The Splendor of His Queen

How the Church Reflects Christ’s Majesty

He grew up a preacher’s son. Which means he experienced the church’s warts from the inside.

We might have anticipated that he would become a skeptic, after seeing so many hurts and disappointments, and so painfully up close. Later in life, he would write publicly, and honestly, about the challenges the church faces in this age — many of them of her own making.

But this preacher’s son also became a pastor himself, one still remembered not only for his way with words but also for his hopeful spirit.

Amid the simplistic assumptions and distortions of our times, we might steady our souls with the rich, resilient theology of Samuel Stone (1839–1900). In his most famous hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation” (1866), Stone recognized the church’s many trials, from both without and within:

. . . with a scornful wonder,
men see her sore oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder,
by heresies distressed . . .

Yet mingled with her present troubles is the anticipation of a stunning perfection, a glory, to come:

Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace forevermore.

We tend to resist this complexity and reduce it. With little patience for the church’s long story of redemption, we default to oversimple assumptions — whether of a church immaculate or a church miserable. But the already and not yet of the church age is not so simple. On the one hand, every redeemed saint endures indwelling sin; on the other, perfect righteousness is already ours in Christ — and the perfecting Spirit has come to dwell in us.

Soon enough, this embattled age will give way to the church’s perfected beauty, without spot or wrinkle or any defect. In that day, says Ephesians 5:27, Christ will “present the church to himself in splendor.”

Majesty and Splendor

In English, “splendor” fits well the church’s coming glory — a glory that corresponds to, and complements, her Groom’s.

This “splendor” to which the church is destined shines out in conjunction with divine “majesty,” an often overlooked divine attribute. Israel encountered God’s awesome and fearsome majesty at the Red Sea; King David praised God’s royal majesty over all the earth (Psalm 8). Climactically, God the Son came as both long-awaited Christ and as one with no majesty, yet through the accomplishment of his mission, he now reigns over all in heavenly majesty. So, the supremely Majestic One, who once veiled his majesty, now displays it — through rescuing an unsplendid people and remaking them to be his resplendent bride.

The Old Testament’s frequent pairing of “majesty” (hôd) and “splendor” (hādār) presents us with overlapping excellencies, often bound together. Psalm 104:1 blesses God in his greatness as “clothed with splendor and majesty.” Such a Lord magnifies the glory of his anointed king, bestowing “splendor and majesty . . . on him” (Psalm 21:5). At a royal wedding, the regal son, heir to the throne, is celebrated with the charge, “Gird your sword on your thigh, O mighty one, in your splendor and majesty!” (Psalm 45:3). So too is God himself worshiped as one whose acts display these twin excellencies:

Great are the works of the Lord,
     studied by all who delight in them.
Full of splendor and majesty is his work,
     and his righteousness endures forever. (Psalm 111:2–3)

Majesty and splendor are complementary manifestations of glory that, when paired together, convey fullness of glory (Job 40:10; Psalm 111:3; Daniel 4:36). So, Psalm 145 heaps together the language of majesty and splendor to reveal layers and richness to the divine glory. Verse 5 says the psalmist will meditate, literally, “on the splendor of the glory of [God’s] majesty” — praise we find to be carefully worded as we explore these concepts across the canon.

Yet while “majesty and splendor” are often paired with rich effect, they also demonstrate distinct connotations in other texts, and contribute to the distinct glories of Christ and his church.

Strength and Beauty

The high praise of Psalm 96 may contain the couplet that best captures the discrete shades of “majesty” and “splendor”:

Splendor and majesty are before him;
     strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. (Psalm 96:6)

Here “strength” echoes “majesty,” while “beauty” accents “splendor.” Given how the ESV translates the Hebrew (hôd and hādār) elsewhere, a more consistent rendering would be “majesty and splendor,” rather than “splendor and majesty.” The precise phrase appears in several other texts, always with the more masculine “majesty” (hôd) first, followed by the more feminine “splendor” (hādār). So too in the parallel praises of 1 Chronicles 16:27, “strength” echoes “majesty,” and this time “joy” (feminine in Hebrew, as in Greek) accents “splendor”:

[Majesty and splendor, hôd and hādār] are before him;
     strength and joy are in his place.

To develop this complementary relationship further, we might say more, first, about majesty, and then reflect on splendor.

Masculine Majesty

In addition to imposing size and strength, “majesty” frequently has regal overtones. Its various contexts refer to ruling authority (Numbers 27:20; Daniel 11:21), being “above” others (Psalm 8:1; 148:13; 1 Chronicles 29:11), issuing judgments (Isaiah 30:30; Habakkuk 3:3; Zechariah 10:3), and possessing royal honor and the kingly throne (Jeremiah 22:18; Zechariah 6:13). Job 37, a veritable meditation on divine majesty, speaks in warrior-like terms of God’s “awesome majesty” (verse 22). According to 1 Chronicles 29:25, “The Lord made Solomon very great in the sight of all Israel and bestowed on him such royal majesty as had not been on any king before him in Israel.” In text after text, the associations are not only royal, but kingly, and masculine.

Significantly, when the regal sage of Proverbs speaks wisdom to his royal son about being master of his domain, he takes up the language of majesty:

Keep your way far from [a forbidden woman],
     and do not go near the door of her house,
lest you give your honor [hôd] to others
     and your years to the merciless. (Proverbs 5:8–9)

“Honor” here is not only generically human, but kingly and masculine — majesty.

In the New Testament, even with fewer thrones and monarchs, the language of majesty endures, with connotations no less regal, ascribing glory to the King of kings (Luke 9:43; 2 Peter 1:16–17; Jude 25). Most memorably, Hebrews identifies Jesus’s ascension and session on heaven’s throne as his sitting “down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3; 8:1).

Feminine Splendor

Splendor, as a helper fit for majesty, typically has more feminine associations: especially of beauty and clothing, but also in reference to God’s people as his daughter or bride (Lamentations 1:6; Micah 2:9). Which brings us back to Christ’s church, God’s new-covenant people, and why splendor is fitting for her coming glory.

Splendid Clothing

As for beautification through apparel and adornment, when God answers Job out of the whirlwind, he challenges him to “clothe yourself with glory and splendor” (Job 40:10). In Ezekiel 27:10, “Persia and Lud and Put . . . gave [Tyre] splendor” by making her beautiful with the spoils of war (verses 4 and 11 say they “made perfect your beauty”). In the New Testament, one expression of “splendor” (lampros) is tied to beautiful adornment in the repeated phrase “splendid clothing” (Luke 23:11; Acts 10:30; James 2:2–3).

Splendid People

Even more pronounced are connections with a king’s people, city, or kingdom. The king himself is majestic; his kingdom accents his glory with its splendor. Psalm 145:12, a song of praise, refers to “the glory of the splendor of [God’s] kingdom.” In Daniel 11:20, the ESV mentions “the glory of the kingdom,” which is a particular kind of glory (hādār), a feminine glory, that of beauty. And in Lamentations 1:6, in grieving the destruction of the city, in a plainly feminine context (verse 1 refers to Jerusalem as “widow” and “princess”), we find the language we might now expect:

From the daughter of Zion
     all her [splendor, hādār] has departed.

Most significant for our focus is the relationship between a people and their splendor. Again, Proverbs is instructive:

In a multitude of people is the [splendor, hādār] of a king,
     but without people a prince is ruined. (Proverbs 14:28)

“Majesty and splendor are complementary manifestations of glory that, when paired together, convey fullness of glory.”

Vital to the majestic glory of a king is the splendid glory of his people. When the king’s people “offer themselves freely on the day of [his] power,” they do so, literally, “with the splendor [hādār] of holiness” (Psalm 110:3), which is not only (and finally) holy attire but good deeds (more below). They adorn themselves, and their king, with their holy acts and initiatives. So it is in Psalm 149: for God’s people, “the godly” (verses 4–5), even as they take warlike actions under his kingly charge (verses 6–8), their glory is that of splendor: “This is [splendor, hādār] for all his godly ones” (verse 9).

Splendid Bride

Given what we’ve seen so far, we might anticipate that splendor would be the fitting attribution of glory to the wife of Proverbs 31:

Strength and [splendor, hādār] are her clothing,
     and she laughs at the time to come. (Proverbs 31:25)

Now several strands come together. We find a splendid woman, along with the image of clothing, as well as the complementary pairing with strength, an expression of the fullness of her glory. As in Psalm 96:6, strength and beauty, in our English, holds as the distinguishing connotations of the overlapping majesty and splendor.

Yet all this now prepares us to freshly appreciate the two most important splendor texts in Scripture, one in the Old Testament, one in the New, and the two are linked: Ezekiel 16:14 and Ephesians 5:27.

Splendor of the Queen

Scripture’s classic text on marriage, Ephesians 5:22–33, is often rehearsed today, and for good reason, but with little explanation about its Old Testament background. One piece is more obvious, and less overlooked, as Paul quotes explicitly from Genesis 2:24 in verse 31. But more subtle is his allusion to Ezekiel 16. We might see his reference to the cross in verse 25, and yet find verses 26–27 to be the most enigmatic in the passage:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her [at the cross], that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Ezekiel 16 is the prophet’s longest and most notorious oracle. Before this metaphorical account of Israel’s history turns tragic in verse 15 (“But you trusted in your beauty and played the whore . . .”), it tells the surprising story of the people’s ascent to queenly splendor. The nation was not of noble birth, or in any respect deserving of God’s favor, but was like an infant unpitied and abhorred at birth — cord uncut, unwashed, unclothed, cast into an open field and left for dead (verses 1–5). But God passed by and

saw you wallowing in your blood, [and] I said to you in your blood, “Live!” I said to you in your blood, “Live!” (verse 6)

God raised up Israel, made her to flourish, nurtured her to full adornment (verse 7), and entered into covenant with her (verse 8). “Then,” says verse 9, “I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil.” He also clothed and adorned her (verses 10–11, 13), such that she

grew exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor [hādār] that I had bestowed on you, declares the Lord God. (verses 13–14)

Fittingly, the ESV has splendor in both Ezekiel 16:14 as well as Ephesians 5:27 (Greek endoxos, which refers to “splendid clothing” in Luke 7:25). Paul’s “washing of water with the word,” then, focuses not on baptism, but on the spiritual cleansing Christ achieved once for all at the cross and ongoingly applies through his Spirit and word.

Putting it all together, then, Ephesians 5 draws on Ezekiel’s account of God rescuing, beautifying, and raising up to royalty his first-covenant people as a type of what Christ is now doing, in this age, for his new-covenant people from among all the nations. He rescues an unloved, unwashed, unclothed bride, left for dead, that he might love her, give his own life for her, make her holy, wash her, and perfect her beauty even to the heights of royalty — that she, as his queen, in feminine splendor, might share with her husband and king in the glory of his majesty.

Clothed in Splendid Deeds

For now, we find ourselves in the middle of the church’s story. She has been loved and died for. Her Groom has acted definitively to set his people apart. Now, in the present, he ongoingly works to build and beautify his bride. She is not yet perfect. Often her spots and wrinkles and blemishes are all too obvious and embarrassingly public. But a future presentation is coming.

One day, at long last, she suddenly will appear in perfection. Like Adam enduring the long parade of every living creature before awaking, in an instant, to the helper fit for him, the universe will say, “This at last!” In that day, writes Peter O’Brien,

Not even the smallest spot or pucker that spoils the smoothness of the skin will mar the unsurpassed beauty of Christ’s bride when he presents her to himself. Hers will be a splendor that is exquisite, unsurpassed, matchless. For the present the church on earth is “often in rags and tatters, stained and ugly, despised and rejected.” Christ’s people may rightly be accused of many shortcomings and failures. But God’s gracious intention is that the church should be holy and blameless, language which speaks of a beauty which is moral and spiritual. (The Letter to the Ephesians, 425)

This is a splendor not only reckoned to the church through union with her Groom, but realized in her own body through his cleansing and beautifying power. Which means that the glory of splendor will not only be the garment of Christ’s righteousness covering her own unwashed flesh (Isaiah 61:10), but she will shine with “the righteous deeds of the saints” (Revelation 19:8), worked in and through her by his own Spirit.

The stunning promise of a sure and beautiful future awaits Christ’s church. Soon, “the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder,” will sound and declare, “The marriage of the Lamb has come” — and with it will come this great announcement: “and his Bride has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:6–7). Not only has she been made ready. She has. But also the King gives her the dignity of rising, with his help, into the splendor of cosmic queenship: “It was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure,” which verse 8 then explains: “for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”

Majestic Christ, Resplendent Church

Such a promise of the church’s coming glory, almost too good to be true, hopefully will help us weather the griefs and challenges of our ongoing warts and wrinkles. It also gives us, as Christ’s people, the dignity of holy agency, indwelt by his Spirit, washed with his word. He taught us, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16) — and he means to produce in us what he commands.

These complementary categories of majesty and splendor help us to understand, and humbly receive, and strive to embody, the weight of his glory, imparted to us now in degrees (2 Corinthians 3:18) and finally at the Supper to come. It helps us acknowledge and aim to live out the otherwise perplexing parallel in the doxology of Ephesians 3:21: “To [God] be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus.”

“Majesty and splendor” are the glory of king and queen, man and wife, sun and moon, as Francis of Assisi celebrated these complementary lights, distinct in power and beauty:

Thou burning sun with golden beam,
thou silver moon with softer gleam . . .

To the bride is the glory of splendor, reflecting the majesty of her King. One is the glory of grandeur, imposing size, attractive strength, the golden beam. The other gleams softer, though no less genuinely, and invites the eyes to linger — a beauty to behold and enjoy, even now, as a reflection of the original light and warmth.