Responding to a Muslim Review of the Williams-Green Debate
In the previous section, we saw how John 1:14-15 describes Jesus’ glory as the manifestation of Yahweh’s own glory. This is isn’t the only place where John connects Jesus’ glory with the glory of Yahweh, since elsewhere he writes:
“So Jesus said to them, ‘The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.’ When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though HE had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in HIM, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, ‘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.’ Isaiah said these things because he saw HIS (Jesus’) GLORY (eiden ten doxan autou) and spoke of HIM. Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in HIM, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” John 12:35-43
John says that Isaiah prophesied that Jesus would be rejected by many of the Jews since he saw Christ’s glory and spoke about him.
Remarkably, John 12:40 quotes Isaiah 6:10 which v. 41 says is when Isaiah actually saw and spoke of Jesus’ glory.
The reason why this is a remarkable assertion is because according to Isaiah 6, the prophet actually saw Yahweh seated on his throne and it was Yahweh’s glory which he beheld!
“In the year that King Uzziah died I SAW the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of hosts; the whole earth is full of HIS GLORY!’ And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes HAVE SEEN the King, Yahweh of hosts!’… And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for US?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I! Send me.’ And he said, ‘Go, and say to this people: “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.” Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.’ Then I said, ‘How long, O Lord?’ And he said: ‘Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste,’” Isaiah 6:1-5, 8-11
Here is how the Greek Septuagint renders vv. 1-5 which helps bring out the connection to John 12:41 more clearly:
And it came to pass in the year in which king Ozias died, [that] I saw the Lord (eidon ton kyrion) sitting on a high and exalted throne, and the house was full of his glory (tes doxes autou). And seraphs stood round about him: each one had six wings: and with two they covered [their] face, and with two they covered [their] feet, and with two they flew. And one cried to the other, and they said, Holy, holy, holy [is the] Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory (tes doxes autou). And the lintel shook at the voice they uttered, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said, Woe is me, for I am pricked to the heart; for being a man, and having unclean lips, I dwell in the midst of a people having unclean lips; and I have seen (eidon) with mine eyes the King, the Lord of hosts. Isaiah 6:1-5 LXX
Reformed Christian scholar and apologist Dr. James R. White breaks this down for us so as to allow us to see how John clearly identifies Jesus as the God whom Isaiah saw:
“The struggle with the meaning of the words from Isaiah often causes us to fly right past verse 41. Yet what does John mean when he says that Isaiah ‘said these things because he saw His glory and spoke of Him’?
“We have to go back a little to see that John cites two passages from the book of Isaiah. In verse 38 he quotes from Isaiah 53:1, the great ‘Suffering Servant’ passage that so plainly describes the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. John says the unbelief of the Jews, despite their seeing signs, was a fulfillment of the word of Isaiah in Isaiah 53. He then goes beyond this and asserts their inability to believe and quotes from Isaiah 6 and the ‘Temple Vision’ Isaiah received when he was commissioned as a prophet… In this awesome vision, Isaiah sees Yahweh (the LORD) sitting upon His throne, surrounded by angelic worshipers. The glory of Yahweh fills his sight. Isaiah recognizes his sin and is cleansed by the Lord, then commissioned to go and take a message to the people. But the message is not one of salvation, but of judgment…
“Then John says, ‘These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and spoke of Him.’ John has quoted from two passages in Isaiah, Isaiah 53:1 and Isaiah 6:10. Yet the immediate context refers to the words from Isaiah 6, and there are other reasons why we should see the primary reference as the Isaiah 6 passage. John speaks of Isaiah ‘seeing’ ‘glory.’ In Isaiah 6:1 the very same term of ‘seeing’ the LORD, and the very term ‘glory’ appears in verse 3.7 Even if we connect both passages together, the fact remains that the only way to define what ‘glory’ Isaiah saw was to refer to the glory of Isaiah 6:3. And that glory was the glory of Yahweh. There is none other whose glory we can connect with Isaiah’s words.
“Therefore, if we ask Isaiah, ‘Whose glory did you see in your vision of the temple?’ he would reply, ‘Yahweh’s.’ But if we ask the same question of John, ‘Whose glory did Isaiah see?’ he would answer with the same answer–only in its fullness, ‘Jesus’.’ Who, then, was Jesus to John? None other than the eternal God in human flesh, Yahweh.” (White, The Forgotten Trinity: Recovering the Heart of Christian Belief [Bethany Publishers, Minneapolis, MN 1998], 9. Jehovah of Hosts, pp. 136-138; bold emphasis ours)
7. The connection is actually closer than first glance might indicate, for the Greek Septuagint (the LXX) contains both the verb form John uses in verse 1, eidon, and departing from the Hebrew text, it contains at the end of the verse the reading tes doxes autou meaning “the house was full of His glory.” This is the same phraseology used in John 12:41, ten doxan autou, (the accusative for the genitive) meaning “he saw His glory.” The use of the same phraseology makes the connection to the John [sic, Isaiah] 6 passage unbreakable. (Ibid, p. 216; bold emphasis ours)
“… Lest one should find it hard to believe that John would identify the carpenter from Galilee as Yahweh himself, it might be pointed out that he did just that in John 12:39-41 by quoting from Isaiah’s temple vision of Yahweh in Isaiah 6 and then concluding by saying, ‘These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory and he spoke about Him.’ The only ‘Him’ in the context is Jesus; hence, for John, Isaiah, when he saw Yahweh on His throne, was in reality seeing the Lord Jesus. John 1:18 says as much as well.” (Ibid, 6. I Am He, pp. 100-101; bold emphasis ours)
Dr. Robert A. Morey also believes that John 12:40-41 proclaims that Isaiah actually beheld the glory of the pre-incarnate Christ in Isaiah 6:
The passage is quite straight forward:
1. The person in view is Jesus. The passage begins and ends with Him.
2. The fact that Jesus was rejected by the Pharisees is viewed by John as a fulfillment of Isaiah 53:1 and 6:10.
3. Since he had just quoted Isaiah 6:10, John looked at the context and saw that Isaiah had seen “the Lord” (Adonai) in verse 1 whom he later identified as YHWH “Yahweh” in 6:5. Adonai Yahweh appeared to him in human form sitting on a throne in the temple. John explains that this God-man was none other than Jesus in His pre-existent glory.
The grammar of the Greek text is clear:
Tauta eipen ’Esaias hoti eiden ten doxan autou, kai elalesen peri autou.
According to the apostle John, when Isaiah said that he had seen YHWH he was speaking peri autou “about Him,” i.e., Jesus. As Hengstenberg points out “autou refers back to verse 37.”
Of this there can be “no doubt,” according to the famous Greek scholar J.B. Lightfoot in his Commentary On The New Testament From the Talmud and Hebraica…
4. There is no honest way to avoid the grammar of the text. All the pronouns “Him” refers to the proper name “Jesus” from verse 36. Even verse 42 clearly refers to Jesus and continues using the same pronoun “Him.”…
5. John 12:36-42 establishes the link between the theophanies of the Old Testament and the Jesus of the New Testament. Whenever Yahweh in the Old Testament came to earth as a man, this was probably the pre-existent Jesus. (Morey, Trinity: Evidence and Issues [World Bible Publishers, Inc., Iowa Falls, IA 1996], pp. 307-308; bold emphasis ours)
Some of the ancient versions of the New Testament, such as the Syriac, even understood it this way:
Ver. 41. “This did Isaiah say, when he saw his glory and spoke of him.” John justifies in this verse the application which he has just made to Jesus Christ of the vision of Is. vi. The Adonai whom Isaiah beheld at that moment was the divine being who is incarnated in Jesus. Herein also John and Paul meet together; comp. 1 Cor. x. 4, where Paul calls the one who guided Israel from the midst of the cloud Christ. Some interpreters have tried to refer the pronoun autou, of him, not to Christ, but to God. But the last words: and spoke of him, would be useless in this sense and this remark would be aimless in the context. The Alexandrian reading, "because he saw," instead of "when he saw him," is adopted by Tischendorf, Weiss, Keil, etc. But it does not appear to me acceptable. Its only reasonable sense would be: "because he really saw his glory and spoke of Him so long beforehand (a thing which seems impossible)." But this reflection would be very coldly apologetic and quite useless for readers who were accustomed to hear the prophecies quoted. It is much more easy to understand how the conjunction hote, which is quite rarely used, may have been replaced by hoti, which appears in every line, than how the reverse could have taken place. The ancient Latin and Syriac versions are agreed in supporting the received text. The sense of the latter is simple and perfectly suitable. "It was of Christ, who manifested Himself to him as Adonai, that Isaiah spoke when he uttered such words." John proves that he has the right to apply this passage here. (Frederic Louis Godet, Commentary on the Gospel of John with an Historical and Critical Introduction, translated from the third French edition with a preface introductory suggestions, and additional notes by Timothy Dwight President of Yale [Funk and Wagnals Publishers, New York 1886], Volume 2, pp. 235-236; bold emphasis ours)
It is interesting that the Aramaic paraphrases of the Hebrew Bible, known as the Targumim, have Isaiah beholding the Glory of Yahweh’s Shekinah and being commissioned by the Word (Memra) of Yahweh who is said to have spoken directly to the prophet:
“This identification of Christ as the Glory is made explicit in John 12.39-40. There it states that Christ was the figure whom the prophet Isaiah saw in his call vision (Isa 6.1-3)…
“Further evidence that supports this interpretation is found in the use of Glory and Memra in the Targumim. Usage of these terms in theophanies or instances of direct speech protect the truth that 'man shall not see me [God] and live' (Exod 33:20). This usage opens the door to the possibility of interpreting these as divine hypostases: now the seer hears and sees 'the Glory of YHWH' or 'Memra YHWH' and not simply 'YHWH'. For example, the Tg. Neb. Isa. 6:1-8 reads: ‘I saw the Glory of the Lord […] my eyes have seen the Glory of the Shekinah of the eternal king, the Lord of hosts' […] and I heard the voice of the Memra of the Lord.’ Such an exegetical tradition could have contributed to the Christological interpretation of Isaiah 6 found in John 12.41 as well also the Christological use of Glory, Word, and Name in the Prologue and elsewhere in John. (Charles A. Gieschen, Angelomorphic Christology: Antecedents & Early Evidence, pp. 274-275; bold emphasis ours)
This ties in with John describing Jesus as the Word and Glory of the Father:
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the One and Only of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14
In fact, another Targum even takes the very language of Isaiah 6:1 and applies it to the Word of Yahweh:
“But the custom of (other) nations is to carry their gods upon their shoulders, that they may seem to be nigh them; but they cannot hear with their ears, (be they nigh or) be they afar off; but the Word of the Lord sitteth upon His throne high and lifted up, and heareth our prayer what time we pray before Him and make our petitions.” Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, Deuteronomy 4:7
Here it is the Word whose throne is high and lifted up, and who actually answers the prayers of his people!
According to John, Jesus is that Word who became flesh and actually hears the prayers of all who ask him in his name:
“And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” John 14:13-14
This basically means that the Evangelist believed that he and Isaiah both saw Christ’s glory, e.g., the prophet saw Jesus in his pre-incarnate glory whereas John saw the glory of the incarnate Christ.
John even adopted the language of the following text concerning Yahweh to describe the unbelief of the Jews in Jesus despite all the miracles he had performed:
“And the LORD said to Moses, ‘How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?’” Numbers 14:11
Now compare this with what John wrote:
“Though he had done so many signs before them, yet they did not believe in him;” John 12:37
John’s point is crystal clear: Like the Israelites in the past, the Jews of Jesus’ day continued to disbelieve in Yahweh, who was now standing before them in the flesh, in spite of all the miraculous signs they were seeing him perform.
Hence, to John Jesus was/is none other than the Lord Yahweh (yet not the Father or the Holy Spirit) who appeared to Israel during OT times and whose glory they had beheld!