From Eden to the New Heavens and Earth: From Eden to the New Heavens and Earth: The Unfolding of Redemption in the Bible: Ezekiel

Sermon by Derek Thomas on May 19, 2010

Download Audio

Wednesday Evening Prayer Meeting

May 19, 2010

Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas

Down on the table you’ll find a map.
We’ll be referring to this map in a minute.
This is a map of the temple, the so-called Ezekiel temple in chapters 40
through 48 of Ezekiel. Now turn
with me to the prophet Ezekiel in your Bibles.
If you don’t have a Bible just snuggle up close to someone who has one
because you’re going to need a Bible, you’re going to need to access a Bible, so
you’ll have some understanding of the shape of this huge book — 48 chapters,
very different in style to say Isaiah or Jeremiah — two of the other large
prophets.

When you read Ezekiel you get the impression that it sounds a bit like the book
of Revelation in parts, what we call apocalyptic.
There are elements in those closing chapters of a different genre, of a
different style of writing. The
difference between prose and a cartoon in a newspaper — they can both convey the
same information but one does it by blowing up a character out of proportion,
summarizing a view in a few pithy words.
And something like that is happening at the end of Ezekiel but let’s get
back to the very beginning. Turn
with me to chapter 1. I’m going to
read chapter 1 just to give you a flavor of the book of Ezekiel.
Before we do so, let’s pray.

Father we thank You again for the Scriptures and now as we read the prophet
Ezekiel we pray for Your blessing.
We ask for the blessing of the Holy Spirit to descend upon us as we read this
chapter together. We ask it in
Jesus’ name. Amen.

“In the thirtieth year” — now let me interject.
This is probably a reference to Ezekiel’s age, that he was thirty years
old. And I’ll tell you the
significance of that in a moment, but Ezekiel is thirty.

“In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I
was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, the heavens were opened, and I saw
visions of God. On the fifth day of
the month (it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin), the word of
the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the
Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of the Lord was upon him there.

As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud,
with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst
of the fire, as it were gleaming metal.
And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures.
And this was their appearance:
they had a human likeness, but each had four faces, and each of them had
four wings. Their legs were
straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf’s foot.
And they sparkled like burnished bronze.
Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands.
And the four had their faces and their wings thus:
their wings touched one another.
Each one of them went straight forward, without turning as they went.
As for the likeness of their faces, each had a human face.
The four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face
of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle.
Such were their faces. And
their wings were spread out above.
Each creature had two wings, each of which touched the wing of another, while
two covered their bodies. And each
went straight forward. Wherever the
spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went.
As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like
burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches moving to and fro among
the living creatures. And the fire
was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning.
And the living creatures darted to and fro, like the appearance of a
flash of lightning.

Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the
living creatures, one for each of the four of them.
As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction:
their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl.
And the four had the same likeness, their appearance and construction
being as it were a wheel within a wheel.”

Are you following all this? You’ve
got to keep this picture now in your mind.
It’s fantastic. It’s this
amazing picture and do you notice every now and then Ezekiel is having
difficulty describing. He’s using
the word “like” not like some of you young people use the word “like” in the
sentence every other word, but this is an approximation.
This vision is so complex that Ezekiel is having trouble describing it in
words. Verse 17:

“When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as
they went. And their rims were tall
and awesome, and the rims of all four were full of eyes all around.
And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when
the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose.
Wherever the spirit wanted to go, they went, and the wheels rose along
with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.
When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when
those rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of
the living creatures was in the wheels.

Over the heads of the living creatures these was the likeness of an expanse,
shining like awe-inspiring crystal, spread out above their heads.
And under the expanse their wings were stretched out straight, one toward
another. And each creature had two
wings covering its body. And when
they went, I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of many waters, like
the sound of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army.
When they stood still, they let down their wings.
And there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads. When they
stood still, they let down their wings.

And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in
appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a
likeness with a human appearance.
And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming
metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around.
And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were
the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him.
Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain,
so was the appearance of the brightness all around.

Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.
And when I saw it” — Yes and you would too –
“I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.”

Now is that fantastic or what? That
is Ezekiel trying to explain to you what he saw.
He sees the glory of God and he sees the glory of God above, in human
form, above these cherubs, these creatures with extraordinary faces and then
chariots, wheels within wheels — like three hundred and sixty degrees — and
these wheels could move in any direction all at once — up and down and left and
right — carrying as it were the glory of God.

Now Josh was telling us last week that Ezekiel is a contemporary of Jeremiah.
Jeremiah is in Jerusalem.
Ezekiel is a thousand miles away.
Ezekiel is in Babylon.
In 597 — 605, 597, 592 or so, there were these three deportations by the
Babylonians of men, particularly young and useful men and their families from
Judah
and in 597 ten thousand of them were taken to Babylon including Ezekiel.
He was taken when Jehoiachin, the third to last king of Judah who was
then eighteen years of age, he gave up to the Babylonians in 597 and five years
later in 592 Ezekiel is beginning his prophecy.

And he begins, significantly, when he is thirty years of age.
Now Ezekiel is a priest, the son of a priest, and priests began their
ministry at the age of thirty. It’s
deeply significant. His whole life
had been in preparation for ministry in the temple in
Jerusalem but he was never ever, ever going to see that temple in Jerusalem.
His whole life had been turned upside down.
He was a thousand miles away from Jerusalem, the temple had
been destroyed — well it will be destroyed shortly in Ezekiel’s timeline — and
just at the point when he would have been beginning his ministry as a priest,
God gives him this vision. It’s not
surprising that a lot of Ezekiel’s vision is about Jerusalem
and it’s about the temple and it’s about the priesthood and it’s about the land of Judah and all the things that Ezekiel was
never going to see.

Now there are three odd things in Ezekiel.
The first you’ve already heard — this strange beginning, a vision of the
glory of God that is as fantastic as anything in the book of Revelation. In
fact, there are some similarities between Ezekiel chapter 1 and Revelation
chapters 1 and 4 and 5. A vision,
you remember, that John saw — also an exile on the island of Patmos
— and he sees also a vision of the glory of God, but it’s a vision of the glory
of Jesus. It’s not insignificant
that the form above that expanse that Ezekiel saw was in the form of a human
being, and the glory that surrounded that human-like appearance is an Old
Testament anticipation of what John will describe in Revelation 1, 4, and 5.

So the first thing, the first odd thing, is this extraordinary depiction of God
in the opening chapter. Compare
that to Isaiah’s depiction of God at the beginning of his prophecy.
In Isaiah chapter 6 he saw the Lord high and lifted up and “holy, holy,
holy is the Lord God of hosts” — Isaiah 6.
And that seems almost tame in the complexity of Ezekiel’s depiction of
God here.

The second odd thing in Ezekiel is his behavior.
He does a number of odd things.
First of all he is in Babylon the whole time, but every now and then he’s
going to be lifted and taken to Jerusalem, not physically you understand, but
mind-out-of-body as it were, almost telepathic.
At one moment in Ezekiel 11 he’s giving a prophecy in
Babylon
and he says, “Oh, just a minute.
Pelatiah has just dropped dead in
Jerusalem.”
I mean this man drops dead in Jerusalem and Ezekiel can
see it and tells us in chapter 11 in his vision that he’s just seen this man
Pelatiah drop dead. He builds, like
a sandcastle, only it’s a model of Jerusalem and
the temple and then with an iron griddle he depicts the siege of Jerusalem, like a little
child might build a sandcastle and play soldiers, wars and soldiers.
He lies down on one side for three hundred and ninety days.
Now that’s a bedsore issue if ever there was one!
Three hundred and ninety days on one side!

He eats bread that he’s baked on dung.
He’s depicting, of course, the coming siege of
Jerusalem
and you remember by the end of the siege they were eating their children.
The end of the siege of Jerusalem was terrible.
Just prior to the collapse of Zedekiah, that last few months of the siege
were awful and Ezekiel is prophesying the conditions in
Jerusalem.
He packs his bags one night and instead of going out the front door he makes a
hole in the side of the house — it’s a mud house — and he just makes a hole in
the side of the house and leaves the house with his belongings through this
hole. Now he has a case of the
trembles. He just begins to shake
at one point. He is cooking and he
melts the cooking pot at another point.

What does it cost you to follow Jesus?
I mean, seriously, what does it cost you to follow Jesus?
Ezekiel’s wife, and he describes her just fleetingly in chapters 24-5-6
as the apple of his eye, and she dies and he’s not allowed to mourn for her.
He’s not allowed. God says,
“You’re not allowed to mourn for her.”
He is totally devoted as a prophet to the task that God has given him.
So that’s the second odd thing, his behavior.

The third odd thing is the end, those nine chapters from 40 through 48 at the
end describing a renewed temple, describing the allotment of land for the tribes
of
Israel
in parallel strips running north to south and parallel strips running east to
west. And then a picture of the new
Jerusalem with a river that’s emerging from the base of this temple and flows
down the city and all the way down to the Dead Sea and desalinates the Dead Sea.
And on each side of the river there are these trees bearing fruit and
every month a new fruit. You know,
like Harry and David — oranges and apples and plums and pears and peaches and
what is this? And it reminds you of
the very closing chapters of Revelation, 21 and 22, except those closing
chapters of Revelation make no mention of a temple.
There are similarities and there are dissimilarities between what Ezekiel
is prophesying and what the book of Revelation seems to be talking about.

So he’s a priest. He’s twenty-five
years old when he’s taken into captivity.
Some of you are just over twenty-five here.
Imagine, you’re going to be taken into captivity, you’ll never see Jerusalem again, you’ll never serve in that ministry that
you thought all of your life you had been preparing for, and it begins by the
Chebar canal somewhere in Babylon.
And he’s got an audience.
Some are devout believing Jews who have been taken into captivity along with him
and it begins with this fantastic picture of the holiness and the sovereignty of
God. God, who is multi-directional
— He can move in any direction. And
it’s a mind-blowing, awesome picture of how great and sovereign God is.

Now remember for your typical Jew in Ezekiel’s time — where would you find God?
In the temple in Jerusalem, but he’s a thousand miles away, so
already there’s a sort of New Testament picture here.
God isn’t confined to a temple, He’s not confined to a holy place a
thousand miles away. Ezekiel can
see this depiction of God.

And then fourteen months later — turn to chapters 8 and 9 and 10 and 11 — 8, 9,
10, and 11. Let’s go to chapter 8.
It’s fourteen months later.
Verse 2 of chapter 8: “Then I
looked, and behold, a form that had the appearance of a man.
Below what appeared to be his waist was fire” — this vision again — “and
above his waist was something like the appearance of brightness, like gleaming
metal.” You know when the Bible
says it was “something like,” — the book of Revelation does a lot of that — it’s
saying this isn’t a literal description.
It’s so fantastic I don’t have words to describe this.
It’s like a cartoon and picture and colors and images are coming thick
and fast. “He put out the form of a
hand” — now listen, verse 3 — “and took me by a lock of my head, and the Spirit
lifted me up between earth and heaven and brought me in vision of God to
Jerusalem.”
The Spirit has lifted him by his hair and taken him to
Jerusalem.

Now imagine if you had come in one day and said, “You know, the Spirit lifted me
by my hair and took me to New York.”
That’s what he’s saying.
This is the extraordinary thing. I don’t think he was taken there physically.
This is a vision that he sees. Now what does he see?
Well he sees all kinds of things.
He sees idolatry. He sees a
bunch of women and they’re crying to the Babylonian god, Tammuz.
Now the Babylonian god, Tammuz was reputed to be a very handsome god and
these women are sort of lamenting and weeping before this statue f Tammuz.
And this statue of Tammuz is right on the temple wall.
This is what had happened when Jehoiachin, and then he was followed by
Jehoiakim, and then Zedekiah in those final years of Judah, before it collapsed
to the Babylonians, all this syncretism and idolatry had come into the temple
and Ezekiel is being given a sort of glimpse of it.

And then in chapter 9 there’s this slaughter.
“Then he cried in my ears with a loud voice, saying, ‘Bring near the
executioners of the city, each with his destroying weapon in his hand.’”
Now in the vision these angelic figures are coming to destroy the people
of Jerusalem
and particularly the priests in the temple.
In actual fact it’s the Babylonians who will do this when they will
ransack the city and bring down the temple.

And then in chapter 10, look at verse 19:
“And the cherubim lifted up their wings and mounted up from the earth
before my eyes as they went out, with the wheels beside them.
And they stood at the entrance of the east gate of the house of the Lord,
and the glory of the God of Israel was over them.”
Now do you see what’s happening?
The glory of God which is in the holy of holies in the temple, it’s
moved. These wheels have begun to
move and they’ve gone up and they’ve moved to the eastern gate of the city.
God is moving out of the temple.
He’s actually moving out of the city.
Now by the time you come to chapter 11 and verse 23, “And the glory of
the Lord went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain that is on
the east side of the city.” So the
glory of God has left the temple, it’s gone to the east gate of the city, and
then it sort of — you can almost hear the whirring sound — and then this
phantasm, it’s moving and planting itself on a mountain overlooking the city.
But the Jews hearing Ezekiel would have understood perfectly what he was
talking about. God has left
Jerusalem.
He’s left the holy city. This is
Ichabod. Remember Ichabod — Eli and
his sons? The glory has departed.
God has abandoned the city of Jerusalem.
This exile, this Babylonian destruction, it’s the chastisement of God
that has come down upon his people.

Now, turn very quickly now to chapter 34 and all I have time for is to tell you
that in chapter 34 there is this wonderful portrait of, first of all, bad
shepherds, of neglectful shepherds, and then of a true shepherd, a shepherd in
the line of David that is to come.
And all of a sudden towards the end of this prophecy, Ezekiel is no longer
prophesying what’s about to happen in five, ten year’s time.
He’s now looking way into the future and he’s saying the reason for the
destruction of Jerusalem
is because the shepherds have neglected their duty.
But a true shepherd, a shepherd of the line of David is coming.

And then in chapters 35 and 36 he begins to talk like Jeremiah does in Jeremiah
31 of God remembering His covenant and establishing a new covenant, what Ezekiel
calls a covenant of peace, which would have been music to the ears of those in
exile in Babylon.
That God, even though He had judged the city and left the city, that He hadn’t
forgotten His covenant, that He was going to renew His covenant.
And then what’s at the heart of that covenant?
A wonderful promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit — “There shall be
showers of blessing.” Didn’t we
just sing that? That’s from these
chapters in Ezekiel. There will be
showers of blessing. What kind of
blessing? Well everybody here knows
Ezekiel 37 — “Them bones, them bones, them dry bones.”
These bones are coming to life.
God is raising up His people by His Spirit, remembering His covenant.

But then in chapters 38 and 39, and this sounds just like the closing chapters
of Revelation, there is this battle between evil and the forces of God, Gog and
Magog it’s called. It’s like the
battle of Armageddon on Revelation 17 and 18 and 19.
This conflict, which is always in the Bible from Genesis 3, the seed of
the woman against the seed of the serpent, and this gigantic conflict is coming.

And then in those closing chapters, those nine last chapters — and look at the
map here – an extraordinary depiction now of a renewed temple in extraordinary
detail. And the division of the
land, the allocation of the land, and a renewed Jerusalem with this river that
runs down to the Dead Sea and desalinates the Dead Sea with fruit trees on
either side of the river and it’s like, you know it’s just like Eden.
It’s like you imagined Eden would have been before the Fall.
When you walk around there are just these gorgeous fruit trees everywhere
and everything is fresh and alive and full of vitality and there’s no death.
These trees, they don’t lose their leaves.

Now we could spend weeks talking about those final chapters.
Let me ask you a few quick questions.
What did Ezekiel’s first hearers in Babylon think when they
heard him talking about the renewed temple?
What would they think? Well
they would think there’s hope.
They’ve been exiled. They’re a
thousand miles away from home. All
of God’s promises about the Jews and the temple and
Israel
and all that, it’s all gone. It all
came to a catastrophic end when Zedekiah’s sons were killed and then you
remember his eyes were put out. The
last thing he ever saw was the killing of his owns sons meaning there would be
no more Zedekiahs. That was the
end. And then this prophet in Babylon by the canal, Chebar canal, is saying,
“God is going to restore things.
God hasn’t forgotten His covenant.
There is a remnant according to the election of grace.”

Now when they came back in 536, when they came back remember and Haggai comes
back around about 520 to rebuild the temple, did they rebuild the temple after
the plans of Ezekiel? No they did
not. There’s not a note in Haggai,
in the books of Nehemiah and Ezra.
There’s not a note in there that they were trying to do what Ezekiel was saying
in these chapters. They didn’t see
it this way. They saw it, I think,
as symbolic.

When Jesus talks about the kingdom, does he talk about rebuilding Ezekiel’s
temple? You know, should we?
Anybody here donated money towards the rebuilding of Ezekiel’s temple
sometime in the pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib coming of Jesus?
Put your hand up whatever you do because you’ve wasted your money because
it ain’t going to happen. It’s not
going to happen, folks. That’s not
the point because when you read about this temple the only people that could
serve in Ezekiel’s temple were Levitical priests and Jesus has established a new
order of priests after the line of Melchizedek.
Jesus could not serve in that temple.
Now that’s profound for a start.

But can there be a rebuilding of the temple and all the consequences of that of
offering sacrifices? No, because it
would destroy the truth of the Gospel that Jesus has died once and for all.

So what is Ezekiel talking about?
Do you remember what John says in the very opening chapters of his gospel?
He says about Jesus, “And we beheld His glory.”
You know that glory that left the temple and parked itself on the top of
the mountain. That glory resides in
Jesus. What does John tell us about
the wedding in Cana of Galilee? He
talks about Jesus being the temple.
He is the — “I will destroy this temple and build it again in three days.”
He is the temple! What does
Paul say? You know it’s not just
Jesus who is the temple, we are temples, we are temples of the Holy Spirit.
In union with Jesus we too are temples.

So what Ezekiel is describing is symbolic and part of that symbolism gets taken
into the book of Revelation. Not
the temple symbolism. There’s no
temple at the end of the book of Revelation, but there is the city and the river
and the fruit trees and it’s Eden.
It’s paradise. It’s like
saying — go right back to the beginning of your Bible and if there had been no
sin, what would you have?
Revelation 21 and 22 – the paradise that is the new heavens and the new earth
and the New Jerusalem.

Now maybe that’s disappointing to you.
I don’t have any more time to go into all the details of those closing
chapters of Ezekiel tonight, but they are fulfilled in Jesus and what Jesus has
accomplished by His cross, that He has spoiled principalities and powers, that
Gog and Magog and Armageddon and the great red dragon of Revelation 12, they
will be defeated because Jesus says, “I build my church and the gates of hell
will not prevail against it.”

Let’s pray together.

Father, we thank You for this book of Ezekiel.
We want, when we see him in heaven, we want to be able to say to him,
‘We’ve read your book and we’ve been helped by it,’ so help us to spend some
time in this book of Ezekiel and to profit from it.
Now hide Your Word in our hearts for Jesus’ sake.
Amen.

Please stand. Receive the Lord’s
benediction. Grace, mercy, and
peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.

This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.