Reading: Ezekiel 1.
We find that on the veil of the tabernacle hanging between the holy and the most holy place there were wrought in the fabric representations of the cherubim. We know that that veil itself is a type of the incarnation, Christ in the flesh. The apostle says that quite definitely and clearly in the letter to the Hebrews, and that this veil is His flesh; and while He was on the earth - that is, until there was a cleaving in the Cross - there was no way through to God, there was an exclusion from God. When in the Cross the veil of the flesh was cleft, God attested the fact by a sovereign act from heaven. In the hour when He yielded up His spirit, the veil of the temple was rent from the top to the bottom. Then the way into the presence of God was made clear, through His blood and through His riven flesh. So that the veil represented the incarnation, but again, as we have already seen, it is a matter of fellowship with God and the service of God.
The priests performed their service on the one side of the veil. They could not enter into the fulness except through that veil. If they tried to pass through the veil unbidden by God, and unprovided for by God, they were smitten and died; death met them. The cherubim were (as it were) the custodians of the divine Life, which no man could lay his hand upon and appropriate, live by, or serve in, except on very special grounds. Those grounds were, in the case of the tabernacle, the types of the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus in the shed and sprinkled blood of His Cross.
Once a year the High Priest took blood and passed through, declaring that a day was coming when, in virtue of the blood of God's own Son (not a type in the form of the blood of bulls and of goats any more), a way would be opened into the very presence of God. What goes on around the veil, so to speak, is an expression of oneness with God, co-operation, and fellowship with God in His work.
Now we pass into a very much fuller development of this truth in the case of Ezekiel. We note that the thing which is before us is fellowship with God, and the service of God. In chapter 1 of the prophecies of Ezekiel we have that which became the basis and the foundation of the prophet's ministry. It is, as it were, that which was his induction to the prophetic ministry. Ezekiel was inducted to his prophetic ministry by a vision. The vision had a number of elements or features.
Moving from the earth level upwards, as Ezekiel presents it, we begin with the cherubim, but I want to reverse the order, because I believe that we are in the reverse order. The explanation is this: that Ezekiel had mainly to do with Israel. His prophecies and his ministry were connected with Israel, therefore connected, in the main, with an earthly people and with something of God related to an earthly history, and therefore he would move from the earth upwards.
The same principles hold good in our case, but the order is reversed. You find all these elements in the New Testament, but you begin where Ezekiel ended. So, because we are not having to do with merely earthly people and earthly history, but with something over and above that and which includes it, we begin from above. Ezekiel's vision ended with the throne; we begin with the throne. That is where the New Testament begins. In the book of the Acts everything for the church begins with the throne. Perhaps it was even more than that, for Ezekiel did not actually end with the throne; he ended with the presentation of a Man above the throne, a Man having the glory of Jehovah above the throne. That is where the New Testament begins: the Man, having the glory of God, above the throne. From that point we work backwards with Ezekiel's vision.
There was the firmament, and above the firmament was a throne and the Man. Beneath the Man and the throne there was a firmament, the heavens, the heavenly realm. We only need to pass rapidly into the letter to the Ephesians to understand what that represents in our case. How familiar we are with the constant repetition in that letter, "in the heavenlies"! We are blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ in the heavenlies. We have been made to sit together with Christ in the heavenlies. And at the end of the letter we read that our wrestling is in the heavenlies. There is a heavenly realm under the throne in which there is a Man with the glory of the Lord, and the church which is His body is bound up mainly with that firmament, with that heavenly realm, and with what is taking place there.
The Significance of the Wheels
Coming down in the vision of Ezekiel in reverse order, we come to the wheels. What do these wheels represent? I think there is little doubt but that the wheels are a type of government, and the eternal counsels of God in government in the purpose of God through the ages. These wheels are going, they are going on, and they are directed to all quarters of the earth. Universality is their great characteristic. They can go in any direction, but they move on, ever on.
Again the Ephesians letter may interpret the wheels for us by those familiar words, "Who works all things after the counsel of His own will". You can almost see the wheels in that. You can see goings - determined, straightforward, irresistible goings, "Who works all things after the counsel of His own will". These are the counsels of God from eternity being worked out through the ages in relation to the heavens and in relation to a Man upon the throne. Ephesians is the explanation of this chapter. There is One in the throne, a throne of glory; there are heavens connected with that throne and connected with all that is under the heavens and there are the counsels of God from eternity, like an irresistible force, like wheels driving on through the ages, connected with that Man in the glory, with that throne, with those heavens, and also having to do with this world.
The two things about the wheels are, firstly, that they are full of eyes. Their rims are full of eyes. There are eyes everywhere. Secondly, the Spirit is in the wheels. Those two things are, again, symbolic. The eyes denote perfect knowledge. In the whole universe everything is comprehended by Him. He is cognizant in every realm of all that is going on. The Spirit denotes divine Life, divine energy in an executive way. These wheels, which are the counsels and purposes of God from eternity, are being energized by the Spirit of God, Who cannot be resisted.
The Significance of the Fire
Then the third thing, working downwards, is fire. In the case of Ezekiel's ministry, which was here being constituted by this vision, of course the fire was the fire of divine judgment being brought to bear upon the unfaithful people. Jerusalem was destroyed, the land was desolate, the people were in captivity, the glory of God had departed from Jerusalem. The judgments of God were being wrought upon His unfaithful people. Fire speaks here of God's dealings with everything in view of His eternal counsels in relation to those purposes which cannot be thwarted. If anything gets in the way of God's eternal purpose it will meet the fire, the judgment of God, and will be consumed. No matter what it is, if it withstands God then it has to pass through God's fire, and it cannot do that and survive. History is just full of that.
You have the example in Chaldea, in Babylon, withstanding the purposes of God in relation to His earthly people. What has happened to Babylon? What has happened to Chaldea? They are but names in history, a past glory, but torn limb from limb by the judgments of God. Many empires have stood in the way of God's counsels, and the same thing has happened. The mightiest of them, Rome, exhausted its power, drew upon all its resources to quench the testimony of Jesus, hurling its witnesses to lions, to wholesale massacre, but what has happened to Rome? The Roman Empire is marked by her ruins. She has passed as a tale that is told. But God's counsels go on, and God's church abides. Whether it be an empire, a world, or an individual getting in the way of the wheels of God, the fire is there co-operating. It is a great thing to be in God's purpose. It is a great thing to be on God's side. It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God. We do that when we oppose His purposes and get in the way of His counsels.
Then we come to the cherubim. The cherubim are the corporate or composite instrument of it all. We have described the cherubim and will not stay to do it again: the fourfold aspect of the lion, the ox, the eagle, the man; sovereignty, service and sacrifice, heavenly mystery, and the representation of God. This is Christ in incarnation. But this is the church, His body, brought into fellowship with Him in the good of His redemption, back into sovereignty: "Hath made us a kingdom..." in fellowship with Him in His service and sacrifice aspect: "That I may know Him... and the fellowship of His sufferings"; in fellowship with the heavenly mystery, the body. The world does not understand the mystery of the true child of God. The world cannot appreciate the mystery of the true church of Christ. The body of Christ is indeed a mystery to this world, a heavenly mystery.
Then again, the man to represent God, to be God's spokesman... in Ezekiel more than in any other part of the Scripture the term "Son of Man" is prominent. There are two outstanding connections of that title, in the prophecies of Ezekiel, and in the case of the Lord Jesus Himself. In the case of the Lord Jesus the title sets Him forth as God's Servant, God's Representative Man, the One Who is here and Who can say, "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father." It is Christ and the church represented by the cherubim.
The point here in Ezekiel 1 is this: that the son of man, Ezekiel, has his life and ministry constituted by a vision. It is that which makes him God's servant. It is that which defines his ministry. What a background for any man's life, for any man's ministry! What a background for our life and our ministry in relation to God! We are all called into this ministry. Are we called in Christ? I suppose we would all say, "Yes!" Well, there is no doubt about it, we are all called in Christ. All this is gathered up and realised in Christ. If we are called in Christ then we are called into all that Christ represents as to the eternal purpose of God, "Called according to His purpose". What is the background of that relationship and that calling, that ministry? Just that which we have said. The background first of all is a Man with the glory of the Lord, in a throne. It will always be that which constitutes us the servants of Jesus Christ, the servants of God. That is where the church commenced its history, the Man glorified in the throne. Stephen saw Him: "I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God"! Paul saw Him: "Jesus of Nazareth" in the heavens, having the glory of the Lord, and Paul went down before that unveiling. That was the basis of his life-work. That brought him in to his ministry. The church caught a vision by the Holy Ghost of the Man in the throne with the glory of the Lord, and that sent the church out into the world to do, to suffer, to die, to witness. It was that.
Then we come to the heavenly vocation. There is a firmament, a heavenly realm, in which Christ and His people are fulfilling a vocation. "That now unto the principalities and powers in the heavenlies..." says Paul. Our ministry is not wholly and solely bound up with things on this earth. While it may bring very little comfort and consolation to our hearts in the time of spiritual ordeal and suffering, nevertheless the fact remains that often when nothing whatever can be seen here on earth among men as the result of a spiritual faithfulness, a sheer standing in faith against all odds, something is being wrought out in heaven by that stand, something is being wrought by God in a spiritual realm, but man cannot see that. Your faithfulness, whether you are seeing anything at all here on the earth as the fruit of it or not, is nevertheless counting. Many of God's servants can only be justified in having lived by this very fact. God has put them in a place and they have known that to depart from that place would have been to take themselves out of God's will for them, and yet nothing could be seen. All they have known has been that it was a terrific conflict to stand, to hold on, to withstand all the forces of evil which have sought to move them, to get them out. They have had to withstand the powers of darkness to remain where God put them. But in the eyes of men there was nothing to show for it. Yet in another realm where things are not judged according to the standards of men, something mighty has been going on.
It is in the heavenlies that we are fulfilling a vocation more than on the earth. I believe that at the end of this dispensation - and that end surely is very much upon us now - the true spiritual church, the true spiritual people of God, will not be able to show to the world a great deal for their existence. It will look as though all the externals of their activities are falling away and going to pieces; they are getting no more successes, no sweeping victories, no great hauls of souls; they are being called upon simply to stand. But it means a terrific thing to to be able to stand at the end. Does that mean that the work of the church has come to an end, its ministry is finished, and the Lord's people are no longer doing anything? When the church's ministry is at an end He will take it away. When its work is done He will not leave it lying about; He will take it to Himself. This standing, resisting, holding on, is in itself a mighty testimony, registering something of His victory over the powers of evil. There may not be much to show for it amongst men. It will not be possible to publish it, and advertise it, and say, "This is the result of our work!" It is telling in another realm, where men cannot judge it, "that now unto the principalities and powers in the heavenlies..." Primarily that is where our witness is, and where our vocation is. It will have a registration here, but the registration here is not all. The registration is with a Man on the throne and the heavens that rule! And the heavens do rule!
We are constituted in our ministry, our spiritual vocation, "according to the counsel of Him who works all things after the counsel of His own will". We are, "called according to His purpose." We have been brought into fellowship with God in relation to those things which He determined before this world was, and which He projected into this universe, into which He intended Adam to come and be a fellow-worker with Him. Adam failed, but He has not given up His purpose. He has chosen others, and He has chosen us in Christ. We who love God and are the called according to His purpose come into the way of the wheels. We need a new strengthening by what these wheels mean. Our hearts very often need strengthening as to the meaning of these wheels, for so often, by reason of the domination of our senses, always wanting to see and know in a tangible way, we are tempted to feel that the purpose has broken down, and nothing is happening, nothing is going on; God is standing back from this world and letting things take their course, and there is no clearly defined line of action or movement. We sometimes feel that definiteness of purpose and vocation has gone. That is our feeling; it is not God. The fact is that God's wheels are going on. I like the emphasis here, "They turned not as they went." That does not mean that they did not revolve. That means that they did not diverge, they went straight forward, wherever the Spirit went, they went, they turned not as they went. God has no detours in His eternal counsels. God is ploughing a straight furrow through the ages, and God's purpose is as sure, as definite, as positive, as straightforward, as mighty in this hour as ever it has been, because God is not a God of time or of earthly change; God is a God of eternity and what He has purposed He will perform, and the wheels will go straight on.
The Lord renew in us a sense of positive purpose, that we are in something which will make its way through every kind of resistance, will hurl empires out of the way if they obstruct. Everything that endeavours to hold Him up will meet the fire. He is going on. The counsels of God cannot fail, the purposes of God cannot break down. What He has determined He will perform; the wheels go on, straight on. The Spirit is in the wheels, and He knows everything, He is aware of everything, "full of eyes". It is all in the church by Christ Jesus. "Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that energiseth in us, unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus unto all ages for ever and ever" (Eph. 3:20). That comprehends it all. God's purposes are in the church. God's Spirit is in the church. God's counsels are in the church. God is driving on concerning His church, and when God reaches His end there will not be lacking one bit of all that He purposed. He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to that power which works in us. The Spirit in the wheels, in the counsels, in the purposes, and in the church. That constitutes fellowship with God, that constitutes ministry. Oh, if every servant of God realised that! What a strength it would be! No wonder Ezekiel is called the prophet of hope. When you have been constituted in your ministry upon such a basis, there is a hope. Man with the glory of the Lord, in the throne, upon the heavenlies, concerning the counsels of God through the ages. That is a background! The Lord bring us in spirit into a living apprehension of it.