Seeing His Face

Sometimes we need to sort out how to reconcile scripture with scripture. Recently I read some comments about whether or not a person could see God’s face, and while I have had thoughts about it over the years, I had never actually studied the issue so I decided to look at it. Many people have used the following passage to assert that no one can see God’s face. Primarily because that is plainly what the text states.

18 And he said, “Please, show me Your glory.” 19 Then He said, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” 20 But He said, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” Exodus 33:18–20 (NKJV)

Yet in spite of what the passage says, we have a number of examples in scripture of people seeing Yahweh so it seems important to consider what this sentence means, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” The Hebrew word means face and a more literal translation of ‘see Me, and live’ is ‘see Me, and remain alive.’ So obviously the phrase means what it says. At the same time context is important and here it is the Father speaking, as earlier in the chapter He refers to the Angel He would send with them, a theophany of the preincarnate Jesus. We also have in Exodus 33:11 Yahweh speaking to Moses ‘face to face’ but nothing to suggest Moses was gazing on Yahweh’s face so the salient point seems to be not ‘seeing’ Yahweh’s face fully revealed. Still later where we have the prohibition against seeing Yahweh’s face, Moses is allowed to gaze at Yahweh’s back (33:20-23, 34:5-7).

Now, we will ‘look’ at some examples from scripture of individuals seeing God. Clearly, prior to Moses there was an awareness of the danger of seeing Yahweh based on Jacob’s comment.  

30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” Genesis 32:30 (NKJV)

We have the same concern generations after Moses with Isaiah’s response to his revelation and encounter with Yahweh.

5 So I 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.” Isaiah 6:5 (NKJV)

Ezekiel gives us a fuller description of what he saw in one of his encounters.

1 And it came to pass in the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I sat in my house with the elders of Judah sitting before me, that the hand of the Lord God fell upon me there. 2 Then I looked, and there was a likeness, like the appearance of fire – from the appearance of His waist and downward, fire; and from His waist and upward, like the appearance of brightness, like the color of amber. 3 He stretched out the form of a hand, and took me by a lock of my hair; and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven, and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the north gate of the inner court, where the seat of the image of jealousy was, which provokes to jealousy. 4 And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, like the vision that I saw in the plain. Ezekiel 8:1–4 (NKJV)

Jacob asserted that he saw God’s face, Isaiah didn’t specify His face but seemed aware of the issue with his ‘woe is me’ when he saw Yahweh. In Ezekiel, Yahweh is presented as the Spirit and what Ezekiel sees is a fiery body and an amber countenance. No features are described. The one we need to explain is Jacob. Genesis 32:24 states that Jacob “wrestled with a Man” (the capitalization indicating deity). This would have been the preincarnate Jesus, another theophany. We also know that what Isaiah saw was the preincarnate Jesus because John has Jesus sharing that in his gospel.

37 But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, 38 that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: “Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” 39 Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: 40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, Lest they should see with their eyes, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.” 41 These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him. John 12:37–41 (NKJV)

The way we can reconcile these seeming contradictions is that Jacob and Isaiah saw the preincarnate Jesus, not the Father. What Ezekiel saw is the only instance in all of scripture where I can find the Holy Spirit described. So not only is there no clear ‘seeing’ of His face, it is not the Father.

When we move beyond the Old Testament warning to the New Testament, we get a fuller ‘picture’ of the solution to seeing His face. In Revelation 1:14-17 John sees Jesus’ glory unveiled and described His eyes and countenance. Meaning the face of Jesus in His unveiled glory can be seen. In Revelation 4 we have the throne room described and it is similar to Ezekiel’s visions with no clear description of the face on the One on the throne. We know it is not Jesus on the throne as the scene continues into chapter 5 and there Jesus is revealed as the Lamb who takes the scroll from the one on the throne (Revelation 5:6-7).

We can thus conclude from these scriptures that no one have ever gazed fully on the unveiled face of the Father and that is what the phrase, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live” references. Meaning that based on scripture we are free to seek Jesus’ face and to encounter the Spirit and the Father in our pursuit of His presence.

Your thoughts?

Praying with a Scriptural Strategy

Continuing with the subject of prayer, here we will look at one way that we can pray strategically, starting with some key scriptures, then focusing on what Paul wrote to the Colossians regarding his great conflict on their behalf and for the believers in Laodicea.

19 Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Luke 10:19 (NKJV)

18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. Matthew 28:18–20 (NKJV)

10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done. On earth as it is in heaven. Matthew 6:10 (NKJV)

10 to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, 11 according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, Ephesians 3:10–11 (NKJV)

In Luke 10:19 and Matthew 28:18-20 we see the authority Jesus delegated to His followers. In the model prayer Jesus provided, the first two phrases in Matthew 6:10 are declarative statements emphasizing what we can expect and the last phrase locates where this is to take place, on earth as in heaven. This allows us to pray with confidence. In Ephesians 3:10-11 we see that a responsibility and privilege we hold as the church is to make His wisdom known in the heavenly places and are made aware that it is part of the Father’s eternal purpose.

Now we turn to an example from scripture that we can emulate. Paul sharing something regarding the goal of his intercession for the church in Colossae and Laodicea.

1 For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words. 5 For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ. 6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. 8 Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; 10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. Colossians 2:1–10 (NKJV)

Paul’s heart was for the Colossians and Laodiceans to remain on the right path. In verse 1 the NKJV has the word ‘conflict’ while the ESV translates the word as ‘struggle.’ Neither conflict or struggle fully capture what Paul was expressing. Here is the meaning of the word in Greek. ἀγών agōn; from 71; a gathering, contest, struggle:—conflict(1), fight(2), opposition(1), race(1), struggle(1).[1] Agon is the root of our English word agony, in Greek, ἀγωνία agōnia. Here Paul is describing not a mere conflict or struggle as he qualifies it with the word ‘great.’ He is referencing a battle with dark spiritual forces.

We don’t know the exact words Paul prayed. We do know that his goal was that they would understand what they had and that they would be aware of the treasure they possessed in their relationship with Jesus. Hence his command to not only ‘receive’ Jesus but to ‘walk in Him.’ His concern was that they would lose out by embracing false philosophies built on the principles of the world rather than the truth of scripture.

Thus, in discipling those he knew and those he had never met, Paul let them know he was praying, wrestling and contending for them. We can assume that whatever words he used he would have been declaring that the Father’s kingdom would be present and submitted to in their lives, here on earth just as if they were in heaven. He would have prayed for their minds to be protected from the false philosophies he was concerned about. He knew that his actions would show forth the wisdom of God to the dark spiritual forces in the heavenlies (he wrote Ephesians and Colossians in the same time period).  

Now on to us. We can apply the same approach as Paul in praying for individuals or situations. We can come into agreement with His word and declare that His kingdom will come and His will be done in lives and circumstances. We can do this knowing He has given us spiritual authority to be exercised, authority that is effective based on bearing His name before the throne of grace. Let’s do that.

[1] Robert L. Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries : Updated Edition (Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998).

Praying with Scripture

I have for many years engaged with the scriptures as a primary part of my prayer life. Here I will share a bit of the how. One way is to simply pray the scriptures, for example turning Psalm 23:1 into a prayer, taking ‘The Lord is my shepherd’ and praying, ‘Lord, thank You that You are my shepherd. I thank You that you lead and guide me.’ This aligns with what Jesus taught, ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.’ We begin to pray trusting in and honouring who He is. I have used this approach and a common prayer used by many, myself included, is something like, ‘Lord, give us a spirit or wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of You’ (based on Ephesians 1:17).

Though in general, in my own prayer life what I engage in is drawing on a composite of what scripture teaches. Here is an example of something I regularly pray for myself and others, “Father, I thank You that You are drawing out and establishing Your purpose in our lives, helping us to walk uprightly that our prayers may delight You! Father, I declare that in line with Your word You are filling us with the knowledge of Your will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” I know that I can pray this way based on the following scriptures.  

5 Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water, But a man of understanding will draw it out. Proverbs 20:5 (NKJV)

8 The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, But the prayer of the upright is His delight. Proverbs 15:8 (NKJV)

9 For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; 10 that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; Colossians 1:9–11 (NKJV)

The word counsel in Proverbs 20:5 also means purpose so I believe that He has placed His purpose in each of our hearts and desires to draw it out directly and through others. Proverbs 15:8 informs us that when we walk uprightly, He delights in our prayers. Thus, I know that when we come to Him with an open humble heart it brings delight to Him. I also know based on what Paul wrote to the believers in Colossae that He wants to fill us with the knowledge of His will more than we want to know it. I can then thank Him that He is in fact doing just that, filling us with the knowledge of His will and that if I quiet our hearts before Him we can discern His will.

The benefit of praying this way is that we can live out what John wrote.

14 Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 1 John 5:14 (NKJV)

In praying the scriptures, we know that we are praying according to His revealed will and that as we present our prayers before the throne of grace He is hearing and responding.

Laying Hold

In 1 Timothy 6 Paul wrote something to Timothy that I think we may miss unless we reflect on what Paul means by his exhortation to ‘lay hold on eternal life.’ We see it in this passage.

12 Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, 14 that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing, 15 which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen. 1 Timothy 6:12–16 (NKJV)

The term ‘lay hold’ or ‘take hold’ in the ESV, is a single word in Greek. ἀγωνίζομαι agōnizomai; from 73; to contend for a prize, struggle:—competes in the games(1), fight(1), fighting(1), fought(1), laboring earnestly(1), strive(2), striving(1).[1] If you look closely, you will see the source of our English word ‘agony.’ The Greek word agōnia, translated ‘agony’ in Luke 22:44 has the same root as agōnizomai, agōn, which refers to a contest or struggle. Obviously to ‘lay hold’ requires more than a casual effort on our part.

Inherent in the idea of ‘laying hold’ that Paul presents is that he is talking about something beyond repentance and salvation. Timothy had already received and entered into that state. Here Paul is strongly urging him to not merely ‘receive’ eternal life but to let this life affect every aspect of his daily life, to ‘lay hold.’ Contextually, he tells Timothy to ‘fight the good fight of faith’ and that part of this is living a life that is ‘spotless’ and ‘blameless.’ Doing this requires a focused effort on our part. Not a legalistic rule keeping approach but rather one of daily pursuing His heart and purpose.

We can engage in this ‘laying hold’ process because when we reflect on it, our life is anchored somewhere. Hebrews presents it this way.

17 Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, 18 that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us. 19 This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, 20 where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 6:17–20 (NKJV)

The idea of ‘fleeing for refuge’ comes from the Old Testament where someone who accidently killed another could flee to a ‘city of refuge’ (Deuteronomy 19:1-11) and be safe. In contrast, even though we are all guilty we can all find refuge by laying hold of Jesus and His sacrifice on our behalf.

Let’s do that, let’s focus our efforts to grasp and live in and out of this life He has provided for us. After all, He who promised is faithful.

[1] Robert L. Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries : Updated Edition (Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998).