BEHOLD HIS GLORY
Several months ago, following an adult Sunday School class in our church a young man asked me some questions about the glory of God. When his questions were “boiled down” most of them had to do with whether God manifested His glory simply because He wanted to display it (with the understanding that He had every right to do so) or if He had other purposes in mind. He asked the same sort of questions about the responsibility God has given people to glorify Him. I had done studies on the topics of the glory of God and glorifying Him in years gone by, but I did not recall doing any studies where I focused on the purposes God had in mind in those two matters. As I began to think about his questions it occurred to me that I also had not thought about the forms in which the glory of God was manifested. I decided I would like to do a study on this topic to try to address his questions.
Additional motivation to restudy this topic was provided as I realized the fact that the glory of God is an extremely important topic in Scripture. When Moses received the Lord’s instructions to begin the journey to the Promised Land in Exodus 33:1, he requested two things. First, he asked the Lord to show him His ways (33:13). Second, he asked the Lord to show him His glory (33:18). Why was seeing God’s glory so important to Moses? Then, many years later, after asserting His sovereignty over the earth the Lord spoke these words through His servant Habakkuk, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14, ESV) Why was (and is) it important to God that the knowledge of His glory fill the earth to such an overwhelming degree?
The purpose of this paper is to restudy the topic of “the glory of God,” focusing attention on what this concept means, what form or appearance it took, why it was so important, what God’s purpose for it was and is, and how knowing about it is relevant to us as believers.
In order to understand why the glory of God was so important to Moses and why it is so important to God, Himself, we need to address two other questions. The first is, “What is the essence of eternal life?” It is not endless existence because people in hell have that. It is not the absence of death, sorrow, pain, etc., (although all of these blessings will be included), for we do not experience them yet and we have eternal life now. It is not forgiveness of sins (although that is certainly included), because although we experience that now, it still would leave us without the one element that we desperately need. Jesus told us what the essence of eternal life is. He said, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3, ESV) The essence of eternal life is knowing God the Father and Jesus. That “knowledge” is not just knowing their existence. It is not like merely knowing the multiplication tables. It involves knowing them in the sense of having a relationship with them. It is more like knowing members of your family with whom you have a relationship. It is the kind of knowledge Paul spoke of in 2 Timothy when he was explaining the reason why he was willing to suffer all that he had endured: “I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12, NASB95) Like all knowledge of persons that we care about, it was a knowledge that involved a relationship with the Person known. Furthermore, in Philippians when he was relating the central goal of his life, Paul said that he counted his previous status as rubbish “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,” (Philippians 3:10, ESV). Paul’s knowledge of the Lord involved a continually growing intimate personal relationship. It is this kind of knowledge, which Jesus referred to in John 17:3, which is the essence of eternal life.
This brings us to the second question we need to answer in order to understand the importance of the glory of God. It is, “To what does the “glory of God” refer?” One dictionary lists possible meanings for “glory” as “thought or opinion, especially favorable human opinion, and thus in a secondary sense reputation, praise, honor (true and false), splendor, light, perfection, rewards (temporal and eternal). [1 Corinthians 15:38-41 Matt. 6:29] The same source says: “The glory of God must mean His unchanging essence.” It goes on to say that includes His “glorious moral attributes, excellence, perfection.” The most accurate and poetic definition of the glory of God I know of I think I heard from Marv Rosenthal many years ago. He said the glory of God refers to His “intrinsic, eternal perfections.” His glory is intrinsic because it is as aspect of who God is. It is eternal because His nature has not changed, and will not change. It refers to His perfections because everything about Him is just that, perfect. Still, for our purposes, a simpler definition will serve us better. We will simply say that it refers to His attributes, those attractive attributes that characterize Him uniquely. We see a similar use of the word in 1 Cor. 15. “There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.” (1 Corinthians 15:40–41, ESV) The glory (the unique attractive attributes) of the sun differ from those of the moon and of the stars. The glory (unique attractive attributes) of the moon differ from those of the sun and of the stars. God’s glory consists of those unique attractive attributes that distinguish Him from everyone else. (There is another sense in which the “God’s glory” is used in the Bible. In that sense it refers to something people give Him as opposed to something that He innately possesses. I hope to look at that usage in another paper.)
If knowing God in the sense of having a personal relationship with Him is the essence of eternal life and if God’s glory consists of those unique attractive attributes that distinguish Him from everyone else which would enables us to know Him in the sense of having a relationship with Him, it makes sense that His glory is of absolutely supreme importance to us. No finite human being can know God comprehensively, but we can certainly know about Him what He has revealed to us, and we can have a relationship with Him that reflects our knowledge of what He has revealed. With those truths in mind let us dig into what God has revealed about His glory to us.
In what kinds of forms does the “the glory of God,” appear in the Bible?
Before doing the research for this paper, I thought of the glory of God solely as a visible manifestation of localized splendor in a form such as a cloud, fire, or light, intended to inspire fear or awe or reverence. In many cases God’s glory certainly did appear in forms like that and did indeed have that kind of effect upon people, but I have come to believe that there are also many instances where God’s glory was manifested in forms other than splendor as well. God desired to manifest certain of His attributes in addition to His splendor with the goal of revealing aspects of His character so that His people could know Him better. Furthermore, in those instances where God’s glory was manifested in the form of splendor, the purpose never seems to be only the manifestation of splendor for its own sake. There is always another purpose in view. For the purposes of this paper, when the form of His glory is that of localized splendor or brilliance, I will call that “overt.” When the form takes another shape that is less obvious I will call it “covert.” Although I am convinced that God’s glory is manifested in many places throughout Scripture, I will limit my survey to those passages where the glory of God is explicitly mentioned. Rather than looking at the pertinent passages in the order in which they appear in Scripture, we will examine them in more of a topical sequence grouping the passages according to the similarities between them and the apparent purposes God had in mind for manifesting His glory in each case.
Overt and Covert manifestations of God’s glory seen together
The glory of God revealed His faithfulness and power by miraculously supplying the physical needs of His people with the goal that they would know and believe in Him.
Not long after the record of Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea, we read (in Exodus 16:1-3) that the nation began to grumble against Moses and Aaron because they lacked food. In response to this verbal attack, having heard God’s promise to meet their need, Moses and Aaron told the people, “At evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against the Lord. … And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full …. Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, ‘Come near before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’ ” And as soon as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. And the Lord said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’ ”” (Exodus 16:6–12, ESV)
The glory of God is referred to twice in this passage. In verse 7, Moses and Aaron told the people that they would see the glory of the LORD in the morning. In verse 8, Moses said they would have “bread to the full” in the morning, and in verse 12, the LORD, Himself, said the same thing. However, in verses 13-16, in the record of the people gathering the manna in the morning we read nothing about a manifestation of the glory of God then. Unless Moses was wrong about their seeing the glory of God in the morning or unless they saw it but it was not recorded, the only conclusion I can come to is that when the nation saw God’s provision in the manna they were seeing a sort of covert manifestation of the glory of God. What they saw was God providing for their material needs. The second mention of the glory of God in this passage is in verse 10, when the LORD “appeared in the cloud” and told Moses what is recorded in verse 12, referred to above. In this case the glory of God appeared overtly to the entire nation as He spoke to Moses. God’s glory was seen overtly in the presence of the cloud (verses 10-12) as He declared the way He would provide food for them and covertly in the morning when He actually provided it. In this and the following instances when the glory of God appeared, I would think that an underlying purpose was to remind Israel of His “awful” majesty and splendor so that they would not treat Him with disrespect.
The stated purpose for God’s provision of the nation’s physical needs was that they might know that He was the LORD their God. As a result of the plagues of the Exodus and what they had seen up to this point the nation knew to some degree that the LORD was their God, but they needed to know that in a greater degree. They knew Him as deliverer, but they needed also to know Him as daily provider. Israel needed to recognize that the source of their daily sustenance was the LORD their God. In order to teach them that lesson God allowed the nation to be in need of food and water. He did this to make very evident the fact that He was supplying those needs. He did it to demonstrate that He was the LORD their God. The purpose for the revelation of God’s glory in this case seems to have been to demonstrate His faithfulness shown by His provision of their needs. They were manifestations of God’s glory displaying His faithfulness by providing food for them.
The next instance of the glory of God appearing in connection with His provision for their needs comes in Numbers 20. After the death of Miriam, there was no water for the congregation and they complained to Moses and Aaron. “Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the Lord appeared to them, and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.”” (Numbers 20:6–8, ESV) God’s glory appeared here in the process of telling Moses what to do to provide water for the people. As in the situation where God provided manna and quail, the purpose for the revelation of God’s glory in this case seems to have been to reassure Moses and the entire nation of His faithfulness by the provision of Israel’s needs. Thus, the primary purpose for the manifestation was to benefit Moses and Israel.
Overt manifestations of God’s glory
The glory of God, manifested overtly in the form of a cloud and fire, revealed His holiness to inspire fear of Him in the hearts of His people.
The first passage we will consider reveals the glory of God being manifested in an overt manner. It is Ex. 24:16-17, which comes after Moses had received the stipulations of the covenant in chapters 20-23. Having heard the stipulations of the covenant (24:3), the people agreed to obey all of them. What followed was a ceremony in which the covenant was ratified by the nation (24:4-11). After that ceremony was completed, the LORD invited Moses to come back up the mountain where He would give him the stone tablets on which He had written the commandments for the nation (24:12). Moses and Joshua went up but the elders and Aaron and Hur remained on the plain to deal with any problems that would arise (24:13-14). Moses went up and a cloud covered the mountain (24:15). Then, “The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel.” (Exodus 24:16–17, ESV) We are not left in doubt about the effect this had on the people, for Moses tells us later exactly what that effect was. Near the end of his life Moses reminded the people of their response to that manifestation of God’s glory. “And you said, ‘Behold, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire. This day we have seen God speak with man, and man still live. Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, we shall die. For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of fire as we have, and has still lived? Go near and hear all that the Lord our God will say, and speak to us all that the Lord our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it.’” (Deuteronomy 5:24–27, ESV) God’s purpose was to impress upon the nation His holiness, but that is not all. In the incident recorded in Exodus 24:16-17, the appearance of the glory was described as “like a devouring fire.” Although it was possible for people to hear the voice of God, those people must never lose sight of His holiness, represented by the glory of God appearing “like a devouring fire.” God revealed that He was holy as He manifested His glory on Mt. Sinai. This manifestation of His glory was also for the benefit of His people. It was for their protection.
A similar form and purpose for the manifestation of God’s glory may be seen in Num. 14 when the spies had returned from the land and given their report. When the people heard what the 10 spies had to say, that there were giants in the land and that Israel would never be able to defeat the inhabitants, the people wanted to kill Moses and Aaron. “Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones. But the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the people of Israel.” (Numbers 14:10, ESV) Although it is not stated as such I would think that the form of God’s glory that appeared was similar to that which had been revealed before, in the form of a cloud or fire. In the following verses God further spelled out the punishment He would inflict upon the unbelievers when He told Moses (Numbers 14:28–34, ESV) that everyone twenty years old and above (except for Joshua and Caleb) would die in the wilderness but their children would live to enter the land. Clearly one purpose for this manifestation of God’s glory was to stop the people from stoning Moses and Aaron, but another was to pronounce judgment on rebellious unbelief.
This same attribute was displayed in a similar fashion just two chapters later. Korah, Dathan and Abiram objected to the leadership of the nation being confined to Moses and Aaron. “Then Korah assembled all the congregation against them at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And the glory of the Lord appeared to all the congregation.” (Numbers 16:19, ESV) After God punished the rebels with death, the congregation blamed Moses and Aaron for their deaths and were ready to kill them. “And when the congregation had assembled against Moses and against Aaron, they turned toward the tent of meeting. And behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord appeared. And Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting, and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” And they fell on their faces.” (Numbers 16:42–45, ESV) Moses then instructed Aaron to take his censor and make atonement for the people. Still, 14,700 people died besides Korah and his crew. God manifested His glory to protect Moses and Aaron again and also as part of an act of judgment on the rebellious people. He literally was a consuming fire. In both of these instances the purpose for revealing His glory was to deal with sin. He prevented harm from coming to Moses and Aaron and also executed judgment on unbelievers. In these cases as well, God manifested His glory for the effect it had on people. Moses and Aaron were rescued and others were condemned.
There are two examples in the New Testament of the glory of God being manifested in a similar fashion. There it also has the appearance of splendor. Both are found in Luke’s writings. The first is in a description of events surrounding the announcement to shepherds of Jesus’ birth. “And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.” (Luke 2:9, ESV) The appearance of the glory of the Lord must have been one of brilliance, manifesting something of God’s majesty and holiness. The effect was that they were filled with great fear. Important as that response is to God, He also wanted the nation to understand that He was also a God of love who wanted to dwell in the presence of His people so that they could enjoy fellowship with Him. For that reason He created the whole Tabernacle/sacrificial system.
The second is in Luke’s account of the martyrdom of Stephen, he writes regarding him, “But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”” (Acts 7:55–56, ESV) Exactly what Stephen saw is not stated, but I would think it was brilliant, perhaps like that recorded in Luke 2:9. The purpose for this manifestation of God’s glory seems to have been to encourage and strengthen Stephen for the ordeal of martyrdom which he was facing.
The glory of God manifested overtly revealed His love for His people and desire to dwell with them.
The next reference to the glory of God that we will consider comes near the end of Exodus 29. Verses 1-35 of that chapter describe the ceremony by which the priests were to be consecrated for their service. Verses 36-37 describe the manner in which the altar was to be consecrated. Verses 38-42a describe the daily offerings that were to be presented to the LORD. Referring to the sacrifice to be offered on the altar at the entrance to the tent of meeting, verses 42-43 read: “It shall be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the Lord, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory.” (Exodus 29:42–43, ESV) The place where God would meet with His people in a special way (the Tabernacle and the Temple) would be set apart (sanctified) by the act of God revealing His glory in those places in a special visible way. I believe that there was an initial fulfillment of this promise in Ex.40:34-38. Exodus 40:1-33 records the construction of the Tabernacle and its erection in preparation for its function. “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” (Exodus 40:34–35, ESV) Here again, the purpose of the revelation of God’s glory is not stated, but coming where and how it does, I think it is clear that the purpose was to show that God was “taking up His residence” in the Tabernacle and later the Temple, placing His stamp of approval on them and indicating His willingness to manifest His presence there. There were continuing fulfillments of the same kind in relation to the Temple in 1 Kings 8:11 & 2 Chron. 5:14 & 7:1-3. The purpose God had in mind is not expressly stated, but I think we can reasonably infer the purpose. God is spirit. He had forbidden any physical representation of Himself. How would one construct anything that would represent a spirit anyway? It is impossible to give an accurate representation of God in any physical form. How would the nation know that God had “taken up residence in their midst? They would know it by His glory filling the place in the form of a cloud of smoke, and that is exactly what happened. Here again, the implied purpose of the manifestation of God’s glory was for the benefit of the nation, to assure them that God was “living” in their midst. We see a New Testament parallel in the ministry of the Holy Spirit. We do not see Him, but His fruit is visible. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”” (John 3:8, ESV)
Further fulfillment of the promise given in Exodus 29:42-43 can be seen in the next appearance of the glory of the LORD. It is a record of Aaron being installed as a priest and the events surrounding that act. How would the people know that Aaron was approved by God to be the High Priest for the nation? How could they be assured that his taking of this office was not simply a matter of Aaron’s and Moses’ deciding that this would be the case? Later, the authority of both of them was questioned, so now when all of the ceremonial system was being inaugurated, how would they know that the authority they had had been given by God rather than taken by men? After God gave instructions about the kinds of offerings to be presented to the LORD, the whole congregation drew near, and Moses addressed the nation saying, “This is the thing that the Lord commanded you to do, that the glory of the Lord may appear to you.”” (Leviticus 9:6, ESV) After Aaron fulfilled the command of the LORD by offering the prescribed sacrifices, we read, “And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.” (Leviticus 9:23–24, ESV) As when the Tabernacle was filled with the glory of God to signify God’s approval of it, I believe the appearance of the glory of the LORD here was intended to show that the Lord had approved of Aaron’s being consecrated as High Priest. God’s acceptance of the sacrifices was signified by the fire that came out from the LORD consuming the burnt offering (and possibly reminding all the people that He was a consuming fire as well). Here again, this manifestation of His glory was for the benefit of Israel, demonstrating His approval, but doing so in a way that would also manifest His holiness and power. Together these manifestations of God’s presence were designed to meet the spiritual needs of His people.
The glory of God, manifested overtly at the Tabernacle, provided comfort and inspiration for His people.
David speaks of the manifestation of God’s glory in the Tabernacle: “O Lord, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells.” (Psalm 26:8, ESV) David’s mind is drawn back to those times when his soul has been refreshed as he worshipped the Lord and beheld the powerful manifestation of God’s power and majesty [in the shekinah?]. Another passage reveals a similar sentiment: “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.” (Psalm 63:1–2, ESV) In this wonderful psalm of praise David recalls times when he has seen the manifestation of God’s glory in the Tabernacle, and he expresses his intense longing to do so again. David knew the truth of a hymn that would not be written for centuries: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” Obviously these manifestations of God’s glory powerfully benefited people. Manifestations of God’s glory were not limited to meeting the physical needs of His people or to demonstrating His holiness or His desire to have fellowship with them. He also wanted to assure Hi servants that He would equip them for the tasks that He would assign them.
The glory of God manifested overtly revealed His faithfulness to equip His servants for their ministries.
We will now consider the appearance of the glory of God in connection with the commissioning of Moses, Isaiah and Ezekiel for the service God called them to fulfill. After Moses had been given the instructions for the design of the Tabernacle in chapters 25-31, we have the record of the sin with the golden calf in chapter 32. Chapter 33 begins with God instructing Moses to begin the trip to the Promised Land with the notation that God Himself would not go with them. In response to Moses’ intercession for the nation, pleading with God to forgive them, God relented and agreed to accompany the nation Himself. At that point, in verse 18, Moses makes an interesting request. “Moses said, “Please show me your glory.”” (Exodus 33:18, ESV) Moses had seen God’s glory already. Why does he make this request again? Perhaps, in light if the immediately preceding verses Moses wants a fresh revelation of God’s character, or perhaps he wants to have a more intimate relationship with Him. Whatever Moses’ specific intention may have been, surely the overall goal was that Moses knew he needed to be equipped for the ministry that God was assigning to him. God’s response sheds light upon the aspects of His character that were revealed in this manifestation of His glory. In direct response to Moses’ request to be shown His glory, God said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”” (Exodus 33:18–23, ESV) In 34:5-7, as the LORD passed by He proclaimed some of His attributes, specifically His gracious willingness to forgive sin but also His determination to judge sin. Moses “saw” God’s glory, not with his physical eyes but with the “eyes” of his understanding. God is just (determined to punish sin) but also gracious (willing to forgive sin when there is repentance). The purpose for this appearance is not stated, but the context leads me to believe that its purpose was to prepare Moses for the challenging task that God had assigned to him for Israel would sin repeatedly and need to experience God’s forgiveness. This conclusion receives strong support from an incident mentioned above in Numbers 14, when the nation believed the ten spies’ report stating that they would not be able to conquer the inhabitants of Canaan. When God threatened to wipe out the nation (14:12), Moses used the very words of this text to urge the Lord to relent and not destroy the nation (14:17-18). I believe it also led the way for Moses to plead with God to go with His people and forgive their sin. “And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”” (Exodus 34:8–9, ESV) On more than one occasion Moses would need to remember that God was holy and just but also gracious. This revelation of God’s glory was a profound benefit for Moses.
This manifestation of God’s glory to equip Moses for the work that lay before him has at least two other parallel situations. One concerns Isaiah and the other concerns Ezekiel. We will first examine the record of Isaiah. Although the text of Isaiah does not say that Isaiah saw God’s glory, John tells us that is so. “For again Isaiah said, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.” (John 12:39–41, ESV)
What did Isaiah see when he beheld God’s glory and what was God’s goal in that revelation? The text reads as follows: “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”[We will come back to this last statement later in this paper.] And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.” (Isaiah 6:1–4, ESV)
There were three aspects of Isaiah’s response to this revelation of God’s glory. First, he was aware of his sin as he saw the holiness of God. “And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”” (Isaiah 6:5, ESV) Isaiah saw the utter hopeless peril of his situation. He was as good as dead! Second, God cleansed and forgave him. “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”” (Isaiah 6:6–7, ESV) He was no longer a “dead” man. Third, God commissioned him to be His messenger. “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “ ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’” (Isaiah 6:8–9, ESV)
The form in which Isaiah saw the glory of God was different from what Moses saw. Isaiah saw the glory of God in the form of a mighty king. He was “sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.” He was surrounded by His “court.” What was God’s goal in revealing His glory to Isaiah in this form? Isaiah ministered during the reigns of four kings. “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.” (Isaiah 1:1, ESV) He was called in the year that King Uzziah died (Isaiah 1:1) so he had little or no opportunity to minister to him. We know of no connection between Isaiah and Jotham. We do know that Isaiah ministered directly both to King Ahaz (Isaiah 7) and King Hezekiah (Isaiah 36-39). In order for Isaiah to have the courage to tell kings what they should and should not do, he needed to have it firmly fixed in his mind that the God who directed him to do this was the King above all kings. There was no comparison between the majesty and splendor of the King of kings and any earthly monarch. Isaiah could tell Ahaz and Hezekiah that they need not fear other earthly kings because of the promise of the LORD. He could even pronounce God’s judgement on their wrong behavior because the LORD was sovereign over all. Isaiah benefitted greatly from this manifestation of God’s glory by equipping him for his specific ministry.
References to the glory of God in Ezekiel are much more numerous than in any of the other OT books. For that reason we will devote more space to review his contributions to this study. We will begin by examining his description of the glory of God as he saw it. Ezekiel’s vision of the glory of God was different from either that of Moses or Isaiah. What he saw was very strange. In verses 4-28 of chapter one, we read a description of what he saw. It included a sort of chariot with four “living creatures,” each one being composed partly of human and animal parts. When they flew they made a very loud noise. The wheels of the chariot had other wheels within them. Above the chariot was an expanse. Above it was a sapphire-like throne on which sat someone that looked like a human except that he was brilliant. We are explicitly told that it involved a vision of the glory of God. “Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.” (Ezekiel 1:28, ESV) In the next verses we have a record of Ezekiel’s call/commission. “And he said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day.” (Ezekiel 2:1–3, ESV) Then a few verses later we read words of comfort and a repetition of the commission. “And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions. Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house.” (Ezekiel 2:6–7, ESV)
Why did God reveal His glory in such a strange fashion in the process of calling Ezekiel? Of all of the writing prophets Ezekiel was instructed to do the strangest acts as visual messages to the nation of Israel. He was told to cut a hole in the side of his house and carry through that hole various items. He was told to cut his hair with a sword. He was told to cook food using dung as the fuel. He was told to lie on one side for many days and then on the other side for many days. He was told that God would take his beloved wife from him but he was not to mourn. I believe God prepared Ezekiel for this strange ministry by revealing His glory to him in a very strange way.
The actions of the glory of God revealed His holy hatred of Israel’s sin.
Ezekiel’s record of the appearance of the glory of God, which we will discuss more fully below in connection with his call, was not limited to a description of its strange appearance. Ezekiel also speaks about the activity of the glory of God. After the record of his original call/commission, Ezekiel was led by the glory of the LORD to the exiles to whom he would minister (cf. 3:15). “Then a wind lifted me up and I heard a great rumbling sound behind me as the glory of the Lord rose from its place,” (Ezekiel 3:12, NET) After being told that he was to be a watchman to the house of Israel (3:16-21), Ezekiel was told to go out into the valley where God would speak to him (3:22). “So I arose and went out into the valley, and behold, the glory of the Lord stood there, like the glory that I had seen by the Chebar canal, and I fell on my face.” (Ezekiel 3:23, ESV) This verse seems to describe God’s preparation of Ezekiel for receiving the instructions from the LORD about what he was to say and do next. The next few chapters describe the abominations that were being committed in the Temple and the judgements that would come because of them. In the midst of the descriptions of those abominations we read this brief statement without commentary: “the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the gateway of the inner court that faces north, where was the seat of the image of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy. And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, like the vision that I saw in the valley.” (Ezekiel 8:3–4, ESV) I think the reason why these verses are inserted in this location is to emphasize the heinousness of the sins being committed. The abominations described were being committed in the Temple building in the very presence of a manifestation of the glory of God! This prepares us for what comes next. For only a few verses later we read, “Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub on which it rested to the threshold of the house.” (Ezekiel 9:3a, ESV) This verse describes the movement of the glory of the LORD to the threshold of the Temple from which he gave instructions for the execution of the multitudes of people who had been involved in the idolatry and abominations committed in the Temple. The next mention of the glory of God is in a verse that seems to describe the action of the glory moving from above the cherubim in the Holy of Holies to the threshold of the Temple (house) in preparation for leaving the Temple. Before leaving, His glory fills the Temple so that when He leaves His absence will be even more obvious. It is as though He is saying a powerful “Goodbye.” “And the glory of the Lord went up from the cherub to the threshold of the house, and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of the Lord.” (Ezekiel 10:4, ESV) The next step is for the glory of God to ascend to His chariot. “Then the glory of the Lord went out from the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim. And the cherubim lifted up their wings and mounted up from the earth before my eyes as they went out, with the wheels beside them. And they stood at the entrance of the east gate of the house of the Lord, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them.” (Ezekiel 10:18–19, ESV) The final step is for Him to go out of the city. “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.” (Ezekiel 11:22–23, ESV) We will not encounter the glory of the LORD again until the last section of Ezekiel. There we find predictions of the return of the glory of God to the Temple. Since that section deals with eschatology, it will be considered in the last section of this paper. These verses which describe the glory of God leaving the Temple were for the benefit of His people. They needed to see that because of their sin God had to leave His residence among them.
Covert manifestations of God’s glory
The glory of God, manifested covertly in the form of judgment administered through pestilence and military conquest, revealed His holiness and sovereignty to inspire fear of Him in the hearts of gentile people.
God’s judgment should also inspire fear from Gentile nations. Ezekiel was instructed to prophesy against Sidon. “Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I am against you, O Sidon, and I will manifest my glory in your midst. And they shall know that I am the Lord when I execute judgments in her and manifest my holiness in her; for I will send pestilence into her, and blood into her streets; and the slain shall fall in her midst, by the sword that is against her on every side. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” (Ezekiel 28:22–23, ESV) This manifestation of God’s glory was designed for their benefit to enable the Sidonians to know that the LORD is God. It would be a painful lesson but it would reveal truth from which they could profit if they were willing to heed it.
The glory of God manifested covertly in the ministry of Jesus revealed His deity.
The first occurrence in the ministry of Christ during the days of His flesh when we are told that His glory was covertly revealed was when Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. When John looked back on this miracle, he wrote, “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:11, ESV) This manifestation of God’s glory through the miraculous provision for physical needs is similar in kind to the provision of manna and water to Israel in the wilderness. There is no record of a visible brilliance, but there was a provision of need. I believe the ultimate purpose for this manifestation of God’s glory was revealed in the last words of the verse, “His disciples believed in him.”
Paul adds to this in 2 Corinthians 4. In this passage we see that the glory of Jesus covertly reveals the character of the Father. Speaking of those who do not believe, he says, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:4–6, ESV) This passage teaches us two things. First, the Gospel is about the glory of Christ. Second, He is the image of the Father. As such, we see the glory of the Father in the face of Jesus Christ. The glory of God is revealed in “the face of Jesus Christ” … “who is the image of God.” If we want to see a form of God’s glory that we are presently able to look at, we must look at Jesus as He is revealed in the pages of Scripture.
The writer of Hebrews adds a similar comment. Speaking of Jesus, he writes, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, …” (Hebrews 1:3, ESV) P. T. O’Brien unpacks what this description means, “Accordingly, as ‘the radiance of God’s glory’, the Son is the manifestation of God’s glorious presence. Since he is the radiance of God’s glory, rather than simply the reflection, there is some sense in which the Son is the twin source of the light of God’s glory. For the author of Hebrews the one who lived and died in Palestine some years previously is ‘the eternal Son and supreme revelation of God.… In Christ the glorious light of God shines into hearts of men and women’.” He continues, “The Son is the exact representation, the embodiment of God, as he really is. His being is made manifest in Christ, so that to see the Son is to see what the Father is like.”
The glory of God, manifested covertly in raising people from the dead, disclosed His power over death with the goal that people might believe in Jesus and realize the magnitude of God’s power available to live a transformed life.
Another example of a manifestation of the glory of God revealing His power in a covert fashion may be seen in the record of the raising of Lazarus. When Jesus arrived at the cave where Lazarus’ body had been laid, He gave instructions to remove the stone that covered the entrance to the cave tomb. When Martha objected saying that there would be an odor since it had been four days since Lazarus had died, “Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”” (John 11:40, ESV) There is no record of an appearance of brilliance or light, but there is a miraculous demonstration of power over death. Jesus simply commanded Lazarus to come forth and he rose from the dead. The same spoken word that created the material universe here brought the dead to life. A result was that “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him”. (John 11:45, ESV) I believe there was also an added benefit in this case. A short while earlier Jesus had told Martha that Lazarus would rise again. “Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”” (John 11:24–27, ESV) When Jesus manifested His glory by raising Lazarus from the dead, He provided evidence for Martha (and others) that He was the resurrection and the life. The purpose was to show that the power to raise the dead (glory) was not to be tied to a chronological event, the last day, but to a person, Jesus.
Another manifestation of God’s glory shown in His power over death was the Resurrection of Jesus. When Paul talks about the importance of a transformed life being part of regeneration, he wrote, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4, ESV) Leon Morris comments: “Christ was raised, Paul says, through the glory of the Father, which is a very unusual expression (cf. Eph. 1:17). [I]t points to the wonder and the greatness of God. We might have expected a reference to “power” or the like, and indeed some take glory here to mean “power”; Harrison, for example, says, “‘glory’ here has the meaning of power”. But Paul says glory (NEB, “the splendour of the Father”); perhaps we could say that the meaning is power manifested and not simply power.” God’s purpose in this revelation of His glory is clearly stated. It is so that “we too might walk in newness of life.” He wanted us to grasp the truth that the same glory of God in the form of mighty power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to us to enable us to live godly lives.
The glory of God, manifested covertly, reveals His mercy in the hearts of people.
Another of God’s attributes designated by the word “glory” is His mercy. “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—” (Romans 9:22–23, ESV) I take these verses to teach that, although God does not cause men to sin, He will use His righteous judgment upon their sin as a contrasting background against which to demonstrate more clearly the magnitude of His great mercy on those whom He saves. Morris comments: “Riches is a somewhat unusual word applied to glory (though cf. Eph. 3:16), but it brings out the point that there is no lack in God’s glory. God is an exceedingly glorious God, and we see this especially in the way he shows mercy. The “objects of his mercy” is more exactly “vessels of mercy”, and these vessels, Paul says, he prepared in advance for glory.”
The glory of God denotes, in a general way, His faithfulness to equip His people spiritually so they will grow in godliness.
In a prayer for his readers in Ephesians, Paul draws attention to another of God’s attributes that are referred to as part of His glory. “Glory” here does not refer to visible splendor. In this case it is God’s ability to grant inner spiritual strength to His people. He uses the phrase “riches of his glory”: “that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,” (Ephesians 3:16, ESV) P. T. O’Brien says regarding the expression “the riches of his glory”: “Now he asks for divine power more directly—that God may strengthen them inwardly through his Spirit. The resources available to fulfil this confident request are limitless: they are (lit.) ‘according to the riches of his glory’…. Here this preposition, which Paul often uses in petitions and thanksgivings (Eph. 1:19; Phil. 4:19), draws attention not simply to the idea of source, thereby signifying ‘out of the wealth of his glory’, but also indicates that his giving corresponds to the inexhaustible riches of that glory. It is on a scale commensurate with his glory: he gives as lavishly as only he can. It is not surprising, therefore, that the apostle frequently speaks of ‘fulness’, ‘riches’, and ‘abundance’ in his prayers (Rom. 15:13; 1 Cor. 1:4–5; 2 Thess. 1:11; note also Jas. 1:5). The one to whom he directed his requests gives richly and generously: ‘And my God will fully meet every need of yours in accordance with his riches in glory in Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 4:19). By formulating his prayer along these lines, the apostle assured his readers that the Father was wholly able to meet their needs.”
Peter expresses a similar sentiment in his second epistle: “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” (2 Peter 1:2–3, ESV) Visible splendor is not what glory refers to here either. “The terms “glory” and “goodness” together point to the same reality. Those whom God saves are called by Christ, and this calling is accomplished through the knowledge of Christ’s glory and goodness. In other words, when Christ calls people to himself, they perceive the beauty and loveliness of his moral character. His character becomes exceedingly attractive to them, and they trust God for their salvation.” After expressing the desire that grace and peace would be multiplied to his readers in the knowledge of God and Jesus, he observes that God has granted them all they need for life and godliness. This provision comes through the knowledge of Jesus who had called them to (some translations read “by” but for our purposes the difference does not matter) his own glory and excellence. No specific attributes are named so I believe all of His wonderful attributes are in view. I take it that the purposes for mentioning the glory of God and/or Jesus in this text would include at least two goals. One would be to support the reasonableness of this wish being granted. Another would be to remind his readers of the greatness of the character of Christ.
The glory of God, manifested covertly in the natural universe, bears testimony to His existence, power and deity for the purpose of prompting people everywhere and at all times to see and acknowledge that He exists and has those attributes which should then motivate them to seek to know more about Him.
A few passages speak of the glory of the Lord as it is revealed in nature. David wrote “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1, ESV) From the next verses, James Boice observes that although words are not literally spoken, the testimony of the heavens to the existence and power of their creator is continuous, abundant, and universal. Verses 2-6 use the movement of the sun as an example of the way the heavens manifest His glory. David did not know what we do about the sun but what he did know convinced him that someone very powerful and wise created it and governed its movements. By its existence and actions, the sun (not to mention the multitudes of other heavenly bodies) bears eloquent testimony to the creative power and control of God. In this way the heavens declare His glory.
It is not enough to say that the heavens declare His glory, wonderful as that is, for another Psalm tells us that His glory is even above them! It extolls the greatness of God by saying: “The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens!” (Psalm 113:4, ESV) To characterize His glory as being “above the heavens” seems to be a favorite way the Psalms have of stating that there is nothing and no one whose glory is greater (see Ps. 8:1; 57:5, 11; 148:13). When read in the context of verses 5-9, verse 4 takes on even more significance, for verses 5-9 spell out an amazing truth about the character of God. Verses 4-6 describe His transcendence (high above the heavens) while verses 7-9 describe His immanence by how He reaches down to exalt the poor and needy. “What is most praiseworthy about God, according to the psalmist, is that although he is infinitely exalted above everything, even the heavens, he nevertheless stoops to raise the poor from the dust, the needy from the ash heap, and even the barren woman from the disgrace her barrenness brought her in those days.” How indescribably great is the grace of God to be concerned about the lowest of the low from His position of being the highest of the high! Thus this manifestation of His glory has a twofold purpose. First, it shows His position of absolute superiority over all, and second, it serves as a background against which He shows His truly amazing grace. The manifestation of these attributes does indeed show His glory.
One does not have to raise one’s eyes to the sky to see manifestations of God’s glory in creation, however. It is visible everywhere on the earth if people are willing to see it. His fingerprints are everywhere on His creation. As a part of his call to be a prophet of the Lord, Isaiah received a vision of the LORD sitting upon His throne. In that vision Isaiah saw seraphim above Him calling out: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”” (Isaiah 6:3, ESV) The earth does not merely have a demonstration of His glory here and there. The earth is full of His glory. The seraphim were aware of what mere humans did not see. Manifestations of His power are everywhere if people only have eyes to see them. His glory was (and is) everywhere but people did (and do) not recognize it.
The Apostle Paul expands on the manifestation of God’s glory in creation even further. “In Romans he says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (v. 20). This is the meaning of glory in Psalm 19—a revelation of God’s existence and power so great that it should lead every human being on the face of the earth to seek God out, to thank him for bringing him or her into existence, and to worship him.” The very existence of the heavens and the earth and the way they operate reveal God’s power, wisdom, and creativity. Paul makes it very clear in Romans 1 that God designed nature to bear testimony to God’s existence and power. He did so for mankind’s benefit.
Magnificent though it is, this covert manifestation of God’s glory may still be ignored or missed by many people. Just a few verses after the one noted above, Paul describes why God’s wrath comes against people without the Bible. “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” (Romans 1:22–23, ESV) His purpose in this revelation was to provide evidence of His existence and pointers to reveal aspects of His divine character. Even though people were presented with the facts that God existed and possessed those attributes (some of which will be detailed below) they turned away from Him to serve lifeless idols. The same kind of response can be seen in response to the ministry of Jesus in the New Testament. As we will see in due time, a day will come when His glory will be manifested overtly so that it is recognized universally.
In chapter 3 of Romans, as Paul summarizes what he has been saying about mankind with or without the Bible, he wrote, ““for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. (Romans 3:23, ESV) What “the glory of God” refers to in this verse is a matter of considerable debate. Leon Morris writes, “The linking of God’s glory with man’s sin is intriguing. Of the various options of the meaning of the glory of God that he presents, I believe the most probable interpretation in light of the context is “the divine standard for human life,” “conformity to (God’s) image” or “the divine likeness”. I see very little difference between these options. I believe that “the glory of God” here refers primarily to His attribute of holiness which He has revealed so that we would understand how opposed He is to sin of any kind and quantity. Because we have sinned, we fall short of that standard and are separated from Him and under His wrath and condemnation.
The Glory of Jesus
The glory of Jesus manifested overtly reveals His deity.
It should be observed at this point that there are passages in the New Testament that speak specifically of the glory of Jesus. The first mention was in John’s prologue. Decades after Jesus finished His earthly ministry, as John looked back upon those earlier years, he included a statement in the introduction to his Gospel in which he gave a record of that fact. It tells us that His glory is unique, unlike that of any other person or thing. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, ESV) “The glory displayed in the incarnate Word is the kind of glory a father grants to his one and only, best-loved Son—and this ‘father’ is God himself. Thus it is nothing less than God’s glory that John and his friends witnessed in the Word-made-flesh.”
Before examining various examples in which we read in the New Testament that Jesus’s glory was manifested during His ministry we should note an unexpected instance in which His glory was revealed in connection with Isaiah’s call which I discussed previously for another purpose in this paper. I mention it again here because of a significant added insight found in John’s citation of the passage. After quoting Isaiah 6:10, John wrote, “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.” (John 12:41, ESV) In the context of his Gospel, John has been speaking specifically about Jesus. I can find no reference to God the Father in the context. It seems that John is saying that what Isaiah saw was Jesus’ glory in that vision. If that interpretation is true, it is a powerful evidence of the deity of Christ as well as a description of the form in which that glory appeared. That is because “the Lord” whom Isaiah “saw” in verse 1 is further identified in verse 5 as “the King, the LORD of hosts,” and His appearance was in the form of splendor. Although I believe the primary purpose for this manifestation to Isaiah was to prepare him for the work God had for him to do, I believe that the purpose the Holy Spirit had for directing John to quote this passage and apply it to the reception Jesus received from His contemporaries was to give us a glimpse of His preincarnate glory and to provide evidence for the deity of Jesus.
Luke also mentions the glory of Jesus in the overt form of splendor in the account of the His Transfiguration. He wrote, “Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.” (Luke 9:32, ESV) We know that what they saw was splendor because of the way Luke, Matthew and Mark described His appearance: “And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.” (Luke 9:29, ESV) “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” (Matthew 17:2, ESV) “And his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.” (Mark 9:3, ESV) None of the synoptic Gospels gives us a stated purpose for this manifestation of Jesus’ glory, but three statements in the text may help us to see the purpose for this manifestation. First, all three accounts mention that a cloud surrounded them. That is reminiscent of what happened to Moses on top of Mount Sinai when he met there with God to receive the Law and the instructions for the Tabernacle. Second, Luke tells us that Moses and Elijah talked to Jesus about His coming death (“exodus” in Greek). Third, they heard a voice identifying Jesus as God’s Son and instructing them to listen to Him. The three disciples did not seem to know what to make of what they saw and heard until after the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. Then as they looked back upon this event they must have realized that for a brief time they were privileged to get a glimpse of the splendor and majesty that radiated from Jesus and they were reminded again that His death was according to God’s plan. “For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,”” (2 Peter 1:17, ESV)
Jesus possessed glory before His incarnation, during His incarnation and after His incarnation.
Jesus talks about His own glory several times in His High Priestly prayer in John 17. He referred to the glory He had before His incarnation. “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” (John 17:5, ESV)
In verse 22, He refers to glory that He possessed during His incarnation. “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,” (John 17:22, ESV) What was the glory that Jesus received from the Father and gave to His disciples? Leon Morris wrote, “That is to say, just as His true glory was to follow the path of lowly service culminating in the cross, so for them the true glory lay in the path of lowly service wherever it might lead them.” William Barclay elaborates on this as follows: “The Cross was his glory. Jesus did not speak of being crucified; he spoke of being glorified. Therefore, first and foremost, a Christian’s glory is the cross that he must bear. It is an honour to suffer for Jesus Christ. We must never think of our cross as our penalty; we must think of it as our glory. The harder the task a knight was given, the greater he considered its glory. The harder the task we give a student, or a craftsman, or a surgeon, the more we honour him. In effect, we say that we believe that nobody but he could attempt that task at all. So when it is hard to be a Christian, we must regard it as our glory given to us by God.”
In verse 24, He alluded to glory that He possessed before, during and after his incarnation. “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24, ESV) D. A. Carson comments on the meaning of this verse as follows:
“The ‘glory’ Jesus wants his disciples to see is (he tells his Father) the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world (lit. ‘before the foundation of the world’: cf. Mt. 13:35; 25:34; Eph. 1:4; Heb. 4:3; 9:26; 1 Pet. 1:20; Rev. 13:8; 17:8)—an unambiguous reference to v. 5, where Jesus prays to be restored to the glory that he had with the Father before the world began. The first witnesses could testify that they had seen Jesus’ glory (1:14), as indeed they had, not only in selected ‘signs’ (e.g. 2:11) but supremely in the cross and resurrection. Even so, they had not witnessed Jesus’ glory in its unveiled splendour. Christians from every generation glimpse something of Jesus’ glory even now (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18), but one day, when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 Jn. 3:2). The glory of Christ that his followers will see is his glory as God, the glory he enjoyed before his mission because of the Father’s love for him.” 
The glory Jesus experienced after His incarnation began when He ascended into heaven. Jesus, Himself, taught this truth to the disciples on the road to Emmaus when He said, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”” (Luke 24:26, ESV) Paul also alluded to it. “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” (1 Timothy 3:16, ESV)
Eschatological references to God’s glory
The glory of God will return to the Temple
We will now look at prophecies regarding the glory of the LORD that will be fulfilled in the future. The most dramatic prophecy dealing with the glory of God is that recorded by Ezekiel about a vision the Lord gave him describing the return of the glory of God to the Temple a manner resembling the way in which it left. “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 43:2, ESV) “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.” (Ezekiel 43:4–5, ESV) “Like several other visions in Ezekiel, this vision (43:1–5) is followed by an interpretation (43:6–12). As the glory of God filled the tabernacle after its construction at the beginning of Israel’s history (Exod 40:34–38), and as it filled the temple following its construction by Solomon (1 Kgs 8:10–11), so Ezekiel was assured in a vision that once again God’s glory will reside with Israel. As the exiles despaired at the departure of God’s glory in Ezekiel’s vision, a departure confirmed by the destruction of the temple, so Israel had once before despaired when the Philistines took the ark and Eli and his sons all died. Eli’s daughter-in-law named her son Ichabod, which meant “no glory” (1 Sam 4:19–22). But as the ark and the glory were restored when the Davidic covenant was revealed to David (2 Sam 6–7) and confirmed in the building of the temple (2 Sam 7:12–13; 1 Kgs 8:10–11), so will the glory of the Lord be restored to the new temple in the messianic age when the Davidic covenant is completely fulfilled.” “Then he brought me by way of the north gate to the front of the temple, and I looked, and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple of the Lord. And I fell on my face.” (Ezekiel 44:4, ESV)
The glory of God will be universally manifested
In the eschaton both senses of God’s glory will be seen universally. The earliest prophecy of this was voiced early in Israel’s history after the twelve spies returned from exploring the Promised Land when the nation refused to enter the land because of unbelief. It is a brief prophetic statement about the glory of God in Numbers 14:21. It is translated a bit differently in various translations. The ESV and the NIV84 translate verses 21-23 similarly to each other. ESV reads: “But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it.” (Numbers 14:21–23, ESV) The ESV and NIV84 see the prophecy of the future revelation of the glory of the LORD as a correlative parallel with “as I live” providing two guarantees for the certainty that those who did not trust the LORD would die in the wilderness. NASB, NET and AV translate the verses similarly to each other. The NET Bible reads: “But truly, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord. For all the people have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have tempted me now these ten times, and have not obeyed me, they will by no means see the land that I swore to their fathers, nor will any of them who despised me see it.” (Numbers 14:21–23, NET) This translation sees only one guarantee (the life of God) for the future fulfillment of the prophecy and the prophecy is that the earth will be filled with God’s glory. The statement that those who did not trust the LORD would die in the wilderness stands by itself. In either case, whether the earth being filled with the glory of the LORD is part of the guarantee or the thing being guaranteed, the certainty of the fact that all the earth will be filled with the glory of the LORD is being clearly asserted. God is determined that this will occur.
God seems to have granted David a vision of a day when God’s glory would be recognized. Of that day he wrote: “All the kings of the earth… shall sing of the ways of the Lord, for great is the glory of the Lord.” (Psalm 138:4-5, ESV) This is consistent with what Isaiah heard of God’s majesty in his encounter with the Lord when he was called (noted earlier in this paper).
Perhaps with that prediction in mind, in Psalm 72 Solomon mixes prayers for God to bless the (Messianic?) king with descriptions of what his reign will be like. He ends the Psalm with these words. “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory! Amen and Amen!” (Psalm 72:18–19, ESV)
In several passages Isaiah prophesies that various people will see the manifestation of God’s glory. “Then the moon will be confounded and the sun ashamed, for the Lord of hosts reigns on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and his glory will be before his elders.” (Isaiah 24:23, ESV) In a passage apparently addressed to Israel of the future, we read, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” (Isaiah 60:1, ESV) “When the glory of God appears (60:1), the light from the sun and moon will be irrelevant because it will pale in comparison to the glorious everlasting light from God. Thus the physical powers that God ordained to rule over the day and night will lose their role. The white light of the moon will be so weak that the moon will be put to shame. Even the bright burning hot sun’s light will be an embarrassment when compared to the God’s glory.”
In another passage where Isaiah alludes to the enemies of the LORD, he writes regarding them: “So they will fear the name of the Lord from the west And His glory from the rising of the sun, For He will come like a rushing stream Which the wind of the Lord drives.” (Isaiah 59:19, NASB95) “This divine judgment will cause people all over the world (from the setting of the sun to the rising of the sun) to fear the name and glory of God (59:19). At that time when the Lord brings forth his judgment on the wicked, he will also cause his glory to fill the earth … and bring his salvation to all people. The wicked will fear God’s name because of his wrath, but the righteous will revere God’s name because they will see the glory of the Holy One (6:3; 57:15).”
In Isaiah’s day God’s glory filled the earth (and has done so ever since the creation of the universe), but it is veiled so only a few can see it. One day the veil will be lifted, and all will see His glory. For example, two passages from the Psalms describe a day very different from anything that has ever occurred in human history up to the present time. The author of Psalm 97 saw a day when God’s glory will be seen by all as His power is overtly manifested by clouds and thick darkness (vs. 2), fire and lightning (vss. 3-4), and mountains melting (vs. 5). The results of those manifestations will be: “The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory.” (Psalm 97:6, ESV) When that day comes, all the peoples, not just one nation, will see God’s glory. The writer of Psalm 102 described a similar time: “Nations will fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth will fear your glory. For the Lord builds up Zion; he appears in his glory.” (Psalm 102:15–16, ESV) In that day the glory of God will be so overwhelming in its majesty that even the kings (those highest on the social scale), all of them, will fear His glory. That has not yet occurred.
In the opening verses of the second major section of Isaiah’s prophecy, as he describes a time when the LORD will come to His people, he prophesied a day when His glory will be visible to all. He wrote: “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”” (Isaiah 40:5, ESV) “The announcement that people will see the glory of God does not seem to refer to people seeing the glory of God in some general way; for example, by observing his glorious deeds in history (24:15; 25:3; 41:16; 42:12) or by seeing his glory in nature (Ps 19:1–2). Instead, the good news is that all flesh will actually view with their physical eyes the majestic glory of God himself (40:5; 60:1–3). This announcement seems to require a great theophany appearance that will be universally visible, if all flesh will see it.”
A description of the universal manifestation of the glory of God is also found in Habakkuk. In the middle of a series of five woes pronounced against the Chaldeans for their treatment of Israel, Habakkuk inserts this brief refrain: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14, ESV) The knowledge of His glory will not only be present but it will be unignorable. It will be as overwhelming as the waters cover the sea.
The effects of the universal manifestation of God’s glory
What effects will occur when the glory of God is manifested in this way? In several places Isaiah gives us part of the answer to that question. “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.” (Isaiah 35:1–2, ESV) In verses 3-4 Isaiah exhorts his people to take courage because God is going to come bringing justice. Then, in the remainder of the chapter he describes blessings that will accompany this revelation of God’s glory. They will include the blind being given sight, the deaf being able to hear, the lame being able to leap, the mute being able to sing, and the desert having abundant water.
“Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.” (Isaiah 58:8, ESV) “The second half of 58:8 appears to allude to what the prophet has already said in 52:12b, where it promises that God will go before and after his people, gathering them up in one place so that he can deliver the children of Israel from Pharaoh’s great army at the Red Sea (Exod 14:19–20). This is a metaphor of his guidance before them and safety, protection, and security behind them…. It appears that both 52:12 and 58:8 refer to God’s eschatological protection of his people. God’s “righteous presence” (ṣedeq) and glory will surround these people.” In other words, when the day comes when God’s people turn to Him in repentance, His glory will protect them from their enemies.
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.” (Isaiah 60:1–2, ESV) “The bright light that is connected to the appearance of God’s glory (58:8; 59:19–20; 60:1) is also a symbol of God’s salvation (9:1–2; 58:8; 59:9; Ps 27:1). The light of the glory of God is called “your (second feminine singular) light” (also in 58:8, 10) because this divine appearance of God is for the benefit of the righteous people of Zion. Isaiah 40:3–5, 10–11 also predicted the coming of the glory of God with power, ruling the earth, and tenderly caring for his sheep. This will be the time when God reigns and restores Jerusalem (cf. 52:7–9).”
Ezekiel adds more information about the effects that will occur in the future. In the midst of an oracle against Gog (Ezekiel 39:1) describing God’s actions in judgment, the Lord says that after Gog’s army is slain, and “For seven months the house of Israel will be burying them, in order to cleanse the land. All the people of the land will bury them, and it will bring them renown on the day that I show my glory, declares the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 39:12–13, ESV) “And I will set my glory among the nations, and all the nations shall see my judgment that I have executed, and my hand that I have laid on them.” (Ezekiel 39:21, ESV) The timing of the fulfillment of this prophecy is not clearly spelled out, but the certainty of its fulfillment is not in doubt.
How is the glory of God relevant to us?
In the introduction to this paper I wrote: The purpose of this paper is to restudy the topic of “the glory of God,” focusing attention on what this concept means, what form or appearance it took, why it was so important, what God’s purpose for it was and is, and how knowing about it is relevant to us as believers. I then said that two other questions had to be addressed in order to understand the importance of the glory of God. We saw that the essence of eternal life is knowing, having a relationship with, God. I then said that the “glory of God” refers to His attributes, telling us what He is like. We saw that His glory has been manifested in both overt and covert forms. Beholding, really seeing, God’s attributes, what He is like, enables us to enter a relationship and then have that relationship grow. That is why manifesting His glory is so important to Him. It is important to us because we need to know it. It is God’s desire that people have a saving relationship with Him. ““For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16–17, ESV) Because of His great love, God has manifested His glory so that we would see His holiness, His love, His grace manifested in giving His Son to be our Savior and believe in Him, giving us a relationship with Him.
In light of what the “glory of God” means and its importance, what are we to do between now and the day when His glory will be universally manifested for all to see? The Bible tells us that we have at least two responsibilities.
We need to behold His glory constantly
Until that time we need to do what Moses needed to do. We need to behold His glory. We need to be continually transformed as we behold His glory and then reflect that glory in our lives for others to see. Earlier in this paper we looked at 2 Corinthians 4:4-6. “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:4–6, ESV) At that point we were looking at what the glory of God meant. I would like to examine the text again to look at what it says about what we should do in response to the manifestation of God’s glory in Christ. In the immediately preceding context we see what happens as we behold that glory. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, ESV) As we behold that glory, as we see the attributes of God displayed in the person of Jesus Christ, we are gradually transformed so that we increasingly display the character of the Father in our lives. Surely that is one of the purposes for the display of God’s glory in Jesus. The writer of Hebrews expresses a similar thought after he has recounted the faith of heroes that have gone before. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1–2, ESV) NASB updated, NIV 84, and NET Bible translate “looking to” with words such as “fixing our eyes.” A crucial element of victorious living is keeping our eyes focused on Jesus. He needs to be the focus of our minds and hearts.
We who know the Lord are exhorted to declare His glory
We need to do what Israel of old was to do. God manifested (and still manifests) His glory so that people can see what He is like, so that they will come to know Him, to have a relationship with Him. We need to declare His glory to those who do not know Him. When David successfully reinstalled the Ark of the Covenant in the Tabernacle in Jerusalem after having been in Philistine hands and then in Kiriath-jearim for many years, a great song of praise was sung about the LORD. After reviewing demonstrations of God’s faithfulness and love to His people, this admonition is written apparently to Israel: “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!” (1 Chronicles 16:24, ESV) The stated reasons are: “For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens.” (1 Chronicles 16:25–27, ESV) Psalm 96 repeats the very same sentiments for the same reasons. “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts!” (Psalm 96:3–8, ESV)
God’s glory ought to be declared “among all nations” for three reasons. First, He deserves it. He alone is God. He is the one who made the heavens! Because the LORD is who He is, the next two verses say that everyone should acknowledge that fact. “Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him! Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.” (1 Chronicles 16:28–29, ESV) The second reason why His glory should be declared among the nations is that the gods which the nations worship are worthless. That fact was powerfully demonstrated by what God did to the Philistines when they captured the Ark (1 Samuel 5). Worship or loyalty or obedience to any other god is a total waste of time and effort, not to mention the fact that it dishonors God. If the nations are to come to know the true God, those who know Him must tell them what He is like. His glory must be declared to them. They must ascribe to Him the glory that is due to His great name. The third reason is that the LORD is coming to judge the earth (1 Chronicles 16:33b; Psalm 96:13). Those who have served false gods will be judged. Thus, in this case we can see that the exhortations to declare God’s glory and to ascribe glory to Him (both being other terms for glorifying Him) are for the benefit of people. They need to know Him and be right with Him since judgment is coming. Although the first of these three reasons is tied to God alone, two of these three reasons are directly related to benefitting people.
Truly, God’s glory, the manifestation of His attributes, exists
so that people will know what He is like and respond accordingly. We who know
Him have the glorious privilege of beholding Him as He has revealed Himself in
the material universe, in Scripture and especially in the life and ministry of
Jesus. WE need to make use of that privilege and then declare, share what we
see, with others.
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