“What is the Glory of God?” I was asked out of the blue by a woman who has a knack for asking good questions. I was a bit surprised; not only had I never been asked that before, I had never asked it myself. References to God’s glory are so common in Scripture and the church that we do not think enough about what the word conveys. I sometimes wonder if our best understanding of God’s Word isn’t like that of a child who prayed to “Our father, who does art in heaven; Harold is his name.”
Defining the Glory of God
References to the glory of God abound in Scripture. Glory is used in association with the throne of God, His presence, coming, righteousness, power, honor, salvation, and dominion. The people of God are to glorify Him and are said to be prepared for entry into glory, so it behooves us to know what glory is.
Widespread use and application of the term “glory” in reference to God and His work may be cause for some confusion as to a precise definition of God’s glory, but therein lies, perhaps, a false assumption. A broadly used term with wide application needs a definition with broad meaning. God refused to define Himself to Moses, referring to Himself as “I am that I am” rather than give a name. Likewise, the term “glory” is so ubiquitous to the presence, manifestations, attributes, and work of God that it requires a definition that references all that God means by “I am that I am.” Perhaps similarly we should see God’s glory as “all that God is.”
Glory is associated with the Godhead. Many of the references to the glory of God in Scripture refer to the actual presence of God in heaven. Some refer specifically to the manifestation of that glory to man. When Jesus raised Lazarus He said it was in order that God might be glorified (i.e., His glory made apparent) in the person and work of the Son (John 11:4, 40). When Jesus prayed to the Father just before His arrest, He asked that those the Father had given Him might behold His glory (John 17:1, 22–24).
The glory of God is lost on the unregenerate. Paul said, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). The sinner seeks a state of comfort in his sin by believing sin and death are normative; his every tendency is to become comfortable with sin. In Romans Paul describes the progressive degeneracy of those “who hold [i.e., suppress] the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). Because they choose not to “retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind” (Rom. 1:28).
God’s Glory Has Been Revealed to Man
This is not to say man cannot know the glory of God, only that it requires the grace of God for that to happen. When John described the Incarnation of the Word in human flesh, he noted that “we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father …” (John 1:14). John was not referring merely to the incarnate form of Jesus, for many men saw Jesus without seeing the glory of God. There was nothing about Christ’s physical being that conveyed divinity. It is possible John was referring to his witness of the transfiguration, but what was certainly true is that he was given by grace through faith to see “all that God is” through his knowledge of the Son.
The manifestation of God’s glory to sinners was the purpose of Christ through His redemption work. Christ, by His first miracle at the wedding feast at Cana, “manifested forth his glory and his disciples believed on him” (John 2:11). This belief was not because of the rational sensory impact of the miracle; many would see greater miracles without believing. What Christ manifested was in terms of their faith; they were already His disciples and so the miracle only more deeply revealed to them all that Jesus was.
Doctrine also helps us see God’s glory as it helps us know more of who He is and what He has done. The more God’s truth is made the basis of our life and thought, the more we appreciate God for “all that He is” and the more we can attribute to Him this glory. In defending the doctrine He taught to the Jewish religious leaders, Christ said His teaching sought “his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him” (John 7:18). To the extent we know, accept, and live in terms of scriptural teaching we appreciate God’s glory and our praise can then better ascribe this glory that is due Him.
After Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, He noted their unbelief and compared His situation to that of the prophet Isaiah. When Isaiah prophesied, he was met with a cold, unbelieving people. Nevertheless, Isaiah was himself given prophetic understanding and vision; he saw ’s rebellion not as normative, but from God’s perspective. Christ thus referred not to Isaiah’s difficult work, but to his privilege of seeing God’s glory (John 12:37–41) despite the dullness of the people.
The Glory of God in Christ
The glory of God is all that He is—His power, justice, love, grace, mercy, and more. Man glorifies God to the limited extent we perceive and acknowledge His absolute glory. The more we know of God, the more we can ascribe to Him glory.
In John 13:31–33 Jesus spoke of His glorification and that of the Father. These were the very first words to the eleven disciples after Judas left the Last Supper to arrange His arrest:
Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him.
Christ is speaking in full awareness of His imminent atoning death. Therein “the Son of man,” Jesus Christ, was glorified. He was manifested to man for who He was: the Messiah of Genesis 3:15; the grace and mercy of God come to earth; and the love of the Father to His sheep. We see God’s glory in Jesus, but we also see Jesus Himself glorified at the cross. This is why He sits at the right hand of the Father and why He is at the center of the New Jerusalem in heaven.
Not only is Christ glorified in His atoning work, but “God is glorified in him.” The Son’s atoning sacrifice glorifies the Father. The Son cannot be separated from the triune Godhead. God’s power, grace, love, and mercy are most conspicuously revealed to man in the work of the Son. This manifestation provides our understanding of something of God’s glory.
We cannot imagine everything that comprises the glory of God, but we can know the glory He manifests to us. Scripture constantly reminds us of how the creation reveals God’s glory. Likewise, in the atonement God manifests His glory in a way that we can understand because, like the creation we see and enjoy, His salvation is something that touches us in a direct and intimate way.
Not only are Jesus and the Father directly glorified by the atonement, but “God shall glorify him [the Son] in himself.” The Father, in turn, brings glory to the Son; He reveals the Son as the One worthy of all praise and honor. We cannot but vaguely understand the inner workings of the triune Godhead, but it is clear here that the Father glorifies the Son within the Trinity and to all the redeemed. Additionally, all men will honor the Son for all that He is, when every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus is, in fact, Lord.
Glorifying the Son is recognizing Him for all that He is. He is more than a personal Savior. Our faith in Jesus must be in the glorified Son of man. It must see all of reality in terms of Jesus Christ as the watershed of history and meaning, Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life.
John’s Revelation refers repeatedly to the glory of God, so not surprisingly it also emphasizes the Son as the Lamb on the throne, the defeater of Satan, the center of the New Jerusalem, and the Judge.
The glory of God is all the fullness of every attribute and beneficence of God for which He deserves eternal praise and honor. It is all that God is.
We glorify God to the limited extent we recognize who He is.
By such a definition there is no limit to the glory due His name. Man’s sin makes him constantly try to accommodate sin as somehow normative. Understanding the glory of God and our obligation to acknowledge it by, in return, glorifying Him, helps us to see the centrality of Jesus Christ to all things.
We cannot limit the centrality of Jesus to our hearts or we put limits on His glory. We cannot limit the centrality of Christ to the church or we limit the manifestation of His glory to mankind. We cannot in any way put limits on the limitless Lamb of God whose dominion is everlasting in heaven and earth.
One way man normalizes sin and rebellion is through legitimatizing it, and one popular modern means of doing that is by creating an abstract realm called the “secular.” Christianity and all other religions are placed outside this artificial construct as special interests only allowed participatory privileges under rules of the “secular” realm.
I find it helps to imagine yourself trying to explain your belief to God. Could you stand before God and defend the concept that a “secular” realm has any grounds to limit the claims of Christ in heaven or earth?
Rather, the church needs to return to the doctrine once commonly recited in Christian worship in the Gloria Patri:
“Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, Amen. Amen.”