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Ezekiel’s Overwhelming Vision of the Glory of God

What was the purpose of Ezekiel's vision?

by Andy Davis on October 25, 2022

The fire of God in the Bible is God's holiness.
"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."  - Ezekiel 1:26-28 


Ezekiel 1 seeks to capture and put into words the vision the prophet Ezekiel had of the glory of the Lord. It stretches human language to the breaking point. How can one put something so ineffable and sublime into nouns, verbs, adjectives, grammar? Ezekiel himself wrote that the vision itself was merely “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.” Not the actual fullness of God’s glory, for no human being could survive that. And his words were one more step removed from that glory as well. This is what Paul meant when he said “Now we see through a glass darkly (indistinctly); then we shall see face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12). No words can fully capture the glory of God. Our full experience of that awaits us in heaven.

But still, in his wisdom, the Holy Spirit wanted all generations of his people to stand with Ezekiel by the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians (Ezek. 1:3) and be overwhelmed by God’s glory as best we can be. This was Ezekiel’s commissioning as a prophet, similar to Isaiah’s call in Isaiah 6—both of them visions of the glory of the preincarnate Christ. In both visions, there are heavenly beings—cherubim in Ezekiel 1, seraphim in Isaiah 6. But since “seraphim” literally means “burning ones,” and since Ezekiel 1:13 says these cherubim were “like burning coals of fire” and that “fire moved back and forth” among them, it seems “seraphim” is just another name for “cherubim.” We call them “angels,” meaning “messengers.” Hebrews 1 calls his angels messengers, winds, flames of fire. Ezekiel 1 portrays them as moving rapidly and constantly, in perfect unison, with wheels intersecting wheels.

High above their heads was a throne of sapphire… the radiant throne of the preincarnate Christ. I say that because he is portrayed as appearing like a man. The second person of the Trinity, Jesus, was himself burning as if on fire… glowing with heat and light. The fire seems to be the native habitat of both the cherubim and the man on the throne, and it is a constant theme in many chapters in Ezekiel. The fire is delightful to the heavenly beings, but a terror of judgment to the sinners of Jerusalem (see Ezekiel 10:2). I think it must be holiness… absolute purity. “Our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29). The overpowering light and movement and speed of the heavenly court and the radiant throne is a beautiful terror to sinful humanity. It is our future, and we will feel as comfortable around the holy fire for all eternity as do these cherubim. But while we live as sinners among sinners, it stands as a brilliant hot warning to flee evil and pursue righteousness.

God gave his prophet Ezekiel this overpowering vision as part of his call to speak his words to his rebellious people. It was vital for Ezekiel to fear God immeasurably more than he feared man. For the times were terrible. It was the time of God’s perfect judgment on Israel, Judah, and Jerusalem for their centuries of rebellion and idolatry against him. There would be no reprieve… only wrath. And the stubbornness of that rebellion would make Ezekiel’s ministry particularly difficult. Ezekiel therefore had to fear God perfectly, fearlessly making known his holy word to a rebellious house.

 "It was vital for Ezekiel to fear God immeasurably more than he feared man."

As I read the words of this chapter, it reestablishes my heart in the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom. I realize that I am naturally corrupt and love wicked things. I know also that I am called to repent of my wickedness and to serve this overwhelming King with all of my being for all of my days. This chapter terrifies me as it also allures me. I want to be near this King and fall down before him. That desire he has put in my heart as part of my salvation. I am called to fan that flame into a fire within me. So are you.