Blessed Are the Pure in Heart: What It Takes to See God

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From the beginning, the Beatitudes have been full of outsized blessings.

You have nothing? I’ll give you a kingdom.

Alone in your grief? God himself will come alongside you.

Struggling against oppression and injustice? Take heart; you will inherit the earth.

But perhaps none is so outsized, so outlandish as this: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

“No One Can See Me and Live”

Moses, the greatest of God’s prophets, once refused to take another step unless he could see God. He had led the people out of Egypt, witnessed God’s unspeakable power and supreme authority over all creation, received the marvelous and mysterious law. But none of that was enough for him. He needed more. He needed to see not just God’s outstretched hand but his FACE.

Isn’t that the way of love, after all? Who among us would be satisfied, having fallen in love, with receiving letters and seeing actions?

And besides that, Moses knew the task in front of him was too big for him. The people too difficult, too stiff-necked. The journey too long and too thirsty.

So he said, “Please, let me see your glory.”

[The LORD] said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim the name Yahweh before you … but … You cannot see My face, for no one can see Me and live.” The LORD said, “Here is a place near Me. You are to stand on the rock, and when My glory passes by, I will put you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away, and you will see My back, but My face will not be seen.” (Exodus 33:18-23)

So Moses.


But here is Jesus, sitting on a hill overlooking a vast crowd of ordinaries, of you-and-mes’s. A crowd of people who are poor in spirit, who have nothing to offer; who are curious and impoverished and ignorant. And he promises them, almost casually:

You will see God.

Yes, you.

Whosoever will.

A Two-Sided Promise

Of course, there is a condition: Only the pure in heart will see God.

Here we come face-to-face with the changed nature of the Beatitudes: they are no longer negative. We have passed through the middle, through the gospel in the heart of the chiasm, and now the conditions are positive: these promises belong to the merciful, to the pure, to the peacemakers, to the prophets.

But who is pure in heart?

The prophets are unanimous on this:

No one.

Moses wasn’t. Isaiah wasn’t. David wasn’t.

Since the fall in the garden, no one has ever been pure enough to see God and live. That is the catch-22 of his holiness: We need to see his glory, we need to see his face, but if we do, it will kill us.

But then there’s Jesus.

The only one who IS pure enough, in his own right, to see the face of his Father. The only one who has not lost the pure vision of his Creator. The only one without a log in his eye or a sin in his heart.

Here he is, offering his vision. To us.

The Transformation

The chiastic structure of the Beatitudes means the lines parallel one another as they ascend and descend. The gospel lies right at the heart: mercy and righteousness met together. The fulfillment of our longings coupled with the forgiveness of our sins.

Passing through that heart means something dramatic happens. In this case, the transformation of the afflicted.

The parallel line to “Blessed are the pure in heart” is “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” In an earlier post I talked about the nature of meekness, that it always means someone going through affliction. The whole Bible promises that God’s people will not be destroyed by affliction, as long as they embrace trust in God in the midst of it. Romans 8 promises that God will work all things together for good to those who love him.

And here is the greatest good:

That the fire of affliction, rather than destroying us, will purify.

Passed through the gospel, the meek will become the pure in heart.

And the pure in heart will see God.

The Nature of Sanctification

In Christian parlance, we call this “sanctification.” I don’t love to talk about sanctification because it’s easy to make it all about us. But if you read Paul, especially in Romans 6, you get the sense that santification is just as much a miracle as justification is. God hasn’t pulled a switcheroo: we’re not given the gift of mercy-and-righteousness only to find ourselves kicked out of the kingdom until such time as hardship makes us worthy to get back in.

That’s not it at all. Rather, Jesus, who can see God, has invited us into himself. He joins us with his body and spirit. He places us in the rock that is himself, covers us with his hand, and says, “Look–see the face of the Father.”

The heart of God has always been to bless us. The same people of Israel who could not see the face of God were given the Aaronic blessing:

“May Yahweh bless you and protect you;
may Yahweh make His face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
may Yahweh look with favor on you
and give you peace.”
(Numbers 6:24-26)

The face of God is shining on us. The hand of Jesus is covering us. The fire is necessary to remove the blinders that prevent us from seeing the grace in Yahweh’s gaze.

This is the truth about sanctification: it’s all a gift. It all starts with the Father’s shining face–his smile. His desire. His wish to be known, stronger than our desire to know.

Far from being a matter of us self-flagellating ourselves into the kingdom, it is all a gift of grace.

We do not know what it will take to get us there–to bring us from our current partial blindness to a full view of God. But he does. And he has committed himself to taking us there.

Gift Upon Gift

From here on out, the Beatitudes are double blessings. The gifts that lead us into the heart of the gospel–the kingdom, the nearness of God, the inheritance, the quenching of our thirst–now transform us.

We are not pure in heart. But we will be.

We cannot see God. But indeed, we will.

And miracle of miracles, when we do, we will not be destroyed. Instead, we will bask in the light of his face. And we will be transformed.

Of every promise in the Bible, this one fills me most with fearful wonder.

[Beloved], we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him because we will see Him as He is. (1 John 3:2)

(This is Part 28 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.)



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