How Do We See the Gospel in the Strange Book of Ezekiel?

Borrowed Light
How Do We See the Gospel in the Strange Book of Ezekiel?

Let me tell you about my friend Zeke. I first met Zeke when he was laying on his side in the park. It was something like day 247 of this strange action. He’ll be there until he gets up to 390 days, then he tells me he’s turning on his side for another 40 days. “It’s symbolic,” he says. 

He also shaved his head and beard the other day. That’s not all that out of the ordinary, I guess, except he started weighing it on a scale and dividing it up. He burnt some of it, the other part he chopped up in pieces all throughout the town, and then he just threw it up into the air and let the wind scatter it everywhere. 

His diet… well, that’s just weird. For one, he eats scrolls. No ketchup, no mustard, just straight up parchment. But that’s probably the tastiest of his diet. The other day he was baking bread over a cow pie — no, that’s not another name for those cholate moon pies — it’s cow dung. Zeke was happy though. He chuckled and said, “I’m just thankful I was able to bargain it down to cow dung. It started out as human excrement.” 

Man, Zeke is a weird dude. I haven’t even told you about how he packed up all his belongings and started carrying it around everywhere. And then he starts digging into walls and climbing through pulling all of his luggage with him. Again, he tells people that it’s another sign. 

And I haven’t even mentioned the visions that he has. Sometimes it’s so strange that you aren’t even sure what he’s talking about — something about winged people, and lion’s faces, and bronze feet, and then it just gets confusing when he has them all moving around with wheels. It’s like something you’d see in a Doctor Strange movie. Just the other day, he was telling us about this vision he had with all these dead bones in a valley and then suddenly they all came alive — but it wasn’t like a zombie apocalypse. Somehow this was really good news. 

You’ve probably already figured out that my friend “Zeke” is really Ezekiel from the so-named prophetic book. It’s just weird. It’s so clouded with symbols and signs and actions that we can get lost in it all. Truthfully, digging deep here can almost feel like you’re interacting with a mad-man. But you aren’t. Ezekiel is actually a beautiful book that, if we’re able to see through the images a little, will point us to the gospel of Jesus. 

How Do You Find the Gospel in the Old Testament?

I suppose before understanding how to find the gospel in the OT, it’d be helpful for us to define the gospel. The simplest definition is one given by JI Packer: God saves sinners. If you’d like to put a bit more meat on your gospel presentation, I use two different frameworks with four points each. The first is God—Man—Christ—Response. The second is more of a story: Creation—Fall—Redemption—Glory. 

The first presentation centers upon God’s character and how humanity fails to meet God’s holy standard, as such the judgment of God is upon us. But the good news is that Jesus Christ fixes this by fulfilling what is required through his life, death and resurrection. Our only fitting response, then, is to respond to Him in repentance and faith. When this happens, we are united to Christ and his record becomes our record. 

The second presentation centers upon the overarching story of the Bible. God lovingly created us to love Him and enjoy Him forever. We were made for rest, rule, and relationship. But we made shipwreck of this, and so rather than having the blessings of obedience we are under the curse of disobedience. Rather than having peace (rest), purpose (ruling), and healthy relationship we often experience the opposite. Ultimately, we are alienated from God. But thankfully God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to bear our curse and to fulfill what God intended for humanity. As such we now experience the blessings of Jesus’ obedience in our place. He restores the rest, rule, and relationship we were created to enjoy. Someday everything will be ultimately restored and we will live in a new heaven and a new earth. 

We could write entire books focusing on these various themes of the gospel. But every gospel story follows this basic skeleton. No matter where you find yourself in the Old Testament (or the New Testament) you can find one of these various threads. Every place in Scripture is either telling you something about God, something about our rebellion, something about His rescue, or something about our future restoration. If you can spot this, then you can fill out the rest of the story. 

How Do You Find the Gospel in Ezekiel?

In the Garden, the first couple walk in the cool of the day with God. It’s a picture of His presence in this beautiful place. Rest, rule, and relationship are all there. But when humanity is kicked out of this garden, as mentioned above, we lose it all. 

Thankfully, the story doesn’t end there. God continues to relate to humanity. We see the glory of God again is able to be with people… kind of. God’s presence is in the Tabernacle and in the Temple. But it’s confined. Only a few people can go into the immediate presence, and this is only after making many sacrifices. To be a little simplistic, we might say that the glory of God is both veiled and mediated. 

Let’s try to see what this would mean practically. Imagine that you’re having a conversation with a Jewish person in Ezekiel’s time. You ask, “where do I go to meet God”? He might think that your question is a little strange, but after some time he will tell you that if you wanted to be in God’s presence (though that sounds like a quite dangerous prospect) you’d go to the temple. He’ll let you know that this is the closest you can get, but you won’t be getting in — not fully, anyways. 

God is in Jerusalem. That’s overly simplistic but it will help us understand Ezekiel. Because in the first chapter our prophet has a vision by the Kebar River. The Kebar River is in Babylon. And his vision is that the presence of God (that which is supposed to be confined to the temple) is somehow now present in Babylon. 

Now before we say, “Oh, cool. That means that God is everywhere!”, we need to reckon with what this would mean. Imagine that you live your entire life with mom and dad at home and it’s the only world you know. Now picture the shock you’d have when you hear that somehow mom and dad have another family in Vermont — and that family is the opposite of your own. They are weird. They’re Yankees fans. Not cool. 

That is, but multiplied by a few digits, what the Israelites would have felt to learn that the presence of God is in Babylon. It isn’t good news. It’s terrible. Have they been abandoned? Has God left them? How can this possibly be? Are we no longer your kids? 

We get the answer in Ezekiel 10 and 11. Because of their sin and rebellion, God’s presence has left the temple. God is no longer confined to Jerusalem. Or maybe He never was in the first place. (We need to quickly move away from any thoughts that God has betrayed anyone — we only use that illustration as a way to get into the hearts of the Israelites). 

When Ezekiel starts talking about Babylon and exile, suddenly this notion of the presence of God being in Babylon isn’t such a bad thing. As the eleventh chapter comes to an end, we see a glimmer of hope. God hasn’t abandoned them and a remnant will return. We’re somehow going back to the Garden… or maybe God is bringing the Garden back to us. 

The Presence of God Will Return

But Ezekiel is like one of those television shows that stretches on for seven season and each time you think you’ll get a little relief, a new ripple is added. That’s what happens in chapter 12. Here we start seeing all of those signs and the crazy things that Ezekiel does to show both the righteousness of God’s judgment and to call the people to repentance. But they won’t listen. Ezekiel is told this sad truth from the beginning. He’s going to do things like walk around naked, eat over cow dung, and lay on his side for over a year at the public park — only for pretty much zero converts. 

In the 25th chapter, Ezekiel turns to judgment against the nations, focusing on Egypt and Tyre. Maybe that’s some consolation that at least Israel’s neighbors will also be judged, but there isn’t much good news by the time we get to Ezekiel 33. Here we see that Jerusalem has fallen. You could almost stop the book right here and it’d come to a climax, but a sad one. 

Ezekiel 34-48 are jarring in their hopefulness against the backdrop of all of this sin and rebellion and judgment. But it is here that we start to see the temple again. There is a future hope to be had. 

And Ezekiel talks about a restored temple; some believe this will be an end times temple in Jerusalem and they’ll have sacrifices and all of that stuff again. Personally, I don’t think that is what Ezekiel is doing here. And honestly, if we’re reading this through a celebratory lens as Ezekiel seems to be reading it, a renewed temple after Christ is not something that would be celebrated. It’s a slap in the face and a mockery of the sacrifice of Christ — that’s kind of where the book of Hebrews takes us. (But we can discuss all this at a later time). 

For me, I believe this renewed temple is really symbolic, and it’s what the book of Ezekiel is about. It’s that the presence and glory of God will one day return. How does that happen? Well, we have a few clues throughout Ezekiel, specifically chapters 34-37. Here we see a new David, a new Israel, and a new heart. That vision in Ezekiel 37 is of the new humanity created (look at how it goes back to Genesis 2). The Word and the Spirit combine to create this new humanity. 

Where is this new humanity going to live? The new temple, of course. We’re going back to the Garden and the glory comes back. In the end of the book we see the Garden of Eden restored — “The Lord is there.” Once again God’s presence is back with humanity. 

We know from the New Testament that Christ is this new David, who has created the new humanity. And we know that this “new garden” is the new Jerusalem that will come down from heaven. It is through Christ that we “get back” to the garden. It is through Christ that we can say “the Lord is there.” 

The story, then, that Ezekiel is telling is really the gospel story.

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How Can We Find the Gospel in the Book of Jeremiah?
Yes, We Can Still See the Gospel in Lamentations

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/pcess609

Mike Leake is husband to Nikki and father to Isaiah and Hannah. He is also the lead pastor at Calvary of Neosho, MO. Mike is the author of Torn to Heal and Jesus Is All You Need. His writing home is and you can connect with him on Twitter @mikeleake. Mike has a new writing project at Proverbs4Today.