The Face of Grace
Pencil sketch by JC Chambers
Part six in a series of God's grace from the book of John.
“From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” John 1:16-18
“No one has ever seen God.”
This statement raises some questions. What about divine appearances in the Old Testament? Take Moses for example, didn’t he meet with God on Mount Sinai? Didn’t he see God?
“When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.’ Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.’ The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.” Exodus 20:18-21
“Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.” Exodus 24:9-11
The Old Testament accounts suggest that God came down on the mountain and that Jewish leaders “saw God.” Stephen, the first Christian martyr, suggested otherwise.
“He (Moses) was in the assembly in the desert, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers; and he received living words to pass on to us. . . ‘the law that was put into effect through angels.’” Acts 7:38,53
Exodus indicates that Moses saw God. In Acts, Stephen indicates that Moses spoke to an “angel.” Which is true? In a way, both are.
Historically, kings sent emissaries to speak on their behalf. Even in our day, it’s common for heads of state to dispatch ambassadors to act in their stead. When an American ambassador speaks to a foreign ruler, it is as if the President himself is speaking. The ambassador has the authority to represent the President.
It’s reasonable to conclude that the Israelites’ frightening encounter on Mount Sinai was with angels, not with God Himself.
If angels functioned in this manner (if they were given temporary authority to serve as God’s ambassadors), then the Israelites’ frightening encounter on Mount Sinai was with angels, not with God Himself. It’s true, then, that prior to Jesus’ incarnation, “no one” had ever seen God. Jesus Christ, “God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.”
What does this mean?
We can only see God clearly through Jesus’ eyes.
God cannot be a hybrid of Mt. Sinai severity and Mt. Calvary kindness. God is not an amalgam of Old Testament “law” and New Testament “grace and truth.” “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
In the Old Testament we see God reflected through the eyes of God’s angels. They know God as master, which is why their depiction of Him is distant and severe.
In the New Testament, we see God reflected through the eyes of God’s Son. Jesus knows God as Father, which is why His depiction of Him is intimate and familiar.
What does this mean for us?
God is who Jesus says He is.
He is Our Father.