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11. The exiles who returned

11-1 Ezekiel’s Temple: Based Upon Solomon’s Temple || 11-2 The Nature Of Prophecy || 11-2-1 Conditional Prophecy || 11-2-2 Human Response || 11-2-3 Tyre in Ezekiel 26 || 11-2-4 Delayed Prophecies || 11-2-5 Prophecies With Changed Fulfillment || 11-2-6 The Nature Of Prophecy || 11-3 Command More Than Prediction || 11-4 The Contemporary Relevance Of Ezekiel's Temple || 11-5 The Restoration: Potential Kingdom Of God || 11-6 The Potential And The Reality || 11-6-1 The Weakness Of Judah Under Nehemiah || 11-6-2 Isaiah's Prophecies Of Restoration || 11-6-3 Jeremiah's Restoration Prophecies || 11-6-4 Ezekiel's Restoration Prophecies || 11-6-5 The Cherubim And The Restoration || 11-6-6 Zechariah's Restoration Prophecies || 11-6-7 The Restoration Psalms || 11.7 “The prince" in Ezekiel || 11-7-1 " The prince" : Potential Messiah || 11-7-2 Zerubabbel- Potential Messiah? || 11.8 The Potential For The Surrounding World || 11-8-1 Haggai 2 || 11-8-2 Meshech And Tubal || 11-8-3 Joel Chapter 3 || 11-9 Different Sequences Of Prophetic Fulfillment || 11-10 Zechariah And Malachi: More Chances || 11-11 The Returned Exiles

11.9 Different Sequences Of Prophetic Fulfillment

The sequence of possible, potentially possible events as outlined in Ezekiel 35-48 is perhaps not the same sequence as found in say Zechariah, a prophecy given some time after it had become evident that Judah and “the prince” were not fulfilling God’s intended pattern.  

Ezekiel 35-48

Zechariah 14

Daniel 9 & 11


Joel 3

The returned exiles of Judah restore the Kingdom and build the temple as specified (Ez. 35-37, 40-48). The dry bones come to life in the restoration. They dwell in kingdom conditions without bars and gates. The people have returned but not built the temple as they ought to have done, and are not living the Kingdom life. The decree to rebuild the temple is made by Cyrus. Within 70 literal weeks (about one a half years) it would be possible for the Kingdom to be properly established. Judah return with joy from Babylon, Zion revives and no longer has the uncircumcised in it (cp. Tobiah!). “Your heart shall rejoice [for Zion], and your bones shall flourish” (Is. 66:14), in the fulfilment of the Ez. 37 vision. The captivity of Judah return from Babylon and other places where the Babylonians transported them.
After 62 weeks, Messiah is “cut off” in order to bring about the final forgiveness of Israel.. Messiah, who also ‘comes up’ from the dry ground of Babylon [Is. 53:2 “grow up”], gives his life to obtain eternal forgiveness for Israel’s sins.
Surrounding nations along with Babylon and Assyria make an unsuccessful attempt to invade them to take a spoil (Ez. 38). All nations are gathered against Jerusalem and they capture it and murder many of the returned exiles. As a result of this, some repent (Zech. 12:14). Another “prince”, i.e. an anti-Christ, a fake “Messiah the prince”, destroys the city and the temple sanctuary which the returned exiles had built. Dan. 11 defines him as a “king of the north” who has a confederacy of Arab nations with him. There is a desolating war. The offering of sacrifice ceases. The invader sets up his tent in the glorious mountain of Zion. It is the time of trouble such as never was for Israel (Dan. 12:1 = 9:25 “troublous times”). All nations where the Jews were sent around Israel are gathered into the valley of Jehoshaphat. They come as a huge confederacy to fight against the revived state of Judah.
Yahweh intervenes and destroys them, and establishes His Kingdom world-wide. All nations come to know His ways (Ez. 39). Yahweh goes out to fight against those nations and establishes His Kingdom. In the end, Judah has been punished enough for her sins. Everlasting righteousness is brought in, with the establishment of the Kingdom age. The dead are raised and those who turned many in Israel to righteousness are rewarded (Dan. 12:3; this is a reference to how the lips of the priests at the restoration ought to have taught others knowledge, Mal. 2:7). There in the valley of Jehoshaphat, Yahweh sits to judge the nations. He roars out of Zion and the earth shakes.
People from all the surrounding nations become proselytes, and drink from the river that comes from Jerusalem, the water of which is for the healing of all nations (Ez. 40-48). Yahweh is “there”, dwelling in Zion. Proselytes world-wide come up to Jerusalem to keep the feasts in the temple. A newly built “most holy” is anointed, seeing that “the sanctuary” had been destroyed in the invasion. “Everlasting righteousness” is brought in. A redeemed Israel go forth into the Gentile world, proclaiming the joy of their restored relationship with God. Converts from all over the world come to worship Yahweh in the Jerusalem temple, bringing with them their various offerings. Yahweh dwells in Zion (3:21). The hills flow with milk, and a fountain comes out of the temple.

Bible students have sought in vain to reconcile these and many other different sequences of prophetic fulfillment. We have mused about there being several invasions in the last days to get all the details fulfilled, and have conceived the repentance of Israel as being in various stages to fit in with the sequences outlined in the various prophets. But it seems impossible to geographically and chronologically synchronise all these things together in terms of one universal fulfilment. My suggestion is that the above prophecies were all potential scenarios of what could have happened at the time of the restoration.

Note the LXX of Amos 7:1: "Behold, a swarm of locusts coming from the east; and, behold, one caterpillar, king Gog". Yet Amos intercedes: "Repent, O Lord, for this. And this shall not be, saith the Lord". This would suggest that the Gog invasion was conditional and was forestalled by the intercession of Amos; thus not only Ezekiel 40-48 would be conditional prophecy, but Ezekiel 38 and 39 also.

Perhaps the ideal intention was in the Ezekiel record- that an unsuccessful invasion such as that described in Ez. 38 would have occurred, rooted in jealousy at the rebuilt temple and Babylon feeling like Pharaoh that they had let the Jews go too far; and this would have lead up to the establishment of the Kingdom. But God foresaw that this was not going to happen. Judah simply didn’t return with joy and righteousness as commanded / prophesied in Isaiah and Jer. 31:4 etc. And so another possibility opened up. The self-satisfied returnees would be invaded and Jerusalem captured, many of them would be killed, but a minority would endure through this invasion and be the basis for the Kingdom of God to be established. But so unresponsive were God’s people that even this didn’t happen. All these prophecies await some element of fulfilment in our last days. The essence of them will be fulfilled, but the local details, I suggest, were only relevant to their immediate context- e.g. that the wooden weapons will be burnt for seven years, and that they would invade with shields and swords. These wider principles explain much about Revelation. The judgments to come upon the earth / land of Israel are presented in four groups of seven. This is exactly the pattern of Lev. 26, where Israel are threatened with seven-fold judgments; and if they did not repent, then the seven-fold judgments would be repeated. Four times this is threatened; if they had repented after the first seven-fold judgments, there would have been no need for the others. It seems to me that the sequence of events in the last days is likewise impossible to predict in detail, because depending upon human freewill, the fulfilment of the various prophecies may be suspended or be realized in more symbolic ways, as we have already seen God working like this in the past. Thus Joel 3:2 says that God will “plead” with the nations He gathers to Jerusalem, plead with them for His people, plead with them to accept His Son, as outlined in Psalm 2. They may or may not respond, and how they do will doubtless influence the sequence and nature of prophetic fulfilment which then follows. 

Micah 5 opens up too when approached from this angle. It was a prophecy given in the days of Hezekiah, concerning how the Assyrians would invade the land, and be saved by the arising of a Messianic figure- “seven shepherds and eight principal men” (5:5- probably these are to be read as intensive plurals for the great shepherd, the great leader). Judah under his leadership would than “waste the land of Assyria with the sword”, and thereby “deliver us from the Assyrian, when he cometh into our land”. Then “the remnant of Judah shall be in the midst of many people as a dew from the Lord”. But what happened? The Assyrians invaded, Hezekiah was raised up as a potential Messiah, the Assyrians were destroyed by Divine theophany, Judah were delivered from the Assyrians. But then what happened? Hezekiah invited the Babylonians [often used interchangeably for ‘Assyrians’] into his house, showed off everything, and provoked Yahweh’s anger. He did the very opposite to leading Judah against Assyria, to the end that they became a blessing for all nations. But it could have happened. But Hezekiah and the people didn’t let it go as far as it could go; and therefore the full fulfilment of the prophecy will be in our last days. Earlier in Micah, the daughter of Zion was to be in labour pangs (symbolic of their troubles in the 70 years captivity- Jer. 6:24), and then give birth to a new nation as a result of this (4:9,10), as well as her Messiah (5:2), who would lead Judah in destroying Babylon (4:13; 5:5-8). But Judah didn’t want to destroy Babylon. Most of them preferred to carry on living there. So, no Messiah. At that time. Another different sequence of prophetic fulfillment had to develop.

Closer study reveals the variableness of outworking of the time periods. Jer. 25:11,12 and Jer. 29:10 speak of a 70 year period of Babylonian rule over Judah, beginning with the invasion of BC597. But Babylon only ruled over Judah for 49 years, before Babylon fell to the Persians. This would connect with the way that Zech. 4:3 speaks of 7 menorah candlesticks each with 7 lamps, making 49 lamps. 49 is the cycle of 7 sabbath years that culminated in the jubilee year, and the jubilee year, the proclamation of liberty to the land (Lev. 25:8-12; 27:7-24) is a figure used so often in Isaiah to describe the freedom of Judah once released from Babylon. Lev. 26:34,43 speak of the land enjoying her sabbaths whilst Israel were in exile for their sins- i.e. for 49 years. So it seems that there could have been some restoration after 49 years- but it didn't happen. But Dan. 9:2 and 2 Chron. 36:21 seem to reinterpret those 70 years of Jeremiah's prophecies as speaking of a 70 year period during which Jerusalem and the temple would be desolate. And yet there again, Ezekiel was asked to prophecy that Judah would suffer for their sins for 40 years (Ez. 4:6). Perhaps something could've happened after 40 years... Perhaps some restoration could have happened to the ten tribes after 390 years (Ez. 4:5), although there's no sign it ever did. And then, the starting point of the 70 or 40 years was somewhat flexible- for Ez. 22:3,4 records Ezekiel's prophecy that the desolation of Jerusalem by the Babylonians [the starting point of the time periods] was actually being hastened, brought forward, by the terrible behaviour of the Jews living there after the initial Babylon invasion of the land. In fact, if a person had been found who would have powerfully interceded for Jerusalem, 'stood in the gap' (Ez. 22:30), God wouldn't have destroyed Jerusalem - "that I should not destroy it" is an allusion to Abraham interceding for Sodom in Gen. 18:28. There were simply so many possible scenarios! And this is what we must expect if even time periods can be shortened or extended in response to human behaviour. A generation after the Lord's death in AD33 would have come to AD73, assuming the Jewish way of seeing a generation as 40 years. Yet the 'coming' of the Lord in judgment, to require His blood of that generation who crucified Him, was in AD70 and not AD73. This could suggest a shortening of the time period. Paul seems to allude to this when he says in 1 Cor. 7:29 that "the appointed time synestalmenos estin". This is a participle, not an adjective; and so the translation surely must be "The time left has been shortened". Such shortening or lengthening of time periods is really possible in these last days. So much depends upon us. Harry Whittaker in a pamphlet entitled 5 Minutes To Twelve discusses the way that it seems the 2nd coming could have occurred at several points in the 20th century. 1917, 1948, 1967, 1988, the Gulf Wars etc. all had their possibilities of fulfilling Bible prophecy about the Lord's return. But, he suggests, He didn't return, because Israel [both natural and spiritual] didn't fulfil the necessary preconditions.

Radical Implications

If indeed Ez. 40-48 are conditional prophecies, this opens up the possibility that so too are many other prophecies- especially those which involve allusion to them. For example, Rev. 11:1 speaks of a command to measure the temple- and immediately our minds are sent back to the temple being measured in such detail in Ez. 40:10, 21,22 etc. Is this to be read as a sign that we are about to receive another conditional prophecy? Assuming that Revelation was given just prior to the fall of Jerusalem in AD70, we could read the ensuing prophecy in Rev. 11 as saying that although Jerusalem and the outer court would fall to the Romans, the zealots in the inner sanctuary would be preserved, and a command to repentance would be issued by two prophets (1). Now of course, this didn't happen; but perhaps it could've done, potentially? Consider the possibility- both here and in so many other Bible passages.

The trumpets of Rev. 8-11 are clearly based upon the plagues of Ex. 7-12 (2). Yet those plagues were each one designed to induce repentance in Egypt; there were various possible futures and outcomes related to each of them. If, e.g., after plague eight, Pharaoh had truly repented- then the other plagues wouldn't have happened. And perhaps it will be the same with the trumpets of the last days. Or take the sixth vial- it was poured out upon the Euphrates "so that the way of the kings of the east [the believers?] might be prepared" (Rev. 16:12). The allusion is the drying up of the Euphrates by Cyrus to bring about the fall of Babylon and the return of the exiles. Babylon fell- but the exiles generally didn't return as God intended. So perhaps the emphasis should be upon the word "might" in a conditional sense- the way of the triumphant saints will be potentially prepared by certain latter day judgments. This approach connects with how the fall of latter day Babylon is mentioned three times in Revelation (Rev. 14:8; 16:17-19; 17:16,17); and it's hard to work out when this happens; Rev. 16:17-19 places the fall of Babylon after Armageddon and Christ's return, whilst Rev. 17:16,17 places it before Armageddon. I see no contradiction here; it's just that the timing of the actual fall of Babylon and return of Christ are events which depend on various preconditions which may or may not be fulfilled by human freewill decisions. Such considerations may explain why it remains unclear whether Christ returns at the time of the 6th, or 7th vial. The language of both vials has application to His return, and yet some of it seems to speak of before His return. Perhaps it's beyond the technique of Biblical exposition to reconcile this language- it may simply be that the actual coming of Christ is dependent upon various conditional factors, and the inspired language of predictive prophecy is therefore appropriately ambiguous. Or take the way Revelation consistently speaks of "the beast" as if there is only one- and yet we read of three beasts, from the sea, the land and the abyss (Rev. 13,17). Is it really that the beast changes form over time- or are there three possible manifestations of "the beast" dependent upon various possible factors in human response? This approach would explain why Revelation is so hard to interpret if we insist on forcing all the events and pictures presented into a strictly progressive chronological sequence.

This view of prophecy means that we need not get overly worried about the supposed discrepancies between prophecy and its historical fulfillment. Such differences don't negate the Divine inspiration of the original prophecy- rather do they show how God's intentions can be worked out in different ways because of the open-ended approach He takes to human response. Thus it's been observed that the siege of Jerusalem in AD66-70 doesn't exactly follow the descriptions in Lk. 19:41-44 and 21:20-24 (3). This would be because there were within the Olivet prophecy a number of possible scenarios of what could happen if the believers fled the city as commanded; and of course, if Israel repented and accepted Christ at His AD70 'coming' in judgment. Additionally we must remember that this prophecy was only having its initial fulfillment in AD70- the final fulfillment will be in our last days.


(1) For more on this, see R.H. Charles, Revelation (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1920); Arthur S. Peake, The Revelation of John (London: Joseph Johnson, 1919), p. 291; I.T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse Of John (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979) pp. 584-8.

(2) Tabulated in Thomas Gaston, Come And See: An Exposition Of Revelation (Hyderabad: Printland, 2007) p. 237.

(3) See C.H. Dodd, 'The fall of Jerusalem', in More New Testament Studies (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1968).