It occurred to me in a casual discussion with a fellow believer that Ezekiel & John had some startling things in common. What I originally thought to be two or three similarities has actually turned into quite an extensive list. The first thing I noticed, was both of these men “ate a book”, “measured a temple”, and “saw the throne of God”. It became increasingly apparent to me, as I discovered more and more traits these two shared; that a side by side comparison as to what exactly these men held in common was in order.
***Please Note: In this study, I will be pulling exerpts from “A Common Thread In the Apocalyptical Symbolism of Ezekiel and John’s Revelation,” which was presented to Central Pastor-Teacher Conference in Western Wisconsin, District-WELS, on April 4, 1987, by Paul E. Eickmann.
In Eikmann’s Paper, he writes;
“Is there a common thread in the apocalyptic symbolism of Ezekiel and John’s Revelation? First, symbolism in Revelation. I’d like to quote from a paperback commentary on Revelation by Martin Franzmann.
“On first encounter,” he says, “the world of The Revelation to John does seem to be a wild and mysterious world. What are we to make of this strange land, where a slain lamb with unimaginable seven horns and seven eyes is conqueror and in the power of a conqueror takes a sealed scroll from the hand of God and unseals it? What are we to make of a land where the unsealing of a scroll does not merely make accessible information hitherto unknown and unknowable but releases horsemen mounted on whites red, blacks and pale horses who course across the world creating havoc as they go? What shall we make of a lamb who suddenly appears as a shepherd, who has a bride and a marriage supper, of a lamb who shares a throne with God, who is the lamp and the temple of a new Jerusalem?” (23) Franzmann goes on to suggest that we seem to have lost the understanding and appreciation of the symbol. “What is a symbol? A symbol is the shortest of shorthands. Whether it be expressed in language, in two-dimensional drawing and painting, or in three-dimensional form, a symbol expresses little but suggests much. It expresses little, that is, for the uninitiated, the outsider. It illustrates in an extreme form Luther’s dictum that ‘unless a man knows what is being talked about, he cannot make sense of what is being said. A symbol is language of an ‘insider’ for ‘insiders.’”
[Here Franzmann uses the example of the symbol of the cross, which is really just a vertical line transversed by a horizontal line.]
“The force of a symbol can therefore sensed and appreciated only by an insider. (It is better to say “sensed” than “understood”, since it is the peculiar virtue of a symbol that its force can be felt and its power appreciated even when it is but dimly understood.) The symbols of The Revelation to John are not a form of hocus-pocus, intended to conceal; as John’s own title to the book indicates, its intention is to reveal.” (The Greek name in the very first verse of the book is the basis for the title Apocalypse, that is, revelation.] “The symbols have the effect of concealing only for those unwilling to come ‘inside’ and thus get eyes to see the invisible. And one gets ‘inside’ not by cultivating cleverness in guessing at possibilities or probabilities and not by undisciplined and uncontrolled use of the imagination (important as imagination is for the apprehension of symbols) but by going through doors provided by the book itself, by following the clues given by The Revelation to John itself” (24,25).
The New Testament uses wording of the Prophet Ezekiel in almost 100 verses & 71 of these are in the Book of Revelation!
Many of those parallels are simply a matter of language: For example- John describing the fall of “Babylon the Great” (Revelation 18) where he often uses the same words that Ezekiel prophesied, against Tyre (Chapters 26 through 28).
Beyond the linguistic parallels, there are other similarities in comparisons, concerning the opening visions and in the last sections of the books, which will be the focus of this study.
Let’s look briefly at the situation of each man, and where they were when they received their visions & testimony:
Alone on Patmos, John sees an awesome visions first of Jesus commanding his apostle to write to the seven churches and then in Chapter 4 of the very throneroom of heaven, where the Lord appears as the Lamb who opens the book.
Ezekiel, the prophet, who was also a priest, had been carried off with King Jehoiachin from Jerusalem into captivity in Babylon in 597 B.C. The end of the Kingdom of Judah was near: five years of captivity had passed and in another six years from now, in 586 B.C., the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple were impending. While Ezekiel was among the exiles by the Kebar River in Babylon, the heavens were opened and he saw visions of God. His miraculously opened eyes saw “(a) an approaching fiery storm cloud (1:4), out of which emerged (b) four unearthly creatures (5-14), propelling (c) a four-wheeled chariot (15-21), bearing (d) a celestial platform (22-25), on which was enthroned (e) the glory of the LORD (26-27), framed by (f) the bright colors of a rainbow (28)” (Roehrs).
Now, on to the parallels…..
Ezekiel 1 & Revelation 4
In Revelation, Section 2, the voice of Jesus speaking to John is like the sound of rushing waters; in Ezekiel, Section 2, the wings of the creatures moving the Almighty’s chariot make a sound like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty.
In Revelation 4, Section 3, John saw a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. The one who sat there had the brilliant appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. Ezekiel, in Section 3 of the text, saw what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. Brilliant light surrounded him; the radiance was like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day.
In Section 4 of Revelation, flashes of lightning and rumbling thunder came from the throne. In Section 1 of Ezekiel the whole vision is surrounded by a windstorm and an immense cloud with flashing lightning; the fiery creatures propelling the LORD’s chariot in Section 4 also have lightning flashing out of the fire that moves among them.
In Section 5 of Revelation a sea of glass, clear as crystal is before the throne; in Ezekiel, Section 5, spread above the heads of the creatures, under the Almighty, is an expanse, sparkling like ice and awesome. This would seem to be the sky which spreads over the world beneath the LORD’s feet.
Four living creatures surround the throne in John’s vision, Section 6 of Revelation; they are covered with eyes, in front and in back. According to Section 7b of Revelation, there were eyes even under their six wings. In Ezekiel, Section 6, the chariot of the LORD has four wheels, able to move in any direction; the wheels are beside each of the four creatures, and the high rims of the wheels are full of eyes all around. Incidentally, when the cherubim reappear in a second vision in Ezekiel 10, “their entire bodies, including their backs, their hands and their wings, were completely full of eyes, as were their four wheels” (10:12). The creatures know where they are going; the chariot of the LORD, so to speak, also knows where it is going; in fact, the swift motion of the chariot in any direction is one of its striking features. The creatures in Revelation have six wings, while those in Ezekiel have four.
In Revelation Section 7a the four creatures are described separately as being one like a lion, one like an ox, one with a human face, and one like a flying eagle. In Ezekiel each of the four creatures looks like this: it has not only a human face, but also the face of a lion on the right side and the face of an ox
on the left; each also has the face of an eagle. They are the same creatures mentioned by John, but all four creatures have all four faces. Perhaps the faces of these cherubim represent four aspects of creation: humans, wild animals, domestic animals and birds. However, when they reappear in Ezekiel 10, “each of the cherubim had four faces: One face was that of a cherub, the second the face of a man, the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle” (10:14).
In Section 4 of Revelation the one who sits on the throne is surrounded by twenty-four elders, just as in the first chapter the Son of man appears among seven lamp stands, with seven stars in his right hand. It is a reminder that in the New Testament the vision of the glory of the LORD is given to God’s whole people, not only to a one prophet for them. Going on to the section numbered 8 in Revelation on Page 2, the one on the throne is holding a scroll, written on both sides. In Ezekiel, Section 10, the LORD reaches out to hand the prophet a similar scroll, which he is then directed to eat.
In both Revelation and Ezekiel we have an appearance of the glory of the Lord, though Ezekiel, recognizing his own unworthiness to see God, calls it (Section 8) “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.” The glory of the LORD appeared as a flaming lamp in Genesis 15, when the LORD established his covenant of grace with Abraham. It appeared to Moses in the burning bush. It stood between the Israelites and the Egyptians on the night before God’s people crossed the Red Sea. It appeared on Mt. Sinai when the LORD revealed his Law to Moses and then to the elders of Israel when they confirmed Israel’s Law covenant with the LORD. When Moses foolishly asked to see the unveiled glory of the LORD, his request was refused; instead, the LORD proclaimed his saving name.
In Ezekiel Chapter 10 the glory of the LORD appears again. A messenger is directed to take flaming coals from among the cherubim and scatter them over the city of Jerusalem. Then the glory of the LORD departs from the Temple (10:18). Later, on the same day that Ezekiel’s wife dies, the word of the LORD comes to the prophet: “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am about to desecrate my sanctuary—the stronghold in which you take pride, the delight of your eyes, the object of your affection” (24:21). The LORD reveals his glory to Ezekiel for a message of judgment against the people of Judah and Jerusalem.
EZEKIEL 40-48 AND REVELATION 21-22
9.Instructed to Take Measurements
On Page 3 of the printed texts, in Section 2 both Ezekiel and John are carried away to a high mountain to see the city; Ezekiel says specifically that it is in the land of Israel. According to Section 3, the gates of the city are named after the twelve tribes of Israel; Ezekiel tells which three gates are on each side. In Section 4 the angel (Revelation) or the man whose appearance is like bronze (Ezekiel) holds a measuring rod, the angel to measure the city in Revelation, the man to measure the new Temple in Ezekiel. In Section 6 of Revelation the city is 12,000 stadia or about 1400 miles long, wide and high, with a wall about 200 feet thick. In Ezekiel, Section 6, the distance all around the city is 18,000 cubits, that is, 27,000 feet or a little less than 5.2 miles.
- The River & The Tree
Finally, in Chapter 22 of Revelation, Page 5 of your printed material, John describes the “river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.” In Ezekiel, the water comes out from under the east threshold of the new temple, deepening as it flows east till no one can cross it. In Revelation on each side of the river is “the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” In Ezekiel, “where the river flows everything will live.” Fish of many kinds fill the river; “fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river,” and “their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.” The point of both visions is life, abundant life, everlasting life.
We perhaps know the picture from Revelation fairly well, but a little summary like this gives us no idea of the new temple and the enormous temple enclosure described in the last chapters of Ezekiel. Keith Kuschel’s commentary in the People’s Bible series gives a fuller description and two diagrams. The sanctuary itself is 150 feet square; in its exact center is an altar, the hearth of which is about 20 feet square. The whole area around the temple also forms a perfect square, 750 feet on a side. There are new regulations for the priests, the Levites and the sacrifices, replacing those in the Book of Leviticus. The whole land of Israel is divided equally among the twelve tribes. The sacred district around the Temple, including the home of the priests, is immense: a strip 20,000 cubits by 25,000 cubits, about 6 by 7 miles. In comparison, the temple area in the time of Christ was perhaps 500 yards square. For the third time in his book Ezekiel now sees the glory of the LORD.
“Then the man brought me to the gate facing east, and I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east. His voice was like the roar of rushing waters, and the land was radiant with his glory. The vision I saw was like the vision I had seen when he came to destroy the city and like the visions I had seen by the Kebar River, and I fell facedown. The glory of the LORD entered the temple through the gate facing east. Then the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. While the man was standing beside me, I heard someone speaking to me from inside the temple. He said: “Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place for the soles of my feet. This is where I will live among the Israelites forever” (43:17).
That vision explains the name of the city, the name which closes the Book of Ezekiel: “THE LORD IS THERE.”
Many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen Solomon’s temple, “wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping” (Ezra 3:12,13).
Even if we overlook the mere physical insignificance of the second temple as compared with the first, something else was missing: the Ark of the Covenant, the heart of the tabernacle and the first temple, representing the presence of the LORD among his people, was not there.
On the ark, the LORD told Moses, “above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the Testimony, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites” (Exodus 25:21). But when the returning Jews rebuilt the temple, the ark was gone, perhaps burned when Nebuchadnezzar set fire to the first temple (2 Kings 25:8,9). And we do not read that the glory of the LORD appeared in the second temple, at its dedication or later. No bright cloud filled this sanctuary. While the prophets taught the Jews to look forward to their return to the land of Israel, and while it was plainly the LORD’s will that his people rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, we can hardly see in Zerubbabel’s temple the fulfillment of God’s promise through Ezekiel. In fact, Haggai wrote: “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?” (2:3). The prophet taught the people to expect something better to come: “In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth…and I will fill this house with glory….The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house and in this place I will grant peace” (Haggai 2:6-9). What was the LORD telling his people?
“I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” Revelation 21:22. There is no parallel to this in Ezekiel, or rather, the parallel is all those verses which describe Ezekiel’s new temple and the glory of the Lord descending to fill it. Do we understand? Ezekiel may be referring in a shadowy way to the rebuilt temple after the Exile, but the real fulfillment of his prophecy comes later. The so-to-speak shadow-fulfillment comes with the return from exile and the building of the Second Temple; the reality fulfillment comes in Christ; and the ultimate fulfillment will be in eternity.
John says it this way: “The Word became flesh and lived for a while”—the word means ‘tabernacled, tented”—“among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Just as the Old Testament tabernacle and then Solomon’s temple represented the presence of the LORD among his people, and he was actually pleased to let his glory—what the Jews called the shechinah—appear to them there, so Jesus reveals God the Father to us.
Jesus says it this way when he throws the animal dealers and money changers out of Herod’s temple: “’Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’ The Jews replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. They believed the Scripture”—and doesn’t that perhaps specifically include Ezekiel 40-48?—“and the words that Jesus had spoken” (John 2:18-22).
This became the charge that the false witnesses brought at his trial: he was condemned for his announcement that the Father’s presence among his people was now not in the temple building, but in the person of the only-begotten Son.
Jesus told the woman at the well near Mt. Gerizim, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem….A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is a spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:21-24). Notice particularly: “the time has now come” for this new worship.
We do not have to wait for eternity to worship God in his new temple. That time has come with the arrival of the Messianic King. (Pastor D. Sievert called attention to Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:6: “One greater than the temple is here.”)
With Israel’s rejection of God’s promised Messiah, the temple building was becoming only Jerusalem’s temple, not the LORD’s, an empty memorial of the LORD’s past presence among the Jews.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate” —that is, it has been abandoned to you, as Jesus was forsaken by his heavenly Father on the cross. “For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Matthew 23:37-39). His presence in grace has been offered to the Jews during his ministry; his presence in glory will be revealed on the last day, to unbelievers as well as believers.
As Jesus himself is the new temple among his people, so Scripture can freely compare him to key features of the temple. We enter heaven through his sacrificed body, which becomes our way to God, as the Old Testament high priest made his way into the most holy place through the curtain of the tabernacle. “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith…” (Hebrews 10:19-23). The mercy-seat, the covering of the ark, was the heart of the temple, where the LORD appeared to Moses. “If anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice”— the same Greek word used in the Septuagint translation of Exodus 25:16ff. for the mercy-seat, the covering of the ark— “for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:1,2) Have we, then, shared the vision of Ezekiel and John, the revelation of the glory of God? Paul says we have: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). And the Letter to the Hebrews: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (1:3).
The whole last part of Ezekiel, then, with its tremendously detailed picture of the twelve tribes of Israel living in God’s new city, surrounding a new Temple, describes in Old Testament terms Jesus Christ among his people, the holy Christian church. The cloud, representing the LORD’s presence, filled the Temple; “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). In the Temple the priests brought bloody sacrifices to the LORD; “but now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:22).
God’s Old Testament people came to the temple to pray, and when they could not be in Jerusalem, they turned toward the temple; in Jesus, “and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 3:12).
This is also what John sees in the first chapter and the fourth chapter of Revelation: the Lord Jesus in glory, surrounded by his people, represented by the seven churches of Asia Minor, or by the twenty-four elders. He teaches us to see ourselves, in the throne room of heaven. Foolishly, in our weak moments, like Moses we wish we could see his unveiled glory right now.
Instead, he proclaims his saving name to us. If we have been baptized; if we hear the Gospel Word of forgiveness; if we gather around the Savior’s holy supper: then “since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (Romans 5:1,2). Paul goes on in the same passage, “and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2). This is what John sees in the last two chapters of Revelation, where everything is new: “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (20:3,4).
The Gospel of Christ, then, is the common thread in the apocalyptic symbolism of Ezekiel and John’s Revelation. God’s temple among us, his people, is now his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Now, in the words of Isaiah, “the glory of the LORD has been revealed.” What still remains to be fulfilled is that “all mankind together will see it” (Isaiah 40:5). John says that by calling the Lord God Almighty not only the temple of the new Jerusalem—he is that now—but also its light. Already in the vision of Ezekiel and the earlier vision in Revelation, the most prominent feature is light: fire, lightning, rainbow, gemstones that brilliantly refract the light. And in eternity “the city does not need the sun or the or the moon to shine on it, but the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp” (Revelation 21:22).
Seeing the glory of God now through Jesus Christ in his Word, we know that a greater glory is coming. “How great is the love the father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:1,2).
It is clear that Ezekiel & John, men of God, separated by centuries, had several things in common, in their experiences with the Lord, so what to do we take away from this? Just as we are centuries away from John, we can see that Christ, and the Lord, are the same yesterday, today, & Forever- That there is an unchangeable truth, and perhaps even a valuable significance as to why these men received such commonalities in the visions they received to share with God’s people. The speculations are endless. Three things however, are certain:
As we read the Bible, we will search for Christ there, in both Old and New Testaments. “They testify of me,” he said of the Old Testament Scriptures. This assignment reminded me of that again. If the connection with Christ is not apparent, we will search more deeply, trusting his word that we will find him there.
We will make the study of the Word the prime resource gathering aspect of our preaching and teaching ministries. I recognize all kinds of failings in my ministry and confession, but that is the most serious one.
When we prepare to preach and teach, our strongest efforts will be concentrated on presenting the Gospel of Christ. That, and nothing else, is the power of God for salvation. Nothing is more practical than that “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).