Ezekiel’s prophecy to Israel contained “new covenant” terminology similar to that which was foretold by the prophet Jeremiah before the nation of Judah was destroyed. Jeremiah said specifically, “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:31). The basis or foundation of the new covenant was forgiveness of sins. God said through Jeremiah, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). Ezekiel used the term sanctify to identify the process whereby God’s people would be set apart to do his work on earth (Ezekiel 36:23). Ezekiel described four stages of restoration (Ezekiel 36:24-30) that would lead to God’s people being sanctified and specifically detailed a point of regeneration that was necessary for them to be saved. He said:
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh, and I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. (Jeremiah 36:26-27).
Jesus referred to regeneration as being “born again” (John 3:7) and said, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). The idea that a person could be born a second time confused the religious leader, Nicodemus. He asked Jesus, “How can these things be?” (John 3:9). Jesus told Nicodemus that he had to understand heavenly things in order to enter into God’s kingdom and revealed that the only way he could do that was by believing in him (John 3:15-16).
A key to understanding the concept of regeneration was the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Before Jesus’ birth, God used Israel’s return from captivity and restoration of the Promised Land as an illustration of what was yet to be done by his Messiah. Ezekiel recorded, ” Thus saith the Lord GOD; In the day that I shall have cleansed you from all your iniquities, I will cause you to dwell in the cities, and the wastes shall be builded. And the desolate land shall be tilled, whereas it lay desolate in the sight of all that passed by. And they shall say, This land that was desolate is become like the garden of Eden; and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are become fenced, and are inhabited. Then the heathen that are left round about you shall know that I the LORD build the ruined places and plant that that was desolate: I the LORD have spoken it, and I will do it” (Ezekiel 36:33-36).