by Rev. Tom Warner
GOD’S UNVEILED GLORY: A HEAVENLY AND HELLISH EXPERIENCE
Some years ago, during a time of illness, I became fascinated with the Bible’s teaching about the “glory” of God. One unexpected outcome of my study was how God’s glory may relate to the final punishment of the ungodly. Here is a summary of that aspect of my study.
God’s glory revealed, in part, to Moses
Moses saw glimpses of God’s glory, in the burning bush (Exodus 3) and on Mount Sinai when the radiant “fire” of God’s presence appeared (Ex. 19:16-21). Those experiences created a hunger in Moses to see more. In Exodus 33:18, he asked the Lord, “Please show me your glory.” It seems that Moses realized he’d only seen a veiled version of God’s beautiful presence.
The Lord told Moses no man could see his face and live (Ex. 33:20). Evidently, we mortal human beings cannot see God in his unveiled glory; it would kill us. We’re assured, however, that someday all God’s redeemed people will be made immortal and shall see his face, i.e., his unveiled glory (Matthew 5:8; Revelation 22:4).
In Exodus 33:19-23, God’s fiery glory passed by Moses – who was protected in the cleft of a rock, covered by God’s hand – as the Lord proclaimed his virtuous, gracious, glorious character.
Moses glimpsed only the “back” of the Lord, i.e., his veiled glory; but that was enough to send him back down the mountain literally glowing – almost as if he had a kind of “spiritual sunburn” (Ex. 34:29-30).
God’s glory revealed in Christ
In Jesus, the glory of God was revealed more completely than ever before (John 1:14,18). When God’s Spirit opens our heart to the gospel, that spiritual vision of Christ transforms us (2 Corinthians 3:16-18; 4:3-6). As born again believers, the glory of God’s presence resides – mostly hidden – in our mortality, like a beautiful diamond in a plain, clay jar (2 Cor. 4:7). But someday all of God’s redeemed people will be revealed in glory, in immortal, resurrection bodies that are suitable for God’s beautiful, fiery, glorious presence (Philippians 3:20-21).
Our Lord Jesus will return “in the glory of his Father” (Matt. 16:27); and that unveiled glory of God will be visible, like “flaming fire” (2 Thessalonians 1:7).
That vision of the unveiled glory of God and his Son will be an awesome, beautiful sight for those who are redeemed and immortal; it has been called the Beatific Vision, the most blessed sight we’ll ever see. But for those who’ve rejected God’s truth and grace to the bitter end, it will be too much to endure. It will consume those who are not raised and transformed into immortality (Hebrews 10:26-27; 12:29).
God’s glory will be hell for the unredeemed
In Isaiah 33:14 the prophet asks, “Who among us can dwell with that devouring fire? Who among us can dwell with those everlasting burnings?” The answer: only those who’ve been granted immortal, glorified bodies (1 Cor. 15:50-54).
Those who are finally condemned will be destroyed body and soul (Matt. 10:28), blotted out of existence – literally, forever – an eternal punishment. The process of their destruction will last as long as the justice of God determines for each one (Luke 12:47-48); but the result will be total, irreversible, everlasting destruction.
Cf. Malachi 4: 1 “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.2 But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. 3And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts.”
Considering all of the above, it seems likely to me that the “fire” that destroys the ungodly may be the unveiled glory of God. The “destruction” that overtakes them may well be their exposure to the unveiled presence of the Lord: “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction that comes from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might … ” (2 Thess. 1:9 ESV marginal reading).
Another clue comes from a more literal rendering of that passage: They “shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might … ” (2 Thess. 1:9 ASV). Recall how the Lord told Moses that no man could see his face and live (Ex. 33:20).
Our God is said to be a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29). We’re told that, someday, God will be “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28), i.e., his glorious presence will finally be revealed in unveiled form throughout the entire universe. His glory will no longer need to be mediated to us in a veiled fashion; it will be fully revealed. For his redeemed people, it will be our greatest pleasure; but, for the ungodly, it will be a most painful and fearsome destructive experience.
Tom Warner serves as chaplain at the Veterans Home in Boise, Idaho. He’s pastored Advent Christian Churches in Oregon, Maine and California.