by Luke Wayne
The God of the Bible is awesome, wholly unique, and far above and beyond all that He has made. The Scriptures display this in a variety of ways, including the idea of God's personal presence. God is transcendent, enthroned in the heavens. And yet, God also fills the universe. God is vast, omnipresent, and inescapable. He is everywhere at once, and no space can contain Him. Nevertheless, God is able to be uniquely present in a particular place and time and to make Himself known there, and can withdraw that special presence of His glory when He so chooses. God is unreachable, inescapable, and yet also personally present and absent as He sees fit. This is unfathomable for a finite being such as us but is true of God without the slightest hint of contradiction. And so, Solomon rightly said, when he built the Temple:
"But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built!" (1 Kings 8:27, see also 2 Chronicles 2:6, 6:18).
As His father, David, had written:
"Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, And the light around me will be night,” Even the darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You," (Psalm 139:7-12).
And yet, there was a unique sense in which God did dwell with His people and by which is presence did enter the Tabernacle built by Moses and Temple built by Solomon. That special presence was often called God's glory, and it most often appeared in the form of a cloud. Here are just a few of the numerous examples:
"It came about as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the sons of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud," (Exodus 16:10).
"The glory of the Lord rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; and on the seventh day He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud," (Exodus 24:16).
"It came about, however, when the congregation had assembled against Moses and Aaron, that they turned toward the tent of meeting, and behold, the cloud covered it and the glory of the Lord appeared," (Numbers 16:42).
"Then Moses and Aaron came in from the presence of the assembly to the doorway of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. Then the glory of the Lord appeared to them," (Numbers 20:6).
It was this presence, the Glory of God, that personally led the people through the desert and commanded them where to camp.
"Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on 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 sons of Israel would set out; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel," (Exodus 40:34-38).
The presence of God's glory filled the Temple, testifying to Solomon and all of Israel that God would dwell with them and accept their worship there, though indeed no such house could ever truly contain Him:
"It happened that when the priests came from the holy place, the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord," (1 Kings 8:10-12).
"when they praised the Lord saying, 'He indeed is good for His lovingkindness is everlasting,' then the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God," (2 Chronicles 5:13b-14).
Likewise, Ezekiel spoke much of God's Glory at the Temple:
"Then the glory of the Lord went up from the cherub to the threshold of the temple, and the temple was filled with the cloud and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of the Lord," (Ezekiel 10:4).
And ultimately testified that God's Glory had left the Temple and that it would be destroyed and Israel taken into exile. Similarly, when the Philistine's captured the Ark of the Covenant from Israel as a part of God's judgment, the wife of the priest cries out:
"The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God was taken,” (1 Samuel 4:22).
While the terms "glory of God" or "God's glory" are also used in other ways throughout the Bible, this special sense in which the "Glory" of God is used to describe His unique, personal presence is crucial. When used in this sense, God's Glory is God Himself present and made manifest. This presence is fully and completely God, and yet does not exhaust all that God is. The Glory of God is visible and personal. God can send forth His Glory and withdraw His Glory, and yet the Glory of God is not a distinct thing separate from God Himself. The later Rabbinic writers developed this concept further with the idea of the Shekinah, or the dwelling presence of God. The New Testament also draws on this concept as well to explain Jesus as God incarnate. The author to the Hebrews writes:
"And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high," (Hebrews 1:3).
Jesus is the Glory of God sent forth from God, exactly representing God and, as God, upholding all things by His power. He is then withdrawn back to God. John draws on this as well. For example, He writes:
"These things Jesus spoke, and He went away and hid from them. But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet which he spoke: 'Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?' For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, 'He has blinded their eyes and He hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted and I heal them.' These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him," (John 12:36-41).
While this is discussed in more detail HERE, words from Isaiah's vision of God in the Temple are applied to Jesus, and John says that Isaiah wrote these things when he saw Jesus' Glory. The appearance of God Himself to Isaiah in the Temple was Jesus. Jesus is the Glory of God. This makes sense out of other references in John, too. For example, John writes at the beginning of his gospel:
"And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth," (John 1:14).
To fully get the weight of this, it is important to know that the verb here for "dwelt" is literally "tabernacled." It is the same verb used at the end of Revelation:
"And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them," (Revelation 21:3).
The Word (another word used in Jewish tradition for the manifest presence of God) came in human flesh as if in a Tabernacle, and we beheld His glory. This passage uses Old Testament and traditional Jewish Language to clearly paint the coming of Jesus as the coming of God's own presence, just as God's presence came to the Tabernacle or Temple. In the very next chapter, John describes a relevant scene in front of the Temple:
"The Jews then said to Him, 'What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?' Jesus answered them, 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.' The Jews then said, 'It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?' But He was speaking of the temple of His body. So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken," (John 2:18-22).
Again, Jesus coming in flesh is compared to God's presence in the temple. Jesus' human body was the Temple of God and the place of His dwelling. Taken all together, it is clear that the New Testament authors believed Jesus to be the one true God present among men, and yet also to be sent from God in heaven. They believed these things to be true without contradiction and used the Old Testament language they had available to them to express this marvelous truth. Jesus was God sent of God to reveal God to men. There is one God who was both the sender and the sent. This is perfectly consistent with the way God had revealed Himself before, and indeed, such instances had always been the presence of God the Son revealing God the Father, two persons of the same divine being. One God who exists in Trinity. Marvelous to us as mere creations, but reflective of the great and unique majesty of the biblical God.
Inside the Bible
John 14:9, "Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?"
Colossians 2:9, "For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form."
Matthew 1:23, "'Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,' which translated means, 'God with us.'"
John 1:1, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being."
What is the incarnation?
The term "incarnation" means "to become flesh." The incarnation is that event where the second person of the Trinity, the Word, became flesh and dwelt among us.
What is the Trinity?
The word "trinity" is a term used to denote the Christian doctrine that God exists as a unity of three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each of the persons is distinct from the other yet identical in essence. In other words, each is fully divine in nature, but each is not the totality of the other persons of the Trinity.
Is Jesus God?
Yes, Jesus is God, but the answer needs to be expounded upon. When we say that Jesus is God we're using the term "God" in reference to the divine nature. But we have to be careful because we don't want to say Jesus is God and fail to understand that God is a Trinity. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is that God exists as three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.