looking for any last bones that may have been missed, marking their location so the burial detail can complete their grisly work.

This imagery stands in stark contrast to that found in Ezekiel 37. There Ezekiel describes his vision of the valley of dry bones. He sees a landscape covered in dry, scattered bones that are intended to represent the spiritual state of God’s people. But in this case, rather than burial, the bones are miraculously rejoined together.

The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies… – Ezekiel 37:7-8 NLT

Then Ezekiel watched as God breathed new life into the newly formed bodies of His people.

breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army. – Ezekiel 37:10 NLT

What a glaring contrast between these two scenes. One is a prediction of a literal event that will take place in human history. The other is a vision of a spiritual transformation that will take place among God’s chosen people. Both are real and guaranteed to take place. But where Gog and his allies will suffer defeat, death, and the dishonor of burial in a mass grave, the people of Israel will enjoy the blessings of a revitalized relationship with Yahweh made possible by His gracious transformation of their hearts.

God reveals the details of this end times event to His prophet so that he can share it with the exiled people of Judah. This entire section of Ezekiel’s book was meant to provide the helpless and hopeless people of God with encouragement by reminding them that He had not forgotten or forsaken them. God assures them, “I will demonstrate my glory to the nations. Everyone will see the punishment I have inflicted on them and the power of my fist when I strike. And from that time on the people of Israel will know that I am the Lord their God” (Ezekiel 39:21-22 NLT).

Yes, they had been punished for their sin. Their status as exiles was proof of that fact. But God wanted them to remember that He was not yet done. Their judgment would be followed by their justification. He would one day redeem and restore them, cleansing them from all their impurities and providing them with new hearts that will allow them to worship Him alone.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

God versus Gog

17 “Thus says the Lord God: Are you he of whom I spoke in former days by my servants the prophets of Israel, who in those days prophesied for years that I would bring you against them? 18 But on that day, the day that Gog shall come against the land of Israel, declares the Lord God, my wrath will be roused in my anger. 19 For in my jealousy and in my blazing wrath I declare, On that day there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel. 20 The fish of the sea and the birds of the heavens and the beasts of the field and all creeping things that creep on the ground, and all the people who are on the face of the earth, shall quake at my presence. And the mountains shall be thrown down, and the cliffs shall fall, and every wall shall tumble to the ground. 21 I will summon a sword against Gog on all my mountains, declares the Lord God. Every man’s sword will be against his brother. 22 With pestilence and bloodshed I will enter into judgment with him, and I will rain upon him and his hordes and the many peoples who are with him torrential rains and hailstones, fire and sulfur. 23 So I will show my greatness and my holiness and make myself known in the eyes of many nations. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” Ezekiel 38:17-23 ESV

Far too often, we read the Old Testament as if it was simply a record of ancient history. We tend to look at books like Ezekiel as prophetic only in the sense that they contain detailed descriptions of what God was going to do against Israel and her enemies, and that He has already done. We view them as past tense, filled with old news about already fulfilled events that have little impact on us today, except for any insights they may provide regarding God’s character.

But in Ezekiel 38 we are given a prophecy that has yet to be fulfilled. This enigmatic passage describes a situation in which Israel finds itself back in the land of promise, experiencing God’s rich blessings, and prospering in an atmosphere of peace and abundance. God says that in that day, which has yet to happen, a mighty nation will rise up with thoughts of plunder and plans to take advantage of the seemingly defenseless people of God.

“On that day when my people Israel are living securely, you will take notice and come from your place, from the remote parts of the north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great company and a vast army. You will advance against my people Israel like a cloud covering the earth.” – Ezekiel 38:14-16 NET

They will rise up against Israel but are totally unaware that God is about to use them as a visual lesson of His holiness and wrath. God then describes a scene filled with cataclysmic, end-of-the-world-like supernatural disasters.

“I will punish you and your armies with disease and bloodshed; I will send torrential rain, hailstones, fire, and burning sulfur!” – Ezekiel 38:22 NLT

It is a vivid description of God’s final judgment on all those who oppose Him and His people here on this earth. And He makes it clear that this devastating, lopsided victory has a purpose.

“In this way, I will show my greatness and holiness, and I will make myself known to all the nations of the world. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 38:23 NLT

But when will all this take place? When will this event finally be fulfilled? There have been many views proposed over the years, but the one that seems to make the most sense is based on the book of Revelation. In it, the apostle John describes a final battle that will take place at the end of Christ’s millennial reign on earth. For a period of 1,000 years, Christ will rule as the righteous King of kings and Lord of lords over all the nations of the earth. He will mete out perfect justice and administer righteousness from the throne of David for all the citizens of earth. And, according to John’s vision, at the beginning of Christ’s earthly rule, Satan will be imprisoned and prevented from using his powers to influence the nations of the world.

The angel threw him into the bottomless pit, which he then shut and locked so Satan could not deceive the nations anymore until the thousand years were finished. Afterward he must be released for a little while. – Revelation 20:3 NLT

Imagine a period of 1,000 years without the presence of the enemy whose soul “purpose is to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10 NLT). The great deceiver will be out of commission all during those days and the people on earth will experience what it is like to live under the godly rule of a sinless and perfectly righteous leader. Yet, John describes what happens when Satan is released from his imprisonment at the end of Christ’s 1,000-year reign.

Now when the thousand years are finished, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to bring them together for the battle. They are as numerous as the grains of sand in the sea. They went upon the broad plain of the earth and encircled the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and devoured them completely. And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet are too, and they will be tormented there day and night forever and ever. – Revelation 20:7-10 NET

Christ will have returned as the conquering King and set up His kingdom in Jerusalem, sitting on the throne of David. He will have fulfilled God’s promise to give David a descendant who would sit on his throne and rule in righteousness forever – for a period of 1,000 years. At the end of that time, Satan will be released and wage one last war against God. He will deceive the nations and cause them to rise up against God in an attempt to remove Christ from the throne. This vast army will attack Israel, but fail miserably. God will defeat them once and for all, making Himself known to all the nations of the world through His infinite, unmatchable power. When the dust settles from this last epic battle, everyone will know that He alone is God. Case closed.

In the message God gave to Ezekiel, He addressed Gog directly, asking this future world leader, “Are you the one I was talking about long ago, when I announced through Israel’s prophets that in the future I would bring you against my people?” (Ezekiel 38:17 NLT). This rhetorical question is meant to remind Ezekiel and his audience that all history is the fulfillment of God’s sovereign will. His Word is filled with messages that pronounce future events well in advance of their actual occurrence. The rise and fall of Gog will not be left to chance or be a byproduct of blind fate. God has ordained it and declared its eventual inevitability. It is all part of His divine redemptive plan.

The truth is, there have been many “Gogs” in the world. Over the centuries, countless rulers have shown up on the historical timeline who have exhibited Gog-like characteristics. They have all shared a common trait: their disdain for God and their hatred for His chosen people. But the events described in this chapter foretell a future world leader who will rise up against a recently revitalized Israel living in perfect peace and tranquility within the borders of the promised land. This “Gog” will dare to come against the people of God in a vain attempt to wipe them off the face of the earth. But he will fail.

“…this is what the Sovereign Lord says: When Gog invades the land of Israel, my fury will boil over! In my jealousy and blazing anger, I promise a mighty shaking in the land of Israel on that day. – Ezekiel 38:18-19 NLT

The book of Ezekiel is not ancient history. It is a glimpse into the eternal plan of the Sovereign God of the universe. His plan is not yet complete. His work is not yet done. But that day is coming because His Son will one day return, and the certainty of that coming event assures us that the victory is certain.

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through? – Numbers 23:19 NLT

He has declared His intentions and He will carry them out. This assurance of God’s sovereign will was meant to encourage Ezekiel and his fellow exiles. They had no reason to worry about the future because God has all things under control. The Babylonians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Moabites, Edomites, Ammonites, and even the nations of Meshech and Tubal would prove no match for God Almighty. Satan himself will eventually discover the painful truth regarding God’s unequaled greatness and holiness.

“I will show my greatness and holiness, and I will make myself known to all the nations of the world. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 38:23 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Latter Days

1 The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set your face toward Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him and say, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. And I will turn you about and put hooks into your jaws, and I will bring you out, and all your army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed in full armor, a great host, all of them with buckler and shield, wielding swords. Persia, Cush, and Put are with them, all of them with shield and helmet; Gomer and all his hordes; Beth-togarmah from the uttermost parts of the north with all his hordes—many peoples are with you.

“Be ready and keep ready, you and all your hosts that are assembled about you, and be a guard for them. After many days you will be mustered. In the latter years you will go against the land that is restored from war, the land whose people were gathered from many peoples upon the mountains of Israel, which had been a continual waste. Its people were brought out from the peoples and now dwell securely, all of them. You will advance, coming on like a storm. You will be like a cloud covering the land, you and all your hordes, and many peoples with you.

10 “Thus says the Lord God: On that day, thoughts will come into your mind, and you will devise an evil scheme 11 and say, ‘I will go up against the land of unwalled villages. I will fall upon the quiet people who dwell securely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having no bars or gates,’ 12 to seize spoil and carry off plunder, to turn your hand against the waste places that are now inhabited, and the people who were gathered from the nations, who have acquired livestock and goods, who dwell at the center of the earth. 13 Sheba and Dedan and the merchants of Tarshish and all its leaders will say to you, ‘Have you come to seize spoil? Have you assembled your hosts to carry off plunder, to carry away silver and gold, to take away livestock and goods, to seize great spoil?’

14 “Therefore, son of man, prophesy, and say to Gog, Thus says the Lord God: On that day when my people Israel are dwelling securely, will you not know it? 15 You will come from your place out of the uttermost parts of the north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great host, a mighty army. 16 You will come up against my people Israel, like a cloud covering the land. In the latter days I will bring you against my land, that the nations may know me, when through you, O Gog, I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.” Ezekiel 38:1-16 ESV

God has promised His people that a day is coming when they will return to the land of promise and enjoy a renewed relationship with Him as His chosen people. It will be a time of peace and prosperity, free from the threat of wars, famines, or plagues.

“When I have broken their chains of slavery and rescued them from those who enslaved them, then they will know that I am the Lord. They will no longer be prey for other nations, and wild animals will no longer devour them. They will live in safety, and no one will frighten them.

“And I will make their land famous for its crops, so my people will never again suffer from famines or the insults of foreign nations.” – Ezekiel 34:27-29 NLT

This future period of tranquility and fruitfulness will be accompanied by a remarkable realignment of Israel’s spiritual priorities. The nation’s physical revitalization will be marked by a miraculous transformation of each individual’s religious affections. God will perform much-needed “heart surgery,” providing His once-rebellious people with a new capacity to love and obey Him.

“I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.” – Ezekiel 36:26-27 NLT

As with all prophetic pronouncements, the timing of God’s promise is left unclear. It seems clear that this divine promise of future peace and prosperity has yet to occur. To date, there has been no time at which Israel has enjoyed the kind of idyllic, war-free environment described in these passages. Even today, while Israel experiences the benefits of its status as a revitalized and prosperous nation, it is surrounded by sworn enemies who wage a relentless campaign of hostilities against its sovereignty and very existence. And, for the most part, modern Israel is a secular nation with less than half the population identifying as religious, orthodox, or traditional in terms of their faith.

When asked, “What is your present religion, if any?” virtually all Israeli Jews say they are Jewish – and almost none say they have no religion – even though roughly half describe themselves as secular and one-in-five do not believe in God. For some, Jewish identity also is bound up with Israeli national pride. Most secular Jews in Israel say they see themselves as Israeli first and Jewish second, while most Orthodox Jews (Haredim and Datiim) say they see themselves as Jewish first and then Israeli. – https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2016/03/08/israels-religiously-divided-society/

So, this prophetic message given to Ezekiel deals with an as-yet-to-be-determined point in history that remains unfulfilled. And, according to chapter 38, Israel’s future restoration to the land will be interrupted by yet another threat of invasion from an outside enemy. Once again, out of the north, will come a powerful alliance of nations that will set its sights on the land of Israel. God personifies this enemy as “Gog of the land of Magog, the prince who rules over the nations of Meshech and Tubal” (Ezekiel 38:2 NLT). And Ezekiel is told to deliver a message to this future enemy of Israel.

“Get ready; be prepared! Keep all the armies around you mobilized, and take command of them. A long time from now you will be called into action. In the distant future you will swoop down on the land of Israel, which will be enjoying peace after recovering from war and after its people have returned from many lands to the mountains of Israel. You and all your allies—a vast and awesome army—will roll down on them like a storm and cover the land like a cloud. – Ezekiel 38:7-9 NLT

There has been much debate over the centuries as to the exact identity of the individuals and nations named in this prophecy. The names Gog and Magog appear in Ezekiel 38-39 as well as Revelation 20:7-8. This has led many scholars to conclude that both passages are referring to the same end-times event. Whoever Gog is and whatever nations Meshech and Tubal are intended to represent, we know that their arrival lies somewhere in the distant future. God describes the timing of their appearance as “the latter years” (Ezekiel 38:8 ESV) and “the latter days” (Ezekiel 38:16 ESV). On “that day” (Ezekiel 38:14 ESV), God says, “You will come from your place out of the uttermost parts of the north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great host, a mighty army. You will come up against my people Israel, like a cloud covering the land. In the latter days I will bring you against my land…” (Ezekiel 38:15-16 ESV).

This coalition of northern nations will form an unholy alliance, determined to destroy God’s restored and spiritually revitalized people. The exact timing of this event is difficult to nail down, but it must take place during the end times. There are some who speculate that it will happen prior to the seven years of tribulation that will mark the end of the age. Others place it at the midway point of the tribulation when Israel is enjoying a period of peace made possible by the one-world leader known as the Antichrist. Then there are those who have concluded that this invasion of Israel is tied to the battle described in Revelation 20, which will take place at the end of Christ’s millennial reign.

When the thousand years come to an end, Satan will be let out of his prison. He will go out to deceive the nations—called Gog and Magog—in every corner of the earth. He will gather them together for battle—a mighty army, as numberless as sand along the seashore. – Revelation 20:7-8 NLT

But regardless of the identity of the participants or the exact nature of the timing of the event, God makes it clear that it will be His doing.

“In the latter days I will bring you against my land, that the nations may know me, when through you, O Gog, I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.” – Ezekiel 38:16 ESV

Whoever Gog is, he will think he is acting according to his own prerogatives.

“You will say, ‘Israel is an unprotected land filled with unwalled villages! I will march against her and destroy these people who live in such confidence!” – Ezekiel 38:11 NLT

The land of Israel will look ripe for picking and ideal for plundering. They will appear defenseless and unprotected, living out their lives in blissful ignorance and unwarranted overconfidence. But God reveals that Gog will be wrong in his assessment of the situation. Like so many times before, the Almighty will expose the unmitigated hubris of men and use their arrogant plans to display His own power and holiness. God basically states that by the time He is done with Gog and his allies, “all the nations will know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 38:16 NLT).

As the book of Revelation makes clear, up until the very last minute of the end times, the nations of the earth will continue to oppose God by attacking His people. Even the millennial reign of Christ will do nothing to convince the wicked to repent of their sins and turn to God. The rebelliousness of mankind that began in the Garden of Eden will continue throughout human history and only come to an end when God destroys them at the end of the age.

[Satan] will gather them together for battle—a mighty army, as numberless as sand along the seashore. And I saw them as they went up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded God’s people and the beloved city. But fire from heaven came down on the attacking armies and consumed them. – Revelation 20:8-9 NLT

The psalmist eloquently points out the futility of the nations to oppose God. Their raging against the machine of God’s sovereign plan is useless and pointless, but they will continue to do so until God brings it all to an end.

Why are the nations so angry?
    Why do they waste their time with futile plans?
The kings of the earth prepare for battle;
    the rulers plot together
against the Lord
    and against his anointed one.
“Let us break their chains,” they cry,
    “and free ourselves from slavery to God.”

But the one who rules in heaven laughs.
    The Lord scoffs at them.
Then in anger he rebukes them,
    terrifying them with his fierce fury. – Psalm 2:1-5 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

That They May Be One

15 The word of the Lord came to me: 16 “Son of man, take a stick and write on it, ‘For Judah, and the people of Israel associated with him’; then take another stick and write on it, ‘For Joseph (the stick of Ephraim) and all the house of Israel associated with him.’ 17 And join them one to another into one stick, that they may become one in your hand. 18 And when your people say to you, ‘Will you not tell us what you mean by these?’ 19 say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am about to take the stick of Joseph (that is in the hand of Ephraim) and the tribes of Israel associated with him. And I will join with it the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, that they may be one in my hand. 20 When the sticks on which you write are in your hand before their eyes, 21 then say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land. 22 And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms. 23 They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

24 “My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes. 25 They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. 27 My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.” Ezekiel 37:15-28 ESV

For generations, Israel had been a divided nation. During the reign of King Solomon, God had announced His intention to divide the kingdom in two as a result of Solomon’s promotion of idolatry in the land. The wealthy and wise king had made the mistake of marrying many foreign princesses who brought their false gods with them into the marriage. As a result, Solomon ended up embracing these pagan deities and he erected shrines and altars to them all over the kingdom of Israel. But God was not pleased.

The Lord was very angry with Solomon, for his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. He had warned Solomon specifically about worshiping other gods, but Solomon did not listen to the Lord’s command. So now the Lord said to him, “Since you have not kept my covenant and have disobeyed my decrees, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your servants. But for the sake of your father, David, I will not do this while you are still alive. I will take the kingdom away from your son. And even so, I will not take away the entire kingdom; I will let him be king of one tribe, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, my chosen city.” – 1 Kings 11:9-13 NLT

The result of this divine division of the kingdom was two separate nations. Solomon’s son would rule over the southern kingdom of Judah in the south, consisting of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The northern kingdom would maintain the name of Israel and consist of the other ten tribes. This separation would last for centuries, leaving the once-unified tribes in a state of open animosity and competition with one another. The ten northern tribes, under the leadership of a long line of ungodly kings, would stand opposed to the two southern tribes. While there would be short periods of peace between the two nations, their relationship would be marked by both physical and spiritual warfare. While the southern kingdom would continue its worship of Yahweh in the temple in Jerusalem, the northern kingdom would establish a separate religious system with its own gods and places of worship. The two nations would remain divided all the way up to the day when the northern kingdom fell to the Assyrians in 722 B.C.

More than a century later, in 586 B.C., the southern kingdom would fall to the Babylonians. This tragic event is what Ezekiel has been prophesying about throughout his book. And at this point in the narrative, it has taken place. Jerusalem has fallen to Nebuchadnezzar’s forces and the city and its glorious temple have been destroyed. Yet, God has been communicating through Ezekiel His plans to redeem and restore His scattered people. He has promised to return them to the land one day and, more importantly, to radically alter their hearts so that they might finally serve Him faithfully.

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. – Ezekiel 36:25-27 NLT

Ezekiel was to deliver this wonderful message of redemption and restoration to the former citizens of Jerusalem who were living as exiles in Babylon. His audience would have been up entirely of Jews from the southern kingdom of Judah, and they would have been thrilled to hear that God had plans to return them to their homeland. Yet God wanted them to know that His gracious offer of restoration was for all His chosen people, not just the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. He intended to restore that which had been divided because of Solomon’s sin, and He commanded Ezekiel to communicate this plan through yet another visual demonstration.

“Son of man, take a piece of wood and carve on it these words: ‘This represents Judah and its allied tribes.’ Then take another piece and carve these words on it: ‘This represents Ephraim and the northern tribes of Israel.’ Now hold them together in your hand as if they were one piece of wood. – Ezekiel 37:16-17 NLT

God’s instructions seem to indicate that Ezekiel was to place the two pieces of wood end to end, holding them together with his hand. This act would demonstrate that what God had once divided would be reunited and held together by His sovereign hand. He would rejoin the 12 tribes, forming them into a unified whole; a single house under the rule of one king and all serving the one true God.

I will make them one piece of wood in my hand.” – Ezekiel 37:19 NLT

“I will unify them into one nation on the mountains of Israel. One king will rule them all; no longer will they be divided into two nations or into two kingdoms.” – Ezekiel 37:22 NLT

In this message, God declares that He will reunite the nation of Israel and place over them one king.

“My servant David will be their king, and they will have only one shepherd. They will obey my regulations and be careful to keep my decrees.” – Ezekiel 37:24 NLT

But David would have been long dead by this point. How does God intend to fulfill this seemingly impossible promise? The answer lies in another promise God made to King David.

“‘Furthermore, the Lord declares that he will make a house for you—a dynasty of kings! For when you die and are buried with your ancestors, I will raise up one of your descendants, your own offspring, and I will make his kingdom strong. He is the one who will build a house—a temple—for my name. And I will secure his royal throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. If he sins, I will correct and discipline him with the rod, like any father would do. But my favor will not be taken from him as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from your sight. Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever.’” – 2 Samuel 7:11-16 NLT

Solomon was the initial fulfillment of God’s promise, but his reign did not end well, and his kingdom ended up divided. But God states to Ezekiel that the day is coming when the kingdom will be reunified and another “son of David” will sit on the throne in Jerusalem. The prophet, Jeremiah, reveals how this reestablishment of the Davidic line will come about.

“The day will come, says the Lord, when I will do for Israel and Judah all the good things I have promised them.

“In those days and at that time
    I will raise up a righteous descendant from King David’s line.
    He will do what is just and right throughout the land.
In that day Judah will be saved,
    and Jerusalem will live in safety.
And this will be its name:
    ‘The Lord Is Our Righteousness.’

For this is what the Lord says: David will have a descendant sitting on the throne of Israel forever. – Jeremiah 33:14-17 NLT

That “descendant from King David’s line” will be none other than Jesus Christ, the rightful heir to David’s throne. The genealogies of Jesus recorded in Matthew 1 and Luke 3, establish Him as a descendant of King David. The apostle Paul confirms Jesus’ royal heritage when he writes, “In his earthly life he was born into King David’s family line, and he was shown to be the Son of God when he was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:3-4 NLT).

For the Jewish exiles in Babylon, the thought of another king like David would have been exhilarating news. He represented Israel’s glory days. It was under his reign that the nation enjoyed its greatest period of expansion and global dominance. So, God assures them that the good old days are about to return.

“…my servant David will be their prince forever. And I will make a covenant of peace with them, an everlasting covenant. I will give them their land and increase their numbers, and I will put my Temple among them forever.” – Ezekiel 37:25-26 NLT

Jesus, the Son of David and the Messiah of Israel, will return to earth one day and conquer all the enemies of Israel, establishing His kingdom in Jerusalem and ruling over the world for 1,000 years. This millennial kingdom will feature a reunified Israel, a restored temple, and an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity as King Jesus rules the earth in perfect righteousness, meting out justice from His royal throne.

But the millennial reign of Christ will eventually end and be replaced by the eternal state. The apostle John describes this epic end times event in his book of Revelation.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” – Revelation 21:1-5 NLT

It is this final event to which God alludes. There is a final phase to God’s great redemptive plan and it will involve His chosen people. But in His final kingdom, people from every tribe, nation, and tongue will be united as one, sharing a common faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of David and the King of kings and Lord of lords.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

From Death to Life

1 The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. 14 And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” Ezekiel 37:1-14 ESV

God has confirmed His plan to restore Israel to the land of promise, and He has revealed His intention to prepare them spiritually for that day.

“I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.” – Ezekiel 36:26-27 NLT

Bringing impure and unholy people back into the land would accomplish little in the way of real change. Without a radical transformation of their hearts, they would only continue their centuries-long pattern of apostasy. So, God revealed to Ezekiel His future plans for bringing about the miraculous sanctification and justification of His chosen people. Israel’s divine metamorphosis from a nation of sinners to saints will be God’s doing, and not only will He give them new hearts and a new capacity to serve Him, but He will graciously forgive all their past sins (Ezekiel 36:33).

In chapter 37, Ezekiel records God’s graphic illustration of just how miraculous this eschatological transformation will be. He compares Israel’s current spiritual state to that of a valley filled with dry, discarded bones. Everywhere the prophet looks, he sees a stark landscape covered in human remains. But the bodies have been dead for so long that little remains but the carrion-stripped, sun-bleached bones that lie scattered as far as the eye can see.

This surrealistic scene must have disturbed Ezekiel greatly. There was little in the way of good news he could ascertain from this macabre vision. And when God asked him, “can these bones become living people again?” (Ezekiel 37:3 NLT), Ezekiel simply replied, “O Sovereign Lord,…you alone know the answer to that” (Ezekiel 37:3 NLT). The prophet knew it wasn’t a matter of if the bones could live again, but whether they would. For something like that to happen, it would have to be the work of God, and he was uncertain as to what God’s plan for this valley of bones might be.

But his reticence to commit himself to an answer was met with another word from God.

“Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” – Ezekiel 36:4-6 NLT

The prophet was told to prophesy over the bones. By this time, Ezekiel must have known that the vision was meant to symbolize the sad spiritual state of God’s chosen people. For years now, Ezekiel had been prophesying to a spiritually dead and lifeless people who were completely incapable of responding to his messages. They were like dry, disconnected bones scattered across a lifeless landscape and devoid of any capacity to do anything about their hopeless condition.

Yet, the message God gave Ezekiel to speak to the bones was not a command for them to do something, but a promise of something God was going to do for them. The Creator-God was going to revivify and reanimate that which was dead and lifeless. It was a promise of their future restoration by the hand of God, and it sounds similar to the message Paul gave the church in Ephesus regarding their miraculous transformation from death to life when they placed their faith in Christ.

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. – Ephesians 2:1-6 NLT

Ezekiel is commanded to deliver this prophetic promise of God’s future restoration of His people. And as the words came out of his mouth, Ezekiel witnessed an amazing scene take place before his eyes.

…there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them. – Ezekiel 37:7-8 NLT

Stretched out before him was a valley filled with newly restored bodies, each of them covered in muscles, sinews, and flesh. But as impressive as this sight might have been, Ezekiel noticed that they lacked one thing: Life. They had “no breath in them.” So, God gave His prophet another message to deliver.

“Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’” – Ezekiel 37:9 NLT

The anatomically restored bodies remained dead. They looked good but they were useless because they were lifeless, and they needed the one thing that only God could provide: the breath of life. And when Ezekiel called for the breath, it came, filling the lungs of each lifeless body and providing them with the power to stand on their own two feet – a great army.

This dramatic vision was intended to provide Ezekiel with a glimpse into God’s future plans for the people of Israel. He even provided the prophet with a not-so-subtle explanation as to the vision’s meaning.

“Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. – Ezekiel 37:11 NLT

Due to their sin, they were as good as dead to God. They had repeatedly violated His commands and turned their backs on Him, showering their affections on the many false gods of the Canaanites. And God’s judgment had scattered them to the four winds, leaving them in a lifeless and utterly hopeless state. And their abject condition had left them disheartened and demoralized.

“We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.” – Ezekiel 37:11 NLT

And they were right to feel defeated and discouraged. For generations, they had flaunted their disobedience in the face of God. He had repeatedly called them to repent and return to Him in contrition and humility, but they had refused. And now, they felt the full weight of His wrath and they despaired over their uncertain future.  Yet, God wanted them to know that He was not done with them. He had great plans for them.

“I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel. When this happens, O my people, you will know that I am the Lord. I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again and return home to your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the Lord has spoken!’” – Ezekiel 37:12-14 NLT

The exiles to whom Ezekiel ministered wanted to go home. They longed for the day when they might be restored to their proper place in the promised land. But God knew that a revitalized nation of Israel was not the answer to their problems. They needed spiritual revivification, not just national restoration. Returning to the land in their fallen condition would result in the same sinful behavior as before. So, God revealed His plans for a complete renovation of their hearts that would produce the capacity to live in perfect obedience to Him – for eternity.

I, the Sovereign LORD, will gather you back from the nations where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel once again.’

“When the people return to their homeland, they will remove every trace of their vile images and detestable idols. And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart, so they will obey my decrees and regulations. Then they will truly be my people, and I will be their God.” – Ezekiel 11:18-20 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.