We started some thoughts on whether it is good for us to long to physically see Christ while we live on this earth. For whatever reason, many have come to believe that they must see Him. Some believe that it will be a sort of seal of approval on their conversion. Others believe that you cannot truly profess to be a Christian until you have seen Him.
There are few in the New Testament who saw Christ following His ascension into the clouds. We talked about two of them in the previous post. Let’s look at one more, and then see if we can tell why they were allowed to see Jesus.
Finally there is the vision that resulted in the last book of the Bible. John, old and last living of the Apostles, was boiled in oil, twice, and lived to tell about, and now found himself alone on a little island called Patmos. Here, while about his routine “on the Lord’s Day,” finds himself face to face with Christ in all of His glory.
But this was not a happy reunion. John didn’t sit down with Jesus and remember the old days, walking around Palestine, talking and learning and witnessing miracles. They didn’t discuss the days Jesus died, rose from the dead or ascended into Heaven.
John was asked to take in the future, all of the death and judgment as well as the glory and triumph. He would have witnessed the plagues and destruction of what we call the Tribulation, but then see such glorious sights as the Millennial Reign of Jesus, the Great White Throne of judgment, and the New Jerusalem “landing” on the new Earth.
Why So Few?
So the question arises, why did so few see a vision of Christ after His ascension? I believe a vision of the ascended Christ is a special gift reserved for those who face a great or terrible task.
Stephen faced martyrdom. He was the first, as far as is known, to die for the sake of Jesus’ name. He staunchly proclaimed the Gospel of Christ, and when his death was imminent, was given a glimpse into Heaven. Imagine if he were to falter. What would have happened to the Gospel in Jerusalem if a man who spoke so strongly about Christ were to recant in order to save his life? Instead, Christ appeared to him, drawing Stephen’s gaze heavenward, away from the momentary pain and death he endured.
Paul’s life was turned upside down by his belief in Christ. Suddenly he changed from a vehement enemy of the empty tomb to a vocal proclaimer and defender of it. Think about how the heart and passion Paul put into his missionary and apostolic work. Do you think he was any less passionate or motivated when he was locking up and possibly killing Christians as apostate Jews? But it was now undeniable, having seen Christ in His glory. Now he would face stonings, beatings, prison, mockery, hateful mobs, and more. He would also be called upon to provide direction and correction for the people of God, writing letters of instruction and commentary that would go on to teach, direct and inspire millenia of believers.
And we already looked into John’s task. It was no simple time with the Friend he walked with along the roads of Galilee and Judea. This was preparation to see the most horrific and the most exciting points of history unfold before his very eyes. Read the book of Revelation and see how long it takes you. Then imagine being in the midst of the sights and sounds of each portion of the story. Imagine seeing the lake of fire, feeling its heat and hearing the cries of the souls cast into it. Consider what it would be like to see all of the earth, sun, moon, and starts as you know them burn in fire; and then hear the voice of God create out of nothing a new heaven and a new earth, to see them unscathed by sin and the Fall, pure and fresh and prepared for God’s people. These are images from just a few verses in Revelation. How much more was there to take in, to process, to relive as John wrote every word, setting, and action that burned its memory into his heart?
* * *
We think we need to see Jesus because our lives are so difficult. Most of our lives, here in Western Christianity, are soft and simple, full of blessing and ease. We think we face persecution, but don’t truly understand the meaning of the word. Friends may be lost, or we might have to endure ridicule, but when was the last time someone in your church was stoned or burned at the stake or had their family murdered simply because we said we believe in Christ?
Why do you seek a vision of Christ? Is it for His glory, or for yours? Is it so He can do something so great through your life that you will endure unfathomable hardship and might need to know beyond any doubt that He is alive and true? Or is it so that you can pin a medal on your chest and go move on to the next task, the next spiritual merit badge?
We seem to think that Jesus would want us to see Him. After all, shouldn’t we want to see Jesus?
Like I said before, it is admirable, but our plans to see Jesus should focus on eternity. He gave us the Holy Spirit to live within us, to comfort us, and to remind us of everything that Jesus said. He was sent by Jesus, in part, to satisfy that longing in our heart. Don’t forget the words of Jesus to Thomas:
“So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing” (John 20:29, The Message).