Does John 12:41 say that Isaiah saw YHWH's glory or Jesus' glory? Which option is more supported by the underlying Greek text and the context of the passage?
"Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him." - John 12:41 (ESV)
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John 12:41 is John's Christological interpretation of Isaiah 6.
These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.
You recall that Isaiah 6 is the prophet's vision of the Lord "sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple." Isaiah saw the Lord, and heard the Seraphim calling out to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!”
The "Lord" in verse 1 is written "Lord", and is the translation of אדני (Adonai). The second LORD, in v.3, is the translation of יהוה (Jehovah). This is important because they are one in the same God. Indeed, the word Adonai was usually spoken by the Jews even when the word Jehovah was written. (It is very fitting that the older English translations use the same word written differently, just as the Jews used different words spoken the same, as referring to the One God.)
At the scene of this glory, you'll recall, Isaiah said,
“Woe is me, for I am undone!
Because 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,
The LORD of hosts.”
Notice that Isaiah says here he has seen the LORD (Jehovah), not the Lord (Adonai), again reinforcing that they are references to the same God. At seeing the LORD, he is acutely aware of his sinfulness. But then one of the Seraphim removes a coal from the altar and touches the Prophet's mouth, and proclaims,
“Behold, this has touched your lips;
Your iniquity is taken away,
And your sin purged.”
This is a most unique event! The prophet's actual sin was atoned for, not with any sacrifice of animals, but with fire taken from the very altar in Heaven. It would seem that this is the altar where Christ ascended
as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. [Hebrews 9:11]
and where He,
through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God… [Hebrews 9:14]
And this is what John says in 12:41, that this glorious Lord who Isaiah saw was none other than the Lord Jesus Christ, making literal, final atonement for Isaiah's sin and iniquity with the offering of Himself. Since Jesus is clearly the subject of John's argument, which begins in vv. 37,38:
But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled…
This "Him" in v.41 must refer to Christ, whose miracles were rejected by the Jews throughout the chapter. And since he says "These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory", referring to v.40, which is a direct quote from Isaiah 6, we have to conclude the Isaiah 6 is the passage John means when he speaks of Isaiah seeing the glory of the Lord, which is, the glory of YHWH.
In short, John is referencing Jesus and YHWH's glory, as one in the same.
The Greek isn't any more precise than the English, unfortunately, as it doesn't literally reference 'Jesus' or 'God' in the same section.
However, I would say the context of the passage gives it to us clearly:
"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:" - John 12:36-38
"Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory 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 12:41-43
The context of the passage is Jesus teaching and performing signs that fulfil Isaiah. The verse in question then says Isaiah "saw his glory and spoke of him", and then says that many "even of the authorities believed in him." The most straightforward reading is that the subject of the whole section is Jesus.
There is only ONE time that Isaiah saw the glory of YHWH in Isaiah 6. John says that Isaiah saw "his" glory, the glory of Jesus.
The verb Isaiah used for "saw" in 6:1 is ("ra'ah"). In the qal, it refers to the act of seeing in the literal sense, to see with the eyes (as opposed to, for example, "machazeh", which is the act or event of an ecstatic "vision"). In referring to this event, John uses the Greek word ("eidon")- also a verb referring to the act of seeing with the eyes in the natural sense.
We know that God the Father is invisible, "whom no man hath seen, nor can see" (1 Timothy 6:16). He is transcendent and lives in unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6:16).
But the Son is "the image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15). Thus the one whom Isaiah "saw" in the literal sense with his eyes is the one whom he explicitly identified as "YHWH" - the same one whose glory he saw according to John (John 12:41). Jesus himself makes this clear at verse 45, "And he who beholds Me beholds the one who sent Me."
The operative word here is "glory", from the Greek, δόξα (doxa), which in many cases would be more helpfully translated "honor", "renown", "reputation", "prestige", etc. BDB gives this as one of the main meanings:
(3) honor as enhancement or recognition of status or performance, fame, recognition, renown, prestige
... eg, Luke 14:10, John 5:41, 44, Rev 4:11, etc.
In the case of John 12:41, we see John using the same word again in V43 twice with the same meaning - see NASB:
for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.
Here, the NASB correctly renders δόξα as "approval". In V41, I would translate the verse as:
These things said Isaiah because he saw the honor/prestige/reputation of Him [= God] and spoke concerning him [= God]
Thus, when Isaiah was shown the "glory" of God in Isa 6, he was overwhelmed with God's holiness and goodness and says (v:
Woe is me, for I am ruined, because I am a man of unclean lips dwelling among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of Hosts.”
Subsequently, Isaiah is commissioned as a prophet. It was only when Isaiah became aware of his extreme human frailties compared the surpassing holiness and perfection of God that he realized his great human need.
Thus it is with all who were to hear the message of the prophet - unless the people recognize their need, they will not turn to the Great Healer to be healed (Isa 6:9, 10, Matt 13:15, Mark 4:12, John 12:40, Acts 28:27.)
Isaiah plainly tells you what he is seeing from the start of Isaiah 6.
Isaiah 6:5 "For my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts."
If Isaiah has seen the Father, he has seen the Son.
John 14:9 "He who has seen Me has seen the Father"
Jesus is suggesting here that He and the Father are One in response to Phillip wanting to see the Father. If you've seen One of Us you've seen the Other.
John 14:10 "Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me?"
This becomes an exercise in faith, whether you believe if who Isaiah witnessed in Isaiah 6 is the Son. Just because it hadn't been written that Jesus was personified yet, that does not mean Isaiah hadn't beheld the glory of Jesus.
The glory of the Father and Jesus are One.
Diagram the sentences Jn.12:36-41. 'He' refers to Jesus lock stock and barrel.
For example,when you diagram Gen.2:7 it says,Heb. "Yahweh molded man (but he was to BECOME dust from the ground i.e.death-this becomes a historical prophecy recounting the creation of man-anotherwords even though Yahweh 'made'man as to an appointed form asah Heb.- he would die in the future)and breathed into his nostrils the spirit of lives[body/soul/spirit pl.] and man became an individual of life [unit/unity]."
WHEN one diagrams the sentence it sets up the parenthensis I place showing us it is an objective compliment telling what man was to BECOME not WHAT he was made from!!! Elohim SPOKE the creation making it primary and man was the star in his "image and likeness" so Adam was primary or spoken into existance too.
All English verses even in the NT that SEEM to teach man was a 'mud pie' or 'created from dirt'(how's that for refuting evolution-we came from just plain dirt not 'slime'?!)are using imagery of dust,etc., being a figure of speech, for 'made low' after the fall as well as final 'death' or becoming 'particles' in the ground- a 'Hebrewism.'
Abraham said before Yahweh, "I am but dust and ashes." Was he literally dust/ashes-one who will die? No.Imagery or humility since the great fall.
Note:It does say the 'animals were MADE from OUT of [min Heb.]the earth.'
As a former Trinitarian, I used to firmly believe that John 12:41 was referencing Isaiah 6:1. However, as I grew in my understanding of the Bible, I found this assertion to be false and interpolations forced about the text.
John refers to Isaiah's vision. A vision, a dream is one way God draws His servants further into His realm. Abraham also saw Jesus' day and rejoiced. John 8:56
Let's not begin to entertain the notion that Jesus was already somehow 'in the heavens' in the same time frame as the visions.
Hebrews 11:13 All these people died in faith, without having received the things they were promised. However, they saw them and welcomed them from afar.
According to the holy text, Jesus was born 4BC and was not made "alive' until then. Before that he was only foreknown by God. 1 Pet 1:20, Rom 8:29
So the glory (in Isaiah's vision) could well be Jesus' as God gave him the glory he deserved at that future time - Isaiah simply 'saw' it in advance. God has allowed many others to also see into the future for a brief moment as have been recorded for our benefit. John 17:22
Let's also remember that Jesus' glory IS the Father's glory Heb 1:3 And He is the radiance of His glory. John 12:31 Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him; if God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself. Matthew 16:27 For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father