Years ago, when our older kids were very small, I took our son David to Falls Creek with me for the week — he was 3 or 4 years old. We had a great week, as we got to hang out and do a lot of fun things together. One day was particularly fun, as he got an orange soda, had just finished watching our church team play softball, and we were walking down one of the neat trails at Falls Creek, when David looked up at me and asked: “Dad, is this heaven?” Well, of course Falls Creek, even as blessed as it is, is not heaven. It is not even close. But unfortunately, many of us as adults do not have a much better developed idea of what heaven is than my 4-year-old son had. We think of heaven as comprising the best things we have experienced here on earth, or in terms of perfect bodily health or unbounded prosperity — when the great blessing of heaven is something far greater than that: the very glory of God Himself. II Thessalonians 2:14 says:
“It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
God created each of us to know His glory, and be enthralled and satisfied with it — but we separated ourselves from fellowship with His glory by our sin. But the New Testament teaches us that through faith in Jesus Christ, we “gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” back again. This is “the gospel of glory.” In II Corinthians 4:4 Paul calls the gospel, “the gospel of the glory of Christ” — for the glory of God is what the gospel returns us to. For years, many of us have overlooked, or minimized, scriptural references to the glory of God — or not understood their significance. Let us look at a range of scriptures from both the Old and New Testaments which describe “The Gospel of Glory.”
I. The glory of The Lord is the splendor of God Himself by which we were created to be fulfilled.
— The Greek Bible word for “glory” used in II Thessalonians 2:14 and throughout the New Testament, “doxa”, means “light” or “radiance.” (Kittel, p. 235) Kittel says “it denotes ‘divine and heavenly radiance'” (p.237) ; he says it is “that which makes God impressive to man” (p.238) and refers to “the very divine nature of God Himself.” (p.244)
— W. Robert Cook defines it as: “the visible brightness or splendor issuing from God’s presence.” “The Glory Motif in the Johannine Corpus”)
— Doug Moo on Romans calls it the “weighty and magnificent presence” of God.
Moses experienced this glory in a key passage in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word
there, “kabod”, means what is “weighty” or impressive — the glory of God.
Exodus 24:16 says that “the glory of The Lord rested on Mount Sinai …” :17 says, “And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of The Lord was like a consuming fire on the mountain top.” Just like in the New Testament, the glory of God was a radiance, like a flaming fire.
The passage which follows, in Exodus 33-34, is a key to understanding the glory of God. God had just told Moses that even though Israel had sinned, His presence would indeed go up with them to the Promised Land, because Moses had found favor in His sight. Then in :18 “Moses said, ‘I pray You, show me Your glory!” God told Moses in the next verse that He would make His goodness pass before him, but He said in :20 “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live.” Then He offered Moses that famous place “in the cleft of the rock” where he could see a part of His glory pass by. Then Exodus 34 says in :6-7, “The Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, The Lord God, compassionate, and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth …” there He proclaimed the most essential qualities of His person, as His “glory” passed by. Thus Kittel and others assert that the “glory” of God is the emanation of the very nature of God Himself.
This was Moses’ heart cry; He did not merely want God to accompany him and the people in the Exodus; He didn’t just want to see God’s hand, or His power. More than anything else, Moses wanted to see God’s glory. It was his greatest desire and longing. This is the unspoken, even unconscious desire of every human heart: to behold and be satisfied with the glory of God.
Some of the old rabbis taught that “true blessedness … is contemplation of the glory of the shekinah.” (Kittel) (The “shekinah” is an manifestation of the glory of God) I believe those old rabbis were right. True blessedness comes from a vision of the glory of God. We find much scriptural support for this idea:
— Psalm 27:4 “One thing I have asked from The Lord, that I shall seek: that I may dwell in the house of The Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of The Lord, and to meditate in His temple.”
— Psalm 63:2 “Thus have I seen You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and glory.”
— Beholding the beauty (glory) of The Lord is the greatest desire of the seeking heart.
This is what Psalm 16 refers to, when it says in :11, “In Your presence is fulness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” We were made to be forever satisfied with joy and pleasures in the glory of His presence!
C.S. Lewis writes in his message, “The Weight of Glory,”
The faint, far-off results of those energies which God’s creative rapture implanted in matter when He made the worlds are what we now call physical pleasures; and even thus filtered, they are too much for our present management. What would it be to taste at the fountainhead that stream of which even these lower reaches prove so intoxicating? Yet that, I believe, is what lies before us.”
The Bible says the “intoxicating pleasures” that Lewis thus described are found in the presence of God — fellowshipping and imbibing His very glory.
— Psalm 17:15 says: “As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.” When we awake from the “sleep of death”, we will be SATISFIED with the likeness of God!
— I John 3:2 says, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not yet appeared what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” John said we do not know everything about our future heavenly state — but the one thing we do know, the most important thing, is that we will see the Lord. And the glory of the Lord will be enough to make heaven glorious for us.
It is like the old hymn says: “O that will be glory for me … when by His grace I shall look on His face, that will be glory, be glory for me.”
The old Westminster Catechism says: “The chief end of man is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” It is God Himself whose glory we will enjoy forever in heaven.
Samuel Rutherford, the Puritan pastor exiled to Aberdeen, Scotland, in the 1600’s, due to his religious beliefs, had a congregant by the name of Lady Kenmure, who had lost a child, and endured many tribulations on earth. At one point during his exile, Rutherford wrote to Lady Kenmure to comfort her about what awaited her in heaven. He wrote: “Your soul will feast and banquet forever and ever upon a glorious sight of the incomprehensible Trinity.” That sentence is worth parsing! He said our souls will “feast and banquet” and they will do it “forever and ever”! And upon what will they “feast and banquet”? “Upon a glorious sight of the incomparable Trinity.” The glory of God will be our eternal feast in heaven. His presence will feed our souls with raptures and joys unimaginable, and without end.
THIS is what God created us for; to enjoy the presence of His glory forever!
II. Glory is what we LOSE when we sin/rebel against God.
II Thessalonians 2:14 says: “It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The reason we are called to “GAIN” the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ is because that is exactly what we LOST when man sinned.
One of the old Jewish rabbis taught Adam & Eve were able to share in the “kabod”, (the Hebrew word for the “glory”) of God, but that this “glory” was taken away from them after the Fall. (Kittel, II, p. 246) I believe this Jewish rabbi was correct. When Adam & Eve sinned, they were cast OUT of the Garden; OUT of this place where they experienced the presence and fellowship and glory of God.
This is just what we see in Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the GLORY of God.” Most Christians have this verse memorized, but have not really thought through what it means, that because of our sin we “fall short of the GLORY of God.” Among other things, sin cost us our ability to experience and be fulfilled by God’s glory. If we remain in that state, we will never see the glory of God which we were made to experience.
I Timothy 6:16 says He “alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see.” The reason we cannot see His glory is because of our sin. As the old hymn says: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, though the eye of sinful man Thy GLORY may not see.” Our sin has separated us from the glory of God.
John Sailhamer, the great Old Testament scholar, postulates that after the Israelites were unfaithful in the incident of the Golden Calf, their relationship with God changed. Sailhamer points out several consequences of their sin, but one of them has to do with the glory of God. In Exodus 26:16-17 the people of Israel saw the glory of God descend upon the mountain like a consuming fire. But after their sin, Sailhamer points out, there is no more display of God’s glory among the people. They can only see the glory of God reflected on the face of Moses now. And in 34:30 it says “they were afraid to come near to him.” Their sin had hindered their opportunity to see and appreciate the glory of God. (NIV Bible Commentary, Sailhamer, p. 100) That is what sin always does; it separates us from the glory of God; it keeps us from being able to see and appreciate the glory of God!
II Thessalonians 1:9, speaking of those who rebel against God, says: “These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of The Lord and from THE GLORY of His power.” As we saw, the great blessing of eternal life is that we get to behold the glory of God. Conversely, the great penalty of hell is that we will be separated from the glory of God which was intended to satisfy us. It is in His presence, Psalm 16 says, that we find fulness of joy. It is at His right hand in glory where we will experience unspeakable pleasures forever. Psalm 17 says it is His likeness that will satisfy us. But sin separates us from all that. There will be no satisfaction, no joy, no satisfaction — forever — because those who are not restored to fellowship with God through Jesus will be “away from the glory of His power” forever!
In the 1700’s, Jonathan Edwards wrote: “[A] desire that could never be satisfied would be an eternal torment” — and that is exactly what hell will be …
Dante Alighieri described hell in his 13th century novel The Inferno. He wrote that above the entrance to hell is written: “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” Dante had that right, for in hell there is no hope. There is NO HOPE of satisfaction; there is NO HOPE of fulfillment; there is NO HOPE of pleasure; there is NO HOPE of JOY; because the only place these come from is the presence of glory of God and there is NO HOPE of the glory of God in hell. That is precisely what we LOSE as a result of sin.
III. God’s Glory is what we REGAIN when we are saved.
We lost access to God’s glory when we sinned. But in His mercy, God sent Jesus to die on the cross for us, so that by faith in His sacrifice, we might be forgiven. But what we receive from God when we are saved is not just “heaven.” The Bible says we regain access to the glory of God.
Romans 5:1-2 “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in HOPE OF THE GLORY OF GOD.” THAT is the “HOPE”; THAT is the END; THAT is what we are shooting for: “the glory of God.” It is what we fell short of when we sinned, and it is what we regain by faith in Jesus. This re-gaining of the glory of God for the believer is taught all through scripture:
— Jesus told His disciples in John 11:40 “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” Jesus said THAT is what we gain when we believe: the privilege of seeing the glory of God!
— He said in His great High Priestly prayer in John 17:24, “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, SO THAT THEY MAY SEE MY GLORY which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” Jesus said specifically that the purpose for having His disciples with Him in heaven is that they might see His glory.
— Romans 8:18 “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” What we will see in heaven is GLORY!
— Colossians 1:27 “Christ in you, the HOPE OF GLORY.” If Jesus is in you — if you are saved, then you have that “hope of glory.” It is that “glory” that is our hope!
— I Thessalonians 2:12 “Walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own Kingdom and GLORY.”
— II Thess. 2:14 “It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is not just “heaven” we gain, but the glory of the Lord which we were separated from when we sinned. We are called BACK to that glory through faith in Jesus.
— I Peter 5:1 “Therefore I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow-elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a PARTAKER ALSO OF THE GLORY THAT IS TO BE REVEALED.”
— I Peter 5:10 “the God of all grace, who CALLED YOU TO HIS ETERNAL GLORY in Christ …”
— Revelation 21:23 “And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb.”
The glory of God in Christ is literally the lamp of heaven; it will be our light and glory!
— In the famous doxology of Jude 24, Jude writes: “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless and with great joy.” It is “the presence of His glory” which He is keeping us for; THAT is the great reward for us: to stand in the presence of the glory of God!
It is difficult for some to grasp the magnificence and satisfaction which will be ours from the glory of God in heaven. I had a church member once who was asked what he would do in heaven, and he told the person very skeptically, “Well, my pastor says I am not going to do anything but worship.” He is not alone in that skepticism. One very well-known pastor wrote in a best-selling book that he thought it would be “boring” to be eternally “sitting on a cloud … playing a harp” and just worshiping all day. He says he believes God is going to have to give us things to do to keep us interested. But these kinds of ideas betray a limited view of the glory of God. It shows how little we think of the magnificence of His presence, that we think we would need to something else to keep our attention. Perhaps an illustration will help:
Just after the Civil War, Mark Twain took a steamboat voyage to Europe and the Holy Land, and in his book, The Innocents Abroad, he wrote very sarcastically and pilloried just about everything he saw. But of one particular sight, the Cathedral of Milan in Italy, Twain had only raptures to report:
“Howsoever you look at the great cathedral, it is noble, it is beautiful! Wherever you stand in Milan or within seven miles of Milan, it is visible and when it is visible, no other object can chain your whole attention. Leave your eyes unfettered by your will but a single instant and they will surely turn to seek it. It is the first thing you look for when you rise in the morning, and the last your lingering gaze rests upon at night. Surely it must be the princeliest creation that ever brain of man conceived.” (Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad)
Now think of this: if such a building “conceived of the brain of man” can, as Twain wrote, “chain your whole attention” in such a way, then is it beyond credulity that the glory of God Almighty Himself might similarly cast us spellbound in rapt adoration for eternity?
An ancient Christian writer, referring to our eternal worship of God in heaven, suggested: From what object would one turn aside from God to look? For what activity would one turn aside from the worship of God to do? To play golf? To ride horses? To chat with friends? If we think we would leave the glory of Almighty God to do any of these things, it betrays our woefully inadequate view of the glory of God.
It is just as Samuel Rutherford wrote to Lady Kenmure: “Your soul shall feast and banquet forever and ever, upon a glorious sight of the incomparableTrinity.” THAT is what lies before us, in the “Gospel of Glory”!