This Learning Activity will cite the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible unless otherwise noted.
When I was a new Christian and began to earnestly read and study the Scriptures, there were a number of passages that caught my attention as being unique to my understanding about God.
“Moses said, I pray thee, show me thy glory…But he (God) said, you cannot see my face; for man shall not see me (God) and live” Exodus 33:18-20).
“No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known” (John 1:18).
“No man has ever seen God… (1 John 4:12a).
During that period of time I thought to myself, now that is very odd. In our conventional relationships here on Earth, relationships are very much enhanced by face-to-face communication and interaction, but God does not seem to operate in that manner? I wonder why that is?
Then I began to see that there were instances in the Scripture where there were appearances of God taking place in the Bible. These appearances where what are known as “theophanies.” A biblical theophany is essentially any temporary, normally visible to the physical eyesight, manifestation of God. It is not the same as the people who physically saw Jesus of Nazareth when He walked the Earth for the 33 1/2 years. Here are some examples of theophanies.
“And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him” (Matthew 3:16).
“And the Lord appeared to him (Abraham) by the oaks of Mamre, as he (Abraham) sat by the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He (Abraham) lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men stood in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the earth, and said, My Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant” (Genesis 18:1-3). One of the three “men” was the Lord! A theophany.
“And the angel of the Lord appeared to him (Moses) in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he (Moses) looked, and lo, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, I will turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, Moses, Moses! And he said, Here I am. Then he said, Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. And he he said, I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Exodus 3:2-6).
This added additional questions for me. What was going on here? Why was Moses afraid to look at God?
When Moses met with God on Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments he apparently had what we might call a serious after effect. Read below.
“When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tables of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. And when Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him…he put a veil on his face” (Exodus 34:29-33).
This veil incident is also written about in the New Testament.
“Now if the dispensation of death (that’s referring to the Old Covenant of law), carved in letters of stone, came with such splendor that the Israelites could not look at Moses’ face because of its brightness, fading as it was, will not the dispensation of the Spirit (that’s referring to the New Covenant) be attended with greater splendor? For if there was splendor in the dispensation of condemnation (that’s the Old Covenant), the dispensation of righteousness (that’s the New Covenant) must far exceed it in splendor. Indeed, in this case, what once had splendor (the Old Covenant) has come to have no splendor at all, because of the splendor that surpasses it. For if what faded away (the Old Covenant) came with splendor, what is permanent (the New Covenant) must have much more splendor. Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not see the end of the fading splendor. But their minds were hardened; for to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their minds; but when a man turns to the Lord the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3: 7-18).
The English word “splendor” appears ten times in the passage above. This began to give me some insight into what God’s glory is about. Although splendor is used in my RSV, the Koine Greek word is “doxa” or a derivative of it such as doxam, and doxe. Splendor is an acceptable word for its translation but if you look up its range of meanings it can be translated as “glory” and “the unspoken manifestation of God!” I personally like both of these last definitions a lot more then splendor!
Another important consideration to include in this biblical subject concerns events what the Israelites experienced after being led out of slavery in Egypt by Moses and entering their desert wanderings as they headed toward the “promised land.” Check out the following passage that describes what took place after Moses and the Israelites constructed the Mosaic Tabernacle, which was the first building in which God met with Israel.
“Then (after they had completed the construction of the Mosaic Tabernacle) the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting, because the cloud abode upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would go onward; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not go onward till the day that it was taken up. For throughout their journeys the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel” (Exodus 40:34-38).
The passage states that Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle! Why was that?
The English word “glory” appears twice in the passage. It is the Strongs Hebrew word #3519, “kabowd” or as the RSV translates it “glory.” What an amazing story is being told here. All of those people who were released from Egyptian bondage are following the cloud of the presence of the Lord during the daytime, and at night the presence of the Lord resided in the Mosaic Tabernacle as a fire and illuminated the tabernacle! The presence of the Lord is specifically located in the tabernacle on what is known as the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant inside the compartment called the Holy of Holies! Amazing supernatural events.
As the passage itself indicates, the reason Moses was not able to enter the “tent of meeting,” as the tabernacle was essentially an elaborate tent, was because of the presence of the Lord. More on this later.
At this juncture in my understanding I am realizing that strong light, in fact extremely strong light is involved in this “presence of God.” Let’s take a look at a figure in the New Testament who had a life changing encounter of “strong light.” The figure I refer to is Saul, later known as Paul, a Jew who had been spending most of his time thinking he was zealous for God by persecuting people who were of the Way, believing in the Messiah being present during Saul’s time period of life. In fact, Saul is quoted as saying, “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women as the high priest and the whole council of elders bear me witness” (Acts 22:4, 5).
“As I (Saul) made my journey and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven shone about me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? And I answered, Who are you, Lord? And he said to me, I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting . Now those who were with me saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me. And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said to me, Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do. And when I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus” (Acts 22:6-11).
That was a life changing experience as Saul met Jesus in this manner on the road to Damascus! If you have not read this passage before think about what happened to Saul. The bright light from heaven was so powerful that it knocked Saul down and he fell on the ground. In addition, he was physically blinded so that he had to be led by the hand into the city of Damascus. I take the power of the presence of God to be so strong it, in this particular case, approximates at least the power of our physical sun and we are warned to not look at the sun or we too may have damage done to our physical eyesight! Since the text states that it was about noon that this event took place when the sun is at or near its most overwhelming influence, for the light to be contrasted as being “a great light” appears to me to amplify the intensity of the presence of God even greater!
Here is another Bible example to consider.
“And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, Lord it is well that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah. He was still speaking, when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:1-5).
The passage above is known as “The Transfiguration.” It also appears in Mark 9:2-8; and Luke 9:28-36. Take note that Jesus’ face is reported to have shone like the sun! In addition the clothes that Jesus was wearing became white as light! Again, an event where extreme brightness is being reported. At that point the questions were building and I remembered the folowing passages.
“…I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).
“And night shall be no more; they need no light or lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light…” (Revelation 22:5).
Now I will wrap this Learning Activity up by saying that I have had people write and speak to me that say that when Jesus, who was and is God, came to Earth as Jesus of Nazareth was not God as He walked the Earth. The primary place they support their belief is in the following passage.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippines 2:5-8, RSV).
I have placed the troublesome word in the above text in bold to point it out. It is the English word “emptied” which is translated from the Koine Greek word #2758,”ekenosen.” From that Greek word comes a theological concept known as the “Kenosis Theory” which addresses Jesus emptying Himself. Here is what this word looks like in the Greek text.
But our challenge is the answer to the question of what was to be emptied from Jesus? In this case the Bible itself gives us the answer in the following passage which is part of a prayer Jesus prayed to the father just prior to His death.
“I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do; and now, Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made” (John 17:4, 5).
That passage is explosive! Jesus is saying that while He was on the Earth as Jesus of Nazareth He did not have the glory that He had when He was in the spirit realm with the Father! And now that He had completed His mission here on Earth He was asking the father to return His glory to Him! Isn’t it obvious that Jesus had at some point given up His glory? When do you think that took place? The obvious answer is that took place when He emptied Himself as recorded in Philippians 2:7! Jesus never gave up His divinity – it was His glory that He gave up to become a servant as the Philippians passage goes on to say. But there is still more, if God’s glory has the awesome, powerful effect that we have seen in the earlier passages in this Learning Activity, then Jesus could have never been able to walk around Jerusalem and its environs manifesting His divine glory! People would not have been able to withstand that display of glory from Jesus of Nazareth, as the glory would have destroyed them. So in true servant fashion He temporarily divested Himself of that glory and appeared to the humans that He came in contact with as a relatively “normal” human being. That seems to be the obvious and final conclusion with reference to the glory of God! His full glory is so powerful that sinful man would not be able to exist in His presence. In the passages of this Learning Activity taken from the Scriptures the glory that was revealed was a “veiled glory” expression.
The question may arise how then will we be able to withstand that full glory during eternity? We would not in the physical bodies we currently possess here on Earth and it is also the reason why these bodies do not go on into eternity! At the instant of physical death we will be given glorified bodies for eternity that are compatible with the conditions of eternity. Remember from 1 Corinthians 15 that our present physical bodies are but a seed of our glorified bodies and the glorified body is like a plant that comes from a seed. It is entirely different, and so will our glorified bodies be.
In the Scriptures we saw a comparison made between God’s glory and the brightness of the sun. Is it not reasonable that since God created the sun out of nothing by speaking it into existence that He Himself must be many times brighter and more powerful than His created sun? Perhaps the God that we have envisioned for ourselves is much too small!