Four Faces in the Wilderness (#thecorporatechrist)

When Ezekiel saw his vision of four living creatures (Ezekiel 1), each with the face of a man, the face of a lion, the face of an ox, and the face of an eagle, it was not the first time those four faces had been seen together in Israel’s history.  To find their first appearance, we have to travel back to the time when the nation of Israel was journeying through the wilderness.  There the twelve tribes of Israel encamped around the tabernacle, each with their divinely assigned positions of encampment and with their unique, tribal banners flying.

The tribes of Judah, Issachar, and Zebulon were positioned on the eastern side of the tabernacle.  Collectively they were associated with the primary tribe of Judah which was the closest encampment of the three to the tabernacle and whose banner depicted a lion.

The tribes of Reuben, Simeon, and Gad were positioned on the southern side of the tabernacle.  Collectively they were associated with the primary tribe of Reuben which was the closest encampment of the three to the tabernacle and whose standard depicted a man.

The tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin were positioned on the western side of the tabernacle.  Collectively they were associated with the primary tribe of Ephraim which was the closest encampment of the three to the tabernacle and whose banner depicted an ox.

The tribes of Dan, Asher, and Naphtali were positioned on the northern side of the tabernacle.  Collectively they were associated with the primary tribe of Dan which was the closest encampment of the three to the tabernacle and whose standard depicted an eagle.

Furthermore, as the Israelites journeyed from place to place, each tribe would march out according to these four major divisions.  Each three-tribe division would follow the standard of the primary tribe of their division.

Thus when the twelve tribes of Israel either camped or journeyed, they each were associated with one of the banners of the four primary tribes depicting either a lion, a man, an ox, or an eagle.

The fact that these four “faces” were not merely representative of four random tribes in Israel, but of the four primary tribes, and that all of the remaining tribes were associated by divine arrangement with one of them, speaks strongly of the primary significance of these four “faces” in relation to God’s people as a whole.

In the previous post, I suggested that these faces relate to the four primary callings of God’s people: priestly, prophetic, kingly, and, consummately, that of sonship.  If we were to look through this lens at the entire encampment of the twelve tribes of Israel in their divisions around the tabernacle, a beautiful and hiddenly instructive picture begins to emerge.

In this and the following posts I will seek to unpack some aspects of that revelation as I’ve come to see it.  In doing so, I will address the four faces and four callings in what I consider to be an ascending order of spiritual development and significance.  Interestingly, this also corresponds to the ascending birth order of the four descendants of Jacob(Israel) related to those four faces, from youngest to oldest: Jacob’s second grandson, Ephraim (ox/priestly calling), Jacob’s seventh son, Dan (eagle/prophetic calling), Jacob’s fourth son, Judah (lion/kingly calling), and, finally, Jacob’s firstborn son, Reuben (man/sonship calling.)

All four of these callings find their highest expression and fulfillment in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Anointed One.  They are also descriptive of the four primary callings of “His body, the fullness of Him” (Ephesians 1:23), the corporate Christ, “the body” of the Anointed One.

In the next post, then, we will consider the priestly calling as represented by the face of the ox and further illuminated by the three tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin.  I look forward to exploring that aspect of Christ’s and our collective calling with you next time. 🙂

#thecorporatechrist posts:
The Anointed One
Four Faces of the Anointed One

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Four Faces of the Anointed One (#thecorporatechrist)

In appearance their form was human, but each of them had four faces…”
Ezekiel 1:5 NIV

The prophet Ezekiel saw in a vision four living creatures which had very unique, symbolic features. (Ezekiel 1)  The most prominent of these was that they had human form.  They also had four faces with the primary, central face being that of a man.  The other, less central and prominent faces were those of a lion, an ox, and an eagle.

As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man; each of the four had the face of a lion on the right side, each of the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and each of the four had the face of an eagle.” vs. 1:10 NKJV

Additionally, they each had four wings (representing freedom of heavenly movement), and under their wings they had another human feature: hands. “Hands” in Scripture represent strength for work and power for fulfilling purpose.

“Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands.” vs. 1:8

These four living creatures were also seen as being in close proximity and connection to the throne of God and to the “man” upon the throne:

Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man.” vs. 1:26 NIV

There are further details concerning these living creatures that Ezekiel describes, but given the abundance of human representation and association embodied in these heavenly beings, it appears that symbolically and prophetically they are shown in this vision to represent humanity in its highest and most heavenly calling.

Four Faces of the Anointed One

If that is indeed so, then there is something about the four faces of these creatures that represent four facets of our highest and most heavenly calling as redeemed humanity in relation to the Man on the throne.

Redeemed humanity, from God’s perspective, is not only a multitude of individuals, of which no man can number, but also a single Man, the “one new man” Paul describes in Ephesians 2:15.  As the title “Christ” means “Anointed One”, so this “one new man”, “the body of Christ”, is “the body of the Anointed One.”  Whatever calling, therefore, belongs to Christ, the Anointed Head, the body of Christ, likewise, participates in through the same anointing.

The four faces symbolically represented in the living creatures relate then, first and foremost, to the Head of this new humanity and secondarily to the Body of this “one new man.”  As the anointing was most specifically related in Scripture to the calling of the priestly, prophetic, and kingly ministry/service, and, is consummately bound up with the matter of sonship (please see previous post), so these four faces appear to represent these four facets of the calling of the corporate Christ, both Head and Body together.

  1. The face of the ox = priestly calling.
  2. The face of the eagle = prophetic calling.
  3. The face of the lion = kingly calling.
  4. The face of the man = sonship calling.

Further evidence that these four faces relate prophetically to God’s people and are depictive of their four-fold heavenly calling can be seen in the arrangement and “marching orders” of the tribes of Israel as they encamped around the tabernacle and journeyed in the wilderness.  We will explore that aspect and elaborate more fully on these four faces/callings in the next post.

Next: Four Faces in the Wilderness (#thecorporatechrist)

Previous post: The Anointed One (#thecorporatechrist)

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The Anointed One (#thecorporatechrist)

“And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all”
Ephesians 1:21-22 NKJV

Those who have been joined to Christ have been incorporated into what Paul calls the “one new man.” (Ephesians 2:15)  This new humanity is the corporate Christ of which He is the “Head” and we are “His body, the fullness of Him…”  We will be focusing in these next few posts on this corporate Christ with a specific focus on the anointing of the Holy Spirit in relation to it.

The matter of “the anointing” is brought in, front and center, by the fact that God has revealed its significance in the very title ascribed to Jesus of Nazareth: “Christ.”  The title “Christ” is the Greek translation (“Christos”) of the word for Messiah (Hebrew: “Mashiach) which means “anointed one.”  “Jesus Christ”, therefore, means “Jesus the Messiah” or “Jesus the Anointed One.”  The fact that the title most closely associated with Jesus means “anointed one” informs us just how significant “the anointing” is!  This is not only true concerning Christ, the Head, but also regarding His Body, the fullness of Him.

In the Old Testament, the anointing oil was used to consecrate three groups of people: priests, prophets, and kings.  This oil was generously poured on the head (see Psalm 133:2) for the consecrating of certain individuals to their particular calling and service.  The anointing oil is symbolic of the sanctifying, enabling work of the Holy Spirit for spiritual service.

Jesus the Anointed One, in His earthly life, was given “the Spirit without measure” (John 3:34, see also Acts 10:30) as the one ordained and anointed of the Father to be His supreme High Priest, Prophet, and King.  Now Christ Jesus, the resurrected Head, has poured out on His Body the same anointing for the full functioning of the corporate Christ under His headship (see Acts 2:33)  Much of Christ’s high priestly, prophetic, and kingly service/ministry is now being inwrought and outworked through His Body, the fullness of Him, by the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

Running as a golden thread through these three aspects of Christ’s heavenly ministry as Priest, Prophet, and King, and of the Body’s earthly calling as His fullness, is the matter of sonship.  In the Old Testament, natural lineage, i.e. sonship, was integrally connected to the priestly and kingly offices.  It was also loosely connected with the prophetic calling as evidenced by the oft repeated phrase in the Old Testament, “the sons of the prophets.”  (Whether referring to natural or “spiritual” sons, the principle of “sonship” is similarly present.)  Ultimately, the highest calling of God is in the bringing of “many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:10), conformed to the image and likeness of His only-begotten Son, Who is High Priest, Prophet, and King.  Sonship, therefore, is the consummate calling that integrates all other callings in one.  The Holy Spirit, the Anointing, is “the Spirit of sonship” (Romans 8:15, also Galatians 4:6) Who brings forth the fullness of Christ and of Christ’s heavenly ministry within His people.

We will explore the priestly, prophetic, and kingly aspects of the anointing, and their consummation in “the Spirit of sonship”, as they relate to the corporate Christ in the following posts.  Please stay tuned! 🙂

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A Part of or a Parting of? (#worshipshort)

There is an ancient Christian classic in the mystic tradition called The Cloud of Unknowing.  The understanding behind its title is that there exists between our soul and God a dense, all-but-impenetrable barrier to the true knowing of God as He actually is.  The author calls this a “cloud of unknowing” and instructs his readers that it cannot be pierced by the faculties of the mind but only by the volition and affections of the heart.

I was in a corporate worship setting several months ago when the Lord began to speak to my heart about this “cloud of unknowing” as it relates to our personal and collective worship.  What became evident to me was that so much of what we consider to be worshiping in “truth” is merely a suggesting or a seeing of “shapes” in “the cloud of unknowing” while thinking we are encountering the true reality of God in them.

Think for a moment about the childhood pastime of looking up at the clouds and envisioning from their shapes what objects they suggest.  None of us would ever believe that what we saw in the clouds was the actual object, but rather it was only a fleeting imagination and representation.

When it comes to spiritual realities, our natural mind does not have the ability to perceive that which is spiritual in nature.  1 Corinthians 2:14 states clearly, But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (NKJV)  Or as the Message paraphrase puts it: The unspiritual self, just as it is by nature, can’t receive the gifts of God’s Spirit.  There’s no capacity for them.  They seem like so much silliness.  Spirit can be known only by spirit – God’s Spirit and our spirits in open communion.” 

Even when the mind is focused on Scriptural/spiritual truths, at best it can only apprehend the outward appearance and mental representation of spiritual realities.  In other words, it can only form and see “spiritual shapes” in “the cloud of unknowing” and not pierce through to the actual realities that lie beyond what those “shapes” suggest and represent.

That is not to say that the mind has no place in spiritual matters; it certainly does, but it must know its place.  The mind is like a hiking guide that is only authorized and able to lead a mountain climber up to a base camp that lies below the clouds.  From there, the climber must rely on the more experienced and constitutionally fit “sherpas” to take him up through the dense clouds to the heights above where the light is gloriously shining.  Those “sherpas” that guide our heart and spirit up into the light of God’s presence are Faith, Hope, and Love.

In our spiritual ascent, as the “cloud” grows dense and the “shapes” that first drew us onward begin to disappear in the mists, Faith keeps whispering in our heart of the glorious vistas that will be seen from above and continually assures us that we will make it to those higher realms if we press on in implicit trust.

As the way grows steeper, the air grows thinner, and the darkness presses in, Hope encourages our flagging spirit not to give up, but to patiently persevere until the clouds begin to part, the light from above breaks through, and the lofty wonders begin to appear in radiant splendor.

All the while Love is leading the way, undaunted and undeterred, ever pressing onward and upward in singleness of purpose, intention, and desire.  This, the greatest of all “sherpas”, never falters and never fails.

It is the singleness of Love’s desire, strengthened by Faith and Hope, that enables us to do our part in pressing into and piercing through “the cloud” unto a true knowing of God “in spirit and truth.”  As He sees us seeking Him with all of our heart, He in turn does His part by imparting a “spirit of wisdom and revelation in the full knowledge of Him” (Eph.1:17 DBY), thus parting the “cloud of unknowing” with rays of revelation from above.

God is earnestly searching for those who will not settle for mere “shapes in the clouds” in their knowledge of Him but are desperate to press in and know Him experientially and intimately through an ever-increasing revelation and impartation of His Spirit.  Let us search our hearts to see if our knowledge of Him is merely a part of “the cloud of unknowing” or does it come from a parting of “the cloud of unknowing!” 

~ ~ ~

Oh, that we might know the LORD !
Let us press on to know him.
He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn
or the coming of rains in early spring.”
Hosea 6:3 NLT

Previous #worshipshorts:
What Is the Father Seeking?
Neither Here Nor There
…In Spirit
…In Truth 
Get Real

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