Face to Face with the Holy One
|This post was first published in July, 2020. —ed.|
No human eyes have ever seen the full manifestation of God’s holiness and glory. But some biblical authors caught a glimpse and lived to tell the tale. In Isaiah 6, the Old Testament prophet brings us along with him into the throne room of heaven. Verse 1 sets the context, saying it happened, “in the year of King Uzziah’s death.”
Uzziah became king at age sixteen and reigned for fifty-two years under God’s continuing blessing. It was a time of unusual peace and prosperity in Judah—the best of times (other than the era of Jehoshaphat’s reign) since the time of Solomon. But Uzziah sinned by intruding into the priestly office, and God smote him with leprosy. The disease ultimately proved fatal, and when Uzziah died, the outlook was grim.
Isaiah went to the temple to seek God, and he was given a vision of heaven. He writes,
I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. (Isaiah 6:1–3)
In an antiphonal pattern,
one called out to another and said, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” (Isaiah 6:3–7)
“Woe is me” is not a phrase Isaiah used lightly, nor is it a plea for sympathy. A chapter earlier, he had used the word “woe” six times to describe God’s curse of damnation against the unfaithfulness of Judah. Now Isaiah himself stands face to face with the Lord, and he sees himself as cursed—because he saw his own sin and is overwhelmed. In a literal translation of the Hebrew, Isaiah says, “I am disintegrating because I have a dirty mouth.” He was affirming his depravity and the depravity of his people in light of God’s incomprehensible holiness. He was filled with despair because he had seen the King of kings and Lord of hosts.
But when the angel placed the burning coal on Isaiah’s lips, it depicted the application of the atonement. He was purified.
Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; keep on looking, but do not understand.’ Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim, otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:8–10)
God told Isaiah he would meet resistance. Naturally Isaiah asks, “Lord, how long?” (Isaiah 6:11). God answered:
Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant, houses are without people and the land is utterly desolate . . . . Yet there will be a tenth portion in it . . . whose stump remains when it is felled. The holy seed is its stump. (Isaiah 6:11, 13)
The apostle John says,
These things Jesus spoke, and He went away and hid Himself from them. But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet which he spoke: “Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” For this reason, they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, “He has blinded their eyes and He hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted and I heal them.” These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him. (John 12:36–41)
That is an amazing statement. John says Isaiah saw the glory of Jesus (John 12:41). The one seated on the throne in Isaiah is Christ—He is the one whom the angels perpetually hail as “holy, holy, holy.” The same blazing, shining, majestic God before whom Isaiah trembled took on frail, human flesh, concealed His glory, and humbled Himself into the form of a man. The exalted Lord of heaven is our High Priest who sympathizes with our infirmities, who triumphed over evil, and whose perfection has become our salvation. It is Him we love and serve. We must be overwhelmed by the glory of our Christ and His utter holiness. To Him we give all the glory.