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Whose Glory Did Isaiah See?

The Views of Scholars and Apologists

Sam Shamoun

The following is meant to go with this article.

It probably wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the consensus of NT scholarship agrees that according to John 12:41, the inspired Evangelist believed that Isaiah actually saw the prehuman Christ in Isaiah 6 when the prophet beheld Yahweh’s glory in a vision.

Here are some of the comments which affirm this fact.

The Adam Clarke Commentary

Verse 41. When he saw his glory
Isaiah 6:1, I saw Jehovah, said the prophet, sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphim; and one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is Jehovah, God of hosts; the whole earth shall be full of his glory! It appears evident, from this passage, that the glory which the prophet saw was the glory of Jehovah: John, therefore, saying here that it was the glory of Jesus, shows that he considered Jesus to be Jehovah. See Bishop Pearce. Two MSS. and a few versions have θεου, and τουθεουαυτου, the glory of God, or of his God. (Underline emphasis ours)

Albert Barne’s Notes on the New Testament

Verse 41. When he saw his glory, Isaiah 6:1-10. Isaiah saw the LORD (in Hebrew, JEHOVAH) sitting on a throne and surrounded with the seraphim. This is perhaps the only instance in the Bible in which Jehovah is said to have been seen by man, and for this the Jews affirm that Isaiah was put to death. God had said (Exodus 33:20), "No man shall see me and live;" and as Isaiah affirmed that he had seen Jehovah, the Jews, for that and other reasons, put him to death by sawing him asunder. See Barnes "Isaiah 1:1". In the prophecy Isaiah is said expressly to have seen JEHOVAH (Isaiah 6:1); and in Isaiah 6:5, "Mine eyes have seen the King JEHOVAH of hosts." By his glory is meant the manifestation of him--the shechinah, or visible cloud that was a representation of God, and that rested over the mercy-seat. This was regarded as equivalent to seeing God, and John here expressly applies this to the Lord Jesus Christ; for he is not affirming that the people did not believe in God, but is assigning the reason why they believed not on Jesus Christ as the Messiah. The whole discourse has respect to the Lord Jesus, and the natural construction of the passage requires us to refer it to him. John affirms that it was the glory of the Messiah that Isaiah saw, and yet Isaiah affirms that it was JEHOVAH; and from this the inference is irresistible that John regarded Jesus as the Jehovah whom Isaiah saw. The name Jehovah is never, in the Scriptures, applied to a man, or an angel, or to any creature. It is the peculiar, incommunicable name of God. So great was the reverence of the Jews for that name that they would not even pronounce it. This passage is therefore conclusive proof that Christ is equal with the Father.

Spake of him. Of the Messiah. The connection requires this interpretation. (Bold emphasis ours)

The New John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible

when he saw his glory, and spake of him; when he saw, in a visionary way, the glory of the Messiah in the temple, and the angels covering their faces with their wings at the sight of him; and when he spake of him as the King, the Lord of hosts, whom he had seen, (Isaiah 6:1-10) , from whence it is clear that he had respect to the Jews in the times of the Messiah. The prophet says in (Isaiah 6:1) that he "saw the Lord": the Targumist renders it, "I saw", (yyd arqy ta), "the glory of Jehovah"; and in (Isaiah 6:5) he says, "mine eyes have seen the King", Jehovah, Zebaot, the Lord of hosts; which the Chaldee paraphrase renders, "mine eyes have seen", (rqy ta), "the glory" of the Shekinah, the King of the world, the Lord of hosts. Agreeably to which our Lord says here, that he saw his glory, the glory of his majesty, the glory of his divine nature, the train of his divine perfections, filling the temple of the human nature; and he spoke of him as the true Jehovah, the Lord of hosts; and which therefore is a very clear and strong proof of the proper divinity of Christ. And it may be observed from hence, that such persons who have a true, spiritual, and saving sight of Christ, of the glory of his person, and the fulness of his grace, cannot but be speaking of him to others, either in private, or in public, as Isaiah here did, and as the church in (Song of Solomon 5:10-16); and as the apostles of Christ, (John 1:1,4) (1 John 1:1,2); and indeed, should they hold their peace, the stones would cry out; such must, and will speak of his glory in his temple, (Psalms 29:9) (145:4-7,11,12). (Underline emphasis ours)

Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible

Lastly, The evangelist, having quoted the prophecy, shows (John 12:41) that it was intended to look further than the prophet's own days, and that its principal reference was to the days of the Messiah: These things said Esaias when he saw his glory, and spoke of him. 1. We read in the prophecy that this was said to Esaias, Isaiah 6:8,9. But here we are told that it was said by him to the purpose. For nothing was said by him as a prophet which was not first said to him; nor was any thing said to him which was not afterwards said by him to those to whom he was sent. See Isaiah 21:10. 2. The vision which the prophet there had of the glory of God is here said to be his seeing the glory of Jesus Christ: He saw his glory. Jesus Christ therefore is equal in power and glory with the Father, and his praises are equally celebrated. Christ had a glory before the foundation of the world, and Esaias saw this. 3. It is said that the prophet there spoke of him. It seems to have been spoken of the prophet himself (for to him the commission and instructions were there given), and yet it is here said to be spoken of Christ, for as all the prophets testified of him so they all typified him. This they spoke of him, that as to many his coming would be not only fruitless, but fatal, a savour of death unto death. It might be objected against his doctrine, If it was from heaven, why did not the Jews believe it? But this is an answer to it; it was not for want of evidence, but because their heart was made fat, and their ears were heavy. It was spoken of Christ, that he should be glorified in the ruin of an unbelieving multitude, as well as in the salvation of a distinguished remnant.

Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

41. These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him--a key of immense importance to the opening of Isaiah's vision (Isa 6:1-13), and all similar Old Testament representations. "THE SON is the King Jehovah who rules in the Old Testament and appears to the elect, as in the New Testament THE SPIRIT, the invisible Minister of the Son, is the Director of the Church and the Revealer in the sanctuary of the heart" [OLSHAUSEN]. (Underline emphasis ours)

The Pillar New Testament Commentary

Perhaps the most difficult statement in John 12 occurs in v. 41; Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ (lit. ‘his’, but the most natural antecedent is Jesus; but see below) glory and spoke about him. In the NIV (and most modern versions), this has two effects:

(1) It means that in his vision Isaiah saw (the pre-incarnate) Jesus. But there is a slightly different possibility. Targum Jonathan (an Aramaic paraphrase) to Isaiah 6:1 reads not ‘I saw the LORD’ but ‘I saw the glory of the LORD’, while the Targum to Is. 6:4 reads not ‘the King, the LORD of hosts’ but ‘the glory of the shekinah of the King of the ages, the LORD of hosts’. It may not be necessary to appeal to the Targum; even in the Hebrew text Isaiah 6:3 already speaks of God’s glory. If instead we are to take the pronoun, as in NIV, to refer to Jesus’ glory, then John is unambiguously tying Jesus to Yahweh, the LORD of hosts, the Almighty – Isaiah saw Jesus in some pre-incarnate fashion. It is not the ascription of deity to Jesus that makes this a strange rendering, for such an ascription is commonplace in early Christianity, sometimes allusively and sometimes (especially in this Gospel) most explicitly (cf. 1:1, 18; 17:5; 20:28). What is remarkable, on this rendering of this passage, is the statement that Isaiah saw Jesus’ glory. This may be no more than the conclusion of a chain of Christian reasoning: if the Son, the Word, was with God in the beginning, and was God, and if he was God’s agent of creation, and the perfect revelation of God to humankind, then it stands to reason that in those Old Testament passages where God is said to reveal himself rather spectacularly to someone, it must have been through the agency of his Son, the Word, however imperfectly the point was spelled out at the time. Therefore Isaiah said these words because (a stronger reading than ‘when’, AV) he saw Jesus’ glory.

(2) On the assumption that the pronoun refers to Jesus’ glory, v. 41 also makes Jesus himself the author of the judicial hardening, for the final him of the verse must refer to the same person as the pronoun. On this reading, the straightforward replacement of the LORD in Isaiah 6 with Jesus continues beyond vv. 1,5 down to v. 10, making it Jesus who has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts. (Donald A. Carson, The Gospel According to John [William Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI/ Cambridge, U.K.], pp. 449-450)

Word Biblical Commentary on John

41 The glory of God that Isaiah saw in his vision (Isa 6:1-4) is identified with the glory of the Logos-Son, in accordance with 1:18 and 17:5 (8:56 is a little different; Abraham had a vision of the day of Jesus in the future, i.e., in the time of the coming of the kingdom of God, see Comment ad loc.). This means that the healing mentioned in v. 40c is that which the Christ bestows (cf. 5:17). (George R. Beasley, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville TN, 1999 second edition, Volume 36, p. 217)

Tyndale New Testament Commentaries

41. Referring to the prophecy, the evangelist says, Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus' glory and spoke about him. The allusion is to Isaiah's vision of God in the temple and his commission to be his messenger to Israel (Is. 6:1-13). The evangelist implies that what Isaiah saw in the temple was in fact 'Jesus' glory', i.e. the glory of the pre-existent Christ. There are other NT and early Christian writings which imply the pre-incarnate Christ appeared in OT times. Paul speaks of the rock in the wilderness from which the water gushed as Christ (1 Cor. 10:4). Justin Martyr says, when Moses 'was tending the flocks of his maternal uncle in the land of Arabia, our Christ conversed with him under the appearance of fire from a bush' (I Apology lxii. 3-4; cf. Dialogue with Trypho 128). (Colin G. Kluse, The Gospel According to John: An Introduction and Commentary [Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI 2004], p. 275; underline emphasis ours)

The NIV Life Application Commentary on John

The link with Isaiah is further reinforced in John 12:41, “Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.” This brings us back to Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah 6:1-4, where the prophet saw the Lord “high and exalted” and surrounded by “his glory.” Isaiah had seen the Messiah (cf. John 8:56 and Abraham), and the glory witnessed there glimpsed something of the glory of Jesus will presently reveal in his “hour.” (Gary M. Burge, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI 2000, p. 349)

New Testament Scholar Frederic Louis Godet

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. (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)

Hence, we see from the above reference that even some of the ancient versions of the New Testament, particularly the Syriac, even understood it this way.

New Testament Scholar Raymond E. Brown

If vs. 40 was a citation of Isa vi 10, this next verse recalls Isaiah’s initial vision of the Lord upon a throne in vi 1-5. There are two things to note in John’s reference. First, John seems to presuppose a text where Isaiah sees God’s glory, but in both the MT and LXX of Isaiah it is said that Isaiah saw the Lord Himself. This has led many commentators to suggest that John is following the tradition of the Targum (or Aramaic translation) of Isaiah where in vi 1 Isaiah sees “the glory of the Lord” and vi 5 “the glory of the shekinah of the Lord.” The possibility of John’s use of Targums has already been discussed in relation to i 51 (p. 90) and vii 38 (p. 322), and the Johannine citation of a Targum for the Isaiah text may have been determined by the frequent stress in this Gospel that no one has ever seen God.

Second, John supposes that it was the glory of Jesus that Isaiah saw. This is not unlike the supposition in viii 56 that Abraham saw Jesus’ day (see NOTE there). There are several possible ways to interpret this. If we accept the suggestion of a citation of a Targum, then the statement that Isaiah saw the shekinah of God may be interpreted in light of the theology of i 14 where Jesus is the shekinah of God (p. 33). The belief that Jesus was active in the events of the OT is attested in I Cor x 4, where Jesus is pictured as the rock which gave water to the Israelites in the desert (also Justin Apol. I 63 [PG 6:424], where Jesus appears to Moses in the burning bush). In later patristic interpretation Isaiah was thought to have hailed three divine persons with his “Holy, holy, holy” (Isa vi 3), and Jesus was identified as one of the seraphs who appeared with Yahweh. Another possible interpretation of John xii 41 is that Isaiah looked into the future and saw the life and glory of Jesus. This is certainly the thought found in the vision section of the Ascension of Isaiah (this part of the apocryphon is of 2nd-century Christian derivation). Sir xlviii 24-25 says that through his powerful spirit Isaiah foresaw the future and foretold what should be until the end of time. (The Anchor Bible Series: The Gospel According to John I-XII, A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary by Raymond E. Brown [Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. 1966], Volume 29, 486-487; bold emphasis ours)

Evangelical Scholar F. F. Bruce

“… As in Isa. 6:10 the prophet is commanded to make his hearers’ minds obtuse and to dull their ears and close their eyes, so here, as though the command had been transferred to Jesus for him to fulfil it in his ministry. He is said to have done so. For verse 41 suggests that the one who ‘has blinded their eyes and made their heart obtuse’ is Jesus. It was of him, says John, that Isaiah spoke of on this occasion, ‘because he saw his glory’. The reference is to Isa. 6:1, where the prophet says ‘I saw the Lord’. In the Aramaic Targum to the Prophets (the ‘Targum of Jonathan’) this is paraphrased ‘I saw the glory of the Lord’; and while the Targum as we have it is much later than John’s time, many of the interpretations it preserves were traditional, going back for many generations. ‘The glory’ or ‘the glory of God’ is a targumic circumlocution for the name of God, but John gives the word its full force and says that the Lord whose ‘glory’ Isaiah saw was Jesus: Isaiah, like Abraham before him, rejoiced to see the day of Christ (John 8:56), for, like John and his fellow-disciples in the fulness of time, he too was permitted to behold his glory (cf. John 1:14). (It is of some interest that, when Isa. 6:10 is alluded to in Mark 4:12, the wording of the Targum is reflected there too).” (Bruce, The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition and Notes [William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, MI 1983], p. 272’ bold emphasis ours)

Biblical scholar Brevard S. Childs

“… Then in v. 41 the evangelist offers a commentary explaining Isaiah’s purpose… The sequence of the passage makes it clear that John is speaking of the glory of Jesus.

“Because it was common in Jewish interpretation to understand earthly visions of God as visions of his glory (Targum on Isa. 6:1 and 6:5), at first it might appear that the same exegetical tradition was intended. Yet quite clearly the evangelist is speaking of the vision by the prophet of the preexistent Son. His logos Christology was already introduced in 1:1 with the Word being with God at the beginning, the Word that became flesh (v. 14). In his earthly life this divine logos revealed the glory that had always been his (1:4). Abraham rejoiced to see his day (8:56), and Moses is portrayed as refuting the Jews from their own scriptures (5:45). Following Christ’s resurrection, the disciples remembered a saying of Jesus, and their faith was grounded both in the scriptures and in the words of Christ (2:22).

“John’s exegetical technique revealed in this passage is unique among the other evangelists, and has only a distant parallel in Paul (1 Cor. 10:4). It should not be dismissed as traditional allegory, since this is not a secondary spiritual meaning distinct from its literal sense. Rather, it is an approach that adumbrated the church’s later trinitarian theology when it spoke of an ‘immanent trinity.’ Although it is true some elements parallel to John are found in Philo’s logos doctrine and in various Hellenistic wisdom speculation, once again the content of John’s Christology cannot be adequately interpreted by an appeal to general concepts within the broad spectrum of Hellenistic mystical philosophy.” (Childs, The Struggle to Understand Isaiah as Christian Scripture [Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI 2004], p. 15-16; bold emphasis ours)

Reformed Apologist Dr. James R. White

“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)

Reformed Apologist Dr. Robert A. Morey

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)

NET Bible Text Notes

88tn Grk “his”; the referent (Christ) has been specified in the translation for clarity. The referent supplied here is “Christ” rather than “Jesus” because it involves what Isaiah saw. It is clear that the author presents Isaiah as having seen the preincarnate glory of Christ, which was the very revelation of the Father (see John 1:18; John 14:9).

sn Because he saw Christ’s glory. The glory which Isaiah saw in Isa 6:3 was the glory of Yahweh (typically rendered as “Lord” in the OT). Here John speaks of the prophet seeing the glory of Christ since in the next clause and spoke about him, “him” can hardly refer to Yahweh, but must refer to Christ. On the basis of statements like 1:14 in the prologue, the author probably put no great distinction between the two. Since the author presents Jesus as fully God (cf. John 1:1), it presents no problem to him to take words originally spoken by Isaiah of Yahweh himself and apply them to Jesus.