December 12, 2014

Christmas: God’s Glory Returns

by Mike Riccardi

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory
– John 1:14 –

Last Friday, we looked at the significance of John’s use of the word “dwelt” in John 1:14. I argued that by using the peculiar word for to pitch a tent, John was calling our attention to the Tabernacle of Israel, where God condescended to reveal Himself to Israel for worship and communion. The climax of the story of the Tabernacle comes in Exodus 40:34–38, where Yahweh’s glory fills the Tabernacle, signifying that He will dwell—that He will take up residence—with His people.

That scene sheds light on the relationship between the two phrases in John 1:14: “and [He] dwelt among us,” fits perfectly with “and we saw His glory.” There is an inseparable connection between the (a) dwelling place of God, and (b) His glory that fills that place. The dwelling of God is inseparable from the glory of God.

The Journey of the Glory of Yahweh in the Tabernacle

And so the glory of Yahweh was with Israel in the tabernacle—a cloud by day and a fire by night (Ex 40:38). And it led them in all their journeys through the wilderness and into the land of Canaan. Whenever they would move, they would take down the Tabernacle, and then when they would settle in another place they would set up the Tabernacle (Ex 40:37). And that’s the way it went for over 450 years, even after they entered the land of Canaan.

If we fast-forward about 450 years from Exodus 40 and the journey of the glory of God with Israel in the wilderness, we arrive at 1 Kings 8.

God’s Glory Fills the Temple

From the ESV Study Bible

By this time the construction of Solomon’s temple has been completed. And the temple is just magnificent. It was twice the size of the tabernacle, which itself was impressive. Not including the court, the temple itself was 90 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 45 feet high. On the inside, everything in it was overlaid with gold. When construction was finished, the priests and the Levites brought the Ark of the Covenant into the Holy of Holies (1Ki 8:4–6) and stationed the ark under the wings of two massive 15-foot golden cherubim.

Then, 1 Kings 8:9-11 says,

“There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone which Moses put there at Horeb [about 500 years earlier], where Yahweh made a covenant with the sons of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt. It happened that when the priests came from the holy place, the cloud filled the house of Yahweh, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of Yahweh filled the house of Yahweh.”

Sound familiar?

This is exactly what happened in Exodus 40 at the completion of the tabernacle. Yahweh is now declaring that He will no longer dwell in the tabernacle, but He will be with His people in this temple. Yahweh’s glory descends and takes up residence in His temple. He dwells there among His people.

Until…

God’s Glory Departs from the Temple

Until the tragedy of the Babylonian exile.

Over 350 years after the glory of God filled Solomon’s temple, the wickedness of the southern kingdom of Judah was growing too great for Yahweh to bear. 2 Chronicles 36 sets the context. Judah is under their final king, Zedekiah. They are only six years away from the final deportation to Babylon.

Zedekiah…stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to Yahweh God of Israel. Furthermore, all the officials of the priests and the people were very unfaithful following all the abominations of the nations; and they defiled the house of Yahweh which He had sanctified in Jerusalem. Yahweh, the God of their fathers, sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place; but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of Yahweh arose against His people, until there was no remedy. (2 Chronicles 36:11–16)

God gave them every opportunity for repentance. But the people just preferred their idols.

The prophet Ezekiel prophesies during this time. And it is his vision that gives most interesting insight into what’s happening at the time of the exile. In Ezekiel 8, we see the great and wicked abominations of the sons of Israel:

  • The idol of jealousy in the inner court (Ezek 8:3, 5)
  • Graven images (cf. Ex 20:4-5) of every form of creeping things and beasts and detestable things (Ezek 8:10, 12)
  • The offering of strange incense (Ezek 8:11; cf. Ex 30:9)
  • Women weeping for Tammuz, a god of the Phoenicians (Ezek 8:14)
  • Men with their backs to the temple, worshiping the sun (Ezek 8:16)

These abominations, this mass idolatry, is happening in the dwelling place of Yahweh. In the place where His glory dwells. In the place where He condescends and meets Israel and provides atonement for their sin.

And so Yahweh visits them in His wrath and destroys so many Israelites that Ezekiel thinks He’s going to wipe out the whole nation (Ezek 9:8). And as that’s happening, the glory of Yahweh begins to stir. It moves from the Ark of the Covenant, to the golden cherub (Ezek 10:4), to the threshold of the temple (Ezek 10:4). Then it goes from the threshold to the actual cherubim (Ezek 10:18), and the cherubim accompany it to the east gate (Ezek 10:19), the final exit of the temple. And in Ezekiel 11:22, the prophet tells us:

“Then the cherubim lifted up their wings with the wheels beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel hovered over them. The glory of Yahweh went up from the midst of the city and stood over the mountain which is east of the city.”

Finally, the glory of Yahweh departs from the temple, hovers over the Mount of Olives, and then ascends with the cherubim back into heaven. For the first time in Israel’s history—for the first time in 850 years—Israel was without the presence of their God. Yahweh is no longer dwelling with His people. This is the last time the glory of Yahweh is seen on the earth.

Until…

God’s Glory Returns

Until, says the Apostle John, until now. Until the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory.

The next time the glory of Yahweh is seen it comes to the shepherds to proclaim the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:9). The angels’ message is that the glory of Yahweh has returned to Israel in the city of David. It is the Savior! It is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11)!

And those words are just huge ways to describe what’s going on here. Christ translates “Messiah.” This Savior that has been born is the Anointed One of Yahweh! The long-anticipated Coming One! And “the Lord,” there, isn’t functioning simply as a title. It’s the Greek translation of the Divine Name: Yahweh (which the Jews had replaced with Adonai, “Lord”). With the glory of God that no one has seen for 600 years shining around him, the angel is announcing: “Yahweh is here!” In the birth of Jesus, God is declaring the fulfillment of that great New Covenant promise that so many hoped in for thousands of years: “My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people” (Ezek 37:27).

And so when John tells us that the Eternal Word became flesh, and tabernacled among us, and that we beheld His glory, he is proclaiming to his audience that in the same way that the glory that filled the tabernacle and temple were the manifestation of God’s presence—so now He is revealing His glory to the world in Jesus.

The Word become flesh. The image of the invisible God. The radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature.

This is the baby Jesus, dear friends. This is your Savior. O come, let us adore Him.

Mike Riccardi

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Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.