In the Bible, the face reveals the heart of both God and man, angel and demon (Prov. 27:19), and the Bible’s nearly 400 references to faces signal the magnitude of meaning they carry in God’s redemptive story.
Yesterday, I wrote about Hazael, whose shamelessly intense gaze caused Elisha to weep since he knew the wickedness in Hazael’s heart (Prov. 21:29, Jer. 5:3). Facing the God Who made the world in arrogance and defiance is a sign of trying to reach heaven with human hands.
Instead, a face that longs for God is a face of humility, turned first towards the dust from which we were created, that seeks God’s face on God’s terms alone (Numbers 14:5, Ezra 9:6, Ezek. 14:6). It is a face that sets its eyes not on the wilderness of this world (Num. 24:1) but on the person and work of Jesus Christ (2 Chronicles 30:9), on His face and His face only. God taught His people this truth from the beginning, as through His instructions for the ark of the covenant, in the cherubim who faced one another and toward the mercy seat (Ex. 37:9).
When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You,
“Your face, O Lord, I shall seek.”
And about such faces as these, see what God says! About Rachel, a mother of Israel, symbol of God’s people, God says she “was beautiful of form and face” (Gen. 29:17). The faces of God’s people are radiant with His glory and will never be ashamed (Ps. 34:5, Isa. 50:7). Because He made us, God longs to see the faces of His people! And how lovely they are to Him!
Speaking face to face is therefore so much more than a sign of communication. It comprises companionship and intimacy. It is a symbol of union. We see what is possible both now and in the life to come when God speaks to Moses “face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex. 33:11, Deut. 5:4). We find God’s loving face in how His gracious face shines on us (Num. 6:25).
Jesus showed us God’s face for a time on this earth, even giving us a glimpse of heaven’s countenance itself as He was transfigured before His apostles, when His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light (Matt 17:2).
But in this life, though God’s face is turned in love towards His people, we cannot fully return His gracious gaze. The sorrow of this broken world still covers our eyes, like the veil that Moses drew over his face after he read out the law (Ex. 34:33, 1 Cor. 13:12, see also 1 Cor. 11:2-16).
And like the Israelites at that time, we too possess the Word of the Lord but in even fuller form. More than what God gave the Israelites, we now know the blessing of the New Covenant. The veil of the temple has been torn in two (Matt. 27:51).
But as God teaches us through the heavenly-minded words of the Apostle John, though paper and ink will do for now, it cannot compare with that great day, when we will see our Saviour again, face to face. And our eyes will see the glory of the Lord (2 John 1:12).
Though I have many things to write to you,
I do not want to do so with paper and ink;
but I hope to come to you and speak face to face,
so that your joy may be made full.