Did John think that Isaiah saw the glory of the exalted Jesus in the temple?

Generative AI summary:

In John 12:41, James White suggests John refers to Isaiah’s vision of YHWH’s glory in the temple, identifying Jesus with the figure on the throne. However, some argue John anticipates Jesus’ glory through death and resurrection. The debate revolves around whether Isaiah’s vision represents YHWH or a prefiguration of the glorified Son of Man. While some connect Isaiah’s “high and lifted up” figure to both YHWH and the servant, objections arise: John’s likely adherence to the Greek Septuagint, Isaiah’s commissioning narrative, and the context of Jesus’ impending suffering. “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory” may refer to Jesus’ future reception rather than the temple scene, challenging the interpretation of Isaiah’s vision.

Read time: 6 minutes

According to James White, when John says that “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory” (Jn. 12:41), the allusion is to the glory of YHWH revealed in the throne vision of Isaiah 6:1-3. Since John is speaking about Jesus in this passage, we may infer that John in some way identifies Jesus with the glorious figure on the throne, whose glory, according to the Septuagint version, filled both the temple and the whole earth.

I argued in a previous post that John is not looking back to the theophany but ahead to the paradoxical glory that Jesus would attain through death and resurrection, specifically as the Son of Man.

The case has sometimes been made, however, that John does indeed mean the glory seen by Isaiah in the temple but understands it to be the glory of Christ, not of YHWH. Joel Rice argued for this understanding in several comments, and this post is partly a summary of my replies to him. It also seems to be the view of Harris, for example: “Apparently Isaiah had a vision of the pre-incarnate glory of Christ.”1 And Beaseley-Murray: “The glory of God that Isaiah saw in his vision… is identified with the glory of the Logos-Son.”2

In the Hebrew text, the figure on the throne is first spoken of as ʾadonai —as “(my) Lord,” not as YHWH. The argument, therefore, is that John has read this as a vision of the glory of the kingdom of a future messiah who is ʾadonai, which will one day fill the earth. We may compare this with the distinction made in Psalm 110:1 (109:1 LXX): the kyrios who is YHWH says to the kyrios who is ʾadonai, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”

The question is whether in John’s mind the glorious but ill-defined figure seen by Isaiah enthroned in the temple was not YHWH who sends the prophet but a prefiguration of the glorified Son of Man, who would come to the Ancient of Days to receive dominion, glory, and a kingdom (Dan. 7:13-14).

In support of the thesis, we may note that Isaiah applies the phrase “high and lifted up” (rum we nasaʾ) both to ʾadonai in the temple (Is. 6:1; cf. 33:10; 57:15) and to the despised servant (Is. 52:13). The servant is not “high and lifted up” in his own right—he will be “exalted and glorified exceedingly” (LXX), by YHWH, but since John has established a connection between this passage and the temple theophany by quoting from both, it could be argued that he took the ʾadon or Lord to be the servant who will be exalted.

However, the motif is not highlighted by John, and I am still inclined to think that the objections outweigh the simple association by way of the link word “glory.”

1. It seems unlikely that John would have “misread” the passage in this way. The presence of the seraphim suggests that the figure is God, and there’s no reason to think that John was influenced by the anthropomorphism of Ezekiel 1:26: “And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance.”

2. ʾAdonai is used for YHWH twice in the commissioning narrative (Is. 6:8, 11), from which John has just quoted, and frequently in the rest of the Gospel.

3. Isaiah declares that he has seen “the King, YHWH of hosts” (Is. 6:5), which must refer back to the seeing of the ʾadon sitting on a throne. The “lord” or “king” is YHWH not some servant of YHWH.

4. John seems to have used the Septuagint for his quotations (Jn. 12:38, 40), and the Greek version of Isaiah 6:1-3 does not differentiate between ʾadonai and YHWH.

5. We would have to suppose that a vision which inaugurates a prophetic mission to stubborn Israel (cf. Jer. 1:9; Ezek. 1:1-28) has been turned into a vision of the climax of the mission. Isaiah 6:1-3 is not a judgment scene, where enemies are punished and the faithful servant is vindicated and given kingdom and glory—along the lines of Daniel 7:13-14.

6. In the lead up to the passage, Jesus has prayed that God will glorify his name through the painful events to come, he has declared that the judgment of this world is now imminent; and his point seems to be that the “ruler of this world” will be cast out when the Son of Man is lifted up from the earth (Jn. 12:28-34). Then he departs and hides himself from them because “they still did not believe in him” (Jn. 12:37). This looks forwards to a glory associated with suffering and judgment.

7. I wonder if John would have expected the Son of Man to be glorified in the temple, when Jesus has effectively substituted his own risen body for the temple in Jerusalem (Jn. 2:18-22).

8. According to John, “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory, and he spoke concerning him” (Jn. 12:41). “These things” refers to two statements made by Isaiah which John has just quoted, neither of which alludes to the glory seen in the temple:

“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

“He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” (Jn. 12:38, 40)

The first is from Isaiah 53:1 LXX. A “report” that has something to do with the “suffering servant” has not been believed, whereas people who were not told will see and understand (Is. 52:15); and in these circumstances the “arm of the Lord” has been revealed. Moreover, this servant will have no glory from people (Is. 52:14 LXX), which sets him in contrast to John’s Pharisees, who “loved the glory of the people rather than the glory of God” (Jn. 12:43).

The second quotation comes from the account of Isaiah’s commissioning with slight modification: the people will not listen to him because their hearts have been hardened, etc.; therefore, they will not turn and be healed; cities will be left desolate, and they will be taken into exile. We note that Isaiah is quoted to account for the fact that, despite the signs done among them, the Jews did not believe in Jesus (Jn. 12:37).

The question, then, is how are “these things” related to “his glory”? Did Isaiah say these things because he had first seen the glory of Jesus in the temple? Or because he had seen the glory that lay beyond the rejection and suffering? I would have thought it makes more sense to go from rejection to glory than from glory to rejection.

9. I think we need to recognise that “and he spoke concerning him” looks forward to the reception that Jesus would receive from the Jews rather than backward to the description of the Lord in the temple.

  • 1

    M. J. Harris, John, 238.

  • 2

    G. R. Beasley-Murray, John, 217.

David | Fri, 03/29/2024 - 16:29 | Permalink

Makes perfect sense to me. Thank you.

Joel Rice | Fri, 04/12/2024 - 00:48 | Permalink

I did not argue that the glory is not YHWH’s.  Everything Jesus does is to the glory of God.  Isaiah saw the glory of YHWH, even though the referent is Adonai.  Your post, not Dr. White, made me consider a different interpretation.   I did not know that the LXX translated to English, glory and house, instead of, robe and temple.  I proposed the possibility or thought that the reference by John to “His” “glory” might be interpreted to mean the glory of YHWH through Jesus, as it is described by John throughout the gospel.  We see in chapter 12 the impending glorification of Jesus. We also see that God’s name is glorified. So it is to God’s glory when He (the Father) glorifies Jesus. The obedience and suffering leads to the glory which is by means of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but suffering does not always precede glory. In chapter 12 John references TWO periods of time:

John 12:28. “Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.”

God’s name will be glorified by the still future death and resurrection of Jesus; however, God’s name was previously glorified (I have both glorified it) by the miraculous signs and wonders God did through Jesus during Jesus’ ministry, including Lazarus being raised from the dead. Glory is a manifestation of God. That is what Jesus’ ministry is, to declare/manifest the glory of God’s name.

Accordingly, the glory that Isaiah saw was YHWH’s glory, but from John’s perspective God’s glory is witnessed through Jesus, “His” ministry, life, death, resurrection, ascension. So the glory is not necessarily mutually exclusive to either God or Jesus.  According to John, both the glorification of Jesus and the glory of God’s name are in view.  Jesus has glory with the Father.  The Father is the source of His glory.  And those who believe in the name of Jesus will share in the same glory.

Romans 6:4 “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”

Is the glory that Isaiah saw the same glory John refers to and also witnessed, God’s glory, which was manifested through Jesus’ life, ministry, miraculous signs and wonders, death, resurrection and ascension?

If so, as a prophetic vision, the enthroned figure can be interpreted to foreshadow Jesus, the resurrected Messiah.  God commissioned and spoke by Isaiah and the people did not believe the report of what he witnessed.  God commissioned and spoke by Jesus, but they actually witnessed the glory of God.  Some believed, but wouldn’t confess for fear of being rejected from the synagogue, evidencing they loved the glory of men more than the glory FROM God.  Again, the glory of God was witnessed by them through Jesus.

1 Peter 1:10-13 10 Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, 11 searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12 To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into.

@Joel Rice:

Ah, right. I see what you’re getting at now. Thanks. I still think I’d be inclined to confine the “glory” of YHWH seen in the temple to the commissioning of the prophet rather than associate it with the ambiguous mission of the servant, but in the context in John, I can see why “because he saw his glory” might evoke the temple vision.

@Andrew Perriman:

Right, in the context of John, but not the temple vision, the throne vision.  This is what made me consider it.  As I’ve stated, you mentioned the LXX stated “glory filled the house”.  House or palace would indicate throne instead of other translations that state “temple.”  He was on a throne high and “lifted up”.

As to the glory he saw as a type that of vision of the future that is written of by John in chapter 12:34…  how can you say the son of man must be “lifted up”?

Next,  “although he had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him. V.37

….that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled… Isaiah 53 suffering servant… then Isaiah 6:10 “He has blinded…”

Finally, “these things Isaiah said when he saw His glory…

So there is the pattern:

  1. Glorify your name.
  2. Voice from heaven. Have glorified (the signs) and will glorify (death/crucifixion/glorification)
  3. The son of man must be “lifted up” alludes to the throne.
  4. Even though they saw the signs, they did not believe.  This is the have glorified (the signs and miracles through Jesus’ ministry who was commissioned like Isaiah).  So Isaiah is the type.
  5. Then reference to suffering servant.
  6. Then the foreshadowing of Isaiah 6:10.
  7. Finally, the glory of the one on the throne, you rightly say looking back from the context of Isaiah, but looking to the future in the context of the story John is writing.

@Joel Rice:

Interestingly, the Hebrew word hekhal, translated “temple” here normally, can also mean “palace” (Is. 13:22; 39:7), though arguably that would only mean that Isaiah saw the temple as YHWH’s palace. But in both the Hebrew and the Greek, the angel brings a burning coal from an altar. Doesn’t that mean that the vision takes place in the temple?

@Andrew Perriman:

Yes.  It was interesting to me as well, but perhaps upon working through how it possibly changes or increases my understanding of John 12, it is a distinction without a difference.

God’s palace/house IS His temple, so the alter would be close by.  I think Dr. White and others on both sides are probably getting too literal about Isaiah’s “vision.”Isaiah saw a vision.  I don’t think there was an actual coal that touched his lips.  I think it is symbolic of his purification prior to being commissioned to go forth and speak of the glory he saw.  Could Isaiah have literally seen God/YHWH with his own eyes?

Your question about the altar raises a question applicable to my comments about the actual throne being the throne of God and the Lamb in Revelation 21 and 22.  My point, perhaps incorrect, was that there was no physical temple because as it says in Revelation 21:22 “And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.”  Upon reflection, that point is not really important to what John writes in chapter 12, but it helped me to work towards a clearer understanding of how God is represented, the relationship between God and His appointed King.  To John, seeing the King IS seeing God.

I still think the vision of Isaiah is a type that foreshadows the Messiah that John is saying has now been fulfilled, the commissioning, the suffering servant and with a view to the glorification to come.

John’s point and purpose is to evidence that Jesus is Messiah, the appointed representative of YHWH, the King.  Jesus is the only one worthy to take the scroll that issues the decrees/judgment from the “hand” of YHWH.  See Revelation.  So Isaiah’s vision of YHWH on the throne in the context of what John writes, could be a reference to Jesus, “Him” and his glory is YHWH’s glory shared with Jesus, the glory of both God and Jesus.

I’ll also note that the throne of David IS the throne of God.  For example Solomon’s sat on the throne of God:

1 Chronicles 29:23 Then Solomon sat on the throne of the LORD (YHWH) as king instead of David his father, and prospered; and all Israel obeyed him.

I’m no scholar and realize proper exegesis takes a great amount of time and effort.  A lot of times, like in this instance, I read something and it sparks an idea which may or may not be right, but it requires work.  It is the work that you do professionally.  I appreciate your work and the time you have given so graciously to me.