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

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.



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