Thursday, July 9, 2009

To Gaze Upon His Face

"But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is."

1John 3:2b

y greatest desire is to see Jesus’ face. Each night while lying in my bed communing with God, I express my longing to see Him, to touch Him, and to hear His voice. To me, it will be the ultimate reward to at last be in His presence gazing upon His glorified self.

The Bible gives us little to define Jesus’ physical appearance, both then as He walked the earth and now as He is enthroned above it. We are only given small glimpses of His countenance. Isaiah wrote, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.” (Isaiah 53:2) Scripture fails to define Him as it did so with Solomon, Samson, or David. We are able to form a mental picture of what these men perhaps looked like. But not so with our Lord.

We must remember that God explicitly forbid the making of idols in any form. He did this so man would worship Him, the invisible God, instead of a graven image. (Ex 20:4) No carvings, sculptures, or images of Jesus were created during His brief tenure on earth, perhaps for this very reason. Rather, Isaiah writes: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.” (Isaiah 53:3) The Christ is described as a plain man with no distinguishing characteristics, no beauty or majesty to make Him stand out among men. Perhaps this was intentional for if God had appeared as such, His message may have been lost to the people who waited for a King in the manner and likeness of David.

In the Old Testament we know Jesus appeared to men when certain circumstances required it. He was often described in various ways: an angel (Genesis 48:16; Exodus 23:20-21; Judges 13:18-22); as the Rock (Genesis 49:24; 2Samuel 23:3; Psalms 19:14; Isaiah 26:4). Daniel described Him as a “man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around His waist. His body was like chrysolite, His face like lightening, His eyes like flaming torches, His arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and His voice like the sound of a multitude.” (Daniel 10:4-6) The men who accompanied Daniel did not see the man but knew He was there and they fled in terror. Daniel is described as feeling “helpless” and losing all strength fell to his knees. This man is noted as a “messenger” of God, but the details of His power and might make me believe it was the Lord.

I have often wondered that even the Apostles failed in their writings to give us a clearer picture of Jesus’ physical appearance. They speak fluently of His attributes, His works, His journey to the cross, but never of His physical characteristics. John the Baptist, upon seeing Jesus for the first time, describes Him in this way: “Look, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) Saul, upon his conversion, describes Christ’s appearance as a sudden “light from heaven [that] flashed around him” and knocked him to the ground (Acts 9:3-4). As was the case with the men who accompanied Daniel, those with Saul heard the “sound but did not see anyone” (v7). Mary, who faithfully followed Jesus to the conclusion of His atoning work, did not recognize Him at the tomb, “thinking He was the gardener” until He spoke her name (John 20:13-16), and the men on the road to Emmaus were kept from recognizing Jesus (Luke 24:15,16), as well as the disciples hiding behind their locked door (Luke 24:36-42).

I have always been uncomfortable over artist’s conceptions of our Lord Jesus. Many churches, especially those from our childhood, had a framed picture hanging somewhere within their confines. It depicted Him as a fair-skinned and handsome man, a sorrowful and thorn-crowned image gazing heavenward, or a haloed image with out-stretched arms. They were intended by the artist to capture certain characteristics or acts of Christ, but because we do not know what He truly looked like, they speak so little of Him and His true countenance.

Perhaps the most revealing is the description of the glorified Christ occurring in Revelation 1:12-16. This is what my eyes long to see! Although John was so overcome by what he saw that he “fell at His feet as though dead” (v17) - in other words, he fainted! - this vision of the Son of Man, the Alpha and the Omega, our High Priest adorned with all divinity, wisdom and judgment, is the image that burns within me as I lie in my bed each night. It is a reminder of what is to come and what I can expect when at last I am in His presence for all eternity. I know I will never tire of gazing upon Him and hearing Him speak my name.

One day I will see Him as He truly is. And that day cannot come soon enough.