Questions From Readers
● Exodus 33:20 states: “There shall no man see me, and live.” Yet Exodus 24:10 says concerning Moses and some of the elders of Israel: “They saw the God of Israel.” How can these apparently conflicting statements be harmonized?—C. B., Pennsylvania.
It is literally true that no flesh-and-blood organism could see Jehovah God and live. As a spirit creature Christ is “the image of the invisible God” and “the exact representation of his very being”, yet a partial revealment of his glory was so intensely brilliant that it blinded Saul of Tarsus, and sight returned only after a miracle of God. (Acts 9:1-18; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3, NW) A full view of “the Father of the celestial lights” would be more than human flesh could endure.—Jas. 1:17, NW.
When the Bible speaks of Moses or others as seeing Jehovah God it means that they see a manifestation of his glory, and this is usually given by means of an angelic representative of the Almighty. Hence it is that Exodus 24:16 speaks of “the glory of the LORD” abiding upon Mount Sinai, rather than Jehovah himself, when Moses and others were reported as seeing “the God of Israel”. This “glory of the LORD” was due to the presence of one of Jehovah’s angels, for his glory and his angel are associated together, as at Luke 2:9 (NW) when announcement of Jesus’ birth was made to the shepherds: “Suddenly Jehovah’s angel stood by them and Jehovah’s glory gleamed around them.”
We have direct testimony that Jehovah personally did not come down to Mount Sinai and appear and talk to Moses and deliver the Law to him. That Jehovah appeared and spoke only representatively is shown by the following scriptures. “You who received the Law as transmitted by angels but have not kept it.” “It was transmitted through angels by the hand of a mediator.” Paul referred to the Law as “the word spoken through angels”. (Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19; Heb. 2:2, NW) Because at Sinai God did not speak with his own voice but by that of his angelic representative, Exodus 19:19 states: “Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice.” The foregoing also enlightens us that it was the back of Jehovah’s angel or glory that Moses saw, and not Jehovah himself, as recorded: “When my glory passes by . . . I will take away my hand, so that you may see my back, while my face shall not be seen.”—Ex. 33:22, 23, AT.
Another instance where God’s Word interprets itself for us on this matter is the case of Moses and the burning bush. Exodus 3:4, 6 states that “God called unto him out of the midst of the bush” and “said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”. But Ex 3 verse 2 tells us that “the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush”. Hence Jehovah appeared and spoke only representatively.
Again, when Jacob wrestled with a man that was actually a materialized angel of Jehovah he was blessed with a new name, that of Israel. Israel means “ruling with God; soldier (wrestler) with God”; and Jacob called the location “Peniel”, meaning “face of God”, saying, “I have seen God face to face.” (Gen. 32:24-30) But actually it was only Jehovah’s materialized angel that he had seen and wrestled with, and who withheld his name, as was usual with such materialized spirit creatures. Also, when an angel of God appeared to Manoah and his wife they viewed this representative as God himself: “Then Manoah knew that he was an angel of the LORD. And Manoah said unto his wife, We shall surely die, because we have seen God.”—Judg. 13:3-22.
The foremost representative of Jehovah God is Christ Jesus, and in his case also this principle is confirmed. Jehovah God is rightly referred to as the Creator of all things, yet we know from the Bible record that after he directly created his “only-begotten Son” the remainder of the creation work was performed by and through that Son, in his capacity as the Logos or Word. But since he was Jehovah’s representative and workman in this creative activity, and empowered by God to do it, Jehovah himself is spoken of as the Creator of heavens and earth. (Isa. 40:26, 28; John 1:10; Col. 1:16; Rev. 3:14) For similar reasons, and because Jesus’ course and speech on earth were so perfectly representative of Jehovah God, Jesus said: “He that has seen me has seen the Father also.” (John 14:9, NW) So this text proves no trinity teaching, no more so than do references that seeing angels was seeing God prove the representative angels were embraced in any trinity godhead.
● Was Jesus’ side pierced with the spear before or after his death on the torture stake? The accounts of Matthew and John seem to conflict on this point.—D. L., Washington.
The weight of evidence is that it was after death that his side was pierced. Matthew 27:49, 50 (NW) says: “But the rest of them said: ‘Let him be! Let us see whether Elijah comes to save him.’ Another man took a spear and pierced his side, and blood and water came out. Again Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and ceased to breathe.” The New World Translation has a footnote that states that the sentence about the man piercing his side and blood and water coming out is in some important manuscripts but is not in others. The belief by many is that this statement was later interpolated from John’s Gospel, but was misplaced by the interpolater. Some translations leave it out entirely, others set it off in brackets or parentheses, and some put it in along with an explanatory footnote, as did the New World Translation.
However, there is nothing questionable about John’s account of the matter. It reads: “The soldiers came, therefore, and broke the legs of the first man and those of the other man that had been impaled with him. But on coming to Jesus, as they saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Yet one of the soldiers jabbed his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.” (John 19:32-34, NW) The legs of the other impaled ones were broken to hasten death, and if Jesus had not already died his legs would have been broken. His early death worked for fulfillment of the prophecy that none of his bones would be broken. (Ps. 34:20; John 19:36) That his death did come more quickly than usual in such cases is shown by Pilate’s surprise upon hearing that he was already dead. (Mark 15:44, 45) Possibly the soldier speared Jesus’ side to remove all doubt of his death, and eliminate any later revival that might be falsely heralded as a resurrection, as could have happened if Jesus had only fainted.
But what caused his death to come so soon? Many take the view that he died of a broken heart, and in this way explain not only his quick death but also the flow of “blood and water” from the spear wound. By a literal rupture of the heart or one of the great blood vessels where it attaches to the heart blood would be discharged into the pericardium, the membrane that loosely encases the heart and in which is also contained the watery pericardial fluid. In writing on the physical cause of Jesus’ death one doctor said that such a rupture did take place and blood gushed into the pericardium, there to separate into watery serum and red, soft clotted matter. He pointed out that such separation of the blood’s constituent parts seldom occurs in a dead body except under such cases of extravasation, that is, where the blood is forced or let out of its proper vessels. Then if a soldier standing below Jesus’ body on the stake would thrust a spear upward into the side, it could easily travel upward, under the ribs, pierce the pericardium bulging with serum and clotted matter, and cause the flow of what would appear as “blood and water”. Or, it is possible for the ruptured heart or aorta to force blood into the chest cavity, and in this unnatural place the blood would soon begin separating into serum and red clotted matter. Out of the big gash made by the upthrust spearhead this watery serum and clotted matter would gush.
There are Scriptural grounds for the belief that Jesus died of a broken heart. His mental anguish at the moment was intense, as indicated by his words: “My God, my God, to what end have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46, NW) This expression of his feeling abandoned was foretold at Psalm 22:1, along with several other verses in that psalm that were prophetic of Christ Jesus at the time of his death. A broken heart could certainly be seen in the words of Ps 22 verse 14: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.” Ordinarily blood would not flow from a corpse, but the piercing of the pericardium in the above-described state would be like puncturing a bag of water. And if he were pierced before death, as Matthew’s account indicates, blood would gush out but it would be whole blood, and not separated into its constituent parts to give the appearance of “blood and water”.
Hence the evidence is that John’s account is the accurate one, and certainly he was an eyewitness very near at hand, so near that the impaled Jesus spoke to him.—John 19:25-27.