A Holy Terror

Recently, I was reading the story of the transfiguration in Matthew 17:1-13. While reading this passage, I was struck by verse six. Take a look at the story for yourself:

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for l Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and m a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

Matt. 17:1-8, emphasis mine

I am struck by this statement: “When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.” They were terrified in the presence of God. And frankly, I can’t blame them.

God is terrifying.

I noticed this theme a lot in the Old Testament while I was reading it. When men and women were in the presence of the Lord, they were filled with what I can only describe as a holy terror.

In Exodus 19:6, the people trembled when they heard the thunder and lightning and the trumpet blasts from the mountain. And they were afraid to enter the presence of God, sending only Moses.

When Isaiah has a vision of the exalted Lord Jesus, he cries out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the a King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isa. 6:5)

And we see it here again with the disciples, who fall on their faces in terror at the voice of the Father.

I am reminded, once again, that I, and perhaps a great many of us, sometimes lack a holy fear of Jesus. It’s easy to start thinking that Jesus is our “buddy.” That He’s only our example for how we should live, and is not our exalted King.

It’s sometimes easier to think this than to see that He is terrifying in His majesty.

In 1889, Thomas B. Pollack wrote a wonderful hymn, We Have Not Known Thee. In it, we find an impassioned cry for the grace to see Christ as He truly is:

Lord give us light, thy truth to see,
And make us wise in knowing thee
Lord, give us faith to know Thee near,
And grant the grace of holy fear

May God grant us all the grace of holy fear today.

Posted by Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of several books including the Big Truths Bible Storybook, Epic Devotions, Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation, and the End of Poverty, and Contend: Defending the Faith in a Fallen World. His next book, published by Lexham Press, will release in Spring 2023.

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One Reply to “A Holy Terror”

  1. I went to a church service where God was honored in such a way the Presence of God was there in a manifestation of Holy Terror and I noticed you don’t speak under that kind of Presence of God. The second time was a couples who’s marriage was based on the Bride of Christ with vows given based to each other as the Bride and Christ and when the wedding march was played and everyone stood and turned to see the Bride the Presence of God fell like Holy Terror and my lips did stammer from the Terror of her.

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