As we look around our country and our world, it is easy to become pessimistic about the opportunity for the church to grow. Across the world, Christians are being persecuted. In America, we are continuing to see a cultural shift driven by a new sexual ethic and a demand for a new demographic equality. As we see what is happening around us, it is hard for some to imagine that the church can grow as a visible display of the victory and rule of the Kingdom of heaven.
In the time of the prophet Ezekiel, it may have seemed the same way for Israel. Judah was in the middle of being taken into captivity to Babylon in two separate stages. The King, Zedekiah, had been told that he should surrender to Babylon and accept God’s judgment on the nation. Instead, Zedekiah rejected God’s command and attempted treaty with Egypt to fight against Babylon. As a result, in Ezekiel 17:16 God said, “As I live, declares the Lord God, surely in the place where the king dwells who made him king, whose oath he despised, and whose covenant with him he broke, in Babylon he shall die.”
If you were living in Judah awaiting the next phase of captivity, you may be very anxious at the thought of looming exile and now there is no hope in your king. Was there ever to be a growing and victorious people of God? Would God give a king to bring back Israel’s glory and a thriving kingdom? If it was to happen, it could not depend upon the string of failing human kings that Israel had experienced. Will God truly have ascendancy in this world?
Immediately after the heartbreaking news about God’s judgment on Zedekiah and Judah, God gives Ezekiel a vision of hope. Ezekiel 17:22-24 Thus says the Lord GOD: "I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. 23 On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. 24 And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the LORD; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it."
There will one day be a shoot from the tree of Judah who will grow into the most glorious and giant tree and all other trees will be dwarfed in comparison. In this tree there will be life and security. Because of this tree all other trees will know God and he will bring down the proud and lift up the humble.
In the New Testament there are many indications of this fulfilment and none no more so than the parable of the Mustard seed in Mark 4 and Matthew 13. In Christ, the Kingdom of Heaven has broken into this world and it is spreading through the gospel. It may look lowly and humble, but it is spreading into every other nation and people are being saved into this kingdom all over the world. One day all will see this kingdom to be the supreme kingdom overall. The kingdoms of this world will be shown that they dwarf in comparison. Why is this possible? Because the shoot that starts the growth of this seed is no normal human king. He is the King of Kings. It is this King who says, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18).