Question 181:

God said to Moses: He who sees me must die. If Jesus is God, why did the people who saw him not die?



This question refers first of all to the following section from the book of Exodus (33:18-23): “Then Moses said, Now show me your glory. And the LORD said, I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on which I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on which I will have compassion. But, he said, you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live. Then the LORD said, There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”

There is such a yawning gap between the holiness of God and the unworthiness of mankind (cf. Leviticus 117:1 ff) that human beings would have to die if they saw God (cf. Exodus 19:21; Leviticus 16:2, Numbers 4:20) or merely heard him (Exodus 20:19; Deuteronomy 5:24-26; cf. 18:16). Therefore, Moses (Exodus 3:6), Elijah (1 Kings 19:13) and even the Seraphs (Isaiah 6:2) cover their faces before Yahweh. Those who keep their lives after they have seen God are gratefully surprised (Genesis 32:31; Deuteronomy 5:24) or experience religious fear and trembling (Judges 6:22-23; 13:22; Isaiah 6:5). It is rare that God grants such grace (Exodus 24:11) such as he grants Moses and his friend (Exodus 33:11; Numbers 12:7-8; Deuteronomy 34:10) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:11 f). Both become witnesses of the transfiguration of Christ, the manifestation of God (i.e. theophany) of the new covenant (Matthew 17:3b) and will be seen as the major representatives of a mystical vision of God (together with Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:1f). In the new covenant Gods majesty is revealed in Jesus (John 1:14; 11:40), but none has seen the Father but Jesus the son (John 1:18 6:46; 1 John 4:12). Human beings will only come face to face with God in the felicitousness of heaven (Matthew 5:8; 1 John 3:2; 1 Corinthians 13:12; cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4-6). Faithful Christians can recognise Gods glory in Jesus, but only through the power of faith which is given and enabled from the Holy Spirit. During his time on earth Jesus godly majesty was hidden within his human nature. Because Christ Jesus, as the hymn in the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians says: who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8).

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