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Why We Can Call Jesus’ Death ‘the Glory of the Cross’

sculpture of Jesus enduring the glory of the cross

In this excerpt adapted from the March/April issue of Bible Study Magazine, Jared Garcia explores the terrible events leading to Jesus’ resurrection—and why we can call his crucifixion the “glory of the cross.”

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Just days before his death, Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23). In John’s Gospel, the death of Jesus initiates his glorification. John sees all the succeeding events—the arrest, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension—as the “glory” of Jesus.

When Jesus says he will be “lifted up” (12:32), this is a wordplay. He’s saying two things at once. First, literally, Jesus will be lifted up physically on the cross as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness (John 3:14). But second, Jesus is going to be lifted up figuratively—raised in the estimation of people to a place of exaltation, a place of glory.

John is likely alluding in 12:32 to the famous servant song in Isaiah 52:13–53:12, and indeed, he quotes from this very chapter six verses later. Isaiah says of the servant of Yahweh, a Messianic figure, “Behold, my servant shall act wisely: he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted” (52:13). What is surprising is how he will be exalted. He will be exalted by having no majesty or beauty, being despised and rejected, being smitten and stricken by God, and being pierced and crushed for our sins. As the Lord lays on him our guilt, by his wounds we are healed. This is how Jesus the Messiah is exalted. His death is his glory.

This paradox is perplexing. How can an inglorious death be truly glorious?

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How can Jesus call his death his ‘glory’?

In the Bible, God’s glory is the manifestation of who God is. In Exodus 33:18, Moses asked to see God’s glory. God responded by proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Exod 34:6–7). How can God be merciful to sinners while simultaneously not clearing the guilty?

John answers this question by contrasting Moses with Jesus. Unlike Moses, who saw only a glimpse of God’s glory that was later concealed in the tabernacle (Exod 40:34–35), Jesus fully reveals God’s glory. Jesus “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory” (John 1:14). Jesus reveals the glory of God.

The glory of the cross

The supreme way Jesus displays the glory of God is at the cross. At the cross, Jesus pays the penalty of sin on behalf of sinners, so God can show compassion and mercy without clearing the guilty. At the cross, Jesus displays both the mercy and justice of God. The glory that Moses heard at Mount Sinai is the glory that we see in Jesus at Mount Calvary. Therefore, Jesus views his unattractive death as his glory because through it he exhibits the majestic glory of God.

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This excerpt by Jared Garcia about the glory of the cross is adapted from an article in the March/April issue of Bible Study Magazine.

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