The Gravity and Glory of God’s Grace

Then he led me to the gate, the gate facing east. And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east. And the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters, and the earth shone with his glory. And the vision I saw was just like the vision that I had seen when he came to destroy the city, and just like the vision that I had seen by the Chebar canal. And I fell on my face. As the glory of the Lord entered the temple by the gate facing east, the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple.

While the man was standing beside me, I heard one speaking to me out of the temple, and he said to me, “Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the people of Israel forever. And the house of Israel shall no more defile my holy name, neither they, nor their kings, by their whoring and by the dead bodies of their kings at their high places, by setting their threshold by my threshold and their doorposts beside my doorposts, with only a wall between me and them. They have defiled my holy name by their abominations that they have committed, so I have consumed them in my anger. Now let them put away their whoring and the dead bodies of their kings far from me, and I will dwell in their midst forever.

10 “As for you, son of man, describe to the house of Israel the temple, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and they shall measure the plan. 11 And if they are ashamed of all that they have done, make known to them the design of the temple, its arrangement, its exits and its entrances, that is, its whole design; and make known to them as well all its statutes and its whole design and all its laws, and write it down in their sight, so that they may observe all its laws and all its statutes and carry them out. 12 This is the law of the temple: the whole territory on the top of the mountain all around shall be most holy. Behold, this is the law of the temple. Ezekiel 43:1-12 ESV

“Son of man, describe to the people of Israel the Temple I have shown you, so they will be ashamed of all their sins. Let them study its plan, and they will be ashamed of what they have done. Describe to them all the specifications of the Temple—including its entrances and exits—and everything else about it. Tell them about its decrees and laws. Write down all these specifications and decrees as they watch so they will be sure to remember and follow them.” – Ezekiel 43:10-11 NLT

After completing his tour of the future temple, Ezekiel was given a glimpse of God’s majestic glory returning to the very site it had vacated in his earlier vision. He describes seeing the glory of the Lord coming from the east and recalls having seen it before.

This vision was just like the others I had seen, first by the Kebar River and then when he came to destroy Jerusalem. – Ezekiel 43:3 NLT

Ezekiel opened his book with his vivid, out-of-this-world description of God’s glory arriving in Babylon by the Kebar River. It began as a storm cloud with flashing lightning and rolling peals of thunder. But upon close examination, Ezekiel saw that “From the center of the cloud came four living beings that looked human, except that each had four faces and four wings” (Ezekiel 1:5-6 NLT).

Each of these living beings “had a human face in the front, the face of a lion on the right side, the face of an ox on the left side, and the face of an eagle at the back” (Ezekiel 1:10 NLT). They were equipped with wings and glowed like bright coals of fire or brilliant torches, and lightning seemed to flash back and forth among them” (Ezekiel 1:13 NLT).

But the most important part of this vision was the presence of “a figure whose appearance resembled a man” (Ezekiel 1:26 NLT), who sat on a throne made of blue lapis lazuli. Ezekiel provided great detail in describing this royal figure.

From what appeared to be his waist up, he looked like gleaming amber, flickering like a fire. And from his waist down, he looked like a burning flame, shining with splendor. All around him was a glowing halo, like a rainbow shining in the clouds on a rainy day. This is what the glory of the Lord looked like to me. – Ezekiel 1:27-28 NLT

Ezekiel was certain as to the figure’s identity. It was none other than Yahweh, God Almighty, who had come to distant Babylon to reveal Himself to Ezekiel and to commission him as His prophet.

In a later vision Ezekiel received, he saw the very same representation of God’s glory, but this time it appeared in Jerusalem, hovering over the temple.

In my vision I saw what appeared to be a throne of blue lapis lazuli above the crystal surface over the heads of the cherubim. – Ezekiel 10:1 NLT

Ezekiel recognized the cherubim as the four living beings he had seen in his earlier vision.

These were the same living beings I had seen beside the Kebar River. – Ezekiel 10:15 NLT

As Ezekiel continued to watch this spectacular display of God’s glory, he must have been shocked to see it begin to make its way from the temple itself and towards the eastern gate of the temple complex.

Then the glory of the Lord moved out from the entrance of the Temple and hovered above the cherubim. And as I watched, the cherubim flew with their wheels to the east gate of the Lord’s Temple. And the glory of the God of Israel hovered above them. – Ezekiel 10:18-19 NLT

But God’s glory didn’t stop there. It went beyond the eastern gate, across the Kidron Valley, and onto the Mount of Olives. Then it disappeared altogether.

Then the cherubim lifted up their wings, with the wheels beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them. And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain that is on the east side of the city. And the Spirit lifted me up and brought me in the vision by the Spirit of God into Chaldea, to the exiles. Then the vision that I had seen went up from me. – Ezekiel 10:22-24 NLT

The significance of this vision did not escape Ezekiel. He had just witnessed the glory of God departing the temple and vacating the city of Jerusalem. Yahweh was symbolically abandoning His house and His chosen people. But years later, Ezekiel was given the privilege of seeing the glory of God return. After taking Ezekiel on a whirlwind tour of the Millennial Temple, “the man” took the prophet to the very same spot where he had seen the glory of God depart.

…he led me to the gate, the gate facing east. And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east. And the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters, and the earth shone with his glory. – Ezekiel 43:1-2 ESV

Blown away by what he saw, Ezekiel fell on his face in awe and gratitude. But as God’s glory reentered the temple and took up residence once again in the Holy of Holies, Ezekiel was there to witness the entire scene. And in a state of stupified wonder, all Ezekiel could say was “and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple” (Ezekiel 43:5 ESV). God had returned. He had not abandoned His people after all. And God confirmed the permanence of His return by stating, “Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place where I will rest my feet. I will live here forever among the people of Israel” (Ezekiel 43:7 NLT).

God had left, but had returned and, this time, it was to stay. This was a new temple and a new era, and God had promised to give His chosen people new hearts so they could worship Him faithfully and fully. To quote the apostle Paul, “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV).

God wanted Ezekiel to know that the day was coming when all things would be made new. There would be a new temple but there would also be a renewed people of God. Their sins had resulted in God’s judgment. Their rebellion against Him had led to His departure from among them. But Ezekiel was being given a glimpse of the future when God would miraculously restore His people to a right relationship with Himself. And He states that, on that day, things will be radically different. God commands Ezekiel to tell his fellow exiles all that he has seen and to give them this sobering reminder concerning that coming day.

And this is the basic law of the Temple: absolute holiness! The entire top of the mountain where the Temple is built is holy. Yes, this is the basic law of the Temple.” – Ezekiel 43:12 NLT

What an amazing picture of God’s grace. He was declaring His intention to restore His apostate people and return them to a life of holiness and sanctification. No more sin. No more rebellion. Instead, they would enjoy permanent fellowship with God in His eternal kingdom.

I sometimes think we take grace for granted. I love what Dallas Willard says: “We have a problem today in Evangelical circles. We’re not only saved by grace, we’re paralyzed by it.” We have allowed grace to become a one-dimensional concept that is tied solely to our salvation. We talk about the idea of being saved by grace. It is a priceless gift, unearned and undeserved. But the grace of God should have a long-lasting influence on our lives. There is a future element to God’s grace that I must never lose sight of because the reality is that I can no more earn my coming glorification than I could my salvation. A day is coming when I will be made complete and whole. I will be like Christ, with no sin nature and an ability to live righteously – completely and permanently. Future grace is a great motivator for present behavior. The reality of my guaranteed place in His presence for eternity should have a tremendous impact on the way I live my life now.

The same was true for the people of God in Ezekiel’s day. God had given Ezekiel a glimpse of His future kingdom, complete with a newly constructed temple, occupied by God Himself. God instructed Ezekiel to describe to the people the details of the future temple. They were to study its plans and go over every specification. Why? Because it was going to be a real place that was going to exist in real-time in the future. It was a picture of God’s future grace and His promise to reestablish His presence among the people of Israel. In spite of all they had done to offend Him, He was going to extend them grace, and the proof of it was this vision of His glory filling the rebuilt temple.

As Christians, we can easily allow the “grace alone” message to lull us into a sense of spiritual stupor or laziness. God does it all, so we have nothing to do. But grace is opposed to earning, not effort. The knowledge of God’s grace reminds me that I can do nothing to earn His favor. But awareness of His grace should cause me to make every effort to serve Him gratefully and joyfully. By hearing the detailed descriptions of the future Temple, the people of God were to be shamed for their own unfaithfulness as opposed to God’s faithfulness.

The reality that I have a place reserved for me in heaven should make me want to live my life differently here on earth. During their lifetimes, the people of God had desecrated the temple of God time and time again. And ultimately, God had it destroyed. Today there is no temple in Jerusalem. In its place sits a mosque. But God has promised that the day is coming when the temple will be rebuilt; not because the people of God deserve it, but because God has promised it.

Its presence will be proof of God’s grace. He will restore the people of Israel – in spite of themselves. And that future reality should have changed their present behavior. And one day God is going complete His work of sanctification in our lives – glorifying us and transforming us into the likeness of His Son – completely and permanently. Awareness of that future grace should shame me when I consider my present behavior. He has done so much for me and has promised to do so much. How can I live in disobedience and sin when God has such an undeserved future reserved for me?

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.