“Glory to God in the highest!”
The four familiar weeks of Advent are over, finishing with the “coming” of the Christ child on Christmas Day. But, this week, as the lights fade and the gift wrappings discarded, I would like to share some thoughts on “glory,” for it is the culmination of the advent of Christ. At his birth, the “great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth, peace to those on whom his favor rests’” (Lk 2:13-14). Even as she waited, during her “advent,” Mary, the mother of Jesus, was blessed because she believed in the promises of her God (Lk 1:45). Mary sang, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant” (Lk 1:46). Because of the birth of the Messiah, we can all sing, “to God be the glory!”
Yet, what is “glory,” exactly? Is it an Academy Award? Is it fame and acclaim on the sports field? Perhaps human nature encourages us to seek glory and honor and recognition for ourselves, but biblical glory is something that is always given away.
In the OT, God’s glory (“kabod”) was perceived as his unique qualities of power, mystery, and separateness. His holiness, righteousness, and justice are revealed in his glory; he is “high and lofty” (Isa 57:15). Glory is not an attribute of God, but the shining manifestation of his person; it is the revelation of himself. It is not something that he has; it is something that he is. The OT pictures the glory of God as a “light” (Isa 60:1-3, 19-20), or as a “fire” (Dt 5:23-24). Creation was his first light-filled, glorious “temple,” and his glory filled the whole earth (Ps 72:19; Isa 6:3). Then, God’s glory filled the Tabernacle and the Temple of the Israelites, where it appeared as a “cloud” (Ex 40:34; 1 Ki 8:10-11). The glory of the Lord was revealed in his acts of deliverance and the salvation of his people (i.e., Ex 40:34-38; Ps 19:1; 29:1; 57:5).
Nevertheless, the nation rebelled in disobedience, and turned away from God, who had to remove his glory from their midst: “Then the glory of the Lord departed from over the threshold of the temple and stopped above the cherubim…They stopped at the entrance to the east gate of the Lord’s house and the glory of the God of Israel was above them” (Eze 10:18-19; see 9:3-11).
Only later did the glory of the Lord return to the Temple, in the presence of his Spirit. The light of the Spirit broke into human existence protecting, guiding, renewing, giving knowledge and insight to those who truly seek God (Ps 4:6; 18:28; 19:8; 27:1; 36:9; 89:15; 119:105).
With this in mind, we can move into the NT, where the people of God were still looking for his glory in their midst. We find that there are overlapping meanings for the concept of glory. The idea of “doxa” (“radiance, honor, fame, repute”) is something that was always given to God by his people, but it is also that which radiates from him. Quite simply, the ultimate revelation of God’s glory on earth came about in the form of a baby! At the time of Jesus’ birth, the angelic host appeared to the shepherds at night, and “the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified” (Lk 2:8-9). Matthew wrote that at that time, the Gentiles (yes, the Gentiles!) “have seen a great light…a new light has dawned” (4:16), just as the prophet Isaiah had predicted (Isa 9:1-2). On earth, Jesus is seen as “light” in John’s Prologue (Jn 1:4, 5, 7, 9), and in Jesus’ great “I am the light of the world” statements (Jn 8:12; 9:5; 12:35, 46). Thus, the reoccurring “light” image pictures the glory of the Father, made known in the Son who he sent (Jn 8:54). Divine glory is reciprocal, for the Son brings glory to the Father (Jn 14:13), and the Son is glorified by the Father (Jn 1:14; 17:1, 5). Moses wanted to see the glory of the Lord (Ex 33:18), and it becomes fully visible in the incarnation of the Son on earth.
Then, at the end of his life on earth, Jesus prayed a final prayer for his little band of followers, and he repeatedly used variations of the word “glory” (or “glorify,” doxa). Knowing he was about to go to the cross, Jesus prayed to his Father: “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you have me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (Jn 17:4-5). Jesus prayed that the Father would glorify him so that he might glorify the Father (17:1). This divine glory was manifested in both the persons and the acts of both the Father and the Son. Thus, Jesus shared glory with his Father before his incarnation (“before the creation of the world,” 17:5, 24), and after his work on earth was completed, the risen Christ once again resumed his position of divine glory in heaven with the Father (17:1-5, 24).
In addition to light, the “glory of God” is shown on earth in life itself. The illness and death of Lazarus is a demonstration of the “glory of the Son” when he gave life to his friend (Jn 11:4, 40). The miracle performed by Jesus reveals the glory of God, who alone can raise the dead (Jn 11:4). In contrast to sin and death, the Son brings life to humanity (Jn 11:25), and that is the revelation of divine glory (Jn 11:40). It was the cross itself that was Jesus’ ultimate glorification because he obediently, perfectly fulfilled his Father’s plans and purposes: “job well done” (Jn 12:16, 23, 27-28; 13:31-32). It seems ironic that the death of Jesus would glorify both the Father and the Son, and would lead to eternal life for his followers (Jn 13:31-32; 17:2).
Someday, finally, Christ will return to earth “in all his glory” (see Rev 1:6; 4:11; 5:9; 21:22-26).
In the meantime, it was, and is, the Spirit who makes the disclosure of Jesus’ glory to his people (Jn 16:15: 17:24). Today, the Spirit fills believers so that the gloryof the Father and of the Son is displayed. The Spirit teaches and reminds believers so that they will truly know the glory of the Father and the Son (Jn 17:26). Christ is glorified by those people who accept his words and his salvation (17:10b), and then believers are glorified by Christ through the Holy Spirit (17:22, 24). The church is glorified by Christ as the church glorifies her Savior. It is the Spirit of the glorified Christ, with the Father, who unites all believers as “one” (Jn 17:21, 23).
Furthermore, divine glory is made known as believers “love one another” (Jn 15:17). It is made known through the unity of faith, in the revealing of truth (Jn 16:12), in joining God in his work on earth (Jn 15:8), in facing opposition with confidence (Jn 16:20), in living life to the fullest, and showing his peace (Jn 14:27). His glory is apparent when people turn from sin, “remain” in Christ, and selflessly love one another, just as Christ loves his people (Jn 15:12). Glory is not earned by human merit, but is a gift. “Christ in me” is the Spirit, helping us to practice in this life the position (“in Christ”) that he has already granted to us. And with great anticipation, someday we will “see” his full glory (Jn 17:24).
“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord….” (Battle Hymn of the Republic).
In the visions recorded in the Book of Revelation, God confirmed the fact that one day, there will be a second Advent, or a return of Christ (Rev 21:1). Our earth will be the “dwelling place of God, with humanity” (Jn 14:2, Rev. 21:3), and the “glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp” (Rev 21:23). Through an abundance of symbols and metaphors, we can “see” the future of the world, and we can hope for God’s newer and better “cosmos.” Jesus has returned to the Father, but he is also very present with us in the form of the Spirit – now and always. It is the Spirit who sustains the “now and later” redemption in every believer; we are “already” saved and justified through Christ, but we are “not yet” fully completed. One day, in the future, we will be with him and share his glory (Jn 17:22), just as Jesus promised.
It is incredible to think that the most glorious Person in all of creation was willing to set aside his glory, his honor, his radiance – to come to our rescue. “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you will see the glory of God?” (Jn 11:40). Ultimately, to God be the glory, because, “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14).
“Maranatha” – come, Lord Jesus! Amen.