In Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer in John 17, Jesus speaks of returning to a “glory I had with you before the world existed”. What would Jesus consider to be glorious? Is it a glory that we will be able to see? Is it something that will be experienced in other ways?
The first thing to note is that “glory” is probably not the same in God’s eyes as in ours. We think in terms of power, praise, pleasure, and authority. I expect that such categories would also be a part of God’s definition. But God would add love to that list.
In His prayer, Jesus asks the Father to glorify Him. This request is focused on what would happen before Jesus ascended back to Heaven. Crucifixion is not glorious. Being forsaken by God is even more inglorious. Being crucified with the purpose of fulfilling God’s Law for others because you love them and honor the Father, that is very glorious. Paying the ultimate price when you didn’t owe it out of love, that is the pinnacle of glorious.
Prior to the crucifixion James and John and their mom went on a glory-seeking mission. Having been enculturated to see glory in terms of praise and power they approached Jesus about sitting on His right and left when He entered into His glory.
20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”Matthew 20:20-23 (ESV)
James, John and mom definitely were thinking in terms of some sort of throne arrangement. Jesus indicates that this isn’t what you are thinking. His ultimate glory would be on the cross. The thieves to the right and to the left are the ones “chosen” for roles. These are not necessarily coveted positions. None-the-less, James and John would be chosen for the glory of suffering for the Gospel and, in James’s case, martyrdom.
This brings me back to the idea of heavenly glory. Is it all just bright lights, beautiful music and praise? I expect the glory of love will remain a big part of it. Will there be a necessity for sacrificial love in Heaven or the New Earth? Maybe. It will be nothing like the cross and nothing near forsakeness. The need to care for each other, to give to each other is not just limited to a world with sin and the curse in it. We will experience God’s love for us and a love for each other in many ways.
For me, this emphasizes the importance of our current life. Because sin, the curse, and the work of Satan are such influential forces, the need for genuine, sacrificial love is so important. The need and the opportunities abound. This won’t be so in Heaven or the New Earth. Living in a world that incorporates evil is terrible and I want no more of it than I have to take; but I am willing to stay as long as I can be useful and exercise my “glory” which is the love of God working in me.
This point-of-view can also illustrate why Sheol and Gehenna are so bad. Yes, the description of fire and maggots is mortifying. But the absence of the glory of God is worse. There is a growing absence of love.
In the one story about Sheol that we have, that of the beggar Lazarus, at least the rich man has compassion on his living siblings. He cares whether they arrive in Sheol. This indicates to me that being forsaken by God has not yet set in. In Gehenna, post-Judgment Day, I don’t expect any hope or unselfishness to be found. It is completely inglorious.
The glory of God, in Jesus’ crucifixion, enables the experience of the broader glory of God in eternal life. We will observe His glory in astounding beauty and power. We will live in the midst of the light of His glory in the New Jerusalem. We will experience and express His glory in a great love for each other. We can get a head start on it now.