God’s Glory Revealed in Christ


This article is an essay in the theologically articulate explication of the gospel, drawing on two crucial passages in the Old Testament in order to draw out the meaning of several passages in the Gospel of John. Anyone who is familiar with Steve Clark’s writings will easily see his influence behind what I have written. Far from being sheepish about that, I’m proud to bear some marks of Steve’s patient tutelage. 

One of the consistent themes in Clark’s writing, signaled in the title of this volume, is glory. Glory is a term that refers to God’s own nature, and to human acknowledgment of his nature in praise, thanksgiving, petition, and obedience. It refers as well to the divine nature shared with us by the outpouring of the Spirit of adoption. This essay will take up the theme of glory as it appears in the passion account in the Gospel of John, read against two Old Testament passages.

John’s Narrative of Christ’s Passion

We begin with the opening of John’s narrative of Christ’s passion: “Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end (John 13:1).1 This is a dense verse. It brings together a number of key themes in the Gospel of John, especially in the Passion account, for which this verse functions as an introduction: the Passover, the hour of Jesus, this world, and the relation of Jesus to the Father. This verse in many ways sums up the relation of Jesus to his disciples. He loved them as his own, and He loved them to the end: to the point of completion; to the full extent; to the utmost; to the greatest degree possible. I want to look at several passages in the Scripture that place this, and the whole Passion of Jesus, in the context of God’s steadfast love, and are tied together by the notion of glory

Glory is a key term in John’s gospel, occurring in various forms more than two dozen times.2 Glory is an especially crucial theme in John’s account of the Passion of Christ.3 On the day before Christ’s arrest, some Greek-speaking Jews come to meet Jesus. This seems to be a signal to Him that his “hour” – the hour to offer his life to the Father (10:17-18) – had arrived (see John 2:4; 4:6, 21; 7:30; 8:20).

Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew went with Philip and they told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him. Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify thy name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

John 12:20-28

Jesus tells the crowd who stand about, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.” 

The evangelist adds that this was to fulfill the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “Lord, who has believed our report, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1). This is a glorification of the Father’s name that defies the expectations of the crowd. Isaiah, the evangelist tells us, saw Christ’s glory and spoke of him, knowing as well that many would not believe (John 12:41).4 In order to grasp the significance of the notion of glory at work here, and the irony of the misunderstanding of the crowd, two Old Testament passages are worth reviewing.

The Old Testament Context

The first passage, among the most dramatic5 and important in the Old Testament, is from Exodus.6 After Israel’s idolatry with the golden calf, and after Moses has broken the original two tablets inscribed with the Decalogue, Moses comes to stand before the Lord and intercede for the people of Israel. The Lord tells Moses, in response, that He will not, as He had just proposed, destroy Israel and make a new nation, beginning with Moses. On the other hand, He will not accompany Israel, but rather let them go their own way. Moses pleads with the Lord to relent, and go with the people of Israel, despite their sin. Furthermore, He asks the Lord to let Him know his ways, and to show him his glory; that is, to know who it is with whom he is dealing. Moses wants to know what kind of God this is that is calling him to lead this stiff-necked and rebellious people. What can he expect of him?

“For how shall it be known that I have found favor in thy sight, I and thy people? Is it not in thy going with us, so that we are distinct, I and thy people, from all other people that are upon the face of the earth?” And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “I pray thee, show me thy glory.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live.” And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand upon the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”

Exodus 33:16-23

The Lord then arranges to meet with Moses and keeps his appointment.

The Lord said to Moses, “Cut two tables of stone like the first; and I will write upon the tables the words that were on the first tables, which you broke. Be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to me on the top of the mountain…. And the Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful [rahum] and gracious [hannun], slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love [hesed] and faithfulness [emet], keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” And Moses made haste to bow his head toward the earth, and worshiped.

Exodus 34:1-2, 5-8

Recall the context: God has revealed his glory in the deliverance, showing himself more glorious than Pharaoh, the pre-eminent political and military leader in the world.7 Exodus describes this deliverance as both an act of war8 and as an act of judgment, not only on Pharaoh, but on the gods of Egypt.9 The deliverance was not an end in itself, however, but was aimed at the covenant established on Sinai. When the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt, he brought them to himself, in order to make of them his own possession through a covenant that enjoined obedience upon Israel.10 Almost immediately, Israel violated that covenant, making the work of their hands an object of worship. 

Thus, Moses’ request of the Lord is existentially charged. He knows the Lord heard the cry of the people of Israel groaning under their bondage to the Egyptians and saw their affliction.

He knows the stated purpose of the Lord to bring the descendants of Abraham into a good and broad land, flowing with milk and honey.11 But he has also seen the power of God displayed against those who oppose his will, not only the Egyptians, but Amalek as well.12 Up until the time when Moses ascended the mountain, the Israelites had shown themselves timid, unbelieving, complaining,13 but they had not yet entered into the covenant. Now, however, they had pledged, solemnly, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.”14 No sooner had Moses gone to represent them before the Lord, then they immediately violated that pledge, making by their own hands an idol to worship. Moses had good reason to ask to see the Lord’s ways, to understand in what his glory consists. Who is this God whom Moses implores to accompany Israel?

In that context, the crucial aspect of God’s nature revealed to Moses is that he forgives sin. The terrifying power of God, displayed in his acts of judgment upon Egypt and in his descent upon Sinai are a danger, not a remedy, it would seem. Nor would it meet the need here were God to proclaim his fearsome holiness, as Isaiah’s vision hears it proclaimed by the seraphim; that could elicit only the same cry uttered by Isaiah: Woe is me! (Isaiah 6:5). God’s holiness and ineffable purity untempered by mercy present sinful Israel with the prospect of destruction. What God reveals to Moses in this proclamation is that steadfast love issues in mercy and grace, without compromise of divine justice.

By the same authority by which he visits iniquity upon three or four generations, the Lord shows steadfast love for thousands (of generations), forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. In fact, forgiveness indicates a higher level of personal authority than punishment. In human judgment, the judge is bound by the law, an authority outside himself, so that the judge is not free to pardon on the grounds of his own choice, even when moved by, say, compassion for the poor.15 God, however, can remit punishment by his own authority, indeed by the same authority by which he punishes the guilty: “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”16 The glory of the Lord, then, is his ability to forgive, to show mercy, while remaining just, his mercy excelling all others, even as his justice remains at times inscrutable to human perception. The steadfast love of the Lord is founded upon this ability and willingness to forgive sin.

A second passage in which the term glory features that offers background to the significance of the term in the Gospel of John comes from Isaiah:

Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread forth the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: “I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to graven images. Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.”

Isaiah 42:5-9

There are four elements of this passage worth noting for our purposes. First, this comes in the context of one of the Servant Songs of Isaiah.17 In the first four verses of Isaiah 42, God speaks of his Servant, identified with Christ in Matthew 12:17-21. The term “servant” (Hebrew ebed) in Isaiah 40-48 is applied to a variety of figures: to Israel as a whole; perhaps to the prophet; to a figure distinct from Israel, who acts on behalf of Israel; to Cyrus, the Persian king who delivered Israel from the Babylonians.18 In these verses, however, the servant is distinguished from Cyrus or any military conqueror by the manner in which he gains his victory; he will not break the bruised reed, or quench the smoldering wick; he will not wrangle or cry aloud. It is this manner of acting that Matthew attributes to Jesus in summing up his narrative of a number of miraculous healings.19

Second, we should take note of the covenantal context. Just as Exodus 34 takes place in the larger context of the giving, breaking, and reaffirming of the covenant, so here the Servant is himself given as a covenant, not only to the benefit of Israel, but to the nations, whom he will enlighten.20 In John 12, the apparent signal to Jesus that his hour is imminent is the Greeks’ request for an audience, and this is borne out by Jesus’ subsequent declaration: “When I am lifted up, I will draw all men to myself.” (John 12:32) 

Third, in this passage, the glory of the Lord carries a second sense, evident from its parallel with praise in the second half of the couplet in 42:8. “Glory” here refers to the laudatory acknowledgement of God’s glory. He cedes this acknowledgement to no other, especially, as Isaiah 40-48 repeatedly affirms, with any object of worship made by human hands.21

Finally, as in John 12:28, the glory of the Lord is associated with his name, the name revealed to Moses in the wilderness. As the glory that properly belongs to the Lord is not to be offered to graven images, so the name of the Lord is not to be spoken in vain. This name is unique and mysterious, as is its bearer.22

This excerpt from John Yocum’s essay is published in Festschrift — Essays in Honor of Stephen B. Clark,, Chapter 3, pp. 37-50, © 2023 The Servants of the Word.  You can access the full essay online or download a PDF copy.

Top image credit: Book cover design, courtesy of the Servants of the Word.


1. Emphasis added. All Scripture references are from the RSV. 

2. The Hebrew term, kavod, translated by doxa in the Septuagint, derives from a metaphor of weight. Doxa turns on a metaphor of light. Paul combines the two metaphorical roots in his phrase “the weight of glory” (baros doxes) in 2 Corinthians 4:17. Both the underlying metaphors, weight and radiance, are connected to the manifestation of importance, majesty, influence, power, and so are often used of reputation or fame. In English, one might communicate the same idea by speaking of a person’s “brilliance” or “weightiness.” G.B. Caird, The Language and Imagery of the Bible(London: Duckworth, 2002), 28-30. See also W.F. Arndt and F.W. Gingrich, A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Greek Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 202-3.

3. The final section of the Gospel of John is often called “The Book of Glory.”

4. Isaiah 6:10; 29:10. 

5. Gary A. Anderson, Christian Doctrine and the Old Testament: Theology in the Service of Biblical Exegesis (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 24. 

6. Exodus 34:6 is quoted verbatim seven times in the Old Testament, often in similar instances of intercession for God’s favorable presence (Nehemiah 9:17; Ps 86:7; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2). The description “gracious and merciful” is applied to God four other times (2 Chronicles 30:9; Nehemiah 31:3; Psalm 112:4; 116:5). The most notable repetition is when the people of Israel have refused to enter the promised land after hearing the report of the spies sent to reconnoiter it, proposing instead to go back to Egypt (Numbers 14:1-4). The Lord repeats the threat to wipe out Israel and make of Moses a new, great nation. Moses appeals to the compassionate nature of the Lord, quoting Exodus 34:6 almost verbatim (Numbers 14:18-19).

7. Exodus 14:2, 7. 

8. Ex 15:3. 

9. Ex 12:12. 

10. Ex 19:4-6.

11. Ex 3:7-9. 

12. Ex 17:8-14. 

13. Ex 13:17; 15:23-24; 16:3-7, 20, 27; 17:2-3. 

14. Ex 19:8.

15. Ex 23:3; Lev 19:15. 

16. Exodus 33:19. See Yves Congar, “Mercy: God’s Supreme Attribute,” in The Revelation of God, trans. A. Manson and L.C. Shepppard (New York: Herder and Herder, 1968), 49-62; Thomas Aquinas, In Ephesians 2:4; Exp. in Ps 50; Summa Theologiae (ST), II-II, 67, 4; II, 46, 2, ad 3.

17. The term is a modern one, coined by Bernard Duhm, in his influential commentary of 1892, but the commonalities among these songs had long been observed. Use of the term does not require subscription to Duhm’s theory about the composition and setting of the passages. 

18. On the unity of Isaiah 42:1-9, and on the variety of ways in which the term servant is applied in this section of Isaiah, see Brevard S. Childs, Isaiah, The Old Testament Library (Louisville/London: The Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 323-27. 

19. See Matthew 11:29; 1 Peter 2:23.

20. Childs, Isaiah, 326. 

21. Isaiah 40-60 consistently affirms that, whereas idols are the work of human hands, by contrast human beings themselves, as well as the whole of heaven and earth, are the work of the Lord’s hands (Isaiah 40:18-19; 44:7-20; 45:16, 19; 46:1-2; 48:3-5).

19; 44:7-20; 45:16, 19; 46:1-2; 48:3-5). 

22. Isaiah 45:15; Ex 33:20. On the mysterious naming of God, see Thomas Aquinas, ST, I, 13, 11, ad 1.

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