We continue in the first chapter of Ezekiel with the strange creatures seen in the throne room of God. The message within the imagery is a clear allusion to hope, pointing to the new heavens and new earth. Although we are now in exile, strangers in this world, and must wait eagerly for Christ’s return, there is a promise of redemption. A homecoming. We are called to love and serve faithfully as we wait for that day.
Ezekiel 1. I’m going to read you 1 through 3, and I’m going to tell you beforehand what I think are the main lessons are in this because there’s so much going on in these chapters, it’s kind of hard to absorb. So, I’m going to tell you what the lessons are and then we’ll talk about it some more.
I think what you’re going to see in this scene is you’re going to see these creatures, and what it turns out is each creature has four faces. Each creature has the face of an eagle, a lion, a man, and a calf. And I’m going to give you a thought about what those might represent, and I’m sure it’s a very limited perspective.
The face of an eagle
But the eagle—in the sense of this call that Isaiah is going to get, he’s being called to be a seer, to be a seer of the future and a conveyor of that information to the people. And an eagle has the keenest eyes of any of any creature. They can see forever. And they’re the most majestic of all the birds, the king of the birds. So you’ve got this majestic, far-seeing creature. And Ezekiel is going to be given some words about the future, far-seeing events; and he’s supposed to convey them.
The eagle is also a symbol of courage, and one of Ezekiel’s calls is going to be no matter what happens, no matter what I ask you to do, and no matter what people’s responses are, I want you to keep giving the message. Keep giving the message. Don’t stop giving the message. They’re not going to listen to you. Keep giving the message.
It’s going to require great foresight, great courage.
The face of a lion
There’s a lion. Of course the lion is the king of the beasts and a symbol of courage. And, again, this is going to take great courage to do what Ezekiel is called to do.
The face of a man
There’s a man. A man, of course, is appointed to rule. He’s a little lower than the angels, but crowned with glory and honor. And we’re supposed to be ruling the earth in perfect harmony with God, but because of the fall, it’s not happening. And the whole goal—one of the preeminent rewards for an overcomer is to share the throne with God.
We’ve been looking at this amazing throne. At the end of the letters to the seven churches he says, “To him who overcomes, I will give to him to share in my throne.” I want you to rule with me. I want to do this together. Serving. Not in tyranny, not in coercion, but in serving.
So you’ve got a ruler there.
The face of a calf
And then the calf. The calf confuses me a little bit; but, a calf is a really handy animal. It can grow into the greatest service of any animal we have. It can grow into an ox, and you can use it to farm with and plow and carry stuff. We kind of lose this. An ox is a like a steer that you’ve fed up and trained. These things are 1,200 pounds, and they can pull like a D8 Cat. They’re really powerful animals. It can also be a sacrifice. It can turn into a steak. It can give you milk. So this is a potential service in these animals.
The living creatures don’t turn
And another thing you’re going to hear him say to Ezekiel is, “Go straight on.” Well, one of the things he mentions multiple times is that these crazy creatures never turn. They move a lot. As a matter of fact, he says they flash back and forth. So they’re here and then they flash over here and then they flash—like they’re being transported or teleported or something. But they’re always straight on. They never move. They go, but they don’t turn. And I think the message there for Ezekiel is, “Don’t turn. Move, but don’t turn. Keep straight on. Don’t turn away from what I give you to do.”
We’re going to talk about these wheels. The Spirit is in the wheels, and the wheels give them their life. This is the thing that people think is the UFOs. Well, you’ll see the description of the wheels and the wheels within the wheels with the eyes all around.
But what you’ll see in this passage is the Spirit comes in to Ezekiel and lifts him up a couple times. And God puts the words in his heart. I think the message there is this is how you do this job I’m giving you to do. It’s by my Spirit.
You’re going to see voices. You’re going to hear the voice of this throne which is above all these crazy creatures. And the Word of God—this passage is about receiving God’s word.
And when this scene opens, it’s like a thunderstorm. We kind of know what this looks like. You’ve watched a thunderhead grow up and then start coming toward you with lightning in it and everything. I think the scene’s kind of like that. It’s got lightning in it, except it’s also got these crazy creatures. On top of this big thunderhead is the throne. And instead of just clouds, it’s boiling fire. I don’t know if you remember when we looked at Jeremiah, but God said to Jeremiah, “What do you see coming out of the north?”
He said, “A boiling pot.”
He said, “That’s Babylon.” They’re coming from—and we’re going to see here again—the north. And we’re going to see judgment coming out of the north. And it’s the boiling fire of the Babylonians coming to bring exile.
So with that, let’s read Ezekiel 1.
Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the River Chebar—now Jeremiah never leaves Judah. He stays in Jerusalem all the way through the captivity, and the Babylonians say, “Hey, you’ve been faithful to us. Would you like to come to Babylon?”
He doesn’t answer.
They say, “Oh we get it. Go ahead and stay here.”
And then the people come to him and say, “We’re going to go to Egypt.”
He says, “Don’t go to Egypt.”
“Yeah, we’re taking you.” They kidnap him and take him to Egypt. So Jeremiah is stationed in Jerusalem the whole time.
Daniel—remember there are three waves of exiles. The first one is in 605 B.C. Daniel goes in that one, and it’s the princes and the most capable people. And what Babylon’s trying to do is create a merger of cultures because all they want is the tax revenue. They don’t want to knock anything down.
And then in 597, there’s another wave and Ezekiel is the one that goes in that wave. So he’s now in Babylon.
And then invasion where they actually knock down the walls and destroy the temple is in 586. Ezekiel, by the time 586 comes, he’s been in Babylon ten years or so.
He’s by the river Chebar in Babylon. He’s not in Babylon itself but in Iraq, in the Babylonian Empire.
He says, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.
On the fifth day of the month, which was in the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s captivity, the word of the Lord came expressly to Ezekiel the priest—
He’s got a priestly background, just like Jeremiah does.
—the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the River Chebar; and the hand of the Lord was upon him there.
Then I looked, and behold, a whirlwind was coming out of the north,
Here’s the thunderstorm coming out of the North.
—a great cloud with raging fire engulfing itself—
You’ve seen a raging fire that’s rolling and boiling. This is the idea.
—and brightness was all around it and radiating out of its midst like the color of amber, out of the midst of the fire.
Also from within it came the likeness of four living creatures.
These are our Star Wars friends.
And this was their appearance: they had the likeness of a man.
Each one had four faces, and each one had four wings.
Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the soles of calves’ feet.
It’s kind of like a centaur.
They sparkled like the color of burnished bronze.
The hands of a man were under their wings on their four sides; and each of the four had faces and wings.
Their wings touched one another. The creatures did not turn when they went, but each one went straight forward.
He’ll say this multiple times, keep going straight on.
As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man; each of the four had the face of a lion on the right side, each of the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and each of the four had the face of an eagle.
Thus were their faces. Their wings stretched upward; two wings of each one touched one another, and two covered their bodies.
And each one went straight forward; they went wherever the spirit wanted to go, and they did not turn when they went.
I think the message is pretty clear there. Go where the Spirit wants you to go and don’t turn.
As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches going back and forth among the living creatures. The fire was bright, and out of the fire went lightning.
It’s like they’re moving around like boink, boink, boink, like the front of a pinball machine or something, is kind of the picture I get. Like a flash of lightning, boink, boink, boink, boink boink, boink, but always straight on.
Now as I looked at the living creatures, behold, a wheel was on the earth beside each living creature with its four faces.
Wheel in a wheel
The appearance of the wheels and their workings was like the color of beryl, and all four had the same likeness. The appearance of their workings was, as it were, a wheel in the middle of a wheel.
When they moved, they went toward any one of four directions; they did not turn aside when they went.
Now this wheel in the middle of the wheel, of course, could be a gyroscope type of a geometry, or it could be like the rings of Saturn.
As for their rims, they were so high they were awesome; and their rims were full of eyes, all around the four of them.
These wheels within the wheels apparently is a cylinder that goes way up in the thunderhead.
When the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up.
Wherever the spirit wanted to go, they went, because there the spirit went; and the wheels were lifted together with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.
It’s kind of crazy that he’s spending all this time on this, don’t you think? But it must be because there’s a point there. And part of the point, I think, is just to get Ezekiel’s attention because the stuff God’s going to ask him to do is really extreme. And so he’s got an extreme message to go with his extreme mission.
One of the things God asked Ezekiel to do is, go lie on your side for 390 days to make a point. And I’ll paralyze your face so you can’t speak, and then I’ll unparalyze it when I want you to say something. That’s pretty extreme. That’s one of Ezekiel’s assignments.
Well, he’s getting the extreme message to go with his extreme mission.
Verse 22. The likeness of the firmament above the heads of the living creatures was like the color of an awesome crystal, stretched out over their heads.
And under the firmament their wings spread out straight, one toward another. Each one had two which covered one side, and each one had two which covered the other side of the body.
When they went, I heard the noise of their wings, like the noise of many waters, like the voice of the Almighty, a tumult like the noise of an army;
Not only do you have this rolling, boiling thunder with these giant rims with eyes and these crazy creatures flashing back and forth, it also sounds like an army coming. It’s just impossible to put yourself in Ezekiel’s shoes here, but don’t you think this would get Ezekiel’s attention at least?
A voice came from above the firmament that was over their heads; whenever they stood, they let down their wings.
And above the firmament over their heads was the likeness of a throne—
Here’s the throne on top of the thunderhead.
in appearance like a sapphire stone; on the likeness of the throne was a likeness with the appearance of a man high above it.
There’s this giant man figure standing on top of it.
Also from the appearance of His waist and upward I saw, as it were, the color of amber with the appearance of fire all around within it; and from the appearance of His waist and downward I saw, as it were, the appearance of fire with brightness all around.
Like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the brightness all around it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.
This is kind of a crazy scene, don’t you think?
He fell on his face
So when I saw it, I fell on my face—
Do you blame him? This is typically what happens when people are confronted with the throne of God, they fall on their faces.
In the ancient world, as I understand it, it was expected for you to go on your face when you’re before the great throne. Remember the story of Esther. When she went into the throne room uninvited, there were two possible outcomes for her. What were they? Death or he extends the scepter of mercy to her. If he doesn’t extend the scepter, she dies because she wasn’t invited.
This was a place of invitation only and a place of great awe. And falling down was expected. Well, he’s falling down, I think, because of being overwhelmed; and I can see why, can’t you?
So when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard a voice of One speaking.
And He said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak to you.”
Now, of course, Ezekiel can’t stand on his feet, so,
Then the Spirit entered me when He spoke to me, and set me on my feet; and I heard Him who spoke to me.
Here you’ve got this phenomenal picture of judgment coming from the north of these creatures with this courage and foresight and never turning, this voice of God speaking.
Of course when someone speaks, we speak with the expectation of understanding on the part of the other. We have a propositional God, not a God where we think what we want to think and God’s supposed to go along with it. And the sound of an army coming in this massive vision.
And he says to Ezekiel, “Get up.” And Ezekiel can’t do it. The Spirit has to get him up. That’s a pretty good picture for us, I think. We can’t do this Christian-life thing without the Spirit’s help.
One of the big problems we have as humans is self-reform. Don’t you have thoughts to yourself of “I’m better now than I used to be”? That’s Satan talking to you. That’s actually your flesh trying to convince you to give it another chance. And it never gets any better.
What we’re told to do daily to the flesh, is what? Kill it. Right. Why do you have to kill it every day? It comes back. Yeah, it just keeps popping back up, right? With new and creative ways to get you to trust it. And it’s the Spirit that can lift us up on our feet.
So part of this whole Christian walk, I think, is to be overwhelmed with the glory of God, to be overwhelmed with the reality of God, with what he tells us to do in the scriptures because what God’s going to tell Ezekiel in person with this overwhelming vision that captures his senses is no more true and no more impactful than what God tells us in this word, this Bible.
And we have the Spirit within us to elevate us and lift us up so that we can hear it.
It’s difficult to do because we’re in the world all the time, and the world’s constantly preaching to us everything that’s opposite or backwards from what the scripture tells us.
It tells us we can reform ourselves. It tells us to trust our Visa card. It tells us that Starbucks is the path to happiness. It tells us that if we buy certain clothes that we’ll have glory, honor, and immortality. It tells us if we drink certain beverages that we will be able to have women fall at our feet. I guess for the women it’s like if you have certain insurance, then you’re in control of the universe, you know. It’s got all this messaging about “You can be in control! You can have what you want! Just give me your money and that will happen.” That’s constantly coming on us.
And I think our goal is to step back and see this God who is a speaking God, who has given us everything that we need for life and happiness, and has given us all good things to enjoy, and wants us to enjoy.
You know, materialism is a philosophy that says this: Happiness is obtaining what you don’t have. That’s materialism. That’s the doctrine of America. Happiness is obtaining that which you don’t have.
Now think about that. If happiness is obtaining that which you don’t have, are you ever going to be happy? No. You can’t ever be happy because you always have to have something else. And God has given us all good things to enjoy and wants us to enjoy what he’s given us.
And we can’t overcome this Babylonian captivity of the world, this exile. We can’t overcome this on our own. We have to have the Spirit lift us up. And it’s a real stirring situation.
Ezekiel’s responsibility to deliver the message that will be rejected
I’m not going to have time to do the other characters. I’ll do Daniel next week. But let me just note to you, over in chapter 3. And he says to Ezekiel—this is going to set up this story of Ezekiel, who’s, again, just an incredible character.
Verse 16. Now it came to pass at the end of seven days that the word of the Lord came to me, saying,
“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me:
When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand.
If I give you a message of warning and you don’t give it, the person’s going to die anyway, but it’s going to be your responsibility. That’s pretty heavy, isn’t it?
Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul.
This is something I think that we get confused about as people. We tend to think it’s our job to make our kids turn out a certain way, don’t we? It’s our job—we have to control them so they turn out a certain way.
That’s not the way God operates. It’s not the way we’re to operate. What we’re to do is tell people the truth and invite them to truth. If we do that, we’ve discharged our responsibility.
You may need to say something to your spouse. You may say I need to say something to your friend. You may need to take a position at work. It’s not your responsibility what people’s choices are after that. You don’t have to use emotional manipulation: either whining, sadness, or whatever your particular bent is. You don’t have to use fits of rage, coercion. It’s just, tell the truth. Give them an opportunity. And then it’s their choice. Let it go.
When you do that, you’re saying I know God’s the judge, and he’ll take care of this. All will be made right. That’s what we’re saying. We’re trusting God when we just speak the truth and give an invitation.
The new earth
Let’s just go real quick to the new earth, and we’ll end with this. I just want to see this throne room here. We’re doing two things here: introducing Ezekiel as well as looking at this throne—we’re saying—room.
Revelation 21. Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.
Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem—
21:5. Then He who sat on the throne—so here’s throne again— said, “Behold, I make all things new.”
21:22. But I saw no temple in it—so there’s no temple in the new Jerusalem—for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.
We have a temple, and it’s God; it’s God Himself. It’s Jesus himself. They’re the temple.
Chapter 22. And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.
And if I’m if I’m reading this right, which I may not be, this Jerusalem is a giant mountain. I mean giant, like a thousand miles giant.
And instead of having a place of death where you have to wear oxygen tanks to go up—you know, Mount Everest is only like five miles tall. This is like a hundred-fold bigger. But instead of having a place where you can only stay there for a little while then you have to come down; but, boy, you got to see an awesome view! It’s like, you can go there, and you’ve got the awesome view, so to speak; but life is actually coming from the place.
You know, in our world, the oceans have to evaporate and then it snows on the mountains and then it melts and comes down, and the river of life comes from the mountains. But the plate going there itself is death.
Well, now you’ve got life in life. You’ve got the throne room and the throne of David and the throne of God and the throne of heaven which have all merged together onto earth. And life itself is coming out of the throne, the water of life.
Occupy until he comes
What this is a picture of the return and the restoration. We’re in exile now, but there’s a return. And this is what’s in front of us, just like the Judeans went to the exile, and God said build houses. Marry and have children. Settle down. You’re going to be here awhile. But I’ll bring you back.
In the same way, we’re to have children and marry and occupy till he comes. But there’s a restoration coming, and that restoration is going to center around the throne of God. And he doesn’t talk to us about any bizarre creatures in this particular passage, but I think they’ll be there. That’ll be a lot of fun, I think. The zoo will come to us.