Friday, January 27, 2012

Seeing God . . . Or Not

It seems we go through spates now and then where people claim to have gone to heaven and seen God, along with all sorts of things in heaven—from the beautiful to the bizarre. 

I'll never forget one such book back in the late 80s or early 90s talking about seeing replacement body parts hanging from the wall to be sent here to earth for people who needed them. Um, yeah. 

I've got some views on that subject after some Bible study and prayer. My views might irritate a few people, but that's par for the course. Whatever the case, here is mine. As always, let's go first to God's Word to discern truth about our chances of physically seeing God and visions of heaven that we can come back here to tell the world on television, radio and magazines. 

First, let's go to Exodus 33, when Moses asked to see God's glory, God replied:

And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” Then the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.”

This is backed up in the New Testament too:

Joh 1:18* No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.

1Ti 6:16* who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.

The reason for this is that man in his sinful, fallen state cannot behold the spiritual face and glory of God unveiled. When God did appear in visible form to man after the fall, it was generally in the form of an angel, or in the account above, God hid most of His glory with His hand and Moses was only allowed to see His back. Even then, when Moses came down from the mountain, his face shone so brightly the people were afraid and Moses had to veil his own face until the shining dimmed. God also occasionally appeared in visions, which isn't like seeing Him directly face to face. Appearances of God in Scripture are called "theophanies."

The Lord Jesus is God the Son - God Incarnate, meaning God clothed in human flesh. Immanuel means "God with us." Here is what Scripture (Hebrews 1:1-3) says about Jesus:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.."

The disciples were given a glimpse of Jesus in His glory in what is called the Transfiguration. The verses are in Matthew 17 . . .

"Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and *led them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified. And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, “Get up, and do not be afraid.” And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus Himself alone. As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.”

Interesting that instead of telling them to go blab it right away, the Lord restricted them. The Transfiguration would have more resonance after the miraculous Resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead.

One final thing to note: the Apostle Paul saw the Risen Christ, and at one point, he was taken to heaven in a vision. But he was forbidden by the Lord to reveal what he saw while there. In the context, he begins by saying "I know a man," but when you keep reading it's clear he was talking about himself. This is in 2 Corinthians 12:

"I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago--whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows--such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man--whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows--was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak."

Paul even said that the Lord had give him a "thorn in the flesh" because of the greatness of the revelation - to keep Paul's sin nature from exalting himself.

To me, this is sort of the clincher with all these people claiming to have seen God face to face and having visions of Heaven. God's revelation to us in Scripture is His final Word, and if the Apostle Paul was forbidden to reveal what he saw, that makes me very skeptical of those who are out there writing books about it now and making television appearances. So many of these people reveal the bogusness of their stories when they say things that are completely UNBIBLICAL in the telling of their stories. 

Rest assured of this—God will never contradict His written Word. Never! 

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