Getting the Beatific Vision out of the Cupboard (John 17:24–27)

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

—John 17:24

The desire of the Son, lifted up to the Father, is that those who the Father has given to the Son, be with the Son, to see His glory. This beholding is referred to as the beatific vision.  The beatific vision is perhaps the most absurd doctrine for the church to have put up in the cupboard and allow to collect dust. Thankfully it never expires. Though it is sad, from one perspective, I can understand why difficult truths like perichoresis aren’t well known. I easily grasp why most saints don’t know of or know the difference between supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism. But why would we ever put the doctrine of the beatific vision in long term storage?

“Beatific” shares the same root as the word “beatitude” meaning blessed or happy. The beatific vision is the blessed vision, the happy sight of our God. This vision is the blessed hope and holy longing of the saints. Titus 2:13 speaks of our “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” The blessed hope is not waiting for the appearing of our Lord as the means to some other end. His appearing is itself our blessed hope. I’m afraid that the beatific vision isn’t as well known, because it isn’t the ultimate hope of much of the “professing” church.

But known or unknown by this name, the beatific vision remains the greatest longing of the saints. This is the prayer of Moses answered, a prayer we find resonating in our own souls: “Please show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18). This longing is our song. “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4).

There is an intimacy to this beholding. It is for those given to Him, His bride. The desire of Christ is that His people be with Him to see Him. It is blessed, we see throughout the Upper Room Discourse (chapters 13–16), to receive the Spirit and to receive the Word and to receive the eyes of faith to behold Christ now, but there is greater blessedness yet. It is a blessing to receive a letter from your beloved. It is an altogether higher one to be with them and to see them. Such is the desire of Christ.

The Christ who has again and again told the disciples that He is leaving them and going to His Father, now tells His Father of His desire for their people to be with Him to see Him. In John 16:16 Jesus told them, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” But here, in v. 24, Jesus is promising something greater than even the disciples beheld when they looked on the resurrected Christ. This is a beholding of Christ with Christ where He is. Earlier Jesus spoke of the future as though it already were, saying, “I am no longer in the world” (v. 11). In John 14:3 Jesus told the disciples, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

And this is not just a sight of Christ’s glory in a glorious place with glorified eyes. It is a greater sight of Christ’s glory. What is this glory of the Son that we are to behold? It is a given glory. I don’t believe this is simply to be understood as the eternal glory that the Son has forever had from the Father by His eternal generation. This given glory is the glory that comes in answer to the petition Jesus opened this prayer with. “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (v. 1). This is a glory bestowed on the incarnate Son, and yet, I believe we can say that the glory that is bestowed on the incarnate Son is something of a manifestation of the Son’s eternal, divine, and invisible glory. It is the Son’s glory (“my glory”); a glory He possesses that is seen. And it is glory given to the Son because the Father has loved Him before the foundation of the world.

In His humiliation, Jesus was the revelation of the glory of the Triune God. When John said, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), John was not just referring to the sight of Christ after His resurrection. As you read this gospel, you see the incarnate Son in His humiliation reveal the glory of God. So if Jesus, in His humiliation, revealed the glory of the Triune God, how much more in His exaltation? And this glory is given to the Son because of His humiliation. Philippians 2:9–10 draws this conclusion from the humiliation of Christ. “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

That this sight of the glorified Christ goes beyond that which even the disciples were privy to after the resurrection can be seen in a text like 1 John 3:2. “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” This is a seeing, that when you see it, you are changed. It is a beholing of being that changes our being. We shall see Him as He is. Seeing Him as He is, we will not longer be the same. 2 Corinthians 3:18 speaks our now beholding with unveiled face the glory of the Lord and thereby transformed into the same image from degree of glory to another. The beholding we are considering here, is a sight without veil such that when we see it, we are perfectly glorified. It is a sight only the perfectly glorified are fit to see. It is a sight of the very glory of God in Christ.

The glory that is bestowed on the risen and ascended Christ to be seen by all on His appearing is His eternal glory manifest. It is the glory of the triune God mediated to us through the incarnate Son. In 1 John 3:2, the antecedent for the “he” who appears is God the Father. But throughout the New Testament, it is the Son whose appearing we await as the blessed hope. How do we solve this riddle? Jesus already has in the upper room. On that day, Jesus will most profoundly say to the redeemed, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9).

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