New Life in Christ: The Beatitudes for Today VII -
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”(Matt. 5:4)
What will heaven be like? It’s a good question that almost every Christian asks at some point or another. In the sixth beatitude, Jesus gives his answer. Heaven will be the beatific vision of God opened to the eyes of redeemed and purified saints. The great hope of the believer is not bodily rest after a lifetime of wearisome toil and physical impairment. It’s not the joy of final reunion with loved ones who’ve gone ahead of us to their reward. Our hope is not that one day we shall never again sin. All these, of course, will be gloriously true, but the scriptures do not hold them out to us as the primary object of our hope. Rather, our hope is well expressed in the words of Psalm 27:4: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” Job likewise wonderfully expresses the believer’s hope amidst his own great suffering, “And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:26-27).
More than any blessing or benefit of heaven’s glory, it will be the sight of God that will animate our joy and fuel our worship and satisfy our hearts forever. “This is the sum and substance of heaven,” says Spurgeon, “this is the joyful hope of all believers. It is their delight to see him now in the ordinances by faith. They love to behold him in communion and in prayer, but there in heaven they shall have an open and unclouded vision, and thus seeing “him as he is,” shall be made completely like him. Likeness to God—what can we wish for more? And a sight of God—what can we desire better?
The beatific vision, as Spurgeon well reminds us, is not reserved in its entirety for heaven. Its consummation and fullness will wait for that day – we would have little capacity to enjoy it until then anyway – but even here and now, though often clouded by sin and obscured by sorrow, we may behold “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” shining upon us “in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). For, as the apostle John declares, “No one has ever seen God; the only begotten God, who is in the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18 my translation). Jesus Christ has made God known. Jesus comes to us in the written Word of Holy Scripture, read and preached, and in the visible Words of baptism and of the Lord’s Supper; and there we see God. To be sure, now we can see only through a glass darkly (1 Cor. 13:12), whereas then we shall see face to face. Yet we do see him now, in the looking glass of the Word and are satisfied.
But notice that in the beatitude the sight of God, both here and hereafter, is conditional. Who shall see God? Anyone who wishes? Shall everyone see God? Will all who claim to believe in Jesus see God? The universal answer of Holy Scripture is that only the pure in heart shall see God. The sight of God is a gift of free unearned grace, but those upon whom that free gift is bestowed always become pure in heart before they come into the enjoyment of it. They do not earn the sight of God by the purity of their hearts. But those who see God always have hearts that are made pure. “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). No holiness, no heaven!
Therefore, “Let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1).
1 Spurgeon, C. H. (2006). Morning and evening: Daily readings (Complete and unabridged; New modern edition.). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.