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Jesus Christ: The God Whose Glory Isaiah Beheld

I am going to revisit the Apostle John’s claim that Isaiah beheld the visible glory of Christ when the Lord Jesus appeared to the prophet in his prehuman existence as Jehovah of Hosts seated on the throne.

I am referring to the following text from the inspired Evangelist:

“‘Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.’ When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them. Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: ‘Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.’ Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him. Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue;” John 12:36-42 New International Version (NIV)

Remarkably, the Evangelist has described the Jewish rejection of Christ in the same way that the Pentateuch depicts Israel’s rejection of Jehovah, despite all the signs that God had performed in their midst:

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them?’” Numbers 14:11 NIV

Even more astonishing is the fact that John speaks of Isaiah having seen the glory of Christ right after quoting Isaiah 6:10, a text in which Jehovah God visibly appears to Isaiah:

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. ‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.’ Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’ Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’ He said, ‘Go and tell this people: “Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.” Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.’” Isaiah 6:1-10 NIV

What the inspired Evangelist is basically saying is that Isaiah was actually seeing the glory of Christ when the prophet beheld Jehovah God visibly seated on the throne. Of this there can be no doubt:

“Isaiah was referring to Jesus when he made this prediction, for he had seen a vision of the Messiah’s glory.” Living Bible (TLB)

“Isaiah said these things because he saw Christ’s glory and spoke of him.”  MOUNCE

“Isaiah said this because he had seen Yeshua’s glory and had spoken about him.” Names of God Bible (NOG)

“This is what Isaiah said when he saw the shining-greatness of Jesus and spoke of Him.” New Life Version (NLV)

“Isaiah was referring to Jesus when he said this, because he saw the future and spoke of the Messiah’s glory.” New Living Translation (NLT)

  1. Isaiah’s vision in the Temple, Is. 6:4, interpreted as a prophetic vision of Christ’s glory. The Jerusalem Bible (JB, p. 139 http://mullumbimbycatholic.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Jerusalem_Bible_Readers_Edition.pdf)

tn Grk “his”; the referent (Christ) has been specified in the translation for clarity. The referent supplied here is “Christ” rather than “Jesus” because it involves what Isaiah saw. It is clear that the author presents Isaiah AS HAVING SEEN THE PREINCARNATE GLORY OF CHRIST, which was the very revelation of the Father (see John 1:18; John 14:9).

sn Because he saw Christ’s glory. The glory which Isaiah saw in Isa 6:3 was the glory of Yahweh (typically rendered as “Lord” in the OT). Here John speaks of the prophet seeing the glory of Christ since in the next clause and spoke about him, “him” can hardly refer to Yahweh, but must refer to Christ. On the basis of statements like 1:14 in the prologue, the author probably put no great distinction between the two. Since the author presents Jesus as fully God (cf. John 1:1), it presents no problem to him to take words originally spoken by Isaiah of Yahweh himself and apply them to Jesus. New English Translation (NET https://netbible.org/bible/John+12; capital and underline emphasis mine)

  1. The person in view is Jesus. The passage begins and ends with Him.
  2. The fact that Jesus was rejected by the Pharisees is viewed by John as a fulfillment of Isaiah 53:1 and Isaiah 6:10.
  3. Since he had just quoted Isaiah 6:10, John looked at the context and saw that Isaiah had seen “the Lord” (Adonay) in verse 1 whom he later identified as YHVH“Yahweh” in 6:5. Adonai Yahweh appeared to him in human form sitting on a throne in the temple. John explains that this God-man was none other than Jesus in His pre-existent glory.

The grammar of the Greek text of John 12:41 is clear:

tauta eipen ‘Isaias hoti eiden ten doxan autou, kai elaleesen peri autou

According to John, when Isaiah said that he had seen YHVH, he was speaking peri autou “about Him,” i.e., Jesus. As Hengstenberg points out, “autou refers back to verse 37.”

Of this there can be “no doubt,” according to the famous Greek scholar J.B. Lightfoot in his Commentary On The New Testament From the Talmud and Hebraica. The classic French commentator Godet explains:

John justifies in this verse the application which he has just made to Jesus Christ of the vision of Isa. vi. The Adonai whom Isaiah beheld at the moment was the divine being who is incarnated in Jesus. Here also John and Paul meet together; comp. I Cor. X. 4, where Paul calls the one who guided Israel from the midst of the Cloud Christ.

The ancient Latin and Syriac versions of John’s gospel agree with this understanding. The Syriac text says:

It was of Christ, who manifested Himself to him as Adonai, that Isaiah spoke when he uttered such words.

  1. There I no honest way to avoid the grammar of the text. All the pronouns “Him” refer to the proper name “Jesus” from verse 36. Even verse 42 clearly refers to Jesus and continues using the same pronoun “Him.” We have placed the pronouns in bold text so the reader can see that they all refer back to Jesus.
  2. John 12:36-42 establishes the link between the theophanies of the Old Testament and the Jesus of the New Testament. Whenever Yahweh in the Old Testament came to earth as a man, this was probably the pre-existent Jesus. (Robert A. Morey, The Trinity: Evidence and Issues[Christian Scholar’s Press, Las Vegas, NV 1996], pp. 307-308)

This is further confirmed by looking at the Greek of John, and contrasting that with the Greek rendering of Isaiah’s amazing vision:

“Isaiah said this when he saw His glory (eiden ten doxan autou) and spoke of Him.” Modern Version English (MEV)

“And it came to pass in the year in which king Ozias died, [that] I saw the Lord (eidon ton Kyrion) sitting on a high and exalted throne, and the house was full of his glory (tes doxes autou)… And one cried to the other, and they said, Holy, holy, holy [is the] Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory (tes doxes autou)… And I said, Woe is me, for I am pricked to the heart; for being a man, and having unclean lips, I dwell in the midst of a people having unclean lips; and I have seen with mine eyes the King, the Lord of hosts (kai ton Basilea Kyrion sabaoth eidon tois ophthalmois mou).” Isaiah 6:1, 3, 5 LXX

The language is virtually identical. Both speak of Isaiah seeing, using the same form of the Greek word horao, i.e. eiden/eidon. Both employ virtually the same wording in reference to glory with the Greek of Isaiah 6:1 even following a different textual tradition than that of the Hebrew, e.g., “and the house was full of his glory,” versus “and the train of his robe filled the temple.” The only difference is that the Greek of John utilizes the accusative whereas in Isaiah it is in the genitive, i.e. ten doxan versus tes doxes.

Reformed Christian scholar and apologist Dr. James R. White brings out these points quite nicely and also explains why objections of anti-trinitarian apologists such as Gregory Stafford are rather desperate:

Then John says, “These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him.” John has quoted from two passages in Isaiah, Isaiah 53:1 and Isaiah 6:10. Yet the immediate context refers to the words from Isaiah 6, and there are other reasons why we should see the primary reference as the Isaiah 6 passage. John speaks of Isaiah “seeing” “glory.” In Isaiah 6:1 the very same term is used of “seeing” the LORD, and the very term “glory” appears in verse 3.7 Even if we connect both passages together, the fact remains that the only way to define what “glory” Isaiah saw was to refer to the glory of Isaiah 6:3.8 And that glory was the glory of Yahweh. There is none other whose glory we can connect with Isaiah’s words.9

Therefore, if we ask Isaiah, “Whose glory did you see in vision of the temple?” he would reply “Yahweh’s.” But if we ask the same question of John, “Whose glory did Isaiah see?” he would answer with the same answer-only in its fullness, “Jesus’.” Who, then, was Jesus to John? None other than the eternal God in human flesh, Yahweh.

If the apostles themselves did not hesitate to apply to the Lord Jesus such unique and distinctive passages that can only meaningfully be applied to deity, to the Lord Jesus [sic], how can we fail to give Him the same honor in recognizing Him for who He truly is? (White, The Forgotten Trinity: Recovering the Heart of Christian Belief [Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, MN: Revised and Updated 2019], p. 138; bold emphasis mine)

  1. The connection is actually closer than first glance might indicate, for the Greek Septuagint (LXX) contains both the verb form John uses in verse 1, eidon, and departing from the Hebrew text, it contains at the end of the verse the reading tes doxes meaning “the house was full of His glory.” This is the same phraseology used in John 12:41, doxan autou, (the accusative for the genitive) meaning “he saw His glory.” The use of the same phraseology makes the connection to the John [sic] 6 passage unbreakable.
  2. Or, more likely, the term “glory” used in the LXX in verse 1.
  3. Stafford insists that we look only at Isaiah 53 for the reference to John 12:41, but he does not deal with the verbal parallels to the Greek LXX. In fact, one will search in vain in Isaiah 53 for eiden/eidonbeing used with “glory”; and one will not find the phrase ten doxan autouor anything similar to it. The term “glory” only appears once in Isaiah 53, and that in a completely separate context. (Ibid., p. 214; bold emphasis mine)

It isn’t simply the Greek that shows that John is identifying Jesus as the Jehovah that Isaiah saw. The Aramaic paraphrase of the Hebrew Bible, known as the Targumim, does so as well:

In the year in which King Uzziah was smitten with the leprosy the prophet said, I saw THE GLORY of the Lord sitting upon His throne, high, and lifted up unto the highest heavens, and the temple was filled with the brightness of His glory… And one cried unto another and they were saying, Holy in the highest and exalted heavens is the house of His Shekinah, holy upon the earth is the work of His might, holy for ever, world without end, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of the brightness of His glory… Then said I, Woe is me, for I have sinned, for I am a guilty man to reprove, and I dwell in the midst of a people polluted with sin: for mine eyes have seen THE GLORY of the Shekinah of the King of the worlds, the Lord of hosts… And I heard the voice OF THE WORD of the Lord, which said, Whom shall I send to prophesy? and who will go to teach? Then said I, Here am I, send me. (The Chaldee Paraphrase on the Prophet Isaiah by Jonathan b. Uzziel, translated by Rev. C. W. H. Pauli [London Society House, 1871], pp. 20-21 https://books.google.com/books?id=_boCAAAAQAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false; capital and underline emphasis mine)

Astonishingly, not only does the Targum confirm that the prophet saw the very glory of Jehovah but it also connects Isaiah’s commissioning with the Word of the Lord. I.e., it is the Word of the Lord who personally appointed Isaiah to speak on behalf of the Godhead.

In another place, the Targum interprets Isaiah 6:1 in reference to the prophet actually seeing the Word of the Lord seated on God’s heavenly throne!

“But the custom of (other) nations is to carry their gods upon their shoulders, that they may seem to be nigh them; but they cannot hear with their ears, (be they nigh or) be they afar off; but the Word of the Lord sitteth upon His throne high and lifted up, and HEARETH our prayer what time we pray BEFORE HIM and make our petitions.” (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, Deuteronomy 4:7 http://targum.info/pj/pjdt3-7.htm; capital and underline emphasis mine)

And the following Targum on the Psalms basically states the same thing:

But as for the word of the Lord, HIS seat is in the highest heaven forever; he has established his throne for judgment. Psalm 9:8 (The Psalms Targum: An English Translation, Edward M. Cook 2001 http://targum.info/pss/ps1.htm; capital and underline emphasis mine)

The Targums are not the only Jewish source, which speaks of God’s Word as a distinctly divine Person who sits enthroned with God:

“For though they had disbelieved everything because of their magic arts, yet, when their firstborn were destroyed, they acknowledged your people to be God’s child. For while gentle silence enveloped all things, and night in its swift course was now half gone, your all-powerful word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne, into the midst of the land that was doomed, a stern warrior carrying the sharp sword of your authentic command, and stood and filled all things with death, and touched heaven while standing on the earth.” Wisdom of Solomon 18:13-16 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

This brings me to my next point. John begins his Gospel by describing Jesus as the eternal Word of God who became flesh and whose glory the Evangelist beheld:

“In the beginning[b] was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. [c]All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race… The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him… And the Word became flesh[i] and made his dwelling among us, AND WE SAW HIS GLORY, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. [j]John testified to him and cried out, saying, ‘This was he of whom I said, “The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.”’… No one has EVER seen God. The only Son, God,[l] who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him… He said: ‘I am “the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’”’[q]” John 1:1-4, 9-10, 14-15, 18, 23

  1. 1:1–18The prologue states the main themes of the gospel: life, light, truth, the world, testimony, and the preexistence of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Logos, WHO REVEALS GOD THE FATHER. In origin, it was probably an early Christian hymn. Its closest parallel is in other christological hymns, Col 1:15–20 and Phil 2:6–11. Its core (Jn 1:1–510–1114) is poetic in structure, with short phrases linked by “staircase parallelism,” in which the last word of one phrase becomes the first word of the next. Prose inserts (at least Jn 1:6–815) deal with John the Baptist.
  2. 1:1In the beginning: also the first words of the Old Testament (Gn 1:1). Was: this verb is used three times with different meanings in this verse: existence, relationship, and predication. The Word (Greek logos): this term combines God’s dynamic, creative word (Genesis), personified preexistent Wisdom as the instrument of God’s creative activity (Proverbs), and the ultimate intelligibility of reality (Hellenistic philosophy). With God: the Greek preposition here connotes communication with another. Was God: lack of a definite article with “God” in Greek signifies predication rather than identification.
  3. 1:3What came to be: while the oldest manuscripts have no punctuation here, the corrector of Bodmer Papyrus P75, some manuscripts, and the Ante-Nicene Fathers take this phrase with what follows, as staircase parallelism. Connection with Jn 1:3 reflects…
  4. 1:14Flesh: the whole person, used probably against docetic tendencies (cf. 1 Jn 4:22 Jn 7). Made his dwelling: literally, “pitched his tent/tabernacle.” Cf. the tabernacle or tent of meeting that was the place of God’s presence among his people (Ex 25:8–9). The incarnate Word is the new mode of God’s presence among his people. The Greek verb has the same consonants as the Aramaic word for God’s presence (Shekinah). Glory: God’s visible manifestation of majesty in power, which once filled the tabernacle (Ex 40:34) and the temple (1 Kgs 8:10–1127), is now centered in Jesus. Only Son: Greek, monogenēs, but see note on Jn 1:18Grace and truth: these words may represent two Old Testament terms describing Yahweh in covenant relationship with Israel (cf. Ex 34:6), thus God’s “love” and “fidelity.” The Word shares Yahweh’s covenant qualities…
  5. 1:18The only Son, God: while the vast majority of later textual witnesses have another reading, “the Son, the only one” or “the only Son,” the translation above follows the best and earliest manuscripts, monogenēs theos, but takes the first term to mean not just “Only One” but to include a filial relationship with the Father, as at Lk 9:38 (“only child”) or Hb 11:17 (“only son”) and as translated at Jn 1:14. The Logos is thus “only Son” and God but not Father/God. New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE)

There’s a lot to unpack here.

John describes Jesus as the Word who existed as God and in intimate communion with God in eternity.

As the Word, Jesus brought the entire creation into being and gives it life.

Jesus then took on flesh by becoming human, making his physical body the very tabernacle/temple of God, the physical place where God’s presence and glory dwell in all their fullness:

“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Colossians 1:19-20 NIV

“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,” Colossians 2:9 NIV

No one can know or has ever been able to know God apart from Jesus’ revelation of God since he is the only begotten Son that resides in the very bosom/heart of the Father, and therefore the only One qualified to make God known.

This explains why Jesus could say that to see him is to see God, since he is the perfect expression and revelation of God’s very own character:

“Jesus cried out and said, ‘Whoever believes in me believes not only in me but also in the one who sent me, and whoever sees me sees the one who sent me.’” John 12:44-45 NABRE

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way and the truth (he aletheia) and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’ Philip said to him, ‘Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father. And whatever you ask in my name, I WILL DO, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything OF ME in my name, I WILL DO IT.’” John 14:6-14

14:6 The truth: in John, the divinely revealed reality of the Father manifested in the person and works of Jesus. The possession of truth confers knowledge and liberation from sin (Jn 8:32).

14:7 An alternative reading, “If you knew me, then you would have known my Father also,” would be a rebuke, as in Jn 8:19.

14:8 Show us the Father: Philip is pictured asking for a theophany like Ex 24:9–1033:18. NABRE

Interestingly, Christ ascribes to himself one of the OT names for Jehovah, e.g., “the truth,”

“Into thine hands I will commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth (Kyrie ho These tes aletheias).” Psalm 30[Heb.]:6 LXX

“Whoever asks for a blessing in the land will be blessed by the God of Truth. Whoever swears an oath in the land will swear by the God of Truth. Past troubles are forgotten. They are hidden from my eyes.” Isaiah 65:16 NOG

And does what the Hebrew Bible states that only Jehovah does, namely, answer prayers:

You who answer prayer, to you all people will come.” Psalm 65:2 NIV

As the prophet Isaiah before him, John was also privileged with beholding the glory of the only begotten Son of the Father after he had come to tabernacle among them in the flesh.

This brings us to the next point. John the Baptist is the herald whom the prophet Isaiah declared would prepare the Israelites for the appearing of Jehovah for the purpose of manifesting his glory to all flesh:

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight the paths of our God. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low: and all the crooked [ways] shall become straight, and the rough [places] plains. And the glory of the Lord (he Doha Kyriou) shall appear, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God: for the Lord has spoken [it].” Isaiah 40:3-5 LXX

And yet, as the Baptist himself testified, the One who came to herald was none other than Jesus Christ himself:

“John answered them, ‘I baptize with water. Someone you don’t know is standing among you. He’s the one who comes after me. I am not worthy to untie his sandal strap.’ This happened in Bethany on the east side of the Jordan River, where John was baptizing. John saw Yeshua coming toward him the next day and said, ‘Look! This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one I spoke about when I said, “A man who comes after me was before me because he existed before I did.” I didn’t know who he was. However, I came to baptize with water to show him to the people of Israel.’ John said, ‘I saw the Spirit come down as a dove from heaven and stay on him. I didn’t know who he was. But God, who sent me to baptize with water, had told me, “When you see the Spirit come down and stay on someone, you’ll know that person is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” I have seen this and have declared that this is the Son of God.’ The next day John was standing with two of his disciples. John saw Yeshua walk by. John said, ‘Look! This is the Lamb of God.’” John 1:26-36 NOG

Therefore, Jesus is that very Jehovah whose glory Isaiah said would be seen by all flesh!

Further Reading

Jesus Christ – The Divine Lord of Glory Pt. 2 (https://www.answeringislam.net/authors/shamoun/lord_glory2.html)

Whose Glory Did He See? (https://www.answeringislam.net/authors/shamoun/lord_glory_isaiah.html)

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