One of the most asked questions by serious (and some not so serious) believers is; “are we in the end times?” And the answer usually given is “maybe”. But there is also the sense that we are, in fact, getting very close to the day when Jesus returns. As the subject is discussed, the evidence set forth for a soon end to this present age is the increasing level of evil in the world, the frequency of earthquakes, the rise of Islam, the presence of the European Union and numerous other matters. And while some of these could well fit into end-time scenarios, there is really one clear indicator of where the world might be in the plan of God, and that one thing is the presence of ethnic, national Israel back in their land in the Middle East. Ezekiel 34-39 is an important scripture in this discussion. It is a familiar section of God’s Word, and yet, there are some real difficulties within the text. Another look at these chapters might prove quite helpful.
God’s Involvement in the Restoring of Israel. Ezekiel 34 begins with God chastising the leaders of Israel, pointing out that they have been terrible leaders as far as providing for and protecting God’s flock, Israel. So because of that reality, God Himself is taking their shepherding role away from then and He will now be the Shepherd of Israel. In Ezekiel 34:11, God declares that, “I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out.” Time and again through chapter 39, God says that He will care, guide, protect, feed, lead and deliver His flock. Most of us would agree that if God said just one time that He was going to do something, then we have absolute confidence that He would do that thing. But in chapters 34-39, there are some 65 times that God says “I will.” This is an amazing statistic, and points with certainty that the matters spoken of in Ezekiel 34-39 will come to pass. No one can thwart this work of God in restoring the nation of Israel.
The Two-fold Restoring of the Nation of Israel. Ezekiel 36:24-32 summarizes nicely the sequence of the future restoration. First, God will restore the nation back to their land. God will “take them from the nations…and bring them into their own land” (36:24). There is no doubt what land God is going to bring them to: “the land that I gave to your forefathers” (36:28). The worldwide dispersion of the Jews will be over as God will use various means to bring them to the land given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Stated with equal clarity is the fact that there is a precise order of this future restoration, and that is that the physical restoration of Israel back to their land will be followed by Israel’s spiritual restoration back to the Lord. After Israel has been brought back to the land by the Lord: “then I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness…and I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes” (36:25, 27).
The famous “dry bones vision” of Ezekiel (37:1-14) adds some important details. Ezekiel is taken via a vision to a valley full of dry bones. These bones represent the nation of Israel (37:11) in their scattered condition throughout the gentile nations. The bones are many and they have been in this apparently hopeless condition for a long time. Ezekiel is asked by God if the bones could live again. The answer is obviously, “no”. Dry bones don’t come back to life. However, since it is God asking the question, Ezekiel wisely claims ignorance. He is right. The seemingly impossible will take place. When Ezekiel gives forth the word from God, the scattered bones come back into proper order and a skeleton is formed. Two important points are communicated here. First, there is a process involved in the physical restoration of Israel, as the bones come back together first and then sinews, skin and flesh come on the bones. This physical restoration will take place over time. And second, it will be a noticeable process (the noisy rattling of the bones). What is then seen by Ezekiel is a corpse. Bones and flesh are there but there is no life breath. At that point, Ezekiel continues his preaching and the breath of God enters into Israel, picturing their spiritual re-birth (37:9-14).
The restoration sequence is absolutely fixed. First, Israel will be restored physically, politically back to their ancient land. After the process of physical restoration has gone on for the appropriate period of time (a period known only to the Shepherd), then Israel will be brought back into a living, spiritual relationship with their God (36:28; 37:13-14).
The sequence of restoration is quite clear, but there are several questions that emerge that need to be addressed.
- When will the restorations take place? No dates are given but in Ezekiel 34-39 there are indicators that they will be after Israel has been in gentile nations for a long period of time, and that this will take place in the end of times (34:22-29; 36:33-36; 38:8, 16). The physical restoring of Israel began in earnest in the late 1800s and continues to this day, with Israel becoming a nation in May, 1948. The time of the spiritual restoration of Israel is well documented. It will take place during Daniel’s “70th Week” (Daniel 9:24-27). It is in the time of great tribulation that Israel turns to the Lord (e.g. Daniel 9:24-27; Zechariah 12:10-14:4; Jeremiah 23:5-6, etc.) Jesus was clear that His 2nd Coming to the earth would not happen until Israel became a believing nation (Matt. 23:39). The salvation of Israel is the primary reason for the period of tribulation and it will take place after they are back in their land.
- What is it that causes Israel to seek the Lord and come back to Him spiritually? What, after some 1800 years, will cause unbelieving Israel to come back to the Lord? The prophet Ezekiel answers this question. The “trigger” for this sudden turning to the Lord will be a battle; the Gog-Magog battle (Ezekiel 38 and 39). God does a Red Sea like miraculous deliverance of Israel and utterly destroys an immense invading army. After this destruction of the invading army by the hand of God, Ezekiel says “and the house of Israel will know that I am the Lord from that day onward” (39:22). This battle (which probably takes place after the Rapture but before the Tribulation) will cause Israel’s spiritual blindfold to be removed, and for the first time in centuries, Israel will have eyes to see.
Israel’s Condition in the Land—Another Clue. There are several other points which suggest that Israel is “ready” for the last days events. First, Israel has indeed been brought out of the gentile nations back into the land of Israel. As of now, the Jews have come out of some 80 different nations and have returned back to the land. That surely qualifies as being “taken from the nations.” Second, that land that was nothing but swamps and deserts in the early 1900s is now no longer desolate but amazing lush and productive (“like the garden of Eden”—36:35). This has resulted in envying from other nations and it is the wealth of Israel that will attract those nations that will attack Israel in the end times (38:11-13). Third, Israel is living “confidently” in their land (38:8, 14). The English text says “living securely” which has caused many interpreters to see this Gog-Magog battle as not being possible today because security is not the condition in Israel. But it is better to understand the word as “confidently”; meaning that there is a self-confidence in Israel that they can handle whatever their enemies can throw at them. This is certainly an attitude present today in Israel.
So, are we near the end times? The answer from Ezekiel is that there is really nothing that must come to pass for the events of the end times to take place. If Israel has been sufficiently recalled to their land physically (not all Jews must be back in the land) then God will bring about their spiritual restoration, which will take place in the seven year tribulation period. And that means, these events could indeed be here.