Jesus Plus Nothing Bible Studies - Ezekiel, Israel and the End Times
Ezekiel 36 Part 2 - The reason for Israel's redemption
by I Gordon
We saw in the first part of Ezekiel 36 how God built a case against the nations. The Lord, through His prophet Ezekiel, gave a series of causes and consequences for Israel's enemies which laid the case for their judgement. The second section of verses 16-38 focuses on the reason for, and results of, Israel's future redemption. And it is worth contemplating. There are many in the church that think that God no longer has a specific plan for the nation of Israel. They say that Israel rejected Jesus and therefore He rejected them. Ezekiel 36 answers this question. If God is going to fulfill His promises to the nation of Israel, why would He do that? Do the Israelites deserve it? Will they too be judged and if so is there a future blessing after the judgement? This is an interesting chapter as we hear from God concerning these questions.
Defilement... The nations are not alone in requiring judgement.
Ezekiel 36:16-21 Again the word of the LORD came to me: (17) Son of man, when the people of Israel were living in their own land, they defiled it by their conduct and their actions. Their conduct was like a woman's monthly uncleanness in my sight. (18) So I poured out my wrath on them because they had shed blood in the land and because they had defiled it with their idols. (19) I dispersed them among the nations, and they were scattered through the countries; I judged them according to their conduct and their actions. (20) And wherever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, 'These are the LORD's people, and yet they had to leave his land.' (21) I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone.
'Defiled'... not a nice word. Yet that is God's assessment of His people Israel as they dwelt in their land. They were defiled by their conduct and actions. The Hebrew word for this is pronounced 'taw-may' and is a verb meaning 'to be unclean, to desecrate, to defile, to make impure'. The main idea of the action was that of contaminating or corrupting, especially in the sight of God.' It is translated as 'unclean' the majority of the time in the Bible. This is the condition of the people in Ezekiel's time. It is also the condition of the Israelites at the time of Jesus. And, it should be noted, it is the condition of most Israelites today as they still live, predominantly, in unbelief and in rebellion against the Lord Jesus Christ.
Because of their actions, the prophet said that the nation of Israel would be judged and scattered amongst all the other nations of the world. This was dramatically fulfilled starting with the siege and destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. Some today put the Jews and the nation of Israel up on a pedestal as if they can do no wrong. This in itself is wrong. When we read what the Apostles of the 1st century church had to say about the Israelites and Jerusalem, we see that in general the Israelites were hardened against the gospel and opposed it. And Jerusalem itself was still in this state of defilement. The Apostle Paul (a Jew himself who loved his country) wrote the following:
1 Thessalonians 2:14-15 (14) For you, brothers, became imitators of God's churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, (15) who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men
This hostility against the gospel which displeased God is seen in various times throughout the book of Acts especially (see Acts 13:45-46, Acts 14:2, Acts 18:6). Due to the opposition he personally faced from the Jews, in the book of Romans Paul speaks of the Israelites as enemies of the gospel:
Romans 11:28 As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account...
In like manner, the Apostle John had a very interesting figurative title for Jerusalem. Speaking of its worldliness and sinfulness, John likens Jerusalem to two famous locations prominent in the Old Testament:
Revelation 11:8 Their bodies will lie in the street of the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.
William MacDonald in his Believers Bible Commentary writes on this: 'Jerusalem is here called Sodom because of its pride, indulgence, prosperous ease, and indifference to the needs of others (see Ezek 16:49). And it is called Egypt because of its idolatry, persecution, and enslavement to sin and unrighteousness.
And what about today? Have things changed? Well Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and other major cities in Israel are still largely secular and worldly. In terms of belief in the Messiah Jesus, while things are certainly changing and improving (as noted in a previous study) less than 2% of Israel's population identify as 'Christian' with 80% of these being Arab Christians.1 So, in a large part, the opposition and rejection of the gospel remains.
So why should God be faithful to a disobedient people?
Ezekiel 36:22-24 Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. (23) I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes. (24) 'For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.
So why??? Given the hardness and opposition to the gospel amongst Jews as noted above, why would God still care about the Israelites and still want to fulfill all the promises given to them? Didn't they reject Jesus? Should not God now reject them? These are questions that many Christians stumble over. They see Israel's current hardness to the gospel, they see Israel's worldliness, and they can't see a reason why God still has a special plan for this people. Yet the answer to this is spelled out clearly in both the Old and New Testaments. Can you remember the verse quoted above by the Apostle Paul? He said that the Israelites were enemies on account of the gospel. But he didn't end there. He went on to say:
'but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable.' (Rom 11:28-29)
In other words, God doesn't go back on those that He chooses and what he has unconditionally promised! They are irrevocable! They cannot be changed. Maybe a better question for those that think that God has given up on His plans and promises for Israel as a nation is this - Is God going to give up on you? If He gave up on them then why should He remain faithful to you? Thankfully the promises that God gives to an individual will be fulfilled on the same basis as the promises given to the nation of Israel - because they both rest of the faithfulness and character of the One who gave the promise! To say that Israel has no special place in God's plans is to say that God won't fulfill His promises made to them... and that, my friend, is an incredibly false accusation and blot against the One who always honors His word!
So what do we see in Ezekiel? What is the reason given as to why God will honor His word to Israel and restore them from all the nations that they were scattered to and then bring them into a new relationship with Himself? You will see that it rests not in the goodness or lack thereof in the Israelites, but in the faithfulness of the One who remains true to His name. It is spelled out very clearly:
(22) 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name...(32) I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake, declares the Sovereign LORD. Be ashamed and disgraced for your conduct, O house of Israel!'
So if you are someone, or you meet someone, who believes in 'Replacement theology'2 and says that God has no special plan for the nation of Israel anymore, please read Ezekiel 36:22-32 once again (and read Romans 11 as well.) God will fulfill all His promises because His Holy Name depends on it!
Spiritual and physical restoration - A new heart and spirit on its way for Israel!
Ezekiel 36:25-32 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. (26) I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (27) And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God. (29) I will save you from all your uncleanness. I will call for the grain and make it plentiful and will not bring famine upon you. (30) I will increase the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field, so that you will no longer suffer disgrace among the nations because of famine. (31) Then you will remember your evil ways and wicked deeds, and you will loathe yourselves for your sins and detestable practices. (32) I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake, declares the Sovereign LORD. Be ashamed and disgraced for your conduct, O house of Israel!
And so, after saying that He will do what He has promised for His own name stake, God speaks through His prophet Ezekiel again. Previously God had said that He would regather the Israelites from all the nations back into their own land. Against all odds (from an earthly perspective) God did this very thing when after nearly 2000 years Israel became a nation again in 1948. This for us is now history. From that day onwards Jews from all parts of the world have been returning to their homeland in Israel. But Ezekiel 36:25 to the end of the chapter speaks of events still to come. Yes they have been regathered back to the land (although a second regathering in faith is still to occur) but what of the spiritual blessings promised and still to come? Let's quickly look at these blessings mentioned.
|The coming blessing of God for Israel||Quick Notes|
|A spiritual cleansing -
'I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean'
|God will cleanse Israel from ALL her impurities. The defilement spoken of above will be finished! Only He can do that and what a day that will be! Zechariah spoke of it and tied it in with the return of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus. (see Zech 12:10-13:1)|
|A new heart -
'I will give you a new heart'
|For the last 2000 years there has been a veil placed over the heart of the Israelites and she has had a hardening of heart. (2 Cor 3:15, Rom 11:25) But God has promised to replace that hard heart with a new heart as He now does for each individual believer in the Lord Jesus. 2 Corinthians 3:3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.|
|The gift of the Holy Spirit -
'I will put a new Spirit in you'
|Here is the great blessing that accompanies new birth - the gift of the Holy Spirit. This was and is the great promise spoken of by Israel's prophets: Isaiah 44:3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.|
|A restored home -
'You will live in the land I gave your forefathers'
|It will be a land how it was meant to be from the beginning - one of peace and righteousness. One in which the King of Israel, the Messiah Jesus, dwells. It will be a glorious land liken unto the garden of Eden in verse 35 below.|
|A restored relationship -
'You will be my people and I will be your God'
|How happy will the Israelites be when they are finally restored into a right relationship with their God and Messiah? It is pictured in many ways but one that I like is a verse that comes shortly after the Isaiah passage quoted above. They will all associate themselves with the Lord and being His people, and even write His name on their hands!: Isaiah 44:5 One will say, 'I belong to the LORD'; another will call himself by the name of Jacob; still another will write on his hand, 'The LORD's,' and will take the name Israel.|
|An abundant land -
'I will increase the fruit of the trees and crops of the field'
|There are physical as well as spiritual blessings in store for the nation of Israel. As we shall see below, the land of Israel, and the whole world by extension, will come into the conditions experienced pre-fall in the garden of Eden|
The restoration of all things
Ezekiel 36:33-38 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: On the day I cleanse you from all your sins, I will resettle your towns, and the ruins will be rebuilt. (34) The desolate land will be cultivated instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass through it. (35) They will say, "This land that was laid waste has become like the garden of Eden; the cities that were lying in ruins, desolate and destroyed, are now fortified and inhabited." (36) Then the nations around you that remain will know that I the LORD have rebuilt what was destroyed and have replanted what was desolate. I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it.' (37) This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Once again I will yield to the plea of the house of Israel and do this for them: I will make their people as numerous as sheep, (38) as numerous as the flocks for offerings at Jerusalem during her appointed feasts. So will the ruined cities be filled with flocks of people. Then they will know that I am the LORD."
We saw above some of the many blessings that are coming Israel's (and by extension the world's) way. There were spiritual and physical blessings. This can be summed up in the following New Testament phrase - 'the restoration of all things'. Peter used this phrase during his sermon in the book of Acts:
Acts 3:19-21 Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, (21) whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.
Note that the restoration of all things is a time that has been announced through all the prophets right back to the beginning of time. God has a wonderful plan and, as it says in our passage above, we can be absolutely assured that it will come to pass - 'I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it!' So what is it that will be restored? Well we have seen above that He will restore Israel's fortunes. He will restore them to their land. He will restore them spiritually as they are cleansed and put in a right relationship with God once again. He will restore the land itself for we read above that it will be like the garden of Eden! Rejoice all you fruit and vege lovers! The curse that came in with the fall will be removed! And, best of all, the true King will be restored to His Kingdom on planet earth for King Jesus shall reign over all the earth from Jerusalem!
Zechariah 14:8-11 And in that day living waters will flow out of Jerusalem... (9) And the LORD will be king over all the earth; in that day the LORD will be the only one, and His name the only one. ... (11) People will live in it, and there will no longer be a curse, for Jerusalem will dwell in security.
This is the time the Apostle Paul spoke about where he indicated that the restoration of Israel will bring a blessing to the whole world:
Romans 11:12 But if their (Israel's) transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring!
So... what have we seen?
Well, we have seen quite a bit in this second part of Ezekiel 36. We have seen that the Israelites have defiled themselves by their conduct and brought dishonor to God's name. In themselves, they don't deserve the blessings that are coming. Now look at your own life and ask if you are any different? Is it because of your purity that God blesses you or do we stand by His grace? The fact is that we, and they, stand by the grace of God. God called the nation of Israel to be His own. Judgement has come, and will come in the future, because of their disobedience. Israel has not yet repented of her sin of rejecting Jesus her Messiah. But the prophets saw this day and never let it be said that God will ultimately let His people Israel down. Never let it be said that He will not fulfill His promises He has made to her in the end. No way! His name depends on it as He says in Ezekiel. And this is what the great events of this world are quickly working towards. The grand vast story of redemption is playing out on the world stage. We will see more of this and events still to come as we move into the next studies on Ezekiel chapter 37 and 38.
From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity_in_Israel ↩
From https://www.gotquestions.org/replacement-theology.html "Replacement theology (also known as supersessionism) essentially teaches that the church has replaced Israel in Godís plan. Adherents of replacement theology believe the Jews are no longer Godís chosen people, and God does not have specific future plans for the nation of Israel. Among the different views of the relationship between the church and Israel are the church has replaced Israel (replacement theology), the church is an expansion of Israel (covenant theology), or the church is completely different and distinct from Israel (dispensationalism/premillennialism)." I believe the last of these is true. God's way of salvation is the same for both the church and Israel (faith in the Lord Jesus) but He has given different promises and plans to both. Ultimately the two will be united in the New Jerusalem. ↩