The discipline of Reformed biblical theology—one that accents the progressive, historical unfolding of redemptive revelation—requires us to see Christ in all of Scripture. The famous dictum of Augustine regarding the two Testaments is that the New is in the Old concealed, the Old in the New revealed. Reformed teaching on this subject, accordingly, is of ancient pedigree. The apostle John speaks of the crucial tie between the two Testaments in terms of shadow and reality, the apostle Paul in terms of promise and fulfillment (after the pattern of Old Testament teaching itself). Of course, it is Christ himself who instructs his disciples in learning to see Christ in the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms (Luke 24:27, 44–49).
Christology, the doctrine of Christ in the Bible viewed as a whole, is inextricably bound to typology, the study of typical, symbolic precursors of the person and work of Jesus Christ in connection with sundry Old Testament events, persons, and institutions. The most important manifestation of God in the midst of his people, however, is the Glory-theophany, which makes its appearance at numerous times throughout biblical history. The theophanic Glory is a complex, eschatological phenomenon, an anticipation of the Eschaton, the close of history and entrance into the eternal kingdom of righteousness and life. From the outset, the Glory-theophany bears the Immanuel imprint—God with us—supremely so in the incarnate life of God’s Son (the incarnation became requisite for the redemption of fallen humankind as decreed by God since the foundation of the worlds). At times the Glory-cloud manifestation is distinct from the second person of the Trinity; at other times it is an appearance of Christ himself in his supernal existence as the exact radiance of the Father (Hebrews 1:1–4). It is the coming of God to humanity that is the focus of this article (much of the material developed here builds upon the exegetical and theological analyses of Geerhardus Vos and Meredith G. Kline).
We begin with the portrayal of the Glory of God given by the psalmist:
The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice; Let the many islands be glad.
Clouds and thick darkness surround Him; Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.
Fire goes before Him And burns up His adversaries round about.
His lightnings lit up the world; The earth saw and trembled.
The mountains melted like wax at the presence of the Lord. At the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.
The heavens declare His righteousness, And all the peoples have seen His glory.
The Lord reigns, let the peoples tremble; He is enthroned above the cherubim, Let the earth shake!
Exalt the Lord our God And worship at His footstool; Holy is He.
Moses and Aaron were among His priests, And Samuel was among those who called on His name; They called upon the Lord and He answered them.
He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud; They kept His testimonies And the statute that He gave them.
O Lord our God, You answered them; You were a forgiving God to them, And yet an avenger of their evil deeds.
Exalt the Lord our God And worship at His holy hill, For holy is the Lord our God. (Psalm 97:1–6; 99:1, 5–9)
This manifestation of God—his advent—is a heavenly intrusion into the earthly realm, heaven come to earth. It is the very dwelling place of God (in anthropological depiction, since both God and angels are incorporeal). God the Father is seated upon the throne, Christ at his right hand, surrounded by the seraphim, cherubim and myriad angels. Taken together, it is the Counsel of God which has called all earthly things into being and which sustains all things by his powerful arm (see Genesis 1:2). The angels are attending spirits, commissioned at first in God’s work of creation and later in redemption. Though they are created beings, the angels partake in the creative/recreative work of God as purely ministering spirits, not having divine power unto themselves. God alone is Creator; the angels are subservient creatures. Upon the establishment of the post-diluvian covenant with all creation, what is a modification of the original covenant made at creation, God promises to uphold his handiwork until the close of history, until the extension of his spiritual kingdom throughout all the world has been completed. The retreating storm clouds leave the rainbow in the sky, a sign of God’s (common) grace to fallen creation. Never again will God interrupt the course of human history with so catastrophic a judgment as this; the (final) Day of the Lord—the eschatological appearance of God in Glory—will bring his purpose in creation and redemption to its decretive conclusion.
To understand aright the spiritual realm of God’s sovereign Presence as a pre-eschatological intrusion into the earthly realm, it is necessary that we make note of its strategic role and appearance over the course of history. Prior to the creation of Adam and Eve, God had fashioned the spiritual world of angels, which at the beginning of time was placed on probation. The angels, as image-bearers of God (hence, “sons of God”), were likewise in covenant relationship with God. Unlike Adam, who would later be placed under similar probation, each angel stood in the integrity of his own act of obedience or disobedience. No federal representation here, and no redemption for those angels who transgressed after the instigation of Lucifer. Subsequent to the fulfillment of angelic probation, the heavenly kingdom of light and righteousness breaks forth into the earthly realm at the very start of its formation, the earthly kingdom appearing as a replica of the heavenly Glory. This Spirit-theophany hovered over the unformed mass at the beginning of the physical creation; the same Spirit comes in the garden of Eden in judgment and in prophetic announcement (as regards the promise of salvation to Adam and Eve, the mother of all living, and judgment upon the Serpent). These events mark the opening history of the theophanic Word and revelation—the revelation of God mediated by the Son through the Spirit.
Given all that we have noted thus far, the theophanic Glory is Trinitarian in essence. The revelation of the (Christian) doctrine of the Trinity is deeply embedded in the biblical record right from the outset. Assuredly, it would be a matter of time before the full, final manifestation of the triune God would appear in the person of Jesus Christ incarnate and in the outpouring of the Pentecostal Spirit. Over the course of biblical history the Glory-theophany is identified by the following terms (among others): Spirit, Presence, Face, Hand, Arm, Eyes (cf. “the seven eyes of the Spirit”), Angel (the pre-incarnate bodily manifestation of Christ), Word, and Temple (in anticipation of the consummate arrival of the final heavenly, eternal dwelling of God with his people). This is indeed a complex, awesome manifestation of the divine for finite humanity to apprehend!
The expression to be “caught up in the Spirit” has immediate reference to communication of the prophet with the Lord of Glory. Likewise, the expression “walked with God” (after the fashion of Enoch and Elijah) denotes intimate communion with God the Spirit as the eternal Word and source of resurrection life. Comprehensively, Old Testament history and prophecy are written in anticipation of Christ’s coming, and are thus preparatory in nature. Encounters with the spiritual world are replete throughout Scripture. The following is but a partial sampling (including instances cited above).
In the Law
At the ratification of the covenant with Abraham, God manifests himself by theophany, as a smoking oven and flaming torch. This is an aspect of the Glory-representation, one that features both the awe of God’s presence and the holiness of his cleansing power in the salvation of sinners (cf. Malachi 4:1–3 and John 3:11–12). Having been cleansed and renewed in divine sonship, Abraham converses with God by way of the theophanic Word of revelation, through the mediation of the One who is identified as the Angel of the Lord (Genesis 22:15). This is no ordinary angel, nor even one having special standing within the angelic kingdom, like Gabriel or the seraphim. The Angel of the Lord is the Lord Christ, also called Michael, the Prince of the army of God (cf. the references in Daniel 12 and in Revelation 12). He is the victor over the enemies of God, the One who conquers sin and death. In John’s Gospel (8:56), Jesus declares that Abraham had seen the Lord of Glory (as an instance of the “Day of the Lord,” which occurs periodically throughout redemptive history until its consummate realization at the Eschaton). Likewise, Stephen recounts that the God of Glory appeared to Abraham when he was yet in Mesopotamia (Acts 7:2).
Similarly, Jacob encounters the angelic revelation of God in pre-incarnate Personage; he wrestles with God until he receives the blessing proffered (Genesis 32:26). Earlier in the account, Jacob was confronted by Theophany, when “the angels of God met him” (Gen 32:1). Jacob calls the place God’s encampment, his dwelling with humanity. Depicted here is the divine Counsel, the sovereign Lord in the company of his ministering angels. From this encounter, Jacob in turn sends out messengers to prepare the way for his meeting with Esau, an important event in the outworking of Israel’s corporate election and the redemption of those who are recipients of God’s decretive election in Christ, the true Israel of God. Jacob’s (i.e., Israel’s) election has both individual and corporate ramifications (see Romans 9).
The pivotal moment in theocratic Israel’s formation and subsequent history comes at the revelation of God’s law upon Mount Sinai, another instance of the appearance of the Glory-theophany in cloud and fire (Hebrews 12:18–24 compares the revelational encounter between God and humankind in terms of two contrasting covenants, the Mosaic and the New). Prior to the giving of the Law—what is a covenant of works on the typological level of temporal life in the land of Canaan, wherein prosperity is contingent upon Israel’s keeping of the Law—Moses meets the Angel of the Lord on the occasion of the blazing fire in the bush, what he describes as a “marvelous sight” (Exodus 3:3). Moses stands on Holy Ground, the Rock of salvation. Ascending Mount Sinai, Moses meets God in the presence of his angels, in an encounter with the divine Counsel (Exodus 19:3, 16–20; cf. Galatians 3:19). This same Presence (namely, the Angel of the Lord) will go before Israel, bringing her into the land of promise (Exodus 23:20). The portable tent was the earthly, symbolico-typological place of meeting with the Lord God, a site overshadowed by the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night (Exodus 33:7–11). Descending the mountain, Moses’ face was aglow with the radiance of God’s own Glory (Exodus 34:29–35; see 2 Corinthians 3:6–18, again comparing and contrasting the Old and New Covenants).
In the Prophets
The experience of prophetic encounter with the God of Glory is resumed in the life of Joshua, who leads Israel into the holy land (Moses had been disqualified entrance into the land because of his transgression of a command of the Lord in the days of wilderness wandering). On that day the provision of manna ceases, and Israel begins to enjoy the fruits of Canaan. At this moment Joshua engages the Captain of the Lord’s host, the pre-incarnate, theophanic Angel, who is the Christ of Glory (Joshua 5:12–15). Like Moses, Joshua stands on Holy Ground. The prospect of covenant-breaking looms large in Joshua’s farewell address (Joshua 23; see also chapter 24). Life, blessing and prosperity in the earthly, temporal land of promise is contingent upon the keeping of the law of Moses (eternal life, on the other hand, is secure, based exclusively upon the future, messianic work of God’s Son by means of fulfillment of his probationary testing as second Adam).
The prophetic office arises from humanity’s estate of sin and covenant-transgression. Originally, as image-bearer and covenantal son of God, Adam was commissioned to rule creation with priestly devotion, hence the twofold offices of priest and king. The role of the prophets is to convey God’s word of judgment and sovereign determination; that Word climaxes in bringing God’s covenant lawsuit against a disobedient people. The prophet Elijah, whose life and work anticipated that of John the Baptist in the days of Israel’s final ultimatum to turn from sin and cleave to Jesus the Messiah in true faith and repentance, encounters the living Presence of God in his awesome theophanic power and judgment. This occasion is clearly reminiscent of Moses’ experience on Mount Sinai (1 Kings 19:11–12). The sound of the Lord on this occasion, like the sound of God’s advent in the Garden after the sins of our first parents and like the sound of God’s meeting with Moses upon the mountain, was thunderous and terrifying (not the “still small voice, ” as commonly translated in the biblical text). It was Isaiah who saw the Lord high and lifted up, seated upon a throne surrounded by the seraphim crying out, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:1–7). The cleansing power of God’s sanctifying grace is what qualifies and equips the prophet for service in the kingdom. The forgiveness that Isaiah experiences is the fruit of the messianic Lord who is coming to deliver Israel and bring peace to the nations, in fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham.
The Gospels and other books of the New Testament canon record and interpret the inauguration of the new and everlasting covenant in the blood of Jesus Christ. The Temple of God with humanity is identified as Christ and his body, the church. The revelatory Word comes as God’s abiding Presence in the midst of his people, his dwelling among his sons and daughters, the Spirit-Temple of God. The Glory-theophany is thoroughly Trinitarian; the kingdom of saints is the beneficiary of God’s gracious salvation, accomplished and applied over the course of redemptive history by the Father, the Son, and the Spirit (Colossians 1:13–20; 2:9–15; Ephesians 2:19–22; 2 Corinthians 3:17–18; and 1 Corinthians 15:47–49). The book of Revelation, the capstone of inscripturated revelation, details in apocalyptic imagery developments to take place in the latter days, the period extending from the first to the second advents of Christ. The revelation given to John begins with his rapture into heaven, the Glory-Presence of God (Revelation 1:10).
Glory-theophany makes several appearances in New Testament times (for example, at the time of the birth of Christ, at his baptism and temptation, at the Transfiguration, at Pentecost, and at Saul’s conversion and subsequent “third-heaven” experience). The future prospect of every believer is that he will likewise see God “face to face,” by way of the Glory-Presence. Heaven will come to earth, and the eternal Temple-Kingdom will be consummated in all its reflective Glory, which is the Glory of the Lord God himself. The sons of God, God’s image-bearers, will be transformed and glorified, fit for eternity. Oh, what a Day that will be!
Dr. Mark K. Karlberg obtained three theological degrees from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, including a doctorate in Reformation/Post-Reformation Studies. He is the author of Covenant Theology in Reformed Perspective (2001) and Gospel Grace: The Modern-Day Controversy (2003), both published by Wipf & Stock.