How Ezekiel’s Prophecy is Fulfilled in Revelation
Here, Mr. crier, is a parchment roll for you to read in the public square. Go on…
(He extends the roll and begins reading.)
In the final chapters of Ezekiel, we are not given a glimpse of the millennial kingdom on the present earth, but the heavenly/eternal state on the new earth. Ezekiel’s prophetic word, though presented in an OT setting, actually discloses the eternal fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel, consummated in the “unveiling” of His bride at Scripture’s end.
Listen, everyone. I propose that, at the close of his book, Ezekiel is looking beyond the shores of the present earth to the banks of eternity; that, in fact, he reflects what John wrote in Revelation 21 and 22. Israel’s expectations (the hope of Israel) are tied to the church, in mystic union with their Messiah. The impact of this is huge! It means that the promises to Israel are (1) fully-realized in their perfection in the eternal state, not before; and that they are (2) fulfilled in the church.
Why not? When the church is born in Acts 2, it is Israel. Those waiting for the promise of the Spirit are Jewish believers. And when Gentiles are brought into the church, they “partake of the root and fatness of the olive tree,” which is Israel. According to Paul in Romans 11:1-24, the entire nation of Israel, past and present, is accounted for in the olive tree. The “first fruits” and “holy root” are the patriarchs. Unbelieving branches that are cut off may one day be grafted back in, if they do not die in their unbelief. What is left is the church. (Notice: the branches that remain when the Gentiles are grafted in, are Israel’s Old and New Testament elect. All the people of God, pre-Acts 2 and beyond, share a mystic union in Christ, and become part of His body, the church: Rom. 3:21-25; Eph. 1:7-10; 2:19-22; 4:4-6; Heb. 9:15; 11:39,40; 12:22-24; Rev. 21:9-14, 24-26.)
Israel’s existence is, therefore, from henceforth determined by its relationship to the tree, which is the church. As Tonto would say: “No stay in or graft in, no partake of holy root.” There is no hope for any “natural” branch apart from its connection, or re-connection, to the tree. Likewise, believing Gentiles, who were grafted in, are no longer estranged from the commonwealth, or state, of Israel and are no longer strangers to the covenants (Eph. 2:11-13; 3:6). Israel and the church are one. The branches share one olive tree. That means all who believe in Jesus are children of Abraham (Gal. 3:7,29; Rom. 4:16). As Jesus said to Jews who did not believe: “If you were children of Abraham, you would be doing the works of Abraham” (John 8:39), raising doubts about whether they were truly Abraham’s descendants. As Paul also wrote: “A Jew is not in the outward man, or circumcision in the flesh; but, in the hidden part is the Jew, and circumcision is of the heart, in spirit” (Rom. 2:28,29; Phil. 3:3).
I’m not through, Mr. crier. (He’s thinking about this.) Continue reading, please.
Therefore, Ezekiel’s prophetic word on Israel’s return to the land of promise is given in conjunction with new hearts and spiritual awakening (11:17-21; 20:33-44; 36:24-36; 37:21-28; 39:25-29). This reflects the “new covenant” in Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews 8 and what Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3 (v. 1-10). There is no return apart from new birth. So let’s not beat around the bush. Becoming a member of Christ’s church is not that different than a returning Jew “driving his tent pegs” in the land of promise. New birth is the only way anyone will ever enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3-10: “You don’t know this” OT truth?; I Cor. 6:9,10; 15:50; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:5; Rev. 22:14,15; 21:27).
Having said all that, let’s put this “land” matter in perspective. For anyone who believes, possessing a piece of property in Palestine is small fries when you consider the world as your inheritance (Matt. 5:5; Rom. 4:13; I Cor. 3:21-23; Heb. 2:5; 1:2; Rom. 8:16,17; Gal. 4:6,7). If you want to have your patch of land, fine. I’m going for the big prize, on the heels of my father Abraham: the inheritance that Christ will be given.
Is your voice getting hoarse, Mr. crier? There is more.
Let’s address the sacrifices Ezekiel writes about. Show me where in the Bible it says they are memorials. Ezekiel doesn’t seem to think so. When the blood of a young bull is sprinkled on the altar, it is to “make atonement” for the altar (43:20). According to the word of the Lord given to him, “the burnt offering and the sacrifice” are “for the people” (44:11). And if that is not clear enough, the Lord says the sons of Zadok are offering Him “the fat and the blood” (44:15). I’m sorry; unless they are play acting, this does not sound like a memorial. I’m not finished. Ezekiel is told plainly by God that the offerings are given “to make atonement for the house of Israel” (45:15,17,20 NAS). To make atonement? No one does that when they take communion, unless they have strayed into the wrong church.
In the old covenant, sins were remembered every year (Heb. 10:3), not as a memorial, but in order to make atonement for them. The new covenant is the very antithesis of this. In it remembering is done away with. God says, “their sins I will remember to more” (Heb. 8:12). No one will be offering sacrificial memorials while the new covenant is in force! That would undermine its God-given purpose and jeopardize its very existence. Try smoking in a smoke-free room. See how that goes over! Try smuggling memorials into a covenantally memory-free kingdom.
Let us be careful not to confuse the new covenant with the first covenant. They are two different things. Ezekiel’s prophetic word is not doing this, though it may appear to be. There are basically three ways of viewing its fulfillment. Either (1) it came during the second temple period, that is, between the return and rebuilding of the temple, under Persian rule, and the destruction of Herod’s temple in A.D. 70; (2) it is yet to come, during an earthly millennium; or (3) it will be fulfilled on the new earth in the eternal state.
Personally, I prefer either number 1, a historical fulfillment, or 3. They seem to me the most Scripturally sound. The third, which I hope to uncover evidence for, is presented in a setting that reflects the Jewish understanding of things at the time the word was given and may be endowed with a degree of symbolism, not unlike Revelation. I do not believe the two covenants are meant to be mixed (even if one is regarded as a “memorial”), which they surely are in a future thousand-year reign on the present earth, as is commonly taught by dispensationalists. Moreover, as alluded to already, a literal understanding cannot pass off as memorials what is clearly taught “to make atonement.” And it is not possible to make atonement when atonement has already been made by Christ. We also need to remember that OT sacrifices were efficacious only insofar as they pointed to what Jesus would do on the cross (Heb. 10:4). After He has come, they no longer have a purpose.
Let’s pursue the teaching of Scripture on this subject.
The Bible teaches that Jesus is the mediator of a “better” covenant (Heb. 8:6) as He Himself proclaimed on the eve of His death: “This cup is the new covenant in My blood” (I Cor. 11:25). The Mosaic covenant is known as the “first” covenant (Heb. 8:7), with its regulations for worship and earthly sanctuary (9:1) and its offerings and sacrifices presented by the high priest (8:3). The “new” (or “better”) and the “first” do not exist together, at least not for long. The moment Jesus passed from life, the veil in the temple was torn in two. The writer of Hebrews cannot help but see this simple reality in the words themselves: “new” and “first.” He writes to his Jewish brothers and sisters, “When He says ‘New,‘ He has made the first obsolete; and that which is passing away, and has grown old, is ready to vanish” (Heb. 8:13). One needs only a child’s understanding to see that.
It’s kind of like running a relay. When you pass on the “baton,” someone else takes over. You may continue running for a short distance, as you catch your breath, but you are out of the race. You’ve done your part. The glory that was fading from Moses’ face, after he received the first covenant engraved on stones, also pictures the fading away of the old covenant, as Paul points out when he contrasts the two covenants (I Cor. 3:6-11). The two do not co-exist. One soon fades from existence. Again, the writer of Hebrews concurs: Jesus “takes away the first in order to establish the second” (10:9). The first covenant has only shadows of the true/heavenly realities. Where do “shadows” fall in the presence of the Light of the world? There are none.
What’s that, Mr. crier? For crying out loud! You have laryngitis? I will read for myself, then. We can’t stop now.
What about David?
The Lord says through Ezekiel, “I will set over [My flock] one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and My servant David will be prince among them” (34:23,24). Also: “My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them. They will live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant…forever; and David My servant will be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever. My dwelling place will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people. And the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever” (37:24-28). Who is David in these texts?
As in Malachi’s prophecy Elijah was John the Baptist (Matt. 11:13-15; 17:11-13; Mark 9:11-13), here David is Christ.
Before we begin this aspect of the discussion, let us educated wearers of the cap and bells have a taste of mother’s humble pie. While we carry on an intellectual debate, the Jewish mind would probably have no problem understanding who “David” is. “David” is a verbal expression for “Messiah” that Jews in Ezekiel’s day would recognize. It is much more than mere symbolism or “spiritualization.” The name of David, as well as “son of David,” naturally conveys the concept of “Messiah.” To the present day, Jewish national identity and hope is embodied in the star of David. In Ezekiel it is God’s way of saying your Messiah will be your shepherd king.
I think we could end the discussion here. But let us give more thoughtful consideration to the “David”/”Christ” postulation.
When David writes Psalm 16:8-11, it is not David but Christ who is speaking the words prophetically (Acts 2:23-31). Christ, who through the eternal Spirit, is giving the word through David, will, in David’s line, fulfill that word after David is gone. Christ will in fact experience what David wrote in the first person, as if he himself would experience it. In this respect Christ becomes David. And why not? Christ is his son. Physically He is in His father David’s loins when David writes these lines. In a similar way Levi gave tithes to Melchizedek in his father Abraham. In a sense, David also experiences his son’s victory vicariously and will one day himself rise from the grave because of it.
Not only that. Christ gives life to David. David calls Him Lord (Ps. 110), though He is his son (Matt. 22:42-45). Jesus acknowledges this reality when He says, “I am the root and offspring of David” (Rev. 22:16; Rom. 15:12). He is the source of David’s existence and has now become his descendant (Rom. 1:3; II Tim. 2:8; Acts 2:30, 31; Rev. 5:5).
Sons bear their father’s names. They represent what their father stood for, whether good or bad, and hopefully bring honor to his name. So it is with David and his son. Christ is David’s greater son, the ultimate expression and embodiment of David. By becoming his son, He has greatly honored the name of David. And now He possesses something not even David has: “the key of David” (Rev. 3:7). He has taken the family name and been given authority to represent it; to do as He will with the key. No need beating around the bush here either. The Davidic line has set a course for Christ. He is the coast where the sea throws down its waves. He is Grand Central; the crowning glory of the line of David: the apex. This One, who has been given the key of David, is in the line of David and heir to his throne, can rightfully bear his name.
We can take this a step further. According to Peter’s testimony in Acts 2:30, God swore to David, “out of the fruit of his loins,” either to place someone on his throne (as Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon claims) or to sit on it Himself. However you interpret the meaning of the Greek word (“sit” or “set”), when Jesus ascended to heaven, God, in His Son, sat on the throne of David. The identity of David was transferred to Him (that is, to Christ) by virtue of His passage through the loins of David. And, in reality, David sits on his throne in Christ, thereby establishing his throne forever (II Sam. 7:16). Remove Christ and you remove David. If you try to replace Christ with David, you will in fact lose David.
There is also evidence in Ezekiel’s texts themselves that reveals who David is. “I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David” (34:23); “My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd” (37:24). Obviously, the “king” here is recognized as the “shepherd” of the people.
First of all, when we hear the words, “My servant,” who most likely comes to mind? Though this title is used often in the Bible, it finds its ultimate fulfillment and manifestation in Christ (e.g. Isa. 49:6; 52:13f). For Jesus, the title fits like a Stetson.
There are other key words in the texts that inform our understanding. “I will set over them one shepherd”; “they will all have one shepherd.” Notice the words “all” and “one.” In John 10:16 Jesus says, “Other sheep I have…them also I must bring…and there will be one flock, one shepherd.” “All” the sheep, as in Ezekiel 37:24, will be one flock. And who do you suppose this one shepherd is, to whom Jesus is referring?
He says in John 10, “I am the beautiful shepherd” (v. 11,14). Peter says He is “the [one and only] shepherd and bishop of your souls” (I Pet. 2:25) and “the chief [ruling, number 1, Head] shepherd” (I Pet. 5:4). The writer of Hebrews calls Him “the great shepherd of the sheep” (Heb. 13:20). You might say that John casts the final ballot when, at the close of the first century, he writes, “the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life” (Rev. 7:17). David himself agrees. It’s not me, he says: “The LORD is my shepherd…He leads me beside quiet waters,” “the water of life.” David is a member of the flock.
God is not trying to start a family feud. There is only one shepherd. Is it Jesus or David? The answer is simple. David is Jesus.
There is another problem if historical David is the future king spoken of here. May I address the problem with a question? How is it that the Heir will step down from the throne to reestablish His father as king? It is not for a while either. Ezekiel goes on to say, “David My servant will be their prince forever” (37:25). This is in connection with David as their king (37:24), for the words “king” and “prince” are synonyms. The Royal Line/heir-to-the-throne concept slips, disquietingly, through a crack in the floor. Something is not right. Especially when Christ appears to be the one abdicating the throne! There is no joint rule here. “David will be their prince forever.”
Let Scripture provide “a light for our path” (Ps. 119:105).
In Luke 1:31 and 32, before Jesus is born, Gabriel tells Mary that “the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Israel forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” That is to say, Christ’s reign on the throne of David is without end. This reflects the promise God gave through Isaiah. “A child will be born and a son will be given… and the government will rest upon His shoulders; and His name will be called… Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government and peace, on the throne of David and over His kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from that time [when the ‘government’ is given to Him: Matt. 28:18; Dan. 7:13,14; Acts 5:30,31; Eph. 1:19-22] and forevermore” (Isa. 9:6,7). Christ is clearly marked as the One who sits forever on the throne of David. He and David are not handing over controls to one another like pilots in a 747. It is no surprise, then, that in the NT, in fulfillment of the prophetic word, Jesus bears the title of “Prince” given to David in Ezekiel (see Acts 5:31 and Rev. 1:5).
So who is the reigning king during this time spoken of by Ezekiel? Christ or David? Will the real king please stand up. Unfortunately, He only stands on special occasions (Acts 7:55,56; Rev. 5:6,7).
David will be there alright, in his son Jesus Christ.
©James Unruh 2014 and beyond