In Reading the Bible Supernaturally, John Piper argues that in the simple, ordinary, and natural act of reading the Bible, God supernaturally works to give us eyes to behold His glory. God has appointed reading and hearing Scripture as the means by which we behold God’s supreme worth and beauty.
Did you catch that? By reading we can see the supreme worth and beauty of the eternal triune God!
However, we don’t read simply to see glory. Through our seeing we also come to savor his glory. In other words, we come to see Jesus as more precious, valuable, and beautiful than anything (Ps 119; John 15:11; 1 Pet 1:23-2:2). And as a result of our savoring, we are ultimately transformed into the image of Christ (2 Cor 3:18; Rom 8:29; 1 John 3:2). Each time we pick up the Bible, we should intend that our reading would lead to this end.
You might be thinking to yourself, “how can I possibly see the glory of God through reading, let alone be transformed by it? The disciples physically saw Jesus, but that was 2,000 years ago!” Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? And yet, this is exactly how God designed his Word to work! The writers of the New Testament believed that we could see the glory of God through what they wrote. To prove this, Piper turns to the witness of the Apostles John and Paul.
Glory in The Gospel of John
The Apostle John focuses our attention on the glory of God right from the beginning of his writings: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). John shows us that all the signs Jesus did pointed to his glory. Commenting on Jesus turning water into wine, he writes, “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him” (John 2:11). As Jesus is about to raise Lazarus from the dead, he says to Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40).
But what about us? How would the generations that came after John and the other eyewitnesses see this glory and believe? John tells us the Holy Spirit would help them put what they saw Jesus do into writing (John 14:26; 16:13). As a result of the Holy Spirit’s ministry of glorifying Christ, future generations of believers would be able to see what John and the other eyewitnesses saw and receive eternal life.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these signs are written so that you may [upon reading] believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:29–31).
What We Have Seen, We Proclaim to You (1 John 1:1-4)
Piper then turns to John’s first epistle to make this even clearer. At the beginning of the letter, John writes:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete (1 John 1:1-4).
What John and the other eyewitnesses saw and heard firsthand in Jesus is now being proclaimed and made available to us through the Bible! Piper writes, “The apostle John made clear that he saw his role as helping later generations. He knew that later Christians would wonder if they could have the same spiritual sight of the glory of Christ as the first eyewitnesses. He believed that they could, and that it would happen through what he wrote” (67).
The Aim of Paul’s Writings (Ephesians 3:3-8)
In the letter to the Ephesians, Piper notices that Paul gives us a rare and crucial reference to what he considers the aim of his writings:
…the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ (Eph 3:3-4).
Paul tells us that by reading what he wrote, we could see what he saw. What did he see? The “mystery of Christ,” which is defined in verse 6: “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” Two verses later he calls this mystery the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph 3:8).
In Colossians 1:27, which is a parallel passage to Ephesians 3:3-8, we see this mystery connected to God’s glory. Paul writes, “God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” So, the mystery in Ephesians is “the riches of Christ” and in Colossians it is the “riches of glory.” In other words, these riches are the same thing!
From these passages, Piper concludes, “reading is a God-appointed means of seeing the riches of God’s glory, the unsearchable riches of Christ. This is why God inspired Paul to write Scripture. This is why he wrote. And this is what we should see when we read” (72).
Glory in the Old Covenant (2 Corinthians 3:7-15)
In Acts 17:2 we learn that Paul’s missionary strategy was basically heading straight for the city synagogue to preach the gospel from the Scriptures (cf. Acts 15:21). Remember, Paul was a former Jew. He read the same Scriptures they read. Yet, they did not see the glory of God in Jesus Christ that Paul saw. This is Paul’s point in 2 Corinthians 3:7-18.
What Piper points out, and what we need to see, is that the way God’s glory is seen is through the act of reading the Scriptures.
…when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts (2 Cor 3:14-15).
Notice that this means that there was glory in the old covenant; the glory of God could and can be seen in reading the Old Testament! But Paul explains that the reason it was not seen—and isn’t seen to this day—is that “their minds were hardened” (2 Cor 3:14; cf. 2 Cor 4:4). Many people read the Bible, but not all see God’s supreme worth and beauty in Jesus Christ. In fact, the same blindness that kept Israel from seeing God’s glory in the OT is still at work today blinding people to the glory of Christ in the gospel. So what is the remedy for blindness?
The Remedy for Blindness (2 Cor 3:16-4:6)
Paul goes on to compare those in darkness to Christians, those who have turned to the Lord and seen his glory unveiled:
But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Cor 3:16-18).
Our simultaneous turning to the Lord and seeing him are sovereign gift of the Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who frees from our blindness to see God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ. We know it’s a gift because of what Paul goes on to say: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” ( 2 Cor 4:6).
God is responsible for causing us to see glory in the gospel. He removes the hardening, takes away the blindness, and lifts the veil!
How do we behold the glory of the Lord with unveiled face? How does God cause us to see his supreme worth and beauty? Through reading and hearing the Scriptures! The way God’s glory is seen has not changed! We don’t abandon the reading, studying, and hearing of Scripture now that we are “filled with the Spirit.” Rather, that’s what enables us to properly read, hear, and be sanctified by the Word (cf. 2 Tim 3:15)!
It’s easy to be tempted to think we need to go beyond what is written to behold God’s glory. Unfortunately, this often leads us to look for God’s glory in spiritual “experiences” and other questionable activities. We can wind up hopelessly in search of visions, certain “atmospheres”, and alleged physical manifestations of God’s presence. We can even pay for special “impartation” from someone claiming to have access to God’s glory, hoping that will lead to deeper “intimacy” with God.
But, as Piper helpfully reminds us, Scripture itself shows us that reading is how we truly see God’s glory. May we read with that end in mind. May we constantly depend upon the Spirit for eyes to behold the supreme worth and beauty of God in Jesus Christ.
For further reading, I cannot recommend Piper’s work on Scripture highly enough:
- A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness
- Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture
Mitch Bedzyk serves as a teacher and worship leader at Elmira Christian Center. He received his Master of Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and works in IT for the NY Office of Mental Health. He and his wife, Sarah, have five children. In his spare time he enjoys reading, coffee, guitar, following the Bundesliga and MLS, and playing fantasy soccer. You can follow him @mitchbedzyk