I have found throughout my life that I often fall into fear when I think about that “final day”—the day when the Lord will return to judge the earth and to make all things new. Will I be ready? As a 6-year-old, my fears were more entertaining than actually concerning: “What if I don’t have my teddy bear with me? Will I have time to run home and get him? I can’t go to heaven without him, certainly God knows this!”
But as I have grown in my understanding of this last day, with the realization that all I will have ever wanted or needed will be waiting ahead in heaven, not behind me on this earth, those material fears have subsided. In their place, more “mature” fears have grown—fears not about bringing my teddy bear through the pearly gates, but about bringing myself before the throne of God. The more I learn of this King, the louder this fear gets. Will He approve of me? How could He? Of course, because of Christ… but have I held to Him tightly enough? Have I loved Him with all my heart, soul, and strength? Certainly not… I have loved so many other things with all my heart. I have traded His word for more time scrolling on my phone; I have chosen the idols of my comfort over the suffering of His service; I have rejected the fellowship of His people for the solace of my pride and self-centeredness; I have lived out of the shifting sand of my emotional whims rather than on the truth of His enduring word; I have judged others in my heart with hatred even as I drink from His forgiveness and merciful forbearance toward my own filthiness. I am full of sin—still. I say to myself so often that I know His grace is sufficient—yet I cannot help but wonder—will it really cover me?
In Exodus 33, Moses intercedes on behalf of the people of Israel, pleading with the Lord to indeed go out with them, in order that they might be distinct from the other nations, having the only true God before and with them. In this passage, the Lord agrees to go with Moses, as he has asked. For confirmation, Moses asks that he might see the glory of the Lord, as proof that he has indeed found favor in His sight. The Lord agrees, and one of the most fascinating elements of this passage is the response He gives to Moses: “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name, the LORD.” It is worth pausing to reflect here on the way that God describes His glory: it is all His “goodness.” Is this how we think of God’s glory?
Before the Lord passes before Moses, He makes two things very clear: first, no man can behold God, the Lord, and live, and second, His face shall not be seen, only His back:
“You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” And the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”
The Lord makes provision for Moses, to protect him from the death that comes from beholding His glory as one who is not worthy. The Lord, not Moses, makes this provision. He promises that He will hide Moses in the cleft of the rock when He passes by. This language echoes back to the Passover, when the people were covered by the lamb’s blood, while those uncovered were subject to judgment. I know that the Passover symbolism gestured toward Jesus, but do I recognize Christ when I see Him in Exodus 33, as well?
Here, when God hides Moses in the cleft of the rock, He points forward to that “final day” of judgment that we were worrying about at the beginning. Moses is about to stand before God Himself in all His splendor, and as the Lord has made clear, no man can truly stand before this sight and survive. Merely beholding the Lord would mean instant death for those whose eyes are unclean—like ours. In the beautiful mercy of God’s actions in this passage, we witness His immutability—His unchangeability. To those uncovered by His hand, the sight of His glory means death; but to those hidden by Him, that same glory means life, protection—peace. The difference is found in us, not Him.
It was in meditating on this passage in Exodus that I realized that all my fears about the final day were valid—left to myself, I will never cling to Christ enough or pull from His mercy enough to truly cover me in such a way that I could stand before the throne of God with peace or surety of salvation. But oh, how sweet the words of this passage are to me now: “I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand..” There is no part of this covering that was done by Moses. He was not instructed to climb into the rock and to “be sure not to turn around, lest you die.” There was no duty left to Moses, except to gaze on the beauty, the splendor, the goodness that passed before Him. He was fully and effectively shielded from the glory that would mean death to him with sinful eyes not covered by God Himself.
And this is just how it will be on the final day. I have believed in Jesus, and I am in Him. All of those metaphors throughout the Bible about Christ as a “Rock” and “Cornerstone” are not just literary devices. They gesture toward moments like this when Moses was hidden in the rock, or when the Israelites’ thirst was quenched by the rock that gushed streams of water. We see later in the New Testament that the rock had been Christ, all along. To some, this rock was a stone of stumbling and rock of offense, but to those who find their shelter in Him, it is life. To those who do not trust in Jesus’ work, the glory and majesty of God mean judgment and certain death; but to those who are hidden in that rock, beholding all the goodness of the Lord’s glory, it will mean life eternal. Those who believe in this Rock will not be disturbed (Isaiah 28:16).
Scripture speaks about how we will be face to face with God in heaven (1 Corinthians 13:12), and I have always wondered how this can be so, when men shall not see God and live. But I think I am finally beginning to understand this now. On that final day, when I stand before the throne of God, perfected in Christ though guilty of vile treason, the glory of the Lord will not overwhelm me unto death. I will be in the Rock, standing in Christ and His perfection, along with the rest of His united bride. We will gaze upon the fullness of the beauty of the glory of the Lord. Nothing will be lost from view.
Moses was hidden behind an inferior rock on the earth in Exodus 33, but we will be hidden in Christ Himself; because God’s face was turned away from Jesus on the cross, it will be turned in love towards me on that day, in spite of the greatness of my sin. No, my eyes will never comprehend the fullness of glory in His face even then, but I shall behold it and live, because I’ll be in the cleft, and the rock will be Christ.