A deep sense of grief permeates Ezekiel’s account of the temple’s destruction. The loss felt by the Lord is poignantly expressed when He says, “Defile the temple, and fill the courts with the slain” (Ezek. 9:7). Defile the temple? Defile the place chosen out of all creation as a dwelling for God? Why should the temple suffer for the sins of men? The Lord’s heartbreak seems to darken the skies and rumble beneath the earth. Then, the glory of the Lord departs from the temple in a sort of dance—rising up, pausing at the temple’s threshold, rising again, stopping at the east gate, finally rising to the mountains where it lingers as if to look back one last time (Ezek. 10:18-19, 11:23). There is a pageantry and ceremony in the way the glory departs that sharpens the bereavement, like a 21-gun salute or the folding of the flag after a burial at sea. Behind Him, God leaves an emptiness, a void such as has not existed since the creation of the world, a void filling, as it were, with the confused voice of the temple crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Gen. 1:2; Matt. 27:46).
Jesus of Nazareth promised this sign to His detractors: “‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days’…the temple he had spoken of was his body” (John 2:19, 21). Ezekiel’s vision of the glory departing ultimately looks ahead to the cross, when God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus also tasted death for everyone, filling Himself with the slain, swallowing up what is mortal, so that we might have life (Heb. 2:9; 2 Cor. 5:4). Having filled the temple of His Son with sin and death, God destroyed all of it at the cross.
Defiling the temple of His Son meant God the Father had to withdraw from Him. His holiness could not be mingled with the sin which Jesus had willingly filled Himself. The original glory, the glory they had shared since before the world began, came to a sudden, violent end. The heartbreak at the end is even more acute when contrasted with the rapture the Word felt as the instrument of creation: “Then I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind” (Prov. 8:30, 31).
It is impossible to fathom the depth of pain and loss that the Lord experienced that day. Even the sharpest human losses—suicide or the death of a child—are but shadows of that consummate grief. If we only consider what Jesus suffered at the cross (which was an unspeakable lot), we cannot appreciate the totality of God’s loving sacrifice. The torment of the Father spills out of David uncontrollably when his son Absalom is killed: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Sam. 18:33). And of the Holy Spirit, the mournful moaning of doves is heard throughout the prophets when the hammer-stroke of judgment falls (Isaiah 38:14; 59:11; Nahum 2:7).
Yet, the monumental suffering of God—Father, Son, and Spirit—was a cost all understood, a cost that with one mind they were ready to pay (Luke 14:28-33). That God spared Himself nothing, that He gave up eternal fellowship and all that He is just to gain our friendship, shows how wide, high, and deep God’s love is (Eph. 3:18). There is no distance, no direction, He will not go for us. Like an anchor, Christ sank to the grave and then plumbed the depths of the universe in order to hold us fast in the maelstrom of this changing world. “He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe” (Eph. 4:10). It is glory, the unity of selflessness, that caused Father, Son, and Spirit to set their face like flint toward the only outcome allowed by their nature—the cross (Luke 9:51).
Excerpted from my booklet, “Ezekiel: The Glory of the Lord“