Our present age is to come to its climax with “the period of restoration of all things,” during which—at a moment never precisely revealed—Jesus Christ will return from heaven to earth. (See Acts 3:19–21.) There are many different elements in our contemporary situation, all of which point to the fact that we have already entered this period.
Restoration suggests two main activities: putting things back into their right place and into their right condition. At this time the process of divine restoration centers mainly in God’s two covenant peoples in the earth: Israel and the Church. For many long centuries Israel has wandered as exiles, far from their God-given geographical inheritance at the east end of the Mediterranean.
For an almost equal period, the Church of Jesus Christ has lived in similar exile, far from its God-given spiritual inheritance, the main elements of which are: unity, authority, an ordered community life, the complete ministries of Ephesians 4:11, fullness of spiritual gifts and abundance of spiritual fruit.
During the Old Testament period, the Church was a “mystery”—a secret that was kept hidden from ages and from generations and then revealed to the apostles and prophets of the New Testament. (See Ephesians 3:3–9; Colossians 1:25–27.) There is therefore little or no direct prophecy concerning the Church in the Old Testament.
Nevertheless, when rightly understood, the Old Testament prophecies have much to tell us about the period of the Church’s restoration. For all the principles that are unfolded in the natural realm of Israel’s restoration are equally applicable to the Church’s restoration in the spiritual realm.
One prophecy that very vividly foretells the restoration of both Israel and the Church is found in Ezekiel 37:1–10—the vision of the valley of dry bones.
The hand of the LORD came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” So I answered, “O Lord GOD, You know.” Again He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones; “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the LORD.” ” So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them. Also He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”’” So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceedingly great army.
At the beginning of this vision, God’s people are pictured as dry, disjointed, scattered bones. There follow two phases of restoration. In the first phase, the bones are supernaturally moved upon, brought together and fitted to each other by joints. Then ligaments, muscles, flesh and skin cover them. At the end of this phase the bodies are all physically complete, but there is no breath in them. In the second phase, breath (or spirit) comes into the bodies and they stand up on their feet. At the end of this phase God’s final objective has been achieved: “an exceedingly great army.”
In this vision of Israel’s restoration, the initiative and the plan come from God, but He uses Ezekiel as His human instrument to bring it to pass. This applies equally to the Church. Restoration is God’s sovereign purpose, clearly foretold in Scripture. But God will use men whom He Himself chooses and raises up to bring it to pass.
In the vision of the bones Ezekiel’s prophesying takes two different forms. In the first instance he prophesies directly to the bones. This we may compare to preaching. In the second instance he prophesies to the breath (Spirit) on behalf of the bodies and the Spirit in turn enters the bodies. This we may compare to intercessory prayer.