‘I’m risking sounding stupid, but can you explain exactly what glory means? God states the Earth will be filled with His glory… what does that mean? That everyone will believe in Him? All He wants is for us to believe in Him? Why does that seem so simple?’
The Hebrew word for glory is “kabod” and it literally means “weight.” For example, when we give somebody’s argument “weight” it means we are taking it seriously. To glorify God means, literally, to take Him seriously and to acknowledge His rightful place as the Creator of the universe and the loving eternal Father of all mankind. In the New Testament, the word for glory is “doxa”; it carries a similar meaning as the Hebrew but also has a larger connotation of brightness and light. This is our usual idea of glory — a brilliant light. However, we need to see beyond that.
Open your Bible to Exodus 33:18-23 and 34:5-7, and you will get a wonderful insight into the meaning of the glory of God. Note that Moses asks of God (really the angel of God: see Exod 23:20,21) to reveal His glory to him. When the angel did this for Moses, the mountain where Moses was, Sinai, was filled with brilliant light and thundering noise. That was an outward manifestation of God’s glory, not the reality of it. The people were terrified and they were at a good distance. Moses was right in the middle of it.
It reminds me of Elijah’s experience while he was hiding in a cave and God (again through His angel) revealed Himself to Elijah (1Kgs 19:11-13). All around Elijah there was a fantastic hurricane which “rent the mountains”; there were rocks exploding, a terrifying sight — but, we are told, God was not in this mighty wind. This was followed by an equally powerful earthquake but, we are told, God was not in the earthquake. This was followed by a huge conflagration, but, again, God was not to be found in the glorious all-consuming fire. These manifestations of “glory” left Elijah shaken and terrified.
Then came the final and real manifestation of God’s glory, “a still, small, voice.” That’s where God was to be found then and now, in His Word. All outward show is useless if it is not based on God’s Word. Okay, back to Moses; look what happens. All the people could see was light and smoke, and all they could hear was noise. Moses, right in the middle of this display, was promised that God would reveal His Glory (through the angel: this is important and we will come back to this point soon). Reading the record in Exodus 33:19 closely, we understand that to reveal God’s glory is to proclaim His name. That’s the real meaning of God’s glory, and it is expanded in Exodus 34:5-7. This revelation to Moses is the equivalent of Elijah’s “still small voice.”
In the Exodus account, the angel says to Moses that, as God’s glory passed by, Moses would be hidden in a cleft of a rock and shielded from the physical manifestations of the Glory to be revealed to him. He would be shown God’s “back” because no mortal is able to see God face to face and live. What constitutes God’s back? All of the qualities declared in Exodus 34:5-7, which can be summed up in two words: Grace and Truth. (Note that the idea of judgment is the flip side of the coin of grace; grace rejected leads to judgment.) All these wonderful qualities are necessary because of sin. In a world where there is no falsehood, Truth need not be emphasized; in a world where there is no sin, forgiveness, mercy and judgment (or grace) are not required. One day the world will be like that. There will come a time when God will be all in all (1Cor 15:28), and then we shall see His face. See the Hebrew blessing in Numbers 6:24-26: “…make His face shine upon thee” is asking that the one receiving the blessing be granted immortality in God’s kingdom. Only then will a person be able to see God’s face!
The summary of the revelation of God’s glory is “grace and truth.” In the Gospel of John, the apostle writes: “We beheld his glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John1:14). If we want to understand the glory of God, we need to understand the life and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the expression of God’s glory in action:
“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2Cor 4:6).
Remember how the angel was given God’s name to act on behalf of God? Who is the name-bearer now? It is Jesus (Phil 2:9). He represents God to us, and he represents us to God (1Tim 2:5). He is not literally God, as the doctrine of the Trinity states, no more than the angel who bore God’s name in the Old Testament was literally God. He spoke for God and acted on God’s behalf. Jesus does that now. He is the name-bearer. He has fulfilled the promise of being made in the image of God, which Adam marred. Indeed, in the New Testament, Jesus is called the “last Adam”. He is the firstborn of a new creation. To participate in that new creation, in “spirit and in truth”, is to enter into the Glory of God. It is more than just belief; it is heartfelt, deep-down conviction. This conviction is demonstrated by a determined obedience to God’s Word and a humble, thankful heart which accepts His grace when we fail to live up to our high calling.
What is the glory of God? Is it unbearable light? Awesome majesty? Phenomenal power? Yes, it is all these things. But more importantly it is the “still small voice” of His Word. It is the character of His Son. Our heavenly Father wants more than simple belief from us. That’s not enough. He wants obedience (cf 1Sam 15:22,23; James 2:20). He wants us to be filled with His glory — the way the earth will be filled one day soon. He wants us, in short, to be like His Son, who is called “The word made flesh”.
That is our hope, to be like Jesus, true sons and daughters of God, understanding His truth and accepting His grace and gradually being conformed into Jesus’ image.
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1Jn 3:2).
That is when the promise of the angels’ expression of God’s word in Genesis — “Let us make man in our image after our likeness” — will find its glorious fulfillment. May God grant that we will be there to share in the glory of that consummation of our Father’s purpose for the earth and for us.
“As truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD!” (Num 14:21).