Bible passages: Ezekiel 47:1-12 and 48:30-35
47 The man brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple towards the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. 2 He then brought me out through the north gate and led me round the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was trickling from the south side.
3 As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. 4 He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. 5 He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in – a river that no one could cross. 6 He asked me, ‘Son of man, do you see this?’
Then he led me back to the bank of the river. 7 When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. 8 He said to me, ‘This water flows towards the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. 9 Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. 10 Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds – like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea. 11 But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. 12 Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.’
48 30 ‘These will be the exits of the city: beginning on the north side, which is 4,500 cubits long, 31 the gates of the city will be named after the tribes of Israel. The three gates on the north side will be the gate of Reuben, the gate of Judah and the gate of Levi.
32 ‘On the east side, which is 4,500 cubits long, will be three gates: the gate of Joseph, the gate of Benjamin and the gate of Dan.
33 ‘On the south side, which measures 4,500 cubits, will be three gates: the gate of Simeon, the gate of Issachar and the gate of Zebulun.
34 ‘On the west side, which is 4,500 cubits long, will be three gates: the gate of Gad, the gate of Asher and the gate of Naphtali.
35 ‘The distance all around will be 18,000 cubits.
‘And the name of the city from that time on will be:
the Lord is there.’
Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole
The garden of Eden was a place of abundant life, a place of perfect order, and a place where God walked with his people (Gen 3:8). Because of sin and the fall, the creation order starts to come undone – creation is put into reverse, and the world becomes a place of death, chaos, and estrangement from God. Indeed, one of the central questions in the Bible becomes the question of how a holy God can dwell with a sinful people (e.g. Num 35:34). The answer, ultimately, is found in the perfect life and sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. He is the one who dwells among his people (John 1:14). In him and by faith, his people are taken to a new creation where there is once again abundant life, perfect order, and the dwelling-place of God forever (Rev 21-22).
Brief note on key themes of book
Ezekiel was one of the people taken into exile in 2 Kings 24, during the first Babylonian attack on Jerusalem. As he sits with the exiles by the River Kebar, God himself appears. The book of Ezekiel is full of accusations against Israel (chapters 1-24), judgement on the nations (25-32), and a picture of new hope (34-48). It is all about their failure under the Old Covenant, and the promise of the New (36). In essence, though, it teaches us three main things:
God is present with his people in all of his majesty and holiness
His people have hard hearts which need to be transformed
Only a sin-bearing sacrifice, a new covenant and a new creation can bring about what God has promised.
Brief notes on the immediate context of the passage
In Chapters 34-37 God promised to give the exiles new-life with him. He would give them a new shepherd, re-create them by his Spirit, cleanse them and give them obedient hearts under God’s king and in God’s presence forever. What is more, Chapters 38-39 show that God needs to defeat his enemies if he’s going to rescue a people to be in his presence forever. Rescue and judgement must always go together.
Chapters 40-48 show the result of this great victory. There is a new and better temple, greater and more secure than anything God’s people have previously had. They will live with him as a new nation (44-46), in a new creation (47-48), where the new city is known as “The LORD is there” (48:35).
Structure of the passage
Chapters 47 and 48 form the conclusion of the book. In language that is picked up strongly in Revelation 21 and 22, it describes the ultimate destination of God’s people under the new covenant; a place of perfect life, order and fellowship with God.
A place where life spreads (47:1-12)
The stream in chapter 47 begins on the south side of the altar – where the bronze sea would have been in Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 7:23). It grows dramatically in size, bringing life where there was once death. It brings the kind of abundance only previously seen in the Garden of Eden. In fact, this river is a central feature of the new Jerusalem too (Rev 22:1) – the river of the water of life. This is the living water that Jesus himself offers, representing the Spirit (John 7:38-39).
A place of perfect order (47:13-48:29)
The inheritance promised to Abraham is finally and fully provided (47:14, compare Gen 15:7). It even involves the outsider, and anyone who wants to come into God’s people (47:22). The land which they inherit, though, is perfectly distributed among the twelve tribes in a pattern of perfect symmetry (48:1-29). The perfect order of Eden has been restored and surpassed, as it will be in the new creation (Rev 21:17-21). This is creation as it should be.
A city where God himself dwells (48:30-35)
The vision ends with a picture of a new city, right at the centre of the new nation (48:15). This city has twelve gates – it is accessible for all. But vitally, it takes its name as the dwelling-place of God himself – “the LORD is there”. Without God’s presence, the city was destroyed (Eze chapters 8-11). With his presence the city is restored and permanent (Eze chs. 40-48). Indeed, the new Jerusalem will be the place where God dwells with his people forever, and the lamb is at the centre (Rev 22:3-4).
Suggestions for any tricky bits?
Why is the new city in a different place from the new temple?
48:21 suggests that the temple is separate from the new city, although the two remain closely connected. Some of the imagery seems to shift in this final part of the vision, to emphasise the centrality of the new city where God’s name dwells. It’s a process completed in the book of Revelation, where the new city becomes everything, there is no more temple (Rev 21:22), and God dwelling with his people becomes the central feature of the new creation (Rev 21:3).
Summary of author’s main point
Exiled people are to set their ambitions on the new creation, full of life, order, and God’s permanent presence.
Purpose for original audience
As exiles, set your ambition on the new creation, full of life, order, and God’s permanent presence.
Purpose for us today
As exiles and strangers, set your ambition on the New Jerusalem, full of eternal life, total order, and the perfect presence of the throne and the lamb.
Key area of application
Would people know from the direction of your life that you are heading to the New Jerusalem? How will you be ambitious for the new creation, hating sin, gaining a new heart and spirit, and doing everything possible to attain God’s presence for eternity?