By Gregg Bing
Several popular Christian songs have been written the last few years about the presence of the Lord; songs such as “In the Presence of Jehovah,” by Becky and Geron Davis, and “In His Presence,” by Dick and Melodie Tunney. The lyrics of both songs speak of entering into the presence of the Lord when we bow before Him in prayer and worship. I like both of these songs, but they led me to question what we mean when we talk about “the presence of the Lord” and what the Scriptures teach about this subject.
The Omnipresence of God
The Word of God declares that God is omnipresent; He is everywhere. Solomon, in his dedication of the temple in Jerusalem, declared:
“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27)
The psalmist David cried out to God:
“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me.” (Psalms 139:7-10)
The prophet Jonah sought to flee from God’s presence (Jonah 1:3,10) but found that he could not escape the Lord.
In addition to His omnipresence, the Scriptures speak of “the presence of the Lord” in another sense. Adam and Eve experienced the presence of the Lord as they walked and talked with Him in the garden of Eden. After they sinned by disobeying God, they “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Gen. 3:8). After killing his brother, Abel, Cain “went out from the presence of the Lord” (Gen. 4:16). Adam and Eve could not hide themselves, nor could Cain go out from God’s omnipresence. The “presence of the Lord” in these passages speaks of
God’s Presence Among His People.
When Joseph was sold by his brothers and taken down into Egypt, the Scriptures tells us “the Lord was with Joseph” (Gen. 39:2, 21, 23).
When the children of Israel made their exodus from Egypt, the Lord brought them “out of Egypt with His presence” (Deut. 4:37) and then “went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light” (Exo. 13:21).
When God gave the Law to Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai, they were instructed to build the tabernacle as a dwelling place for the Lord. There, “from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which were on the ark of the Testimony,” the Lord was to meet and speak with the children of Israel (Exo. 25:22). When Moses had finished setting up the tabernacle for the first time, “the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle” (Exo. 40:34). As they anticipated the journey from Mount Sinai to the promised land of Canaan, the Lord told Moses, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Exo. 33:14). Later, when Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem, it, too, was a dwelling place for the presence of the Lord, for His name was in that temple (2 Chron. 20:9).
Through the years, the nation of Israel fell into the terrible sin of idolatry. They eventually became so given over to idols that God sent them into captivity. The anger of the Lord burned against them until He “finally cast them out from His presence” (2 Kings 24:20). The prophet Ezekiel describes how the glory of the Lord departed from Israel’s temple in those days (Ezek. 10). God had warned Israel, through the prophets, that this would happen if they continued in their transgression, but they would not listen.
The Presence of God’s Son
Four hundred years separated the close of the Old Testament and the opening of the New Testament. This was a time of darkness for the nation of Israel because the presence of the Lord had departed from their midst. This darkness was dispelled when a wonderful event occurred. The Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son, left the presence of His Father in heaven (John 1:1-2) and came to earth to dwell among men. John’s gospel says,
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
The word “dwelt” literally means “tabernacled.” Under the law the tabernacle (and later the temple) was God’s dwelling place among His people, Israel. Now the eternal Son of God had taken a body of flesh (“yet without sin”) and become a Man that He might dwell among them. After so many years of spiritual darkness, the presence of the Lord was again felt in Israel’s midst; a presence which would provide the children of Israel with “the Light of Life” (John 1:4). But, once again, they rejected Him, crucifying Him on the cruel cross (John 1:11). Unknown to the Jewish rulers or the people, this is exactly what Christ had come for: to die for the sins of the world (1 Pet. 2:24; 1 John 2:2).
Having finished the work of eternal redemption on the cross, Jesus Christ was raised again after three days. Following a period of another forty days, the Son of God ascended back into heaven, “now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Heb. 9:24). There He serves as our Advocate (1 John 2:1), our Intercessor (Heb. 7:25), and our Head (Eph. 1:22).
The Presence of God’s Spirit
The night before Jesus’ crucifixion, He promised His disciples that when He went away, He would send them another “Helper” (KJV “Comforter”), the Holy Spirit of God, “to dwell with you” and to “abide with you forever” (John 14:16-17). This was a wonderful promise. Up to this time, the Spirit of God did not abide with men forever. After Samson gave away the secret of his great strength, “the Lord departed from him” (Judges 16:20). The Spirit of the Lord departed from King Saul after he disobeyed God’s commands (1 Sam. 16:14). Even David, whom God called “a man after My own heart,” in his prayer of confession after his sin with Bathsheba said, “Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 51:11).
Today, we enjoy the indwelling presence of God’s Holy Spirit within us (Rom. 8:9-11). The very moment we hear and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph. 1:12-13). He comes to dwell within us as a “guarantee of our inheritance” “until the day of redemption” (Eph. 1:14, 4:30). We have “the presence of the Lord” within us, not just when we are at church, or praying, or worshipping, but always.
As God the Father dwelt among His people, Israel, in the tabernacle and the temple, and as God the Son “tabernacled” among men in a body of flesh, which He referred to as “this temple” (John 2:19-21), now God the Holy Spirit has taken up His dwelling within us. As individual believers, our bodies have become the temples of the Holy Spirit.
“Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20)
Collectively, the Church the Body of Christ, which is made up of individual believers, “grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Eph. 2:21-22).
As wonderful as it is to have the presence of the Lord dwelling within us, there is another sense of “the presence of the Lord” that we cannot experience as long as we remain in bodies of sinful flesh:
The Presence of the Lord in Heaven.
As to our spiritual position, we are already seated “in the heavenly places” because God sees us “in Christ” (Eph. 2:6). Being “in Him” we are considered “holy and without blame before Him” (Eph. 1:4). The expression “before Him” literally means “before His face” or “before His presence.” However, we still await the day when the Lord will come for His Church and usher us into “the presence of the Lord” in heaven itself. When Christ appears, we will “appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:3-4). He will “transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself” (Phil. 3:20-21), and “thus we shall always be with the Lord,” in the presence of the Lord for all eternity.
Even if a believer dies before the Lord appears, we have the confidence that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). Paul spoke of death as a departure expressing his earnest desire “to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Phil. 1:23). The psalmist David spoke of how wonderful it will be to be in “the presence of the Lord.”
“In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psa. 16:11)
What a glorious future to those who know the Lord as Savior! What a blessed hope! Is this your future, your hope? If not, you too will one day stand in “the presence of the Lord,” not to experience joy and peace with Him, but to be judged and condemned for your sins. The psalmist David, in Psalm 68:2, declared
“The Wicked Perish at the Presence of God.”
Paul described the vengeance God will pour out on “those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thess. 1:8-9). The expression “from the presence of the Lord” literally means “away from the presence of the Lord.” The condemnation for sin will be eternal separation from “the presence of the Lord.” Clearly, the writer to the Hebrews was right when he said
“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Heb. 10:31)
This doesn’t have to be your future. God does not desire “that any should perish” (2 Pet. 3:9). God loves you, even though you are a sinner (Rom. 3:23) and under the penalty of death (Rom. 6:23). God demonstrated His great love for you by sending His only Son into the world to die for your sins (Rom. 5:8). Jesus Christ was then raised from the dead that you might have eternal life.
If you simply believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and the finished work He accomplished for you through His death, burial, and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:3-4), you can be saved from your sins. You can have the presence of God’s Holy Spirit indwelling your heart. You can have the hope of one day being in the presence of the Lord forever. Won’t you receive, by faith (Eph. 2:8-9), this wonderful gift of eternal life and truly experience “the presence of the Lord”?