John 5:24-29 and Ezekiel 37
We are examining John 5:24-29 and the question of whether Jesus taught two resurrections in the text, one spiritual (i.e. the conversion of the individual) and the literal, physical resurrection of human corpses at the “end of human history.”
We have noted that it is essential to know and to honor the prophetic background and source of Jesus’ prediction, and there are two key OT prophecies that virtually all of scholarship agrees serve as that source: Ezekiel 37 and Daniel 12.
By way of brief review, here is what we saw from Ezekiel 37 in the previous article:
Israel (specifically, Judah) was in Babylonian captivity.
In Ezekiel, YHVH was speaking about– and to– living human beings.
But, he said that those living human beings were in their graves! They were dead! To miss this Hebraic way of thinking is to doom ourselves to a mis-understanding of the text. YHVH was not talking to dead human corpses. He was talking to living people, alienated from Him due to their sin, sent off into captivity, and thus, considered “dead.”
Let me offer again the words of Watts, in his comments on Isaiah 27:13: “The exiles in Assyria and Egypt are said to have been perishing. But they will be gathered by God to come and worship him on his holy mountain in Jerusalem (v. 13). Separation form the temple is equivalent to death. Being allowed to participate again in Jerusalem is like coming back to life.” (John Watts, Word Biblical Commentary, Isaiah, Vol 24, (Waco, Tx. Word Publishers, 1985)344).
It is important to understand the Hebraic way of thinking. To the ancient Hebrews alienation from YHVH, from the Land, from the Temple, was to be dead. Restoration to the Land, the Temple and YHVH was resurrection. A hermeneutic that ignores this Hebraic way of thinking is misguided. And yet, that is precisely what happens in most readings of John 5:24-29.
So, Ezekiel posits Israel (specifically Judah) as in the graves. But, YHVH said He would pour out His Spirit, raise them from the dead, and restore them to Himself. That restoration is then depicted in the following verses in the prediction of the restoration of all the twelve tribes, Messiah on the throne, the New Covenant and the Messianic Temple. In other words, the prophecy of the resurrection of Israel is depicted in the prophecy of the restoration of Israel under Messiah, under the New Covenant, when the Messianic Tabernacle / Temple would be established. These are not two totally separate and distinct prophecies of different events, to be fulfilled at different times. What does that mean?
For this article, I want to take note of the means by which the resurrection of Ezekiel 37 would take place. YHVH would pour out His Spirit on Israel– remember, He was addressing living humans– and raise them from the dead!
This promise of the outpouring of the Spirit is the same promise found in Joel 2:28-32. Joel, like Ezekiel depicts Israel as alienated and in need of restoration (i.e. resurrection). YHVH promised that in the last days, He would pour out His Spirit and Israel would receive her promised kingdom!
John 5:24-29- Resurrection Through the Spirit!
The promise of the outpouring of the Spirit was the promise of the miraculous, last days work of the Spirit, as demonstrated both in Joel and Acts 2. The outpouring of the Spirit would result in the restoration of the prophetic office among other charismatic gifts, as demonstrated on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-5). This is critical for our understanding of the resurrection promise in John’s gospel and yet, it is one of the most overlook– or abused– doctrines in all of the Bible.
Let me state the problem succinctly as a lead in to our next installment:
YHVH would pour out His Spirit to raise Israel from the dead (Ezekiel 37)– the resurrection of John 5:24-29.
This out pouring of the Spirit would be in the last days and manifested in the charismatic gifts of prophecy, tongues and the other miraculous gifts (Joel 2 / Acts 2).
What this suggests is that if the resurrection of John 5:28-29 has not taken place, then the charismatic gifts of the Spirit should be– must be– still operative today. Needless to say, this is troublesome for the non-charismatic Amillennialists and Postmillennialists, who claim that God ended His covenant relationship with Israel in the first century, and yet, they claim that the resurrection has not taken place!
But how could this be?
If YHVH promised to pour out His spirit to raise Israel from the dead– this being the resurrection promise of John 5:28-29– then if John 5:24-29 (all of it) is not fulfilled, we are confronted with a limited number of choices:
1. God failed to keep His promises to Israel– including the resurrection promise of John 5:24-29.
2. God postponed His resurrection promise to Israel. But, this does not work, since Peter, on Pentecost, affirmed in no uncertain terms that the events of that day were the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel– the promise of the outpouring of the Spirit.
3. God took the promise of the resurrection away from Israel and gave those promises to the church instead. But, this flies in the face of Paul’s teaching in Romans 11 that God’s promises to Israel would not fail, and would not be revoked.
So, Ezekiel 37 serves as one of the key Old Covenant sources for the resurrection promise of John 5:24-29. The resurrection promise of Ezekiel 37 spoke of living human beings being “dead” and in their graves. This was not a reference to physical death or physical graves, but, spiritual death, alienation from God due to sin (Just like the sin / death of Adam).
YHVH promised that when Messiah came and sat on the throne, establishing the New Covenant, Israel would be restored (resurrected) through the out pouring of the Spirit. That outpouring of the Spirit would be the miraculous work of the Spirit in last days to reconcile Israel– and through Israel, the world– to Himself.
If, as the non-charismatic world affirms, the gifts of the Spirit have ceased, then the resurrection has occurred.
If the resurrection has not occurred the charismatic gifts of the Spirit should be operative in the church, yet, this is denied by “cessationists.”
If the gifts of the Spirit are still operative, the resurrection has not occurred, Christ has not come, the end is not yet.
As you can see, there is a great deal involved in understanding that the resurrection promise of John 5:24-29 is related to, and springs from, Ezekiel 37. We will have more on this in our next installment on John 5:24-29, so stay tuned!