Exodus 33:20, “…man shall not see me and live.”
When Moses asks to see YHWH’s glory on Mount Sinai, the Lord responds by telling Moses that he cannot see His face, since to see the face of God means death for a sinful human. However, John tells us that—with the incarnation of the self-declaring Word of God—what was concealed from Moses has been revealed in Jesus Christ (John 1:14)2….indeed, the face hidden on Sinai is unveiled to the eyes of faith on Calvary. Jesus Christ, crucified and raised up again IS the true face of God….So does this mean that we CAN see the face of God and live? No. Jesus Christ is the true and living face of God, revealed in perfection at the cross, and as with Moses, so with us—to see this face means death.
How can I say that? Isn’t Jesus the one who gives us the LIFE-giving revelation of God? Yes, but consider this: to see the face of God in Jesus Christ necessitates that we recognize Jesus as the one who bears our sin in His own body, who represents us under the wrath of God, who dies and is condemned in our place. The way in which Jesus achieves our redemption IS the means of the revelation of God in Him.
To put it simply for our purposes: unless we see Jesus’s death as OUR death, we have not seen and known God in Him…..Conversely, this means that the moment we DO see and know God in Him (ie, the moment we come to know Jesus as truly the face of God), is precisely the moment that we recognize and embrace the reality that HIS death is OUR death and that we have, in fact, died in His death.
Thus, in the very instant that we see the face of God in Jesus, we die. We die because in that instant we recognize—by the illumination of the Spirit—that our old self, our old life, our old identity is decisively slain at the God-revealing cross of the Son…that we were crucified, buried, and are raised up anew with the one in whom we see and know our God; the one who is Himself our life.
The recognition of God in Jesus necessitates the recognition that we truly died with Jesus, and so the moment we see the face of God revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ is the moment that we die (albeit, a death UNTO life).