The engine that drives the Bible is God’s desire to be with people.
Genesis 3 and Revelation 21 are the bookends of the dramatic story of how mankind lost the privilege of being in the presence of God and how it is to be finally restored…once and for all. Sent out from the Garden of Eden banned from being in the presence of the Holy One because of sin (Genesis 3:23), Scripture tells the story of the long and painful road back into His presence. Painful for mankind to be sure. But the pain caused to the Godhead due to the load placed on the Son of God is incomprehensible. Yet because of the Father’s love, the Son’s sacrifice, and the Spirit’s outpouring, this stunning announcement is made in Revelation 21:3,
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”
Three times in that verse we are told that God will be with us. Eden has not merely been restored. It has been enhanced and enlarged. The tree of life that man had to be protected from in his sinful state (Genesis 3:24) is openly accessible once again (Revelation 22:2). Best of all is the astonishing statement, “They [the redeemed] will see his face…” (Revelation 22:4).
The hope of being in God’s presence as it was intended to be was a big part of why Abraham is called the father of faith. In Hebrews 11 we are told that the patriarch refused to build a permanent home because “he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (vs. 10).
The great lawgiver Moses, despite being on holy ground on Mt. Sinai and drawing closer to God than any human being since Adam and Eve cried out, “Please show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18). But God said, “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20).
One of the ways Jesus explained His imminent departure to the apostles was to say,
In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (John 14:2-3).
The reason for leaving ("to prepare a place") and returning ("to take you to myself") is only and ultimately realized in being WITH us ("that where I am you may be also")! The desire to be with God and behold Him without any kind of veil or hindrance is a major theme that runs throughout the Bible from the perspective of both God and man. It is probably best known by David’s closing words of Psalm 23,
I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever (v. 6).
His hope wasn’t just to live under the dominion of God in His kingdom. Nor was it to be rewarded by God by receiving crowns and acknowledgments and glory in the next life. David’s great hope was to actually be with God in His own house!
What about Paul who wrote the majority of the New Testament? In 1 Thessalonians 4, the apostle continues this great theme. After asserting that Jesus Christ will truly return to earth, he predicts that the dead in Christ will be raised at the sound of the trumpet of God,
Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord (v. 17).
It is a modern-day tragedy that so much emphasis has been put on meeting the Lord in the air, because that meeting in the air is only the means by which the truly great news is delivered. “So we will always be with the Lord.” The ride up into the sky gets all the press but for Paul, it was always being with the Lord that was/is truly incredible!
Conversely, the Bible’s greatest warnings of suffering, misery, and regret stem from a single cause: being cast away from God’s presence.
Fire and worms get all the attention but Scripture is singularly clear about what should be the true fear of all who reject God and disobey His will. Never getting to rejoice in the presence of the Godhead.
John said, “God is light, and in him is no darkness” (1 John 1:5). Three times in Matthew’s gospel Jesus spoke of the unmitigated future of the unrepentant and disobedient as being banished to “outer darkness” (Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). That means there will be no hint of God’s presence. The human mind cannot even comprehend such a thing since God is invested in every facet and aspect of our lives during this life (see Psalm 139:1-18). Whether one believes it or not has little to do with the reality of His pervasiveness in all things.
When Paul informed the Thessalonians about what was in store for their tormentors when Christ returns, the modern focus is usually on the “flaming fire, inflicting vengeance…” (2 Thessalonians 1:8). But for Paul, that is not the worst of it for he continues with “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction…” (v.9). That may sound like a quick demise both physically and spiritually but that is not what that phrase means. It means something more like “forever ruined.” And if that weren’t enough, Paul deals the final blow: “away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (v.9). Eternal ruination due to being “away from the presence…”
We seem to have gotten sidetracked in today’s Christianity. We're like Martha who is "anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary" (Luke 10:41-42). Everything must relate to being with God. Our doctrine must inform us of the only way that can take place (see John 14:6). Our worship must prepare us for being in His unfiltered presence (see Revelation 5:13). Our efforts must be geared to revealing and practicing holiness for the benefit/salvation of others (see Matthew 5:8).
There is only seeing the face of God in joy forever or seeing the face of God ever so briefly in judgment and hearing the devastating words, “I never knew you, depart from me” (Matthew 7:23).
For or against (Matthew 12:30).
With or without (Matthew 25:46).
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord: I have no good apart from you…in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16: 1; 11).