After Judas has left to betray Him, John tells us that Jesus begins to speak to His disciples of His coming death (13:31ff). It’s a lengthy, intimate conversation that stretches across three chapters. But maybe the most remarkable thing is how it begins. Jesus starts by telling them that His death is an occasion of glory. He uses the word five times in v. 31-32, so there’s nothing subtle or nuanced about it. I’m convinced it is mentioned at the beginning of His words about His departure because this is the one of the principal ways we are to think about the death of Jesus.
We don’t usually associate death with glory. In fact, it tends to be the opposite—we associate it with weakness, diminishment, and inability. Moreover, a death at the hands of Rome (by crucifixion), was unusually cruel and inglorious. It was prolonged (usually two to three days), involved enormous suffering, and was done in public—in full view of family and friends. It was the punishment meted out to people who (were perceived as being) a threat to the state. It was Rome’s not-so-subtle way of saying, Mess with us and this is what happens to you!
Jesus’ words here aren’t meant to deny any of these things as much as they are to affirm that in the midst of them we need to see the transcendent glory of God. Much like the transfiguration where the glory of God eclipsed Jesus’ humanity, we are to see the glory that radiates from the cross. For the eleven disciples He is speaking to this would be a challenge. With the death of Christ their world would be turned upside down. In the confusion and chaos that would follow, glory would be that farthest thing from their minds. It’s not so difficult for us because we’ve grown up with the glory of the cross.
What is difficult for us is seeing glory in our own suffering or difficult circumstances, or that of our friends and loved ones. Like the disciples, I suppose that we’re so close to it that it’s hard to have this perspective. Add to that the fact that we tend to think of glory as something that lies in the future (i.e., after this life), and it can shrink to something that is virtually non-existent. I think that’s sad, unfortunate, and out of step with what we’re told in Scripture. For while it’s obviously true that we have a glorious future, that doesn’t mean there isn’t glory in our present.
When Paul is imprisoned and he’s unsure as to whether it will lead to his death or his release, he says that either way he wants Christ to be “exalted” in his body (Philippians 1:20). It sounds to me like Paul is saying that it’s possible for Christ to be glorified in either set of circumstances. From this we learn that glory isn’t primarily about circumstances as much as it is about our response to them! This runs us right into Jesus’ statement about living in such a way that our light shines and God is glorified (Matthew 5:16). What circumstances are currently rubbing you the wrong way? If the cross teaches us anything, it is that God is glorified as we trustingly live for Him regardless of our situation. May God open our eyes to see the possibility of glory that is all around us!