We Will See God’s Face!1
So, there I was sitting at my desk a few days ago, staring at Revelation 22:4 and the incredible declaration by John that in the new earth we “will see his [God’s] face.” It sounds beyond belief. We will see God’s face! What does that mean? Later that day, during a short break, I logged on to a popular internet news site and saw the headline of an article that had just been posted. The title of the article was: What does God look like? The sub-title that followed said: “Liberals and Conservatives have different ideas.” Yes, I was sufficiently curious that I read the article, written by a man named Mark Price. The study was paid for with grants from the Templeton Foundation and National Science Foundation.
A research group of psychologists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill surveyed 511 professing American Christians, asking them each: What does God look like? They actually put together what they referred to as a “composite mugshot” of God. The portrait that emerged shows that God is white, young, and clean cut, “not unlike someone from an 80’s boy band.” As for the expression on his face, “Mona Lisa’s vague smile comes to mind.”
They also discovered that those who are politically liberal have a different picture of God in their mind from what is in the mind of those who are politically conservative. Liberals imagined God as “more feminine, younger, and more loving,” while conservatives have a white guy in mind who was “more powerful.”
According to this study, “Past research shows that conservatives are more motivated than liberals to live in a well-ordered society, one that would be best regulated by a powerful God. On the other hand, liberals are more motivated to live in a tolerant society, which would be better regulated by a loving God.”
The study also found that demographics often came into play with our image of God: Caucasians tended to see a white God; African Americans imagined a black God; younger people saw a younger God and attractive people imagined a more attractive God.
A process called reverse correlation was used to create the final image, said the report. The 511 test subjects were shown hundreds of randomly varying pairs of faces, and asked which of the two looked more like “the face of God.” Psychology Professor Kurt Gray, the study’s senior author, said the study revealed people tend to believe in a God that looks like them. In other words, it isn’t so much that humans are created in the image of God, but that God has now been created in the image of humans!
I hope I don’t have to remind you, but I will anyway, that God is spirit. Yes, the second person of the Trinity became human in Jesus Christ, and Jesus certainly has a face, but I’m fairly certain that he doesn’t look anything like the “mugshot” created by this research group.
So let’s turn our attention from the ridiculous to the sublime. And it is truly sublime to think that in the new earth, forever and ever, we will behold and gaze upon the face of God. Does that mean the face of Jesus Christ? After all, neither God the Father nor the Holy Spirit have faces. Or does seeing God’s face mean something other than your seeing my face and my seeing your face?
In one sense this statement in Revelation 22:4 should be taken quite literally. We will see Jesus’ face. In case you didn’t know, God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, when he became a human being in Jesus Christ became a human being forever. Eternally! The incarnation will never end. It will never be reversed. There will never be a time in eternity future when God the Son isn’t incarnate as Jesus the man. And we will see his face.
However, to “see his face” is more than physical sight. It is certainly that, but it also means to know him in the depths of who he is, to enjoy him in all his glory, to experience and feel his love for us and to go deeper into intimacy and affection with him than we could possibly imagine in this life.
Thus to see God’s face means not only that we will literally see Jesus but that we will experience ever-increasing insight and comprehension of ever-expanding truths about what God is like! The “face” of a person gives expression to who they really are. We will see and know God in ways that we could never begin to grasp in this life.
This is remarkable given the consistent testimony of Scripture that in this life, as long as we are in this fallen, perishable body and live under the lingering curse of sin and death, no one can “see” God and live:
“But [God] said, ‘you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live’” (Exod. 33:20).
[Jesus declared]: “No one has ever seen God” (John 1:18a).
“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” (1 Tim. 6:15-16).
But what has been true ever since the fall of man in Eden will no longer obtain for the children of God in the new heaven and new earth! What are the characteristics of this “vision” or “sight” of God’s face?
It will be utterly transparent. Paul says that now “we see through a glass darkly.” But God will one day unveil himself in all his resplendent brilliance, glory, and clarity for us to see!
It will be altogether transcendent. It will in every conceivable respect transcend the glory and majesty of anything we have ever seen on this earth. It will transcend any and all joy we have experienced here. We will never grow weary of seeing him!
It will be totally transforming. By his grace we become wholly pure in heart.
We are told in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that “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.” In the new earth the final stage of this transformation will be attained. We will, by God’s grace, reach the final degree of glory. Just as the vision of Christ in the present (in Scripture) sanctifies us progressively, the vision of Christ in the future will sanctify us wholly. It is our experience of Christ that sanctifies. If progressive assimilation to the likeness of Christ results from our present beholding of him through a glass darkly, to behold him face to face, i.e., “to see him as he is,” will result in instantaneous perfection or glorification.
John spoke of this in 1 John 3:2-3, where he said:
“Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:1-3).
What is the precise causal relationship between this vision of Christ and final glorification? Two views are possible:
On the one hand, it may be that we shall see Christ because we are like him; likeness, then, is the condition of seeing him (cf. Matt. 5:8; Heb. 12:14). Thus, this view says that holiness is a prerequisite to the vision of Christ and thus must precede it (the holiness, of course, is God given, not earned by man).
More likely, however, is that he shall appear, we will see him, and as a result of seeing him we shall be made like him. I.e., in his presence sin will be eradicated from us and we will reflect his glory and through the majesty of that moment we will be made like him.
When I read of such blessings that await us in the new earth, my natural tendency is to doubt. “Can it really be true? Is this make believe? How can I be certain?”
And it is just then that God answers my question and puts my fears to rest: “And he said to me, ‘These words are trustworthy and true’” (Rev. 22:6). Bank on it. Count on it. Believe it!