No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared [him]. (ASV)
Seeing God face-to-face
Can God be seen or not?
- "Moreover, the angel of the LORD said to her, 'I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count. ...Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, 'You are a God who sees'; for she said, 'Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?'" (Gen. 16:10, 13)
- "Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, 'I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless.'" (Gen. 17:1, 26:2)
- "Then Jacob asked him and said, 'Please tell me your name.' But he said, 'Why is it that you ask my name?' And he blessed him there. So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, 'I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved." (Gen. 32:29, 30)
- "Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, 'What is your name, so that when your words come to pass, we may honor you?' But the angel of the LORD said to him, 'Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?' So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering and offered it on the rock to the LORD, and He performed wonders while Manoah and his wife looked on. For it came about when the flame went up from the altar toward heaven, that the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar. When Manoah and his wife saw this, they fell on their faces to the ground. Now the angel of the LORD did not appear to Manoah or his wife again. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the LORD. So Manoah said to his wife, 'We will surely die, for we have seen God.' But his wife said to him, 'If the LORD had desired to kill us, He would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering from our hands, nor would He have shown us all these things, nor would He have let us hear things like this at this time.'" (Judges 13:17-23)
- "Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they saw God, and they ate and drank." (Exodus 24:9-11)
- "Then Moses said, 'I pray You, show me Your glory!' And He said, 'I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.' But He said, 'You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!' Then the LORD said, 'Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. 'Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.'" (Exodus 33:18-23)
- "and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, O LORD, are in the midst of this people, for You, O LORD, are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night." (Numbers 14:14)
- "I saw the Lord standing beside the altar, and He said, 'Smite the capitals so that the thresholds will shake, And break them on the heads of them all! Then I will slay the rest of them with the sword; They will not have a fugitive who will flee, Or a refugee who will escape." (Amos 9:1)
- "If you had known Me [Jesus], you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him [the Father], and have seen Him [the Father]. Philip said to Him, 'Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.' Jesus said to him, 'Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, 'Show us the Father'? 'Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. 'Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves." (John 14:7-11)
- "who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen." (1 Timothy 6:16)
Seeing God face-to-face
In each case, the person saw a physical being in bodily form. This person might be called the angel of the Lord and be recognized as a theophany or manifestation of God in human form. Jesus Christ claimed to be God who had taken bodily form. Those who saw Jesus saw a form of a theophany of God, one absent God's divine glory.
In contrast to this, John said in two places that a person could not see God.
- "No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him." (John 1:18)
- "No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us." (1 John 4:12)
John also tells us.
- "God is Spirit..." (John 4:24)
When John tells us that "no one has seen God," he is correct if he means God in his spirit form or in His absolute, essential nature. That is true. No one has seen God as a spirit. People have seen the bodily manifestation of God, a theophany, but this is not the same as seeing God in His natural form, that of a spirit.
Edit this section to note miscellaneous facts.