Ezekiel prophesied about Jerusalem to those who had already been taken from Jerusalem, exiled to Babylon. Why would God have the prophet speak words and perform symbolic acts in Ezekiel 12-24 that had little application to the immediate geographical situation of Ezekiel’s audience in Babylon? First, Ezekiel’s sermons and deeds reinforced God’s motive for judging His people. At every turn, the prophet reminded God’s people in the land of the Chaldeans that He was right for judging their idolatry and would finish the destruction He had announced concerning Jerusalem. Second, Ezekiel restated the obligations the exiles had to God for His grace on their lives. Ezekiel’s sermons were a word of mercy to the exiles; they were allowed to live—albeit under the rule of a foreign power—while many of their friends and family were not so blessed back in Jerusalem. Finally, Ezekiel set out the covenant loyalty God wanted from His people—even those who had been carried to the land of the Chaldeans. Ezekiel’s point for his immediate audience, to say nothing of how his sermons may have impacted those in Jerusalem, was that they should forsake all idolatry and live unto God alone.
The themes Ezekiel penned from Babylon contribute to the storyline of Scripture. Ezekiel’s prophecies helped the New Testament authors articulate how God’s people should live in a covenant relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
(1) God judges in righteousness. In Ezek 18:20, Ezekiel described the righteous judgment of the Lord. Paul affirmed that God’s judgment is without partiality but clarified that God’s judgment is according to the gospel revealed in Jesus Christ (Rom 2:16; see Acts 17:30-31). Ezekiel described the severity of God’s judgment by reasoning from the lesser to the greater. Since a wicked nation could not be spared even if the likes of Noah, Daniel, and Job interceded for it, “how much worse will it be when I send My four devastating judgments against Jerusalem—sword, famine, dangerous animals, and plague—in order to wipe out both man and animal from it!” (Ezek 14:21). John envisioned that the Lord would employ these same means—sword, famine, plague, and wild animals—to destroy those outside of Christ (Rev 6:8).
(2) Those not bearing the fruit of a covenant relationship with God will be condemned. In Ezekiel 15, the prophet pictured Israel as a fruitless vine, culpable and worthless (see also Isaiah 5). In John 15, Jesus employed the metaphor of a vineyard to describe the new era of salvation history. Jesus described Himself as the true vine, the unique source of spiritual fruit. Any who did not remain in Him and bear the fruit of that union would be cast out and burned (John 15:6). But all who did abide in Him, Jesus said, would bear fruit in prayer and know of the Father’s love for them (John 15:7-10).
(3) God’s people express their covenant relationship with Him by relying upon Him. In Ezek 20:10-26, Ezekiel condemned Israel for rejecting God’s law, especially the Sabbath command. God gave Israel the Sabbath as a way of expressing to the nations that He led them out of Egypt and would sustain them (Exod 16:4ff; 20:8-11; Num 15:32-36; Deut 4:1-14; 5:12-15). For Ezekiel, the Sabbath was a sign of Israel’s righteousness. But in Rom 10:4, Paul wrote that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. When Christ came, Paul argued, He fulfilled and expanded the Sabbath such that those who believe in Christ express their faith by daily relying upon Him with fellow Jews or Gentiles (Col 3:16-19; Gal 4:8-11). The author of Hebrews urged his audience to labor after Sabbath rest in Christ, laboring to live wholly unto Him with the church (Heb 3:7-4:11).
(4) Those in covenant with the Lord are to live differently than those who do not know God. In Ezek 20:34, 41, the prophet spoke of a day when the Lord would gather the scattered from the nations, bring them to the Promised Land, and demonstrate His holiness through them to the nations. Paul expressed this theme when writing to the Corinthians—a congregation with too strong a worldly affinity. Paul’s concern was not that the Corinthians leave their place on the Achaian peninsula and go to Judea but that they separate themselves from pagan practices and return fully to the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul’s logic in 2 Cor 6:17, “Come out from among them and be separate,’ says the Lord; ‘do not touch any unclean thing, and I will welcome you,’” echoes Ezek 20:41, the prophet’s word of grace that the Lord would once again accept His people in Jerusalem. Paul went on to urge the Corinthians, “Dear friends, since we have such promises, we should wash ourselves clean from every impurity of the flesh and spirit, making our sanctification complete in the fear of the Lord” (2 Cor 7:1).