The glory of God is the beauty of His spirit. It is not an aesthetic beauty or a material beauty, but the beauty that emanates from His character, from all that He is. The glory of man—human dignity and honor—fades (1 Peter 1:24). But the glory of God, which is manifested in all His attributes together, never passes away. It is eternal.
Moses requested of God, “Now show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18). In His response, God equates His glory with “all my goodness” (verse 19). “But,” God said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (verse 20). So, God hid Moses in “a cleft in the rock” to protect him from the fulness of God’s glory as it passed by (verses 21–23). No mortal can view God’s excelling splendor without being utterly overwhelmed. The glory of God puts the pride of man to shame: “Enter into the rock, and hide in the dust, From the terror of the Lord And the glory of His majesty. The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, The haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, And the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day” (Isaiah 2:10–11, NKJV).
Often, in the Old Testament, the manifestation of God’s glory was accompanied by supernatural fire, thick clouds, and a great quaking of the earth. We see these phenomena when God gave the law to Moses: “Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently” (Exodus 19:18; see also Deuteronomy 5:24–25; 1 Kings 8:10–11; and Isaiah 6:1–4). The prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the glory of God was full of fire and lightning and tumultuous sounds, after which he saw “what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. 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” (Ezekiel 1:26–28).
In the New Testament, the glory of God is revealed in His Son, Jesus Christ: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Jesus came as “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of [God’s] people Israel” (Luke 2:32). The miracles that Jesus did were “signs through which he revealed his glory” (John 2:11). In Christ, the glory of God is meekly veiled, approachable, and knowable. He promises to return some day “on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30).
Isaiah 43:7 says that God saved Israel for His glory—in the redeemed will be seen the distillation of God’s grace and power and faithfulness. The natural world also exhibits God’s glory, revealed to all men, no matter their race, heritage, or location. As Psalm 19:1–4 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
Psalm 73:24 calls heaven itself “glory.” Sometimes Christians speak of death as being “received unto glory,” a phrase borrowed from this psalm. When the Christian dies, he or she will be taken into God’s presence and surrounded by God’s glory and majesty. In that place, His glory will be seen clearly: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12). In the future New Jerusalem, the glory of God will be manifest: “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp” (Revelation 21:23).
God will not give His glory to another (Isaiah 42:8; cf. Exodus 34:14). Yet this is the very thing that people try to steal. Scripture indicts all idolaters: “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles” (Romans 1:22–23). Only God is eternal, and His perfect and eternal attributes of holiness, majesty, goodness, love, etc., are not to be exchanged for the imperfections and corruption of anything in this world.