Jesus speaks of three ways of seeing himself, each better than the one before.
- There were the people who saw him, the incarnate Son of God, and did not see the self-authenticating reality of his divine glory. They only saw a teacher or a prophet. “Seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matthew 13:13).
- Then there were the prophets and righteous people in the Old Testament who did not see the incarnate form of the Son of God, but did see his divine glory. “Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matthew 13:17).
That is, they did not see the physical form of God’s glory in the incarnate Son. But they did see his glory. Some saw it only with the eyes of their hearts through the revelation of God in his word (1 Samuel 3:21). But others were granted to see his glory in a more direct way. “Isaiah he saw [Christ’s] glory and spoke of him” (John 12:41), referring to the vision of Isaiah 6:1–4.
- Finally, there were those who saw both the incarnate physical body of the Son of God and, in him, the reality of the divine glory. “But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear” (Matthew 13:16). “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17).
Where do we fit in? We fit between 2 and 3. We have the advantage over the “righteous people” in the Old Testament because we have the divinely inspired portrayal of the incarnate Son of God—his teaching and life and glorious work of redemption on the earth. This portrayal of his divine glory is something the saints of old longed to see but did not. But now we have it in our New Testament (1 Peter 1:10–12).
In this written portrayal of the incarnate Christ, we do see the divine glory of the Son of God. We see it in “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
But we do not see the incarnate form of Jesus in the flesh, as the apostles did. We would like to. And Paul says that, in the absence of Christ physically, there is a seeing and a fellowship yet to come that will be better than the fellowship and the seeing we have now: “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:23).
Therefore, let us pray with Paul that “the eyes of our hearts be enlightened” (Ephesians 1:18), to see the self-authenticating divine glory of Christ in the biblical portrayal of his incarnate life and work. God forbid that Jesus’ words would be spoken over us: “Seeing they do not see.”