In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, 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 the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of the Lord was upon him there.
As I looked, behold, a stormy wind 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. And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness, but each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf’s foot. And they sparkled like burnished bronze. 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. 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. And their wings were spread out above. Each creature 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. As for the likeness of the living creatures, 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 creatures darted to and fro, like the appearance of a flash of lightning. Ezekiel 1:1-14 ESV
Thus says the Lord:
“Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me,
and what is the place of my rest?
All these things my hand has made,
and so all these things came to be,
declares the Lord.
But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word. Isaiah 66:1-2 ESV
If you visit an older church and look at its stained-glass windows, or maybe its statues, you might find four symbols that come from the book of Ezekiel. You might see a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. These four creatures might have wings, or they might be holding scrolls, or they might each be standing by a man. These four symbols stand for the four Gospels–Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Matthew is usually pictured as a man, because his Gospel starts with a list of people who were Jesus’ ancestors. Mark is usually pictured as a lion, because his Gospel starts out with John the Baptist’s cry in the wilderness, which reminds people of a roaring lion. Luke is pictured as an ox because the ox was an animal used for sacrifices, and Luke talks very clearly about Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross. John is pictured by an eagle, because the thoughts and ideas of his Gospel soar high up to heaven like an eagle does.
Ezekiel was a priest who had been taken to Babylon with the exiles. He must have been very sad to be away from the temple and from the sacrifices that he would have taken part in if he had been at home. God seemed far away to him, and he and some of the people with him longed for the temple and for home. They wondered if God knew or cared about them, but God had an important message for Ezekiel. He hadn’t forgotten his people, and his presence was everywhere, even in faraway Babylon. When Ezekiel saw a vision from God, it showed him that God was with him, even far away from the temple. Ezekiel must have wondered what the weird vision meant when he saw four creatures, and each one had four faces and four wings. He didn’t know what it was all about, but he knew that God had come to him in an amazing way. The cloud and fire and lightning and the four creatures were a picture of God’s majesty and holiness, and that was all that Ezekiel needed to know.
God has come to his people in many ways, but the four Gospels tell us of the greatest way of all that God has come to his people. God came to us in Jesus, who was born of a human mother and was completely human, just like us. He was announced in the wilderness by John the Baptist, who called people to repentance so that their sins could be forgiven. Jesus gave his life for us on the cross as a sacrifice to pay the penalty for our sins. He rose again from the dead, and went back to heaven in glory, and his life and teachings give us a heavenly new life in him, now and forever. We learn about God from his word, the Bible, and in Jesus we see God with us always.
Dear Jesus, thank you for coming to us and for being our wonderful Savior. Amen.
Source: Webber, F. R. Church Symbolism: an explanation of the more important symbols of the Old and New Testament, the primitive, the mediaeval and the modern church Cleveland: J. H. Jansen, 1927.