What is an unveiled face?
When we think of a veil, we may imagine something abstract, like misty mountains, smoke clouds, or obstructed vision. Or something physical like a bridal veil, a shawl for modesty, or protection from the sun. Among many modern cultures, a covered head or veiled face (e.g. hijab) is often a symbol of group identity, religious devotion, or even oppression – as evident in the modern plight of freedom for women in Iran. In his letter to the Corinthian church, the apostle Paul introduces an interesting comparison of the old and new covenants, using the imagery of a veil–an unveiled face.
Unveiled Faces and The Apostle Paul
“Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.” 2 Corinthians 3:12-16
Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are sufficient as ministers of the New Covenant. This ministry of reconciliation through God’s Spirit gives life, light, and hope, bringing freedom, transformation, and boldness. It shows on their unveiled faces, so to speak.
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another…” 2 Corinthians 3:17-18
Veil Meaning in the Bible
One common function of veils throughout Scripture is that of covering, consecration, or separation. In the Hebrew Scriptures, we see two primary illustrations of veils: Moses’ veil and the tabernacle veil. In the New Testament, along with the temple veil, is the concept of a spiritual veil of blindness or unbelief, a hindrance to perceiving truth.
“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:3-4
First, let’s consider insights from veils in the Hebrew Scriptures. What was significant about veils in the BIble? And what does it mean to have an “unveiled face”?
Moses’ Veiled Face
When Moses descended Mount Sinai with the tablets of the covenant, “the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God” (Ex 34:29-35). Naturally, the people were afraid. So Moses would veil his face to keep the people from beholding the glory radiating from his countenance.
Whenever Moses entered the tabernacle to speak with God, he unveiled his face. Yet apart from the designated Tent of Meeting, Moses’ veil concealed the light of God’s glory from the people.
The Veil that Covered God’s Presence
Scripture prominently features the veil of the tabernacle. This ornate, thick curtain hung as a wall of separation between the holy place and the most holy place, containing the ark of the testimony and the mercy seat (Ex 26:31-34).
Here, God promised to dwell among His people (Ex 30:6).
Under the terms of the Sinai Covenant, the Tabernacle curtain was both a separation from God’s glory and a “veil of covering” for the people’s sake (Ex 35:12). God’s righteous requirements mandated the death penalty for sin (Gen 2:17; Deut 24:16; Deut 32:24). The veil, in essence, was God’s mercy, protecting the sin-tainted congregation of Israel from the all-consuming fire of God’s holy justice.
The Lord Make His Face to Shine Upon You
David says, “the Law of the Lord is perfect” (Ps 19:7), and yet mankind is not. As hard as we try, we cannot fulfill God’s righteous requirements. Without divine intervention, man remains separated from God’s face, veiled by unbelief and disobedience.
God’s covenant with Israel embeds hope deep within it. This is evident in the Aaronic blessing.
“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” Numbers 6:22-27
God longed to reveal His glory, that His name and countenance would shine upon His people. He desired to have an unveiled face with them.
Unveiled Glory Encounters
In Hebrew, glory (כָּבוֹד kāḇôḏ) speaks of splendor, honor, and weightiness. The weight of God’s glory as a cloud filled both the Tabernacle (Ex 40:35) and Solomon’s temple to the degree that the priests couldn’t stand (2 Chr 5:14).
Glory (Gr: δόξα doxa) is indicative of majesty, praise, and the brightness of God. The prophets foresaw a day when the earth would be “filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Hab 2:14). Yet throughout history, God’s glory has only been seen in part, by specific people and encounters.
Israel saw God’s glory in a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. Moses had a burning bush experience and mountaintop encounters with God’s glory. Ezekiel and Daniel both had heavenly visions of God’s glory shining like lightning.
Isaiah and the Throne Room
Isaiah saw the Lord seated on His throne and was overwhelmed by His majestic holiness. He instantly recognized his own uncleanness and that of his people. This encounter transformed and commissioned Isaiah to go to his spiritually blind a dull-hearted people.
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.” Isaiah 60:1-2
God is the One who conceals and reveals, veils and unveils.
The Hidden Face of God: A Veil of Separation
There is a deep mystery in Scripture concerning Israel and the hidden face of God. For much of Israel’s miraculous yet tumultuous history, it appears that God has hidden His face and glory from them.
“Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” Isaiah 59:2
Yet the cry resounds, “Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved!” (Psalm 80:7). Throughout Scripture, God has promised to keep His covenant and to reveal His face to His people again.
And I will not hide my face anymore from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, declares the Lord GOD.” Ezekiel 39:29
The Longing for God’s Glory to be Unveiled
After exile in Babylon, a Jewish remnant returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls and the foundations of the temple. They wept because the second temple paled in comparison to the glory of Solomon’s temple (Ezra 3:12; Hag 2:3). Yet we see a prophetic promise for deeper unveiling of God’s glory.
“I will shake all nations and they shall come to the Desire of all Nations. And I will fill this temple with glory, says the Lord of Hosts. The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former, and in this place I will give peace.” Haggai 2:7
With the temple of God restored, the high priest could again pass through the veil to atone for the people’s sins. God’s presence would return to dwell in the most Holy Place. What could be more glorious?
Ending the Cycle of Veiling
An end to the cycle. Life without the veil and the shadow of death. A final resolution to the separation between God and man. This was His plan all along.
“And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord, we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” Isaiah 25:7-9
Throughout history, humanity has longed to be reunited with the Author of Life, unhindered by shame or fear. To walk and talk with God face to face, like Adam, Enoch, and Abraham. This longing resounds in Moses’ cry, “Please, show me your glory” (Ex 33:18).
Even if this primal desire is presently veiled in mankind, expressed by all manner of distorted zeal, it is ever present. There exists in us a longing for eternity, a homeland which we have not yet known but somehow belong to. Man’s fascination with the supernatural betrays the innate knowledge that we are meant for more, just beyond the veil.
There is a prophetic longing for the veil between heaven and earth, God and man, to be torn.
“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence.” Isaiah 64:1
And He did.
Life with God, Fully Unveiled
The Lord would redeem His people because of his tender mercy promised to the fathers. The unveiled sunrise from on high would visit Israel “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).
Messiah would finally come.
Simeon, a devout and righteous Jew, awaited the “consolation of Israel”. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die before seeing the Anointed One. Led by the Spirit, Simeon entered the temple at Jesus’ dedication. And with unveiled eyes he beheld Israel’s Messiah.
“My eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Luke 2:30-32
Immanuel, God with us. No longer concealed behind the curtain, the God of Israel unveiled Himself for all to see.
But would His people recognize Him? He did not appear as a pillar of fire or cloud, nor the majestic conquering king they expected. He came as a suffering Servant, humbly veiled in flesh. His earthly face did not blaze of lightning like Daniel’s vision (Dan 10:6), except on one occasion.
From Moses, to Jesus, to You: The Shining Face of the Son of Man
Jesus took his three best friends up a mountain. “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Matt 17:2). He was brilliant and shining, His glory and majesty unveiled.
Jesus’ face shone on earth as “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb 1:3).
There is a deep connection between the biblical concepts of revelation and unveiling. To have an “unveiled face” speaks of a mind uncovered, not blinded, but disposed to perceive the glorious majesty of Christ. This requires divine revelation.
Once for All The Veil is Torn
Even to the point of crucifixion, many in Israel did not recognize Messiah. Yet He came to forever remove the veil. In fact, Yeshua fulfilled the very purpose of the Tabernacle veil – covering from judgment and access to the presence of God.
At the moment of Jesus’ atoning death on the cross, “the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matt 27:51). This was no ordinary curtain. Early Jewish tradition stated that the Temple veil was as thick as a man’s hand. No man could tear that veil. Only God.
Jesus’ flesh is that torn veil.
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith…” Hebrews 10:19-22
Jesus our High Priest entered the heavenly veil with His own perfect blood, once for all securing eternal redemption and access to God’s presence (Heb 9:11-15).
Unveiled Faces: Hope, Freedom and Transformation
Even after His resurrection many remained veiled in unbelief and disobedience. But not for long.
In religious zeal, Saul persecuted the Church. Yet a veil (like scales) fell from his eyes after his divine Damascus road encounter with the Lord (Acts 9:18). Three thousand devout Jews were cut to the heart with conviction and transformed on the Day of Pentecost. The veil was lifted and they beheld Jesus as Messiah. Peter’s eyes were unveiled to the mystery of the inclusion of the Gentiles into God’s plan of salvation (Acts 10).
And momentum is growing to this day. The good news of the gospel has traversed the world, transforming lives, bringing freedom, boldness and hope (2 Cor 3:12, 17-18).
But there is a promised unveiling yet to be realized.
Removing the Veil: God’s Promise for Israel
In Romans, Paul speaks of a partial hardening, a veil over Israel (Rom 11:25). He is in anguish to see the salvation of his people, for all of Israel to behold their Messiah (Rom 9:2).
Surely, they have not stumbled beyond hope. Israel’s failure brought the gospel to the gentiles and, in God’s sovereign plan, Israel’s acceptance will be nothing less than life from the dead (Rom 11:11-15). Paul reminds us that to Israel belong the covenants, the glory, the adoption, the worship, the promises – even the Messiah according to the flesh (Rom 9:4-5).
Yet presently, most of Israel does not recognize Jesus as Messiah. They do not yet see the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). Perhaps, to them, the Jesus of the Church does not look Jewish at all.
Like Joseph in Egypt, sent by God to prepare salvation for Israel, the context was foreign. They did not perceive him as their brother (Gen 45:1-5).
Like the grief-stricken disciples on the road to Emmaus who walked and talked with the risen Messiah, they truly saw only after they turned aside to break bread with Him (Luke 24:13-35).
Why the Veil Remains Unlifted
Paul said, “to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away” (2 Cor 3:14). Yet “when one turns to the Lord, the veil is lifted”( 2 Cor 3:16).
A Remnant of believers in Yeshua, both in Israel and around the world, is turning to the Lord with renewed hope. Grace transforms them and they walk in freedom, and live with boldness.
Israel’s partial blindness is not permanent. Her unveiling connects to the return of Messiah. God repeatedly promised to restore Israel to Himself. Their turning towards Messiah is indicative of God’s timeline for humanity. His covenant promises for Israel connect to the Great Commission and the salvation of the nations.
As those grafted into Israel’s olive tree by grace through faith, the nations are called to provoke Israel to jealousy (Rom 11:11). When Israel beholds the glory of God in the face of Christ, unveiled among the nations, they will come to the Desire of all Nations (Hag 2:7).
So pray for the peace of Jerusalem and the Jewish people (Ps 122:6-9). Pray that the eyes of their hearts would be enlightened, that the Father of glory may give them the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Yeshua (Eph 1:17-18). Israel desperately needs to behold the Prince of Peace.
The veil of unbelief will be lifted, spiritual blindness will be shattered, and so all Israel will be saved (Rom 11:26).
This is God’s promise.
The Expectation of Eternity: The Final Unveiling
The veil that separated all mankind from God’s presence was once and for all torn through Jesus’ perfect atoning sacrifice. Access to God’s glorious presence is open for all who would believe.
We have bold confidence and eager expectation for eternity, when we will behold Him face to face, in all of His glory. The Bible predicts a day when the final veil will be lifted and the Son of Man will be “revealed” (Luke 17:30). He will rend the veil between heaven and earth and every nation, even those who pierced Him, will see Him as He is (1 John 3:2).
The scales will fall from these earth-bound eyes. Every eye will at last be unveiled to behold the King of Glory (Rev 1:7).
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