Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Four Gospels in Ezekiel

Ezekiel saw "an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light (1:4). It was probably like staring through smoke into a blazing fire. As Ezekiel looked into this cloud, he could see four living creatures. Later, we'll find out that they're cherubim (10:1, 9-10), but here they're described in heavily symbolic language.

Each of them had four faces and four wings (1:6). Their faces represent the pinnnacles of God's creation, the face of a lion, an ox, an eagle and the face of a man. In symbolic language, a lion represents nobility and authority, an ox represents service and power, an eagle* represents deity and compassion, a man represents wisdom and character.

These four faces show up again in Revelation 4. Same faces.

Traditionally, the church has matched each of these faces with one of the four Gospels. Matthew goes with the lion because Jesus is the Lion of Judah -- strong and noble. Mark goes with the ox because Jesus is portrayed in that Gospel as strong and energetic -- constantly on the move. Luke goes with the man because Luke was showing Jesus to a Greek audience who were constantly in search of the perfect man -- one who could relate well to diverse people. John goes with the eagle because Jesus is there seen as God incarnate come to die for the sins of the world because of his great love and compassion*.

These verses and symbols were used early in the Church's history to establish the idea that four Gospels were sufficient. The symbols were often carved into the four corners of pulpits and placed in stained glass windows portraying scenes from the life of Jesus.

None of this really has anything to do with the story of Ezekiel, but it's one of my favorite pieces of trivia.

* Eagles were also used as a symbol for prophets who could see things from God's perspective.