A First Brush with Apocalyptic Material (Ezekiel 37:1 – 48:35)

By the time you reach Ezekiel 37, you’ve read enough of Ezekiel to know that his prophecies include oracles and parables — much more so than Isaiah and Jeremiah.  Maybe several times while reading, you have found yourself wondering “Could Ezekiel maybe have been mentally ill?” what with that lying on his left side, then on his right, and his not speaking for such a long time and burrowing through the Jerusalem city wall and not grieving for his wife and all.  (No, he was not.)And then once you get into the Valley of the Dry Bones (in Chapter 37), you realize that now you’re really getting vision material as Ezekiel is being taken around by an angel — but you’re probably thinking that this isn’t so bad for vision material because it all still pretty much makes sense; you can understand it. I mean, it’s not like Daniel or Revelation.

But then in chapter 38 Ezekiel starts with all the “Gog sand Magog” stuff, that man who looks like bronze with a measuring rod in his hand who measures the Temple (for chapter after chapter), and then the land is divided and you notice that all 12 landed tribes PLUS the Levites are present — even though 10 of those tribes have been “lost” ever since the Assyrians took the 10 tribes of Israel into exile [see 2 Kings 17:22-23 — we know exactly where those 10 Lost Tribes are because the Bible tells us:  they’re Assyrians].  And then as Ezekiel ends, you learn that the name of the city will forever be “The Lord is There”.  Suddenly you realize that from Ezekiel 37 on, maybe you didn’t make it all make sense as well as you thought you did.

OK, look.  What you need to know here is that at the end of Ezekiel, the prophet is receiving very mild visions about the end of the world.  The name for this very mild (especially) vision material having to do with the end of the world is eschatology. (The really wild vision material is called “apocalyptic“.)

The thing you need to know is this:  the message of all eschatological / apocalyptic material is very very simple and straightforward:  God is in charge of history — history is actually His-story; God is in control; in the end everything will be all right for those who love and trust Him.  (If things are not all right now, then that is because it is not yet the end.)  Things are going to get worse and worse and worse before suddenly everything is better, so don’t be surprised at this.  But in the end, “all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well”. (The great Christian mystic Julian of Norwich said this.) We don’t know what’s going to happen, but we know the One who’s in control.  The River of the water of life that flows from the Temple (47:1-12) has all sorts of Jesus connections (speaking of the Living Water / Water of Life !!)  How wonderful it is that in the end, God will be inside that walled city with His people — this is the City of God — the one we see coming down out of heaven in Revelation.

One last thing I’d like to say about all of that Temple-stuff in Ezekiel chapters 40-47.  When the people of God came back from the Babylonian exile, the Temple they rebuilt did NOT conform to the measurements Ezekiel got from the angel.  What does this mean?  It means that you don’t pay any attention to the people who are predicting the end of the world “next Thursday”.  Ezekiel is saying (among other things) that the world is not going to end until the Temple is rebuilt according to the measurements we have in Ezekiel [Ezek 40:4].  On the other hand, once people start measuring Temple Mount in order to erect the pre-fabricated Temple they have been assembling in warehouses for years, then it’s time to remind yourself that you are a Christian.  And for a Christian, even the end of the world … isn’t the end of the world.

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