John 5:24-29| A Look At Ezekiel 37
Be sure to read the previous installment in this series as we examine the claim that John 5:24-29 presents the idea of two resurrections. This is, without doubt, the dominant view in modern Christianity, but, I am strongly convince that this view has no merit.
We have noted that the prophetic source of John 5 is Ezekiel 37 and Daniel 12 (of course, those verses agree with Isaiah 25-27, but Isaiah is not so strongly echoed as Ezekiel and Daniel).
It is critical to be reminded that neither Ezekiel or Daniel are predictions of the raising of corpses out of the dirt. This is especially true of Ezekiel 37, and this has been recognized among scholars for centuries.
John 5:24-29, Ezekiel 37 and Biblical Scholarship
Robert Wilken noted the ancient Hebraic view of resurrection in Ezekiel 37: “When the Scriptures speak about the ‘resurrection of the body’ (in Ezekiel 37) the Jews believe that there will be a ‘restoration of Jewish polity.’” (Robert Wilken, The Land Called Holy, (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1992).
The New American Commentary offers this on the resurrection promise of Ezekiel 37: 12-14: “The Sovereign Lord, however, said, “I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them,” signifying all their places of exile (the “nations” and “all the countries” of 36:24). Stress was given in this promise to the revival of the nation as a manifestation of divine, not human, power (vv. 12–14).” ( L. E. Cooper, New American Commentary, Ezekiel, (Nashville, Broadman, 1994). Make no mistake, Cooper believes in a future physical resurrection, but nonetheless sees that Ezekiel 37 is focused on the corporate restoration / resurrection to God through the work of Messiah.
Tom Holland, commenting on Romans 11 and Paul’s statement that the conversion of the remnant was “life from the dead” (11:15), says this: “Paul is not saying that her acceptance is a future event which will happen before the resurrection of the dead. He is saying that the resurrection of the Jewish people has taken place, or is taking place (1 Corinthians 15:52; cf. Hosea 13:14). The imagery of resurrection was used to describe Israel’s return from exile (Hosea 13:14 [cited in 1 Cor. 15); Ezekiel 37:1-4; Daniel 12:2) If this is the imagery Paul is alluding to, he writes that in turning to Messiah, Israel is being resurrected from spiritual death. She comes from exile, returning to God to worship Him. The fact that this is a present reality is evidenced by a growing community of Jews who, as a result of YHVH’s faithfulness to the covenant he made with Abraham, are now coming to Christ.” (Tom Holland, Romans: Divine Marriage, (Eugene, Or. Pickwick Publishers, 2011)376).
Sam Frost, former preterist, well recognized that Ezekiel 37 cannot be referent to a raising of human corpses at some proposed ‘end of time.” He astutely and correctly noted that Ezekiel 37 posits the continuance of life, of child bearing and earthly existence after this resurrection: ““In the new age Ezekiel pictures the restored Israel being brought back into the Land. God will dwell with them and they will dwell with him. He will ‘increase them with men like a flock’ (36.37). Again, ‘they will dwell there, even they, and their sons (ben), and their sons of sons forever…I will place them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them forever’ (37.25,26). It is clear from this passage and numerous others that in the restored ‘age to come’ multiplication of children will continue.” Sam Frost, Essays on the Resurrection, (Ardmore, Ok. JaDon Management Inc., 2010)94. Order your copy here.
So, it is widely recognized that Ezekiel 37 did not predict the raising of human corpses out of the dirt, but, the corporate restoration to YHVH through the New Covenant, under Messiah. This naturally raises the question: If Ezekiel 37 serves as one of the sources for Jesus’ resurrection doctrine in John 5:24-29, and particularly verses 28-29, what is the hermeneutical principle by which we can change the original meaning of Ezekiel into a prediction of the raising of human corpses out of the ground? Jesus most assuredly did not make any such distinction between what Ezekiel foretold and what he was predicting.
In our next installment, we will return to the topic of the relationship between the resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit to accomplish that resurrection. We felt it helpful, however, to inform the readers that Ezekiel 37 has historically been recognized as a text that did not predict the raising of individual corpses out of the ground. And that being true, as just suggested, that raises the issue of whether Jesus changed the original content and context of Ezekiel 37 in his prediction of the resurrection in John 5:24-29.