Today we start the book of Ezekiel, a book written by the prophet Ezekiel in approximately 593 B.C. Though written approximately 700 years apart from one another, the book of Ezekiel and the book of Revelation contain some powerful and overlapping images of who God is and what heaven is like.
Today’s passage is Ezekiel 1:1-28. Let’s go!
Ezekiel 1:1-3 (NIV) 1 In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. 2 On the fifth of the month–it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin– 3 the word of the LORD came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, by the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians. There the hand of the LORD was upon him.
On verses 1-3: Ezekiel is a priest at a time when the Jewish people have been ousted from their own land by the Babylonians and are living as exiles in Babylon. It is during this time that Ezekiel begins to hear from God in a prophetic way. Ezekiel even specifies the day, the month and the year this started happening. “In the thirtieth year” may mean that Ezekiel was 30 years old when he started seeing the visions that are recorded in this book. Since Ezekiel says that his prophesying ministry began in the fifth year after King Jehoiachin was captured by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and deported to Babylon, some scholars have narrowed down the beginning of his ministry to July 31, 593 B.C.
Ezekiel 1:4-14 (NIV) 4 I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north–an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, 5 and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was that of a man, 6 but each of them had four faces and four wings. 7 Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze. 8 Under their wings on their four sides they had the hands of a man. All four of them had faces and wings, 9 and their wings touched one another. Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved. 10 Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a man, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle. 11 Such were their faces. Their wings were spread out upward; each had two wings, one touching the wing of another creature on either side, and two wings covering its body. 12 Each one went straight ahead. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turning as they went. 13 The appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire or like torches. Fire moved back and forth among the creatures; it was bright, and lightning flashed out of it. 14 The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightning.
On verses 4-14: If ever you thought heaven was going to be a boring place, a place where we’re going to just sit on some clouds and play harps, Ezekiel’s vision blows that misconception out of the water. Heaven ain’t no boring place.
For those of you who like animals and wildlife, you’ve got wildest creatures you can imagine in the four living creatures. Each of these four living creatures has four faces – one like a man, one like a lion, one like an ox and one like an eagle (v10). Some scholars think that these four faces represent the four most dominant animals in their own category (the lion is king of the jungle, the ox is the strongest of domesticated animals, the eagle rules the skies, and man is in a category all his own). These living creatures are winged (v11). They can travel anywhere without needing to turn their heads, since each of them has four faces (v12). They look like they’re on fire as they move in an atmosphere of fire and lightning (v13). They travel at the speed of lightning (v14). Later we’ll learn that when these living creatures move their wings, the sound is like the roar of rushing waters, like an army proceeding, like the voice of God Himself (v24). These living creatures are absolutely awesome.
Yet these living creatures are not brute beasts. They are highly intelligent and sensitive. The fact that their wings touch each other shows that they are somehow very much in tune with one another, always moving together (v9). What’s more, they are spiritually sensitive – “Wherever the spirit would go, they would go” – in other words, these living creatures can sense the movement of the Holy Spirit and move in His direction (v12b). These living creatures are amazing. They are the same living creatures that John will see centuries later and talk about in Revelation 4.
In case you’re wondering, these living creatures are actually angels, and a special order of angels at that, called cherubim (Ezekiel 10:20). While it’s hard to tell from the first 14 verses alone, that immense cloud that Ezekiel sees with flashing lightning and brilliant light with a fiery centre that looks like glowing metal (v4) – that is where the throne of God is.
So delete that boring image you have in your mind of an angel wearing a choir gown and carrying a harp. God’s angels, the ones that are closest to Him, are the wildest, most powerful living creatures you’ve ever seen.
Ezekiel 1:15-21 (NIV) 15 As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature with its four faces. 16 This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like chrysolite, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel. 17 As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not turn about as the creatures went. 18 Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around. 19 When the living creatures moved, the wheels beside them moved; and when the living creatures rose from the ground, the wheels also rose. 20 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. 21 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.
On verses 15-21: For those of you who like gadgets, you’ll love heaven and in particular the wheels that run beside the four living creatures. Like a scene from Star Wars where people are accompanied by incredibly smart druids, each of the four living creatures is accompanied by its own wheel. Each wheel is sparkly like chrysolite (v16) and moves in any one of four directions that the living creatures move in (v17). Each wheel appears to have another wheel inside of it so that it can effectively move in any direction without turning (v16). Each wheel is tall, full of eyes and could move not just horizontally but vertically as well, rising whenever its living creature rises (v18-20). Highly intelligent and seemingly sentient, each wheel would follow its living creature wherever the living creature went. In fact, verse 21 says that somehow each wheel is filled with the spirit of its living creature (v20-21).
What can we learn from this? Some scholars think that the wheels reflect certain aspects of God’s nature. For example, the fact that these wheels can go anywhere speaks to God’s omnipresence (He is everywhere). The fact that these wheels are full of eyes speaks to God’s omniscience (He sees everything). The fact that these wheels are “high and awesome” (v18) speaks to God’s omnipotence (He is all powerful). For me, I just think these wheels are really cool.
Ezekiel 1:22-25 (NIV) 22 Spread out above the heads of the living creatures was what looked like an expanse, sparkling like ice, and awesome. 23 Under the expanse their wings were stretched out one toward the other, and each had two wings covering its body. 24 When the creatures moved, I heard the sound of their wings, like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, like the tumult of an army. When they stood still, they lowered their wings. 25 Then there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads as they stood with lowered wings.
On verses 22-25: Above these amazing living creatures and their really cool wheels is what Ezekiel calls an awesome expanse, sparkling like ice (v22). This expanse seems to act like a platform for God’s throne. For those of you who like art and architecture, you’ll never see anything like what you’ll see in heaven. Also, when God’s voice speaks above that expanse (v25), these awesome living creatures stand still with lowered wings, showing humility and reverence for God.
What can we learn from this? Those living creatures are awesome, but notice that they show a tremendous reverence and humility before God. Similarly, you are an awesome living creature yourself, maybe not awesome the way that these cherubim are awesome, but even more awesome and in your own way — you are made in God’s image and will in fact rule over angels the Bible says (1 Corinthians 6:3)! So, awesome creature, like the four living creatures, be reverent and humble before your Creator God. When He speaks, be still and humble before Him.
Ezekiel 1:26-28 (NIV) 26 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. 27 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. 28 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.
On verses 26-28: Here, after seeing the awesome living creatures and their amazing wheels, Ezekiel catches a glimpse of the most awesome one of all: the Lord Himself. He can be seen high above the expanse on what looks like a throne of sapphire (v26a). He has an appearance similar to that of a man (v26b), except just the brightest, most brilliant, most fiery and most lit man you’ve ever seen (v27). The radiance around Him is like a rainbow (v28). John in the book of Revelation sees a similar picture of the Lord (Revelation 4:1-16). What Ezekiel is seeing is so awesome that he falls facedown as he hears God’s voice.
What can we learn from this?
There are no words that can fully describe just how beautiful, glorious, and awesome God is. As awesome as the living creatures and the wheels are, God the Creator is incomparably more awesome, more interesting, more intelligent and more powerful.
Given how much Ezekiel’s vision of heaven matches John’s vision of heaven in Revelation, we can know that the God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New Testament.
Awesome God, the world has no idea just how amazing, exciting, and awesome You are and how amazing, exciting, and awesome heaven is. Be exalted, O God, above everything else in heaven, on earth, and in my life. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!