Ezekiel was terrified by the visions he received concerning the destruction of Jerusalem. In Ezekiel 6-11, the prophet was forced to endure visions of the Lord’s glory exiting Jerusalem and the temple. Yet, in accord with Jeremiah (Jer 31:31-34), Ezekiel foretold a time when the Lord would intervene and change the situation of His people so that they would display faithfulness of heart and enjoy His presence forever.
Ezekiel condemned Israel because the nation did not acknowledge the Lord as their God, failing to keep the first of the Ten Commandments (Exod 20:3; Deut 5:7). Since Israel did not publicly recognize the Lord in their lifestyle, they would be forced to recognize Him by experiencing His wrath. The Lord intended that a succession of disasters (Ezek 7:5) would awaken His people to their covenant obligations (Ezek 7:4, 9, 27b; see Jer 9:23-24). For Ezekiel, disastrous was the departure of the glory of the Lord from the temple (chs. 8-11).
Ezekiel spoke of the Lord’s faithfulness to His faithful ones and the new heart the Lord would give to His people. In the storyline of Scripture, Ezekiel 6-11 provides a framework for understanding God’s activity in the new covenant in Christ.
(1) God marks His people, distinguishing them from those who will be destroyed in judgement. In Ezekiel 9 the prophet described the destruction the Lord was about to bring upon Jerusalem through Nebuchadnezzar. In his vision, the prophet noted that one of the Lord’s servants traveled throughout Jerusalem, sealing with a mark on the forehead “the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations committed in it (Jerusalem)” (Ezek 9:4). While the remainder of the inhabitants of Jerusalem were to be destroyed, these marked ones were to be spared (Ezek 9:6). Ezekiel’s vision anticipates John’s vision in Revelation when John saw an angel cry out to the angels who were empowered for destruction, saying, “Don’t harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we seal the slaves of our God on their foreheads” (Rev 7:3). The latter group were not marked for their contrition regarding the idolatry committed in Jerusalem, but because their names had been “written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slaughtered” (Rev 13:8).
(2) The Spirit of God changes the hearts of God’s people so that their behavior displays their status. In Ezek 11:18-21, for the first time the prophet spoke of restoration. He proposed that the Lord would bring the exiles back to the Promised Land and they would remove the idols from it. Their new course of action would be the fruit of a new inner condition. The Lord said to Ezekiel, “I will give them one heart and put a new spirit within them; I will remove their heart of stone from their bodies and give them a heart of flesh, so they may follow My statutes, keep My ordinances, and practice them. Then they will be My people, and I will be their God” (Ezek 11:19-20; see Jer 31:31-34; Heb 8:8-12). The word of the prophet resembled Moses’ comment to Israel on the plains of Moab generations earlier. Moses prophesied that one day the Lord would circumcise the hearts of His people, inclining their disposition toward Him (Deut 30:1-6). In Paul’s frame of thought, Ezekiel had received a vision of what would take place in Christ by the Spirit. In Romans, Paul countered those who argued that the people of God were to be physically circumcised saying that a Jew is one who is circumcised in the heart, by the Spirit (Rom 2:28-29). Writing to the Corinthians, Paul defended his new covenant ministry in the Spirit, saying, “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, recognized and read by everyone, since it is plain that you are Christ’s letter, produced by us, not written with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on stone tablets but on tablets that are hearts of flesh” (2 Cor 3:3). Circumcision was a static sign of one’s lineage in Abraham, so different from the dynamic work of the Spirit, which Paul described in 2 Cor 3:17-18: “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. We all, with unveiled faces, are reflecting the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.”