"His servants shall serve him; and they shall see
his face" Revelation 22:4
With the book of Genesis and the book of the Revelation
we have the whole bound of human history and, as we read
through the Scriptures, the matter which governs in this
long record of human life is that of THE FACE OF GOD.
The expulsion from the garden (Genesis 3:24) was
expulsion from the face of God. From that time on, the
face of God was never again seen by man - except in
tokens such as His mercy and goodness - and then only on
certain occasions. In reality man did not and could not
see God's face.
Throughout the Bible we find that man's greatest
blessing, highest good and deepest longing always related
to such a Vision. How often from the heart of believing
men the cry is heard: "Lift thou up the light of thy
countenance". "Make thy face to shine on thy
servant"! On the other hand, man's deepest misery is
always when God's face is turned away - when he senses
that God's countenance is not toward him. To be
spiritually sensitive and yet to feel that there is a
cloud over the face of the Lord is the most desolating
experience of which we are capable.
The abiding issue of the face of God was brought to a
focus in the cross of Christ. At the beginning, God drove
the man out. At the end, "they shall see his
face". But midway, not in the Bible as a book, but
in human history, the cross makes it possible for men to
see God's face. On the one side, that face is turned away
- man is in desolation. On the other side, that face is
turned to him - there is hope, with new joy and new
prospects. All things are new because once more the light
of God's countenance is, in the full sense, lifted upon
believers. Genesis and Revelation meet at Calvary.
A wilderness is always a type of desolation and death.
The wilderness came when the garden was lost. It was the
result of the curse, in other words, the outcome of God's
face being turned away. Israel would certainly have
perished in the wilderness if Heaven had not intervened -
and what is more, they knew it. There was nothing there
to maintain life; it was only because there was the
Testimony in their midst that they could possibly live in
the wilderness. When their hearts were rightly adjusted
to that Testimony, they survived in the wilderness. In
the midst of death they were in life; in the midst of
desolation they were in plenty; in the midst of the curse
they were in blessing.
Later they went into captivity and knew desolation for
seventy years, and it was only when that seventy year's
accomplishment came into view that the prophet cried,
with his gospel of hope: "Speak ye comfortably to
Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her warfare is
accomplished". From that came the issue: "The
desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose";
"In the wilderness shall waters break out, and
streams in the desert" (Isaiah 35:1, 6).
The wilderness is always a symbol of desolation and death
because of the curse. Perhaps one of the most poignant of
all the issues of the Tabernacle ritual was that of the
scapegoat. One cannot read the story without feeling
desperately sorry for that goat, with all the curse of
Israel's sins transferred to it by the laying on of
hands, led out by the priest to the outer bounds of the
camp and beyond, away until the last signs of human life
were out of sight, driven out into the wilderness to die,
forsaken by God, desolate, bearing the burden of sin.
All this, of course, was symbolic of the sufferings of
the Saviour who came to bear our sins. After His baptism
He went for forty days into the wilderness, into the
realm of Satan who was the cause of it. Every wilderness
belongs to the Devil. In that place of Satan's power the
Lord Jesus would not have survived had He not been a
heavenly Man, and in type a resurrection Man. He had been
to the Jordan and in figure had died and by rising, had
We note that He was led of the Spirit into the
wilderness. When He rose from the baptismal waters in
triumph, the Spirit came in a new way upon Him, leading
Him into the wilderness as One who had overcome
desolation and death. This was all leading to the cross.
The Lord was led forward by the Spirit and He sensed what
was coming. There have been many arguments about His cup,
His exceeding sorrowfulness in the garden and His cry:
"If it be possible, let this cup pass from me"
(Matthew 26:39). Surely it was because He sensed what was
coming. It was certainly not His physical death and
sufferings which troubled Him; it was because of
necessity He was going to be forsaken of the Father with
whom, through those thirty three years, He had enjoyed
unbroken fellowship. Favours were shown to Him at His
birth: He grew in that favour as a lad, and when He came
out into public life, the heavens were opened to Him and
the voice came: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I
am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17). In the secret of
His own heart He enjoyed the Father's favour, dwelling in
the Father's bosom every day, and now that was to be
withdrawn. He was to have the Father's face turned away.
This was most dreadful of all.
So it was that on the cross He cried: "My God, my
God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Why have You
turned Your face from me? Why am I in this awful
desolation, beside which every other kind of desolation
is nothing. Thank God that when we hear the gospel we
know why. The heavens were closed against fallen man who,
apart from this suffering of Christ, would be lost for
eternity. Job gives a hint of that cry of an orphan soul:
"Oh that I knew where I might find him... Behold I
go forward, but he is not here; and backward but I cannot
perceive him: on the left hand where he doth work, but I
cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand
that I cannot see him" (23:8-9). This, however, is
but a faint indication of the sense of forsakenness known
by the Lord Jesus as He took the sinner's place.
To attempt to compare any other human distress with
Christ's cry of forsakenness on the cross would be a
sacrilege, yet many Christians have passed from
experiences of blessing when God seemed so near and so
full of favour, to times when it all seems completely to
have gone. All the tokens of the Lord's loving presence
seem to have departed. It can be a dreadful experience.
But how small are our worst trials in comparison with the
experience of being forsaken which came to the Son who
from all eternity had been in the bosom of the Father and
was now taking the place of all who had lost the face of
God through sin.
Christ's Open Heaven
Yet there is the other side, the open heaven, the face
of God. Jesus had it from the first, for heaven was open
to Him. We know that at the age of twelve He spoke freely
of God as His Father (Luke 2:49). His language was
expressive of a life with God on most intimate and
affectionate terms. At His baptism, the heavens were
opened to Him and a voice heard saying, "You are my
beloved Son". To Nathanael the Lord was able to say,
"Ye shall see the heaven opened, and the angels of
God ascending and descending upon the Son of man".
His transfiguration saw those heavens opened again, with
the same voice attesting Him as the beloved Son.
After the desolation of the cross and the tomb we read of
His being "received up in glory" (1 Timothy
3:16). Somehow that term gives point to His resurrection.
His "receiving up" suggests that the heavens
were opened to give Him a tremendous reception. There was
no-one to question His right to be at the Father's right
hand; the gates lifted up their heads and the everlasting
doors opened to welcome Him. Then at Pentecost the
heavens were opened to all believers. He poured out His
Spirit through the heavens which He Himself had opened by
the merits of His cross. In this way He attested to all
who would believe that God's face was again in their
direction. How could one better express those Pentecostal
days than to say that the light of God's countenance was
upon them all!
But there is also an inward witness. Men received the
Holy Spirit when they believed (Acts 19:2). The Spirit is
not only given to the Church as a whole, but to every
member of that Church. It is an inward reality; it proves
that the Lord is with us and His face in our direction.
The coming of the Holy Spirit, as we come into the good
of Christ's death and resurrection, brings the light of
God's face. In the terms of the Old Testament
benediction: "...the Lord lift up his countenance
upon thee, and give thee peace" (Numbers 6:26). When
His face is not toward us there is no peace. In what
seems like the crowning blessing of that last chapter of
the Bible, it is said, "They shall see his
face". This is the one thing which has been the
issue through all ages - the face of God towards man
being his greatest blessing; the loss of that vision
man's greatest desolation. Here then is the end of the
story: "There shall be no curse any more... they
shall see his face".
An Open Heaven For Us
This may seem a simple fact, how Christ won the
victory for us in the wilderness, and how much blessing
comes to us because He was willing to be forsaken on the
cross. The explanation of His cry, "Why hast thou
forsaken me?" is that this has brought to all
believers the supreme and all-inclusive blessing of
knowing that we will never be forsaken if we are in
Christ. It is not really as simple as it sounds. Have
you, a believer - perhaps for many years - in spite of
devotion to the Lord been tempted to feel that God has
forsaken you? Have you never felt as though God had left
you, parted company with and washed His hands of you? I
am not going to say that you ought to have passed through
such an experience, but it may well be, even now.
As in Adam's case, so with every child of Adam, every
member of the human race, the efforts of Satan are
directed to getting between us and God. If only he can do
that, if he can bring about that separation, it is an end
of everything and an occasion for despair. Happily in the
case of the believer in Christ, he cannot do that in
actuality; he can only tempt us to accept his suggestions
and accusations. To grasp the significance of Christ's
cry and to enter into the value of His work on the cross
in destroying the works of the Devil, this is at times
the sphere of our conflict. Nothing can get in between us
Calvary always provides an open door, an open way to
God's face, and faith is the victory (1 John 5:4). The
central matter for faith is that for one terrible moment
the Lord Jesus suffered the eclipse of that divine face
so that fellowship with God might be secured for us
forever. He has brought the light of God's countenance
back to us, and that is the great blessing. I am not
saying that we may not experience some shadow between us
and God because of some folly in grieving His Spirit.
This does happen but, thank God, it can never be a total
eclipse, for grace restores. The Lord is behind that
shadow, so that however often we experience it because of
some unbelief or failure of ours, we will find Him still
just where He was when we get the matter adjusted and are
again right with God. His promise is secure: "I will
in no wise fail thee, nor will I in any wise forsake
thee" (Hebrews 13:5).
Satan is the great enemy of fellowship with God. When
the Lord Jesus was about to come into the world, the
prophetic statement made by Zacharias was "that God
would grant unto us that we being delivered out of the
hand of our enemies would serve Him without fear"
(Luke 1:74). That went far beyond any earthly enemies.
Have you never had times when, through stress and
suffering, Satan has got so near your soul that it seemed
he might turn you against God and make you bitter towards
Him? This can be a very real experience. Satan tries to
use the believer against God, for there is no instrument
more useful to him than a Christian revolting against the
You are not surprised when unbelievers, men of the world,
flare against God, but when there are Christians
rebelling against their Lord it is a great disgrace to
His name. This need not be. Our Lord has secured victory
for us, destroying for all the impingement of the Devil's
insinuations and suggestions. If you ever do come under
such a cloud, remember that the Lord Jesus has
established forever the ground upon which God will never
leave nor forsake you, never withdraw His face from you.
Believe that! Remember that!
Deliverance by the Cross
"Why hast thou forsaken me?" I am so glad
that the story of the cross does not end there. The awful
cry to "My God..." is followed by the last
words from the cross: "Father, into thy hands I
commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46). Jesus was back on
the ground of perfect fellowship with the Father. The
victory is gained; the work is done; the enemy is
defeated; the Father's smile is upon His beloved Son.
And upon us in Christ! Whatever Satan may suggest in our
deep temptations to feel that God has left us, it is not
true. It can be a very real trial for even the most
mature Christian, to be enveloped in spiritual darkness
and provocations to despair. At such times we have many
precious promises. But even more effective for us can be
the recollection of the time when the depths of
forsakenness - real forsakenness - was plumbed for our
sakes, producing that bitter cry from our Saviour, and
then followed by the shout, "It is finished"
and the restful committal into the hands of the Father.
All that was not for Himself; it was for us who belong to
Him. Never, never will a true believer know the
desolation of God-forsakenness now that by His cross
Christ has obtained the blessing of the light of God's
countenance shining on him.
So let us rejoice that we have an open heaven, secured
for us by our blessed Lord. Not to Nathanael only but to
each of us is given the promise: "You will see
heaven opened..." One day in the glories of
eternity, we will see His face and have His name on our
foreheads. "And there shall be night no more... for
the Lord God shall give them light: and they shall reign
for ever and ever" (Revelation 24:4-5).
From "Toward the Mark" Magazine, Jul-Aug 1989, Vol 18-4.