The Barrier

The object of life on earth is that man made in the divine image should see God (visio dei). Early in the Bible we learn that to see God spells death (Gen. 16:13). And though some like Jacob imagine that they have seen him (32:30), it is more likely that they have seen an angel (Jud. 6:22) or a theophany. While Moses is said to speak with God face to face (Ex. 33:11, cf. Gen. 2:16f.; 3:8f.), he is firmly told that man cannot see the face of God and live (Ex.33:20). Paul testifies to the fact that even the law was delivered by angels (Gal. 3:19, cf. 1:8; Acts 7:53). The implication of this is apparently not so much that sin is a barrier (though it is, cf. Isa. 59:2, etc.) but that the flesh as flesh is. In other words, the material creation, though testifying to the power and glory of God (Rom. 1:20), hides the divine essence just as Jesus’ flesh obscured his glory during the days of his incarnation.

John tells us in 1:14 that ‘we’, that is, the apostles have seen the glory of the Word ‘tabernacled’ in flesh (cf. 1 John 1:1-3) both before and after the resurrection (Luke 24:39; John 20:29). John 2:11 intimates that Jesus’ glory is manifested by the signs or works he performs (cf. 11:4,40). Later it becomes evident that his greatest glory is revealed in his crucifixion, resurrection and exaltation to heaven (12:23; 13:32; 17:1). But as 17:24 implies, the full majesty and splendour of his glory is only displayed in heaven (cf. Rev. 5:12) when it is no restricted by earthly limitations.

In John 14:9 Jesus tells Philip that he who has seen him has seen the Father. Clearly physical vision is not involved but spiritual discernment is. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:14 the unregenerate or natural man does not understand the gifts of the Spirit since they are spiritually discerned. Since God himself is spirit, in this world he can only be seen spiritually (cf. Heb. 11:27). And those who are dominated by the physical or material of this world are blind to his reality (cf. 2 Cor. 4:3f.). In light of this, it is scarcely surprising that the glory of Christ (John 1:14; 2 Cor. 3:18; 1 John 1:1f.) and his cross though perceived by the apostles is hidden from disbelievers. Believers on the other hand who are led by the Spirit of God not only see his glory but are slowly but surely being changed into his likeness (2 Cor. 3:18) not merely morally but generically (cf. Phil. 3:21). Furthermore Paul tells us that though now we see only dimly as in a mirror, the time will come when we shall see face to face (1 Cor. 13:12).

This is clearly in harmony with Jesus’ so-called high-priestly prayer where he asks the Father that those who belong to him may see his glory (John 17:24). Even though Moses’ desire to see the divine glory was not granted and he only saw the invisible by faith (Heb. 11:27), the promise was firmly embedded in the OT revelation. While Isaiah can draw attention to the fact that God is a devouring fire in whose presence no flesh can dwell (33:14, cf. Dt. 4:24; 9:3; Jas. 5:3) and Paul insist that God is inaccessible in light (1 Tim. 6:16), nonetheless the hope is that the King or Messiah will be seen in his beauty (Isa. 33:17, cf. Ps. 27:4) and the Lord in his glory (Isa. 66:18). In light of all this it is scarcely surprising that in heaven before the throne of God and the Lamb worshippers will see his face (Rev. 22:4). Here the hurdles constituted by both the flesh and sin will have been overcome respectively by transformation and atonement. While access to God is a spiritual reality during life on earth (Eph. 2:18; 3:12; Heb. 4:16), in heaven the curtain that formed a barrier but was torn aside by the death of Jesus will have been totally obliterated (Heb. 10:19-22) and we shall be welcomed into the Father’s house (John 14:3, cf. 12:26). Truly the Lord will be there (Ezek. 48:35).

With all this in mind, we can begin to appreciate why Jesus taught the necessity of the new birth (John 3) and Paul the need for transformation (1 Cor. 15:50-55). While on the one hand the natural man even apart from sin (naturally) lacks the capacity to perceive spiritual reality (1 Cor. 2:14) as Jesus intimates in John 3:3, the deliberately sinful man blinds himself (John 8:43f., cf. 2 Cor. 4:3f.). Regrettably, under Augustinian influence, the church has put all its emphasis on sin, ignoring the fact that even Adam in his so-called righteousness and holiness could not see God. That was the goal, not the beginning, of his creation. This is implied of course by the promise that he would gain eternal life if he kept the commandment (Gen. 2:17, cf. Rom. 7:9). He failed (cf. Rom. 7:10), and his failure necessitated the arrival of a second Adam who would live the perfect(ed) human life and enter the very presence of his Father as man (1* That is, as man spiritually perfected but certainly not incarnate as some seem to imagine. This Paul specifically forbids, 1 Cor. 15:50, cf. Heb. 2:7,9.), thereby paving the way for the rest of us. While Matthew (27:51), Mark (15:38) and Luke (23:45) tell us that the temple curtain has been torn in two, the author of Hebrews indicates that Jesus entered the inner shrine behind the curtain as our forerunner (Heb. 6:19f.), or again, as we have already seen, that through the curtain of his flesh he enables us to draw near in full assurance of faith (Heb. 10:19-22).

It is then not simply sin but our creation as flesh in a material world that prevents our seeing God who is spirit. Paul was very aware of this when he wrote his letters to the Corinthians. He realized that while he was at home in the body (of flesh) he was away from the Lord and that being away from that body and at home with the Lord is better (2 Cor. 5:6,8; Phil. 1:21,23). So if we could ask him how to overcome his problem, he would doubtless reply that resurrection transformation is necessary and this he spells out in 1 Corinthians 15:42-55 (cf. Rom. 8:23). As an adopted child of the immortal God, mortal man needs a spiritual body to enable him to enter the divine presence and see his glory. But this as Paul intimates has been God’s intention from the start (2 Cor. 5:5). Man is not only to be presented blameless before his immortal and incorruptible Maker (Eph. 1:4) but he is also to be perfected or glorified generically as his child in the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18; Phil. 3:21).