Face to Face


The explosion of social networking sites like Facebook[1] witnesses to a deep hunger in the human heart for relationship. The fact that some people are more honest on Facebook than in person testifies sadly to the tragic breakdown of intimacy in our society. The comment of a Family Court Judge is necessarily true, “the reality of all types of communication other than face-to-face is that they are inferior, and only a default choice”.[2] All the dysfunction in humanity can be traced back to a breakdown of intimate relationship. The indispensable work of the Lord in our time is the restoration of a face to face relationship with his people.

In the Beginning

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1). The Greek word translated “with God” carries the sense “looking toward God”, in the beginning the Word was “face to face with God”. The Word is the Son of God, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14).

In eternity, the Father and the Son beheld each another. As the Son looked into the face of the Father, he was filled by the Spirit with an absolute sense of being loved by God (1 John 4:8), as the Father beheld the Son, he was immersed in the love of his Only-begotten. All this was known in the Spirit.

This beautiful truth of face to face relationship “in the beginning” is the entry point for our understanding Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created”. Creation came in to being within the space enfolded in the face to face love of the Father and his Son.


To be made in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26) is to be fashioned for a fully face to face relationship. In audacious imagery, the Bible represents the Almighty as giving life to Adam through mouth to mouth (re)suscitation, “the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen 2:7) The Spirit of God was closer to the man than his own breath and relational intimacy was completely natural to his life. This is what Adam and Eve enjoyed at the beginning.

In both Hebrew and Greek, the word for “presence” is literally “face”; to see(k) the face of God is to see(k) the closest presence of God. True humanity has always cried out for a direct vision of God. “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and see the face of God?” (Ps 42:2). The ultimate divine intention is that we “will see his face” (Rev 22:4). Such a vision must be sought because it has been lost.

The Face of the Fallen

One of the striking features about the original temptation story is that God nowhere shows himself. The serpent however gets right into the face of the woman. This mysterious being knew the content of the divine warning (Gen 2:17) given to Adam before either Eve or the animals were created (Gen 2:18-24). Satan then had come from the presence of God[3], yet could confidently deny the truth of his Word (Gen 3:1-5). The face of the serpent portrayed fearless contempt for divine truth. To Eve’s eyes, Satan was living proof that the knowledge of good and evil did not cause death. This meant (so she thought) that she could have all that God had: goodness, delight, wisdom, knowledge (Gen 3:5 – 6) in herself apart from the presence of God. Self reflection would fill her with glory to the full[4]; God’s face was irrelevant for living. Tragically, all this was false.

Immediately they sinned the faces Adam and Eve were shadowed in shame and their countenances fell[5]. Instead of seeing the glory of God reflected in each other they saw the dark abyss of godlessness. Urgently they covered their nakedness (Gen 3:7 cf. Nah 3:5). When God showed his countenance the first couple fled in dishonour and fear (Gen 3:8-10) for they knew they had become utterly unlike him. As fallen and stripped of the divine pleasure, man now experienced the LORD only as a Judge and not as Father. God’s smile seemed to have been lost forever and the prospect of directly beholding him has become a mortal terror (Gen 32:30; Deut 5:22; Judges 13:22; Rev 6:16).

As created to bear an image of the divine, humans necessarily reflect a picture of what “God” is like. The “God” that fallen humanity reflects in now made in its own image; “they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man” (Rom 1:23). Since in their lostness humans are chronically angry and condemning, the face of fallen man now images the authority of a “God” who scowls at sinners in his anger.

All of us begin life by seeing the world through faces, these faces, particularly of parents, will invariably show frustration and anger towards us. This immediately imparts to every child a deep irremediable sense of shame at the core of being. Without divine revelation, lost humanity can only believe that God’s love for them is like that shown through fallen faces, conditional upon their performance.

The whole of human religion (and anti-religion) is constructed to deal with the problem of an unbridgeable gap between us and God. God must be “got on side” or rendered harmless by some means or other, either by denying his very existence (atheism), constructing a system for pacifying him (legalism e.g., Islam) or emptying him of all his personal qualities (mysticism e.g. Buddhism, Hinduism).

Even the Old Testament struggles with this dilemma. The great mediator of the old covenant Moses spoke with God “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” (Ex 33:11). Nevertheless, through contemptuous anger at God’s people Moses invalidated his right to enter the land of promise (Num 20:10 -13). No angry man could ever reveal God’s face truly enough to lead his children of God into their inheritance[6]. Despite such repeated failures under the old covenant, a prophetic promise remained, “Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.” (Ps 34:5). Such radiance was only ever visible in the beloved Son of God.

The Face of God is Jesus

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 cf. Heb 1:3). To see Jesus was to see the Father’s face perfectly reflected. Crowds flocked to be in his presence, to see his appearance, to hear his voice, to feel his touch (1 John 1:1-2). To be embedded in this sensory array was to see the Father himself (John 14:10).

Around Jesus people became self-conscious in an extraordinary way. Some fell at his feet in deep repentance (Luke 5:8), others broke down in tears (Luke 7:38) or praised God spontaneously (Luke 19:37). In Christ’s presence they began to see themselves in the way Jesus saw them, which was to see themselves in God. Before the vision of the face of God in Christ men and women turned from self-perception to God-awareness. Jesus was experienced as the antithesis of the shame bringing religious police of the day, he was “my glory, and the lifter of my head” (Ps 3:3).

However wonderful this manifest presence of God in the flesh (1 Tim 3:16) it still remained outside of the being of common man. A transaction needed to take place so what was inside of Jesus could reside inside of us. This was to be something much greater than the physical appearance of God in the Garden of Eden; it was to be God living in us.

Losing Face

When Jesus said to the Pharisees, “the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen” (John 5:37) he excluded himself from ignorance of the face of God. Jesus knew the “form of God” because it was manifested in himself own come in the likeness of sinful flesh to destroy sin (Phil 2:5-8; Rom 8:3). As he was moved by the Spirit to reach out his hands and heal the sick, cleanse the unclean, feed the hungry, raise the dead and preach good news to the poor (Luke 4:18-19), Jesus knew himself as “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). Jesus saw himself as the face of God for humanity. This is exactly what had to be lost at the cross.

On the cross Jesus’ “appearance was … marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond human likeness” (Isa 52:14). The radiance of the glory of God seemed lost from his countenance, it was as if he had become an object of shame from which an angry God hid his face (Is 59:1-2; Ps 27:9). When he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34 from Ps 22:1), Jesus had lost all sense of the blessing of God’s face shining through him (Num 6:24-26).

In “becoming sin” (2 Cor 5:21) for us he experienced his God only as a Judge and not as Father. This is the cost of Jesus taking into himself the radical unbelief in God’s fatherly goodness which is the essence of sin. Such is a place of “no pleasure” in God (Heb 10:38).

Paradoxically, the very psalm which Jesus quoted in his hour of abandonment goes on to proclaim, “For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.” (Ps 22:24). Though unseen, God’s face was absolutely drawn to Jesus in his time of despair.

The Face of the Lamb

The resurrection and ascension resolve the tension of the cross. Because Jesus’ sacrifice was the highest possible act of human faith (Heb 12:1) it drew out the infinite pleasure of the Father (Heb 11:6; Eph 5:2) who exalted him to the throne of God in fullness of joy (Heb 2:8 – 9). Jesus is forevermore “the radiance of the glory of God” (Heb 1:3).

For the believer, “God… has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor 4:6). Since Jesus now lives in us (Eph 3:17), the face of God is within us. “In Christ”, we are now clothed with the pleasure of our God. Since the Judge is our beloved Father (1 Pet 1:17), we have no need to cover up in his presence with heads hung in shame. The glorious Lamb has hidden all our sins from before him (Ps 51:9).

Outside of Christ however fear and loathing of God’s presence remains. Terrorised unbelievers cry out, ““hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev 6:16). This striking contrast in attitude to the face of Jesus is the essential difference between those who are lost and those who are found. Sadly however there is much hiding from the presence of the Lord in the church. Why?


In 2004 a book called TrueFaced confronted the lie that we can win God’s approval. To be TrueFaced before God and others is to be vulnerable, humble and transparent. It is not works that please God, but trust (Rom 1:5; 16:26). All God requires of us is that we believe that in Jesus is the fullness of his pleasure as Father.

Some years ago my wife Donna had a visionary experience of God drawing the face of Jesus upon a map of Australia. The spiritual awakening we all seek will come when people everywhere – in pubs, clubs, schools, offices, factories…see the shining face of Jesus. In a world besotted with its own appearance, Jesus is moving to show his face to the oppressed, abused, poor, weak and aged through the unconditional love of his people. To “shine like lights” (Phil 2:15) in a dark world is to reflect the glory of God in the face of Jesus shining in our own hearts. It is to walk with head high in every circumstance of life, whether rich or poor, sick or in health, young or old, beaming out the reality of the unconditional favour and blessing of the Father (Num 6:24-27; Ps 67:1).


When Jesus first called the apostles he wanted them to be “with him” before they were sent out to preach (Mark 3:14). This is a call to the busy works-oriented performance culture church of today. The Lord is saying, “I want you to be with me.”

God is stripping his people from the “fig leaves” of church-going, praying, bible reading, tithing, good manners and any number of other devotions that have so long obscured the face of Jesus. Everywhere people are growing tired of “trying to please God”, when all that he is saying is “Trust me.” In his back to front kingdom way[7]God is especially giving this revelation in the realm of life that seems most dependent on performance, the marketplace of work. A reformation is occurring – not of church order, doctrine, or ecstatic experience, but the restoration of beholding the face of God in every place where frightened human beings are trying to hide from his glorious saving presence. Glory to God in All Things!

[1] Facebook is free-access social networking website that has exploded to over 200 million users, 100 million plus users a day and the fastest growing demographic in the 35+ age group.

[2] http://www.ictwa.org.au/news/35 This seems to be a minority opinion, in most cases where a mother wants to take children outside of Australia, Skype etc. is ruled as mitigating physical separation from the father.

[3] Compare“Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.” (Job 1:6. Cf. Zech 3:1-2).

[4] The essence of sin is self-infatuation (much as in the Greek myth of Narcissus).

[5] See 2 Sam 19:5; 2 Chron 32:21; Ps 34:5; 44:15; 83:16; Isa 29:22;Jer 51:51; Ezek 7:18 and Gen 4:4-6;Ezra 9:6.

[6] On previous occasions Moses’ anger was on behalf of God (Ex 16:20; 32:19; Lev 10:16).

[7] “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Matt 19:30).

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