© Marcelo A. Tolopilo
I recently had the privilege of giving the message at a memorial for a beloved sister in Christ. She lived a long and full life to the glory of God, and even though we all felt the sadness associated with our loss, our gloom evaporated as we turned our eyes toward heaven and the reality of her being “at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).
Our friend was in the very presence of God, face-to-face with the full unobstructed beauty of His glory and delighting in it. She was (and is) enjoying what theologians have called the beatific vision, her soul’s vision of God. This event—which only God can bring about—will be one of the most amazing and joyful wonders of our salvation. What an exhilarating and transcendent experience it will be!
To see God in our present condition would be OVERWHELMING
And yet it is a miracle we could never survive, let alone enjoy in our present season of salvation (saved soul, unredeemed flesh). No man on this side of eternity has ever seen the full glory of God (Exodus 33:20, John 1:18, 1 Timothy 6:15–16). The most men have encountered of God’s majesty is the fringe of God’s splendor, and even that minimal exposure has proved to be a terrifying experience.
Even God’s choicest servants were overwhelmed by the mere afterglow of God’s glory. Whether their experience came by way of a theophany (a visible manifestation of the invisible God), a vision, or a miracle (Christ’s miracles pulled back the curtains to reveal a glimpse of His divine glory, John 2:11), their response to a partial exposure of God’s holy grandeur was universal. To a person they became filled with an acute sense of sin and guilt, fear of impending judgement and terror, all of which expressed itself in some kind of physical trembling or prostration. For example, consider the following.
God’s glory revealed and shielded through a theophany: When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, Moses responded this way, “Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Exodus 3:6).
Theophany: When the parents of Sampson encountered the angel of the Lord (an appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ) “they fell on their faces to the ground” (Judges 13:20) and Sampson’s father exclaimed, “We will surely die, for we have seen God” (Judges 13:22).
Vision: As the faithful prophet Isaiah peered into a vision of God’s glory filling the temple (Isaiah 6:1-4) this righteous man was overwhelmed by what he saw and declared “Woe is me (Isaiah cried out in abject despair!), for I am ruined (literally, “destroyed”)! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5). Seeing the glory of God through the veil of a vision, Isaiah was devastated by a sense of his own sinfulness and feared he would be destroyed.
Miracle: After the Lord miraculously filled Peter’s empty nets with a massive catch of fish, Peter, seeing the divine power and glory of the Lord, crumbled at Jesus’ feet and cried out, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8).
Miracle: Facing a fierce storm while sailing across the Sea of Galilee, the disciples fearing for their lives approached the Lord who lay asleep in the stern of the ship. Correcting their lack of faith, Jesus instantly quelled the violent tempest with the words, “Hush, be still. And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm” (Mark 4:39). What’s interesting is that the disciples were afraid as the storm raged (vs. 40 “afraid”–Greek “deilos”– means “cowardly”, see vs. 38b), but when they observed the glory of the Lord in that miracle, the text tells us they became “very much afraid” (literally “greatly terrified”) and professed, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” (Mark 4:41). The glory of Christ revealed in that miracle was more overwhelming to them than the storm and fear of drowning.
It is a frightening experience for mortal men to have a brush encounter with the glory of holy
God—even redeemed men who reside in bodies of unredeemed flesh. And yet Scripture clearly promises that when we leave this life, we go directly into the presence of the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8, Philippians 1:23).
That’s supposed to be comforting, right? So you may wonder, “When we go to be with the Lord will we only see God’s partial glory? Will we be overwhelmed by His presence? Will we have a sense of our sinfulness and cower before Him in fear? If that’s what righteous Isaiah, Peter, et al. experienced, what will we encounter when we appear before the Lord?”
All those questions are answered in one verse. It is found in the salutation of the epistle of Jude tucked away just before the book of Revelation. Consider how the Holy Spirit describes that moment when we first see God, our beatific vision. Jude 24 tells us…
“Now to Him (this is a reference to God the Father) who is able (“able” literally means “powerful”, this same word is translated “miracle” in the gospels, i.e., this verse references a work of God’s divine power, not human effort, not your power, not mine, but God’s alone)… to make you stand (not cower, but stand…where?) in the presence of His glory (this is not an allusion to the veiled glory of God in a theophany, a vision, dream, or miracle. This verse speaks of the full, undiminished, refulgent glory of God in all of its awesome beauty, and the promise is that we will stand. Why? Because we will be…) blameless (“spotless”, ”unblemished” this word is used in 1 Peter 1:19 to speak of the blamelessness of Jesus Christ Himself. We will stand because we will be as righteous, holy, and pure as Jesus is righteous, holy, and pure! And because of that great reality, our dread, our fear will be replaced by…)…great joy.”
“Oh Lord, thank you for this great promise. Thank you that You alone will bring us into the beauty of Your presence where we will drink our fill of Your joys forever.”
Allow the great truth of your future vision of God to filter what you’re experiencing in life right now. Are you at peace? Are you anxious? Are you suffering? Are you riding a wave of success? Are you depressed? Are you contemplating big decisions? Are you troubled by worry?
Remember, God’s strong arm is bringing you safely to your eternal home and your glorious inheritance, God and His glory.
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (1 John 3:2–3).