The divine charioteer (Part 2)

We pick up this post where Part 1 left off.

All that we’ve seen in Ezekiel’s vision begs the question: Is this theophany actually a Christophany – an appearance of the preincarnate Christ? It seems so, based on several observations. First, the Bible teaches that no human may see God and live (Exod. 33:20; John 1:18). So the LORD must reveal himself to us in a limited way: a voice, a pillar of cloud and fire, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch, or even a man. Ezekiel sees the likeness of a man in his vision, and this is one of the more common ways the angel of the LORD appears. 

Even more significant, the apostle John tells us Jesus is the revealer of the true nature of Yahweh: “No one has ever seen God. The one and only Son, who is himself God and is at the Father’s side — he has revealed him.” (John 1:18). Jesus himself tells Philip, “The one who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). The transfiguration of Jesus in Matthew 17:1-13 and Mark 9:2-13 declares that Jesus is God in human flesh, which veils the glory of God.

Second, the voice of the LORD in Ezekiel’s vision is described in the same way the voice of Jesus is recorded in Revelation 1:15: “his voice [was] like the sound of cascading waters.” Ezekiel hears the deafening flutter of cherubim’s wings and likens them to the voice of the LORD Almighty (1:24; 10:5; cf. 43:2).

Third, consider that Ezekiel describes the LORD as a human-like figure. We never see the Father or the Holy Spirit depicted in this way in Scripture, and yet the prophet clearly sees the glory of the LORD. This suggests we are catching a rare view of the second person of the Trinity prior to the Incarnation. Harry Ironside confidently notes, “It was the preincarnate Christ that the prophet beheld, ‘the likeness of a Man.’ Now, since redemption is accomplished, the Man Christ Jesus sits in His glorified human body on that throne of the Eternal.”

Even so, we want to avoid being too dogmatic in this interpretation. Mark Rooker shares a more balanced perspective:

It is possible that this representation of God in human form would be particularly appropriate to Jesus Christ, as he alone of the Trinity was manifest in the flesh (Phil. 2:7; 1 Tim. 3:16). Moreover, when Isaiah in his vision saw God sitting on the throne (Isa. 6), John records that what Isaiah saw was the glory of Christ (John 12:40-41). On the other hand, when no distinctions are made with the other members of the Trinity, it may be that all the Godhead is represented in the vision. At the same time, the vision is at least a prelude to the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Mark Rooker

Verse 28 summarizes three important truths about God captured in Ezekiel’s vision. First, the vision reaffirms the nature of God as holy, powerful, and majestic. Second, the rainbow serves as a reminder of God’s covenant-keeping character. And third, the appearance of Yahweh to Ezekiel in exile is an assurance that nothing, including geographic location, separates us from the love of God (cf. Rom. 8:38-39).

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The divine charioteer (Part 1)

A Rider from the North

If Isaiah sees the LORD of Armies seated on a heavenly throne, Ezekiel witnesses the same LORD blazing across the skies in a chariot of fire. Chapter 1 of Ezekiel records the most elaborate theophany in the Old Testament, combining clouds, fire, flashes of lightning, and a human-like figure in the company of cherubim. In this otherworldly scene, Yahweh prepares a Judean priest for prophetic ministry and authenticates his message. Above all, this thundering charioteer displays his divine glory, while  proclaiming imminent judgment and future deliverance.

Three visions form the backbone for the Book of Ezekiel. In the first vision (chapters 1-3), the LORD appears to Ezekiel and commissions him as a prophet to his fellow exiles. In the second vision (chapters 8-11), the LORDabandons Jerusalem and withdraws his protection in judgment for the people’s idolatry and wickedness. In fact, Ezekiel witnesses the glory of the LORD departing the temple. In the third vision (chapters 40-48), the glory of the LORD returns in connection with the restoration of Israel in the last days. Yahweh’s judgment falls hard, but it succeeds in curing the Israelites of idolatry. 

Ezekiel is in exile as part of the second Babylonian deportation in 597 BC. Taken captive with King Jehoiachin and other citizens of Judah (2 Kings 24:10-16), he receives God’s prophetic commission four years later while living at Tel Abib in southern Mesopotamia. His ministry extends perhaps twenty-two or twenty-three years. And while he remains faithful to the LORD, Ezekiel experiences personal setbacks. He suffers a speech impediment that allows him to speak only when the LORD wishes to speak through him (3:26-27; 24:27; 33:22), and his wife dies as an omen of the impending fall of Jerusalem.

The story of Ezekiel contrasts the sovereign power of Yahweh and the frailty of human beings. Ezekiel is called “son of man” ninety-three times in the book, a term that punctuates the prophet’s humanity. In fact, the phrase may be rendered “member of humanity” or “descendant of Adam.” 

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The Lord of Armies: A closer look

The term LORD of Armies appears two hundred eighty-five times in the Old Testament, most frequently in Isaiah and Jeremiah. While the CSB renders it “LORD of Armies,” other Bible versions translate Yahweh Sabaoth as “LORD of Hosts” or “LORD Almighty.” Host is a word used frequently in the Hebrew Bible for a military force (e.g., 2 Sam. 3:23; Ps. 108:11).

Put simply, this title for God is meant to communicate his absolute sovereignty over all agencies in heaven and on earth. He rules over the divine council in heaven, an assembly of spirit beings – such as “sons of God,” seraphim, cherubim, and holy angels – who administer the affairs of the cosmos. He rules over Satan and demonic forces, who often present themselves as pagan gods. He rules as commander in chief of Israel’s army. And he reigns supremely over the greatest military forces mankind can muster. He is the God-King, the uncontested Lord of all powers in heaven and on earth. The phrase “Yahweh, the Almighty” is a fitting translation of Yahweh Sabaoth.

LORD of Israel’s forces

The name LORD of Armies first appears in 1 Samuel 1:3. Elkanah, the future father of the prophet Samuel, travels to Shiloh to worship and offer sacrifices to the LORD of Armies. At this time, Shiloh is home to the Ark of the Covenant, which symbolizes Yahweh’s presence, among other things. The Israelites are fully aware that the LORD sits enthroned above the cherubim, whose wings stretch across the ark’s cover, the mercy seat (1 Sam. 4:4; Ps. 99:1). 

There is a sense in which the name LORD of Armies is understood to mean Yahweh is the true leader of Israel’s military forces, as Joshua learns in his encounter with the “commander of the LORD’s army,” who is none other than the angel of the LORD (Josh. 5:13-15; cf. Num. 22:23; 1 Chron. 21:16). Before David engages Goliath in battle, he invokes “the name of the LORD of Armies, the God of the ranks of Israel” (1 Sam. 17:45). In so doing, David declares Yahweh the universal ruler over all human affairs. Later, King David celebrates the superior kingship of the LORD of Armies: 

Who is this King of glory?

The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle.

Lift up your heads, you gates! Rise up, ancient doors!

Then the King of glory will come in.

Who is he, this King of glory?

The LORD of Armies, he is the King of glory (Ps. 24:8-10).

Psalm 24:8-10

This glorious King of Israel one day puts down all rebellion and establishes his throne on Mount Zion (Isa. 24:21-23; 31:4-5; 34:12). He is the once and future king of the world, who descends in glory to reign in righteousness (Zech. 14:9; cf. Isa. 37:16). “The King of glory, who commands the armies of heaven and who will eventually defeat all His enemies in this world, is none other than Jesus Christ. He is the LORD of hosts (Rev. 19:11-20).”

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Slaughter of the Assyrians

Isaiah 37:36-37 (2 Kings 19:35-36)

Nearly forty years have passed since Isaiah saw the LORD of Armies on his throne in heaven. Kings Uzziah, Jotham, and Ahaz are gone, and Hezekiah rules a shrinking Judah from within the fortified walls of Jerusalem. King Sennacherib of Assyria has captured the other forty-six walled cities of Judah. He and his massive army now fix their eyes on Jerusalem. Sennacherib sends his royal spokesman to urge surrender. As the spokesman stands near the conduit of the upper pool – the same spot on which Isaiah earlier implored Ahaz to trust God rather than human alliances – he delivers the king’s offer of peace and, with it, a dire warning to Hezekiah’s representatives:

Beware that Hezekiah does not mislead you by saying, “The LORD will rescue us.” Has any one of the gods of the nations rescued his land from the power of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sephardim: Have they rescued Samaria from my power? Who among all the gods of these lands ever rescued his land from my power? So will the LORD rescue Jerusalem from my power?

Isa. 36:18-20

Sennacherib then sends Hezekiah a letter, repeating the threats and mocking God (Isa. 37:8-13). Hezekiah takes the letter to the temple and spreads it out before the LORD. He prays for deliverance so that “all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, LORD, are God – you alone” (37:20). The LORD answers Hezekiah’s prayer through Isaiah, who sends a message to Hezekiah with this divine promise:

Therefore, this is what the LORD says about the king of Assyria:

He will not enter the city, shoot an arrow here, come before it with a shield, or build up a siege ramp against it.

He will go back the way he came, and he will not enter this city. This is the LORD’s declaration.

I will defend this city and rescue it for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.

Isa. 37:33-35

Without delay, Isaiah records the angel of the LORD striking down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. Surveying the carnage the next morning, Sennacherib breaks camp and returns to Nineveh. Nearly twenty years later, as the king worships in the temple of his god, two of his sons assassinate him (37:36-38).

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Article IV-D of The Baptist Faith & Message 2000: Glorification (continued)

Following is another in a series of columns on The Baptist Faith & Message 2000.

Physical resurrection is the apogee of personal glorification, for in it we shrug off the last vestiges of sin that have clung to our mortal bodies. In glorification, the effects of the Fall are fully and finally reversed.

Article IV-D of The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 reads:

“Glorification is the culmination of salvation and is the final blessed and abiding state of the redeemed.”

As we learned in the last column, glorification is the means by which God fully reverses the effects of the Fall, purging sin and its stain from the created order. It involves the return of Jesus, the future resurrection and judgment of all people, and the creation of new heavens and a new earth.

The glory we experience now as Christ lives in us, and the glory we experience in death as our souls / spirits ascend into heaven, are partial works of glorification. But full glorification for followers of Jesus takes place when he calls our bodies from the grave and gives us incorruptible bodies similar to the body he bore when he rose from the dead. 

Physical resurrection is the apogee of personal glorification, for in it we shrug off the last vestiges of sin that have clung to our mortal bodies. In glorification, the effects of the Fall are fully and finally reversed. 

At the return of Christ, all who have died in the Lord are resurrected. Their souls / spirits, which are in heaven with Jesus, are reunited with their bodies, resulting in complete personal glorification; the body, soul, and spirit are fully conformed to the image of Christ and thus free of any effects of the Fall. Christians alive on the earth at the return of Christ are instantly transformed as they are given glorified bodies; at the same time, their souls / spirits are perfected as well. 

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