The glory of the triune God lies beyond our comprehension. We have nothing to which to compare it. The most awe-inspiring moment that any human has experienced in this life pales into nothingness compared to God’s glory.
For eternity the Godhead was glorified among each other and, after the creation of angels, by those celestial beings. When God the Son came to Earth, however, something new came into play. The second Person of the Trinity became the God-man.
As the God-man, the Christ did not cease being God, but he did add humanity to his being. This is, obviously, something new, something different. The one born in Bethlehem, while remaining fully God, is also fully human.
This, of course, was according to the eternal plan of God. God would show his great mercy and grace in redeeming, out of fallen humanity, a number of persons who would repent of their sin and believe on the crucified and resurrected Son.
God could not suffer and die upon the cross, but man could. Puritan John Owen wrote: “He suffered not as God, but he suffered who was God.” The God-man suffered upon the cross shame among men (being crucified as a criminal) and the condemnation of divine justice (as the one who suffered for sins not his own).
As we know, that’s not the end of the story. On the third day, Christ was resurrected. The apostle Paul writes that Christ “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4).
After forty days of being among followers and teaching his apostles, Christ ascended into heaven. Luke 24:50-51 records the event, “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.” With the ascension, Christ returned to heaven, though not as he had descended. He ascended as the God-man.
While teaching on the ascension of Christ the past Sunday evening, I made a statement that was rightly questioned. I said that “Christ received glory and honor as the God-man that had not been his before the incarnation.” I was asked about the word “not,” the exclusion of which would have made the sentence more accurate but not engaging the point I was trying to make. I was thinking about the work that Christ had done in dying upon the cross as a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice on our behalf, but the word “before” in my printed statement confused everything. After all, God the Son was not the God-man before the incarnation. A better statement would have been this: “The ascended Christ received glory and honor as the God-man that had not been his during his incarnation,” the point that Wayne Grudem makes in his Systematic Theology (p. 618): “Christ Received Glory and Honor That Had Not Been His Before As the God-Man.” Still, I was thinking about the praise the ascended Christ would receive for his finished work of salvation.
The ascended Christ was not endowed with more glory and honor than had been his before his incarnation as the second Person of the Trinity. His glory and honor had been perfect, and perfection cannot be increased or enhanced. Indeed, Jesus prayed in John 17:5, “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”
But the Son has now ascended to heaven as the God-man. His time on Earth was not one of glory and honor. Paul puts it this way, “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8)
Ascending into heaven, however, the God-man now has a glory and honor that had not been his during his days on earth. God does not die. He cannot die, but man can, and the God-man did, and he is glorified for his glorious sacrifice. Throughout eternity, the redeemed will be objects of the grace and mercy of God: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4–7). And John records in Revelation 5:11-12: “Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’” The ascended Christ will be glorified forever for his sacrifice.