The Four Glories of Heaven

“It is not in heaven that we find God, but in God we find heaven.” Studies of the new heavens and new earth, and I’m thinking especially of Tom Wright’s Surprised by Hope, have brought heaven back to earth because they have urged us to look again at what the New Testament actually says about heaven (not up in the sky somewhere where we flit to and fro as disembodied souls). This has been a noteworthy improvement for theology in the last two decades.

But Tony Thiselton, in his book Life after Death, wants us to focus less on the where of heaven and more on the essence of heaven by examining four dimensions to the word “glory” when it comes to heaven. Heaven is not so much about projecting our ideals onto a future state of affairs (that is, new heavens and new earth and new Jerusalem) but to see that the word “glory,” which dominates visions of that future, final state of affairs, is about the presence of God. Throughout the Bible glory refers to a visible manifestation of God’s proximate presence. He cites texts especially from Ezekiel and Revelation.

What do you think of this focus on “glory”?

A second dimension of glory derives from the word in Hebrew meaning “weighty” or someone who has gravitas. In other words, what makes a person impressive. The startling feature of the glory of God is that God’s gravitas is found in his self-emptying in the incarnation and cross. In other words, God’s gravitas is Christ himself. Glory and Christ belong together. It is to see the beauty of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 3:18–4:4). That is, God’s glory is Christlikeness.

The third dimension of God’s glory is love God for his own sake, to enjoy God as he is in himself, to relish God for who God is. Glory is the sheer celebration of God.  And as we sustain and retain our individuality, relishing God means relishing that in which God takes delight, and that means his Son and his people, and that means an element of glory is enjoying others as they are in God.

The fourth element of glory, and one Thiselton thinks is an extension of what has already been said, is face-to-face encounter with God. The “presence” of God is often associated with God’s “face” (panim) and God’s “eyes” (ayin), and God as light — so that heaven is the enjoyment of knowing and experiencing of God face-to-face in all of God’s glory and endless depths.

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  • Paul W

    When I’ve thought of heaven I haven’t really focused on God’s glory. I’m kind of curious if “heaven” and “glory” as lexical terms are all that closely connected within the Scriptures.

    I’ve tended to think of heaven as being a metaphor for something like the distribution of God’s blessings or perhaps better as a storage place for God to keep his blessings until he delivers them (e.g., Deut 28:12; Mal 3:10).

  • I believe that the essence of heaven is the presence of God, and the manifestation of that presence, which I think of as the glory of God.

    Of course, God is everywhere present, though it is not always manifested. Heaven and earth are already filled with the glory of God, but that glory is often unrecognized. What is lacking is the knowledge of His glory. One day that knowledge, that recognition, will fill the whole earth (Habakkuk 2:14)and it will be revealed in the “face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

    For those who are prepared to bear the “weight” of that glory and to behold its brightness, it will be heaven. For those who are not, it will be hell.

  • Jon G

    “It is not in heaven that we find God, but in God we find heaven.” – I LOVE this quote, Scot…is it Wright’s, Thiselton’s, or someone else’s (C.S. Lewis)?

  • Jon G

    Jeff #4…well said. I couldn’t agree more!

  • Dana Ames

    Thanks to Thiselton. I think this is all true, and much closer to – and much better nuancing of – the reality of the thing (as much as we can understand of it) than the hyper-Calvinist fixation on “God’s glory”.

    Element two. Yes.