Jesus Christ is commonly portrayed as a benevolent man who went around doing good, loving everyone, accepting people as they are, and in general making people’s lives better. To be sure, he did go about doing good, and he did make the lives of many people better. Many were the recipients of his physical healings and miraculous provisions. Even greater was his bestowal of eternal salvation to those who trusted in him.
We must recognize, however, that the purpose of Jesus’ coming to the earth was not to heal diseases and mend physical maladies, and it was not to help the down-and-out become the up-and-in. Most definitely, he did not accept people who intended to remain as they were. Jesus himself announced in Luke 19:10 that “the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.” Those who are lost are those without God, those who are yet in their sin. Jesus came “to seek and save the lost,” those who are wayward, those living outside of God’s righteousness.
When Isaiah saw his vision of God (Isaiah 6), he was struck by the absolute holiness of God, a holiness so pure and transcendent that he had no choice but to respond with “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 King, the Lord of hosts!” (6:5). Seeing the One who is absolutely holy, Isaiah saw himself as undone and lost.
A few verses down in Isaiah 6 we find God pronouncing this to Isaiah: “Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed” (6:10). When we make our way to John 12:39–41, we find this about the religious leaders of Judaism: “Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.’ Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.”
Notice what we see here: Isaiah saw the Lord Jesus in his vision. He is absolutely righteous. The religious leaders of Judaism rejected the absolutely Holy One of Isaiah’s vision.
The Son of God is absolutely holy, which is why no one can stand before him in his unmediated glory. The apostle John’s response to seeing Christ in his glorious holiness was similar to that of Isaiah. Exiled to Patmos “on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus,” John fell as one dead when he saw a vision of Christ (Revelation 1:9-17). Commenting on this passage, John Owen [1616-1683] made this observation: “Should the Lord Jesus appear now to any of us in his majesty and glory, it would not be to our edification nor consolation. For we are not meet nor able, by the power of any light or grace that we have received, or can receive, to bear the immediate appearance and representation of them. His beloved apostle John had leaned on his bosom probably many a time in his life, in the intimate familiarities of love; but when he afterward appeared to him in his glory, ‘he fell at his feet as dead.’”
Contemplating such righteousness gives us some insight into what is required to be accepted by God. Blind to their sin and arrogant in their self-assessment, multitudes assume that God accepts them simply because they are basically “good” people. Such thoughts will serve no comfort when standing before God. God requires absolute righteousness in order to be accepted by him, a righteousness that no mere mortal can produce. Jesus Christ, however, possesses that righteousness, and his righteousness is our only hope: “For our sake he [God the Father] made him [God the Son] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 [ESV]). Christ is our righteousness.