I want to discuss two sets of passages from this week’s readings. They are typically considered eschatological, or prophecies concerning end times, when God issues His final judgments on humankind and ushers in the new earth and new heavens. One set of passages is from Daniel and the other from Ezekiel. In both cases, there are a number of different interpretations and these passages are hotly debated among some Christians.
Ezekiel 40-48 depicts a brand new temple and a reorganization of the land distribution of Israel among the twelve tribes. Typically, these descriptions are viewed as either
- a vision of a new temple which will be constructed in Jerusalem at some future time and from which Jesus will rule during a 1,000 year reign on earth, or
- a vision of a new temple which God will implement during the creation of the new heaven and earth, or
- a vision of an “idealized” temple which is a metaphor for God’s future restoration of fellowship with His people, or
- some mixture of elements of all of these.
I feel that rather than spending a great deal of time arguing for one view or another, I would like to emphasize the bigger picture of this passage in the context of the rest of Ezekiel’s book. Ezekiel, like Jeremiah, prophesied the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem and the exile of Judah. He also lived through it, prophesying both from Israel and from Babylon as one of the exiles. He was just as devastated and heartbroken as Jeremiah over the sin of God’s people and the necessity of God’s judgment on them.
This prophecy of a future temple of God comes in response to the earlier vision Ezekiel had of the existing temple in Jerusalem which was full of such abominations and distorted worship that God chose to remove his glory from the temple (Ezekiel 8-10). Ezekiel and the Israelites watched in anguish when this prophecy was fulfilled. The new vision of God’s temple, with God’s glory returning to it and His people living in His presence in obedience is a direct statement from God saying “I haven’t given up on you and I WILL restore our relationship.” That is the ultimate message of the book of Ezekiel.
There was another passage in Ezekiel (Chapter 37), which was part of last week’s readings, in which God showed Ezekiel a valley full of old, scattered human bones. In the vision, God asked Ezekiel the question, “Can these bones live?”. Ezekiel essentially replied, “Only you [God] know the answer to that.” At the end of the vision (vs. 11-14), God said
Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.”
Ezekiel and the exiles had first-hand experience with God fulfilling his prophecy. God, therefore, spent a lot of time teaching Ezekiel that he could be trusted to fulfill the rest of the prophecies as well.
Daniel was another prophet who was living in Babylon during the exile. God gave him some visions of the future (chapters 7-12) that were quite disturbing. They dealt with political upheavals, the coming Messiah, the Messiah’s death and resurrection, and the future Messiah’s confrontation with Satan and all the nations of the earth in opposition to God. It also dealt with a new heaven and a new earth. As with Ezekiel, people spend a lot of time grappling with Daniel’s visions and trying to assign dates and specific events to them. Some can be tied to specific historical events, such as the rise of Alexander the Great, the coming of the Roman empire, and the birth and death of Jesus. But some speak of times and events which have not yet happened and are still awaiting fulfillment.
Again, rather than try to argue for specific interpretations, I want to emphasize from these passages what God emphasized. Consider God’s statements among these prophesies.
As I looked, this horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them, until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom. (Daniel 7:21-22)
But the court shall sit in judgment, and his dominion shall be taken away, to be consumed and destroyed to the end. And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.’ “Here is the end of the matter. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts greatly alarmed me, and my color changed, but I kept the matter in my heart.” (Daniel 7:26-28)
When I, Daniel, had seen the vision, I sought to understand it. And behold, there stood before me one having the appearance of a man. And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, and it called, “Gabriel, make this man understand the vision.” So he came near where I stood. And when he came, I was frightened and fell on my face. But he said to me, “Understand, O son of man, that the vision is for the time of the end.” (Daniel 8:15-17)
And at the latter end of their kingdom, when the transgressors have reached their limit, a king of bold face, one who understands riddles, shall arise. His power shall be great—but not by his own power; and he shall cause fearful destruction and shall succeed in what he does, and destroy mighty men and the people who are the saints. By his cunning he shall make deceit prosper under his hand, and in his own mind she shall become great. Without warning he shall destroy many. And he shall even rise up against the Prince of princes, and he shall be broken—but by no human hand. The vision of the evenings and the mornings that has been told is true, but seal up the vision, for it refers to many days from now.” And I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for some days. Then I rose and went about the king’s business, but I was appalled by the vision and did not understand it. (Daniel 8:23-27)
These visions were terrifying to Daniel, but God assured him that He will be victorious and has everything laid out according to plan. Ultimately, Daniel simply listened, understood what he could, and trusted God to carry history through to its rightful end.
Daniel’s heart of trust and reliance on God are probably best depicted in Daniel 6. He was wrongly thrown into a den of lions because of his devotion to God. At the end of the story, King Darius, who was tricked into sending Daniel to this punishment, returned to the lion’s den to discover Daniel’s fate. (Daniel 6:20-28)
The king declared to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” Then Daniel said to the king, “O king, live forever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm.” Then the king was exceedingly glad, and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. And the king commanded, and those men who had maliciously accused Daniel were brought and cast into the den of lions—they, their children, and their wives. And before they reached the bottom of the den, the lions overpowered them and broke all their bones in pieces. Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: “Peace be multiplied to you. I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end. He delivers and rescues; he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, he who has saved Daniel from the power of the lions.” So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.