When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! (Revelation 1:17-18)
What are we to make of the recent trend in dramatic accounts wherein individuals claim, as part of a near-death experience, to have visited heaven?? And what about those telling us that they have seen Jesus, or God the Father?
Here’s what I watch for: what was their reaction to this “vision”?
In the Bible, those confronted by an image of God, or of Christ after His ascension shared a common reaction: crushing fear.
from the palace of Pharaoh to wilderness shepherd, Moses had experienced importance and obscurity. In the Midianite desert, he approached the bush that was burning, but was not consumed – until he heard the voice of God from out of the bush. Once God identified Himself, the text tells us that “Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” (Exodus 3:8)
Isaiah was possibly the most righteous man in Judah, and was granted a vision unlike any other: “I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.” (Isaiah 6:1) But rather than being pleased that he alone was given the opportunity, he reacts in terror and humility: “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (v.5).
centuries later, during great persecution under the Roman emperor Domitian, the apostle John was banished to the island of Patmos, an outcropping of rock in the Aegean Sea. Here John was given a series of visions that form the book of Revelation. And although John had been one of those closest to Jesus during His earthly ministry, the text of Revelation 1 above indicates he was overwhelmed with an emotional response of alarm when he was confronted with the glorified Christ: “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.”
But where is the reaction of fear in the accounts we hear about today?
Its absence is reason for caution.
Takeaway: do I regard God with the healthy respect, fear, reverence that He is owed? Or, is my reaction casual, cavalier, even impertinent? Do those closest to me sense my deep reverential love for God? Does it affect my action? How I talk about Him? My prayer life?