By Philip Cottraux
Nebuchadnezzar’s first attack on Jerusalem occurred in 597 BC. His armies surrounded the city in a terribly siege and once its defenses finally gave in, he took control and many of its people were carried away into captivity. One of the men taken into exile in Babylon was a young prophet named Ezekiel.
However, Nebuchadnezzar didn’t completely destroy Jerusalem just yet, replacing King Jehoaichin with his own puppet, Zedekiah (also Jehoaichin’s uncle), with the intention of ruling the city from afar. Jeremiah had warned for years that this was coming if the people wouldn’t repent and forsake their idol worship. You would think that this brutal attack would bring spiritual revival, but the people instead doubled down on their wickedness (much as America is doing today). Zedekiah reigned for 11 years before the impatient Nebuchadnezzar finally destroyed the city completely (in 586 BC), razing it and burning Solomon’s temple to the ground (2 Kings 25). Jeremiah was proven right. The final attack on the city was apocalyptic.
During the 11 years in between the first and final attacks, God used Ezekiel (and Jeremiah) to continue warning the people that their final destruction was coming if they did not turn back to Him. It was during this time that he wrote the first 24 chapters of his book describing the visions God gave him. After the fall of Jerusalem, the remaining 8 chapters were written promising that one day the people would be regathered and judgment would fall on the heathen nations. But Ezekiel himself wouldn’t live to see that day; after only 20 years in ministry, he was killed by the Jews for opposing their idolatry.
Nevertheless, Ezekiel was given a privilege beyond what any human had ever seen. Many years before, Micaiah and Isaiah had actually looked at the throne of God Himself. Ezekiel, however, had two visions of it and saw it in more detail than any other.
In chapter 1, the 30 year-old prophet has just begun his days in exile and is sitting by a Babylonian river. Verse 3: The word of the Lord came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the Lord was there upon him. Without warning, he looks up and is swept into a heavenly vision. And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire (verse 4).
The Holy Ghost is already in operation here. A great whirlwind of fire appears, the same pillar that lit the way for the children of Israel as they crossed the Red Sea and guided them through the wilderness every night. It’s also the same fire that appeared to Moses in the burning bush, carved the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, carried Elijah to heaven on the chariot, and fell on the Apostles on the Day of Pentecost. The fire of God is the Holy Ghost.
The pillar is surrounded by an amber cloud. The cloud and the fire go hand-in-hand; the Spirit often appears as both. It was before the throne in Isaiah’s vision and filled the temple at Solomon’s dedication.
Visions appear through the power the Holy Ghost brings; and after seeing this glorious site, Ezekiel now watches four celestial beings descend from the heavens. Each one has four faces and four wings, but unlike the seraphims described in Isaiah 6 or the creatures that sit before the throne eternally praising God in Revelation, these angels are constantly sent forth around the earth, doing God’s work. Verse 12: And they went every one straight forward: whither the spirit was to go, they went; and they turned not when they went.
Even the angels understand that they can only go where the Spirit directs them. When your life is saved by a miraculous event, remember that it just wasn’t the guardian angel that was watching over you; the Holy Ghost sent that angel to keep you out of harm’s way! He also sends the angels to fight the strongholds of the devil, going with God’s people into the most dangerous places of sin to preach the gospel to those who are hurting and in need. The Lord was showing this to Ezekiel for a purpose; he was going to face a life of great danger for preaching the truth.
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 (verse 13). The prophet could make out their features, but they were still difficult to look upon because of the brightness of their appearance. Again, the reference to coals of fire and lamps refers to the power of the Holy Ghost that they carry; angels are directed by the Spirit and also use His power.
This was just the beginning of what God was getting ready to show Ezekiel. Now four magnificent wheels appear in the heavens. Verse 16: The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the colour 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. Each one has two parts, an outer wheel and a middle wheel. The two are in perfect unison; the center wheel must turn for the outer wheel to turn, and it must go wherever the center wheel goes. Each ring was filled with eyes: As for their rings, they were so high that they were dreadful; and their rings were full of eyes round about them four (verse 18).
It’s unfortunate that some people reduce the awesomeness of this vision to something as goofy as a UFO sighting. The first beings were angels, but these wheels represent us. The wheel in the middle represents Jesus and the wheel on the outside is us; He should live on the inside. When He turns, we turn. Wherever He goes, we go. As long as we have Him operating on the inside we can’t help but follow Him. The eyes represent being watchful at all times; as long as we have Jesus, His all-seeing eyes will be with us, steering us clear of danger.
Just like we travel in sync with the angels, the wheels and the heavenly creatures travel together, the Spirit leading both. Verse 20: Whithersoever the spirit was to go, they went, thither was their spirit to go; and the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels. But then, Ezekiel hears a voice. He at first assumes that it’s the angels’ wings, but His description of the voice should sound familiar to anyone who studies the Bible regularly. And when they went, I heard the noise of their wings, like the noise of great waters, as the voice of the Almighty, the voice of speech, as the noise 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 (verses 24-25). The thundering voice from above is like the sound of many rushing waters; John described it the same way in Revelation: And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters (Revelation 1:15).
Just above the heads of the celestial beings, in the terrifying atmosphere that surrounded them, Ezekiel could see the bottom of a majestic throne and could faintly see the outline of who was directing them. And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it (verse 26). The throne was brighter than the sun to look at, but through the burning fiery light, Ezekiel could make the outline of the Man sitting upon it. He was seeing Jesus.
And I saw as the colour of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it, (verse 27). Before the throne, Ezekiel once again sees the amber cloud and the pillar of fire that ushered in the vision. He is looking directly at the Holy Ghost. We realize there is a chain of command taking place; the Spirit is giving direction to the angels and wheels, but is receiving its orders from Christ, who sits upon the throne. And before His throne the prophet also sees a rainbow. As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about (verse 28). Just like the voice of many waters, the rainbow (which we’ll go into in a later part of the series) appears in Revelation. And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald (Revelation 4:3).
Ezekiel could handle seeing the angels and the wheels. But looking upon God Himself was more than he could bear. Like Isaiah before him, and later John, he simply fell on his face and covered his eyes, feeling unworthy. Verse 28 continues: And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake.
This concludes chapter 1, and chapter 2 picks up by revealing the point of the vision. Ezekiel is overwhelmed by what he’s seen. But then the Lord Jesus orders him to stand back up. And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee (Ezekiel 2:1). But just like Isaiah had to have the coal put on his lips, and like Peter had to speak in tongues, Ezekiel has to receive the Holy Ghost before he can hear the message and preach it to the people. Verse 2: And the spirit entered into me when he spake unto me, and set me upon my feet, that I heard him that spake unto me. The infilling and indwelling of the Holy Ghost Baptism is foreshadowed by this, and it is a requirement before we can hear from God and preach His Word. Now Ezekiel was ready to be the prophet he was called to be. And now he learns how displeased the Lord is with His people. And he said unto me, Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me: they and their fathers have transgressed against me, even unto this very day (verse 3).