While Jeremiah prophesied to the exiles in Babylon (Jer 24:1-14), Ezekiel described how the exile affected God’s plans for His people in Jerusalem. Ezekiel was called to be a watchman who would warn God’s people of impending danger (Ezek 3:17-21). Ezekiel, like Jeremiah, had to contend with false prophets who proposed that—even while they were under Babylonian control because of the fall of Judah—Jerusalem would endure any external threat (Ezek 13:1-14:11).
Like Isaiah (Isa 6:1-3), Ezekiel’s prophetic call was in accord with a vision of the holiness and glory of God. The prophet said, “The appearance of the brilliant light all around was like that of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day. This was the appearance of the form of the LORD’s glory. When I saw it, I fell facedown and heard a voice speaking” (Ezek 1:28).
Ezekiel’s commission, like that of Jeremiah (Jer 1:4-10), included warnings about the difficulties of preaching to rebellious people (chs. 2-3). While the prophet was called to preach a hard message to a hardened people, the Lord equipped Ezekiel for the task, saying, “Look, I have made your face as hard as their faces and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. I have made your forehead like a diamond, harder than flint” (Ezek 3:8).
In a moving portrayal of how God arranged the ministry of the prophets in such a way that they felt what He felt concerning the rebellion of His people, Ezekiel was forced to lie down and observe the iniquity of Israel and Judah (ch. 4). The Lord commanded Ezekiel to observe how His people would be divided into thirds; one portion would be killed in Jerusalem, another would be burned, and the final third would be scattered (Ezek 5:1-4, 12). The Lord told Ezekiel why He was judging His people, saying, “After I have spent My wrath on them, they will know that I, the LORD, have spoken in My jealousy” (Ezek 5:13).
Ezekiel employed literary features of an ancient Jewish genre called “apocalyptic” to describe how the Lord would remove His people from the land and later restore them there. The apocalyptic features that Ezekiel used include a dualism of time and space (past/future, heaven/earth), catastrophes that function as signs of judgment, and the suspension of the natural laws of time and space. Ezekiel in these apocalyptic visions sees how God would remove Israel from exile and restore them to their land. In the storyline of Scripture, John and other New Testament authors employed Ezekiel’s apocalyptic theology to describe God’s revelation in Christ.
(1) God resides in the heavens and opens them to reveal Himself or affirm an act on earth. In Ezek 1:1, the prophet reported that he received his visions when the heavens were opened. The Gospel writers note that when Jesus was baptized, the heavens were opened and the Spirit descended upon Jesus (Matt 3:16//Mark 1:10//Luke 3:21), vocally affirming Jesus as His Son. When Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James, and John, God spoke from heaven to affirm that Jesus is His Son (Matt 17:5//Mark 9:7//Luke 9:35). After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, many Greeks followed Jesus. In the presence of this crowd of mixed ethnicity, Jesus prayed for the Father to glorify His name. As a result, “a voice came from heaven: ‘I have both glorified it and will glorify it again!’” (John 12:28). When Stephen testified of Jesus, the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem raged against him. Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked upward into heaven. God affirmed Stephen’s bold speech by allowing Stephen to see His glory and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:54-56). The author of Hebrews argued that since God revealed the new covenant as an unshakable, unchanging message from heaven, his audience should heed God’s word of grace and serve Him with reverence and awe (Heb 12:18-29). Peter argued that God’s affirmations of Jesus from heaven are grounds for trusting God’s revelation of Himself in Scripture (2 Pet 1:16-21).
(2) Magnificent living creatures surround God’s throne in heaven and attend to Him. In Ezek 1:5 and 13, the prophet noted the significance of four living creatures in his vision. In Rev 4:5-8, John described his vision of the heavenly throne room. He noted, “In the middle and around the throne were four living creatures covered with eyes in front and in back” (Rev 4:6). John’s description recalls Ezek 1:13, where the prophet’s vision included living creatures that appeared like burning coals and torches with fire passing between them.
(3) From heaven, God called prophets and apostles to speak for Him. In Ezek 2:8-3:3, the prophet described his call experience and the command the Lord gave him to eat the scroll of lamentation and woe. John had a similar experience concerning the book of the final judgment. He said, “Then I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It was as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I ate it, my stomach became bitter. And I was told, ‘You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings’” (Rev 10:9-11). Throughout Revelation, John wrote that the visions he was describing were given to him from heaven or included scenes that took place in heaven (for example, Rev 4:1-2; 5:13; 8:1; 10:1). The Lord did not reveal Himself from heaven exclusively to John. The Lord revealed Himself to Paul in a heavenly vision so wonderful that the Lord also gave Paul a thorn in his flesh so that the apostle would not boast of what the Lord had revealed to him (2 Cor 12:1-10).