The vision of Ezekiel in Ezekiel 1 is the beginning of his encounter with the Holy Ghost. This entire encounter is recorded in Ezekiel, chapters 1 through 3. The encounter is also a foretaste of the ministry of the Holy Ghost in the New Testament.
Ezekiel's encounter with the Holy Ghost is the occasion of his commission as a prophet to Israel. (Ezekiel 2:3-5) His vision in chapter one is what he saw before the Holy Ghost spoke to him. Although the Holy Ghost is a Spirit, He appeared to Ezekiel in the form of a man having the appearance of fire from the waist up and the waist down. (Ezekiel 1:26-27)
This vision may be divided into three parts:
- The whirlwind (storm) and the four living creatures. (vv. 4-14)
- The "wheels and the glory of God". (vv. 15-21)
- The firmament and the throne. (vv. 22-28)
Each part of the vision is steeped in symbolism. In part one, the whirlwind symbolizes God's coming to judge Judah. The direction "out of the north" symbolized the path the exiles had taken and the direction the Babylonians believed their gods were located.1 The whirlwind coming out of the north symbolizes "the great armies of Babylon approaching Jerusalem".2 God would judge Judah by allowing Jerusalem to "fall to the Babylonians".3
There were four living creatures in the vision. Each creature had four faces:
- The face of a man.
- The face of a lion.
- The face of an ox.
- The face of an eagle.
The four faces symbolize God sovereignty over all creation. The number four symbolizes completeness.4 Therefore, God has complete control over all creation. The presence of the living creatures symbolizes the judgment against Judah was a spiritual judgment.
The faces of the living creature also symbolize God's perfect nature. The man symbolizes intelligence. The lion symbolizes strength. The ox symbolizes diligent service. The eagle symbolizes divinity. Early Church fathers also saw these creatures as symbolic of the four Gospels. The man symbolized the Gospel of Luke, revealing Christ as the perfect Man. The lion symbolized the Gospel of Matthew, revealing Christ as the Lion of Judah. The ox symbolized the Gospel of Mark, revealing Christ as a Servant. The eagle symbolized the Gospel of John, revealing Christ as the Son of God.5
The movement of the living creatures demonstrates the divinity of the Holy Ghost. The creatures move at the will of the Holy Ghost. Their appearance of fire symbolizes their holiness. Their swiftness of movement that appeared as lightening symbolizes the omnipresence of the Holy Ghost.
Part two of the vision tells of the four wheels having the appearance of a wheel within a wheel. Each wheel had a rim full of eyes and accompanied the creatures wherever they went. The wheels and rim of eyes symbolizes the omnipresence6 and omniscience of God. Because the wheels went everwhere the creatures went, they saw everything everywhere.
Part three of the vision tells of the firmament, One sitting on the throne above the firmament and a rainbow in a cloud. The throne sitting above the firmament symbolizes the sovereignty of God over heaven and earth. (Isaiah 40:12-14, 22-23) The word firmament is the same word used for heaven in Genesis 1:6-8.7 The righteous judge of heaven and earth has come to deal with Judah. The man sitting on the throne above the firmament is the Holy Ghost. He is the Spirit of Burning (Isaiah 4:4) demonstrated by the appearance of fire from the waist up and the waist down. The fire also symbolizes His holiness. The rainbow symbolizes "God's never-ending faithfulness to [His] people". He would preserve those who remain faithful to Him">8
The vision of the "glory of the Lord" demonstrated the "fullness of God". This is the weightiness of God. God is omnipotent. Therefore He is fully capable of dealing with Judah.
Ezekiel's encounter with the Holy Ghost is a foretaste of His New Covenant ministry. Jesus said of the Holy Ghost in John 16:13, "...He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come". Ezekiel's vision in chapter 1 was the Holy Ghost coming to tell Ezekiel the council of God concerning Judah and to commission him as a prophet.
The vision also demonstrates the divinity of the Holy Ghost. When God said, "Let Us make man..." in Genesis 1:26, the Holy Ghost was included in the reference to "Us". This vision of the Spirit of Burning demonstrates His sovereignty as God because He is the One sitting upon the throne.
Ezekiel's vision in Ezekiel 1 is a picture of a holy God coming in all of His fullness to deal with the idolatrous sins of a disobedient and stiff-necked people.