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A Biblical Theology of Glory

We rarely use the word glory in any knowledgeable sense in our culture. Sometimes we employ it in its adjectival form (i.e. glorious) when speaking of a sunset or some particularly unique accomplishment (usually that which is instrumental, athletic or theatric in nature). It's my assumption that most of us use the word glory and its derivations for emphasis without being cognizant of what the word it actually means. Significantly, the concept of glory is the greatest of concepts in this world, as it is the emanating of the perfections of the infinite and eternal God--both in creation and new creation. In an entry in his Miscellanies, Jonathan Edwards defined the word glory in the following way:

"Glory is a shining forth, an effulgence; so the glory of God is the shining forth or effulgence of His perfections, or the communication of his perfections, for effulgence is the communication of light."1

To whatever we may ascribe the concept of glory, of this much we must be settled--glory is inherent in God and something that He has chosen to share with His image bearers. However, glory is also something that we lost in the fall and is the chief thing that God has promised to restore in Christ by virtue of His work of redemption. When God created man, He conferred a reflective glory on him. Thomas Boston, in Human Nature in Its Fourfold State, explained what he believed the glory of Adam in the Garden before the fall when he wrote:

"Man was then a very glorious creature. We have reason, to suppose, that as Moses' face shone when he came down from the mount, so man had a very lightsome and pleasant countenance, and beautiful body, while as yet there was no darkness of sin in him at all. But seeing God Himself is glorious in holiness, (Exod. 15:11) surely that spiritual comeliness the Lord put upon man at his creation made him a very glorious creature."2

When we fell in Adam, we lost that glory. The world and its inhabitants lost the glory that it had by virtue of the presence of God. While the remnants of God's glory remain in this world, thorns and thistles now cover the face of the earth. And, while we have been trying with all of our resources and strength to regain that glory since the fall, we ultimately find it to be a futile exercise. The Apostle Peter captured the futility of man in seeking to regain glory on his own when he wrote, “All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away" (1 Peter 1:24-25).  The promise of redemption which God gave Adam immediately after the fall is the promise of the restoration of the glory of God that man lost in the fall. The story of Scripture is the story of God restoring His own glory and conferring it again on His people. This is clearly seen in the progression regarding God's works and the manifestation of His dwelling with His people in redemptive history. After the fall, God's glory is first mentioned in the account of Israel coming out of Egypt. When God brought His people out of Egypt to sojourn in the wilderness on their way to the promised land, he promised that He would be with them. The Lord told them that when they woke in the morning they would "see the glory of the Lord" (Ex. 16:7). Moses tells us that the people "looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud" (16:10). The "glory cloud" as it became known held a prominent place in the history of redemption in the Old Testament--both with regard to the Lord leading His people through the wilderness by means of that cloud, as well as in the presence of God being typified in the cloud as it came down on the Tabernacle and Temple. The Tabernacle was the temporal and mobile dwelling place for God with His people. Whenever the "glory cloud" filled the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle, the people knew that God had come to dwell with them. Whenever the cloud went up, the people were to move forward in following the Lord through their sojourning in the wilderness. The reason behind God dwelling in a tent with His people is simple--if God was to dwell with His people, He had to become like them. Israel dwelt in tents, so God would dwell in a tent. The Apostle John gives us the redemptive-historical significance of that principle when he writes of Christ, "The Word became flesh and dwelt (lit. "tabernacled") among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father" (John 1:14). In order to be with His people, the Son of God had to be enfleshed and become like His people (Phil. 2:5-11). The same glory that dwelt in the tabernacle, was the glory of God dwelling in the Most Holy Place in the Temple. The Old Testament prophets foretold a time when God's glory would depart from the Temple. In the visions outlined in the first 11 chapters of Ezekiel, the prophet predicted the departure of the glory of God from the Temple. O. Palmer Robertson draws the parallel between Ezekiel's prediction concerning the departure of the glory of God from the Temple and Jesus' last discourse on the Mount of Olives when he writes:

"First [Ezekiel] sees the glory of the God of Israel rising above the cherubim in the most holy place, where it had resided since Solomon's dedicatory prayer (1 Kings 8:10-11), and moving to the threshold of the temple (Ezek. 9:3). Next, the glory of the Lord departs from the temple threshold and moves, along with the cherubim and the whirling wheels, to the east gate of the Lord's house (10:16-19). Finally, the glory of God, again with the cherubim and the whirling wheels, rises above the city of Jerusalem and stops at the mountain east of it, the Mount of Olives (11:22-23). From this point on, the once-holy place stands openly exposed to the ravages of invading nations. The glory of the Lord is now positioned to witness the destruction of the once-holy city and temple.

It should not be regarded as purely coincidental that the noteworthy Olivet Discourse of Jesus took place on the same Mount of Olives as he overlooked the city of Jerusalem and declared its imminent fate (Matt. 24:3; Luke 21:20-24). As the armies of Nebuchadnezzar would shortly surround the Jerusalem of Ezekiel's day, level it to the ground, and burn its remnants, so the holy city of Jesus' day would be surrounded by Roman armies that would not leave one stone on top of another."3

Jesus is the glory of God. The writer of Hebrews tells us that the Son is "the brightness of the Father's glory." The Apostle Paul tells us that "the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness has shone into our hearts to give us the light of knowledge of His glory in the face of Jesus Christ." We learn so clearly that Jesus is the glory of God from the record of the Transfiguration. There on top of the mountain, Jesus' face shone like the sun. Unlike Moses, who had the glory of God reflect off of His face when he was in God's presence on the mountain, the glory shining from Jesus' face was a glory from within His own divine being. It was an innate glory. The glory that Adam lost at creation is restored to man in Christ in the work of the new creation. Everyone with Jesus on the mountain when He was transfigured was in glory. Moses and Elijah "appeared in glory and spoke of His Exodus which He was about to accomplish in Jerusalem" (Luke 9:31). Peter, James and John were also overshadowed by the glory cloud when God the Father appeared to bear witness of His Son's perfections. Everyone with Jesus gets glory. The New Heavens and New Earth, which Christ has purchased by His blood shed on the cross, will be full of glory. The Apostle John tells us that "the city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light" (Rev. 21:23). When we turn to Christ in repentance and faith, God manifests His glory in our lives. Right now, God is actively working to restore His glory in this fallen world by first restoring it in the lives of those whom He has chosen in Christ and for whom Christ has died. In the resurrection on the last day, Jesus "will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself" (Phil. 3:21). Then believers will forever be partakers of the eternal glory of the Father and the Son.  1. Jonathan Edwards (2002). The “Miscellanies” (Vol. 13, p. 361). New Haven; London: Yale University Press. 2. Thomas Boston Human Nature in its Fourfold State (Falkirk: Printed by Patrick Mair, 1787) p. 23 3. O. Palmer Robertson The Christ of the Prophets (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2004)  pp. 297-298.

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