The following link is to the most recent Tracy’s Camp newsletter, following the summer of 2012:
I find it incredibly concerning that today, in some of our largest churches in America, sin is absent from their preaching. We, as a society, flock more to preachers who seek to encourage us, to make our lives better, who tell us Jesus is the way to happiness. It is tragic that in many churches, the Jesus who is commonly preached does not seem to care that we are sinful. Jesus only wants to give us good things, like life and peace and success. We do not need to turn from our sin; we only needs to turn to Christ. It would appear that there is no repentance required.
Puritan pastor and theologian William Perkins addressed this very issue in our churches today. According to Perkins, the preaching of sin and the law must precede the preaching of the gospel message, in order that the gospel might achieve its end. He writes:
“We must never try to taste the sweetness of the gospel when we have not first swallowed the bitter pill of the law. If, therefore, we want to be declared righteous by the gospel, we must be content first to be pronounced miserable by the law. If we want to be declared righteous in Christ, then we must be content first to be pronounced sinful and unrighteous in ourselves.”
Is Perkins correct in this assertion? Must we have an understanding of the law and sin before we can receive the gospel? Is it acceptable to preach the Gospel without preaching the law and sin?
Galatians 3:15-29 tells us that the law was given because of transgression (v. 19); it was given as a guardian/schoolmaster (v. 25), in order to teach men show men their sins. Its purpose is to show that it is impossible to attain righteousness by works, and that salvation is possible only through faith in Jesus Christ (v. 22). The law of God condemns all men, so that they may seek the righteousness of another. After men see by the law that they are hopeless, the Gospel drives them to Christ, in whose righteousness alone salvation may be found.
If this is the case, if the law was truly given to teach us of our sin, then Perkins is correct. The law cannot simply be done away with, as is common in much of today’s preaching. On the contrary, the law must be used in order to show men their sin and tear down in them any hope of attaining righteousness by their own works. As long as men hope in themselves for righteousness, they will have no reason to trust in Christ and his righteousness.
Again, Perkins writes:
“God has always dealt thus with his saints. He gives none of the graces of salvation until he has, by some means or other, brought us to a true humiliation in ourselves and to sorrow for our sins. Humiliation is the preparation for grace. When by the sight and sense of our sins and our misery because of sin, God has driven us out of ourselves so that we find nothing in ourselves but reasons for fear and horror; then he pours the oil of grace and of sweet comfort into our hearts, and refreshes our weary souls with the dew of his mercy.”
Here are a few questions for consideration:
- What do we make of churches that do not preach the law and sin? Are they healthy churches? Should we be content with their preaching?
- How do you view the law? Do you consider it irrelevant to your life? Does it lead you increasing thankfulness for Christ and his righteousness?
- How do you evangelize? Do you shy away from mentioning sin because it is unpalatable? Do you use the law to sufficiently show men their sin?
The next eleven questions of the Heidelberg Catechism (questions 3-13) deal with the topic “Of the Misery of Man.” In this section, we will cover topics like the Law of God, man’s trespassing of the Law, and God’s judgment on man.
Zacharias Ursinus, co-author of this catechism, explains that the term misery “embraces the evil of both guilt and punishment. The evil of guilt is all sin; the evil of punishment is all affliction, torment, and destruction of our rational nature, as well as subsequent sins…” In the next several posts, we will consider how we understand the Law, how it applies to us today, and how it relates to the misery of man. The following question will help us understand one of the chief uses of the Law:
Question 3: How do you come to know our misery?
Answer: The law of God tells me.
This is one of the chief purposes of the Law: to show us our guilt and our punishment. In Galatians 3, the apostle Paul explains that the Law was never meant to bring salvation (v. 21). On the contrary, the Law serves as our “guardian” (ESV) or “tutor” (NASB), to teach us that salvation is not attainable by works. It is meant to condemn all men, so that they are driven to Christ alone for salvation (v. 24). Thus, it is through the Law of God that man learns of his misery.
(1) The Law teaches us of our guilt. Through the Law comes the knowledge of sin (Rom 3:20). It exposes the sin in our lives as what it is: sin. This is the purpose of Paul’s discourse in Romans 7. In this chapter, he gives the following example: “For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died” (Rom 7:7-8). Paul uses the example of covetousness to show us how the knowledge of sin comes through the Law. He calls himself “alive” before he learned what it was to covet, and once he learned of coveting from the Law, he says he “died.”
Now, let us note first what this passage does not mean. (a) It does not mean that Paul was spiritually alive before he learned the Law. There are those who have used this very passage to promote the semi-Pelagian heresy. They hope to persuade us that we are not counted guilty because of Adam’s sin. Some even go so far as to assert that we do not become guilty even when first sin ourselves. Instead, we become guilty when we learn what sin is, when we understand that the Law condemns our actions. I tell you, such a doctrine can do great harm to the church and the Gospel message. One does not need to know the Law of God to be counted guilty before God on account of their sin.
(b) Let us also note that Paul is not saying he never once coveted before he learned the Law. For surely we all have coveted before learning what coveting was, much less that it was sinful to covet. Furthermore, we see that through the Law, sin produced in Paul “all kinds of covetousness.” This does not imply that Paul never coveted before; all he is saying is that his coveting increased due to his sinful flesh.
Therefore, when Paul is says he was “alive,” it should be taken in a figurative sense. For, if we understand that Paul was indeed spiritually dead before he learned the Law (see Eph 2:1-7), and that he had previously coveted, then it must be that his having been “alive” is meant to be taken figuratively. That is, Paul, before he learned the Law, was “alive” in that he considered himself to be a good, righteous person. Before learning what coveting was, his covetous actions were justified in his mind, such that he may have thought himself to be spiritually alive. He could covet all day long, and still sleep soundly because he didn’t know it to be sin.
Then, when Paul learned the Law, that it said, “You shall not covet” and more, his perfect self-image was torn to pieces as he discovered himself to be what he truly was: a Law-breaker. This is what he means when he says, “I died.” Moreover, it shows that sin seized the opportunity through him to sin all the more, for he now knew sin to be sin. Thus, just as Paul, we learn of our guilt through the Law.
(2) The Law teaches us of our punishment. With the knowledge of guilt comes a knowledge of punishment. If we are indeed Law-breakers, and if the God who made the Law is righteous, then punishment must follow. The Law of God condemns all men, for the righteous God has given a righteous law with a righteous standard: perfection. So it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them” (Gal 3:10). Thus, all Law-breakers await their just judgment, that is, eternal torment poured out by the wrath of the eternal God, whom they have offended. The Law teaches us of our punishment, and therefore of our misery.
Now, to those Christians today who would prefer to do away with the Law entirely, and to those who believe that the Law is for the Jews and has no use for those who are Gentiles, I raise the following questions: Is not the law good (Rom 7:12)? Was it not designed by a God who is righteous, who fits all things into his good purpose, including the law? If this is the case, then we would be fools to simply cast the law of God aside. Instead, we must understand this purpose of the law: that it shows all men their misery and their need for a Savior. That being said, consider the following applications:
- Use #1: When we examine ourselves according to the Law, we see so clearly our sin and unrighteousness; we also see Christ’s righteousness, and that only those who are found in him can be righteous. Therefore, our knowing the Law can actually keep us from legalism, for it causes us to look to Christ alone for righteousness.
- Use #2: In our evangelism, we must preach the Law of God, for Law exposes man’s misery. When dealing with men, we like to avoid any conversation of sin and punishment, for such things make people uncomfortable or offended. However, the misery of man is the plow that prepares ground in the heart of man to receive the Gospel message. This preparation of the heart is done in two ways: (1) by the preaching of the Law, sin, guilt, and judgment; and (2) by the Holy Spirit applying this to the heart, making the sinner aware of his misery. Man will not seek out a Savior as long as he sees himself as “alive.”
It might be observed that any preacher or evangelist wishes to give his listeners true godly comfort. While their methods and opinions may differ in respect to how they seek to lead someone to this comfort, their aim is nevertheless the same. For example, some preachers lay heavily upon their listeners the Law of God, the greatness of their sin, and the judgment God must pour out upon all iniquity. Other preachers have realized that men do not like to hear about sin, but they seemed more inclined to receive a message that primarily focuses on the benefits that Christ will give them if they believe. The former type of preachers lay the proper groundwork for faith and repentance; the latter do damage to the Gospel in almost ignoring man’s sinfulness altogether.
Nevertheless, we must take note that in both cases, these preachers seek to bring comfort to their hearers by preaching the Gospel, in hopes that they will believe in Christ. For both understand that the only true comfort in life lies in their belonging to Jesus Christ, in knowing that their sins have been covered by Christ’s atoning blood. Moreover, this is their only comfort. None other will do.
This topic of comfort is the theme of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563). This catechism, written by Zacharias Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus, seeks to aid Christians in finding true comfort, as it is found in Christ and him alone. My aim in the following posts is to investigate this catechism and study the one and only source of true comfort.
Question 1: What is thy only comfort in life and death?
Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ, who, with his precious blood, hath fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that, without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation; and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready henceforth to live unto him.
This first answer is essentially the sum of the catechism. In its most fundamental sense, this answer is saying that our only comfort in life and death is through Christ and Christ alone. As the content of this answer will be unfolded throughout the catechism, I won’t deal with it all right now. However, I to want to look at its first part, that we may come to greater appreciate the comfort that comes in Christ.
The first part, “That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ” is proven by Romans 14:7-8:
For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.
Surely Jesus Christ is the sole source of all comfort in life and death. For if we are in Christ, then in life, we know that God’s judgment on our sin has been satisfied by Christ, and we may live a life of worship and service unto God. If we are in Christ, then in death, we are not sentenced to eternal destruction, but we are to be with Christ forever and ever, which is far greater than the comfort in life!
This is what the apostle Paul meant when he said, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). This is quite an amazing statement, that someone with a many trials and tribulations as Paul can find comfort in both life and death through Christ. “If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (1:22-23). In Christ, we enjoy great comfort in life, and even greater comfort in death.
The second question provides the structure of the catechism:
Question 2: How many things are necessary for thee to know, that thou, enjoying this comfort, mayest live and die happy?
Answer: Three; the first, how great my sins and miseries are; the second, how I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries; the third, how I shall express my gratitude to God for such deliverance.
Let me briefly express my concerns about our evangelism. As mentioned before, I truly believe that most of us have the best intentions in mind when we share the Gospel. We honestly desire that others will come to know the comfort that is found in Christ and him alone. However, I believe we err in this way: in our desire to lead men to comfort, we neglect to show him his misery. We do not tell him how great his sins are, how much he has offended God, or the just punishment he will receive without Christ.
So, one of my plans, as I introduce this catechism, is to examine the emphasis these authors put on the misery of man, and I hope to show the necessity of understanding and proclaiming man’s misery, in order that men, finding no comfort or hope in himself, may run to Christ and Him alone.
A couple of resources:
Zacharias Ursinus Commentary: http://ia600202.us.archive.org/11/items/commentaryofzach00ursiuoft/commentaryofzach00ursiuoft.pdf
 Proofs: Rom 14:7-8; 1 Cor 6:19; 1 Cor 3:23; Titus 2:14; 1 Pet 1:18-19; 1 John 1:7; 1 John 2:2,12; Heb 2:14; 1 John 3:8; John 8:34-36; John 6:39; John 10:28; 2 Thess 3:3; 1 Pet 1:5; Matt 10:29-31; Luke 21:18; Rom 8:28; 2 Cor 1:20-22; 2 Cor 5:5; Eph 1:13-14; Rom 8:16; Rom 8:14; 1 John 3:3.
Proofs: Matt 11:28-30; Luke 24:46-48; 1 Cor 6:11; Titus 3:3-7; John 9:41; John 15:22; John 17:3; Acts 4:12; Acts 10:43; Eph 5:8-11; 1 Pet 2:9-10; Rom 6:1-2,12-13.
We live in age of presumption. The message of the Cross is handled with little care. Many Gospel preachers presume that if they lead a man in the Sinner’s Prayer, then he will be saved for all eternity; consequently, many who pray said prayer presume that they are saved at that moment, and thus for all eternity. We presume that this prayer is sufficient to save, such that we go so far as to tell people that they are saved, and now they cannot be un-saved. We presume, and therefore we are all comfortable. We presume that the evidence of salvation can be found in a single moment in time, and therefore we are not concerned for our souls. It is because of this presumption that I have written the following article:
The account of the Exodus Generation, the generation of Israelites that God brought out of Egypt, carries with it a great warning to all professing Christians. This is the generation that had seen the ten plagues God poured out upon Egypt, were set free from their slavery in Egypt, passed through the Red Sea on dry ground, were led by God Himself in a pillar of cloud and of fire, were fed by bread from heaven and living water from the rock, were given God’s law, and were led all the way to the borders of the Promised Land. However, despite all they saw and experienced, despite all that God provided for them, this generation did not enter God’s promised rest; at the very edge of the Promised Land, they turned from God and they all died in the wilderness.
At first glance, what happened to the Exodus Generation should at least be enough to make us nervous. I mean, considering all that God had done for them, it surely appears that these Israelites are God’s people, and that they ought to believe in God. Is it possible, then, for one who truly believes in God to turn away from Him and die in their sins?
My answer is no. In the case of the Exodus Generation, we do not see that there was one time where they truly had faith, but then they turn and lose their salvation. On the contrary, we see time and time again during the Exodus that this generation longed to return to Egypt. Throughout their entire journey, regardless of the bread from heaven and the living water that God provided for them, the Exodus Generation craved the meat pots of Egypt. (Exo 16:3; 17:3; Num 11:5,18,20; 14:2-3). At Mt. Sinai, while God was giving Moses the Law, this generation made an idol and worshipped it, just as they worshipped idols in Egypt (Exo 32:1-6; Eze 20:8). Their final act of apostasy was made when, upon reaching the Promised Land, they decided not to enter, saying, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt” (Num 14:4).
I am proposing that this decision to return to Egypt was actually what was in their hearts all along. It was not because there were giants in the land of Canaan that the Exodus Generation turned away, but because their hearts were still in Egypt. They did not desire God, but they longed for the pleasures and idols of Egypt. They never believed in God, and because of their hard hearts, they all died in the wilderness. Therefore, we cannot conclude that the Exodus Generation somehow lost their salvation; on the contrary, salvation was never theirs to begin with. The Bible makes it very clear that the Exodus Generation died because of unbelief.
However, there is a serious lesson that we must learn from this generation. The author of Hebrews writes:
7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
on the day of testing in the wilderness,
9 where your fathers put me to the test
and saw my works for forty years.
10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
they have not known my ways.’
11 As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest.’”
12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses?17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
This passage contains some very weighty warnings. I hope, upon considering the Exodus Generation, we can understand this passage and the warnings contained therein.
(1) Verses 7-11, taken from Psalm 95, are a warning to professing Christians: Today, if you hear God’s voice, do not harden your hearts as in the Rebellion (that is, Num 11-14, when Israel decided to rebel against God and Moses, appoint a leader, and return to Egypt). Because of this, they spent 40 years in the wilderness, wherein God swore that they shall not enter his rest (that is, the Promised Land). So, the Exodus Generation stands as an example of those who, although they saw God’s mighty works, more than any other generation prior to Christ’s coming, hardened their hearts and died in the wilderness. Warning #1: Do not harden your hearts.
(2) Verse 12: Upon considering this generation, take care, lest there be in any of you an unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. This is a call for us to examine ourselves to see whether or not we truly believe, whether or not our hearts have been made new (2 Cor 13:5). For if our hearts have not been made new, then regardless of what company we may keep, which church we may attend, how we may appear to the world, what we may think of ourselves, or ever what mighty works of God we may have witnessed as the Exodus Generation did, if our hearts are evil and unbelieving, we will not enter God’s rest (i.e. heaven). Warning #2: Take care, lest you possess an unbelieving heart.
(3) Verses 13-14: There is a call not only to examine yourselves, but to encourage one another every day that none of us may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Out of godly love, we should care enough about our brothers to look out for them, reminding them, “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor 10:12). If the Exodus Generation can have the appearance of being God’s people, and instead be evil and unbelieving, is it not also possible that many professing Christians can also possess unbelieving hearts? Is it not possible that sin can so deceive us as to make us think we are saved, when we actually don’t believe in Christ at all? Warning #3: Exhort one another every day, that none of us may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
These are very weighty, biblical exhortations. I pray that all who read this will consider the Exodus Generation and how they failed to enter God’s rest because of unbelief, and be moved to take watch over their own soul. May our assurance of salvation not rest on a decision we made years ago, but on whether or not we believe today. With this generation as our example, let us all strive to enter God’s rest, persevering until the end through faith in Jesus Christ.
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Let us consider the great depths to which the Son of God descended. Jesus Christ, the King of Glory, lowered Himself so that we might be raised from the depths of sin and death.
Who was it who humbled Himself? The Scripture above says that Jesus was in the form of God. This word “form” refers not just to the physical appearance, but essentially to the inward nature and character. To say that Jesus was in the form of God is nothing less than saying that He is God. This testimony of Christ is confirmed throughout the New Testament. He is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), the exact imprint of his nature (Hebrews 1:3). Such is the character of God, holy in every attribute, that it is impossible for any man to be the exact imprint of his nature and not be God. No one can exhibit all of His divine attributes without being God Himself. Thus, Jesus, who was in the form of God, is God. He is the King of Glory, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, the object of worship of all creation.
Yet Jesus Christ, the Son of God, made Himself nothing. He became a man. It is impossible to fathom what it means for the Creator of the universe to become a creature. It has been said that had Jesus chosen to become an angel, it still would have been a leap of infinite humility, for the Creator would become a creature. But what Christ became was lower than angels (Hebrews 2:7); He became a man. However, He did not cease to be God, but He added humanity to His deity. His humiliation was not that His deity was stripped from Him; His humiliation was that humanity was given to Him. He was made in the likeness of sinful flesh (Romans 8:3). This is not to say that Christ Himself was sinful, but that He was born in man’s flesh as it has been corrupted by sin. Jesus, like all men, was subject to temptation, pain, and illness. How great is His humiliation that He became man.
Jesus not only lowered Himself in becoming a man, but He came taking the form of a servant. Formerly, Jesus had sat upon the throne in heaven, the object of worship of all creation (Isaiah 6:1-7; John 12:41). The splendor of His holiness caused the holy angels to cry out in worship and the sinful prophet to cry out for death. Yet, when Jesus became a man, He also became a servant. He came to earth as the promised Messiah, the Christ, but He was not treated as such. He very well could have come as the son of a king, and grown up as royalty, but instead Jesus was born in a manger, in a stable with animals. As He lived on earth, those around Him did not see the King of Glory; they saw a man like themselves. Instead of worshipping, they ignored Him, or even reviled Him. Christ came to the world not to be served, but to be a servant (Mark 10:45). While He served men often, He was first and foremost the servant of His Father. “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34). He came to serve His Father, to do His will. We see the culmination of Christ’s servitude in Gethsemane; when He anticipates the Cross, He prays, “not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). At the Cross, we see the great end of Christ’s descent.
He died. Have you ever stopped to think about this sentence? Jesus DIED. The King of Glory, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, the Beginning and the End, the firstborn of all Creation, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace; HE DIED. The death of Christ completely overshadows all of these previous acts of humility. The Son of God, who has always existed in glorious splendor, died. It could only make sense that at the moment Jesus Christ died upon the Cross, all of creation suddenly stopped and marveled. The King of Glory died. The Creator of all things died. Almighty God DIED. Let us marvel at this and worship.
He died because of the sins of man. This is the reason the Son of God descended and hung upon a cross. He died because apart from His own death, all men would suffer the wrath of God for their sin against Him. It was for our sake. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). He bore the penalty for sin, so that we would be free from it. The King of Glory gave His own life that we might have life. Had Jesus not died upon the Cross, all men would be without hope, facing imminent destruction at the hand of Almighty God.
How low did Jesus descend? What was the extent of the punishment He took for men? In Deuteronomy 28, the people of Israel proclaim all the blessings that are to come upon the one who obeys God, and all of the curses that are to come upon the one who is disobedient. Consider the following Scriptures:
15“But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. 16Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field… 19Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out. 20“The Lord will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me. 21The Lord will make the pestilence stick to you until he has consumed you off the land that you are entering to take possession of it… 45 “All these curses shall come upon you and pursue you and overtake you till you are destroyed, because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that he commanded you.
(Deuteronomy 28:15-16, 19-21, 45)
13Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”
Such is the Great Descent of Christ. Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Man, suffered the wrath of Almighty God for the sins of the world. He was crushed at the hand of His own Father (Isaiah 53:10). He descended from His throne in glory to the Cross at Calvary, and all for our sake. Charles Spurgeon so rightly describes that “as you cannot reach the height from which [Jesus] came, you cannot fathom the depths to which He descended.”
9For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
(2 Corinthians 8:9)
Have you ever considered what Jesus Christ gave up when He came to earth as a man? Have you ever wondered what Christ gave up to come to earth? Have you ever contemplated the riches He laid aside for our sake? Have you ever tried to grasp the vastness of His glory in heaven, the greatness of His majesty, and what it was like for him to lay all of that aside and become a man?
In Isaiah 6, the prophet gives a fairly vivid description of the glory of the Son of God before He came to earth:
1 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. 2 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. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
In his account of the Gospel, the apostle John affirms that it was Jesus whom Isaiah saw in this passage (see John 12:36-41). John writes that Isaiah saw the glory of Jesus Christ (v. 41). Isaiah saw the Son of God, in all his glory, centuries before He came to earth as a man.
Isaiah saw the Lord sitting upon a throne. He saw the King, the one who has heaven and His throne and earth as His footstool (Acts 7:49). He is the sovereign King, with absolute power and authority. The mighty Nebuchadnezzar affirmed this: “for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:34-35). It is written of the Son, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:7). Isaiah saw the maker of heaven and earth, sitting upon His throne, ruling over all of the creation that He has made.
Isaiah describes the throne of God as being high and exalted. This is no ordinary throne, sharing no equality with any kings or rulers. It is set apart; it is holy. The throne of the Son is high and exalted, higher than every king, for it belongs to the King of Kings (Revelation 19:16). Some great kings of men have once been considered to be “king of kings” (Ezra 7:12; Ezekiel 26:7), but the throne of the Son is higher still, for He rules over them (Revelation 17:14). Such is the glory of the King that the train of the robe fills the entire temple. It is described as covering everywhere, leaving no place bare. Just as His robe fills the entire temple, so does the rule of His sovereign hand stretch out and cover all the heavens and the earth; there is no place that is not governed by Christ (Psalm 24:1-2).
Surrounding the throne of the Son were seraphim. While not much is known about these creatures, for this is the only place in all of Scripture that mentions them, we are able to deduce something very important about these creatures. It is supposed that these seraphim are perhaps the holiest of all creatures because of their nearness to the throne of God. Not just anyone can dwell in the presence of the King. Because of a single sin, Adam and Eve were cast out of the presence of the Lord forever. The case was the same for Lucifer, and he much more grander and magnificent than they. No one can come to the throne of the Most High God unless they themselves are holy.
These seraphim, these holy creatures, covered their faces and their feet. Why? Did they hide themselves in shame? Of course not, for being holy, they had not committed any sin, nor was there a single blemish upon them. They were holy, perfect; there was nothing in themselves that needed to be hid. They covered themselves not because of themselves, but because of Him who sits upon the throne. They called out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” They proclaimed the utmost holiness of the One who sits upon the throne. They covered themselves so that their glory may not be seen, so that the surpassing glory of Christ would be the only object of honor and worship.
This is the glory of the Son. Long before He ever came to earth as a man, Jesus Christ sat upon the throne in heaven, ruling over absolutely everything. He was the object of constant worship and praise by perhaps the holiest of creatures. All glory and honor belonged to Him and Him alone. The words of ten thousand men could not begin to describe the infinite riches that belong to Christ Jesus. All the glory and pleasures He enjoyed before the foundations of the earth are too great to measure, to deep to fill the oceans, too high for the heaven to contain.
And perhaps the most astounding reality is this: He gave them all up, even for a time! The Son of God in all His glory became a man. While man is made in the image of god, creatures beloved by God, these creatures bore a fallen nature because they had all turned from God. And even if they did not carry with them this wicked reputation and disposition, for the Creator of all things to condescend and become a creature, one with infinitely less glory than Himself, is awe-inspiring.
The Son of God, the King of Glory, the firstborn of all creation, for whom, by whom, and through whom all things are made, who holds everything together by the word of His power, who was in the beginning, the Chief End of all things, the Divine Purpose of all things; He gave up His glory to come to the corrupted earth as a man. There is perhaps only one other event in all of history that is more unfathomable and astounding than this:
9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
(2 Corinthians 8:9)