Ezekiel’s visions and prophecies have been the basis of numerous discussions and speculations. When were the prophecies given and what do they mean?
To understand Ezekiel’s prophecies, some historical background is necessary. From the time of Moses to King Solomon—about five centuries—Israel referred to 12 tribes comprising one nation. However, soon after Solomon’s death the nation split in two. The 10 northern tribes continued to be called Israel, and the southern tribes of Judah, Benjamin and part of Levi were called Judah—the name of the principal tribe.
Both of these nations resided in the land God had given them for more than two centuries following their separation as independent nations until God finally punished the northern tribes with captivity for their perpetual disobedience. These 10 tribes comprising the nation of Israel were taken by Assyria into slavery, and from there these peoples migrated, becoming “lost” to historians over the centuries. (To this day, they are called the “lost tribes of Israel.”)
The remaining, southern tribes comprising the nation of Judah continued for just over another century until their sins became so terrible that God likewise condemned them to captivity. This time the conquering nation was Babylon, which deported them in several waves between 605-585 B.C.
Among those taken captive was a young priest named Ezekiel. While Ezekiel was in captivity in Babylon (also called Chaldea), God began communicating with him (Ezekiel 1:1-3).
Ezekiel’s commission would last for some 22 years and involve some challenging assignments.
Preface and glimpse of the spirit world
In chapter 1 of the book named after Ezekiel, God gave the prophet a glimpse of the spirit realm, which serves God in accomplishing His will. In this vision Ezekiel saw four brilliant, powerful angels in action. The latter part of the chapter shows them bearing what is apparently a portable throne of God (1:22-28). When Ezekiel sees these angels later, in chapter 10, we learn that they are called “cherubim.” (And their appearance is much different from popular religious depictions of them!)
Ezekiel was awe-struck and no doubt filled with confidence in knowing God was with him and that God has the power to bring to pass all that He will tell Ezekiel (verse 28). Two chapters later, God again showed Ezekiel glimpses of His glory and the spirit world (3:12-14, 22-23). Interestingly, the apostle John was likewise shown a glimpse of the heavenly realm and glory of God before he received great prophecies of the future (Revelation 1 and 4).
Ezekiel’s commission to Jerusalem, Israel and Judah
In the vision of Ezekiel 3:1-10 God required Ezekiel eat a scroll, which may have included the written words God spoke to him. This is similar to what the apostle John was told to do when he received end-time prophecies (Revelation 10:8-11).
In the first 24 chapters of Ezekiel, the primary audience is clearly identified: the city of Jerusalem is named 23 times. Additionally, both houses of Israel are referred to, sometimes in contrast to each other. It is as if Ezekiel desired to communicate a warning to Jerusalem then, and to the descendants of Jacob today, saying that they should look at the destruction to come on the city for its sins.
The people to whom these prophecies are sent are “the children of Israel” or “house of Israel” (2:3; 3:1, emphasis added throughout). These phrases—which identify the same people—are used over 90 times in the book. But the house of Israel was deported to Assyria long before Ezekiel was born. So how could he deliver prophecies to them? In some contexts, the term house of Israel is used loosely to refer to the captives already in the exile. The captives from the nation of Judah who were in Babylon were also Israelites because they were descendants of Israel, their forefather.
Additionally, in some subsequent chapters a distinction is made between the house of Israel and the house of Judah (4:5-6; 8:17; 25:3, 8, 12). Ezekiel, in Babylon, was living among captives of the house of Judah. The obvious meaning is that some prophecies were intended for these—and other soon-to-be—captives in Ezekiel’s day. But most of the prophecies were dual and clearly have an end-time message for the descendants of Israel who would live thousands of years after Ezekiel’s day—in the latter days.
Most of the prophecies were dual and clearly have an end-time message for the descendants of Israel who would live thousands of years after Ezekiel’s day—in the latter days.Indeed, God caused Ezekiel’s words to be recorded in the Bible, and they are available to all modern-day descendants of Israel. Of course, God’s Word is applicable to all peoples regardless of their heritage. When Ezekiel was given his first assignment, he was confined to his house and told to remain silent until he was authorized by God to speak (3:24-27). (For further study on who the descendants of ancient Israel are today, see the articles in the “12 Tribes of Israel” section of this website.)
There are different ways to arrange the prophecies given to Ezekiel over the course of his commission. We will follow the 13 dated prophecies, which are identified in the book according to the date when God revealed the prophecies of each section. Highlights of these prophecies are summarized below.
First prophecy: chapters 4-7
In chapter 4 Ezekiel was to make a model of Jerusalem and attack it. He was then to lie on his left side 390 days—portraying 390 years of the house of Israel’s iniquity. He then was to lie on his right side for 40 days bearing the house of Judah’s iniquity. (This day-for-a-year principle is found in several other prophecies.)
Chapter 5 contains one of the most sobering prophecies in the Bible—the prophecy of the thirds—where Ezekiel depicts, using his shorn hair, how Jerusalem was to be punished for its egregious sins (verses 2 and 5). One-third of Israel will perish by famine and pestilence (so severe that cannibalism will occur, verse 10); one-third will perish by military conquest; the surviving third will be forced into servitude in foreign lands.
This prophecy constitutes a warning of what shall befall the modern nations of Israel in the future. The historical fate of Jerusalem types the fate of the descendants of Israel in the last days, since Jerusalem occupied such a central role then, just as the Israelite nations, primarily the descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh, have occupied a pivotal role in the 20th and early 21st centuries. This future time of trouble will be a harrowing time known also as “Jacob’s Trouble” (Jeremiah 30:4-7).
Chapter 6 repeats the judgments coming upon Israel, but with an additional repeated phrase, “and you shall know that I am the LORD” (verse 7, compare verses 13-14). It becomes clear this is an end-time reference, when Christ returns to earth on the heels of the fulfillment of these judgments.
By chapter 7 it is obvious that these prophecies against Jerusalem, Judah and Israel are for the end time and include a period called the “day of the wrath of the LORD” (verse 19), which refers to the final “day” (year) before Christ returns and takes control of the world. Isaiah calls this time “the day of the Lord’s vengeance, the year of recompense” (Isaiah 34:8).
Second prophecy: chapters 8-19
Included in God’s indictments against Jerusalem historically and Israel today are references in chapter 8 to pagan practices that are now entrenched in mainstream Christianity and practiced by many modern-day descendants of Israel.
In chapter 9 God makes a sharp distinction between the common citizens of Israel—carried along with the tide of sin—and those who revere God and His laws and are deeply saddened by the sins of the nation. The latter will have God’s protection, while the former will suffer the judgments.
In chapter 10 God again shows Ezekiel a glimpse into the powerful spirit world. Ezekiel sees the high-ranking angels called “cherubim,” who are present through the prophecy of the next chapter. Verse 4 provides the historic context: the temple in Jerusalem prior to 586 B.C.
In chapter 11 we see a vision of the temple. As noted above, the fate of Jerusalem then types the fate of national Israel in the days prior to the return of Christ. The phrase “house of Israel” is used, and we see that after its decimation and captivity into many nations, survivors will be rescued out of slavery at Christ’s return. This can be called a second exodus because it has parallels with God’s rescuing Israel from slavery in Egypt. This second rescue is after Christ returns, when a new covenant will be offered to Israel, and along with it, God’s Spirit (11:18-19).
In chapter 12 Ezekiel depicts both the ongoing deportation in his day (including King Zedekiah) and an end-time conquest. There are many such prophecies that have a dual fulfillment.
Next we see indictments against spiritual leaders in Israel and idolatry, and the warning of coming national punishment along with assurance that any individual who obeys God will come under God’s providence. God promises a future covenant that He will enter with Israel (16:60-63).
God emphasizes that any individual who rejects God’s laws will come under judgment, while the individual who obeys God will come under His protection. “The soul who sins shall die. … For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies. … Therefore turn and live!” (18:4, 32).
Third prophecy: chapters 20-23
Chapters 20-23 contain more indictments against Israel for breaking God’s laws. Sabbath-breaking is highlighted in chapter 20 and repeated in 22:8, 26. The Sabbath is a sign of God’s obedient people (20:12).
Fourth prophecy: chapters 24-25
In chapter 24 God allows Ezekiel’s beloved wife to die, yet he is not allowed to mourn visibly. This was a sign of the loss of life coming to Israel on a terrifying scale.
Israel, however, is not the only nation full of iniquity in these latter days. Starting in chapter 25 God warns gentile (non-Israelite) nations of the judgments coming upon them as well. First are indictments against Ammon, Moab, Edom and Philistia.
Fifth prophecy: chapters 26-28
Chapters 26-28 are an indictment against Tyre. Within this prophecy, God suddenly shifts the spotlight onto the real power behind corrupt Tyre—Satan. God—who created all angels—describes how this once-righteous cherub changed to become a greedy, violent, arrogant being (28:15-17). For additional study regarding this fallen angel, see: “Satan: A Profile.”
Chapter 28 ends with a preview of the second exodus of Israel out of slavery, immediately transitioning into settlement in their own promised land in the Millennium.
Sixth to 11th prophecies: chapter 29 to 33:20
Even though given at six different times, these chapters primarily are judgments focusing on Egypt, though Babylon is also indicted. In the first part of chapter 33 God makes it clear that He is giving fair warning to the “house of Israel.”
12th prophecy: chapter 33:21 to 39
Chapter 33:21 through chapter 39 again warns of Israel’s impending fall, with part of the blame directed at the “shepherds”—the spiritual teachers—of Israel. Yet in spite of Israel’s sins necessitating God’s severe punishment, He promises to rescue and restore them at Christ’s return to earth (34:11-15).
Can we be certain this prophecy refers to events in the future? Note this prophecy: “I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them—My servant David. … And I, the LORD, will be their God, and My servant David a prince among them” (34:23-24).
King David died centuries before Ezekiel and is still dead (Acts 2:29). These prophecies are about a future time when David will be resurrected to life and be king over Israel once again. In that future time—the Millennium—the wild nature of animals will cease, and there will be showers of blessings, and trees will yield their fruit (34:25-27).
Chapter 36 indicts Israel for idolatry, resulting in future captivity. Again, we see the picture turn brighter when Christ returns and rescues Israel from slavery, restores them to their ancient land, and showers them with blessings. At that time, a new covenant will be offered in which those who repent of their sins and live in obedience to God’s statutes and judgments will receive the Holy Spirit.
Chapter 37 is the famous vision of “dry bones.” In brief, this is a glimpse of the second resurrection, which occurs after the Millennium. It is a time when the people of ancient Israel and the people of ancient Judah will all come back to life—with bones, sinews, skin and breath—right here on earth. Revelation 20:4-6 makes clear this is the second resurrection.
During this time of judgment and opportunity, billions of humans will learn all of God’s laws (contained in the books of the Bible) and have a new lifetime to demonstrate their desire to embrace them.Although Ezekiel was writing to Israel, what will happen to this nation is a type of what God will do for all peoples. During this time of judgment and opportunity, billions of humans will learn all of God’s laws (contained in the books of the Bible) and have a new lifetime to demonstrate their desire to embrace them.
All who faithfully respond to God will have their names entered into the Book of Life (eternal life). Sadly, some will still reject God’s way and ultimately choose the “second death,” which is permanent (Revelation 20:12-15).
Chapters 38-39 foretell an event early in the Millennium, when inhabitants of Israel are dwelling peacefully. An alliance of rebels attempt to plunder what will be seen as easy pickings in Israel. This alliance is large, and their attempt is met with swift, miraculous intervention. It will take seven months to bury their dead (39:12).
13th prophecy: chapters 40-48
The last section of the book contains a preview of the land of Israel in the Millennium, from where Christ reigns over the earth. Ezekiel—still in Babylon—is taken by God back to the land of Israel in visions as real as being on location (similar to “virtual reality”). However, he was not viewing the land as it was in his day, but as it will be after Christ returns.
An angel pointed out many features of the new millennial temple in amazing detail. Through Ezekiel’s eyes, we see gateways, courts, the altar and numerous temple features, complete with dimensions. There are rooms and designated areas for sacrifices, priests and singers. Laws governing the priests’ service are spelled out (chapters 40-44). God’s Sabbath and annual festivals are observed (44:24; 45:17, 21-25; 46:1-5, 9-11).
The last four chapters zoom out to show a larger overview of Israel. There is remarkable detail, but a summary description is that the temple complex is part of a larger region that includes homes and land for the priests.
To the north is a region appropriated as land and cities of the Levites. The capital city, Jerusalem, is within a region just south of the temple. Around the city are fields for growing produce. These three regions comprise the holy “district.”
To its north are the tribes of Judah, Reuben, Ephraim, Manasseh, Naphtali, Asher and Dan, each in its own territory. South of the holy district will be Benjamin, Simeon, Issachar, Zebulun and Gad.
Such as the world has never seen
The prophecies God gave through Ezekiel warn end-time Israel—and other nations—of calamity coming soon. It will be, as Jesus said, the greatest tribulation the world has ever seen (Matthew 24:21-22).
Thankfully, God likewise promises to rescue this world and transform it into a kingdom of peace, happiness and beauty, such as the world has never seen. This will occur because Christ Himself will be reigning on the earth from Jerusalem—because as the final words of Ezekiel declare, “THE LORD IS THERE.”