The Lord has been revealing through the prophet Ezekiel about what he will do for his people when the Spirit comes. These prophecies in Ezekiel 34-48 show the connection to God himself coming to his people and filling them with new life though they are spiritually dead because of their sins. I want to remind us of this very important connection which is found in John 7:37-39.
37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37–39 ESV)
Notice that Jesus spoke of those who thirst being able to enjoy rivers of living waters. Carefully look at verse 39. Jesus said this about the Spirit which everyone who believed in him were going to receive. But the Spirit had not be given yet because Jesus was not yet glorified. God himself had to come and give his life for the world. In doing so, this would be the means for life to be given to those who believe in him. Ezekiel has been showing this picture vividly in chapters 34-37 so far in our study. I want us to come back to Ezekiel 37 and notice another prophecy that is made about what God will do for his people, connecting King Jesus to the work of the Spirit.
The Picture of Unity (37:15-19)
The Lord tells Ezekiel to take two sticks and write on one stick, “For Judah” and on the other stick, “For Joseph (Ephraim).” Then Ezekiel is to take the two sticks and join them into his hand so that they become one in his hand. I visualize that he takes the two sticks, sets them end to end, and then holds them together at that point so that it now looks like one long stick in his hand, instead of two. Then the people are going to ask Ezekiel what this means (37:18). The answer is the Lord is going to take the two nations and join them into a single stick so that they are one in the Lord’s hand (37:19).
Now we need think about what the Lord is promising because it is rather shocking. In 722 BC the Assyrian Empire invaded the northern nation of Israel, capturing the capital and the people, and scattering them among the nations. In fact, the Assyrians would have conquered Judah and Jerusalem also. But the Lord intervened once the Assyrians had surrounded Jerusalem because King Hezekiah at the encouragement of the prophet Isaiah turned his heart to the Lord for deliverance. But the Assyrian policy was different than the Babylonian captivity policy. Assyria did not to deport the captured people to their own nation and keep them together. Rather, they scattered the people around all the other peoples in the empire so that they could not band together again in revolt. The Babylonian Empire did deport the people of Judah and kept them in groups when they were brought to Babylonian. We see Daniel and his friends together in Susa when they are captured. We see Ezekiel with the exiles by the Chebar River when they are captured.
So here is what I want us to think about. It seemed possible for the people who were captured by the Babylonians to return to the land as a people. We see this happen 70 years later at the command of King Cyrus of Persia (cf. Ezra 1). But how could the northern nation ever be regathered as a people? The ten tribes of the northern nation of Israel were dispersed all over the Assyrian Empire, never to be seen again. So how can the Lord bring them back when there is not a physical remnant of their existence?
The Explanation of Unity (37:20-22)
What the Lord says next in verses 20-22 is even more stunning. The Lord will gather than from all the nations that they have gone, bring them back into the land, and make them one nation in the land. I would also like for us to think about that we do not read anything in history or in scriptures of the return of physical northern nation returning to the land as verses 20-21 say will happen along with the people of Judah. So what is God promising? What exactly is going to happen when the Spirit comes?
We are given some help at the end of verse 22. The Lord says that one king will be king over them all so that they are no longer two nations, but one. God’s people will be unified under one king. When the remnant of Judah returns to the land, there is no king established. They never have a physical king ruling in Jerusalem or in any city in the land again, exactly as Ezekiel proclaimed in Ezekiel 19. But the picture is that a king will come and rule which will unify his people as one nation. There will be one kingdom, not two again. God’s king will come and radically change the nature of this kingdom.
The Result of Unification (37:23-28)
Listen to what the Lord says is going to happen at that time. In verse 23 the Lord proclaims that these people who belong to this new kingdom will no longer defile themselves with idols, detestable things, or with rebellious acts. His people will not defiantly defile themselves in their sins. They will put an end to the idolatry in their lives when the king comes. Not only this, the Lord proclaims that he will cleanse his people, saving them from all of their backsliding and unfaithfulness. God is cleansing his people with this glorious result. “They shall be my people, and I will be their God” (37:23). A radical relationship is now establish. It is now possible to have the relationship with God that he always wanted. The Garden of Eden shows Adam and Eve in relationship with God. God tried to reestablish this relationship through his law. God gave his law through Moses so that Israel would be his people and he would be their God (cf. Leviticus 26:12). But disobedience made this relationship impossible. Now a new king will come and draw his people to him, creating a single new nation in which the people will not be defiled with idols and God will cleanse them. How will this happen? Look at verse 24.
The Lord proclaims that his servant David will be king over them and he will be the single shepherd over them. Further, they will live on the promised land forever and David will be their prince forever (37:25). In my lesson on Ezekiel 35-36 I spent a lot of time talking about what the land promise was pointing to. I will give a quick summary as reminder here. Remember that Abraham went out looking for a city which has foundations, who architect and builder in God (Hebrews 11:9-10). The people of faith desired a better country, that is, a heavenly one (Hebrews 11:16). They were not looking forward to the dirt between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. The inheritance is an eternal reward as God rules over all creation and we are joined with him in that victorious reign.
The Lord will make a covenant of peace with his people and it will be a permanent covenant (37:26). Notice that this everlasting covenant of peace means that the people can live secure eternally and God’s temple will be in their midst forever. In fact, the Lord will live among his people. He will be our God and we will be his people forever. God’s temple being in the midst of his people forever was to show the world that he makes his people holy (37:28).
New Testament Hope
Before I can speak about some New Testament references and applications, I want to point that these things must have been fulfilled when Jesus came. If it did not, then God has not sent his king to shepherd us yet which means that there is not forgiveness of sins yet which means that God is not our God and we are not his people yet. This is so important to see. People who take these prophecies in Ezekiel as not having occurred yet run into a major theological problem. If God has not brought back Israel from among the nations and restored them as he promised, then none of the other promises that we read this paragraph have been fulfilled yet because they are tied together with the coming of the one king, the servant David. Jesus is our greatest shepherd who has established his covenant of peace with us, who lives among his people now so that we can be cleansed of our sins, which means that the Lord can be our God and we can be his people. But I want to show you how the New Testament tells us that these wonderful promises of hope are available to us.
I want us to consider the scene in Acts 2. The Spirit has come on the apostles which Peter will proclaim that repentance, restoration, and life are now available. But I want us to see that the text tells us that we have physical Israel in attendance from all over the Roman Empire. God is doing what he said he would do through Ezekiel. God is calling Israel from all over the world to come under King Jesus and belong to his kingdom and enjoy new life through him. Peter opens his first letter as being written “to the elect exiles of the dispersion” (1 Peter 1:1). Here is another picture of God calling his people from all over the world to come for salvation under King Jesus. But the point I want to key in on is what Ezekiel sees as the effect of Christ’s kingship. We see that he will establish a covenant of peace. The visual that Ezekiel uses pictures God’s people united together as one in his kingdom. Christ’s kingship creates a radical relationship that unifies people from all different backgrounds scattered all over the earth into one people joined for a common purpose.
In the final time with his disciples before his death, Jesus offers a prayer that is recorded in John 17. Jesus prays for the Father to be glorified in the upcoming moments of his life and that he would be glorified through this mission of giving his life on the cross to save the world. But at the end of this prayer Jesus prayers for something important.
20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:20–23 ESV)
Jesus prays that everyone who would believe in him through the word proclaimed would be one just as the Father and the Son are one. But notice why this unity is so important. In verse 21 Jesus says that we need to be unified so that the world may believe that the Father sent the Son. The same thing is said again in verse 23. Now notice what Ezekiel’s prophecy said. The king coming and unifying his people under his rule and making his dwelling place with the people was to cause the nations to know that the Lord is God who makes his people holy (Ezekiel 37:28). How we treat each other is supposed to say something to the world. Jesus also said it this way:
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35 ESV)
The apostle Paul made the same point as he underscored what walking worthy of the calling looks like.
Therefore I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1–3 CSB)
Unity is critically important. In fact, you will notice that Paul commands us to make every effort keep the unity of the Spirit. We see why this is called the unity of Spirit as we look at the book of Ezekiel. God promises that when the Spirit came, he calls his people from all over the earth to be gathered to him under his Son as King, making them a new people unified with this common bond. Paul wrote to the Corinthians instructing them to not have any divisions among them (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:10-11). Paul warned the Galatians to not bite and devour one another so that they are not consumed (cf. Galatians 5:15). He told the Philippians to agree in the Lord as they work side by side for the gospel by putting the interests of others ahead of themselves (cf. Philippians 4:2-3; 2:1-5). Paul told the Colossians to be knit together in love and to put on love which binds everything together in perfect harmony (cf. Colossians 2:2; 3:14). We could keep going with more places the apostle Paul gives such instruction. But I want us to see that he constantly sounds the call for unity and love among God’s people because this is what we have been called to as his redeemed people. They will not be divided by sin but will be filled with humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love (Ephesians 4:2). Since you were formed as God’s people by his divine grace, then you are maintain relationships with each other by extending grace to each other.
Unfortunately, we live in a time when it easy for the divisions of the world to creep in among God’s people. This is something that we can never let happen. It is remarkable and stunning how often churches divide, fight, and fracture over what is often such small things. So often they are divisions over personalities and selfish ambition and not over the truth of God’s word. But what are we saying to the world if we cannot be united and show love to one another? How can we love the people in the world and see them like sheep without a shepherd in need of saving if we cannot love each other in this room and love the people of God throughout the world? Friends, loving one another and being committed to working together in Christ’s kingdom in humility, gentleness, and patience is how we walk worthy of this amazing calling. We will do for one another like no one else would because we have been called into a radical relationship with Christ our king and a radical relationship with each other. People will know we belong to Jesus by how we treat one another. Let us make every effort to keep the unity of Spirit in the bond of peace.