“The Glory of God”: A Definition and Some Implications
“…the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory, and I will set a sig among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations…to the coastlands far away, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations.”
– Isaiah 66:18-10
Notice the emphasis on the glory of the Lord in these final verses of Isaiah. It is to see the Lord’s glory that He gathers the nations to Himself (v.18) and it is by seeing this glory that they are saved (the “sign” being set among them in v.19 is, I believe, foreseeing the gift of the Spirit). Also, it is because this glory is not being seen that those who have seen it are sent out (also in v.19), and lastly, the glory of the Lord is the content of what is declared among the nations for their salvation (the end of v.19).
Human life – as it was intended to be – is from, through and to the glory of God. However this begs the question: what is “the glory of God”? If it is so central to the Lord’s purposes for humanity it would be good to understand it. In this post I want to briefly define the glory of God and then look at three implications that definition has for us in light of this passage…
Glory of God Defined
The 16th century theologian Jonathan Edwards explained the “glory of God” as an external communication of God’s own internal fullness. In other words, God’s glory is “who God is” being made known to beings that are not God….it is the external declaration of the internal communion of the Father, Son, and Spirit….it is God “going public” with the knowledge of Himself and love for Himself that has eternally been His Trinitarian joy. The glory of God is the Name of YHWH (“Name” in the sense of someone’s most intimate and personal nature) spoken “out loud” through and to His creation. God made known is the glory of God.
This is an absolutely beautiful concept. For so long I thought “the glory of God” was something like a divine fireworks display. Something that you saw from a distance and clapped for, something that dazzled and wowed like a pyrotechnics show….but something that was ultimately “out there.” However, Edwards’ definition (which I think is Biblical) sees the “glory of God” as something intimate and deeply personal. The glory of God is no longer the bursting of distant fireworks, but the unfolding of a heart….it’s not a far off display but personal communication, “come to me, see me, know me – for your joy.”
When we begin to realize that God does ALL things for His glory, and that His glory is Himself communicated, suddenly all of reality becomes the personal communication of God’s mind to ours, God’s heart to ours….our Creator stirring up His own joy in Himself within us….a staggering concept.
So if “the glory of God” is God’s internal fullness communicated externally – if it is God making Himself known – then what is this passage teaching us? As promised above, three quick implications:
Saved By Seeing Glory
“And they shall see my glory.”
The human soul is saved by and to the beholding of God’s glory…..that is to say, we are saved by seeing God for who He is and registering that sight as glorious and soul-satisfying so that our lives conform to the one we have seen (2 Cor.4:6+2 Cor.3:18); and, the goal and prize of our salvation is to ever increasingly know and love this one whom we have seen. Salvation is not primarily about aligning doctrinal ducks in a row, it is not primarily about life reform, it is not primarily about the experience of a religious high – salvation is primarily about seeing God for who He is (especially in Christ, as we will see in a moment), and saying, “THAT is beautiful, THAT is my God.”
If our hearts and minds respond like that to God made known, we have seen His glory….and if we have seen His glory, in the sight of it, we are saved.
Glory Seen in Christ
“And they shall declare my glory…”
In this passage, once God’s glory (that is, His self communication) has been seen, it is then proclaimed. I have two things to say about this.
First, the content of our message is the glory of God. Let that sink in for a moment…..the content that the people of God are to proclaim IS the glory of their God. Now, according to the definition given above, this means that the content we proclaim is the nature and character of God Himself. That is what we are seeking to make known as Christians, that is what we are heralding, that is what we are spilling our blood to communicate. We herald His heart, we declare His name, we scream the beauty of who God is into the Dark. “Behold your God,” is to be the blazing center of every declaration of our blood-bought lips…To make Him known is what it means to declare His glory, and this is the content of our message.
Secondly, if God’s glory is the content of our message, then Jesus Christ is the content of our message because He is God made known. This makes wonderful sense of the fact that Paul sums up the content of His gospel as “Him,” that is, Christ (Col.1:28), or again – more poignantly – as “Christ crucified” (1 Cor.1:23, 2:2). Isaiah says that the content of what is proclaimed by God’s people will be God’s glory, and post incarnation, that means Jesus Christ.
Jesus is God’s self-revelation in the flesh (John 1:14,18), He is YHWH of Sinai robed in muscle and skin and bone rather than fire and smoke and lightning, He is the eternal nature of God piercing space and time and living in our midst….God spoken to us. And this self-speaking of God climaxes on Calvary.
Staggering glory, stunning beauty, soul-splintering wonder of wonders…..the Creator of the universe declares His Himself to us with climactic finality through the beaten and bloodied flesh and hell-swallowing soul of His Son on the cross…..Behold your God! Behold YHWH made known! Behold Uncreated Love poured out over Creation’s rebellious head….He gives Himself up in victorious death and rises again in vindicating life……glory to YHWH who makes Himself known to us in Christ.
Going to Make Him Known
“…[They] have not heard my fame or seen my glory.”
Lastly, notice that the reason YHWH sends His people to the nations with His self-revelatory word on their lips is that they have not heard of or seen His glory. As John Piper has said, “missions exists because worship doesn’t.” Worship happens when people see the glory of God (who He is in Christ) and respond accordingly. That is why we go. We go because there are many who have never seen the glory of God in the face of Christ….we go because there are many for whom the Dying and Rising God of Holy Love is a complete stranger… we go because there are many who look at the stars and do not know their Maker’s heart…..do not know that the hands that will crush them in holy justice are also wounded by redeeming love….and because they do not know and have not seen, we go.
So God’s glory is His internal fullness communicated externally, and this happens most clearly in the incarnation of God the Son, and with climactic clarity on the cross where He dies in love for the sins of His people. To see this glory is to be made alive. And having been made alive, the content of our message to the world is this glory (that is to say, it is Christ Himself who is God made known). And we declare His glory because there are millions who do not yet know and have not yet seen….May the Lord give each of us wisdom to understand and the grace to respond accordingly to these things.