Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.
Today we would like to study the first chapter of the book of Ezekiel. There are great similarities between the revelations the Lord revealed to Ezekiel and the revelations the Lord gave to the Apostle John (e.g., the voice of the Lord, streams of living water, the living creatures, the heavenly Jerusalem, etc).
In Hebrew Ezekiel means “The Lord strengthens.”Most likely Ezekiel was 25 when he was taken into captivity in Babylon (1:3). Five years thereafter he received the calling. Thus in v. 1, at the age of 30, he saw "the visions of God". Ezekiel was a priest. As a priest he must have been living a devout life. But at the young age of 25 the Lord deported him to the land of the Gentiles. You know the Jewish people regard the Gentiles as no better than dogs. We the Americans love dogs, so we say, "Man, the more I meet people, the more I like my dogs." But it was not so with the Jews. To them the Gentiles were categorically unclean. So it might have been quite traumatic for a clean young man like Ezekiel to live in a filthy land.
But it was when he was in a deep conflict that he received the visions of God. So think about this: Conflicts are not always bad. In fact, they come to us as the opportunity to receive visions of God - the visions of great comfort, strength, and hope. With the visions of God he inspired people: with God’s visions, he led them out of despair to the hope of God’s salvation.Then what visions did he see?
First, the vision of the holy vessel.
In the passage we see the Lord God working with the four living creatures. I would like to call the living creatures as the holy vessel the Lord uses. This vessel is seen only in this book. The living creatures themselves are shown elsewhere (such as in the book of Revelation) but not the system. It is only in this place that the structures such as wheels intersecting each other are seen. The question becomes, “Why did the Lord showed Ezekiel a vision of this holy vessel?” Most likely the Lord did this to encourage his children in exile. Although the Israelites were five years into the captivity, the Lord was still working to take care of them.
Consider the structures of the vessel: the four living creatures work systematically carrying the will of the Lord in a heavenly realm. So let us stop for a moment and think about the structure and the design of the divine vessel. It consists of four living creatures, with each creature coming with four faces - the faces of a man, a lion, an ox and an eagle. Bible scholars say that they representative God's most brilliant creation. Man is of course the crown of creation, for the Bible says that God fearfully and wonderfully made man. And there is no question that the way God made man is truly brilliant. Then let us think about the lion, for a lion is a symbol of triumph. In the Bible, Jacob speaks of Judah saying, "You are a lion's cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness--who dares to rouse him?" And John describes our Lord Jesus as the Lion of Judah who has triumphed (Rev 5:5). So a lion is symbolic of triumph. The ox is symbolic of faithfulness and hard-working. The eagle is a conqueror. Moses compared the Lord to an eagle who stirs up its nest and hovers over its young that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions. Chickens produce chickens, eagles produce eagles. Like the eagle, the Lord God trained the Israelites to become conquerors and more than conquerors.
The four creatures with four faces working closely inspire us to work the way they worked. For example, their images remind us that God did not give us the spirit of timidity but the spirit of love and power, so that like these wonderful creatures we too can work together with the spirit of wisdom and understanding, with the spirit of a good soldier, with the spirit of hard-working farmers, and with the spirit of conquest.
This vessel has a lot of other good features, such as being spirit dominant, all-seeing, completely mobile, swiftly moving, fully living, multi-faceted, and yet operating with sovereign singularity (working together with zero conflict or friction among themselves).
But one other supreme feature is this: the wheels! Think about a wheel intersecting a wheel seamlessly. Their rims are high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around! (16) Have you ever seen any rims of any wheel full of eyes?!
And watch this: “Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, and the wheels would rise along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. When the creatures moved, they also moved; when the creatures stood still, they also stood still; and when the creatures rose from the ground, the wheels rose along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels." Here the expression "the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels!" Have you ever seen any wheels being filled with spirit? You know wheels amount to our feet. Imagine your feet filled with the spirit. What will happen to you? Certainly you will operate like a superman flying or floating in mid air freely, being able to move even at the speed of light!
This design reminds us of what the Prophet Isaiah said of man's feet! "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’ ” (Isaiah 52:7). So it is my prayer that as we go through John's gospel Bible studies, the Lord would equip our feet with the Spirit of God so we would move swiftly and spread the gospel inviting students to the Spring Conference, all in the spirit of God's love and power!
Second, the vision of the holy fire.
The second important feature of this living vessel is what I call “the holy fire” working inside. Think about the expression, "the center of fire that looks like glowing metal” (4). Their feet gleamed like burnished bronze; their appearance was like burning coals of fire or like torches (13). Again their wheels came with sparkles like chrysolite (16).
This holy fire originates from the throne of the Lord (26-27), just as the Apostle John describes in Revelation 4:5, saying, "From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God." So the holy fire is one aspect of the manifestations of the Spirit of Jesus, the Sovereign Lord.
This fire moves back and forth among the living creatures (13b). It was bright, and lightening flashed out of it. According to some, Bible scholars God created different categories of fire. For example, some fires are quenchable, some not. With physical fire we can cook food and eat. There is a biological fire which burns inside of our body keeping it warm. There is a fire which even licks up the water in a trench (1Ki 18:38).
The fire that works inside of the living creatures is a spiritual fire. Moses saw this fire for in the account of the burning bush, the dry bush caught fire, but the fire did not consume the bush. The first batch of the Apostles of Jesus Christ, and the members of the early believers numbering about 120, were baptized with the fire of the Holy Spirit, for Acts 2:2-4 say, "Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them."
This fire is a "holy" fire, because it is the manifestation of God's holiness. The primary function of God's holiness is divine healing; it protects and preserves life. For those who sincerely repent and turn to God by faith in the Lord, God blesses them with this fire which in turn brings about divine healing. And the holy fire that stems from God's holiness cleanses man of the filth of sins and heals him.
It then empowers him to do the work God has in mind. But for those who do not believe, when they are exposed to this fire, depending on God's will, instant destruction may follow. Recall what the Apostle Paul says, that is, there are two powers in operation: the power of the cross and the power of lawlessness. For those who believe, through the power of the cross, Jesus is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us. And for those who do not believe, the secret power of lawlessness is at work among them, so that they may perish with a sudden destruction.
In the day of Moses, the Lord God empowered Moses with this holy fire so he could lead the slave people out of Egypt. In the day of Ezekiel, the Lord God showed him the holy power that is at work in the heavenly realm so that with the vision of this fire, indeed Ezekiel could lead the captive Israel to God's hope so that they would no longer despair but rather overcome the wicked environment, keep their integrity, and live as members of the kingdom of priests and holy nation.
In the day of the Apostles of our Lord Jesus, and certainly in our own day as well, the Lord God empowers us with the same power so that with God's mighty power we could serve our Lord's will - the will to overcome the wicked environment and the will to make disciples of all nations.
Third, the vision of the one who speaks.
Look at verses 25-28. "Then there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads as they stood with lowered wings. Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking."
In this passage Ezekiel made three fold qualifications of the vision he saw, that is, 1) appearance; 2) likeness; and 3) glory [of the Lord]. In 1 Timothy 6:16 the Apostle Paul says that God is the blessed and only ruler, the King of kings, and Lord of lords who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. So being a mortal man, Ezekiel could not see and did not see God; he saw merely the appearance of the likeness of the glory of God.
But we are very blessed because as Shepherd Charles said in the last Sunday message, the Apostle John testifies, "No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known." But you and I have not seen our Lord Jesus in a physical body. John saw, but we haven't. But that is okay, because although we haven't seen Him, we have His Word!
You know we can categorize all peoples living in the New Testament era into three categories: No. 1: those who have seen Jesus, and yet do not believe (John 6:36); No. 2: those who have seen Jesus and then believe (John 20:29); No. 3: those who haven't seen him and still believe (John 20:29b; 1Pe 1:8). And our Lord Jesus says that the third category of people is more blessed than the second category.
Why are we more blessed? I think we find the answer to this question in the passage, that is, the voice of the one who speaks. Look at v. 28b, "When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking." We have the word of God!
From the moment Ezekiel heard the voice of the Lord, the Lord God kept speaking to Ezekiel. And God's words went out to the exiles in Babylon through Ezekiel. Notice the expression "I fell facedown." It was in that state that he heard the voice of the one speaking. Last week we heard the introduction of the John Gospel. Now, from next week on as the Apostle John speaks, we are going to listen to the voice of the Lord in detail. It is my prayer that like Ezekiel who fell facedown all of us would humble ourselves, fall facedown, and listen to voice of our Lord, so we can get the life giving word of the Lord to dying souls in our generation.