I always selected a study table on the second floor of Morgan Library next to a window. I liked the natural light and signs of life visible through the glass: verdant lawn, budding trees, flitting birds, and students walking across Grace College campus. Most importantly, the view gave me a vantage point to spot her face. I could locate it from two hundred yards away. Her face was radiant. Her name was Liz. Eventually, we wed.
The face is a remarkable subject of study. For the most part, every face boasts two eyes, two ears, one mouth, and a nose. Forty-two muscles control countless facial expressions. A layer of skin covers the skull and interlocking jawbone. Hair sprouts from the crown and brow and, perhaps, the cheeks, upper lip, ears, nose, and chin. Within this basic framework of common features, an infinite variety of faces emerges. No two faces are exactly alike. Even identical twins have distinctions—moles, birthmarks, wrinkles, and scars.
We all have custom-designed faces: fearfully and wonderfully made, definitive and unique. This means despite feeling invisible, we are often recognizable. Surprisingly, this fact remained true during a global pandemic, when half our face was concealed by a thin layer of cloth. Our eyes don’t lie; nor do the bridge of our nose, forehead, and brow.
You have a face. So do I.
So did my wife-to-be. This explains how I could spot her in a mob of freshmen making their way to Alpha Hall to beat the lunch rush. Or, how I could locate her on the opposite side of chapel in a dimly lit room. Or, how I can still easily distinguish her from the other end of the grocery store on a busy Saturday.
I know her face. It radiates and draws my attention.
Faces get our attention because we give them attention. We wax and shave them, put on makeup and moisturize them, stare at them in the mirror and take selfies of them. We straighten and whiten our teeth, choose glasses with chic frames, style our hair for the season, and shoot Botox into our lips. We want to put our best faces forward because we are known by our faces.
Your face radiates you to others. My face radiates me. Through our faces, we reflect our selves to the world. However, in the words of Paul, this reflection is “dim” or “dark” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
I may find my wife’s face radiant, but my knowledge of her is limited. My knowledge of myself is limited. My knowledge of everyone, including Jesus, is limited. And only by Jesus am I fully known. This leads to a lingering experience of “dimness” in our “evil days” (Galatians 1:4; Ephesians 5:16).
We are not our full selves yet. Our status as saints may be secure in Jesus, but the fullness of our glory, which is Christ’s glory shared, has yet to be revealed. We press on in hope of this glory.
One of the motifs used in the Bible to depict Christian hope is an intimate, face-to-face encounter with Jesus. This imagery likely alludes to Aaron’s moving benediction over the people of Israel. Before reaching the Promised Land—living between Exodus and Arrival—the high priest prayed words of hope over God’s people. To this waiting-and-wandering generation, he said,
“The LORD bless you and keep you;
The LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26 ESV).
This pronouncement of blessing became a refrain in Israel’s poetry and prophecy. Though not exact parallels, the following verses hint at or draw from Aaron’s prayer: Deuteronomy 33:2; Psalms 27:1, 34:5, 50:2, 80:1, 94:1; Isaiah 10:17, 60:1-3; Micah 7:9; Malachi 4:2. Likewise, echoes appear in Zechariah’s prayer at the news of God’s coming salvation through Messiah (Luke 1:78). Aaron’s blessing and its echoes anchored hope in God’s saving grace, lasting favor, and coming peace. More importantly, the facial imagery implied God saw, knew, and drew close to his people. He turned toward his people; he spotted their distinct faces. In his theological dictionary of the Old Testament, VanGemmeren summarizes,
“The form of the blessing assumes the specific benefits of God’s favor, grace, and peace will result from God’s moving toward his people… Israel clearly regarded God’s shining face as a guarantee of blessing that was sufficient for many different circumstances.”
Jesus had a face. He had two eyes, two ears, one mouth, and a nose. His skin probably was not white; his teeth were likely out of alignment. In fact, according to Isaiah 53, he doubtfully drew a second glance. But his face was unique—fearfully and wonderfully made—and radiant in that it perfectly expressed the nature of his heavenly Father (Hebrews 1:3).
Jesus still has a face. He beams a glorious smile from his resurrected body seated at God’s right hand. His face looks down from heaven with pity, compassion, and prayers for his people (Hebrews 4:15-16; cf. Romans 8:34). He can spot us from across the cosmos slogging through our light and momentary sufferings (2 Corinthians 4:17). And he knows we will be radiant.
We are not there yet.
Glory and radiance (or radiant glory) are our destinations as disciples of Jesus. Paul, Peter, and John developed this theme. Our theology books explain it. We have been justified; we are being sanctified; we will be glorified (Romans 8:29-30). The precious blood of Jesus saved us, but we only enter his glory when he is revealed (1 Peter 1:3-19; 17-21). Our full status as adopted sons and daughters will be fully realized when we see the face of Christ (1 John 3:1-3).
A remarkable transformation awaits us when the face of Jesus shines on us. Not only will we become the fullest version of ourselves, but we will be fully known. In his closing reflection in Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes,
“The more we get what we call ourselves out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. There is so much of Him that millions and millions of ‘little Christs,’ all different, will still be too few to express Him fully… It is no good trying to ‘be myself’ without Him. The more I resist Him and try to live on my own, the more I become dominated by my own hereditary and upbringing and surroundings and natural desires… It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His Personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.”
Without trying to yield my theology to psychology, I wonder if there isn’t something powerfully humanizing, healing, and, therefore, hopeful, in having every aspect of my life totally exposed and completely embraced by Jesus. The combination is important. Exposure without embrace leads to shame. Paul writes, “Hope will not put us to shame” (Romans 5:5). Conversely, embrace without exposure may encourage hiding or discourage growth.
As followers of Jesus, we should want to grow, inching ever closer to glory each day. Indeed, this is our hope. But we must not depersonalize “the glory” to which we are called. As wonderful as streets of gold, glassy seas, and endless Hallelujah choruses may sound, the hope of heaven is in a face. Our hope is a living hope (1 Peter 1:3) because a risen Savior anchors it (Hebrews 6:19).
I am convinced that Peter—who witnessed the glorious face of Jesus during the transfiguration and after the resurrection—equated his heavenly hope with the face of Jesus. He wanted his suffering readers (and us) to do the same. He wrote, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13 ESV).
In modern terms, Peter suggested taking a seat by the window on the second floor, keeping one eye on the books and the other looking out. Hope is on the horizon, coming on the clouds, with a brilliant face (Titus 2:13). And when he appears we will be like him because we shall see him as he is. We will see him face to face (1 John 3:2; 1 Corinthians 13:12). We will be fully known—exposed and embraced—basking in the radiance of Jesus’s glory. – by Timothy D. Sprankle (Timothy D. Sprankle is a husband, father, and pastor of Leesburg, Ind., Grace Church since 2007. He has co-authored two commentaries, co-leads the Charis Symposium, and has never considered Botox treatments for his radiant face.)
 VanGemeren (ed.), New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis [vol 1], (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 324-325.
 Lewis, Mere Christianity, (New York: Touchstone, 1996), 190.
 We know this is what Stephen saw moments before his death. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:56). Stephen, face shining despite the barrage of stones, cried out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit… Lord, do not hold this against them.” (vv. 59-60). He went down in a blaze of glory.