Thursday, December 19, 2013

Ezekiel, Glory, and Advent

We’re in the midst of a survey of the books of the Bible in our Wednesday evening service. Last night we looked at Ezekiel. I was struck by a powerful theme that runs through Ezekiel which is very appropriate to the Advent season.

Ezekiel records the glory of the Lord departing from Solomon’s Temple, which had in that day become a haven for idolatry.

“Then the glory of the LORD went out from the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim. 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...say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: Though I removed them far off among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a while in the countries where they have gone.’ Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel. And when they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things and all its abominations. And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My rules and obey them. And they shall be My people, and I will be their God. But as for those whose heart goes after their detestable things and their abominations, I will bring their deeds upon their own heads,” declares the Lord GOD.’ Then the cherubim lifted up their wings, with the wheels beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them. 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” (10:18,19; 11:16-23).

Have you ever noticed in your reading of Ezra-Nehemiah that, in the rebuilding of the Temple following the Babylonian Exile, there was no theophany as there was at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple? We have no glory, no cloud, no divine voice, nothing.

The glory of the Lord left the Temple in Ezekiel’s day, the days of the destruction of that Temple. The prophets of the Restoration promise a return of glory (Haggai 2:1-9; Zechariah 2:1-5), but we don’t see it happen in their day. We read Haggai commanding them to build God’s house instead of their own (showing us where their hearts were), and we read Malachi already indicting them for neglecting the worship of God. The Babylonian Exile had taught them little, and certainly hadn’t changed their hearts. The seeds are planted in the Restoration that, over four centuries, become the false religion, the twisting of old covenant Scripture, that Jesus confronts in His ministry.

The Restoration sees the rebuilding of a much smaller Temple, devoid of the glory of God, filled soon with heartless worship. It does not see what Ezekiel promised, a God-given new heart to the people that enables them to obey and love Him from the core of their being.

What about Ezekiel’s Temple in chapters 40-48?

First, let me point out that this Temple is described “in visions of God” (40:2), just like Ezekiel’s eating of the scroll (3:1-3) and the angelic destruction of the idolaters in Jerusalem (9:1-11). We understand both the latter to be spiritual depictions of earthly realities (God’s speaking His Word through Ezekiel and the destruction of Jerusalem at the hand of the Babylonians). Why would the Ezekiel Temple, also given in vision, be any different? Why would we expect this to be a physical Temple, when Ezekiel didn’t physically eat a scroll and angels didn't physically slaughtered the ungodly in 586 B.C.? No, this is a picture of a spiritual reality. What is the earthly manifestation?

Second, notice that the entire Temple vision is conditional upon repentance: “As for you, son of man, describe to the house of Israel the temple, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and they shall measure the plan. And if they are ashamed of all that they have done, make known to them the design of the temple, its arrangement, its exits and its entrances, that is, its whole design; and make known to them as well all its statutes and its whole design and all its laws, and write it down in their sight, so that they may observe all its laws and all its statutes and carry them out” (43:10,11).


The command to “repent” is the first word of the Gospel in the dawning of the new covenant era (Matthew 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:15; 6:12; Luke 13:1-5; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30; 26:20). With God’s granting of the gift of repentance to both Jews (Acts 5:31) and Gentiles (Acts 11:18) in the Gospel age, we should expect the building of the true, eternal, spiritual Temple, from which the river of life flows to bring life to the world.

This is exactly what we see. The Church is the Spirit-built Temple of God, and is the only true Temple of God described in the New Testament (Ephesians 2:11-22; 2 Corinthians 6:16).

This is Advent. As we read of the departure of the glory of God from Solomon’s Temple in Ezekiel last night, I couldn’t help but think of the return of God’s glory.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

At the marriage in Cana, after He turned water to really good wine: “This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory. And His disciples believed in Him” (John 2:11).

At the resurrection of Lazarus: “Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’” (John 11:40).

“Though He had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in Him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.’ Isaiah said these things because He saw His glory and spoke of Him” (John 12:37-41).

In His high-priestly prayer: “And now, Father, glorify Me in Your own presence with the glory that I had with You before the world existed” (John 17:5).

This Advent season, celebrate the presence of the glory of God through Christ by the Holy Spirit in the Church.

Let’s end with the final phrase of Ezekiel, “the LORD is there” (48:35). The covenant presence of God is fully and finally realized in Christ alone, Who is “God with us” (Matthew 1:23; cf. 28:20; Revelation 21:3).

God bless us this Advent with a clearer knowledge and understanding of the presence of His glory through a deeper illumination of His Word in our gatherings.

No comments: