A letter to my Brothers and Sisters:
I have a proposition, a claim I’d like to make. You may be skeptical, so I’ll try to support it with scripture. My hope is that you dive in open to God’s infinite possibilities, and come out hopeful of the following: God can be met in personal, glorious experience.
“Officially,” I’m titling this letter “The Veil.” I’d like to support my claim through a scriptural history of the veil and its imagery in the Bible. There’s a lot of background reading at the beginning, so bear with me.
We begin with accounts of Moses and God. Moses had very personal experiences with God.
Exodus 33:12-23 (All passages in the ESV):
Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp. Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise up, and each would stand at his tent door, and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.
Moses said to the Lord, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”
And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”
God answering the requests:
The Lord said to Moses, “Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. Be ready by the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to me on the top of the mountain…. So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the first. And he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone. The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord… And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”
And he said, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai – the effect of God’s presence:
So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. Afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the Lord had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face.
Whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him.
I’d like to re-iterate a few points from these passages: First, Moses would go meet with God in the Tabernacle, talking with Him “face to face.” At one point, Moses effectively says to God, “What, other than the fact that Your presence goes with us, will indicate that we are Your people?” Then, Moses asks God to see His glory, and God answers with a yes – a yes with an asterisk, for the full extent of God’s glory (His “face”) is so incredible, so powerful, that it would kill Moses. Then, after communing with God for a while, Moses returns and his face literally glows. This continues as he meets with God in the Tabernacle. The people of Israel are afraid though. They think, “This is weird. This is… scary. Let Moses do the face-glow thing.” So Moses puts a veil over his face to hide the glowing. This veil over his face is in many ways an extension to the veil in the Tabernacle. Earlier on, God had given these words of instruction concerning the Tabernacle’s construction:
“ And you shall make a veil of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. It shall be made with cherubim skillfully worked into it. And you shall hang it on four pillars of acacia overlaid with gold, with hooks of gold, on four bases of silver. And you shall hang the veil from the clasps, and bring the ark of the testimony in there within the veil. And the veil shall separate for you the Holy Place from the Most Holy.”
The veil separated the people from the presence of God. It was the divider in the Tabernacle, and later in the Temple at Jerusalem. Jumping to Hebrews 9, we learn some more about this division:
Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing.
The Holy of Holies was a big deal. The presence of God is a big deal. [EDIT:
When the high priest entered, the people would tie a rope to his leg in case he died; that way they could pull him out. Apparently the rope thing is a legend.] The central aspect of the Temple was not the golden ornamentation, but the Divine Presence.
What is meant here by God’s presence? Isn’t He present everywhere? Yes, in one sense. Consider the words of David (Psalms 139:7-12):
“Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.”
God is present everywhere. What then do we make of the presence in the Holy of Holies, or of Moses asking God to keep His presence with the Israelites? Clearly these passages are speaking of something different. There is a difference between God being everywhere, His omnipresence, and God making His presence felt, His manifest presence. The Holy of Holies was the home to God’s manifest presence.
What is God’s presence like? What is glory? Interestingly, the Hebrew word for glory, kabod, has a dual meaning. It means both light/splendor and weight. There is a bright, brighter than the sun, more golden than gold light and splendor about God. At the same time, it is not garish, not without substance, for His glory is also heavy. That is, there’s a significance, a weight, an overpowering nature to His presence. How to describe the presence of God? God appears as fire to Moses in the burning bush, and tongues of fire, along with the sound of rushing wind appear when the Holy Spirit arrives at pentecost. These images give but a taste, a picture more like it.
So what? Can you or I ever experience the presence of God? Does God ever manifest Himself to us like He did with Moses? Notice what happens when Jesus dies (Matthew 27:50-51):
“And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.”
The curtain, the veil, the separator between God’s presence and the people was torn in two! Let’s jump back to Hebrews (9:8-14), which fleshes out what this means:
By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
And the explanation continues in Hebrews 10:15-22
And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,
“This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
and write them on their minds,”
then he adds,
“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
Do you hear what that’s saying? !!!!!! It’s an instruction: Having boldness through Jesus, who by His flesh has made a way for us through the veil, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith. The veil is torn. Jesus’ torn flesh tears the divider between God’s presence and us.
In the Old Covenant, the Holy Spirit was given to a select few. In the New Covenant, the Holy Spirit indwells all believers:
In him [Jesus] you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
1 Corinthians 3:16
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
I fear I will fail to write about this well enough. So immense are these facts.
Now, now, now hear these following words! This passage is incredible, so let it sink in.
2 Corinthians 3:3-18
And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.
Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
Heyaa! We all, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed more like unto Him on whom we gaze! The Greek word for “beholding” here is sometimes translated as “reflecting,” because the imagery of the word is that of a mirror. Both have truth. A few versions essentially translate it as “beholding as in a mirror.” Another as “see and reflect.”
How powerful is seeing the glory of God? Well, as God told Moses, the full extent could kill. In another passage, we read the following:
1 John 3:1-3
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
In the day of Christ’s return, we will become like Him. Why? Because we will see Him fully – as He is. We become like God simply by seeing Him; it’s that powerful. And like some of these passages I’ve included up till now suggest, we can begin to see Him now. To catch glimpses of His glory. Bright frames that transform our lives. We are offered “boldness to enter the Holy of Holies.” The veil is done away with in Christ. But do we look? Do we enter? And if we want to, how do we do it? Plus, isn’t it somewhat contradictory to suggest that we can behold His glory unveiled and yet won’t see it fully until the Second Coming? Yet, that’s what these verses seem to suggest, and I would like to suggest that we see some things tie together in the following verses:
1 Corinthians 13:11-12
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
Here we again witness the idea of seeing through a mirror. Mirrors back in ancient times weren’t the polished, pristine production they are today. Often they were made of metal. Looking through this “mirror” (when we even look) we see God imperfectly. Yet even these imperfect glimpses are enough to be “transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” I say “when we even look.” It is possible to ignore God. God is here. Now. Here now where you are reading this. Not in some vague 3D spiritual mist sort of way. He’s much too personal for that. Furthermore, He relentlessly pursues us. But while He pursues us, He also longs to be pursued.
My Dad loves to quote Hebrews 11:6: “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Or, as the King James puts it, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” We must diligently seek God.
Moses asked. If I had to sum up everything I wanted to say in two words, it would be those two words: Moses asked. He asked for God’s presence among the people. He asked to see God’s glory.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Constantly, Jesus was turning us from the outward to the inward. From just “Don’t murder” to “Don’t hate.” From “Don’t commit adultery” to “Don’t lust.” And what does He speak of as the blessing for those with a pure heart? To see God.
God is not a mechanism. We can’t force Him to do something. We can’t force Him to make His presence felt. We can’t force Him to show us His glory, but He’s torn down so many of the barriers. We can’t force Him to answer a single prayer, but that fact doesn’t keep us from praying about a multitude of things. I suggest that we extend this to asking to see Him as He is. We’re told to love Him right? What better way to get aid in loving God than to meet God in conscious experience. So pursue Him doggedly. Doggedly with hope. Ask Him to speak, to reveal His love, to show His glory, to teach you to dance with Him. You never know what He’ll do. Perhaps he’ll show up unexpectedly one day when you’re microwaving some popcorn for a night snack. A flood of light and joy beyond compare. Maybe while you’re praying. Maybe when you wake up one morning. Who knows? Ask. Ask and be willing to give yourself to pursuit.
So back to the mirror. To our imperfect glimpses. What’s going on? A.W. Tozer gives one plausible answer in the following section of his book The Pursuit of God. It’s a very hard-hitting passage and well worth reading. Also, it concludes this letter. God bless.
“Between the scribe who has read and the prophet who has seen there is a difference as wide as the sea. We are today overrun with orthodox scribes, but the prophets, where are they? The hard voice of the scribe sounds over evangelicalism, but the Church waits for the tender voice of the saint who has penetrated the veil and has gazed with inward eye upon the Wonder that is God. And yet, thus to penetrate, to push in sensitive living experience into the holy Presence, is a privilege open to every child of God.
With the veil removed by the rending of Jesus’ flesh, with nothing on God’s side to prevent us from entering, why do we tarry without? Why do we consent to abide all our days just outside the Holy of Holies and never enter at all to look upon God? We hear the Bridegroom say, “Let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice and thy countenance is comely.” We sense that the call is for us, but still we fail to draw near, and the years pass and we grow old and tired in the outer courts of the tabernacle. What doth hinder us?
The answer usually given, simply that we are “cold,” will not explain all the facts. There is something more serious than coldness of heart, something that may be back of that coldness and be the cause of its existence. What is it? What but the presence of a veil in our hearts? a veil not taken away as the first veil was, but which remains there still shutting out the light and hiding the face of God from us. It is the veil of our fleshly fallen nature living on, unjudged within us, uncrucified and unrepudiated. It is the close-woven veil of the self-life which we have never truly acknowledged, of which we have been secretly ashamed, and which for these reasons we have never brought to the judgment of the cross. It is not too mysterious, this opaque veil, nor is it hard to identify. We have but to look in our own hearts and we shall see it there, sewn and patched and repaired it may be, but there nevertheless, an enemy to our lives and an effective block to our spiritual progress.
This veil is not a beautiful thing and it is not a thing about which we commonly care to talk, but I am addressing the thirsting souls who are determined to follow God, and I know they will not turn back because the way leads temporarily through the blackened hills. The urge of God within them will assure their continuing the pursuit. They will face the facts however unpleasant and endure the cross for the joy set before them. So I am bold to name the threads out of which this inner veil is woven.
It is woven of the fine threads of the self-life, the hyphenated sins of the human spirit. They are not something we do, they are something we are, and therein lies both their subtlety and their power.
To be specific, the self-sins are these: self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-admiration, self-love and a host of others like them. They dwell too deep within us and are too much a part of our natures to come to our attention till the light of God is focused upon them. The grosser manifestations of these sins, egotism, exhibitionism, self-promotion, are strangely tolerated in Christian leaders even in circles of impeccable orthodoxy. They are so much in evidence as actually, for many people, to become identified with the gospel. I trust it is not a cynical observation to say that they appear these days to be a requisite for popularity in some sections of the Church visible. Promoting self under the guise of promoting Christ is currently so common as to excite little notice.
One should suppose that proper instruction in the doctrines of man’s depravity and the necessity for justification through the righteousness of Christ alone would deliver us from the power of the self-sins; but it does not work out that way. Self can live unrebuked at the very altar. It can watch the bleeding Victim die and not be in the least affected by what it sees. It can fight for the faith of the Reformers and preach eloquently the creed of salvation by grace, and gain strength by its efforts. To tell all the truth, it seems actually to feed upon orthodoxy and is more at home in a Bible Conference than in a tavern. Our very state of longing after God may afford it an excellent condition under which to thrive and grow.
Self is the opaque veil that hides the Face of God from us. It can be removed only in spiritual experience, never by mere instruction. We may as well try to instruct leprosy out of our system. There must be a work of God in destruction before we are free. We must invite the cross to do its deadly work within us. We must bring our self-sins to the cross for judgment. We must prepare ourselves for an ordeal of suffering in some measure like that through which our Saviour passed when He suffered under Pontius Pilate.
Let us remember: when we talk of the rending of the veil we are speaking in a figure, and the thought of it is poetical, almost pleasant; but in actuality there is nothing pleasant about it. In human experience that veil is made of living spiritual tissue; it is composed of the sentient, quivering stuff of which our whole beings consist, and to touch it is to touch us where we feel pain. To tear it away is to injure us, to hurt us and make us bleed. To say otherwise is to make the cross no cross and death no death at all. It is never fun to die. To rip through the dear and tender stuff of which life is made can never be anything but deeply painful. Yet that is what the cross did to Jesus and it is what the cross would do to every man to set him free.
Let us beware of tinkering with our inner life in hope ourselves to rend the veil. God must do everything for us. Our part is to yield and trust. We must confess, forsake, repudiate the self-life, and then reckon it crucified. But we must be careful to distinguish lazy “acceptance” from the real work of God. We must insist upon the work being done. We dare not rest content with a neat doctrine of self-crucifixion. That is to imitate Saul and spare the best of the sheep and the oxen.
Insist that the work be done in very truth and it will be done. The cross is rough, and it is deadly, but it is effective. It does not keep its victim hanging there forever. There comes a moment when its work is finished and the suffering victim dies. After that is resurrection glory and power, and the pain is forgotten for joy that the veil is taken away and we have entered in actual spiritual experience the Presence of the living God.
Lord, how excellent are Thy ways, and how devious and dark are the ways of man. Show us how to die, that we may rise again to newness of life. Rend the veil of our self-life from the top down as Thou didst rend the veil of the Temple. We would draw near in full assurance of faith. We would dwell with Thee in daily experience here on this earth so that we may be accustomed to the glory when we enter Thy heaven to dwell with Thee there. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”