Tuesday, December 28

Has Man Ever Seen God?

Throughout the Bible, we read of God talking with man, and we find this evident in human history as well. One would think that during the time of man, at least one person would have seen God face to face. Have we? Skeptics will claim that the Bible says no man has ever seen God, yet he appears all throughout the Hebrew Bible. In this entry, we will examine the question, and examine the answer. (Photo credit to: Visual Bible International, "The Gospel of John," 2003, starring Henry Ian Cusick, narrated by Christopher Plummer)

John records in John 1:18, "No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known." God himself states this, in Exodus 33:18-23, which says, "Then Moses said, 'Now show me your glory.' And the Lord said, 'I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.'"

"'But,' he said, 'you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.' Then the Lord said, 'There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen." Therefore, it is thus far true: no one has ever fully seen God, because no mortal may see his face and live, it is too glorious.

In previous entries, we have taken a look at the "Angel of the Lord" found throughout the Hebrew Bible, coming to the conclusion that He is actually Jesus, pre-incarnate. (Angel also means "Messenger") Therefore, for the remainder of this entry, let us assume that Jesus Christ is the messenger of the Lord in the Hebrew Bible. Genesis 32:22-32 records Jacob wrestling with God himself. Verses 28-30 are particularly revealing. (See entry: "The Holy Trinity (Part Two)")

"Then the man said, 'Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with human beings and have overcome.' Jacob said, 'Please tell me your name.' But he replied, 'Why do you ask my name?' Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, 'It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.'" Since we know that no man has seen God face to face, yet has seen Jesus, we can conclude that Jacob actually wrestled with God the Son.

In fact, when God appeared in a Burning Bush to Moses (Exodus 3), it was not God the Father, but God the Son. How do we know this? "There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, 'I will go over and see this strange sight - why the bush does not burn up.' When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, 'Moses! Moses!'" (Exodus 3:2-4)

In the same passage, the Angel of the Lord, rather, Messenger of the Lord, has been equated to God himself. Exodus 3:6 says, "'I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.' At this, Moses hid his face, because he was too afraid to look at God." Verse 14 continues, "God said to Moses, 'I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.''" This messenger of God is claiming to be God. Later, when Moses asked to see God's Glory on Mt. Sinai, would he not have remembered seeing him already in the burning bush? It is because he was talking to God the Son, Jesus Christ himself.

Jesus echoes his words centuries later in his incarnation. In John 8:58, he says, "'Very truly I tell you,' Jesus answered, 'before Abraham was born, I AM!" In Joshua 5:13-6:5, Jesus appears to Gideon as the "commander of the Lord's army," but is equated to God not long after, and since we know that no one has seen the Father, nor the Holy Spirit, for that matter, aside from his appearance "as a dove" to John the Baptist, this must have been God the Son, Jesus.

Jesus also appears to Gideon. Judges 6:11-12, "The angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, 'The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.'" Gideon questions Jesus, and verse 14 continues, "The Lord turned to him and said, 'Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Am I not sending you?'"

After Gideon asks for a sign, and goes to prepare an offering for God, "The angel of the Lord said to him, "'Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.' And Gideon did so. With the tip of the staff that was in his hand, the angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the Lord disappeared. When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, "Ah Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!' But the Lord said to him, 'Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.'" After this, God tells Gideon how he must defeat the Midianites, and defeat them he does. (Judges 6:17-23)

Several years later, he appeared to a man named Manoah and his wife. "The angel of the Lord appeared to her and said, 'You are barren and childless, but you are going to become pregnant and give birth to a son. Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean. You will become pregnant and have a son whose head is never to be touched by a razor because the boy is to be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from the womb. He will begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines.'" (Judges 13:3-5)

When Manoah's wife told her husband about the visitation, and having seen the messenger again, Manoah went out and spoke with him. Manoah inquired the messenger's name. "He replied, 'Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding.' Then Manoah took a young goat, together with the grain offering, and sacrificed it on a rock to the Lord. And the Lord did an amazing thing while Manoah and his wife watched: As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame. Seeing this, Manoah and his wife fell with their faces to the ground. When the angel of the Lord did not show himself again to Manoah and his wife, Manoah realized that it was the angel of the Lord. 'We are doomed to die!' he said to his wife. 'We have seen God!'" (Judges 13:18-22)

(From: "The Gospel of John," 2003)
Manoah's wife calmed him, saying, "If the Lord had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and grain offering from our hands, nor shown us all these things or now told us this." (Judges 13:23) The angel of the Lord also appeared to Hagar, Abraham, and many others in the Hebrew Bible. Jesus also appeared in flames in Daniel 3:25. God appears to Abraham in Genesis 18 with two angels. He comes to bring good news: Sarah will become pregnant and he would have a son. The passage makes it clear that it is the Lord whom Abraham is speaking with, face to face. As we know that no one has ever fully seen God the Father, he must have been speaking with God the Son, Jesus Christ.

"But," some may argue, "what about Daniel's description of God found in Daniel 7:9-10?" Let us examine this passage, which says, "As I looked, 'thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow, the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze." This particular passage seems to indicate that Daniel saw God, but note one thing: it was not face to face in the body, but in the spirit. In Heaven, in the spirit, we can see God, not in the body. Daniel was having a vision in the spirit, therefore he could see God, thus still not negating "No one has ever seen God."

Dr. John R. Rice, in his book, Here are more Questions..., says the following, "I think the Scriptures indicate clearly that no man has looked in God's face since the fall. As to what happened before the fall, the Bible does not say and we do not know. I believe God and man had free face-to-face communication before the fall, but it would not be wise to make an issue where the Bible does not state a thing definitely. Moses saw God's 'back parts.'... (Exodus 33:20-23) John the apostle said, "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.' (John 1:18) And John said again, in 1 John 4:12,"No man hath seen God at any time.' Jesus himself said: "And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape.' (John 5:37)."

The point is this: No living man has ever seen God, unless in the spirit. Whenever God appears in the Hebrew Bible, it was God the Son, Jesus Christ, who was appearing. This is called Christophany. (Pre-incarnate appearances of Christ.) There are too many evidences to ignore Jesus as the angel of the Lord. For example, the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush and claimed to be God himself, and Moses did what was commanded of him and eventually led the Israelites out of Egypt. (Exodus 3:6) The angel of the Lord was sent into the world by Yahweh (The Father, Judges 13:8-9), just as Jesus was sent into the world in the New Testament by the Father. (John 3:17)

The angel of the Lord also prayed to the Father on behalf of the people of God, (Zechariah 1:12) just as Jesus prays to the Father for God's people today. (Hebrews 7:25, 1st John 2:1-2, he also prayed several times while on Earth) It appears as if the appearances of this "angel" cannot be the Father nor the Holy Spirit. The Father is one "whom no one has seen or can see." (1st Timothy 6:16, see also John 1:18, 5:37) Also, the Holy Spirit cannot be physically seen. (John 14:7) Jesus is the only one who can physically appear.

Also, the angel of the Lord and Jesus had amazingly and strikingly similar ministries: delivery of the enslaved (Exodus 3, Galatians 1:4, 1st Thessalonians 1:10, 2nd Timothy 4:18, Hebrews 2:14-15), and comforting the lowly. (Genesis 16:7-13; 1st Kings 19:4-8; Matthew 14:14, 15:32-39) Jesus, the "angel" (which means: messenger, one who is sent, envoy) of the Lord, just as he had done in the New Testament times and continues to do today, acted on behalf of God the Father.

Jesus made a major appearance from around 4 BC-30 AD. "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." (John 1:14a) God loves us, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) The Father sent the Son, and the Son sent the Advocate - the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the only way to heaven, just as he said. "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)

Troy Hillman

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