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In Exile with Ezekiel: God’s Unwavering Plan

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 […]  Then he led me back to the bank of the river. When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river… 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.

EZEKIEL 47: 1, 6-7, 12

As Christians, we affirm that ‘we believe in the resurrection of the body’. Even so, there’s an all-too-common tendency to imagine that heaven is somewhere ‘up there’ above the sky, which is where our disembodied souls will go when we die, leaving the world behind. But the biblical picture, as we see in Ezekiel’s final vision and elsewhere in Scripture, is that God remains committed to the earth and will one day renew it.

So it is that in words and images that echo the garden of Eden and which John will later pick up in Revelation, Ezekiel is allowed to glimpse the goal of God’s restoring work – and it is nothing less than a new creation.

Ezekiel sees a stream of water flowing from the temple. Though it starts as a trickle, it deepens and widens as it flows. As it flows, it generates life – in formerly dead seas swarming with fish, in trees which never stop bearing fruit, whose leaves bring healing. And all because of the one who now dwells in the temple.

In short, the God who breathes new life into his people will also transform creation itself.

This vision of God’s unwavering purpose is perhaps what exiles need most. In keeping with how the Bible describes our hope, it not only provides a way of seeing the future, but of living in the present. For, if this is the final destination of the biblical story, it is also the direction in which that story is moving.

It is the assurance of God’s transforming presence that allows us to envision a new reality in our relationship with God, with each other, and in the world. To be sure, we don’t bring in this new order. But nor do we wait passively for it to arrive, and its certainty allows us to lean into it now where we are able to do so. That hope frees us up to live expectantly and confidently, though realistically, in ways that seek to transform the here and now in line with what will be – not as an act of self-assertion, but as a response to God’s gracious promise.

The Christian hope of a new heaven and earth provides a source of motivation for how we live in the light of his presence now – doing all things for the glory of the God who will one day make all things new.

Antony Billington
Theology Advisor, LICC

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Antony Billington