A Vision of the Glory
The Puritan Thomas Adams once wrote, “Christ is the sum of the whole Bible, prophesied, typified, prefigured, exhibited, demonstrated, to be found in every leaf, almost in every line, the Scriptures being but as it were the swaddling bands of the child Jesus.” Many have, by God's grace, been enabled to see the glory of Christ when they open the Scriptures. Nevertheless, there are still places in the Old Testament that prove to be a challenge to our understanding of how what has been revealed by God relates to Jesus. We struggle to understand genres and the literary vehicles--such as metaphors, similes, allusions, types and symbols--that lead us to the Savior. One book, in particular, has proven to be challenging on account of its symbolic imagery---namely, the prophecy of Ezekiel. However, the prophecy of Ezekiel gives us some of the richest portrayals in all of Scripture of the coming Son of Man, Jesus Christ.
The first 11 chapters of Ezekiel give us a picture of the prophet in captivity and what God has promised to do to Israel on account of their unfaithfulness. Chapters 8-11 are of special importance to the message of the prophet, because they contain a step by step vision of the glory of God departing from the temple. This is, of course, the most troublesome aspect of the prophecy on account of the fact that God's presence in the Most Holy Place, over the ark of the covenant between the cherubim on the mercy seat, is the mark of the acceptance and blessing of God. Ezekiel is given a vision of the departure of the glory of God (Ez. 8:4), first from the Most Holy Place (9:3), then to the threshold of the door of the temple (10:4), then to the east gate of the temple (10:18-19) and finally out of the temple to the mountain across from it (Ez. 11:22-23).
The Scriptures are clear that Christ is the glory of God (Luke 9:32; John 1:14; Hebrews 1:3; 2 Cor. 4:4, 6). Jesus is the full manifestation of God in the flesh. Wherever Jesus was, God was manifesting Himself among His people. So how does Ezekiel's vision of the departure of the glory of God from the temple relate to the Person and work of Jesus, the true glory of God? O. Palmer Robertson, in his book The Christ of the Prophets, ties together what Ezekiel sees with what happens in the Gospel record, when he writes,
"This time the prophet sees the glory of God in what he might have assumed to be its proper context. Rather than having the glory appear to him in the plains of Babylon, he is transported in his vision to the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem (Ezek. 8:3). There he is led through a progression of corruptions that defile this most holy place, and there he witnesses a progressive withdrawal of the glory from this same sacred sanctuary.
First he sees the glory of the God of Israel rising from above the cherubim in the most holy place, where it had resided since Solomon's dedicatory prayer, and moving to the threshold of the temple (Ezek. 9:3; cf. 1 Kings 8:10-11). Next, the glory of the Lord departs from the temple threshold and moves, along with the cherubim and the whirling wheels, to the east gate of the Lord's house (Ezek. 10:16-19). Finally, the glory of God along with the cherubim and the wheels rises above the city of Jerusalem and stops at the mountain east of it, the Mount of Olives (Ezek. 11:22-23). From this point on, the once-holy place stands openly exposed to the ravages of invading nations.
It should not be regarded as purely coincidental that the noteworthy Olivet Discourse of Jesus took place on the same Mount of Olives as he overlooked the city of Jerusalem and declared its imminent fate (Matt. 24:3; Luke 21:20-24). As the armies of Nebuchadnezzar would shortly surround the Jerusalem of Ezekiel's day, level it to the ground, and burn its remnants, so the holy city of Jesus' day would be surrounded by armies that would not leave one stone on top of another."1
Of course, much more could be said as we seek to understand such a typological fulfillment of Ezekiel's vision. For instance, compare the charge the Lord brings against Israel in Ezekiel's vision (Ez. 8:6) with what Jesus says to the leaders of Israel in Matthew 23. Consider also the rest of the message of Ezekiel culminating in the promise of a New Temple in Ezekiel 40-48) and the final proclamation that "the LORD is there" (Ez. 48:35). This is ultimately fulfilled in the resurrection of the Son of God and the glory that he confers on his people, a new temple made of living stones out of every tongue, tribe, people and nation.
As we come to better understand, for the good of our souls, that "Christ is the sum of the whole Bible," we more and more give consideration to the organic unity of the message of the prophets with that of Jesus and the Apostles. As we do so, we come to see more clearly the one in whose face we see "the glory of God" (2 Cor. 4:4-6).
1. O. Palmer Robertson The Christ of the Prophets (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2008)