By Pastor Glenn Pease
The heavens declare the glory of God, and that is why the study of astronomy is so fascinating. It is constantly confirming what God has revealed in His word. Many Christians look at God's revelation of the heavenly city and conclude that it must be symbolical and not literal. A fourteen hundred square mile city of gold with the walls loaded with precious gems seems a little too extravagant even for God. But then comes the March 1992 issue of Science News, and it is revealed that scientists have found literal jewels in the heavens. They have found, not just the glorious light of stars, galaxies, and supernovas, but actual diamonds in the sky.
A NASA team in Hawaii, using an infrared telescope, found what they are convinced are real diamonds and three Milky Way clouds. They knew there were diamonds out there somewhere already, for in 1987 diamonds were found in meteorites that fell to earth. These researchers have concluded that the carbon dust that gives rise new stars is as much as ten percent in the form of diamonds. They feel there is likely to be diamonds in every molecular cloud in the heavens.
The point is, when we read this description of the heavenly city made of gold and precious stones, we do not have to back away from the literal interpretation, as if God does not have the know how or the power to produce such an abundance of precious stones. If man could get at them he could fill the Grand Canyon with diamonds that God has already created in stellar spaces.
The reason I take this picture literally is not just because of any scientific discovery, but because John tells us in verse 11 that the city shown with the glory of God and its brilliance was like a very precious jewel. If this is not literal, then it has to be greater than the literal, for God's glory will never be less than the glory of the kings of the earth, who splendor will be brought into the city, as John says in verse 24. I have seen pictures of the crown jewels of the royalty of the earth. They are awesome in their glory. It is a valid assumption that God, the king of the universe, will have a glory that is so superior to theirs, that it will take our entire vocabulary of words dealing with light and jewels to describe it. Words like brilliant, magnificent, glorious, lustrous, regal, resplendent, dazzling, luminous, radiant, gleaming, glittering, glistening, and a host of others.
It's a city of gold and jewels,
For it's God's glory that we share.
Only the boldest of fools
Would want to miss being there.
In America The Beautiful, we sing the last verse--
"O beautiful for patriot dream
that sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!"
And in the chorus we sing, "May God thy gold refine," and, "Crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea." All these terms of gold, gleaming, and shining are ideals of man. He wants his cities to shine with the glory of gold and brilliant light. That ideal will never be complete until God builds the city. That is just what John saw in his vision of the golden city of heaven. Man has done some impressive things in his cities, but only the city of heaven will shine with the very glory of God.
Emerson said, "I always seem to suffer some loss of faith on entering cities." They can look quite impressive as you approach and see the new buildings on the skyline. The vast array of gleaming windows can be awesome, but when you get there you are hit by the reality that the beautiful city is filled with corruption. Aristotle felt the government should prevent people from accumulating in cities, for they become hot beds of corruption. We see the truth of his conviction in every large city. Jesus wept over the largest city He ever entered, the Old Jerusalem, because of it's corruption and resistance to the will of God. That city and it's leaders killed the very Son of God, and revealed just how corrupt the city could be, even when the most glorious works of man are all around. The beautiful temple with it's treasure of gold and works of art did not prevent such corruption.
Jesus loved all the beauty and glory of the temple, but he wept for the people, for they were rejecting the one all this beauty pointed to. Hitler and the Gestapo leaders would feast in luxury with the world's finest art all about them. Then they would enjoy the exquisite beauty of the best classical music. Yet, from that setting of grandeur they could go forth to kill, in cold blood, millions of innocent people. The glory of what man can create is impressive, but man cannot be changed by the glory of man. Man can only be changed in any deep and permanent way by the glory of God.
What is the glory of God? It is basically those aspects of God's character and power that we can see. Contrary to the idea that all we know of God we must take by faith, the Bible says there is much that we can see of God's glory. The heavens declare it, that is, they reveal it to man. The works of God in His visible creation are of such conspicuous glory that God holds man accountable for seeing it, and praising Him for it. Those who refuse to see the Glory of God in creation are willfully blind, and they will be judged. Paul says in Rom. 1:19-20, " Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." What a paradox! There is no excuse for not seeing the invisible nature of God.
The idea that non-Christians cannot see the glory of God in creation is a direct rejection of Paul's clear teaching. We should expect just the opposite according to Paul. We should expect non-Christians to be able to see and write about the glory of God. Christians do no have a monopoly on seeing the glory of God. We should be able to read the poetry of other religions and see that they too see the glory of God. Paul makes it clear in verse 21 that non-Christians have knowledge of God. He writes of the pagan world, "For although they knew God they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to Him." Paul says they knew God. They blew it and lost sight of His glory. They went after idols instead, but the point is, they did know God.
The implications of this are astounding. For one thing, it means we do not need to be threatened by the wonderful things we can read about God in the religious literature of the world. We are to expect to find such things, even in pagan literature, for it is inexcusable blindness for men not to see the glory of God in what He has made. Sincere seeking pagans will discover a great deal of God's glory. This ought not to be a surprise, for it confirms what Paul says. The goal of life is to see the glory of God.
Moses said to God in Ex.33:18, "Show me Thy glory." Moses had seen the wonder of God's power in delivering the people of Israel from Egypt. He had seen more miracles than anybody in history, and yet he is not satisfied. He wanted to see the very glory of God's being. He saw the miraculous pillars of fire and smoke that led them by day and by night, but now he wanted the best. He wanted to see the ultimate glory. He wanted to see the very essence of God. He saw the burning bush and he talked with God, but now he wanted God to come out from hiding behind his symbolic miracles and show himself directly. He wanted a glimpse of God in person.
God responded to this request by telling Moses is was a request for death. No person could look on God and live. He did, however, let Moses get in a cleft of the rock, for protection, and get a glimpse of God from the back. He got a glimpse of God's glory and that was the fulfillment of his greatest goal. That is the ultimate goal of man, and that is the point of the heavenly city. It is the place where we get to finally see the glory of God in all its fullness. Like Moses, we only get a glimpse of that glory now, at best. We can see it everywhere in His creation, but then we will see it in His person.
Gwynn McLendon Day, in Gleams of Glory, writes,
"As I stand in the glow of the rising sun and am drenched by
the other-world splendor of its golden flood, I see something
of the glory of God. As I gaze into the jeweled heavens at
midnight and wonder at their sparkling beauty and infinitude,
I experience something of his glory. The flaming sunset, the
flashing lightning, the silent snowstorm, the rolling thunder, and
the fragrant flowers are intimations of his majestic splendor.
Truly, "the whole earth is full of his glory." Tennyson phrased it:
The sun, the moon, the stars, the seas, the
hills and the plains,--
Are not these, O Soul, the Vision of Him
The manifestations of God in nature are just the outer fringes of
his garment. As splendid, as awe-inspiring, and as revealing as
they are, these do not satisfy the soul's yearning for God.
And so she prays, "Show us thy glory, O our Father! It is all about us, but we are blind and unobserving. Open the eyes of our souls that we may see thee and know thee in all the majestic fullness of thy revelation to men. In the name of thy glorious Son we pray. Amen." This is the dream, the goal, the desire, and the aspiration of all of God's children. To see the glory of God in all its fullness is our final destiny. That is why glory is such a vast subject in the Bible.
The word glory is found 194 times in the Old Testament and 161 times in the New testament, for a total of 355 times. This does not even count the use of the word to glorify. Yet it is a greatly neglected subject. Charles Ryrie in his book, Transformed By His Glory, checked into 8 standard theology books, and he discovered that only 2 of them referred to the glory of God. Six of them had absolutely nothing to say about this vital subject, and one of them was his own book, and that is why he wrote a whole book on the subject, to offset his previous neglect. The subject is complex, but the essence of it is simple. Glory is a visual display of what is pleasing to the eye, and thus, awesome to the mind. Whatever, by its brilliance or beauty, stimulates admiration, has a glory.
If the fire works display is really good, it is glorious, for it is a visual treat. If the model home you go through is full of bright pleasing colors, and all is so clean and fresh, you experience the glory of what man can produce. Glory is a visual term. It has to do with what you see. The present glimpses of the glory of God, which we see in His creation are to fill us with anticipation about what we will see in the glorious city of gold. W. Seeker wrote, "When you survey the spacious firmament, and behold it hung with such resplendent bodies, think--if the suburbs be so beautiful, what must the city be!"
Stained glass windows are often great works of art, and they are glorious to behold. But from the outside they are not all that impressive. They have to be seen from the inside with the sunlight coming through to be seen in the fullness of their glory. That is why we will never see the fullness of God's glory until we see it from within that golden transparent city. There the light of His glory will flood our eyes with color and beauty that is beyond anything we can imagine. But the Bible often reminds us, what will be in it's fullness is already a part of the now. Lois Blanchard has captured this idea in her poem There Are Some Shining Moments,
"There are some shining moments
When we can almost see
Across the gulf that separates
Us from eternity.
When all the clouds are lifted
And everything is bright,
There are some shining moments
When our faith is almost sight.
There are some shining moments
When va1ues seem so clear,
When things of earth are far away
And things of God are near.
There is no inner struggle
To go the way we should.
There are some shining moments
When we know what things are good.
There are some shining moments
When the cares of life recede
And all the things that trouble us
Seem trivial indeed.
And even deeper sorrows
Find solace in that hour.
There are some shining moments
When we know God's lifting power.
There are these shining moments.
They come not every day;
For we may walk through swirling clouds
Great portions of the way.
So tread the path they brighten
When these shining moments come;
For they are heaven's lanterns
To light the journey home."
God's glory lights even the earthly cities of time to some degree, and that degree gets greater as His children reflect His glory. Paul tells us how we can practice being in heaven. We don't have to wait to see the glory of God. It is displayed in great measure in time, and we can begin now to taste of the things to come. Whoever heard of practicing to be in heaven? Where do we see such instructions? We see them in Phil.4:8, "Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." This brings heaven to earth, for Paul goes on in the next verse and says, practice this and the God of peace will be with you. Focus your life on the glorious and you will reflect the glorious.
If Moses, who met with God for 40 days, became radiant with the glory of God, what will be the effect on those who dwell with God forever in the fullness of His glory? The Bible tells us they will share in the glory of God. This is the final and ultimate gift of God to His people, but it was the first gift to His Son. In John 17:24 Jesus prayed, "Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.. Glory is love made visible, Jesus is saying. All gifts are some degree of glory. They are often shining like jewelry, or gorgeous colors, like flowers. But even if they are a dull pair of black or brown gloves they convey a glory, for they are visible objects that say to another I love you.
Love and glory are linked together inseparably so that with any love you also have a glory. This is illustrated by the old Negro engine man who loved his job on the cargo boat on the great lakes. When he was asked how he managed to keep his engine room so bright and shining, he replied, "Oh! I gotta glory!" The poet put this practical theology in verse-
Oh! You gotta get a glory
In the work you do;
A Hallelujah chorus
In the heart of you.
Paint, or tell a story,
Sing, or shovel coal,
But you gotta get a glory
Or the job lacks soul.
The great, whose shining labors
Make our pulses throb,
Were men who got a glory
In their daily job.
The battle might be gory
And the odds unfair
But the men who got a glory
Never knew despair.
Oh, Lord, give me a glory,
When all else is gone!
If you've only got a glory
You can still go on. Author unknown
Anything you love you will glorify, and this helps us grasp how we can glorify God. We are to love Him with all our hearts, minds, and soul, and when we do we will share in His glory, and reflect it. The diamond glorifies the sun by reflecting its glory. We glorify the Son of heaven, the Lord Jesus, by reflecting His glory. The whole idea of being the light of the world is glorify Jesus by reflecting the light of His love in this dark world. This is the way God's people have always glorified Him. God would turn His face toward them and shine on them like the sun. They in turn would look to His face and become radiant. Then they would reflect His grace in the world. Psalm 34:5 says, "Those who look to Him are radiant." The more men look at the glory of God the more they will radiate that glory. Paul says it clearly in II Cor.3:18, "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord."
Every Christian is becoming brighter or dimmer, depending on the exposure to the glory of God. If you are just to busy to spend time beholding the glory of God in His Word or His works, you will cease to shine and lose the glow that reflects His glory.
"The light you are reflecting
Be it bright or be it dim,
Is shining in the measure
Of the time you spend with Him."