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The Lord of glory

February 2006 | by Timothy Cross

James 2:1 makes reference to ‘our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory’.This is a truly remarkable statement because the word ‘glory’ can ultimately only be applied to God himself – who declares in Isaiah 42:8, ‘I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other’.

The Westminster Confessionputs it thus: ‘God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of himself, and is alone in and of himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which he hath made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting his own glory in, by, unto and upon them…’ (II, ii).

The attribute of ‘glory’ is a uniquely divine quality. It is difficult to define precisely in words, but in the Bible it refers to the visible or perceived manifestation of the splendour, greatness, radiance, majesty and awesomeness of the one true God.

In the time of Moses we read that ‘the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle’ (Exodus 40:34). Then, some years later, when the permanent temple in Jerusalem had replaced the portable tabernacle, the Bible records how ‘a cloud filled the house of the Lord … for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord’ (1 Kings 8:10-11). The glory-cloud was called ‘the Shekinah’ – the visible manifestation of the invisible God’s immediate presence.

The Christ of glory

In referring to the Lord Jesus Christ as the Lord of glory, then, James is telling us that Jesus is himself the visible incarnation of the greatness, majesty, splendour and awesomeness of the living God. As Hebrews puts it, he is ‘the brightness of [God’s] glory and the express image of his person’ (Hebrews 1:3). In Christ dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily (Colossians 2:9).

‘He who has seen me’, said Jesus Christ, ‘has seen the Father’ (John 14:9). If, by faith, we have understood just who he is, we have seen something of the one true God – whom he uniquely manifests.

In applying the epithet ‘glory’ to the Lord Jesus Christ, therefore, James affirms his conviction that Christ is no mere man but God manifested in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16).

Brother James

That James should call Jesus ‘the Lord of glory’ is specially noteworthy because, humanly speaking, James was Jesus’ sibling. He was ‘James the Lord’s brother’ (Galatians 1:19). Jesus is described in Mark 6:3 as ‘the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon’.

Jesus had no human father, for he was conceived by the Holy Spirit. But Mary was his earthly mother and Joseph his earthly father. In due course Mary had other children, but this time by Joseph. James was one of these.

Sanctified imagination can thus picture James sleeping in the same room as Jesus, eating at the same table, playing in the street with him as a child, working at the same carpenter’s bench as a young adult, and worshipping at the same synagogue with him Sabbath by Sabbath. Did he have any inkling during those times that his older brother was none other than the Lord of glory?

Thinking transformed

The matter deepens when in John 7:5 we read concerning Jesus’ human family that ‘even his brothers did not believe in him’. Yet by the time James wrote his epistle, his unbelief had turned to faith. He is compelled to describe the brother who once shared his ordinary everyday life as the extraordinary’Lord of glory’.

How do we account for the transformation in James’ thinking? Humanly speaking, we can’t, and the Bible does not give us a detailed explanation. Conversion to Christ is a miracle which God himself effects in our hearts.

He alone, by his Holy Spirit, can give us a right attitude and disposition towards his Son. He alone can reveal to us our need of Christ – and the total adequacy of Christ to meet that need.

The glorious deity of Christ cannot be understood without the Holy Spirit’s agency. Yet God does use means to this end. In 1 Corinthians 15:7 we read that the risen Christ appeared to James. Perhaps it was at this moment that James first understood that his human brother was none other than the incarnate God – the Saviour of sinners and the Lord of glory.

Surpassing glory

James’ reference to Christ as the Lord of glory, whilst remarkable, is not alone. It is congruent with a theme which runs throughout the New Testament. His testimony to the Saviour’s uniqueness is not unique! Paul writes of ‘the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image [likeness] of God’ (2 Corinthians 4:4).

In the prologue to his Gospel, John testifies, ‘We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14). Again, after describing the first miracle Jesus performed, John adds, ‘This beginning of signs Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory…’ (John 2:11).

Notice that in these instances Christ’s glory was perceived by faith rather than visible to human eyes. Does this mean that Jesus’ glory was a lesser glory than the Shekinah of old? Not at all! Paul makes the distinction:

‘What was glorious [under the Mosaic order] has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory [of Christ]. For if what was passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious’ (2 Corinthians 3:10-11, NIV).

Josiah Conder’s hymn, ‘Thou art the everlasting Word’, expresses it perfectly:

In thee most perfectly expressed
The Father’s glories shine;
Of the full deity possessed,
Eternally divine:

True image of the Infinite,
Whose essence is concealed;
Brightness of uncreated light;
The heart of God revealed:

Tranfigured

Famously, all three synoptic Gospels record the ‘transfiguration of Christ’ – and what a manifestation of his glory this was! Non-Christians have great difficulty with Christ’s transfiguration because it just cannot be explained away by human reason.

On a certain mountain, at one particular time during Christ’s ministry, the Bible records that ‘he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light’ (Matthew 17:2).

How we might long to have been there on that mountain, to behold Christ’s visible glory! Yet all God’s people will indeed see it with their own eyes, for Jesus prayed, ‘Father, I desire that they also, whom you gave me may be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory which you have given me; for you loved me before the foundation of the world’ (John 17:24).

God’s elect and Christ’s redeemed shall most certainly see the glory of the Lord and the Lord of glory in due time!

Implications

That Jesus Christ is the Lord of glory has certain practical implications for the Christian. It is one of the many evidences that our Saviour is God, and as such he is to be reverently worshipped and adored.

His worship must never be allowed to become irreverent, nominal, mundane or routine. We should be careful as to how we both speak of – and speak to – our glorious Saviour. Even Christians can be guilty of taking his name in vain, by speaking of him or to him in an overly familiar manner or casual fashion.

Then what of the multi-faith environment in which we live? ‘Political correctness’ requires that all religious founders be given equal prominence and parity. But how can this be? The Lord of glory has no equal and can tolerate no rivals. Our exclusive view of Christ is sure to get us into trouble if we are faithful to our faith.

The Bible urges us to ‘contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3). In contending for the faith, we have to contend that Christ alone can save – there is salvation in no one else (Acts 4:12).

And in contending for the faith we also contend for the absolute uniqueness of Christ himself. Our Saviour is incomparable. He is the Son of God and God the Son. He is the second person of the ever-blessed Trinity, co-equal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.

He alone is worthy of total obedience and exclusive allegiance. For he is the Lord of glory and in a coming day ‘every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’ (Philippians 2:11).

O, could I speak the matchless worth,
O, could I sound the glories forth,
Which in my Saviour shine!
I’d soar and touch the heavenly strings
And vie with Gabriel while he sings
In notes almost divine.