The story of the glory of God (Part 2)

In part 2 of Rob Smith’s series on glory, we see the story of God’s glory brought to a ringing climax in the person and work of Jesus Christ. (Read part 1.)

10 July 2009 marks exactly 500 years since the birth of John Calvin, arguably the greatest Christian mind of the Protestant Reformation. As any of his biographers and his own writings will testify, Calvin was a man obsessed with the glory of God. Indeed, the great Princeton theologian Benjamin Warfield once wrote, “Into the heart of none more than into his did the vision of the glory of God shine, and no one has been more determined than he not to give the glory of God to another”.1 In his reply to the Roman Catholic cardinal Jacopo Sadoleto, Calvin himself put it like this:

it is not very sound theology to confine a man’s thoughts so much to himself, and not to set before him, as the prime motive of his existence, zeal to illustrate the glory of God. For we are born first of all for God, and not for ourselves. As all things flowed from him, and subsist in him, so, says Paul, (Rom xi. 36,) they ought to be referred to him.2

In Part 1 of this two-part series on the story of God’s glory, we began to see that Calvin’s concerns are none other than the concerns of God’s own self-revelation in Scripture. In an all too brief survey of the Old Testament, we explored a number of the key ‘glory connections’ and ‘glory associations’ (in particular, the name of God, the grace of God and the tabernacle/temple of God), and ended by seeing that Israel’s hope lay in the building of a new temple that would so be filled with God’s glory, it would function as the ultimate place of revelation and reconciliation (e.g. Ezek 40-48). But what was this new temple the Old Testament prophets foresaw? How would their prophecies be fulfilled? Was it destined for literal (brick and mortar) fulfilment in some future millennial age? Or did God have something even more wonderful and permanent in mind?3

1. The glory of God and the Son of God

a) The tabernacle incarnate

According to the New Testament, the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the new temple is found in the person and work of one who was both son of David and Son of God—the Lord Jesus Christ. This is what John was speaking about when he penned these words in the opening chapter of his Gospel:

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).

The connections with Exodus 33-34 are hard to miss. Not only does John use the language of ‘dwelling’ or ‘tabernacling’, he links it with the language of ‘glory’. Furthermore, he does so in a context revelatory of God’s name and nature (vv. 12, 18)—a revelation that clearly surpasses that given to Moses (v. 17).4 A new tabernacle has arrived.

But John’s statement is even more profound when seen in the wider context of his prologue, for the new tabernacle is none other than the divine, eternal Word of God, by whom all things have been made and in whom is all life and light (vv. 1-5). Indeed, this is the same Word who once expressed his will in the form of laws written on tablets of stone, the symbol of God’s revealing and reconciling rule over Israel (v. 17). He has now, however, taken human form and become human flesh. In other words, the new tabernacle/temple is none other than Jesus Christ, God the Son incarnate (v. 14).

b) The new temple builder

Jesus, then, is the living, breathing presence of God in our midst—“God with us” (Matt 1:23). As the new tent of meeting—the true bridge between heaven and earth (John 1:51)—he is the ultimate place of both revelation and reconciliation (John 1:18, 14:9, 1:29, 19:30). Moreover, as the Christ, he is not only the ultimate expression of God’s rule, but as the great son of David, he is also the new temple builder (cf. 2 Sam 7). At first glance, this presents something of a puzzle: how does the new temple build himself?

In John 2, just after Jesus revealed his “glory” through his first sign in Cana (v. 11), John records Jesus’ act of cleansing the Jerusalem temple (fulfilling Ps 69:9). The key statement comes when the Jews press him for a sign to prove his authority (v. 18). Jesus says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (v. 19). The Jews are somewhat bemused by his reply. But Jesus, as John tells us, was referring to “the temple of his body” (v. 21)—a fact the disciples only understood once Jesus had been raised from the dead (v. 22). The point, however, is clear: Jesus himself is the promised new temple—the fulfilment and replacement of the old.5

c) Jesus’ hour of glory

Jesus’ statement in John 2:19 also helps us to appreciate something of profound importance. While Jesus was the new temple from the moment of his birth, and genuinely revealed God’s glory throughout his ministry, there is a crucial sense in which the temple is not yet ‘open for business’. Jesus will only fully function as the new temple of God when he has been ‘destroyed’ and ‘raised up’—or, to use Jesus’ language elsewhere in John’s Gospel, once he has been “glorified” (e.g. 7:39, 12:16, 13:31).

This is why, for most of his ministry, Jesus made very clear that his full glorification or “hour” of glory had “not yet come” (e.g. 2:4, 7:6, 8, 30, 39). Its arrival, however, is unambiguously signalled with the following announcement:

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit …

“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” … Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. (John 12:23-24, 27-28, 30-33)

The cross, then, is the place where the glory of God fills the new temple and where the name and knowledge of God (the Father and the Son) is most fully manifested (John 17:1-5). It is likewise the place where the love of God is fully demonstrated, as the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:11) in order to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29). In short, the cross is the place where the revelation of God’s glory is fully and finally given, and the reconciliation of sinners fully and finally accomplished.

However, the full glorification of Jesus is not complete until the new temple has been raised up and then glorified in the Father’s presence with the glory that was his “before the world existed” (John 17:5). In other words, it’s not until Jesus has risen from the dead and has ascended to the Father that the new temple is fully and finally operational.

2. The glory of God and the church of God

a) Christ’s gift of glory

This brings us to the next chapter in the ‘story of glory’. The plan of God was never to simply display his glory and leave it at that, nor was it to glorify himself at the expense of his creatures. Rather, God’s eternal commitment to glorify himself has always been with a view to sharing his glory with those “vessels of mercy” whom he “prepared beforehand for glory” (Rom 9:23). Put another way, God’s eternal purpose to create and redeem a people for “the praise of his glory” cannot be rightly understood apart from our participation in that glory (Eph 1:12, 14; Rom 5:2, 8:30). This is both theologically mind-blowing and spiritually stunning. What it means is that Christ’s glorification was not only for himself, but also for others.6

But how is it possible for sinful creatures to so obtain “the freedom of the glory of the children of God” that we actually become “partakers of the divine nature” (Rom 8:21; 2 Pet 1:4)? The answer is through the gift of the Holy Spirit. For as the victory of the crucified Christ is proclaimed, the now glorified Christ pours out the Spirit (the gift of God’s own glorious indwelling presence) on all who believe in him (John 7:38-39). His purpose is that we might know the love that the Father and the Son have for each other from the inside—for the Spirit both “proceeds from the Father” and is “the Spirit of his Son” (John 15:26; Gal. 4:6). This reality is the denouement of Jesus’ prayer: “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).

The Holy Spirit, then, is “the bond of our union with Christ, the one who comes from his side of the relationship over to ours and enables us to receive and to respond”.7 For this reason, he bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children, authoring and enabling the cry “Abba! Father!” (Rom 8:14-16). We thus have divine confirmation that we are “fellow heirs with Christ” and that our ultimate destiny is to be “glorified with him” (Rom 8:17).

b) Glory in the church

Far from leaving the temple theme behind at this point, the New Testament now develops it in a wonderfully new direction. The same Spirit who joins believers to Christ (the true temple) also unites us together in him, and in so doing, establishes the church (and every local expression of it) as “the temple of the living God” (2 Cor 6:16). As Paul says to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (1 Cor 3:16-17).8

Of course, it is not as though the church has somehow replaced Christ; that is neither how the theology nor the imagery works. Christ is the “foundation” or “cornerstone” upon which the temple is being built (1 Cor 3:11; Eph 2:20). It cannot exist apart from him. As David Peterson remarks, “Christians in union with Christ fulfil the Temple ideal”.9 The Apostle Paul stresses this very point:

in whom [Christ] the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Eph 2:21-22)

The church, then, is utterly dependent on its union with Christ and the indwelling of his Spirit if it is to be on earth what it is already in “the heavenly places” (Eph 1:3, 2:6). For, as Peter O’Brien notes, “glory can be ascribed to God only within the realm of Christ Jesus”.10 The new temple, then, must remain founded on Christ, the “cornerstone”, and faithful to the “truth as it is in Jesus” (Eph 2:20, 4:21). Filled with the Spirit, its mission is to build itself in love and so function as a witness to and a vehicle of praise to the glory of God in Christ (Eph 5:18, 4:16). This is why Paul prays,

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Eph 3:20-21)

Peter’s way of speaking of the business of the new temple is in terms of the offering of “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 2:5). In the context of Peter’s first letter, such sacrifices are clearly not confined to the gatherings of believers (although they are not excluded from them either), but must include “the whole pattern of obedient lifestyle set out in the central section of the letter” (i.e. 1 Pet 2:11-4:19).11 Otherwise put, our glorification of God is both individual and corporate, public and private, involving our “social conduct, praise and evangelism”.12

c) The glory to be revealed

As the new temple, the church exists to magnify and make known the glory of God in Jesus Christ. It has also received glory, for “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” (2 Cor 3:18). However, the full reality of that glory is presently hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3). For, like our Lord, we have been called to walk a path of suffering. This is necessary, and a cause for rejoicing, for our being glorified with Christ in the future is on the proviso that “we suffer with him” in the present (Rom 5:3-5, 8:17; cf. 2 Tim 2:12). This is why Peter says,

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you … But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. (1 Pet 4:12-14; cf. vv. 15-16)

Here is a precious promise for each of us to take to heart: the Spirit of glory not only rests upon you in your sufferings, but “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Pet 5:10). In other words, by God’s power, we are being guarded for that day when Christ’s glory will be fully revealed and every tongue will confess him as Lord, “to the glory of God the Father” (1 Pet 1:5; Phil 2:11).

On that day, tragically, some will “suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thess 1:9). Yet this too will display his glory—the glory of his justice (Rev 19:1-3). But the primary purpose of Christ’s return is a saving one: he comes to be “glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed” (2 Thess 1:10).

Finally, on that day, not only will our bodies be “raised in glory”, being conformed to Christ’s glorious body (1 Cor 15:43, Phil 3:21), but “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:21). In that sense, not only will we, God’s people, be God’s dwelling place, but the whole world will become his glory-filled temple13 (Hab 2:14). This is the future that John speaks of in Revelation 21:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth … And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God …”

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. (Rev 21:1-3, 22-26)

Sharing in the story of glory

So then, how should we, as believers in Christ and joint heirs of his glory, participate in story of glory now? The answer is clear and simple: by being passionate in our pursuit of God’s glory and single-minded in our desire that he receive “the glory due his name” (Ps 29:2, 96:8). This will mean not seeking glory for ourselves (for God will exult us at the proper time), but rather being jealous that God’s glory is not given to lesser things (e.g. trivial goals and petty idols). Our modus operandi is summed up the Apostle Peter:

… whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. (1 Pet 4:11).

As the focus of God’s glory is “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:7), those who are most conscious of this grace will be most conscientious in living for his glory. This certainly explains the self-denying and God-glorifying focus of John Calvin, and why, at the very end of his life in 1564, as part of his last will and testament, he could pen these moving words:

I have lived amidst extraordinary struggles here; I have been saluted in mockery at night, before my door, by fifty or sixty shots from guns … While I am nothing, yet I know that I have prevented many problems that would otherwise have occurred in Geneva … God has given me the power to write, but I have written nothing out of hatred to any one, but I have always faithfully propounded what I esteemed to be for the glory of God.14

Calvin’s exhortation to us in the 21st century would, no doubt, simply be that of the Apostle Paul: “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). Soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”): that must be our motto and the banner under which we march.

Endnotes

1 Taken from the closing paragraph of BB Warfield’s essay, ‘John Calvin the Theologian’, Presbyterian Board of Education 1909, available at http://homepage.mac.com/shanerosenthal/reformationink/bbwcalvin1.htm (accessed 29 June 2009).

2 J Calvin, ‘Reply to Sadoleto’, in John Calvin, Tracts Relating to the Reformation, Volume 1, translated by H Beveridge, Calvin Translation Society, Edinburgh, 1844, p. 33.

3 Those who embrace a system of biblical interpretation known as Premillennial Dispensationalism usually hold that Ezekiel’s temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem during the 1,000-year earthly reign of Christ mentioned in Revelation 20:1-9. The temple (supposedly) will be built very near the site of the original temple. The animal sacrifices (which will again be offered in the new temple) are understood to be memorial, rather than atoning. As we’ll see, the New Testament has a very different understanding of how Ezekiel’s prophecy has already been fulfilled.

4 See Bill Salier, ‘The Temple of God in the Gospel of John’ in Heaven on Earth: The Temple in Biblical Theology, edited by TD Alexander and S Gathercole, Paternoster, Carlisle, 2004, pp. 126-127.

5 DA Carson, The Gospel According to John, IVP, Leicester, 1991, p. 182.

6 RB Gaffin, ‘Glory’ in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, edited by TD Alexander, BS Rosner, DA Carson and G Goldsworthy, IVP, Leicester, 2000, p. 510.

7 T Smail, The Giving Gift: The Holy Spirit in Person, Darton, Longman & Todd, London, 1994, p. 61.

8 The word ‘you’ in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 is plural in each instance.

9 DG Peterson, ‘The New Temple: Christology and Ecclesiology in Ephesians and 1 Peter’ in Heaven on Earth: The Temple in Biblical Theology, p. 165. Emphasis his.

10 PT O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1999, p. 269.

11 DG Peterson, ‘The New Temple: Christology and Ecclesiology in Ephesians and 1 Peter’ in Heaven on Earth: The Temple in Biblical Theology, p. 175.

12 Ibid.

13 See GK Beale, ‘The Final Vision of the Apocalypse and its Implications for a Biblical Theology of the Temple’, in Heaven on Earth: The Temple in Biblical Theology, pp. 191-209.

14 John Dillenberger, John Calvin, Selections from His Writings, Scholars Press, Atlanta, 1975, p. 89.