Friday, September 30, 2016

TO SEE THE FACE OF GOD

(I am currently writing a series on the last two chapters of the Bible. These chapters are the only two in the entire Bible that are dedicated exclusively to telling us what eternity will be like for the believers in Christ)***********************
There are two simple phrases in the fourth verse of the twenty-second chapter of Revelation: “They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.”

To the old man John the Apostle, who saw this vision of heaven and who wrote these words, the fact that the people of God will actually see the face of God in the New Jerusalem was an astounding revelation. We know this because twice, in his earlier writings, John had stated, “No one has seen God at any time” (please press READ MORE below)
The first of these statements was when John was explaining who the person of Jesus Christ was. When Jesus appeared on the earth, his presence was a continuation of a long line of revelations that God had given to us throughout history to help us to understand what God was doing to reestablish our relationship with him and what he requires of us. The fact that Jesus was a continuation of those revelations is why John calls Jesus the “Word.”

God was speaking through the person of Jesus in a way that man had never before seen. Before the time of Jesus, God spoke through the Law of Moses and he spoke through prophets. But Jesus was greater than all of these. He came as God Himself to speak (Hebrews 1:1).

Of course we know that John saw Jesus. He was one of the disciples. And yet, even though John knew Jesus well when he was on earth, and John believed that Jesus was God, still John said, “No one has seen God at any time” (John 1:18).

The second time that John said this was in a letter he wrote to the churches. On this occasion, he was teaching the people about the love of God. “The love of God was made known in us,” John writes, “in that God has sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9).

John continues by trying to explain how the believers can learn to live in God’s love. He writes, that if God loved us enough to send his only Son to be the payment for our sins, certainly we ought to be able to love one another.

It is after he explains this that John inserts the statement, “No one has seen God at any time” (1 John 4:12). 

The Face of Love

If we are believers in Christ, we have the Holy Spirit of God within us. In this way, we have the life and the testimony of God, so we can even today learn to walk in love. But by mentioning seeing the face of God in Revelation, John seems to imply that once we can do that, then we will really know love. We will finally and truly understand what love is and we will actually live in love. John said, “When he appears, we shall be like him, for we will see him as he is” (1 John 1:3).

That is why, at the throne of God in John’s vision in Revelation, it is an astounding thing to John that those present at the throne will be able to see the face of God. 

Longing to See His Face

For people who have given themselves to serve the Lord, the desire to see God is so strong that it sometimes consumes their thoughts. There were times in history when some people were given a vision of God – when they saw some aspect of God.

But to see his face! – That privilege has been given to no man.

Even John, before he wrote the words I just mentioned about anticipating the day when he would see God, had had a previous vision of God unlike most other people. At one point during the time when Jesus was on earth, he took John, along with Peter and James, up upon a mountain where they saw Jesus transfigured so that his appearance became more than just that of a man. The face of Jesus was shining as if it were the sun, and his garment became as white as light. Even with this, John knew that what he saw was not the full and unmuted glory of God. God, in fact, spoke in that moment with a great voice from the clouds declaring Jesus as his Son. “Listen to him,” God said (Matthew 17:1-8).

As astounding as this appearance of Jesus must have been, John realized that even this was not the full glory of God. That shall come, as John said in Revelation, when “They shall see his face.”

Then, “When he appears, we shall be like him, for we will see him as he is,” John said. 

What Moses Saw

Long before John’s statements, God told Moses, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live” (Exodus 33:20).

It is true that we are told that when Moses met with God at an earlier time, God “spoke to him face to face, as a man speaks with a friend” (Exodus 33:11). Whatever that means exactly, it must not have meant that Moses saw the full glory of God’s face. It only means that they conversed, as one would do with a friend. When God spoke to Moses, it was not as in most occasions when God merely gave his words to the prophets so that the prophets could then communicate these words to the people. Rather, when Moses and God conversed, they did so as two friends would have conversation.

Abraham may have also had a similar relationship with God, since he is also called “the friend of God” (2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23).

When God told Moses that no one could see his face and live, Moses had just been given the task of bringing the people of Israel out of Egypt to lead them to the Promised Land, a journey that was to take forty years. Moses and the people, at this point, had already escaped the Pharaoh of Egypt, despite the fact that the entire army of Egypt had pursued them to bring them back. Moses had already witnessed God opening the waters of the Red Sea before them so that they could pass through. He already saw God provide water out of a solid rock for the some hundreds of thousands of Israelites. Moses, at this time, had already spoken with God on Mount Sinai, where the Lord is described as descending upon the mountain in fire and speaking to Moses with the sound of thunder. Moses had already received the written law from God.

But Moses had also already witnessed the first major rebellion of the people when they cast a golden calf and worshiped it as an idol, saying, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt” (Exodus 32:4).

I think at this point, Moses needed reaffirmation from the Lord. With all that had happened in events of the previous several weeks as the Israelites came out of Egypt – then to now have the people rebel against God, all of this would have brought any man to the breaking point.

God told him, “My presence shall go with you and I will give you rest.”

“If your presence does not go with us,” Moses responded, “do not lead us up from here…I pray you, show me your glory!” (Exodus 33:14-15).

This is when God told him, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.”

Instead, God placed Moses on a rock on that mountain and told Moses that he would pass by so that Moses could see him. However, when his true “glory” was passing by, God placed Moses in a cleft in that rock and covered Moses with his hand so that he would not see the full glory of God, but only his back. This, he thought, was all that Moses could endure. 

Anthropomorphisms

That is the way that it is described to us. Although Jesus has taught us that “God is Spirit” (John 4:24), God is also many times described in the Bible as having hands and feet, and a face. Once again we come upon the effort to describe the indescribable to us by using terms that we can understand. It is best not to make too strong of a statement concerning the nature of God since there is so much that we do not know and cannot know. Descriptions like this of God are called “anthropomorphisms.” It is a big word but it simply means describing in human terms something that is not human. It is like saying, "the thunder clapped its hands." The thunder does not really have hands, but we speak of it as if it had.

The face of a person really is his or her most common identifying feature. Isn’t it true that we can read about a person and study his or her life, but without actually seeing their face, we feel like we have not yet known them? In fact, if that person has piqued our interest and our admiration, the more we hear about them, the more we want to know what he or she looks like.

That is why for those of us who have read the words of God for so long and have tried to live in the manner that he has taught us, we long to see the face of God. At times, the desire becomes so great that we can think of little else. We long to know God more. I cannot explain to you what you will see when you see the face of God, but only that upon seeing his face, all of your questions about why things have happened will be answered, and that you will truly understand what it is to live in love. 

Twisting the Words of God

“We shall be like him, for we will see him as he is.” These are the words of John. His words are interesting to me for many reasons. You may find it a bit surprising that one of those reasons is that they cause me to think of the temptation by Satan in the Garden of Eden. Do you remember what Satan said? He told Eve concerning eating of the fruit, “You will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).

Do you see how Satan could have presented his temptation to Adam and Eve so that it would sound like he actually had the same motive as God? John said that when we see God’s face, “we shall be like him, for we will see him as he is.” Satan could claim that he has the same purpose in his temptation when he told them “You will be like God, knowing good and evil”.

At the first hearing, this all sounds like a worthy pursuit, and that is why Satan’s words worked as a temptation for Adam and Eve to disobey God. I am sure by the time they ate of the fruit, they had it in their minds that they were “helping” God. They saw this as improving themselves.

But the difference was that Satan put it in terms that God was withholding this knowledge from them. However, Satan made it sound that if they would take this step to give in to his temptation, they “would be like God.” 

God Gives Us All Good Things

The full truth is however, God withholds no good thing from his children. He gives to each of us all good things, but he does so at the proper time. In the post Slaves Forever, I mentioned the first few verses from Galatians chapter four. In those verses the Apostle Paul spoke of a child, whom although he was the heir to all things in his father’s household, did not receive those things prematurely. Rather, the child remained under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. It was at that specific time when he was destined to receive the inheritance of his father.

In our own experience, it is obvious to us why the father does this. If the father would give a child of seven or eight years old his full inheritance without the guidance of guardians and managers, the child would not know what to do with all of the wealth. He would waste it, he would squander it, and he would treat it improperly.

This is what has happened to us. God has always intended for us to possess the knowledge that he possesses, but it must come at the proper time. When Satan enticed us to acquire that knowledge prematurely, we did not know how to handle it. The proper time – the time that God has chosen for us to be like him, is when we see his face. At that time, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 

The Dangers of a Premature Knowledge

There is something else that Satan did not tell Adam and Eve in those early days of creation. Knowledge given prematurely leads to rebellion. Again, this indeed is what has happened to the world. Rather than benefiting from the knowledge by becoming closer to God, it has estranged us from God. The world has used its untimely knowledge to rebel against the authority of God.

This is the same thing that Satan himself did, even before he tempted Adam and Eve. As a result, Satan’s rebellion became also the world’s rebellion. The common ideology of the world is the same as that of Satan’s. They are setting themselves up against God, and in their thinking making themselves equal with God. 

Worshiping in Full Knowledge

That is not what will be happening in the throne room of God. Even though every person and every being present is there with full knowledge, they are not in rebellion. They are instead worshiping God. That is because this knowledge will be realized at the very time that God intended. As we have seen in earlier chapters, worship involves recognizing that God is sovereign in all things and praising him for the life that he gives. When we see his face, we will be like him in the sense that at that time, he will have given us our full inheritance. 

His Name Will Be Upon Us

When we see his face, his name will be on our foreheads.

You will remember that during the tribulation period, those who followed Satan received “the mark of the beast” either on their forehead or on their right hand (Revelation 13:17). This is the mark that we often hear about – the 666. As is usually the case, what Satan does is to try and mimic and corrupt what God does. Despite all of the attention that we give to the mark of the beast, it is unimportant for us as followers of Christ. Those who receive that mark are those who belong to Satan.

When God places his name on our foreheads, it is the outward indication that we belong to him. We are God’s people. I do not know what form this name will take or how it will look, and it is not important that we know. It is only important that we know that we are sealed as belonging to God. 

The Seal of Ownership for Today

In that future day, we will have the name of God on our foreheads. But even today, if we believe in the name and the work of Christ, we are sealed in the Lord.

 Paul told the people of the church in Ephesus that, “In Christ, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13 ESV).

In Christ, we are the people of God. Because of this, Paul tells us that we must not “grieve the Holy Spirit of God,” for it by him that we have been “sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30).

The Apostle Peter also tells us, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV).

The phrases that Peter uses here to describe the church are phrases that he lifted from the Old Testament and which at that time, applied only to the Jewish race. But Peter applies them to the church:

A chosen race.
A royal priesthood.
A holy nation.
A people for his own possession.

This is who we are in Christ.

Peter’s purpose for writing this was so that the people of the church would realize who they were in Christ. Since we are of such a high calling, we ought to begin to live in a manner worthy of that calling. God has called us to a higher purpose than that which we now see. We are simply sojourners here. This life, these times, and this earth are not our destiny. 

One day, all of God’s people will worship at the throne. Today we also worship, perhaps not yet in full knowledge, but we worship by living our lives in the way that God has intended. We are learning and we are growing.

Peter ended his letter to the churches in this way, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18).

In the words of Aaron, to God's people of his day: “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. And may the Lord lift up his countenance on you and give you peace” (Numbers 24-26).

Amen.

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