On the night before His arrest and crucifixion, Jesus prayed for His immediate followers and for those of us who would become His followers in the future. This prayer is recorded in John 17:1-26. I had read this prayer many times, but, on my last reading, I was struck by something I had not noticed before. In verse 22, Jesus told His Father, “I have given them the glory that you gave me.” The Greek word for “glory” is doxa, which means dignity, glory, honor, praise, worship. This is astounding. In the Old Testament, God’s glory was displayed as a shining cloud that was so bright and awesome that it was death for a human to look upon it (see Isaiah 6:6). When Moses was granted the privilege of seeing God face to face, Moses’ face shone with the reflected glory of God to the point that the Israelites were afraid to look at him (Exodus 34:29-35). And now Jesus said that He has given this glory to us. Paul described this in 2 Corinthians 3:7-18: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” How can we have the glory of God? The word “Spirit” is a clue. We have God’s Holy Spirit shining within us, so that when people look at us, they see God. That is hard for us to believe.
What does this look like in practice? John 17 offers some clues. Jesus prayed, “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do” (verse 4). We glorify God (enhance His reputation in the eyes of the world) by performing the works He has called us to do. Jesus also said, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one” (verse 22). We glorify God by displaying the same unity that exists in the Godhead. The Trinity is a profound mystery, and theologians have wrestled for centuries with how to distinguish the three persons of God. When people look at the church, do they see that we are so united that they can’t know where one person is separate from another, where one person’s work is merged with other people’s work? Jesus also said, “The world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (verse 23). Jesus said that God loves us as much as He loves His own Son. That also is astounding. Jesus said earlier in the Gospel of John: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35) When we do God’s works, when we are united, when we love and are loved with the same love that exists in God, then we glorify God. We reflect the glory of God to the world around us. And yet the glory of God goes far beyond any one aspect. We are all aware of how imperfectly we reflect the glory of God. And yet Jesus said that He has given us His glory. He is shining through us even when we are least aware of it.