When Ezekiel first sees the glory of the Lord, it is not associated with any temple. This is unique, for the other two visions of God’s glory involve temples: the earthly temple, the temple judged for Israel’s sins, and the new temple, wherein all things are restored and brought to fullness. But in chapter one, Ezekiel does not see the glory in relation to any temple. Instead, it is associated with the heavens: “While I was among the exiles by the Kebar river, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God” (Ezek. 1:1). When Ezekiel had this vision, there was a temple in Jerusalem where the glory dwelled. Why did God reveal His glory in the heavens instead? It seems God wanted to present Himself as He is, in and of Himself. As He prayed to His Father just before dying on the cross, Jesus referred to this heavenly glory as “the glory I had with you before the world began” (John 17:5). In the beginning, there was no temple, no dwelling of humanity for God. There was only the heavens, the spiritual realm. God wanted to bring His people back to the foundation of all things—Himself. At first, we are struck by the theatrics of Ezekiel’s vision: the flashing windstorm, fire and thunder, sparkling wheels covered with eyes…. Yet, there is something else about this vision of glory, something whispered, something we will miss if we go no deeper than the special effects (1 Kings 19:11-13). In the midst of the fire, Ezekiel sees four living creatures. Each has the face of a man, a lion, a calf, and an eagle. All move as one:
Each one went straight ahead. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turning as they went (Ezek 1:12).
In glory, nothing originates in self, no one moves independently. All proceed by one Spirit. One creature doesn’t fly off on its own while another roars and runs around. Sometimes they all fly, and sometimes they all roar “Holy, holy, holy,” but whatever they do, they do as one, by one Spirit (Ezek. 1:19; Rev. 4:8). This is a reflection of God’s fundamental unity and of the selfless fellowship that defines the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The unity of God is not a unity of sameness. The members of the Godhead are as individual as the creatures. Yet none of them lives to Himself. None moves based on His prerogative or power as God. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing out from himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing” (John 5:19). In saying this, Jesus was not referring to His human dependence on God. He was speaking about the divine nature. In the same vein, He said of the Spirit, “He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears” (John 16:13). This could not possibly refer to the Spirit’s human dependence on God for the Spirit never became man as did the Son. The glory of God, then, is marked by a fundamental denial of self and preferring of others.
If we go even further into this vision, there is something more yet. If we get close enough to hear God’s heartbeat (like John leaning against Jesus’s chest), we are affected by a sense of longing. This glory, we have seen, is associated with heaven. But it is not in earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10). The vision shows no temple in which God’s glory may dwell and be displayed in all of creation. We have a throne but no kingdom, and on that throne is a man but he is alone. In fact, we might say that the whole spirit of this first glory is, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). God’s profound and eternal longing is for one with whom he can be one flesh, with whom He can share Himself completely. It is well and good for the Trinity to enjoy the glory of their selfless communion. Yet the very nature of that communion is expansive, wanting to draw others in, wanting the intimacy and fullness to be shared. Jesus prayed “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us” (John 17:21). This was God’s desire for the captives in Ezekiel’s time, and it is His desire for the church today.
–Excerpted from my booklet, “Ezekiel: The Glory of the Lord“