Yesterday we looked at the issue of images, form and spirits through the lens of a few Old Testament passages; today we have a few from the New Testament in Jesus’ words, before we move on to another line of exploring. Getting right to it, we come to a verse from Matthew’s Gospel that we have looked at recently:
See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. (Matt. 18:10)
It was just a few weeks back, on January 4 that I posted on this section within the context of Matt. 18:10-14, the Parable of the Wandering Sheep. As you recall, this falls within a larger section in which Jesus was “discipling the disciples”, teaching them about what it means to follow Him, and focusing in on His messianic mission. Remember also that this was a transitional verse that moved into the parable, and it was all about how a disciple should not disdain or diminish anyone. This transitional verse has a way of flying past us without much notice, but for our purposes have a look. Jesus speaks of the angels in heaven who “see the face of my Father” almost in passing, really as a given, as though it would be so obvious that it really didn’t deserve any attention of its own, as He moves onto His larger point. Yet for our present adventure, we need to see that God has a face means that even in heaven, God has some sort of a form.
If this were simply a turn of phrase or an idiom, wouldn’t we expect to see in other places? We have just completed a fairly thorough review of Matthew; we have just read every word of his text, and Jesus only used this phrase once, thus it would appear that Jesus means the words literally. Shall we try another one?
I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
John 5:36-40 (emphasis added)
This passage falls within the context of 5:1-47, beginning when Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath. The man told the Jewish leaders who had done the shocking deed, and beginning in verse 16 they confront Jesus about His unlawful behavior. Jesus’ defense in vv. 19-30 is essentially that He is doing His Father’s work when the Father sees fit to do it, and then in 5:31 ff. Jesus is citing that He has two witnesses to prove this: John (the Baptist) and the Father Himself. Contextually speaking, His words in verse 37 (You have never heard his voice nor seen his form) are an integral part of His defense in which the fact that the Father has both a voice and a form are understood to be facts. If this were not the case, then Jesus is making a very poor defense and opening Himself up to further accusations.
To be quite candid at this point, the first time I looked at these passages, I was a little uneasy for even though the way I had been taught never rang true for me, and I could easily see its flaws, I find myself struggling at this point because I don’t understand how this works, and I am the sort who likes to understand how things work. Then, a certain statement that Jesus made, that we can all quote, came to mind; a passage that made the whole thing make sense to me. I can’t wait to share it with you!
But wait I will. Any thoughts?
(See you next time.)