Stephen J. Tracey
The Hebrew word for "glory" means "that which is heavy or weighty." When used figuratively, it refers to God's intense, profound presence, his sheer "weight." By contrast, David Wells says that God is regarded by many modern Christians as "weightless." We must rediscover God's glory.
Moses was granted a vision of God's glory, but it was only the "fringe" of that glory that passed by. He did not see the "face" of God. Yet even this was enough to cause Moses' face to radiate the splendor of God's presence with him. We are granted a vision of God's glory in Jesus Christ. In communion with Jesus, we experience and come to reflect something of God's glory. Here are some of the elements of God's weightiness:
The glory of God was usually revealed in the tabernacle and the temple. God used the medium of the clouds to convey a sense of his presence to his people (Ex. 40; 1 Kings 8). The clouds were associated with the heavenly region above. When the cloud descended, it was a visible symbol of heaven coming down to earth. It was what the Puritan John Owen called "the heavenly state of God" flowing into this sinful world. The dark and sinful earth enjoys the splendor of heavenly light. Sin and darkness do not seep in to mar that glory; rather, the glory-light of heaven dispels the darkness. Communion with God is heaven on earth.
This Old Testament glory was only a flicker of what it is for New Testament saints. Jesus Christ is the true "tabernacle" of God with men. He is the true "temple," and the glory of the Lord is experienced in communion with him. God gives us the light of the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ. In him we taste the atmosphere of heaven. In him we feel the aura of the heavenly presence of God (John 1:14; 2 Cor. 4:6; Heb. 1:3). In union with Christ, we already sit in the heavenlies (Eph. 2:6).
It happened to Moses in the tabernacle, and it happened to the priests in the temple. When the glory of the Lord descended, men shrank back. The glory of God is overwhelming. God is not like the dumb idols. The "comfort" found in false religions is that somehow the deity needs mehe must be brought his food, moved into position, dusted, and repaired. But the glory of God declares that the living God does not need us. Sinful men must stagger back, painfully conscious that God is self-sufficient and we are completely unessential.
Christ displayed this overwhelming presence. When a crowd came to arrest him, they presumably thought he was like them, afraid of a crowd, a coward. What they discovered was one who was totally conscious of his own majesty. They fell back in awe. When Peter, the experienced fisherman, pulled in the great haul of fish, after trying all night without success, he cried, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man" (Luke 5:8). The glory of God is an overwhelming sense of the majestic holiness of God. In union with Christ, we behold that glory and find it full of grace.
When the tabernacle was completed, the glory of the Lord silently filled it, as also when Solomon dedicated the temple. There was no noise, as on other occasions, only the glory of the Lord filling the place. He needs no declaration of his right to be present or to rule. He needs no trumpet fanfare to announce his coming. At times, he graciously provides such declarations, but they are warnings to prepare to meet with him. The glory of God is often powerfully revealed in his silent presence.
At his trial, Jesus powerfully displayed this sense of silent dignity. Herod and the high priest were disconcerted by his silence. It troubled their sinful hearts because it displayed dignified sovereignty and supremacy. He was never backed into a corner making frantic efforts to protect us. There was no frenzied shouting. His word is sure: "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:20). His silent presence brings such comfort and encouragement. We know that our Lord is the Great Shepherd.
In response to the presence of God, Solomon said, "The Lord said He would dwell in the dark cloud" (1 Kings 8:12). Many think this is contradictory. If the cloud is shedding the brightness of God's glory, how can it, at the same time, be dark? There is no contradiction here. God reveals himself, but oh, the depths that remain hidden! Like Moses, we have only perceived the "fringe" of God. The thick darkness is the depth of being and vitality that is beyond our feeble comprehension. The Holy of Holies was curtained off from view to teach that though God reveals himself, he is also veiled and hidden.
Jesus, our great high priest, has gone within the veil as our forerunner. The high priest in Israel never acted as a forerunner. He was the representative of the people. Yet we are going to follow Jesus within the veil. The answer to Christ's prayer has begun, "Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world" (John 17:24). So God ripped open the veil as if to say, "Come and see my glory. Come and know me better."
Now we see in a glass darkly, but then we shall see him as he is. Moses could not see God's "face," only his "back," but one day we shall feel the brightness of God's glorious face shining on our glorified faces.
The author is the pastor of Lakeview OPC in Rockport, Maine. His Bible quotations are taken from the NKJV. Reprinted from New Horizons, June 2002.