The other day as I was reading 2 Corinthians I noticed a powerful parallel that sheds some light (pun intended, as you’ll see) on how we understand God’s nature.  When I saw this connection, it was a revelatory moment that strengthened my understanding of “the mighty God in Christ.”

As an introduction, some people may not know that the Bible often uses parallels in order to illustrate a point.  This is very common in “poetry” sections of the Bible like Psalms or Proverbs.  The same principle will be stated two different ways, to give clarity and to give texture and depth of meaning.  For example, look at these verses from Psalms.

Psalm 24:1

the earth is the Lord’s

and the fulness thereof

the world

and they that dwell therein

24:2

for he hath founded it

upon the seas

and established it

upon the floods

In the first verse we see that “earth” matches with “world” and “fulness” matches with “they that dwell.”  In verse two, “founded” matches with “established” and “seas” matches with “floods.”  As we can see, these verses contain sets of synonyms in parallel.  Next time you read your Bible try to find some of these parallels.  Noticing one of these parallels often will help explain a confusing verse, because the same idea is being expressed with a different wording.

More than once I have gained powerful insight into a deep truth by paying attention to these types of parallels.  And this is exactly what happened to me the other day when God showed me a parallel in 2 Corinthians 4:4-6.  Since Paul was trained in Jewish literature, this Hebrew-esque writing style makes sense even though Paul is writing in Greek.

2 Corinthians 4:4

the light

of the gospel

of the glory

of Christ

who is the image of God

4:6

the light

of the knowledge

of the glory

of God

in the face of Jesus Christ

We notice the similarities in the parallelism right away.  Light and glory are both mentioned exactly; and the verses follow a similar construction.  In both cases light comes from something; that something involves glory; that glory belongs to someone; that someone is identified, and given a final description.

The things that need comment are the apparent differences.  Notice that gospel and knowledge are paralleled.  The gospel is the means or the way of knowing God.  We know God through the gospel (Jhn14:6).  The gospel is a light that shines into our dark, sinful condition and helps us to understand the ways of God.  God has brought “life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2Tim1:10).

Notice also that this gospel/knowledge is connected with glory.  When Jesus looked forward to his crucifixion, he prayed, “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was” (Jhn17:5).  Not only this, but he promises that the glory he has, he will share with us (17:22)!  We were “called…by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2Thes2:14).  When Jesus was raised from the dead, God gave him glory (1Pet1:21).  And when we are resurrected at the judgement, we will get to share this resurrection glory with our Lord.  But the only way we know about this potential glory is through the gospel.  We would not know about this glory—this glory would not even be possible!—without the gospel.

But the most powerful realization came to me when I compared the last set of parallels.  When we talk about the glory of Jesus, that understanding goes hand-in-hand with the knowledge that Jesus “is the image of God.”  When we talk about the glory of God, we must understand that we see God’s glory “in the face of Jesus Christ.”

The Greek word for image here is εἰκὼν (eikōn).  This word can be used to describe a statue, or a visual representation of someone.  This is the word that Jesus used when he said, “Shew me a penny.  Whose image (εἰκὼν, eikōn) and superscription hath it?  They answered and said, Caesar’s” (Lk20:24).  Now let’s think.  If someone were to ask what the image was in this verse from Luke, we would say, “A penny.”  But if someone were to ask who the image was, we would say, “Caesar.”  This works in a similar way for the incarnation.  If we were to ask what Jesus was, we would say that he was a man; but if we were to think about who Jesus was, we must agree that he is God!

God is an invisible, omnipresent Spirit whom no one has ever seen (Jhn1:18, Ps139:7, 1Tim6:16).  And yet many people in the Old Testament were described as seeing God—Abraham (Gen17:1), Isaac (Gen26:24), Micah (1Kng22:19), Amos (Am9:1), Isaiah (Isa6:1ff), and the elders of Israel (Ex24:11), just to give a short list!  How is this possible?

All of these individuals saw God through his image.  When these men were looking at God, they were seeing Jesus.  This is why John was able to say that Isaiah saw Jesus’ glory and talked about him (Jhn12:39-41).  This is how Jesus was able to say, “Abraham rejoiced to see my day” (Jhn8:56-59).  Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Col1:15).  God is a glorious, invisible Spirit, and cannot be seen in all of his splendor (Ex33:20); but he makes himself visible to us through his Image; when we see God, we are looking at Jesus!

More than once the Old Testament talks about “the glory of the Lord” appearing.  When the prophet Ezekiel talks about “the glory of God/the Lord,” it sounds a lot like he is describing a person—and not just a bright glow (Eze1:26-28).  Once again, we see that this person is Jesus: he is the brightness of God’s glory (Heb1:3).  When the Bible talks about God’s glory appearing to someone, it is talking about Jesus.

God’s glory is so great that we cannot look directly at it.  When Moses asked God, “I beseech thee, shew me thy glory,” God responded, “Thou canst not see my face; for there shall no man see me, and live” (Ex33:18-20).  God dwells “in the light which no man can approach unto” (1Tim6:16).  The only way that we can see the glory of God is “in the face of Jesus Christ.”

When I was a little kid in Sunday School we used to sing, “I’m glad I know who Jesus is! He’s more than just a story; he is the King of Glory! I’m glad I know who Jesus is!”  Paul’s statements in 2Corinthians 4:4-6 are such a beautiful description of the glory of Jesus.  He truly is the one God of the Bible made known to us!

In my next post I plan to talk about how God desires us to look progressively more like him, to take on the image and glory that he has.  I hope you were blessed!

7 thoughts on “God’s Glory, Jesus’ Face

  1. My beloved Brother. I enjoyed the read. I was able to glean a few things from the article. I like the fact that you show Paul’s Hebraic mindset expressed in the Greek language. it reminds me of the way I speak Spanish….. with an American mind. I am an American that speaks a foreign language but my thought formation is still very much American. However, I am unable to agree with you on a few things.

    Jesus is the image of God, this is a fact. However, by making that “what” Jesus is, you ultimately strip him (it) of the will and relationship he (it) had/has with “who” you believe he is. You mentioned the coin Jesus used when asking whose image was on it. The image represented Caesar, but the coin and the image on it were inanimate objects that simply represented the Emperor. That analogy fails to encompass the true relationship between God and Christ as witness by the New Testament writers.

    When they, speaking of the disciples, saw Jesus, they saw a man who had a perfect relationship with God. This is why, out of all they saw him do, and could have asked for, they asked him to teach them to pray; to have intimate communication with the One God of their Fathers. Jesus spoke of the love the Father had for him, and for them. This was not a loved shared by God with his image. That man wasn’t a “what” but rather a “who” of his own, separate from that of his Father.

    This was a great article and certainly deserves more compliment than criticism. I pray God will continue to enlighten you to the glorious truth of the Gospel of his Son, Jesus the Christ.

    May the Grace and Peace of God the Father, and of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, be with you. Amen.

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    1. Dolson, Thank you for reading and for your insightful comments!

      I think we agree that Jesus is a “who” and not simply a “what.” Our discussion of “image” in this post is intended to be metaphorical. And we even agree that Jesus’ identity is distinct from his Father’s identity; we just had an article a few weeks ago on that very subject. It’s called “Our Father and Our Lord,” and I hope you’ll take the time to read it.

      I think that our disagreement is this: you seem to believe that Jesus is *only* a man, the human Son of God. I agree that he is the human Son of God, but that is not the end of his identity. Paul calls Jesus “our great God and Savior” and “the God who is over all things” (Titus 2:13, Romans 9:6). Jesus is not limited to humanity, but the fulness of the Father resided in him bodily (Colossians 1:19, 2:9, 2Corinthians 5:19).

      As a human being, Jesus is exactly what you say he is: “a man who had a perfect relationship with God.” But in his divinity, he is the LORD that Isaiah saw (John 12:39-41 & Isaiah 6).

      I hope that Jesus will give you the grace “to wit that God was in Christ.” And may we both both be found worthy at “the glorious appearing of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

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  2. Great illumination!

    Sadly … though … some still object, all the while encouraging you to seek on, ie: maybe you’ll see it their way.

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    1. Bernie,
      The Bible definitely teaches that God is a Spirit, but I’m not sure that Exodus 33:20 is one of those specific places.

      What Exodus 33 DOES show us is that God’s glory is so strong that it would destroy us if we looked at it in all of its fulness. That is why God mediates (1Tim2:5) or manifests (1Tim3:16) his glory through his Son Jesus.

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