God’s New (Testament) Face
“I will never again hide my face from them, when I pour out my spirit upon the house of Israel, says the Lord God.” (Ez 39:29). New Covenant saints behold the face of God as never before.
The knotty passage of 2 Cor 3:7-4:6 reveals the glory of this truth. Turning to Jesus removes the veil from our own face and allows us to behold God’s glory. This has the consequence of transforming us into a new glorious image (2 Cor 3:16-18), much like Moses whose own face radiated divine glory after seeing God (Ex 34:29; 2 Cor 3:7). This light of the knowledge of the glory of God shines upon us in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:6). Jesus is the very face of God (2 Cor 4:4; Heb 1:3). The destiny of humanity climaxes with a vision of God’s face—“[God’s] servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads” (Rev 22:4). On that day we will see God, not dimly through a mirror, but face to face (1 Cor 13:22). Heaven is seeing God’s face, beholding perfect glory. Yet, people reject God’s face.
When God’s face became a human face, people could not recognize it (John 1:10). Isaiah foresaw the ultimate rejection of God’s face–“Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem” (Isa 53:3). Sadly the human tendency to turn away from God’s face continues until the end. In the final day people ask the mountains, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne” (Rev 6:16). As CS Lewis says, “In the end that Face which is the delight or the terror of the universe must be turned upon each of us either with one expression or with the other, either conferring glory inexpressible or inflicting shame that can never be cured or disguised.” Here is my summary of the Bible’s teaching on “face”—God shows and offers his face to people, but due to both disgrace and arrogance people often turn their faces away, from glorious communion to shameless isolation.
Who Gets God’s Face?
In a certain way, everyone gets face by virtue of his or her humanness. The imago Dei means every person reflects the face of God. We should treat everybody with basic respect; everybody deserves dignity. But society must inevitably grant (or remove) face to regulate social behavior.
When it comes to social distinction and hierarchy, face is often granted to those of power and prominence. Face is often inherited from family and acquired from positions. Before dismissing ascribed face, realize the Bible sometimes grants face based on lineage (Mt 1:1) and position (1 Peter 2:13-14).
Though some people are granted unique quotas of social face, God expects them to use their right to face in order to serve others. In this way, face is linked ultimately to morality and righteousness, not power and privilege. Philosophers throughout history have advocated moral conduct as the basis of face. Face is a gift one receives for being an honorable person, not a commodity one grasps after to become honorable. Jesus is he exemplar–he did not seek face, yet received ultimate face (Heb 5:4-5).
Chris Flanders words are instructive, “To seek after face itself is to get things backward. We seek not face itself, but the good, virtuous, and righteous ways of living that should, or often do, lead to face. When face comes, it comes as the proper reward for a godly and faithful life” (his EMQ article). As Psalm 11:7 says, “[God] loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.”