The Holy Sacraments: H.C. Lord's Day 25

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 25

Q 65. It is through faith alone that we share in Christ and all his benefits: where then does that faith come from?
A 65. The Holy Spirit produces it in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel and confirms it by the use of the holy sacraments.

Q 66. What are sacraments?
A 66. Sacraments are visible, holy signs and seals. They were instituted by God so that by our use of them he might make us understand more clearly the promise of the gospel, and seal that promise.

And this is God’s gospel promise: to grant us forgiveness of sins and eternal life by grace because of Christ’s one sacrifice accomplished on the cross.

Q 67. Are both the word and the sacraments then intended to focus our faith on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as the only ground of our salvation?
A 67. Yes! In the gospel, the Holy Spirit teaches us and by the holy sacraments confirms that our entire salvation rests on Christ’s one sacrifice for us on the cross.

Q 68. How many sacraments did Christ institute in the New Testament?
A 68. Two: holy baptism and the holy supper.

It is probably safe to say that if there is something that most people in the church don’t think much about on a regular basis, it would be the sacraments.  In my opinion, this is often due to either a lack of appropriate understanding or a misunderstanding of the purpose, meaning, and nature of the sacraments.  Far too often, when we celebrate them, a liturgy is read from a book in a rather monotone voice and then we do something… something we do the same every time without thinking about it.  Then we continue on like it never happened.  It’s a sad sort of traditional thing that seems to be overlooked…

Apart from the doctrine of justification by God’s grace in Jesus Christ through faith alone, the Reformers (those writing, teaching, and standing against much of the abuse of the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century) wrote more about the sacraments than any other topic.  They are, as many would say, very important to the life of Christ followers.  But why?  What purpose do they play?

First, it is important to point out that the sacraments themselves do not save.  We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ only, and while partaking in the sacraments can be a sign of that faith, their physical actions have no saving element to them.  The Reformed Church, in which I am ordained, practices Infant Baptism, yet baptizing an infant does not ensure that child’s salvation.  This act is sign and symbol that salvation is available to that child and that, in a special way, that child is called and a part of the community of faith; but it is only through faith that we are saved and infants are completely incapable of having a saving faith (far as we know).

The second thing that is important for us to remember about sacramental celebrations or rememberances are that they are signs and seals of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  Unlike the Roman Catholic Church of the 16th Century, which taught that the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist) was a reenactment of Jesus’ death, we believe that this is a symbol of the promise that is confirmed in Jesus’ once for all death on the cross for the sins of the entire world.

Related to that is the reality of what takes place in the sacraments.  As signs and seals of the promises of God the sacraments do not create faith, they confirm it, making us understand the Gospel promises more clearly through the work and revelation of the Holy Spirit and confirming to us our salvation.  I often say, when speaking of the Lord’s Supper, that we are nourished spiritually through the sacrament in a similar way to the fact that the physical food nourishes our body.

The sacraments are called “visible signs of invisible grace.”  It is another way that God works to reveal Himself, His love, and His grace to us.  For those who are visual learners, these sacraments can speak volumes!  In fact, the sacraments take sensory worship to a whole new level, providing for us the ability to see, smell, taste, and touch the promises of God made physical in the elements of the sacraments in the same way that we hear these promises proclaimed through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word.



Revelation 6 – Break the Seal

Read Revelation 6

This chapter is known for the images of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse” which are represented here by the events that follow the opening of the four seals.  These events represent the beginning of what some call the “tribulation”, a time when the inhabitants of the earth face the wrath and judgment of God.  Depending on your view of the timeline of the “End Times”, particularly if you believe in the rapture and hold to a “dispensational pre-millennialist” view, Christians aren’t present for this.  In this view, God spares Christians His wrath while judging the unbelievers in hopes that some will turn back to Him.  We will talk about this particular view in a later posting.

Reformed Theology, holds to a different view called amillennialism.  In this, there is no escapist mentality but instead, the church is present and active in the “Last Days,” still fully engaged in mission with God to spread the Gospel and fulfilling the great commission.  Again, we’ll talk more about this when the time comes.

The four horsemen have become somewhat mythical in their and prevalence in places outside of Scripture.  John’s descriptions of them provide many with wild and often confusing images.  Often we want to spend time trying to figure our who or what specifics these represent.  For example, the first horse, the conqueror, has often been portrayed as Jesus Himself.  With the color white which is the color the purity, a crown, and no outwardly negative things associated with his arrival, this could be a decent fit.  However, being bent on conquest doesn’t necessarily fit the Biblical image of God’s Son, the humble servant.  So perhaps, then, this is actually the antichrist.  Satan, afterall, masquerades as an angel of light.  This could very well be the case.

Another thought, one that falls a bit more in line with the themes of the other horsemen is that this is a “spirit of conquest.”  What does this mean?  Possibly that, in these last days, there will be a human desire and push to rule over each other, and not in the nicest of ways.  Remember that when we talk about the “last days” we are talking about the Scriptural reference to the time after the Messiah has come.  In the Old Testament prophecies, this is what is meant here; it is not necessarily an undetermined time that signals Christ’s return.

The fact that this spirit, like the other horsemen, was brought forth, or at the very least allowed to come forward by heaven suggests that this is part of God’s plan and purpose.  Certainly, there is Biblical precedent for this, looking at the kingdoms of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome as well as Paul’s words reminding us that there is no authority on earth except that which is given by God Himself.  I think we can say that we’ve seen evidence of this throughout the last 2000 years as well from both individuals as well as governments.

As Jesus continues to open the seals we see similar spirits, depicted as horsemen, that are allowed to go out from heaven.  Each has its own task and ability to disrupt creation and human life.  It is also important to note that, with the third rider, there is a limitation placed on its ability to harm.  While these judgments and happenings can take their toll, none is more powerful than God.

Taking all four of these together, there is an argument that could be made that these four horsemen represent the effects of sin on the world.  That the devastation, disruption, and damage that they cause on all creation and human life, the consequences of sin, are a form of judgment in and of themselves.  This too would fall in line with the idea that these represent a number of spirits that are loosed on the earth.

Opening the fifth seal brings about a totally different set of images, that of martyrs.  The souls that are under the altar are indicative of the sacrifice that they have made for the sake of the Gospel.  In Old Testament sacrificial rites, the blood of the sacrifice was poured out on the base of the altar.  Yet these souls are not dead but instead are alive, representing the life that is had in Christ.  Because of their commitment to the Gospel, the fact that they did not back down or deny Christ, they are given white robes representing their purity (in Christ).

One theme that comes along with this image is also something that gains credence throughout Scripture, the continuing persecution of the church.  Jesus references this in the Gospel of John and it is mentioned in other places throughout the New Testament.  Here the Lord acknowledges it, that it will continue until the end, something we have certainly seen more vividly in recent months in the middle east.  This too, however, has a limit, and when it is reached, we can be assured that Christ will return victorious.

The events of the 6th seal are reminiscent of a number of visions that the prophets had in the Old Testament.  Some of them even Jesus attested to in His discussions about the “end times.”  When God shows up there is often an associated earthquake that takes place (Isaiah 29:6; Ezekiel 38:19; Psalm 97:4; Exodus 19:18). The sun’s darkening (Isaiah 50:3; Matthew 24:29) and the resulting red glow of the moon (think of a lunar eclipse) are also events that are said to take place with the opening of the sixth seal.  Stars falling from the sky (Isaiah 34:4), as well as the changing of the sky (2 Peter 3:10), are magnificent events the John sees.  Each carries with it Scriptural imagery, much of which would have been familiar to those familiar with the Old Testament.

Last on the list for the 6th seal are the removal of islands and mountains.  This too may seem a bit random and disjointed, however, it carries with it very familiar Scriptural imagery as well.  Many times in the Old Testament we see the coming of the Lord being heralded by the removal of obstacles.  Psalm 46:2, Isaiah 54:10, Jeremiah 4:24, Ezekiel 38:20, and Nahum 1:5 each reference events similar to this as well as the Isaiah’s words of comfort to the people of Israel in chapter 40.  Many of these carry the theme of prophesying Jesus’ first coming which is picked up by John here in talking about the second.

So what are we to make of these?  Events similar to these have certainly taken place throughout the years which is why searching for a single one as a focal point is futile.  Does that mean that they are meaningless to us, that they won’t happen at some future time, or that it is simply symbolism?  Not necessarily… But perhaps the point here, like the rest of Revelation, is not to be looking for specific times, places, people and events, afterall Jesus says that no one knows the time and to not believe those that say “this is the Christ.”  Perhaps, instead, these things are set to be reminders, signals for the faithful and unfaithful alike, that God is still at work and that we are in the “last days.”  Perhaps, like a weather alert causes us to consider weather conditions, so too should these things give us pause and cause us to evaluate how well we are loving God and loving our neighbor…

Therein may lie the true purpose of the book of Revelation as God says in Revelation 1:3, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.”  Like all prophecy, the message is meant for God’s people in the moment with meaning for the now, not a cryptic message about the future that needs to be deciphered.  Afterall, “revelation” is a “revealing,” not a hiding.



Introduction to 1 Thessalonians

The city of Thessalonica was the largest city and also the capital of the province of Macedonia.  It is located in what is now northern Greece, on the Thessaloniki Bay making it an important port city.  Thessalonica was also located on a major junction of the great Egnatian Way, the same trade route that the city of Philippi was located on, where a road split off and headed north to the Danube river.  This made the city a strategic place for both the Roman Empire and the spread of the Gospel.

Paul first visited and set up a church in the city of Thessalonica, as recorded in Acts 17, on his second missionary journey.  He stayed there for less time than normal due to persecution.  His abrupt exit left the young church open to the persecution he was fleeing, a persecution they endured for which Paul commends them in chapter three.

He is also writing the church in Thessalonica to give them instructions and explain some subjects, perhaps things that he would have taught them had he been able to stay in the city longer.

Dealing with the subject of persecution in the church often brings up the subject of the “end times” as well.  In the first century, Christians were expecting that Christ’s return was imminent and could happen at any moment.  Most expected that they would live to see Jesus come back to set up His Kingdom.  This thought and desire permeates all of Paul’s letter to the church here and as such, this letter has been given the title of one Paul’s “eschatological letters.”

Eschatology means “the study of (or doctrine of) last things.”  Most of us think of the book or Revelation as the primary source for such study, but in fact much of what we know about the end times, death, and Jesus’ second coming actually come from Scripture outside of the book of Revelation and it is through those things that we begin to have the language and context to look at John’s Revelation.



John 4 – The Samaritan Woman

Read John 4

I always admire the irony of the things people say to and about Jesus.  When Pilot has Him before the crowd in Matthew 27, they cry “His blood be on us and on our children.”  Little did they know what they were truly asking for.  Here the woman points out that the well is very deep and Jesus has nothing to draw water from it.  Little does she know in that moment how deep the Well of Living Water truly runs.

As people often do, this woman points to the tradition that she knows, the story of Jacob digging that well to give them water.  For them, especially the Samaritans, it was their tradition that gave them their identity.  Yet getting too caught up in that tradition can have dramatically negative consequences.

These folks thought this well, one that Jacob himself, the father of Israel, had dug, was one of many links to their past and therefore to God, and that drinking from it gave them life.  Jesus, however, points out how empty they really are without the true, life giving water that He offers.

When this is all laid out for her, she and the whole town come out to see Jesus and places their faith in Him.  Contrast this harvest of new believers with those that Jesus encounters in Cana, the very place where He turned water into wine.  These people demand more signs so that they could believe, a sad testimony to the faith of the Jews if there ever was one.

Through Scripture, God reveals Himself to us especially in the person of Jesus Christ.  It is important that we find our identity here and not in our own traditions or denominations lest we find ourselves demanding more signs rather than believing God’s Living Word.



Luke 24 – Emmaus

Read Luke 24

The narrative of the Road to Emmaus is unique to the book of Luke and sets the stage for Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances.  It also shows us a very particular way that God reveals Himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ through the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  It was in the moment in which Jesus broke the bread that His true identity is revealed to the two men that were with Him.  We believe that this continues to be true when we come to the Table of Our Lord.  When we eat the bread and drink the juice, Jesus is revealed to us in a unique and mysterious way.

There is another thing that is happening in this story that is really special; it is a narrative of those who are searching for answers and finding them in God’s Word which is the revelation of God and points to Jesus Christ as the true Messiah and Savior.

These two men are walking a road from Jerusalem, after seeing and hearing all of what happened in Jesus’ death.  The implication here is that they are part of those who followed Jesus and were at least somewhat familiar with Him.  But they are also confused about what just happened.  Sometimes this is true with us as we see God at work in our lives; we don’t truly understand it.

Yet Jesus appears, not miraculously and powerfully to chastise them for their questions, but instead comes along side them and joins in their conversation, gently and purposefully revealing Himself through the teaching of Scripture.  God is not afraid of our questions or our faith struggles; He directs us through the Holy Spirit to the true and certain revelation of who He is and His love for us in Scripture.



Mark 16 – They were Afraid?

Read Mark 16

Mark’s Gospel brings this story to a conclusion with a very unique and unexpected ending: “They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.”  It seems so anti-climactic.    But we have to cut them some slack here.  They just experienced the most significant event in all of history that had an undeniable impact on the entire universe.  The truth for them, however, was that they had no idea what they were experiencing.  So honestly, they had every right to be afraid; you probably would have been too.

If we think about it for a moment, they obviously didn’t say “nothing to anyone” or else I wouldn’t be here writing this, nor you reading it.  Looking at the other Gospels, the accounts of Acts and Church history, obviously someone said something.  So why didn’t this just get edited out of later versions of Mark?  What possible purpose does this passage serve?

Perhaps Mark understands something that many of us experience from time to time: that an encounter with God, the experience of God working in our lives in unexpected and unexplainable ways can indeed be frightening.  Maybe Mark is creating space for people by showing that even some of Christ’s most faithful followers needed time to process what was happening to them in the midst of this powerful story.

We live in such a “now” oriented society, having everything at our fingertips with just the click of a button.  Explanations and definitions, videos and commentary are all only seconds away, yet far too often we don’t create space in our lives for the Holy Spirit to unravel and reveal the mysteries of God’s work on our hearts.  Sometimes we need space to process, to explore, and then eventually to tell of the great things God is doing in us!



Day 255: Daniel 1-2; Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar's Dream

The life of the prophet Daniel took place concurrently with that of Ezekiel and Jeremiah.  Both Daniel and Ezekiel would have been taken with the first wave of captives that were taken around 605 B.C.  With Ezekiel being a priest and Daniel being of noble blood, it is possible that they would have even known each other.  However, unlike the other prophets that we have read so far, Daniel does not include messages of judgment against the people of Israel or the surrounding nations.  In fact, Daniel is more of an example of what it meant to live faithfully for God while in exile.  While others that had been taken captive willfully defiled themselves before God by eating food that was sacrificed to idols, Daniel and his three friends remained true to their faith and to God, and for this God blessed them.

Nebuchadnezzar's Dream of the Statue Photo Credit: http://pastorjeffdickson.blogspot.com

Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream of the Statue
Photo Credit: www.pastorjeffdickson.blogspot.com

As a book, Daniel also provides key prophesies about the future.  In many ways, when many people think about prophesy, they think about some of the obscure prophesies of the future that we will read in the latter part of this book.  Many of these have to do with the immediate and somewhat distant future of the region, about the change of power between nations, and the coming of the Messiah.  Sadly, there are many people that think that Daniel is actually a book to be decoded and that in some way it will give us clues and hints to the second coming of Christ and things like the Rapture and Tribulation.  While again, I do not claim to be a Biblical scholar, in studying a lot of these interpretations, their failing lies in the fact that they do not consider the whole unity of Scripture and take single verses out of context to prove their own theories.  Like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, all these writings must be considered within their greater context, historical, cultural, and Biblical, so that we can have a better picture of what God is trying to tell us through the writings of Daniel.

Fortunately for us, there are some things that come up in Daniel that are actually given interpretations on the spot.  For these, it is important for us to listen to what God reveals through Daniel so that we do not ourselves misinterpret them.  These interpretations also give us insight into other visions and dreams that come about later in the book.  The first of these dreams that we encounter is that of Nebuchadnezzar the King of Babylon.  For people in this day and age, dreams were a great deal more significant than they are for us.  Many considered dreams to be messages from the gods, which explains why a king would surround himself with advisers, wise men, and even magicians, to help interpret signs and dreams.  After having his dream he presents his “wise guys” with an impossible request; impossible that is for any human and the man made gods they worshiped.  However, to the God that knows all and sees all is able to reveal this to Daniel without any problem.

Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the statue Photo Credit: www.andrew.sterling.hanenkamp.com

Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the statue
Photo Credit: www.andrew.sterling.hanenkamp.com

What Daniel reveals is that the dream Nebuchadnezzar has is about the future and about the his kingdom and those to follow.  Each of the kingdoms, it seems, decrease in splendor while increasing in strength.  Gold is one of the more malleable of metals, Iron the least.  Gold is one of the most precious metals, Iron the least.  While Daniel doesn’t give us too much of an interpretation of what nations the metals stand for, modern interpretations indicate:

  • Gold stood for the Babylonian Empire spanning 606 B.C. to 539 B.C.
  • Silver stood for the Medo-Persian Empire spanning 539 B.C. to 331 B.C.
  • Bronze stood for the Grecian Empire spanning 331 B.C. to 146 B.C.
  • Iron stood for the Roman Empire spanning 146 B.C. to 476 B.C.

Most of the disagreement comes from the meaning of the “Iron mixed with clay” that the feet of the statue were made out of.  Some would say, with good reasoning, that this stand for the “revived” Roman Empire which was actually the latter part of the Roman Empire which was divided into smaller provinces and eventually fell to the influence of multiple other nations.  Other interpretations state that the feet represent the “10 nations” of Europe that existed after the Roman empire.  Still others think it represents the current days that we are in and that somehow things like the United Nations is a clear fulfillment of this prophecy.  While I don’t think that you could say with any confidence that the U.N. is a “clear fulfillment,” I can say with marked assured that the point of the dream is not the statue at all… it is the Rock.

The Rock that is not formed by human hands comes in and smashes the statue to oblivion and then is set up on earth like a massive mountain.  The interpretation of the Rock is also very clear: “In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold.”  Daniel speaks here of the Kingdom of God, not a kingdom set up by humans, but one that God Himself will establish here on earth.  God has revealed to Nebuchadnezzar and to all people the ultimate plan for this world and it does not involve human kingdoms, but heavenly ones.  The Lord, the only King and Head of this World, will set up His Kingdom here on earth, a process that began with the first coming of Jesus and will be completed when He comes again in His glory.



Day 254: Ezekiel 46-48; The River of God

Like the postings from the last 5 or so days, today’s reading is about the restoration of the world.  As we were talking yesterday, we started to touch on the restoration of the land and the life.  If you remember, to the judgments and to the Levitical laws that were given to the people of Israel to follow, when the judgment of God happened, the people would be removed from the land.  This we saw in the exile of the people of Israel.  What we also remember is that the land would be laid bare and be given its Sabbath as well.  The reason for this actually has greater implications than just a discussion about the land, it has to do with the greater effects of disobedience on the world.

Remember with me that the worldview of the Hebrew people was quite a bit different than that of our contemporary culture.  Where we see a huge dichotomy between the secular and the divine, they saw everything as being wholly and inescapably linked together.  This means that every action that took, whether for the good or for the bad, had repercussions beyond themselves and their “personal relationship with God.”  When the a person sinned, their relationships with everything and everyone around them were interrupted.  Indeed they needed to make recompense for this sin to make things right, that recompense being a sacrifice and the spilling of blood.  So, when a people like the nation of Israel sinned collectively, their relationship with the world suffered as a whole.  As the moral fabric of society went down hill so did the health of the land in which they live.

The Prophets Abraham J. Heschel

The Prophets
Abraham J. Heschel

In many ways, this is only intensified by the words of the prophets.  I’ve been fortunate to start a class that is studying specifically the prophets.  We are reading a book by Abraham J. Heschel, a Hassidic Jewish Rabbi from the 20th century whose book on the prophets has already enlightened my view, even in the first chapter.  Heschel writes that the language of the prophets is so very different than ours, speaking in broad sweeping strokes, seemingly huge exaggerations, and accusations of great magnitude.  The prophet does this because of the unique place that he (or she) stands in, seeing things through the eyes of God in many ways, and also feelings things the way God feels them.  For God, there is no sin that is too small.  We may think that society is doing ok; that there are good things and bad things, but it all levels out in the end.  For the prophets it is a tragedy of epic proportions.  Why?  Because of the sin and corruption and the damage it does everywhere to everything.  I would highly recommend picking up this book; Heschel is an amazing writer.

It is into this world, the world of a broken land and broken people where sin and its consequences have devastated everything.  It is to this land and this people that the Lord has spoken His words of restoration and hope through Ezekiel and the other prophets as well.  For as much as the prophet speaks in broad exaggerations about judgment, the Love of God and the Restoration that He brings knows no bounds.  The ultimate vision of this is given to us here in Ezekiel and again in the book of Revelation when both the prophet and the apostle witness a river flowing from the throne of God.  It is the river of life and it flows out of the city of God into all the land bringing life to everything everywhere.  Again this takes us back to some of the last words of God in the Bible, “Behold I am making all things new…”  While the Hebrew people wouldn’t have heard these words directly from Ezekiel, they would have gotten the picture from what Ezekiel has described to them.  This is their hope and ours, that one day God come and restore everything in this world, that we will be able to eat from the tree of life and drink from the river of life, and never again will we face sin, death, sorrow, or loss.

Maranatha!  Come Lord Jesus!

 



Day 253: Ezekiel 43-45; The Glory of God Returns

As we continue to walk through the systematic restoration process that is taken place, we come now to a point where we see two things being restored at the same time.  But first, let’s recap a bit.  After the judgment on Israel, the Lord spoke out against her leadership, the “shepherds” of Israel, showing them their fault in not caring for the sheep.  But, being the Lord who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and compassion, God the True Shepherd says that He Himself will go out to the mountains and the fields, into the nations of the world to find His sheep wherever they wander.  It is the Lord who will clean them up and renew them.

Not only will God renew the people of Israel, God will also remake them both body and spirit  and will “breathe life into them” and “give them a new and steadfast spirit.”  They will be a people reformed and renewed by God’s grace, brought back from the depths of the valley to once again be His people.

More than that, we read that yesterday God is going to restore the Temple which was destroyed.  While we don’t know for sure whether or not we are talking here about a physical restoration or a a sort of symbolic restoration, but what we do know is that in this time of restoration the worship of the Lord will resume and the people will once again look to Him in Worship.  No longer will the people seek the strength of other gods; no longer will they prostitute themselves to anyone that they find.  They will look to God, worship God in the truest way, the way that God called them to.

Today we take one more step in the complete restoration that God will bring as we see the presence of God return to the Temple and to the people of Israel.  This too has its unique interpretations, but as we read this we can hear the canonical echoes from Revelation 21:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.  The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

This is the ultimate end to the restoration that the Lord is bringing about, the culmination of all that God is working toward.  Ezekiel’s visions of God’s presence, the same vision of God that he had at the beginning of this book, is telling of the end goal that God is working for which is also seen in revelation.  We see things restored to their rightful state.  It isn’t that God is going to destroy creation and start over, it is that He is working in creation to bring about the fullness that was and will be again.  And when this happens, He will again dwell with us, His presence with ours for all of eternity.



Day 241: Ezekiel 10-13; Ezekiel's Vision and the Glory of God

Today I would like to take a bit of a closer look at the vision of Ezekiel in chapter 1 that he sees again in our chapter 10 of our reading today.  This is the second time that Ezekiel sees a vision like this and describes it for us.  These visions, like many of his visions, are full of crazy imagery that seems weird to us.  It almost seems like it is something out of a messed up movie or some B-rates sci-fi, made for T.V. movie or something.  There have been some that claim that these visions of Ezekiel are actually the first recorded sightings of U.F.O’s visiting the planet and this is Ezekiel’s attempt to interpret the advanced technology that he is seeing.

While I highly doubt that Ezekiel saw any U.F.O’s during his time in Babylon, it is very clear that what he is seeing is strange and completely out of the ordinary.  Yet it is also true that when God speaks to us and reveals Himself to us, He does so in means and ways that we are capable of understanding, even if it doesn’t seem like it at first glance.  The people of Israel would have been able to recognize much of this symbolism, though its difficult to ever say that a particular part of any vision like this has a direct one-to-one correlation, especially for people in the 21st century, over 2,000 years removed from this cultural context.

Speaking of context, it is important to remember that Ezekiel is in Babylon when he is seeing these images, one of the exiles from the first wave that was brought over by King Nebuchadnezzar.  In both of Ezekiel’s visions he sees the four creatures and the four wheels.  Lets take a look at these things first.  The four creatures each have four heads with four faces, yet their bodies seem to be like those of a human.  Often times these different faces would be representative of the perfect nature of God.  Each could represent a different aspect of God’s nation like strength, intelligence, and even divinity.  It could also be though that these creatures are representative of the whole of creation in all of its majesty.  In one commentary that I read, there is a comment made about a link between each of these faces and each of the four gospels:

Matthew – The Lion; Matthew represents Christ as the Lion of Judah.

Mark – The Ox; Mark represents Christ as the Servant of God

Luke – The Human; Luke represents Christ as the perfect Human

John – The Eagle; John represents Christ as the Divine Son of God

We’ll talk more about the differences in the gospels in a couple weeks when we get there. It is also important to note that these creatures in Ezekiel’s vision are parallels to the creatures around the throne of God that John sees and records in the book of Revelation.  More to come on this as well in a couple months!

The other prominent thing that Ezekiel sees in both visions is the 4 “wheel within a wheel” apparatuses that are next to the four creatures.  Both times these wheels are covered in eyes and he even describes them as having fire within them.  This is linked heavily to the phrase “wherever the Spirit would go,” pointing towards the ability to go in any direction at any time.  This would have been contrasted with the vehicular transport of the time, mainly horse and chariot, and their slower and more awkward ability to make turns.  God’s throne, as Ezekiel sees it, is able to go anywhere at any time in an instant, wherever the Spirit wills to go.  They are covered with eyes and contain a flame therein, representing, most likely, the ability for the Spirit of God to see all things everywhere with a sight that is both penetrating and purifying.  Though seemingly terrifying, this is actually representing a message of comfort to the people in exile, showing them that God both sees them in their foreign land and is with them while they are there.  If they believed that the throne of God was somehow limited to being in Jerusalem in the Temple, Ezekiel’s vision is letting them know that it is able to be anywhere and everywhere all the time.

There are some more familiar images in both visions too.  Ezekiel sees a throne with one sitting on it.  There is a rainbow above Him, something instantly recognizable by anyone, especially the Hebrews.  The second vision is like the first, except that it is set in the Temple, which is considered to be the throne of God by the Hebrew people.  It is here that Ezekiel recognizes the creatures as Cherubim, the angels that are present in the throne room of God.

All of this, everything that Ezekiel describes to us, is representative of the glory of God translated into images that are manageable and meaningful to us as humans.  The Divine is so wholly other, so incomprehensible to us as finite humans, that there is no way for us to see it as it really is, much less understand it.  Ezekiel is seeing and describing for us the human translation of the presence and glory of God Almighty.  The vision ends abruptly at the end of chapter 10 though, as the glory of the Lord ascends from the Temple in Jerusalem and departs from that place… something that we will pick up on tomorrow…