The Protestant Reformers were well known for their emphasis on faith. Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the other Reformation leaders taught without compromise that we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone, and that God must grant us faith. For all their emphasis on faith, however, they were also aware that our need for faith is temporary. They understood that faith pertains to that which we cannot see (Heb. 11:1), and so they knew that when the invisible finally becomes visible to us, faith will pass away.
We are talking about what theologians call the “beatific vision,” the direct vision of God that we will enjoy for all eternity. That believers will see the Lord not with faith but with their own eyes is our greatest hope, and it is taught in passages such as 1 John 3:2. One day, we will be like God, insofar as that is possible for creatures. We do not know fully what that means, but certainly it includes the idea of moral perfection. Being like Him, we will be able to endure His all-consuming glory, which today we cannot bear because of remaining sin. In fact, today’s passage suggests that our being like the Lord will somehow result from our seeing Him as He is.
Do we long to see God? We are blessed to live in a day that offers us many comforts, and we should be grateful to the Lord for the many things that make our lives much easier than the lives of those who lived even one hundred years ago. But if we are honest with ourselves, we also live in a day of many distractions, many enticements that promise to be more satisfying than God Himself. Yet Scripture tells us that there is nothing more beautiful, nothing more satisfying, than God Himself. We taste this now in our salvation as we find Christ to satisfy our longings for forgiveness, for meaning, for reconciliation with God. Imagine, then, how much greater our satisfaction will be when we see the beauty of divine glory face-to-face. We can hardly anticipate what that will be like, but it will entail a delight of such magnitude that our suffering cannot even be compared to it (Rom. 8:18).
Luther’s comments on Galatians that help us understand the beatific vision give us a fitting conclusion to our study. “In the life to come we shall no more have need of faith (1 Corinthians 13:12). For then we shall not see darkly through a mirror (as we do now), but we shall see face-to-face. There shall be a most glorious brightness of the eternal Majesty, in which we shall see God even as He is. There shall be a true and perfect knowledge and love of God.”