God gave the prophet Ezekiel an amazing vision of His glory.
In this vision Ezekiel saw the figure of a man, and the man spoke and said things that only God could say (“I am sending you to the sons of Israel, to a rebellious people who have rebelled against Me…). In other words, Ezekiel saw and heard God.
“Theophany” is the term used to describe a physical manifestation of God. This passage in Ezekiel is not the only Old Testament account of a theophany – Jacob wrestled with God and his grandfather Abraham encountered God at the oaks of Mamre. Yet despite multiple Old Testament accounts of God manifesting in physical form, a theophany is a puzzling thing, because God Himself instructed Moses that no one can see God and live.
So on the one hand, God says no one can see His face and live. On the other hand, people had physical encounters with God and lived. This paradox is ultimately resolved by the doctrine of the Trinity, a teaching clearly derived from the New Testament and even seen in the Old. For it becomes clear, in hindsight, that an Old Testament theophany, such as the appearance of the man to Ezekiel, was an appearance of Jesus, the second person of the Trinity. People can behold the face of Jesus and live, although the fullness of the Father’s glory has never been made known to man. The fullness of God’s glory is too great for man to comprehend, so God condescends via theophany, most notably in the incarnation of Christ, where the second person of the Trinity took on flesh, not only for His ministry on earth two thousand years ago, but forever. In Christ, man could finally behold God’s face and live.
No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. John 1: 18
…Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2: 5 – 11
There are many today who want to “see God’s glory”. They want miracles, they want signs and wonders, they want ecstatic spiritual experiences. They want to have visions of God just like Ezekiel, where there is dazzling radiance, rainbows, a holy throne and a booming voice. Such desires are foolish, for the New Testament teaches that Jesus Christ is the final Word of God spoken to men. To behold Christ is to behold the Father, for He has explained the Father. The author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus “is the radiance of His (the Father) glory and the exact representation of His nature”.
Until Jesus returns, and we behold His actual face, we have no need to see Jesus in divine visions like the one Ezekiel had. Those days are past. We have Scripture, which speaks of Christ. We have Scripture, which speaks of God’s will for our life. We don’t need visions – we need people to expound God’s written word.
Whenever that occurs, whenever Scripture is taught accurately, we see Christ and we see God. In one sense, the revelation of Christ given to us in Scripture exceeds the glory of the vision of Ezekiel, for we are able to read about the great work that Christ has done, and all that He has accomplished and all that He is waiting to accomplish. There is no such assurance that Ezekiel learned in great detail anything about the plans of God to reconcile the world to Himself through Jesus. His encounters with God were real and significant, but, as Hebrews says, were but a portion of the whole.