His arrival

In preparation for their Messiah’s arrival, God cleared the way for his people to experience a different kind of life in the Promised Land. For centuries, the Jews had lived in fear of being overtaken by their enemies. God intended to remove the threats to his people’s existence in one fell swoop. The agent of His judgment was Alexander the Great who not only turned the Jews world upside down, but also transformed the world into a single united kingdom through a series of military campaigns that lasted ten years. Alexander was able to overthrown the Persian Empire in its entirety and established a Hellenistic civilization that was still evident in the world until the mid-15th century A.D. God told his people, “And I will encamp about mine house because of the army, because of him that passeth by, and because of him that returneth: and no oppressor shall pass through them anymore; for now have I seen with mine eyes.

Zechariah’s announcement of the Messiah’s arrival was quoted in the New Testament as Messianic and as referring ultimately to the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem (note on Zechariah 9:9). He said, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass” (Zechariah 9:9). This picture of Jesus’ entry into the city of Jerusalem just before his crucifixion shows that his arrival as the Jews Messiah was linked more so to his death on the cross than to his birth in Bethlehem. The¬† purpose of the Messiah’s arrival was to make a way for God’s people to live in peace and prosperity. Clearly, the only way that could happen was for Satan to be defeated and the kingdoms of this world to be overtaken by Jesus, the King of the Jews.

Speaking of Jesus’ authority on earth, God said, “And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he shall speak peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth” (Zechariah 9:10). In other words, the Jews would no longer have to engage in military battles to conquer their enemies. Jesus’ authority would be their key to overcoming the world. The picture of deliverance God gave his people was one of hope. He said, “As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water. Turn ye to the strong hold, ye prisoners of hope: even to day do I declare that I will render double unto thee” (Zechariah 9:11-12). The Hebrew word translated hope, tiqvah is derived from the word qavah which means to bind together. “This word stresses the straining of the mind in a certain direction with an expectant attitude…a forward look with assurance” (6960). God wanted his people to once again expect him to do a miracle on their behalf, which would be the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

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The truth

The angel Gabriel’s second visit to Daniel was opposed by Satanic forces. Gabriel told Daniel, “Fear not, Daniel: for from the first day that thou didst set thine hart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days: but lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me; and I remained there with the kings of Persia. Now I am come to make thee understand what shall befall thy people in the latter days: for yet the vision is for many days” (Daniel 10:12-14). Gabriel described for Daniel the spiritual battle that took place as a result of his prayer to understand the vision he had. It took both Gabriel and Michael, two archangels of God, fighting against the prince of the kingdom of Persia to overcome him, and the battle lasted twenty one days.

Gabriel told Daniel he would show him what was noted in “the scripture of truth” (Daniel 10:21). The exact meaning of this phrase is unknown, but Gabriel may have been referring to the divine record of the destinies of all human beings (note on Daniel 10:21). Gabriel’s reference to the scripture of truth indicates that God keeps a record of the events in his realm in the same way that earthly kings do (note on Psalm 51:1). This record is believed to include a list of the righteous, whom God blesses with life (note on Psalm 69:28). David prayed that his enemies would be “blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous” (Psalm 69:28). Moses interceded for God’s people and said, “Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written” (Exodus 32:32). Gabriel told Daniel, “there is none that holdeth with me in these things, but Michael your prince” (Daniel 10:21). Apparently, only the two archangels, Gabriel and Michael have access to this record.

Gabriel said to Daniel, “And now will I shew thee the truth” (Daniel 11:2). The Hebrew word translated truth¬† is emeth (571). Emeth is a shortened form or contraction of the word aman (539) which means to believe or have belief. Aman appears in Genesis 15:6 where it says that Abraham “believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” In other words, God recorded Abraham’s belief in his book of righteousness. What Gabriel showed Daniel, was a detailed account of a conflict between the north and south that would ultimately lead to a power struggle between Jesus and the agent of Satan, Antichrist for the kingdom of God. In conclusion, Gabriel said of Antichrist, “And he shall plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas in the glorious holy mountain; yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him” (Daniel 11:45). Gabriel’s mention of the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16:13-16) indicated that even before Jesus was born, it was predestined that in his first coming to the earth, he would be rejected by God’s people, and then, in his second coming be proclaimed as Savior, not only of the Israelites, but of the entire world.

The new temple (part 2)

Focusing on the floor plan of the temple described by Ezekiel in chapters 40-48 of his book, it is evident that the gates of the structure provided controlled access to three areas of the temple of God. First, there was the outer court, then the inner court, and finally, the temple itself. The temple complex was surrounded by a square shaped outer wall approximately 1/2 mile in length on each side. A total of seven gates limited access to the temple or house where God dwelt. Beginning with the east gate, Ezekiel portrayed the three gates that provided access to the inner court as being large enough to process as many as 1250 people at a time. The gates were similar to tunnels or long corridors in which stations were set up to perhaps check baggage or the identification of those who wished to pass through. Once inside, the inner court consisted of approximately 360,000 sq ft of standing space for people that wanted to participate in worship services.

Enclosed within the inner court was the temple structure which had to be accessed by three additional gates, one on the east, one on the north, and one on the south. This second set of gates was identical to the ones located in the outer court, except there were tables located along the sides of the gates where animals were killed before they were taken to the altar to be sacrificed. The temple court measured 100 cubits square or 175 ft by 175 ft, approximately 30,000 sq ft. The altar that was used for burnt offerings stood in the center of this court. One final gate or doorway had to be passed through to enter the temple. The size of the entryway was extremely small compared to the other gates. Ezekiel recorded “and he brought me to the porch of the house, and measured each post of the porch, five cubits on this side, and five cubits on that side: and the breadth of the gate was three cubits on this side, and three cubits on that side” (Ezekiel 40:48). Three cubits would have been enough room for only about three men to enter the gate simultaneously.

Jesus taught about entering into the kingdom of heaven through a straight or narrow gate in his Sermon on the Mount. He said, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). Jesus may have used the temple gates as an illustration of wide and narrow gates because he wanted his followers to understand that worshipping God was not enough to save them from going to hell. Jesus said of himself “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved” (John 10:9). The Greek word Jesus used for door, thura means a portal or entrance and is also translated as gate (2374).

 

Regeneration

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).

The good shepherd

The leaders of Israel, kings as well as prophets and priests, were sometimes referred to as shepherds because they were responsible for the safety and well-being of God’s people. God condemned the shepherds of Israel and said, “Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flock? Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock” (Ezekiel 34:2-3). King Zedekiah in particular proved to be a worthless shepherd. When Jerusalem was attacked by Nebuchadnezzar, the desperate king fled by night with his army into the desert and left the people of Jerusalem to starve to death (Destruction of Jerusalem 586 B.C.).

Using the metaphor of sheep that were scattered (Ezekiel 34:5), Ezekiel blamed the exile and dispersion of the Jews on a lack of leadership in God’s kingdom. He said, “because there was no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock…Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock” (Ezekiel 34:8-10). God promised to seek out his flock and to himself become their shepherd (Ezekiel 34:11-12). He said of the Messiah, “And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. And I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them, I the LORD have spoken it” (Ezekiel 34:23-24).

Jesus referred to himself as the good shepherd and talked about entering in by the door of the sheepfold (John 10). In order to differentiate himself from the leaders of the Old Testament, Jesus said, “But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out” (John 10:2-3). Jesus’ reference to calling his own by name implied the existence of a relationship, a personal relationship in which a recognition of his voice was possible. The leaders of the Old Testament did not associate with the common or average people with the exception of king David who was himself a shepherd before he became king. It is possible God chose David to be the king of Israel for that very reason.

Jesus’ explanation of his role as the good shepherd pointed to the salvation of his people. He said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture” (John 10:7-9). Although Jesus’ reference to being saved included both Jews and Gentiles, his primary concern was the nation of Israel which had been lost due to mismanagement of God’s kingdom. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Ultimately, Jesus’ death served the purpose of setting God’s people free from the political and religious influences that blinded them to God’s love. Ezekiel concluded, “Thus shall they know that I the LORD their God am with them, and that they, even the house of Israel, are my people, saith the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 34:30).

The sword

The transition that occurred during the Israelites’ period of captivity was focused on a change in the type of relationship God had with his people. Beginning with Abraham, God sought to establish a personal relationship that included ongoing communication between him and his chosen people. Once the nation of Israel came into existence, God’s messages were delivered primarily through prophets that were often ignored and sometimes punished for what they said (Jeremiah 26:11). In order to reestablish communication with his people, God sent them to a place where the absence of his presence would force them to reevaluate their behavior and admit they had been living in sin (Ezekiel 20:43).

A part of God’s judgment of his people was designed to separate out those who wanted salvation from those who thought idolatry would provide for them a better way of life. God told Ezekiel to say to the land of Israel:

Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I am against thee, and will draw forth my sword out of his sheath, and will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked. Seeing then that I will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked, therefore shall my sword go forth out of his sheath against all flesh from the south to the north: that all flesh may know that I the LORD have drawn forth my sword out of his sheath: it shall not return any more. (Ezekiel 21:3-5)

The LORD’s sword was described as a cutting instrument (2719), perhaps a dagger or knife that he could use against his enemies. The reference to drawing the sword out of his sheath rather than its sheath may indicate the sword was not a physical sword, but actually a person. Talking to his disciples about their mission on earth, Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).

Even though Jesus was known as the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), the result of Christ’s coming was conflict “between Christ and the antichrist, between light and darkness, between Christ’s children and the devil’s children” (note on Matthew 10:34). When Jesus was presented in the temple for dedication to the Lord, a man named Simeon was given a special insight by the Spirit so that he would recognize the Christ. It says in Luke 2:28-32, “Then he took him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” Afterward, Simeon spoke directly to Mary, Jesus’ mother and said, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).

In the sixth chapter of the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul talks about putting on the whole armour of God “that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 5:11). In his description of our armour, Paul tells us to “take up the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). Obviously, the armour Paul was talking about was not comprised of physical items that we put on our body. Spiritual warfare must be dealt with in our spiritual capacities that we are not always aware of, so Paul used physical items to relate their usefulness to us, and the means by which we can activate them.

The sword of the LORD was activated when God’s people went into exile. Since we know that Ezekiel was already in exile when he received his message from the LORD, the sword was most likely activated some time after the first wave of refugees was taken to Babylon, but before the fall of Jerusalem took place in 586 B.C. In a symbolic act of mourning, God told Ezekiel to sigh before the eyes of the people. Perhaps also, as a signal to antichrist with whom the spiritual engagement was about to begin to take place, God said, “And thou, profane wicked prince of Israel, whose day is come, when iniquity shall have an end, thus saith the Lord GOD; remove the diadem, and take off the crown: this shall not be the same: exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high. I will overturn, overturn, overturn it; and it shall be no more until he comes whose right it is; and I will give it him” (Ezekiel 21:25-27).

God’s chosen people

When God’s people were first brought out of slavery in Egypt, they entered into a covenant with God to serve him and obey his commandments (Exodus 19:8). After many years of practicing idolatry and finally being told they would be sent into exile in Babylon, God’s chosen people thought they could avoid their punishment by renouncing their relationship with God altogether. God told them, “And that which cometh into your mind shall not be at all, that ye say, We will be as the heathen, as the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone. As I live, saith the Lord GOD, surely with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out will I rule over you.

In spite of their rebellion against him and continual breaking of his commandments, God would not abandon his people as they had him. God was committed to fulfilling his promise to Abraham and later to king David when he said that he would make his people into a great nation and his kingdom would be established for ever (2 Samuel 7:13). God’s plan to renew his covenant with his chosen people involved a purging of all unbelievers from the Promised Land. God said through the prophet Ezekiel that he would bring his people out of the countries to which he had scattered them “And I will bring you into the wilderness of the people, and there will I plead with you face to face. Like as I pleaded with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so will I plead with you, saint the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 20:35-36).

The Hebrew word translated plead in Ezekiel 20:35 is shaphat (shaw – fat’) which means to pronounce sentence and by extension to govern (8199). Basically, what God was saying was he intended to exercise his authority over his people and would use force as necessary to return them to the Promised Land after their captivity was completed. Even though he could have made all the people return to their homeland, God would only cause those that were willing to serve and obey to start over. He said, “And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me: I will bring them forth out of the country where they sojourn, and they shall not enter into the land of Israel: and ye shall know that I am the LORD” (Ezekiel 20:38).

As a result of God’s purging of the Israelites, he was able to accept his people back into fellowship with him. God wanted his chosen people to know that he would continue to work in their lives until the salvation of his people was completed. The one requirement on the part of the people was repentance and even that was something that God was working to bring about. He said, “I will accept you with your sweet savour when I bring you out from the people, and gather you out of the countries wherein ye have been scattered; and I will be sanctified in you before the heathen…And there shall ye remember your ways, and all your doings, wherein ye have been defiled; ye shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for all your evils that ye have committed.