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The Bible verse on my father’s headstone reads, “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness” (Ps. 17:15). It was the psalmist’s hope that one day he would see the face of God and be satisfied. That longing or desire to see or to seek God’s face is a great theme that runs through the Bible, and it has particular prominence in the Psalms (see 11:7; 17:15; 27:4; 34:8, 12; 36:9; 123:2). It leads the psalmist to ask a crucial question: “When shall I come and behold the face of God?” (42:2, NRSV). That question presupposes that God is visible and that His face can be seen.

Seeking and seeing the face of God is an appropriate goal for righteous people to pursue. When we seek the face of the Lord, we are seeking to know God closely and intimately. Seeing God’s face is to experience His presence and to enjoy a great blessing. When God makes His face shine on His people, or when He turns His face toward them, the result is blessing and joy.

Faithful believers are treated to a description of the full realization of this hope. In the new Jerusalem, where God and the Lamb will reign forever, the promise is given:

No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. (Rev. 22:3–4, NIV)

The glory and joy of the new heaven and earth are that we will see His face.

From our New Testament perspective, we understand that we see the face of God in Jesus Christ. “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).

Maintaining an eternal focus means that our loves and desires here and now have been recalibrated.

There is only One who shows us the Father, and in Him we see His glory, “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14; see also 6:46). The glory of the gospel is that the invisible God makes Himself visible to us in Jesus Christ. Having tasted His grace and truth, we desire to view that face in all its majestic glory and attractive radiance.

Recent theological reflection on eschatology has not given prominence to this hope of seeing the face of God. The emphasis has been on the renewal of creation rather than on understanding Christian hope as “going to heaven when we die.” For many people, the climax of redemptive history consists merely in our resurrected bodies and the renewal of the earth. Little is made of our hope of standing in the presence of God and beholding the face of God first in heaven and then in the new creation.

Without denying that more earthly understanding of the glory to come, rightly maintaining a heavenly perspective is crucial to our Christian devotion and discipleship now. The psalmist prays,

One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. (Ps. 27:4)

Of all the matters for which David sought the Lord, here is his first priority, his “one thing”: to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord.

The priorities of our lives are transformed by this desire to see the face of God. As a result of our fallen nature, we once lived “in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind” (Eph. 2:3). But now we are called to consider our “spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (1:3), to be filled with “all the fullness of God” (3:19), with “the fullness of him who fills all in all” (1:23). Maintaining that eternal focus means that our loves and desires here and now have been recalibrated (4:1–3). Consider John Owen’s words:

The constant contemplation of the glory of Christ will give rest, satisfaction, and complacency unto the souls of them who are exercised therein. Our minds are apt to be filled with a multitude of perplexed thoughts;—fears, cares, dangers, distresses, passions, and lusts, do make various impressions on the minds of men, filling them with disorder, darkness, and confusion. But where the soul is fixed in its thoughts and contemplations on this glorious object, it will be brought into and kept in a holy, serene, spiritual frame. For “to be spiritually-minded is life and peace.” A defect herein makes many of us strangers unto a heavenly life, and to live beneath the spiritual refreshments and satisfactions that the gospel does tender unto us.

The psalmist realizes that one day he will fall asleep in death. But that will not be the end of his story or his experience. He will awake and will be satisfied with seeing God’s face and in being fully transformed into the likeness of his Savior. The face of God will not destroy him or annihilate him; it will satisfy him. All his longings, desires, and hopes will be fulfilled. If this life is one of unfulfilled longings and unmet desires, then that will not be true of the life to come. Then we will say: “This is it. This is what I have longed for and desired all my life. I need nothing more.”

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From the April 2020 Issue
Apr 2020 Issue