Ezekiel Versus Jesus

December 17, 2021

A “dead man walking” mournfully foretold the forthcoming doom of his onlookers, their children, and the entire city. His prophecy of eventual doom might have come as a surprise to those who overheard it, because it seemed to contradict what another prominent prophet had once promised regarding the Promised Land and the City of Jerusalem. Who was right about the city’s future, then — the Prophet Ezekiel, or the condemned Nazarene, dripping blood and staggering on the way to his gruesome crucifixion?

From someone else, it might have come across as a condemned man’s final vindictive, bitter curse. But his gloomy comments were not directed against his persecutors. He was instead speaking to a group of women who might have included some of his loyal supporters. They were there to observe and weep at his horrifying fate. While being led to his crucifixion, on the Via Dolorosa to Golgotha, Jesus told those women not to weep for him, but to weep instead for themselves and their children (Luke 23:28-31). Quoting the final sentence of Hosea 10:8, Jesus then informed his sympathizers that when the time of destruction arrived “They [that is, the residents of Jerusalem] will say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’”   

Again, this gloomy, terrifying Via Dolorosa Prophecy seemed to contradict a much rosier civic and national future, as prophesied by the Prophet Ezekiel centuries before. The whole of Ezekiel Chapter 36 describes the wonderful, permanent (see Ezekiel 36:13-15) restoration and exaltation of the exiled House of Israel within their hereditary homeland. And in the first century AD/CE (that is, the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry), the restoration and exaltation promised by Ezekiel appeared to be a likely, imminent possibility, especially since it had already been partially fulfilled. Many of the Jewish people had already returned to their hereditary homeland. Furthermore, when he first began his public ministry, Jesus spoke a lot about the Kingdom of God, and about it being “at hand.” Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God’s imminence only encouraged the thought that the exaltation part of Ezekiel’s wonderful prophecy was about to transpire. But no, the exaltation of the House of Israel was not about to transpire. Instead, Jesus’ Via Dolorosa Prophecy proved grimly accurate.   

Rather than being restored and exalted within their hereditary homeland, the opposite occurred. In 70AD/CE, after rebelling against the Romans, the Jewish people were subjected to a crushing, almost absolute defeat. The City of Jerusalem was destroyed. Its marvelous Temple was demolished. And the few Jewish people who remained alive were sent off into exile yet again. The Jewish people would not return from exile en masse to their hereditary homeland until the mid Twentieth Century, after the Nazi’s attempted genocide of them during World War Two. 

All of which is to say, Ezekiel Chapter 36 appears to be an aborted prophecy. It was once apparently on its way to fulfillment. But then something cataclysmic occurred. The hopes of the Jewish people were dashed, or, at very least, seriously delayed.

However, I am not suggesting for a moment that Ezekiel’s prophecy was wrong. I believe that it will still be fulfilled. The question I pose to anyone who takes Ezekiel Chapter 36 seriously (as legitimate prophecy) is whether it can be meaningfully fulfilled unless it is fulfilled quite literally, within Israel, the hereditary homeland of the Jewish people. A lot of my fellow Christians seem to believe the prophecy can be (and already has been) fulfilled figuratively and/or spiritually, and that it therefore simply does not apply to the physical descendants of Abraham, the Jewish people. Personally, I have a hard time squaring what Ezekiel prophesies in Chapter 36 with anything but a literal, physical fulfillment.  

The implications of how an interpreter understands Ezekiel Chapter 36 (and similar passages, like Zechariah Chapter 12 and the entire Book of Zephaniah) are very significant. This is not to say that I will not argue for a figurative reading of some prophetic material, because I certainly will; and I do. But it is to say that some of these prophetic passages seem to become altogether meaningless unless they are read literally. The interpretive issue, as I see it, is whether the relevant prophetic passages themselves give good reason to take a figurative approach or a literal approach. If a given prophetic passage presents itself as literal, should it not be read as literal? I think so, unless there is an extremely compelling reason not to. In my estimation, Ezekiel Chapter 36 presents itself as altogether literal, and therefore should be read that way. And because we know for certain that it has not been fulfilled yet, we can and should await its literal future fulfillment. Now with that said, I encourage you to go read Ezekiel Chapter 36. 

Property in Perpetuity

Thursday, July 2nd, 2020

Property in Perpetuity, Audio Version

When Abram was 99 years old,

The LORD appeared to him and said,

“I am God Almighty/El Shaddai. 

Walk before me and be blameless, 

That I may make my covenant between me and you, 

And may multiply you greatly.”

Then Abram fell on his face.

And God said to him, 

“Behold, my covenant is with you. 

And you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. 

No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, 

For I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 

I will make you exceedingly fruitful, 

And I will make you into nations, 

And kings shall come from you. 

And I will establish my covenant between me and you,

And your offspring after you throughout their generations as an everlasting covenant, 

To be God to you and to your offspring after you.

And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, 

All the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession. 

And I will be their God.       

A major part of El Shaddai’s deal with Abraham was the promise of some intercontinental real estate. Almighty God promised to give Abraham and his offspring a sizable amount of eastern Mediterranean acreage in perpetuity. Do not miss the in perpetuity part. God promised the land as an everlasting possession. And everlasting lasts a long time, if I’m not mistaken.   

A question, then: Did Almighty God deliver on his promise of perpetual property? Well…

Historically, Abraham’s descendants briefly had the land, and then they didn’t for 400 years, and then they did (for a very long time), and then they didn’t (for a relatively short time), and then they did again, and then they didn’t for a third time (for nearly two thousand years), and now they do again. So, Abraham’s descendants have been residents of the promised land a total of four times, and have not had possession of it three times.      

Do those repeated losses of the land mean that Almighty God failed to deliver on his promise?

It might seem like it, but no. God made a conditional deal with Abraham. A covenant is a conditional deal. Both parties have to keep their end of the deal. If you do this, I promise to do that. Deal? Deal. The promise of perpetual property was (and is) valid as long as Abraham and Abraham’s descendants kept (and keep) their end of the deal.

Hang on. Perhaps I need to make a correction. “And keep their end of the deal” might not be right. It may be that God has altered the arrangement. It may be that Abraham’s descendants will actually hold possession of their land this time, even if they are not faithful to the LORD. 

I say that for three reasons, which I shall now enumerate. 

Reason number one: Abraham’s descendants are already there now. They were evicted by the Romans almost 2,000 years ago. But now they are back in their ancestral homeland. Officially, they have been back for a little over 70 years. That is a bona fide historical fact. I’m willing to say that God gets credit for their return to their promised land, even if they do not realize it. Jeremiah 16 may speak to this, by the way. It’s worth a read. 

Reason number two: In Ezekiel 36:22-38, God asserts that he brought the House of Israel back not for their sake, but for the sake of his holy name. God meant to vindicate his own holiness by bringing them back (which he has done) and by cleansing them from their impurity (which he will do). In other words, God decided not to wait for the House of Israel to get their act together before bringing them back. This time, Almighty God brought them back just to show them and everyone else that he is indeed Almighty God. God altered his arrangement with Abraham’s offspring for the sake of his own holiness.

Reason number three: This time Abraham’s descendants are not going to lose possession of the land. In Amos 9:14-15, God says, “I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel; and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them. They shall plant vineyards and drink their wine. And they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them on their land; and they shall never again be uprooted out of the land I have given them,” says the LORD your God. They shall never again be uprooted out of the land the LORD has given them. That sounds both straightforward and unequivocal. They will never be uprooted out of their land again.   

Some of my seminary-trained friends are probably squirming as they read or hear this right now, though. They may be thinking to themselves, “DeKrakenator, among other things, you are making some very big assumptions about the prophetic timing of the Ezekiel 36 passage and the Amos 9 passage.”

Yes, I am, my seminary-trained friends. I am assuming that Ezekiel 36 refers to a more recent restoration of the House of Israel, and not simply to their restoration after the Babylonian exile. Yes, I assume that these passages are being fulfilled closer to our day and time, not way back when. My counter-challenge to you, my fellow seminarians, is to read the whole of Ezekiel 36:22-38 and ask yourself whether it was fully and entirely fulfilled way back then. Were the Jewish returnees ever thoroughly cleansed in the way Ezekiel describes? If so, why did Jesus lament their obtuseness, and denounce their hypocritical leaders? Did they receive the indwelling Spirit in the way Ezekiel describes? At very best, this prophecy was only partially fulfilled at Pentecost; but most of the Jewish people (the House of Israel) did not repent and believe. Thus, it awaits a fuller and grander fulfillment. It has yet to be completely realized.          

As for Amos 9:14-15, it cannot be a legitimate prophecy unless it happens in history. For it to be fulfilled, the Jews must stay put in the land God promised to Abraham, once and for all. But that has not happened, until now. Instead, the House of Israel has been uprooted from their ancestral land time three times in history: first, when they were slaves in Egypt; second, when they were exiles in Babylon; and third, when most of them were slaughtered and the rest were pushed out by the Romans. If they’re going to remain in the land, and never be uprooted again, it must be this time around, since what Paul says in Romans 11:25 is close to accomplishment. That is, before the Jews are redeemed, the fulness of the Gentiles must come in. The Great Commission must become a mission accomplished; and only then will the Jews will be completely restored and established in their promised land, in perpetuity.      

There are questions and issues I do not and cannot resolve in just one necessarily brief blog-cast. If you have questions, comments, or observations, please politely let me know, as they help me decide what I should address next. For now, I encourage you to go read or listen to all the passages I just referenced. They include the Covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17, the Prophecy of Compulsory Return to the Land in Jeremiah 16, the Promise that God will Restore them to and Redeem them in their Promised Land in Ezekiel 36:22-38, the Unequivocal and Unconditional Promise of Permanent Residence in Amos 9:14-15, and Paul’s Order of Jewish-Gentile Exclusion and Inclusion in Romans 11.  

That’s all for now. Adios.