So, several months ago I saw a preview for a documentary called The Real Face of Jesus. This documentary claimed to have a realistic 3D image of what Jesus actually looked like when he walked on earth. It piqued my curiosity because throughout my lifetime I have seen various images of Jesus, and I myself have had a very real human desire to know the face of God. When I was younger, I saw portrayals of a tall, handsome, blonde Jesus with blue eyes. It wasn’t until I grew older and discovered Jesus was born Jewish that I realized most of the depictions I had seen were very inaccurate. And if someone really wanted a general idea of what he looked like they should simply look to other Jewish men. In Isaiah 53:2, we get another small indication of his appearance: “For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. So, to consider what Jesus looked like was an amusing thought, and although I didn’t watch the documentary, I made a mental note of it and the questions that came along with it. Why does man desire to see God…and is it possible? Can we see God face to face? Throughout the pages of Scripture, we read of man encountering God in different ways. But there is one well-known story of a man requesting to see the glory of God and that’s the story we step into at this time.
In Exodus 33, Moses, has a special place he meets with God to intercede on behalf of Israel. It was called the tent of meeting and it is within this tent that he makes an unusual request. In verses 18-23: Moses said, please show me your glory. This is how God responds; I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name, The Lord. And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live. But, behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by, I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” To bring this story together with the whole of Scripture lets jump to the New Testament. In John 4:24, we read: “God is Spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth”, and 1 Timothy 6:15-17 reads: “He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion”. So, we know from these verses, that God is Spirit, immortal and invisible. We also know in our story from Exodus, God does speak to us and appears to us in forms we can process and understand. So, when the Bible speaks of God the Father and uses words such His face, His back and His hand, these words are used metaphorically. In Exodus 33 when Moses speaks of seeing God face to face it is best to assume Moses is using a figure of speech. When we read the expression “face to face” it can be simply understood as “intimately.” Moses spoke to God as one would speak to his friend. John Piper writes, “When God told Moses, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live”. He is saying that truly seeing God as He is, in the fullness of His glory, is more than mortal man can tolerate. Therefore, to protect Moses, God was only going to reveal that portion of His majesty and power that was humanly possible to absorb”. So, why does man desire to see the face of God? I think the desire has to do with how we connect with people relationally. Part of growing close to someone is seeing them, seeing them often, spending time with them, missing them and seeking them out. Living through a global pandemic has given everyone a greater appreciation for the importance and intimacy of seeing those you care for often and in person. Even with all our technological advancement: FaceTime, Zoom, social media, there is nothing more intimate and precious and there is no greater way to grow in relationship then to see one another face to face. It is truly part of how we are designed.
So, to answer the question: Can we see God face to face, the answer is clearly no. But we can relate to Him and connect with Him in real and intimate ways. Remember our verse from John 4:24, “God is Spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth”. It is through worship we enter into the most sacred place, and commune with a transcendent, unchanging, and all-knowing God. It is there we are heard, we are seen, we are known, and just like Moses, in our “tent of meeting”, we will intimately commune with God as friends.
Now let’s consider Jesus; at a time set in history there were men and women who did see Christ incarnate, they walked with him, they called him friend, brother and even son. In John 14:8-10, Philip one of Jesus’ twelve asked him to see the Father and Jesus’ response was “those who know the Son know the Father, and to see the Son is to see the Father. Basically, Jesus is saying, “Hello, I am right here…face to face. It is me, Emmanuel”. Jesus was and is, God with Us. But how does this truth impact present day believers who have not seen God in the flesh. To answer this lets, look to the Apostle Peter who was one of Jesus’ closest companions. He knew Jesus, lived with him, they laughed, cried and eventually Peter witnessed his death and resurrection. Yet before the resurrection Peter denied Jesus. He saw him face to face and yet denied him. Let’s now consider the Apostle Peter after Christs ascension, in the book of 1 Peter, where we see him marveling at the faith of the people he is ministering to. 1 Peter 1:8-9: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory. Obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” Peter is marveling because he is witnessing people see God with eyes of faith. Peter knew seeing Jesus in the flesh wasn’t the answer, the answer was accepting Christ into their hearts and trusting in Him by faith. John 20:29: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”. Colossians 1:15: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” If you want to see God intimately, look to His Son. Look upon His cross and gaze, at the costly price of your salvation. It is clear through Scripture; we cannot see God the Father in His full glory. It is also clear that at one time in history God the Son came down in a fleshy veil and walked amongst us. And it is through the gift of faith, the eyes of our hearts are awakened and this is the greater blessing that will sustain us till the end.
So how can believers today, grow in intimacy with God? Psalm 119:59 When I think on my ways, I turn my feet to your testimonies. Turn to God. Psalm 119:105 your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Follow His Word. Psalm 119:63 I am a companion of all who fear you, of those who keep your precepts. Be with His people. Psalm 119:46 I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame, for I find my delight in your commandments. Proclaim His Word. Psalm 119:54-55 Your statutes Have been my songs in the house of my sojourning I remember your name in the night, O Lord. Worship Him in every season.
It is good to seek the face of God because in the seeking…we face the humility of our humanity…we are weak…we are sinful…we are ill equipped to do good…but God…He is faithful…he will turn his face toward us and hear our prayers. Moses sought the glory of God and was given a rock on which to stand upon. As we seek the face of God we are transformed by the image of His Son. Christ is the rock on which we stand until the faith we carry becomes His glory realized. For now, we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).