Friday, November 16, 2012

The Radiance of the Glory of God

He is the radiance of the glory of God....

This text is one of seven statements about the Son found in Hebrews 1:2b-3.* The Son of God, writes the author of Hebrews, is "is the radiance of the glory of God."

Glory is a biblical word that’s not been easy for me to nail down and I suspect I’m not alone in this. I’ve collected a few definitions of glory, and they are all different. Even the experts find glory difficult to define. I settled, in the end, on John Piper’s definition. God’s glory, he says, is "the going public of [God’s] infinite worth"—"the radiance of his manifold, infinitely worthy and valuable perfections." You might say God’s glory is all that God is, shining forth. Or it’s what God is, in all his greatness, made known in creation.

God's glory, then, is in the Son, and he beams it out. We could say, given the definition above, that the Son radiates the infinite worth of God so that we can see it and know it. Or we might say that the Son reveals the glory of God in the same way the brightness of the sun shows the sun itself. All that God is, in all his greatness, shines out in the Son.

Athanasius used this statement in his fight against the Arian heresy. He argued for Christ's deity from this text, because, he said, it showed that Christ was co-eternal with God the Father.
Who does not see, that the brightness cannot be separated from the light, but that it is by nature proper to it, and co-existent with it, and is not produced after it?
According to Athanasius, this statement in Hebrews teaches us that the Son is eternal in the same way God is, that he is inseparable from God, just as the brightness that radiates from a light is co-existent with the light itself and inseparable from it. If a light exists, so also the brightness of the light; if God is exists, so too the Son, shining forth God's glory. And if God is eternal, then the Son is eternal, and if the Son is eternal, he is God. 

The Son is eternally the radiance of the glory of God. Even in the incarnation, he continued to shine with God's glory. It's true that while he walked the earth, Christ's glory was veiled, with the veil pulled back just once for a brief glimpse at his transfiguration, when, writes Peter, "we were eyewitnesses of his majesty." However, in a counterintuitive twist—unexpected, but so right when you think on it—it is in the veiling of God's glory in the incarnate Christ that we, as sinful beings, can actually look on the glory of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.... No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known (John 1:14, 18 ESV)
The veiled glory of Jesus is glory revealed in a form we can see. As God in flesh, Jesus showed us the glory of God so that we can know him.

What's more (This is yet another twist, an even deeper one.), as he prepared to die, Jesus told his disciples that it was time for him "to be glorified." His whole life manifested the glory of God, but his dying was, to quote D. A. Carson, "[t]he most spectacular display of God's glory...." The cross revealed so much of who our God is: His holiness, righteousness, justice, power, wisdom, goodness, love, grace and mercy were all on show. (Is there more?) Even the crucified Christ was radiating God's glory. Or better yet, especially the crucified Christ was radiating God's glory.

Do you see the glory shining from Christ? If you do, thank God for it, because it is God 
who has shone in [your heart] to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6 ESV).
In God's first act in the application of salvation, he shines in to show us his glory shining out from the face of the incarnate Son. At the transfiguration, the appearance of Jesus' face changed so it shone like the sun in a display of God's glory. In us, the heart is changed so we see Christ's face as it really is, shining like the sun in a display of God's glory. I like to think of this as a sort of transfiguration in our hearts: God changes us so that we see that Christ is the radiance of the glory of God.

*I wrote something about another of the seven statements a few weeks ago.


  1. Rebecca - This is a fantastic piece! It reminds me of Moses when he asked the Lord to show him His glory and God made him hide in the cleft of the rock then passed by with His back to Moses. I think your article provides the perfect explanation of that OT passage. I've found the same problem when trying to nail down a good definition and I really love Piper's.

    Excellent job!

  2. "it is in the veiling of God's glory in the incarnate Christ that we, as sinful beings, can actually look on the glory of God." Wonderful! I wish I had read this before I taught John 1 to my Sunday school class!