Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
While reading through the end of Ezekiel, I came across a line and I couldn’t get it out of my head. As he talks about the new Temple, Ezekiel describes a river that flows out of it (which I’ve heard several pastors compare to the Holy Spirit). After nearly drowning in the river, Ezekiel is told more about it,
He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Sea. When it empties into the Sea, the water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live”(Ezekiel 47:8-9).
I don’t know why, but this really struck me. According to the footnotes in my NIV Bible the “sea” being referenced is the Dead Sea. And so when the glory of the Lord enters the Temple again the Dead Sea will be (re?)freshed. For all you sky-watchers out there, if it’s any indication of when the end will come, the Dead Sea appears to be drying out these days. Immediately after reading this, I felt as though the Dead Sea was waiting expectantly, but patiently for that day. However, the Holy Spirit wouldn’t let me get past it. Every morning I’d wake up with this thought of the Dead Sea waiting for God, and I’d ponder it at night in bed. So, annoyed, I prayed something along the lines of “If you’re going to teach me something, teach me; otherwise let me move on.” Sure enough, the Holy Spirit started revealing the rest.
The Spirit showed me that it’s not just the Dead Sea that’s waiting for something. The whole world seems to be waiting for one thing or another. Take the Jews for example. Those who still believe in God are waiting for the Temple area to be returned to them so that they may rebuild. And why shouldn’t they? Their Scripture prophesies this new Temple- in Ezekiel no less,
In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth of the month, in the fourteenth year after the fall of the city- on that very day the hand of the Lord was upon me and he took me there. In visions of God he took me to the land of Israel and set me on a very high mountain, on whose south side were some buildings that looked like a city. He took me there, and I saw a man whose appearance was like bronze; he was standing in the gateway with a linen cord and a measuring rod in his hand. The man said to me, “Son of man, look with your eyes and hear with your ears and pay attention to everything I am going to show you, for that is why you have been brought here. Tell the house of Israel everything you see.” (Ezekiel 40:1-4).
And what did the bronze man show Ezekiel? Check out what God wanted to show the people who trace their lineage to Jacob:
I saw a wall completely surrounding the temple area. The length of the measuring rod in the man’s hand was six long cubits, each of which was a cubit and a handbreadth. He measured the wall; it was one measuring rod thick and one rod high (Ezekiel 40:5).
To a people who were without a Temple (and currently are also without the Temple), the Lord shows the Temple, bigger and better than ever. In fact, from Ezekiel 40 until the end, it’s all stuff about this new Temple that will be built one day. Jewish people believe that if they are able to properly worship the Lord (Temple, sacrifices, adherence to the Law of Moses, etc.) that once again God will live amongst them. Ezekiel’s prophecy supports this idea; for it is written,
Then the man brought me to the gate facing east, and I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east. His voice was like the roar of rushing waters, and the land was radiant with his glory. The vision I saw was like the vision I had seen when he came to destroy the city and like the visions I had seen by the Kebar River, and I fell facedown. The glory of the Lord entered the temple through the gate facing east. Then the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple (Ezekiel 43:1-5).
For those of us outside of the Jewish faith it seems a bit strange to imagine God, in a non-bodily form, living among the people. However, this not without backing Scriptures: after settling in the Promised Land and building the first Temple, sure enough, God did come and inhabit the Temple building. History records in 2 Chronicles 7:1-3,
When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it. When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the Lord above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying,
“He is good;
His love endures forever.”
When you take this into consideration, it makes more sense that the Jews are constantly pushing for the land in Jerusalem since they’re trying to bring God back to earth; which I imagine for them is a pretty noble deed.
Even the unbelieving word is waiting for something. Right now the world is chaotic and filled with all sorts of evil- everyone knows this. In this day and age, people are seeking balance or some sort of peace that currently doesn’t exist. This is why meditation/ritual-based relations are so popular; because they give life some structure to battle against the natural chaos. According to Ezekiel, though, the peace will come; for it is written,
“You are to distribute this land among yourselves according to the tribes of Israel. You are to allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the aliens who have settled among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native-born Israelites among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe the alien settles, there you are to give him his inheritance,” declares the Sovereign Lord (Ezekiel 47:21-23).
So for those who seek peace, rejoice; one day the peace will come, the chaos will end, and things will be organized, calm, and better.
Here’s the funny thing though: everyone and everything are waiting for the same thing. Ezekiel, which contains all this waiting and motivates us to press on, gives us a clue as to what we’re all waiting for as the Dead Sea passage continues:
Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds- like the fish of the Great Sea. But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing (Ezekiel 47:10-12).
Apparently, this river will produce trees on either side whose leaves are for healing. This connects to what Christians are waiting for. Let’s jump to the end of the Bible and John’s vision from God:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:1-2).
As you can see, John’s vision is basically the same as Ezekiel’s even though they were written hundreds of years apart. And so it stands that Jews, non-believers, Christians, and even the Dead Sea are all waiting for the same thing.
…So what are we all waiting for? The whole world is waiting for the return of Christ (even if they don’t realize it). We just saw that Ezekiel’s prophecy of the river is realized in the Revelation. Let’s take a look at the precursors to the river of life as recorded by John in his vision. First comes the return in Revelation 19:11-16,
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
This rider on the white horse is Jesus (it’s established that “The Word of God” is a name for Christ in the first chapter of John). After Jesus comes back, God and Christ replace the Temple with their presences. Revelation 21:22 states, “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” So not only does the Lord fill the Temple, he completely consumes and replaces it and Jesus and the Father live amongst the people as a living Temple. And after that, “No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him” (Revelation 22:3). The curse that causes our world to be so messed up and chaotic will be eliminated and peace and order will reign through Christ Jesus. So, through the return of the Son of God all of Ezekiel’s prophecies will be fulfilled; and everything we’re (all creation) waiting for will come to pass through that one man Jesus who is the Christ.
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoptions as sons, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:19-23).
Everyone and everything on earth is waiting for the return of Christ, so that the curse for which we’ve suffered all these years will finally be lifted; giving us peace, the presence of God, and the refreshment that we need. Well, if everyone is waiting, why is God taking so long to bring it all about? That’s what everyone wants to know. Scripture acknowledges this,
First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:3-4).
So what’s the hold up? The Holy Spirit (through Peter) explains,
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promises, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:8-9).
The Lord is waiting so as to save as many people as possible before Christ returns to bring peace (and judgment). Who’s he waiting for? Maybe you?
Just as man is destine to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.