When we discuss God’s glory there are basically two ways we can speak. First, God’s essential glory: the sum of his attributes makes him the “God of glory” (Acts 7:2). His glory is the “sparkling of the deity.” God’s life lies in his glory, and his glory cannot increase or decrease, for his glory is infinite, unchangeable, eternal, and so on. This glory belongs to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit because each person shares in the divine essence. Second, there is a glory which is ascribed to God in terms of what his creatures aim to bring to him (1 Chronicles 16:29). This latter glory has in view our praise, worship, obedience, and delight as we keep the name of the Lord holy in all that we do (Matthew 6:9).
In terms of God’s essential being, we must acknowledge that, even apart from sin, human beings cannot behold the glory of God and live. The triune God’s infinite glory is too high, illustrious, and marvellous for us. It is utterly beyond our powers, and even a small drop of his glory, so to speak, would utterly consume us. With the entrance of sin into the world, this reality is even more pronounced (see Exodus 33:20).
Consequently, we behold the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:6), not only in this life, but also in the life to come! Christ has three distinct glories, all of which we must know if we wish to understand the Christian faith. Christ, because he is God, has an essential glory. But he also has two other glories that are vital for us to know and understand.
Personal Glory: The Glory of the God-man
Jesus has a peculiar glory that is unique to him, and him alone. Even the Father and the Spirit do not possess this specific glory, for they are not fully God and fully man, but simply fully God. Christ is the God-man, what theologians call a “complex person.” Thus he has a distinct glory, also called a “personal glory” by theologians.
The union of the Son to human nature is, according to the Puritan theologian, Thomas Goodwin, “the highest manifestation of the Godhead that could have been communicated to creatures.”
As a result, “more of God’s glory shall instantly shine forth in . . . the man, Christ Jesus, having the God-head dwelling in him personally, than by God’s making millions of worlds . . . furnished with glories.” That is to say, Christ makes the glory of God not only possible, but also visible. John Arrowsmith, a famous theologian during the Puritan era, makes the point that just as God is invisible, his glory would be “too dazzling for our weak eyes.” As we cannot behold the sun in its sphere, we can nevertheless behold the sun in a basin of water. Christ is the “basin” that enables us to behold God’s glory.
If we cannot behold the attributes of God directly, how are we to understand a passage such as Isaiah 6? Did Isaiah not see Yahweh? Did Isaiah not gaze upon the holiness (“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”) of Yahweh? Isaiah did not in fact see God directly (and live), but instead Isaiah saw Christ. And this is precisely how the apostle John interprets Isaiah’s experience. After quoting words from Isaiah 6 (see John 12:40), John writes: “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him” (John 12:41; see also Acts 7:55–56).
Isaiah saw God’s glory. But he saw God’s glory in the person of Christ, not God’s glory as God sees and knows his own glory. Isaiah saw what was fitting for him as a sinner (see Isaiah 6:5). As sinners, we should be thankful that we see God’s glory in the person of his Son, because that glory, when beheld by faith, saves us rather than consumes us.
Mediatorial Glory: The Glory of His Bride
Christ also has another glory besides his personal glory: a mediatorial glory. This glory is “acquired, purchased, and merited” by his work (in obedience to the Father) on behalf of sinners (Goodwin).
We may call this a “superadded glory.” This glory involves Christ’s people because they are, after all, his bride. And the bride of Christ is, naturally, his glory, just as a woman is the glory of man (1 Corinthians 11:7). We, who are his body, are “the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:23).
As the bride of Christ receives the blessings of his work on their behalf, Christ is thereby glorified. He sees the fruit of his labor. The more blessings Christ pours out from heaven as the resurrected king of glory, the more he is glorified. In fact, the more love Christ shows to the church, the more love he shows to himself. For the man who loves his wife loves himself (Ephesians 5:28).
Thus in his bride Christ is glorified:
As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. (2 Corinthians 8:23)
Jesus prayed, “All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.” (John 17:10)
Since God’s great end is the glory of his Son (Colossians 1:16), Christ must necessarily be glorified in those for whom he died. Christ makes the church pure, beautiful, and holy, which means that the “Lord Christ is, and will be, glorious unto all eternity” (Owen).
If Pastor John Piper has coined the phrase, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him,” then I would like to (by way of complement) coin the phrase, “God is most satisfied in himself when Christ is most glorified in us.” In other words, in God’s purposes for his Son, the world, and his people, he is “most satisfied” when his Son is glorified by those for whom he gave to the Son.
Each of the glories described above has relevance to us.
First, in terms of his divine glory, we are confronted with the fact that God is too great for us. His majesty, holiness, power, and knowledge are utterly beyond our comprehension. Far from causing despair, this truth should comfort us. We do not want a god we can manage; we need to be told time and time again that God is utterly beyond our ability to comprehend.
Second, because this reality is true, and because God desires to have communion with his creatures, he condescends in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. Christ’s personal glory is the primary glory by which we come to know, love, and enjoy God. The only way we can have any access to God, any sight of God, any knowledge of God, any fruition of God, is in and through the God-man, Jesus Christ. Christ makes theology possible; he makes worship possible; he makes communion with God possible; and he makes heaven on earth possible. Apart from Christ there is no possibility of any divine-human relationship.
Third, the prospect of the beatific vision, whereby we shall be like him because we shall see him (face-to-face) as he is (1 John 3:2), stirs our faith, hope, and love in this life. And faith, hope, and love enable us to bring glory to Christ on earth as his bride. Our desire to be holy and to refrain from sin has, as its primary goal, not our personal happiness, however important that may be, but the glory of Christ. Our chief business on earth is to glorify the glorious one, who is glorious, glorious, glorious.