By Berry Kercheville
As I wrote in Tuesday’s article, at present I am writing a book called “For the Equipping of the Saints” describing our identity in Christ and how we are to function together as God’s people to cause the growth of the body (Eph. 4:16). I’m offering another excerpt in the article today.
How can a land promise be given to a spiritual kingdom? Wasn’t this promise fulfilled when Israel entered Canaan?
Let’s go back to the text of Ezekiel that we discussed in the previous chapter. Sprinkled throughout Ezekiel 36-37 are repeated references to God bringing Israel back to their land. What seems peculiar is that these promises are placed within the context of the days of the Messiah: “When the Lord will give you a new heart and a new spirit…you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God” (36:26-28). And again, “I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant that you may never suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations” (36:30). Look at one more text from chapter 36:
“On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt. And the land that was desolate shall be tilled, instead of being the desolation that it was in the sight of all who passed by. And they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’ Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the Lord; I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it” (36:33-36)
First notice, it is “on the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities” that God would fulfill this land restoration. Ask yourself this question, when Jesus came, did that happen for the nation of Israel…physically? Did the desolate land become like the garden of Eden? Did it ever happen, even when Israel returned from captivity? Obviously not. In fact, a remnant of Israel did come back to their land in 536 BC, but the period of time in which they again inhabited the land was a time of trouble and insecurity until 70 AD when the nation fell. That is exactly how Daniel described this time frame in his “70 weeks” prophecy (Dan. 9:24-27). So we have two problems with Ezekiel’s renewal of the land promise: (1) the fulfillment of the promise is placed in the time in which the Messiah would cleanse the people and put his Spirit within them, and (2) the literal fulfillment of the land promise prophecies never happened.
Chapter 37 in some ways adds to the dilemma. Ezekiel is given the vision of the valley of dry bones (37:1-14). These dry bones illustrated the complete death and desolation of the nation that was in captivity at the time Ezekiel wrote. Can these bones live again? Can the nation come back to life? Yes! God promised, “I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, and I will bring you into the land of Israel” (37:12). But then God gave the same promise in a different way two verses later: “And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land” (36:14). There again is the “Spirit promise” tied to the land promise. The Spirit promise was clearly fulfilled in the days of the Messiah.
Later in chapter 37 we are given confirmation that the land promise would be fulfilled in the time of the Messiah:
“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. 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. 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. My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.” (Ezekiel 37:24–28 ESV)
Now we know for sure that the days of the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s land promise are the days of Christ: “My servant David shall be king over them.” This is not a reference to a 1000-year reign on earth or a perfect physical Israel nation dwelling in a little landmass call Canaan. Other prophets spoke of the same land promise in the time of the Messiah, and those passages are quoted in the New Testament.
For example, Isaiah spoke of the days of the Messiah as a time when “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb,” but then said, “In that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, who shall stand as a banner to the people; for the Gentiles shall seek him, and his resting place shall be glorious” (Isa. 11:6, 10). When will the “wolf dwell with the lamb” and the Lord’s “resting place glorious?” It will be “when the Gentiles shall seek him.” Paul quotes this very passage in Romans 15:12 to argue that the Gentiles are now accepted. If the “wolf is not yet dwelling with the lamb” and “God’s resting place glorious,” then the Gentiles are not yet able to seek the Lord!
So what is the answer? How can the land promise be fulfilled in the time of Christ, and how could it be fulfilled in such glorious fashion when we see no evidence of that physically? The answer is the land promise never was simply a promise of a piece of land; it was a promise of rest and security from their enemies (Gen. 22:17). The fulfillment of the physical land promise for Israel (Josh. 21:43-45) was predicated on Israel’s continued obedience and only foreshadowed a greater and more perfect rest and security that would come in Christ.
God intends his secure rest to all the more attract the nations to him as they realize his steadfast covenantal love can be found it the Messiah King. Thus our message is a message of hope. It is an evangelistic message. What could be more exciting than knowing that God has made us the fulfillment of an eternal promise to create a nation that would be his own special possession, who would dwell securely protected from all enemies, and would be his sons and daughters transformed into his image, and thus fill the world with his glory! Indeed, look what God has done! To him be all praise and glory!