Is Ezekiel chapter one science fiction?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: If you will please give me a brief explanation about the book of Ezekiel chapter one. I read it and it sounded like something from the sci-fi channel.

Answer: I agree. The first chapter of Ezekiel does indeed sound like something from the Sci-Fi Channel, but I’ll note two cautions. First, the “Fi” in “Sci-Fi” stands for fiction, and the Bible is (at the very least) the antipode of fiction. Second, since the biblical images predate any contemporary images, should we not rather say that the Sci-Fi channel occasionally produces shows which evoke biblical imagery? This more accurately reflects their cause-and-effect.

Ezekiel received this vision from God at a time when he and his people desperately needed it—after being carried away captive to Babylon. With this captivity, the Jews had lost any natural hope of ever again living as an autonomous nation. They needed a spiritual shot-in-the-arm, and that’s when God showed up. Yes... God showed up! That particular vision was of a special type called a theophany, which is any direct, visual manifestation of the presence of God. You may be familiar with Moses and the burning bush from Exodus 3:2. That burning bush is also a theophany, and the Old Testament contains many lesser-known appearances by God. Please note, however, that God never appeared casually. With every appearance, he delivered new and important information. Since God appears at unique times, in unique forms, and in unique contexts, the Bible student must ask why did God manifest himself in that particular form and at that particular time. How did Ezekiel’s vision help the Jews?

Can you imagine the feelings of brokenness and defeat as their nation dissolved into captivity? Had God abandoned them? Not in the least. Every theophany makes the same core statement: God is with us. And such news cannot help but comfort the down-trodden. Besides, God had promised a great and glorious future for his people (Genesis 12:2). By his merely showing-up, the Holy Spirit blew upon that spark of promise — and God rekindled their hope!

“Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” (Genesis 12:1–2, ESV).

In visions, God speaks using visual images and symbols, but such language tools conceal as well as reveal. We must remember that except where God himself has provided the interpretation of the vision directly in the Bible, the best we humans can offer are interpretations and insights. Many earnest, intelligent, and godly people have written books to this end, but these are just that—the works of people. So, when you are reading, always know where you are; you are either in the Bible or you are elsewhere. The following two paragraphs contain my elsewhere.

Jesus Christ referred to himself as the son of man much more often than as the son of God. He identified with us enough to leave heaven and become one of us! Philippians 2:7. “…taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” Now, notice the overall and first descriptor of the four living creatures from Ezekiel 1:5. “…they had human form” and in Ezekiel 1:10 we read that “…each had the face of a man…” Note also in Ezekiel 1:26 the appearance of the one who sits on the throne. “…a figure with the appearance of a man.”

In my opinion, Ezekiel’s vision was a special type of theophany — a Christophany — an appearance of Jesus Christ specifically, as opposed to God generally. The Scripture is full of passages where Jesus Christ sits on a throne, sometimes as judge and sometimes as ruler (Acts 2:30, Revelation 4:2). But how does all this Jesus business help Ezekiel and his Old Testament Jews? Jesus Christ is their promised Messiah! He is the one who will restore glory to their nation. He'll establish them in Jerusalem, and he'll make that city the de facto capital of the world. He shall ultimately fulfill his promises and change their captivity into glory. Now that was pretty good news for the captive nation.

Every word in the Bible points toward Jesus Christ. I link the appearance of Ezekiel’s creatures to Jesus Christ, Messiah. The Jews balked at this revelation of the meek-and-lowly Jesus when he came to live as one of us over 2000 years ago, but in their hesitation, the great work of evangelizing the world (which included Jews as well as pagans) fell to the Church. Yes, the Jewish nation missed that opportunity for glory...but they shall not miss the next one. No one will! When Jesus will come in power and glory, every eye shall see him. That is Ezekiel’s vision.

Fortunately, we born-again Christians need no theophanies, since we (by definition) have a personal relationship with God himself. Those Old Testament visual appearances merely prefigured the types of relationships that we readily enjoy now. Christians have access to God the Father, fellowship with Jesus Christ, a complete Bible and the comfort of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Ours is the time of the resurrected Christ — when hearts see clearly… and when no visions are required.

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