This article is linked to the Bible study post in TLW for August 22: and based on these Bible readings set for that Sunday according to the Revised Common Lectionary, a resource shared by churches and chapels of many different denominations:
NT gospel: John 6:56-69 — By believing and receiving Jesus totally as our Lord, our lives give God glory
NT letter: Ephesians 6:10-20 — The unseen conflict behind our troubles is won as we position ourselves in the spiritual battle
Theme: Becoming aware of God’s glory among us
We are going to discover how God’s glory appears, from three different perspectives from how God was mainly experienced at that time, and today. That is why we should take the Bible readings in the order they appear in the Bible, rather than deferring to a liturgical fashion of giving the gospel reading much more emphasis than the others.
All three Bible readings are are God’s word. The Old Testament perspective is of God the Father (as we know Him) who was Yahweh of the Israelites under the Old Covenant, awesome, majestic and approachable only by priests and Levites, or anointed prophets. Then the gospel accounts focus on Jesus revealing Himself as the Son of God, the perfect representation of God but as a human whose sinless life became a perfect sacrifice for our sins. The third perspective is given to us in the letters written by the apostles to early believers. We experience God through the lens of those spiritually-reborn and Spirit-filled pioneers working out how to live new lives as children of God, humanly fallible but able to know the guiding and empowering of the Holy Spirit.
The hopeful and joyful new life we enter in Christ through trusting Jesus and inviting His Holy Spirit to fill us, is predicated on understanding who Jesus is and how He revealed Himself, and also on the reverent awe that worshippers of Solomon’s time experienced.
The three different ways we see God glorified, gives us these three key understandings which are essential to our growth as disciples of Jesus.
We understand who God is in His might and majesty and holiness; we understand who Jesus is in relation to God, and how trusting Him and knowing Him opens up to us a personal relationship with God that no Levite priest had. And then we come to understand who we are in Christ Jesus, not spectators but key players in the cosmic contest that is continually going on the in the heavenlies, unseen by us but greatly influenced by our faith, our prayer and our Christlike submission to God’s greater purposes. We need God — but, strangely, He also needs us, recreated in Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit, to do the part that is uniquely assigned to us as believers.
1. Who God is — praised for His majesty
The OT perspective is when God’s glory was seen manifesting as a brilliant cloud on the occasion of Solomon’s temple being consecrated as the place where the ark of the covenant would rest as the centre of Israel’s worship. The ark used to be transported from place to place by members of the Levite tribe who all knew their special responsibilities. Now Levite priests would represent God to the people, and the people to God in a permanent majestic building.
The priests then brought the ark of the Lord’s covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim.
When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord (Yahweh). And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled His temple.1 Kings 8:6, 10-11
The priests had not seen anything like this before — but they had heard about it. This was like Moses going up Mount Sinai and entering the cloud of glory, resting there in the presence of God before returning with the ‘Ten Words’. This was like that earlier consecration of the tabernacle with the precious ark of the covenant within. They knew this was the Shekinah — the glory cloud of God, manifesting His presence in a physical way.
Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in front of the whole assembly of Israel, spread out his hands toward heaven and said: “Lord, the God of Israel, there is no God like You in heaven above or on earth below — You who keep Your covenant of love with Your servants who continue wholeheartedly in Your way.1 Kings 8:23
This was a special encounter, experienced by a few trusted people, like the transfiguration of Jesus which was seen by Peter, James and John (Mark 9:2).
We will go on to see how God’s glory is seen, but not always in the way of extreme brilliance.
2. Who Jesus is
In the next scene, Jesus has shown an unforgettable sign to a huge crowd of thousands who had followed Him and gathered on a hillside — but with out food to sustain them. This Feeding of the Five Thousand was full of spiritual metaphors and allusions to God’s care and provision for the people of Israel (Mark 6:30-44). But Jesus had to get people to see beyond the miraculous provision of food — which it was — to Jesus giving them what only God could give, a way of salvation.
When we are not looking for salvation — perhaps we think it comes through belonging to a church, or is earned by our good deeds or religious devotion — it is not immediately clear what Jesus is offering. This is how it was for these Jews, many of them on a seasonal pilgrimage to the temple at Jerusalem.
When we hold onto our own ideas of what salvation means, that can be a barrier to what Jesus is offering. For the Jews of His time there were political overtones, because their country was occupied and ruled by non-Jews. They wanted a Messiah to overthrow the Romans and restore the kind of rule and honour they knew under David and Solomon.
What Jesus was offering — and is now offering — is rather different. Jesus offers us spiritual life in Him. It is eternal life which begins with a new spiritually-aware life now, in which we have a personal relationship with the Father in Him. The “in Him” is important. This is a relationship of believing and trusting completely in Him and Him alone. There is no scope for hedging our bets here. Jesus wants us to be be consumed by who He is — He describes it as feeding on Him as the Living Bread from heaven — so that He becomes part of us on the inside, and we, spiritually, become part of Him.
“Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me, and I in them.
“Just as the living Father sent Me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on Me will live because of Me.
“This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”John 6:56-58
This was hard for His hearers to accept; like them, we tend to go for the plain and literal sense of words before they have sunk in properly. At that point, many said that what He was teaching was too hard. And Jesus said He knew that some would not believe. He said that no one could come to Him unless the Father had enabled them. One of the Holy Spirit’s works in us, is leading us to saving faith, which is believing what we cannot see or work out. Like elastic, it stretches between where we are, not quite understanding, and the total clarity of where God is. It is by faith that we respond. And at that point a spiritual transformation takes place.
The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you — they are full of the Spirit and life.John 6:63
Because Jesus is fully God and fully man, He can mediate between us, who are carnal, unholy, shown to be wanting in faith and trust — and God the Father, Almighty and all-holy. God reaches out to us with His unconditional love, desiring us to know Him and have our spiritual dimension, lost by Adam in the Garden of Eden, restored in the fellowship He always intended. How does He reach out? Through His Spirit working in our hearts and through the humanly-spoken, spiritually-charged words of His Son, Jesus.
3. Who we are — in Jesus, empowered by His Spirit
When we have fully accepted and trusted who Jesus is, we are identified as being “in Christ” — belonging to Him. Spiritually ‘appearance’ is not defined by the physical properties we see in a photograph, but there is a distinctive spiritual appearance and every inhabitant of the spiritual world can tell where we stand. Think of it as wearing a recognisable uniform, only this is a kind of spiritual uniform.
And being in fellowship with God through Jesus also gives us words charged with “the Spirit and life”. These have great impact in the heavenlies when we pray and declare with the confidence of those who know they are on Jesus’ team. Our grubby, sin-defiled lives are made pure and right through Jesus, and the words we use, prompted by God’s Spirit, are backed up in heaven. This what Paul is talking about when he teaches:
…Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.
Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.Ephesians 6:10-11
This requires us to know who God is, having all might and majesty, dominion and power, and to have received for ourselves who Jesus is, counting Him our Saviour and also the Lord of our lives. So now we are enabled to be strong in Him and in His might — and every heavenly body, good or downright evil, will know that.
Our words have spiritual force, and we are expected to use them! We start off by asking God to deliver us from this or that evil, which is causing us pain or fear or oppression. That is a biblical prayer, but we may sense God saying to us that we now need to use what we have been given, to deliver us from evil. This is the part we have been given to do. Whatever difficult relationship, or health issue, or other lack of freedom, has a spiritual dimension to it.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.Ephesians 6:12
The effect that we are experiencing on earth is mirroring something that is going on in the heavenly domain, and that is the part that we are equipped to take hold of and bring change to — in Christ Jesus.
Part of that is having confidence about who we are, as those created anew in Him. And part of that is the change in us which is making us more Christlike, more gracious and forgiving, and more loving. This will out-manoeuvre the enemy every time, who understands ‘tit-for-tat’ but has no understanding of God’s grace.
So instead of mounting a full-on opposition to the latest injustice to come our way — like the adversarial speeches we hear by politicians in Parliament — we choose to forgive the person, prioritise love in the face of dishonesty and harshness, and at the same time ask the Holy Spirit for the right words to pray in faith, to dismantle the spiritual strongholds which are driving it.
That’s easy to say, and not difficult to describe but it takes a bit more discipline and resolve to put into practice what seems to our feelings, to be unnatural and wrong. But feelings are emotional temperature gauges and are often not accurate indicators of what is right!
This is the practical dimension of how we work positively with the connection between our earthly lives and what is happening in heaven. This is being confident about who God is, being confident about who His Son Jesus is, and what He has done for us, enabling us to know God in a way we couldn’t do for ourselves. And lastly, being confident about who we are in Jesus — not passive victims of the enemy’s bullying and accusation, but those divinely equipped to bring spiritual change which plays out in beneficial change on earth.