The Glory of God
Ezekiel Chapter 1
The glory of God has been manifested in many ways throughout the course of history. The Hebrew word for glory means heavy or weighty and is most often used to express honor or impressiveness. Upon examination of many scriptural references to God’s glory, it can be readily seen that they are indeed impressive.
Consider first the glory of the heavens. The psalmist wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps. 19:1). When we ponder the size, power, and beauty of the universe, we must be impressed with the God who put it there.
The name of this publication, Israel My Glory, is taken from Isaiah 46:13, where God declared that Israel is His glory. The unique history of Israel is certainly impressive. No other people have suffered the persecution which the Jewish people have undergone and yet survived and live today, as a nation, in the same land they inhabited thousands of years ago.
The glory of God is an inexhaustible subject; the impressiveness of our God knows no end. Ezekiel chapter 1 deals with the glory of God, and we must keep this truth in mind to properly understand the chapter.
Vision of God
Confusion usually reigns when men search for the meaning of the first chapter of Ezekiel. Secular and Christian commentators alike have put forth the theory that Ezekiel saw a vision of spaceships. This is understandable on the part of secular writers, since their spiritual blindness causes them to embrace this position, but it is tragic that Christians would also expound such a view. Ezekiel’s vision had nothing to do with spaceships or UFO’s.
The rabbis have very little comprehension of this chapter. In the Artscroll Tenach series, Ezekiel Volume 1, it is written, “In this vision, supernatural concepts are described in human terms…they cannot be understood literally nor, in our spiritual poverty, are we equipped even to glimpse at their inner meaning.”
The Bible tells us, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable” (2 Tim, 3:16). If we are to profit from something, we must understand it. Ezekiel chapter 1 can be understood, and two things will be helpful as we contemplate this passage.
First, as the rabbis said, supernatural concepts are described in human terms. The words like and likeness are used 16 times in this chapter, clearly indicating that the passage is a picture or illustration of something.
Second, what Ezekiel saw was a vision of God. That is apparent from the first and last verses. In verse 1 Ezekiel said “the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.” In verse 28, summarizing what he had seen, Ezekiel said, “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lᴏʀᴅ.” The glory of the Lord, as stated previously, has been manifested in many ways. In John 1:14 we are told, “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.” Ezekiel saw the glory of the Father in the person of His Son Jesus, and, as a result of this vision, he has described for us the life, person, and ministry of Jesus.
Time and Place of the Vision
In the first three verses of this chapter we are introduced to Ezekiel the priest. The time was approximately 593 B.C. The capture of Jerusalem by the Babylonians had not yet taken place.
At the river Chebar, Ezekiel received a vision of God. This strange but awe-inspiring vision is unfolded for us in verses 4 through 28.
And I looked, and behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire enfolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst of it like the color of amber, out of the midst of the fire (v. 4).
Immediately Ezekiel looked and saw one coming from the north. The terminology in this verse has been used before to speak of God and His presence. Job 38:1, for example, says that God spoke to Job “out of the whirlwind.” Exodus 40:34-38 states that during the wilderness wanderings, God revealed Himself to the people of Israel through the Tabernacle worship and that He led them through the movement of a cloud upon the Tabernacle by day and a fire by night.
It is also interesting to note that God seems to indicate His dwelling place is in the north part of the universe. Psalm 75:6-7 states, “For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge; he putteth down one, and setteth up another.” These verses seem to confirm the truth that our Lord Jesus Christ came from the north – from Heaven – when He became man. Deity took on the clothing of humanity.
Man or Beast?
Also out of the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had the likeness of a man. And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings. And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf’s foot; and they sparkled like the color of burnished bronze. And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings. Their wings were joined one to another; they turned out when they went; they went every one straight forward (vv.5-9).
The description of the creatures is an amazing and beautiful portrait. Verse 5 tells us that the creatures, as strange as their description may seem, are symbolic of a man. This is basic to understanding the chapter.
Verses 6-9 describe various aspects of the creatures. Wings, hands, and feet are mentioned. Each characteristic is picturesque in its illustration of the One who was God and became man.
Wings are mentioned often in this chapter. They are seen covering, joined, pointed up or down, and described in a number of different ways. The many uses of wings in the Bible are too numerous to cover, but often they illustrate God’s care and protection. This is seen very clearly in Psalm 91:4: “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust.” These creatures have wings covering their bodies (v. 23), picturing protection. Jesus in His earthly ministry was cared for and protected by God.
We are also told that their feet were straight. The picture is one of legs without joints. The feet could go in only one direction. Proverbs 4:26-27 states, “Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left; removed thy foot from evil.” This is an admonition to believers to walk in straight paths, but the passage also is characteristic of the earthly walk of Jesus. He went in the direction the Father had laid out for Him. He did not deviate to the left or the right but was perfect in all His ways.
Verse 7 says of the creatures, “the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf’s foot; and they sparkled like the color of burnished bronze.” Jesus came first as the “Lamb of God” (Jn. 1:29), and He will someday return as the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Rev. 5:5). The “calf’s foot” speaks of His first coming as the Savior of the world. Bronze, which is sometimes used in the Scriptures to indicate judgement, speaks of His second coming as Sovereign and Judge.
The hands under the wings speak of the accomplishment of His ministry as a man. He was protected and guided by God but voluntarily limited Himself in His earthly ministry to that which His humanity would permit. As seen in Philippians 2:5-8.
Verses 5 through 9, therefore, speak of the One who came from Heaven, took on flesh, was led by God, walked a perfect path, and is both Savior and Sovereign.
His Person and Work
As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side; and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle (v. 10).
When undertaking a study of the life of Jesus, there is only one place to go for a definitive and comprehensive treatment of the subject, and that is to the four Gospels of the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each Gospel sets forth a different and distinct perspective of the life and ministry of our Lord; and, when taken together, they present a complete picture of Him. The characteristics of Jesus presented in each of the four Gospels reveal the meaning of the four faces of the creatures in Ezekiel 1:10.
The Gospel of Matthew was written to the Jewish people and proclaimed Jesus as their King. He is Messiah, the anointed Ruler. The genealogy given in Matthew chapter 1 shows that Jesus was in the royal line of King David through His legal father, Joseph. If we were to choose one of God’s creatures to portray Jesus as King, we could do not better that the lion.
Mark’s Gospel presents Jesus as a servant. There is no genealogy of Jesus given in Mark because no one would be interested in the lineage of a servant. The face of the ox accurately pictures the truth of Jesus as a servant.
The Gospel of Luke declares that Jesus is perfect man and gives another genealogy tracing His roots back through His mother Mary. There would definitely be great interest in the genealogy of a perfect man. There is, therefore, no better choice to portray Jesus as a man than the face of a man.
John’s Gospel presents Jesus as deity, the Son of God. It is obvious why John did not present a genealogy – God has no beginning or ending, He has always been. The fourth face of the creatures, that of an eagle, perfectly represent John’s teaching that Jesus is the eternal One.
Verse 10 gives us additional insight into the person and work of Jesus. The statements “they four also had the face of a man” and “they four also had the face of an eagle” perfectly illustrate the truth of Luke and John that Jesus is the God/Man. He was no half God and half man. He is one hundred percent deity and one hundred percent humanity. He was Jehovah and, at the same time, fully human.
The verse also states, “they four had…the face of a lion, on the right side; and they four had the face of an ox on the left side.” Two sides make up a whole. The twofold ministry of Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark: He came first as a servant and will one day return as the sovereign King. He came the first time as the “Lamb of God” to die, and He will return as the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” to reign.
Direction and Deliverance
Thus were their faces; and their wings were stretched upward; two wings of every one were joined on to another, and two covered their bodies. And they went every one straight forward; wherever the spirit was to go, they went; and they turned not when they went (vv. 11-12).
The wings stretched upward speak of dependence upon God. The wings covering the creatures speak of God’s complete protection. Two phrases repeated throughout the remainder of the chapter, “they went every one straight forward” and “wherever the spirit was to go, they went,” speak of the one direction and purpose Jesus had in His life. He went wherever the Spirit of God led Him, and in His entire life He never veered from the course set before Him.
Wheels and Fire
As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps; it went up and down among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. And the living creatures ran and returned like the appearance of a flash of lightning. Now, as I beheld the living creatures, behold, one wheel upon the earth by the living creatures, with its four faces. The appearance of the wheels and their work was like the color of a beryl; and they four had one likeness; and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel. When they went, they went upon their four sides; and they turned not when they went. As for their rims, they were so high that they were dreadful; and their rims were full of eyes round about them four (vv. 13-18).
The symbolism continues in these verses with many new pictures. The creatures are presented as having the appearance of burning coals of fire and lamps. Hebrews 12:29 states, “our God is a consuming fire.” David said, “The Lᴏʀᴅ is my light” (Ps. 27:1). Jesus, when addressing the Pharisees, stated emphatically that He was “the light of the world” (Jn. 8:12). The fire and light went up and down around the creatures. Jesus is “the brightness of his (the Father’s) glory, and the express image of his person” (Heb. 1:3). He is a consuming fire and the eternal light.
Verse 14 states that the living creatures “ran and returned.” To return to a place, one has to have been there before. At the beginning of this age, the Son of God stepped down from Heaven and for 33 years lived on this planet. As He was leaving from the Mount of Olives to return to Heaven, an angelic messenger made the promise, “This same Jesus, who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner” (Acts 1:11). The return of Jesus is depicted in Ezekiel 1:14 which states that the living creatures “returned like the appearance of a flash of lightning.” In Matthew 24:27 we are told, “as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.”
Verses 15-18 give a vivid description of wheels. The symbolism of a wheel declares a basic truth about the person of Jesus. Micah 5:2, speaking of the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem, says His “goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” The Messiah is eternal. Jesus has no beginning and no ending – just like a wheel – because He is the eternal God. I would suggest that the “likeness” represented by the “wheel upon the earth” is the God/Man. “A wheel in the middle of a wheel” represents the truth of the incarnate Son indwelt by the Spirit of God for power in His ministry.
The rims of the wheels being “high” and “dreadful” speak of His omniscience. He is the Lord and is to be feared and worshiped.
Led by the Spirit
And when the living creatures went, the wheels went by them; and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up. Wherever the spirit was to go, they went, there was their spirit to go; and the wheels were lifted up beside them; for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels. When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up beside them; for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels (vv. 19-21).
The truth of these verses was displayed in the ministry of the Lord. As He walked on this earth, He was led in all things by the Spirit of God. This reality in His life is shown from the very beginning of His ministry: “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness” (Mt. 4:1).
And the likeness of the firmament upon the heads of the living creature was like the color of the terrible crystal, stretched forth over their heads above. And under the firmament were their wings straight, the one toward the other; every one had two, which covered on this side, and every one had two, which covered on that side, their bodies. And when they went, I heard the voice of their wings, like the noise of great waters, like the voice of the Almighty, the voice of speech, like the voice of an host; when they stood, they let down their wings. And there was a voice from the firmament that was over their heads, when they stood, and had let down their wings (vv. 22-25).
When God created the universe, He stated there was to be “a firmament in the midst of the waters” (Gen. 1:6). After the creation of the firmament, He “called the firmament Heaven” (Gen. 1:8). Over the living creatures was a firmament. Jesus performed His ministry under Heaven, on the earth. He walked and talked as no man had ever done. After Jesus had calmed the wind and the waves, the disciples “marveled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” (Mt. 8:27). It was said of Jesus, “Never man spoke like this man” (Jn. 7:46). The uniqueness of Jesus is captured in Ezekiel 1:24 when the sound of the creatures’ wings is said to be “like the voice of the Almighty.” He was unique because He was God in human flesh.
A climactic point is reached at this place in the chapter. Wings have pictured the protection of God, but verses 24-25 state, “when they stood, they let down their wings.”
Jesus promised, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (J. 12:32). The living creatures stood; Jesus went to the cross. It was at that time, and at that time only, in the life of Jesus that the wings of God’s protection were let down. The degradation and filth of the sin of all mankind were placed on Him at Calvary. In fulfillment of the prophecy of Psalm 22:1, Jesus at that time cried out, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me”? (Mt. 27:46). The crowning moment of His ministry was coming, but first He had to endure the crucifixion. He had to suffer, abandoned by God, but He would soon rise as the Sovereign of the universe.
Resurrection and Ascension
And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, like the appearance of a sapphire stone; and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness of the appearance of a man above upon it. And I saw like the color of amber, like the appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of its loins even upward, and from the appearance of it loins even downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about (vv. 26-27).
Suddenly Ezekiel was transported above the firmament where he saw a throne, and sitting on that throne was a man. From the scene of death in verse 25, he was ushered into an exalted setting. His vision had obviously taken him through the resurrection of the Lord ((Isa. 53:10; Mt. 28:6) and His ascension into Heaven (Acts 1:8-11), for he now saw Him sitting on a throne. Jesus today is seated at the right hand of power (Eph. 1:20-21). Waiting to return to this earth as King. His present ministry is that of “advocate with the Father” on behalf of the saints (1 Jn. 2:1).
In verses 26-27 Jesus is described in all of His glory, the exalted King and majestic Ruler of Heaven and earth. The brilliance of His holiness is pictured here just as it is in Revelation 1:13-16, although with less detail.
Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lᴏʀᴅ. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spoke (v. 28).
Ezekiel’s response to what he saw is instructive for us today. He saw the glory of his God, saw how impressive his God is, and could have only one response. He fell on his face. In submission and humility, he prostrated himself before the Creator of the universe. Down through the centuries, this has been the only possible response for all men and women who have genuinely seen the glory of God in the risen Lord.
Throughout the pages of Scripture we are shown the impressiveness of Jesus. In Ezekiel chapter 1 we are given an overview of His entire life and ministry. He came from Heaven to earth. He is the God/Man. He walked a perfect walk in obedience to the Father. He was the Savior but will return as the King. He died for our sins but rose in victory over death and is seated at the right hand of the Father. Anyone who sees the Jesus of the Scriptures will fall in submission before Him.
Finally, Ezekiel “heard a voice of one that spoke” (v. 28). There is a natural progression. Ezekiel saw, fell, heard. It is axiomatic that when a person fully sees and comprehends the greatness of Jesus, he will fall before Him and respond to His leading. Ezekiel was asked to do some strange things during his life (e.g., Ezek, 4:1-6), but he never questioned God; he was obedient.
Have you seen the Jesus of the Scriptures? Have you experienced how great and impressive He is? If you have, you will do whatever He asks of you. The first thing He asks is that you accept Him as your Savior and Lord. Then He asks you to follow Him in obedience to His leading, as given in the Word of God. When you understand how great He is, it won’t be difficult to accept and follow him.