1.2.4 Visionary Manifestations: God as Apparition
Volume 1: Foundations—Chapter 2.4
Visionary Manifestations: God as Apparition
Occasionally, there are situations that no physical manifestation of Yahweh can adequately address. At these times, He resorts to dreams, visions, and ecstatic encounters. I like to think of these as God’s “special effects” department. These visions have no objective reality, existing only in an individual’s subconscious, but they nevertheless play an important role in communicating Yahweh’s will, plan, and nature to their recipients. Unlike the Holy Spirit, these are not a permanent, indwelling spiritual presence, but are rather specific, sporadic, and temporary glimpses into Yahweh’s unique psyche or personality. Unlike theophanies, they have no corporeal existence, but are expressed, as needed, in forms that range from anthropomorphisms to hallucinogenic apparitions that defy description. And unlike the Shekinah, these are private, One-on-one expressions, shown to only one person in his subconscious mind, and then only for a very important reason—to enable him to viscerally experience something that isn’t really “possible” in his waking life.
Not every dream or vision is from God, of course, nor is every vision that’s from Yahweh of Him. For example, Nebuchadnezzar’s vision of a statue (see Daniel 2) was sent by Yahweh to reveal prophetic truth concerning the future of gentile world domination, but it wasn’t a vision describing Him. Daniel himself saw visions that revealed (among other things) both Yahweh and His Messiah in anthropomorphic terms. “In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel saw a dream and visions of his head as he lay in his bed. Then he wrote down the dream and told the sum of the matter.” (Daniel 7:1) He’s apparently using the words “dream” and “vision” interchangeably, so it might be instructive to examine the source of these concepts. The Hebrew noun chelem is the ordinary word for a “dream.” It’s from the primitive root verb chalam, meaning to dream, whether the ordinary “theater of the mind” kind of experience or God-sent prophetic encounters. But the word also means to be healthy or strong; to restore to health. In order to dream, one must have entered into a state of deep, restorative sleep—something called REM (random eye movement) sleep. I don’t know if the Hebrews knew this or it’s just a coincidence. A “vision,” in contrast, is the noun chezev, from the verb chazah, meaning to see, behold, witness, or perceive. So the difference is that a “vision” speaks of content—that which one sees—and a “dream” describes how he sees it: i.e., subconsciously.
This is what Daniel saw: “As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; His clothing was white as snow, and the hair of His head like pure wool; His throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before Him; a thousand thousands served Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.” (Daniel 7:9-10) The “Ancient of Days,” obviously a euphemism for Yahweh, was “seen” in somewhat “human” terms: though more awesome in glory than anything Daniel had ever seen, He had a head and hair, wore clothing, and sat on a throne.
But almost immediately, we’re given the record of another vision: “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him; His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14) Just as obviously, this second visionary personage is the risen Messiah: Yahshua, who confirmed (in Matthew 28:18) that it was He alone who would exercise the dominion—the authority—of Yahweh. Whereas the Ancient of Days is invested with human attributes in the vision, this One is described as human, a “son of man”—or at least “like” us in some way. The clincher as to the Messiah’s identity is His grand entrance: “with the clouds of heaven,” precisely as Yahshua prophesied His own return at the end of the age (see Mark 13:26).
We’re being given the opportunity here to understand one reason why Yahweh sometimes resorts to dreams and visions. It’s the only way (at least the only way I can envision) that we could compare or contrast the roles of Yahweh with His Messiah, since they both share the same identity, though not the same form. Daniel could never have been shown Yahweh’s true glory with his waking eyes, nor could he have comprehended how this glory could have devolved upon His Anointed One. This kind of thing could only happen in a vision.
As we have seen, Yahweh frequently met with Abraham in the form of theophanies. But there were times when the things He wanted to show the man of faith couldn’t really be described without resorting to “special effects.” We see just such an instance in a pivotal moment in Abram’s life, when He was earnestly trying to comprehend God’s promises of national blessing, promises he believed but didn’t quite understand—before he had any children. “The word of Yahweh came to Abram in a vision: ‘Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great….’” The noun translated “vision” here is machazeh, based on the same verb (chazah: to see, perceive, or look) as the one describing the Daniel 7 vision. The “vision” of someone in an ecstatic state is implied. Also of interest is the word translated “word,” dabar, which basically means a speech, word, saying, or utterance. It’s based on a verb meaning to speak, declare, converse, command, promise, warn, threaten, or even sing. The “Ten Commandments” are actually the “Ten Words”—dabar. I can’t help but see more than a passing resemblance to the Greek concept of Logos.
What’s remarkable here is that Abram is not just an observer, but an active participant in his own visionary experience, and Yahweh is seen “counting as righteousness” the trust and belief Abram felt in his heart, even though he was not consciously forming his thoughts on the matter, since this all happened within his vision. “But Abram said, ‘O Lord Yahweh, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.’ And behold, the word of Yahweh came to him: ‘This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.’ And He brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then He said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ And he believed Yahweh, and He counted it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:1-6) It’s a somewhat stunning epiphany, at least to me: Yahweh knows the thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs we hold to be true in the deepest recesses of our hearts—even if we’re not quite aware of these things ourselves, even if we haven’t studied, reasoned, researched, prayed, and settled upon an unshakable “doctrinal position” concerning every nuance of scriptural teaching. Knowledge is wonderful, but we don’t have to know everything to know Yahweh. The kind of trust a small child has for his father is all He needs to work with. He knows what makes us tick, even if we haven’t quite found the words to express it ourselves.
Within the vision, Abram and Yahweh were to enact a covenant of blood, in which a sacrifice was to be split in two, and both parties were to walk between the pieces, as if to say, “If I break my vow, may I be split in two like this.” But Yahweh put Abram—who was already in an ecstatic state in his vision—into a “deep sleep,” causing a “horror and great darkness” to fall upon him. Yahweh’s point in doing so was that the conditions of the covenant (namely, that Abram would have many descendants who would inhabit the Promised Land) would be met by Him alone: nothing was required of Abe except the trust in Yahweh he had already shown. “When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day Yahweh made a covenant with Abram.” (Genesis 15:17-18)
Again, the truth Yahweh wanted to present is something that Abram could not really have comprehended with his waking eyes. The “fire pot” here is a tannuwr, a small beehive-shaped portable oven or furnace, often used as a metaphor for God’s wrath: “Your hand will find out all your enemies; Your right hand will find out those who hate you. You will make them as a blazing oven [tannuwr] when you appear. Yahweh will swallow them up in his wrath, and fire will consume them.” (Psalm 21:8-9). And the connotation of the “flaming torch” is the flip side of that coin: the brilliance of Yahweh’s deliverance. ’Esh is fire, and lappid is a torch, lamp, or even lightning—the word is used to describe the “lightning flashes” that scorched the summit of Mount Sinai when Moses received the Ten Commandments. Note Yahweh’s imagery through Isaiah’s pen: “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch [lappid].” (Isaiah 62:1) So the images Yahweh presented to Abram in the covenant vision were symbolic of Himself: the blinding light of His righteousness, imputed to us and making possible our salvation, is bolstered by His willingness to back up His covenant promises with wrath upon His enemies—including, according to the terms of the covenant, the enemies of His friend, Abram, and his progeny. If we understand what the symbols mean, they’ll tell us as much as the actual words Yahweh used to express His covenant.
Though dreams and visions were used throughout scripture to communicate facts to people regardless of their spiritual affiliations (note the cases of Joseph’s Pharaoh, Balaam, Nebuchadnezzar, and Belshazzar) Yahweh, to my knowledge, never revealed Himself in a vision to anyone who did not already have a personal relationship with Him. Perhaps the most remarkable such vision, in terms of imagery and symbolism, was that seen by a young priest in the early days of the Babylonian conquest: Ezekiel.
The reason for the vision was explained immediately after he received it: “And He said to me, ‘Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.’ And as He spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard Him speaking to me. And He said to me, ‘Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day. The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord [or, “the Foundation”] Yahweh….’” If Ezekiel was going to speak in Yahweh’s name to this pack of impertinent rebels, he was going to have to be utterly convinced that it was really God who had sent him, and not some figment of his own imagination. And the vision of Yahweh’s glory he had just seen, which we’ll review in a moment, had been so utterly unlike what anybody might have expected, Ezekiel had no choice but to believe that it had been sent by God Himself. The vision had been designed to engender boldness and unshakable conviction in Yahweh’s young prophet.
That’s not to say this newfound confidence was designed to make Zeke popular or successful. Yahweh’s admonition continues: “And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them. And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions.” Oh, that sounds like fun. “Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. And you shall speak My words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house.’” (Ezekiel 2:1-7) Swell. Yahweh was practically guaranteeing that His prophet would be ridiculed and ignored—just as his predecessor Jeremiah (perhaps twenty years Ezekiel’s senior) had been for decades before the conquest. But “results” were not what Yahweh was after, exactly. He only wanted to make sure that Israel’s free will—their right and ability to repent and follow their God if they chose to—was not abridged, even here in captivity. He wished to provide a witness, even now, when it was too late to avoid temporal judgment (is there a Laodicean in the house?), for there is more to life than what we see with our mortal eyes. No, the Israelites would know that there had been a prophet among them. Whether they liked it or not.
The vision itself was not for the faint of heart. Ezekiel begins by telling us precisely when he saw the visions, where he was, and what conditions prevailed. “In the [i.e., ‘my’] thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Chebar canal [the royal canal Nebuchadnezzar had built connecting the Euphrates and Tigris rivers], the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. On the fifth day of the month (it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin), the word of Yahweh came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of Yahweh was upon him there.” (Ezekiel 1:1-3) A priest’s duties in the Temple officially began when he was thirty years of age, so having been exiled before his service could commence must have been frustrating for the devout young priest. (The Temple still stood when this was written—about 592 B.C.—but it wouldn’t for much longer.) It was as if Yahweh was saying, “There’s more than one way a dedicated priest can serve.”
“As I looked, behold, a stormy wind [Hebrew: ruach—the same word translated spirit] came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal.” From the very beginning, we get the feeling that Ezekiel doesn’t quite have words to adequately describe what he’s seeing, but he does his best to report the scene objectively. Clouds, brightness, and flashing fire are all reminiscent of Yahweh’s Shekinah manifestations, but this was all happening in his cerebral cortex—in “visions of God.” “And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures.” “Creatures” is a truly unfortunate word choice. The word is chayah, a verb meaning to live or to have life, or the related noun that means “life” or “living being,” such as an animal. “And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness, but each had four faces, and each of them had four wings….” We’ll get to the “faces” and “wings” in a moment. The primary impression these four Living Ones left upon Ezekiel was their fundamental humanity—their affiliation or connection with mankind.
“Their legs were straight [yashar: upright—i.e., the legs appeared to be human], and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf’s foot. And they sparkled like burnished bronze….” This is undoubtedly what Zeke saw; the trick is figuring out what it means. Legs and feet are the implements of one’s walk through life; calves (clean animals suitable for burnt offerings) are indicative of service; bronze is a metaphor for judgment. (These are symbols we’ll cover later in this book. For now, just trust me.) The picture, then—human legs with calves’ feet, gleaming like polished brass—seems to be one of a very special human being, one whose walk is characterized by service and sacrifice, but whose service includes the function of judgment—which in Biblical terms isn’t so much condemnation per se as it is separation, judicial decision, a setting apart of the guilty from the innocent.
Each of the four Living Ones, you’ll recall, had four faces and four wings. “Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. And the four had their faces and their wings thus: their wings touched one another. Each one of them went straight forward, without turning as they went.” Wings, like legs and feet, speak of locomotion through life, but this time the path is in the heavens. These Living Ones are as comfortable in the realm of God as they are on earth. “As for the likeness of their faces, each had a human face. The four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle. Such were their faces.” The imagery here is identical to a vision John would experience on the Isle of Patmos, recorded in the Book of Revelation, though the manifestations change a bit. The four faces represent four different attributes of the Logos of Yahweh. Each of these “faces” is emphasized in one of the four “Gospels,” the historical accounts that begin the New Covenant canon. The human face represents Christ’s humanity, the facet of His character stressed in the Book of Luke. The lion indicates the King’s authority (backed by royal power): The Messiah as King is the theme of Matthew’s Gospel. The ox (like the calf’s feet) speak of service—the undercurrent of the Book of Mark. And the eagle is Master of the Heavens: the deity of Yahshua is emphasized in John’s Gospel. If it wasn’t clear before, it should be now: the four Living Ones in Ezekiel’s vision are together a prophetic preview of Yahshua the Messiah.
And what was the function of the wings? “Their wings were spread out above. Each [being] had two wings, each of which touched the wing of another, while two covered their bodies. And each went straight forward. Wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went.” If I’m picturing this correctly, the four Living Ones acted and moved in concert: the two wings used for flying were extended, touching the wingtips of the two neighboring Living Ones—making them, for all practical purposes, one composite entity—I guess you’d call it echad in Hebrew. They “flew” as a unit, the direction being determined by the “Spirit” (Ruach). Since each Living One had four faces (that is, four separate character attributes), the direction in which they moved as a unit stressed one attribute (at a time) over the others. Following the career of the Messiah, we can guess that the Living Ones began by moving in the direction of humanity, shifting first to the left—to service—then making an abrupt “about face” (at the resurrection) to move in the direction of the Lion’s countenance—the face of the King. Finally, it turned ninety degrees right, moving in the direction of deity. Ezekiel was being told that these were all the same entity—the same Person—but they wouldn’t always present themselves to mankind in the same way. The Baby in the manger didn’t look much like “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” and the bloodied corpse of Yahshua doesn’t remotely resemble the reigning King of Glory—returning soon to a world near you. But God was showing Ezekiel that no matter what direction He was moving, His plan was steadily progressing, just as He had ordained.
“As for the likeness of the living [beings], their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches moving to and fro among the living creatures. And the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. And the living [beings] darted to and fro, like the appearance of a flash of lightning.” (Ezekiel 1:4-14) All we’ve really seen in history so far is the Living Ones’ humanity and service. But Ezekiel got to see the reality of the whole spectacular scenario, not that he had the words to express the splendor of what he was witnessing. I get the feeling that “burning coals,” “torches,” bright “fire,” and “lightning” darting about are but a pale approximation of what he actually saw in his vision. Not that I could have done any better. There are some situations in which words simply fail us. This was one of them. Where are the Hollywood special effects wizards when you need them?
If you thought the vision was strange up to this point, hold onto your hat. “Now as I looked at the living [beings], I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living [beings], one for each of the four of them. As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl.” This gem, probably yellow jasper (Hebrew: tarshiysh), was also listed first in the fourth row of the High Priest’s Ephod (see Exodus 28:20) and seventh in the foundation stones of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:9-21)—there called “Chrysolite,” from the Greek chrysos (gold) and lithos (stone). “And the four had the same likeness, their appearance and construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel. When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went. And their rims were tall and awesome, and the rims of all four were full of eyes all around. And when the living [beings] went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living [beings] rose from the earth, the wheels rose. Wherever the spirit wanted to go, they went, and the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living [beings] was in the wheels. When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living [beings] was in the wheels.” (Ezekiel 1:15-21)
My motto is, “When you’re speechless, retreat to the shelter of quotes from scholars.” Okay, I’m kidding. But The Theological Wordbook Of The Old Testament notes: “Both Ezekiel (1:10) and Daniel (7:9) had visions of God’s throne set on a platform with wheels. The celebrated wheels within wheels of Ezekiel 1 had axles set at ninety degree angles somewhat like a gyroscope, so that the platform could go at once in any of the four directions, without a steering mechanism. The whole picture symbolized the omnipresence of the Lord, and the rapidity with which he executes judgment in his rule of the earth.” Well, maybe. I would point out that since “the spirit of the living [beings] was in the wheels,” and “the rims of all four were full of eyes all around,” we’re being shown that the direction and pace of the Messiah’s mission was controlled by the infinite perception of the Holy Spirit. What Yahshua did, when He did it, and what “face” He showed the world at any given time, was directed and ordained by the Spirit of God.
None of this happened in a vacuum. Next Ezekiel reveals the environment in which the Living Ones—the Logos—operated. “Over the heads of the living [beings] there was the likeness of an expanse, shining like awe-inspiring crystal, spread out above their heads.” In other words, everything the Living Ones did was done in reference to the heavens—the abode of God—not according to earthly goals. “And under the expanse their wings were stretched out straight, one toward another. And each [being] had two wings covering its body. And when they went, I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of many waters, like the sound of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army. When they stood still, they let down their wings.” The Living Ones weren’t always in motion. When they did move, the impact upon their surroundings was awe-inspiring, earth-shaking, and impossible to ignore (if you weren’t spiritually comatose). But there were to be times when the Living Ones (who, don’t forget, are a collective metaphor for Yahshua, the Logos) stood still—moving in no direction at all (and therefore, displaying each of its four defining attributes in equal measure). If you think about it, that has been the state of affairs under which we have been living ever since the ascension of the Messiah from the Mount of Olives—almost two thousand years now. When the Living Ones let down their wings—when They are not in motion—They are considerably harder to see and hear. Today, we have historical accounts of His humanity and service, and prophecies of his royal majesty and gloriously visible deity, but because God isn’t “in motion” right now (as far as His Messianic Plan is concerned) it is up to us to seek Him through the evidence He’s left behind—to pay attention to the Spirit’s “still, small voice” speaking within us, and to listen for the echoes of the Living Ones’ past movements in our world. Don’t get used to the relative quiet, by the way. I have it on good authority that the Living Ones will soon be on the move once again.
Ezekiel continues: “And there came [or was... Hebrew: hayah—to be, the root verb upon which Yahweh’s personal name is based] a voice from above the expanse over their heads. When they stood still, they let down their wings.” Who dwells “above the expanse?” Why, Yahweh, of course. Remember, even though the Living Ones are God, the purpose of the vision was to teach us, through Ezekiel, about how the relationship that exists between Yahweh and His Logos functions—how one is a diminished manifestation of the other, the same identity, though different in form. There is apparently a causal connection between what was said by the voice and the subsequent stillness of the Living Ones. In other words, the timeline of the Messianic program is Yahweh’s prerogative alone (see Mark 13:32).
We are now told of the source of the voice. “And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Yahweh.” (Ezekiel 1:22-28) Again, we have the distinct feeling that words are failing our faithful prophet. Ten times in this one paragraph he admonishes us that whatever he was seeing in his vision only “looked like” or “had the appearance of” something with which he was familiar in his human experience—implying that it wasn’t really that at all, but something far more spectacular.
The descriptive words Zeke uses, however, are telling. The expanse itself looked to him like “crystal,” the same word used for frost or ice. The throne looked to him like sapphire (Hebrew: sappiyr)—not the sapphire we know today, but rather the rich blue lapis lazuli, the second foundation stone of the New Jerusalem and the second stone of the second row of the High Priest’s ephod. (Could Yahweh be telling us that as far as He’s concerned, His heavenly throne, His seat of authority, is of secondary importance to Him—that love trumps lordship every time?) The “Ancient of Days” (as Daniel would characterize Him) was presented in anthropomorphic terms, but from the “waist” up looked to Ezekiel like a “shining substance” or “glowing brass,” (Hebrew chashmal, a word used only by Ezekiel, and then only to describe what we’re seeing here). From the waist down, He looked even more striking—like pure fire: esh is a word that also means lightning. The “brightness” that surrounded Him was ngah—“light, i.e., that which is known that can be responded to (hence: knowledge); brightness or radiance, i.e., the quality or state of having a relatively strong light; or splendor, majesty, i.e., that which has a beautiful appearance.” (Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains) Finally, this “brightness” was compared to a rainbow—the symbol of God’s covenant of peace with Noah.
Most visions recorded in Scripture are intended to convey some prophetic truth to God’s people through the seer. Relatively few, in fact, are those recorded visions in which Yahweh presents Himself, but these few are remarkably consistent. We’ve looked at several of them already. Some of the imagery presented in the extensive vision of Ezekiel 1 was reprised a bit later: “Then I looked, and behold, a form that had the appearance of a man. Below what appeared to be his waist was fire, and above his waist was something like the appearance of brightness, like gleaming metal…. And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, like the vision that I saw in the valley.” (Ezekiel 8:2, 4) But perhaps the most interesting comparison can be drawn between the visions seen by Ezekiel and Daniel with those recorded by John in the Book of Revelation, six centuries later.
“I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, ‘Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.’ Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me.” We aren’t told precisely what being “in the Spirit” meant. Considering what John saw and reported, however, I’m going to assume that this was a visionary encounter, a dream or ecstatic experience that he was able to recall and write down, in all its esoteric detail. “And on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around His chest.” None of us will ever see God unless we turn toward Him. For confirmation of the Messianic significance of the seven lampstands, compare Zechariah 4 to Isaiah 11:2. “The hairs of His head were white like wool, as white as snow.” Exactly as Daniel had pictured the “Ancient of Days” in 7:9. “His eyes were like a flame of fire, His feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace [Remember the “calves feet” of Ezekiel 1:7? We’re talking about judgment], and His voice was like the roar of many waters [see Ezekiel 1:24]. In His right hand he held seven stars, from His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and His face was like the sun shining in full strength.” (Revelation 1:10-16)
John had been a witness to both the transfiguration of Yahshua before His crucifixion and His glorified manifestation after the resurrection. But he had never seen Yahshua looking like this. In fact, no one had since the visions of Ezekiel and Daniel. But I have a feeling that these glimpses of glory are actually closer to objective reality than the flesh and blood Messiah who plied the streets of Judea in the First Century. Yes, God has humbled Himself for our benefit, because He loves us more than we can possibly comprehend. But let us never forget that His diminished appearance is a disguise, so to speak—He’s not really like that. Think of the Logos as a “hazmat suit” Yahweh dons in order to protect us from His glory as He works in our world.
Practically the entire book of Revelation is visionary, though John saw only brief vignettes of Yahweh’s persona. The description is continued in the fourth chapter: “After this [the dictation of the seven letters to the seven churches] I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’ At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with One seated on the throne. And He who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald….” We should by now be quite familiar with some of the imagery John is being shown here. The voice “like a trumpet” may be a reference to the rapture. The throne of God and the rainbow that encircled it should ring loud bells: they’re things we’ve encountered in previous visions that revealed the nature of Yahweh.
But let’s look at some of the “new” elements presented here. The One sitting on the throne (obviously deity) looked like Jasper. That’s the Greek iaspis, the first stone listed in the wall of the New Jerusalem, and the last (yashepheh in Hebrew) named in the High Priest’s ephod—the first and the last, the alpha and omega, precisely as Yahshua had introduced Himself at the beginning of the vision (see Revelation 1:11, 2:8). Carnelian (alternately translated sardius, ruby, or garnet) is a red form of chalcedony, representing the blood of Yahshua, shed for our sins. Its hexagonal crystalline structure speaks of His humanity, telling us that the blood of sacrificial animals was not sufficient to atone for our transgressions. This stone was sixth (the number of man) in the city’s foundation, and first in the top row of the ephod, as if to say: this Man is First, preeminent in all things. Finally, the rainbow about the throne looked like an emerald (Greek: smaragdinos—an adjective meaning “emerald-like,” based on smaragdos). The fact that an emerald must be oiled to retain its luster leads me to conclude that this may symbolize our need for the Holy Spirit—God’s presence living within us. We, too, must apply the “oil” of the Spirit to our lives if we wish to gleam for God’s glory. Just a guess.
“Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads.” We’ll address the “white garments” and “golden crowns” at a later date. “From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God [again, see Zechariah 4 and Isaiah 11:2], and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal….” If you’ll recall, the expanse that separated the “Living Ones” from the throne of God in Ezekiel 1 was described as “crystal,” a word that could describe either ice and frost or a crystalline mineral. Here in Greek, the word (krustallos) has the very same etymology—and if we consider where the vision is taking place (in heaven), the “sea of glass” before the throne is identical to the “expanse” seen by Ezekiel: it’s positioned above the earth, and beneath God’s heavenly throne.
And the similarities don’t stop there. “And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature [again, these aren’t “created,” so let’s call them “beings”] like a lion, the second living [being] like an ox, the third living [being] with the face of a man, and the fourth living [being] like an eagle in flight. And the four living [beings], each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy [that is, set-apart, unique, distinct], is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’” (Revelation 4:1-8) We saw these same symbolic attributes in Ezekiel’s vision: the authority and power of the lion, the service and sacrifice of the ox, the empathy, vulnerability, and volition of the man, and the metaphorical deity of the flying eagle—lord of the heavens. They once again paint a picture of the Logos, Yahshua the Messiah. Twice here we are told of the multiplicity of eyes (seen in Zeke’s vision as being on the “wheels”) reminding us that Yahweh’s Logos perceives and comprehends everything.
There seems to be a progression of modes in which Yahweh has manifested Himself throughout our history, beginning with His theophanies, then the Shekinah, then through dreams and visions. The advent of His “Son” as a human being living among men was next, followed by the indwelling Holy Spirit, who will in turn be eclipsed in our experience by the glorified reigning Messiah. These modes, though generally consecutive, aren’t strictly exclusive: as we have seen, several of Yahweh’s manifestations often share the spotlight at the same time. Between Moses’ time and Yahshua’s, dreams and visions were the order of the day. As Yahweh (speaking, ironically enough, as a theophany through the Shekinah) stated to Aaron and Miriam, “If there is a prophet among you, I, Yahweh, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream.” (Numbers 12:6)
An intriguing contrast is drawn by Solomon: “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.” (Proverbs 29:18) The Torah, he implies, is guarded and kept alive in the hearts of the people through the ongoing ministry of Yahweh’s prophets. Their messages—received through dreams and visions—reinforce their audience’s reliance upon God’s instructions, which in turn makes them blessed. It’s a scathing commentary upon Israel’s spiritual apostasy that Yahweh saw fit to withhold all “prophetic vision” for four hundred years preceding Yahshua’s advent—and what little has been bestowed upon us in the years since the resurrection has largely been ignored for the last two millennia by Jew and Christian alike. What part of “Blessed is he who keeps the Torah” didn’t we understand?
It’s not too late to heed the visions of God’s prophets, though we’re clearly running out of time. The message hasn’t changed. Consider this: “And Yahweh answered me: ‘Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.” (Habakkuk: 2:2-3) God reminds us that He’s on a schedule; the visions of the prophets will be fulfilled, each in its “appointed time.” What did this vision warn against? “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith…. Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own…. Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house, to set his nest on high…. Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity…. Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink—you pour out your wrath and make them drunk, in order to gaze at their nakedness [read: exposure, lack of resources, vulnerability to oppression]!” (Habakkuk 2:4, 9, 12, 15) The pride and lack of love for one’s fellow man predicted here are characteristic of our age as never before. It’s been a long time coming—2,600 years, from Habakkuk’s point of view. He wrote the vision down so that you and I could know that we should run away when we saw these things happening—so we could “flee from Babylon” when we saw it growing strong.
Though such visions have been rare of late, that too is about to change. “And it shall come to pass afterward [in context, “after” the restoration of Israel—a process that’s already begun but is by no means complete; or this could be interpreted “at the end of the age,” i.e., “in the last days.” It’s from a root verb meaning to tarry, delay, or defer.], that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out My Spirit. And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of Yahweh comes. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on [qara’: to proclaim] the name of Yahweh shall be saved.” (Joel 2:28-32) Not to be picky, but how can you proclaim the name of Yahweh if you only know Him as “the Lord?” There’s an implied warning to the world here, written between the lines. Follow the logic: if these dreams and visions will be seen by all flesh, and if these visions are the result of Yahweh’s Spirit having been poured out upon them, and if all these people have been saved because they “call upon the name of Yahweh,” then, if I’ve got the math right, nobody will be left on earth who doesn’t know Yahweh when everybody starts seeing dreams and visions. The kind of personalized “crash course” in God’s glory that had heretofore been seen only by the likes of Ezekiel, Daniel, and John will be a universal phenomenon among surviving mortals at the commencement of the Millennial age. Evidence: “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares Yahweh: I will put My law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know Yahweh,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares Yahweh. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:33-34)