During the previous century, some churches began to report the appearance of a “glory cloud”—they believed this to be a physical manifestation of God’s presence in the form of a glittery cloud that lingered over worship services. Such clouds have been reported in services all over the world, from one-room house churches in Brazil to mega-churches in California.
Those who have witnessed this phenomenon describe it as a glittering swarm of gold-like particles that settles on skin and hair and then vanishes upward. Some describe hands and faces covered in oil or a glittery residue that returns even after wiping it off. There are also reports of feathers or “jewels” falling from these clouds. Some pastors, usually in the Charismatic or Pentecostal movement, claim that the cloud has so enveloped them before preaching that they could hardly see the congregation. They attribute it to the tangible presence of God anointing them for preaching. They use as their biblical foundation Old Testament passages such as 2 Chronicles 5:14; 1 Kings 8:11; Ezekiel 10:4; and Exodus 40:35.
The term glory cloud is not found anywhere in Scripture, and many rightly wonder whether such a thing is biblical. It is significant that the “proof texts” for a glory cloud come entirely from the Old Testament. The New Testament contains no examples of God manifesting Himself in such a cloud. Since the church lives under the New Testament covenant, we have no basis for believing such a phenomenon to be a genuine work of God.
The first biblical reference to God’s presence in a cloud is found in Exodus 13:21. As the Israelites moved toward the Promised Land, “the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night.” Exodus 40:35 associates the cloud with God’s glory: “And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” In order for it to fill the tabernacle, the “glory of the Lord” must have had a physical manifestation recognizable to the people. However, there is no indication in Scripture that the clouds were glittery or filled with golden dust. In fact, every time gold or jewels are mentioned in connection with God, they are always of the purest variety. No independent gemologist has ever verified that any element produced in these services is authentic.
The Lord told Moses, “No man may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). He allowed Moses only a fleeting glimpse of His glory in passing (Exodus 33:22–23). Those who encountered the cloud of God’s glory in the Old Testament were often unable to approach it (see Exodus 40:34–35; 2 Chronicles 7:2; and 1 Kings 8:11). By contrast, those experiencing the modern version of a “glory cloud” greet it with singing, dancing, shouting, and basking in the glitter that engulfs them. This response is inconsistent with biblical accounts. When the glory of God was present in a cloud, the power of His presence was so overwhelming that mortal men could not enter it.
Ezekiel truly experienced the glory of the Lord. He writes, “Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking” (Ezekiel 1:28; cf. 44:4). When the Lord gave Isaiah a vision of His glory, Isaiah’s response was to cry, “Woe to me! 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” (Isaiah 6:5). Abject humility akin to horror always followed Old Testament displays of the glory of God (2 Chronicles 5:14; 7:3; Isaiah 6:5). The responses of Ezekiel and Isaiah to the glory of the Lord were nothing similar to the responses of those in modern Charismatic churches.
God has displayed His glory in a thousand ways (Psalm 19:1), the foremost being the Person of His Son. Jesus stated that to see and know Him is to see the glory of God. He told His followers in John 11:40, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” He also said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). He has given His children the Holy Spirit, which means we carry the glory of God with us everywhere we go (1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 5:5).
Although the Lord God can manifest any way He chooses to, He does not need a glittery cloud to communicate His presence to those who have received His offer of salvation. We do not seek a sign (Matthew 16:4). We can enjoy His presence every moment of every day as we surrender to Him and choose to walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16, 25).