Key to the old covenant prophets' view of salvation for God's people is the exodus from Egypt. The Lord's liberation of the Israelites from slavery marked the constitution of His people as a "holy nation" in the wilderness of Sinai (Ex. 19:1–6). At Mt. Sinai, Jacob's children met the most holy Creator and entered into covenant with Him (24:1–8). On that mountain in the wilderness, the leaders of the people entered into God's immediate presence, and they ate and drank before Him (vv. 9–11). At the end of the day, however, the Israelites failed to fulfill their calling as God's holy nation. In His grace, the Lord did not utterly reject Jacob's family, but He promised to redeem them from the exile they merited by their failure to serve Him. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and many other prophets looked forward to a new exodus in which God would meet them in the wilderness yet again. Only this time, the power of sin would be broken and the people would be that holy nation that they were supposed to be (Isa. 40:3; Jer. 31:2).
Today's passage records Ezekiel's account of the new exodus for God's people. He anticipated a day wherein the Lord would bring His people "out from the peoples . . . and . . . the countries" where they had been exiled (Ezek. 20:33–34). This would be done "with wrath poured out," but wrath upon whom—the Jews or their Gentile captors? In this case, it seems that Ezekiel means the people of God. The exile itself was not enough to satisfy the Lord's just wrath against the covenant community. Something more was needed—another judgment in the wilderness. Just as God judged the Israelite slaves and barred the faithless from the Promised Land, He would judge the exiles in the wilderness (vv. 35–36). Only this time, a new covenant would be made in which "rebels" would be purged from the nation (vv. 37–38). When this covenant was fully instituted, sin would be gone and "all the house of Israel" would serve God in the Promised Land (vv. 40–44).
About six hundred years after Ezekiel gave this prophecy, Israel met the Lord in the wilderness once again. This time, however, God did not come in glory on top of the mountain. Instead, He humbled Himself, taking the form of a servant in the incarnation, and He identified with His people in His baptism (Matt. 13:13–17; Phil. 2:5–11). In the wilderness, outside the gates of Jerusalem, the God-man Jesus Christ bore God's wrath for the sins of His people, and they will be brought fully into the Promised Land at His return.
God in Christ met not only Jews in the wilderness but also Gentiles (Mark 5:1–20), and as the Last Adam, He identified with Gentiles as well, bearing the Father's wrath for Gentiles who believe. Whether we are Jews or Gentiles by birth, we can take part in the blessing of the final exodus by faith in Christ alone. The new exodus has come; now we are only waiting for God to lead us into the Promised Land—the new heaven and earth where righteousness dwells. He will be faithful to that promise.