February 18, 2023
When Moses asks to see Yahweh’s glory, God tells even this beloved, familiar servant: you cannot see my face, for no man shall see me and live (Ex 33:20).
And yet Yahweh called upon Israel to “seek his face” (1 Ch 16:11; 2 Ch 7:14). He said, “Seek my face,” and the psalmist responds, “Your face, Yahweh, will I seek” (Ps 27:8).
Are two different things meant by this?
Yes, and no.
Yahweh was telling Israel to seek his pleasurable countenance (“may his face shine upon you”), which could only happen through faith and faithfulness — living in a spirit of repentance and true worship. He wasn’t saying he would literally show his face to them.
To be sure, God is not a man and doesn’t have a “face” in the sense that creatures do. In that sense, it is impossible to “see God’s face.”
And yet … there is a face he could have shown Moses if he wanted to destroy him. There is a mysterious truth there about the incomprehensible God who is not embodied like we are.
But Israel could not see that face and live. That’s why in the tabernacle and temple, only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and only once a year, and only in a cloud of smoke.
We approach the mystery in Revelation 1. John is “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” i.e. the Day of the Lord, divinely admitted into the church’s worship even while alone in exile. The glorified Jesus, the son of man who is the son of God, with eyes like a flame of fire and a voice like the roar of many waters — the visual form of this God who cannot be seen without the one seeing him dying as a result — Jesus speaks to John, and when the apostle turns and sees him, he “fell at his feet as though dead” (Rev 1:17). But Jesus lays his right hand on him, and describes himself as the living one who has indeed died, but is now alive forevermore (1:17–18).
There is a sense in which when we approach God in Spirit we do die, in order to be raised up. The Day of Yahweh is the meeting place, the day of death and resurrection.
Worship in Spirit and truth means worship in the heavenly Spirit who unites us to God and one another in the heavenly worship which John witnesses in Revelation. And it is in “truth,” i.e. the Truth, Jesus (I am the way, the Truth, and the life, Jn 14:6). We die and are raised with Jesus again and again in worship.
When God calls us to worship, he calls us to come and die — and to come and live.