1-3. (a) Why is Ezekiel stunned, and what does he learn about the destruction of Jerusalem? (b) What questions will we consider?
EZEKIEL is stunned! He has just seen a vision of the detestable things that apostate Jews are doing in the temple in Jerusalem.* Those rebels have defiled the very place that has been the center of pure worship in Israel. But the defilement is not limited to the temple. The land of Judah has become filled with violence and is beyond recovery. Deeply offended by what his chosen people are doing, Jehovah tells Ezekiel: “I will act in rage.”—Ezek. 8:17, 18.
2 How it pains Ezekiel to know that Jerusalem and its once-sacred temple are objects of Jehovah’s rage and will be destroyed! No doubt Ezekiel wonders: ‘What about any faithful ones in the city? Will they be spared? If so, how?’ Ezekiel does not have to wait long for answers. No sooner has he heard the scathing judgment of Jerusalem than he hears a loud voice summoning the executioners of divine judgment. (Ezek. 9:1) As the vision continues, the prophet learns—much to his relief—that the destruction will be, not random, but selective. Yes, deserving ones will survive!
3 As we face the end of this wicked system of things, we too may wonder about survival through the approaching great destruction. Let us, then, consider: (1) What did Ezekiel next see in the vision? (2) How was the vision fulfilled in his day? (3) What does this prophetic vision mean for our day?
“Summon Those Who Will Bring Punishment”
4. Describe what Ezekiel next saw and heard in the vision.
4 What did Ezekiel next see and hear in the vision? (Read Ezekiel 9:1-11.) Seven men approached “from the direction of the upper gate that faces north,” perhaps near where the symbol of jealousy was or where the women were weeping over the god Tammuz. (Ezek. 8:3, 14) The seven men entered the inner courtyard of the temple and stood near the copper altar of sacrifice. But those men were not there to bring a sacrifice. The time for acceptable sacrifices at that temple was past. Six of the men stood “each with his weapon for smashing in his hand.” The seventh man was noticeably different. He was dressed in linen, and he had, not a weapon, but “a secretary’s inkhorn” or, as the footnote states, “a scribe’s ink holder.”
5, 6. What may we conclude about those who were marked? (See opening picture.)
5 What was the man with the inkhorn to do? He received a weighty assignment from Jehovah himself: “Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who are sighing and groaning over all the detestable things that are being done in the city.” Perhaps in that instant, Ezekiel thought back to the faithful Israelite parents who had put a blood-mark on the upper part of their doorway and on their doorposts as a sign that their firstborn children were to be saved from destruction. (Ex. 12:7, 22, 23) In Ezekiel’s vision, would the mark put on the forehead by the man with the inkhorn serve a similar purpose—as a sign that the one bearing it should be spared from Jerusalem’s destruction?
6 The answer becomes clear when we consider the basis for the mark. It was to be put on the foreheads of those who were “sighing and groaning” over the detestable things that were “being done in the city.” What may we thus conclude about those marked? For one thing, they were deeply grieved at heart not only over the idolatry carried out at the temple but also over all the violence, immorality, and corruption that filled Jerusalem. (Ezek. 22:9-12) In addition, they likely did not hide their feelings. The words and actions of such righthearted ones no doubt demonstrated their disgust at what was going on in the land and their devotion to pure worship. In his mercy, Jehovah would spare these deserving ones.
7, 8. How were the men with the weapons for smashing to carry out their mission, and what was the final outcome?
7 How, then, were the six men with the weapons for smashing to carry out their mission? Ezekiel overheard Jehovah’s instructions to them: Follow the man with the inkhorn and kill off everyone except any who have been marked on their forehead. “You should start from my sanctuary,” Jehovah directed. (Ezek. 9:6) The executioners were to begin their work at Jerusalem’s heart, the temple, which was no longer sacred to Jehovah. The first to be slain were “the elders who were in front of the house”—the 70 elders of Israel who were in the temple and were offering incense to false gods.—Ezek. 8:11, 12; 9:6.
8 What was the final outcome? As Ezekiel continued watching and listening, the man with the inkhorn gave his report to Jehovah: “I have done just as you have commanded me.” (Ezek. 9:11) We cannot help but wonder: ‘How did matters turn out for Jerusalem’s inhabitants? Were there any faithful ones who survived the destruction?’
How Was the Vision Fulfilled in Ezekiel’s Day?
9, 10. Who were some of the faithful ones to survive Jerusalem’s destruction, and what may we conclude about them?
9 Read 2 Chronicles 36:17-20. Ezekiel’s prophecy was fulfilled in 607 B.C.E. when the Babylonian army destroyed Jerusalem and its temple. Like a “cup in the hand of Jehovah,” the Babylonians were the instruments Jehovah used to pour out punishment on unfaithful Jerusalem. (Jer. 51:7) Was the destruction indiscriminate? No. Ezekiel’s vision had foretold that some would not be wiped out by the Babylonians.—Gen. 18:22-33; 2 Pet. 2:9.
10 A number of faithful individuals survived, including the Rechabites, Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, Jeremiah the prophet, and Baruch, his secretary. (Jer. 35:1-19; 39:15-18; 45:1-5) From Ezekiel’s vision, we may conclude that such ones must have been “sighing and groaning over all the detestable things” being done in Jerusalem. (Ezek. 9:4) Before the destruction, they undoubtedly showed their heartfelt rejection of wickedness and their devotion to pure worship, and they thus put themselves in line to be spared.
11. Who were represented by the six men with the smashing weapons and the man with the secretary’s inkhorn?
11 Were those faithful ones literally marked for survival? There is no record that anyone—either Ezekiel or any other prophet—went through Jerusalem and put an actual mark on the foreheads of faithful ones. Evidently, then, Ezekiel’s prophetic vision reveals what was happening in the heavenly realm and what was therefore invisible to human eyes. The man with the secretary’s inkhorn and the six men with the weapons for smashing were visionary representations of Jehovah’s faithful spirit creatures, who are always ready to carry out his will. (Ps. 103:20, 21) Jehovah no doubt used his angels to direct the execution of judgment on unfaithful Jerusalem. As if putting a mark on the foreheads of those who were to be spared, the angels made sure that the judgment would be selective, not an indiscriminate slaughter.
What Does Ezekiel’s Vision Mean for Our Day?
12, 13. (a) Why did Jehovah pour out his wrath on Jerusalem, and why should we expect a similar response in our day? (b) Is Christendom the antitype of unfaithful Jerusalem? Explain. (See the box “Is Christendom the Antitypical Jerusalem?”)
12 Today we are facing an unparalleled execution of divine judgment—the “great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again.” (Matt. 24:21) As we await that climactic event, some key questions arise: Will the coming destruction be, not random, but selective? Will Jehovah’s pure worshippers somehow be marked for survival? In other words, does Ezekiel’s prophetic vision of the man with the inkhorn have a fulfillment in our day? The answer to all three questions is yes. Why can we conclude that? To find out, let us return to Ezekiel’s vision.
13 Do you recall why Jehovah poured out his wrath on ancient Jerusalem? Look again at Ezekiel 9:8, 9. (Read.) When Ezekiel feared that the coming destruction might mean the end of “all the remaining ones of Israel,” Jehovah cited four reasons for the judgment. First, “the error” of the nation was “very, very great.”* Second, the land of Judah was “filled with bloodshed.” Third, Jerusalem, the capital of the kingdom of Judah, was “full of corruption.” Fourth, the people excused their wicked ways by convincing themselves that Jehovah was “not seeing” their wicked deeds. Do not those words sound like an indictment of this morally perverse, violent, corrupt, and faithless world today? Surely, since Jehovah “does not vary or change,” what provoked his righteous anger in Ezekiel’s time would evoke a similar response in our day. (Jas. 1:17; Mal. 3:6) We should expect, then, that the six men with the smashing weapons and the man with the inkhorn will have a modern-day work to do!
14, 15. What examples show that Jehovah warns people before a time of destruction?
14 How, though, is Ezekiel’s prophetic vision fulfilled in our day? If we look back at how the vision was fulfilled in the past, we can learn what to expect now and in the future. Consider some of the developments we have seen or will see in fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy.
15 Jehovah warns people before a time of destruction. As we saw in Chapter 11 of this publication, Jehovah commissioned Ezekiel “as a watchman to the house of Israel.” (Ezek. 3:17-19) Starting in 613 B.C.E., Ezekiel clearly warned Israel of the destruction that was approaching. Other prophets, including Isaiah and Jeremiah, also sounded a warning about the calamity that would befall Jerusalem. (Isa. 39:6, 7; Jer. 25:8, 9, 11) In our day, Jehovah, through Christ, has used a small group of anointed servants not only to feed pure worshippers, the domestics, but also to warn others about the fast-approaching great tribulation.—Matt. 24:45.
16. Do we as Jehovah’s people mark those who will survive? Explain.
16 Jehovah’s people do not mark those who will survive. Recall that Ezekiel was not told to go through Jerusalem himself and mark others for survival. Similarly, Jehovah’s people today are not commissioned to mark worthy ones for survival. Rather, as domestics in Christ’s spiritual household, we are commissioned to preach. We show that we take this commission seriously by zealously sharing the good news of God’s Kingdom and by eagerly sounding the warning that this wicked world is rapidly nearing its end. (Matt. 24:14; 28:18-20) We thus have a share in helping honesthearted ones to embrace pure worship.—1 Tim. 4:16.
17. What do individuals need to do now in order to put themselves in line to be marked in the future?
17 To survive the coming destruction, individuals need to prove their faith now. As we saw earlier, those who survived Jerusalem’s destruction in 607 B.C.E. demonstrated beforehand their heartfelt rejection of wickedness and their devotion to pure worship. It is similar today. Before the destruction comes, individuals need to be “sighing and groaning”—deeply grieved at heart—over the wickedness of this world. And rather than hide their feelings, they must demonstrate by words and actions their devotion to pure worship. How can they do so? They need to react favorably to the preaching work that is being done today, to continue putting on a Christlike personality, to get baptized in symbol of their dedication to Jehovah, and to support Christ’s brothers loyally. (Ezek. 9:4; Matt. 25:34-40; Eph. 4:22-24; 1 Pet. 3:21) Only those who pursue such a course now—and who enter the great tribulation as pure worshippers—will be in a position to be marked for survival.
18. (a) How and when will Jesus Christ mark deserving ones? (b) Do faithful anointed ones need to be marked? Explain.
18 The marking of deserving ones will take place in the heavenly realm. In Ezekiel’s day, angels had a role in marking faithful ones for survival. In the modern-day fulfillment, the man with the secretary’s inkhorn represents Jesus Christ when he “comes in his glory” as Judge of all the nations. (Matt. 25:31-33) That coming of Jesus will take place during the great tribulation, after the destruction of false religion.* At that crucial time, just before Armageddon begins, Jesus will judge people as sheep or goats. Those of the “great crowd” will be judged, or marked, as sheep, which thus indicates that they will “depart . . . into everlasting life.” (Rev. 7:9-14; Matt. 25:34-40, 46) What about faithful anointed ones? They do not need to be marked for survival through Armageddon. Rather, they will receive their final sealing either before they die or before the outbreak of the great tribulation. Then, at some point before Armageddon begins, they will be raised to heaven.—Rev. 7:1-3.
19. Who will accompany Jesus in executing judgment on this system of things? (See the box “Sighing and Groaning, Marking, Smashing—When and How?”)
19 The heavenly King, Jesus Christ, and his heavenly armies will execute judgment on this system of things. In Ezekiel’s vision, the six men with weapons for smashing did not begin the destruction until after the man in linen completed his marking work. (Ezek. 9:4-7) Likewise, the coming destruction will begin after Jesus judges people of all the nations and marks the sheep for survival. Then, during the war of Armageddon, Jesus will lead the heavenly executional forces, which will include the holy angels and all his 144,000 corulers, against this wicked world, destroying it utterly and delivering pure worshippers into a righteous new world.—Rev. 16:14-16; 19:11-21.
20. What reassuring lessons have we learned from Ezekiel’s vision of the man with the secretary’s inkhorn?
20 How thankful we are for the reassuring lessons we learn from Ezekiel’s vision of the man with the secretary’s inkhorn! We can have complete confidence that Jehovah will not destroy the righteous with the wicked. (Ps. 97:10) We know what we need to do now in order to be marked in the future for survival. As worshippers of Jehovah, we are determined to have the fullest possible share in declaring the good news and in sounding the warning to those who are sighing and groaning over the wickedness in Satan’s world. We thus may have the privilege of helping those who are “rightly disposed for everlasting life” to join us in pure worship and thereby put themselves in line to be marked for survival into God’s righteous new world.—Acts 13:48.
Ezekiel’s vision of the detestable things taking place in the temple is discussed in Chapter 5 of this publication.
According to one reference work, the Hebrew noun rendered “error” can convey the idea of “perversity.” Another reference work notes that this noun “is a deeply religious term, almost always being used to indicate moral guilt or iniquity before God.”
Apparently, the destruction of Babylon the Great will not mean the death of all members of false religion. At that time, even some clergymen may abandon false religion and claim that they were never a part of it.—Zech. 13:3-6.