Ezekiel 37 is one of the most graphic prophetic expressions in the Old Testament: The Valley of the Dry Bones. It is also widely interpreted. As we walk through this chapter this morning, think about this: to what extent will God go so that His people will know Him as their Lord and God? Ask yourself this: How well do I know that the God of the Bible is the Lord, my God, and what impact does that have on my life? What would it take to know the Lord fully?
Read Ezekiel 37
If I asked you, “Do you believe in the afterlife?” I imagine everyone in this room would say, “Yes.” But if I asked you to defend your faith in the afterlife, what answers would you offer? As Christians we have the amazing blessing of historical evidence for life after death, do we not? We can look at our Savior and confess our faith that, “Jesus died, Jesus was buried, Jesus rose from the grave, Jesus ascended to heaven, Jesus will come again.” Amen? These are not simply religious words. They are not just poetic statements to write beautiful spiritual songs about. Our confession of faith is based on the history of Jesus, the Son of God’s death, burial and resurrection. Apart from these we have no hope. In the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 15 gives us the Christian theology of the resurrection hope. Paul argues that if there is no resurrection, we Christians are, of all men, most to be pitied.
So what is Ezekiel doing in chapter 37? What is God telling them through this prophecy about the hope of Israel? If this is just a parabolic vision, if this doesn’t come true, Israel may never know God as their Lord, the Lord. The purpose of the resurrection is clear. God is saying in plain words: When I do this, then you will know that I am the Lord. Do what? Look at verses 12-13.
12 Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. 13 Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves.
If this is merely talking about Judah returning from exile here, it seems like a funny way of saying it. God does say that He will bring them back from exile too, but God includes both Judah and Israel in that prophecy. That’s verses 21-28.
Listen to these words of Daniel, a prophet who lived during the time of Ezekiel. Daniel 12:1-4.
Listen to Jesus words in John 5:24-29. Also, listen to what Martha and Jesus say in John 11:23-27.
The resurrection of the dead for eternal life became more and more central to God’s message in scripture until the very word “Salvation” and resurrection to eternal life are almost synonymous.
We hear talk about going to heaven as the ultimate salvation and ultimate hope. I think Ezekiel has a message for us that needs to be heard. Perhaps a corrective to fill out our salvation thinking and understanding. Instead of going to heaven, in and of itself, becomes our hope, and our salvation, Ezekiel reminds us that our ultimate hope is to know the Lord.
Early in the Old Testament the hope of glory was more about being in God’s presence and finding favor than a resurrection to eternal life in heaven. By the time of Jesus there was a huge split between the Pharisees and the Sadducees over what salvation meant. When Paul was on trial before the supreme court of Israel, the Sanhedrin, we find an interesting insight about this in Acts 23:6-8. And look at Acts 26:4-8. Which prophets, Paul? What hope? What resurrection are you talking about?
Paul’s reference to the promises of God to Israel most assuredly had to include Ezekiel 37. Paul ties the hope of Israel directly to what? The resurrection of the dead! Where did Paul get that from the Old Testament? Let me say that there is NO CLEARER OLD TESTAMENT VERSE ON RESURRECTION FROM THE GRAVE than Ezekiel 37:12-13. Is this not a promise of God for Israel? Is this not at least SOME of what Paul is referring to?
This hope was not about going to heaven, but about knowing the Lord, forever. We need to be sure that this comes through. God’s promise is that He will do something that will result in God’s own ultimate goal which is that His people know that He is the Lord. Listen again to Ezekiel 37: 13 Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves.
Christian faith in the resurrection and afterlife is not centered on heaven but on God, and on knowing Him and being in His presence and enjoying His favor forever and ever and ever.
Going to heaven or hell was preached loudly and clearly throughout my childhood days. It was pretty clear what Hell would be like, but heaven as loving God and being with Him forever and ever and enjoying His presence and favor and gazing upon His glorious face was not stressed much, as I recall. Listen to 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10. The punishment here is described as everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day that He comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed.
Listen carefully to those final words of reward. This is the year we look at God’s saving mission. What does that ultimately look like here? The song, I can only imagine comes to mind.
Maybe I wasn’t listening as well as I should, but I am trying to listen to God’s word now as we go through it and this focus on saving and salvation. What I’m seeing and hearing in God’s word is that because of God’s grace through the gift of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for our sins, we who are saved will one day know that He is the Lord like we’ve never known Him before! We will enjoy His presence and favor and find ultimate, awesome, eternal joy in being with Him.
Those who are lost will all bow and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father and will be eternally shut out from that glorious joy. Not having longed for His appearing in this life, they will lose it forever in the next. That along with the eternal destruction of condemnation due to those who put to death God’s own Son through their sins and ignored His call to come home.