In the November-December, 1950, issue of The Differentiator, chapter 2 of the series on "Who is our God?" dealt with the visibility and the invisibility of God.
In Exodus 33:20 Jehovah told Moses, "Thou art not able to see My face, for the human being is not seeing Me and goes on living." In plain English, "You cannot see Me and live." Yet verse 11 tells us that "Jehovah speaks unto Moses face unto face, just as a man is speaking unto his friend." But when Moses asked Jehovah in verse 18, "Shew me Thy glory," no human being could gaze at that Face in glory. Where there was no glory, He could be seen of men. It was not "Thou mayest not see My face," but "Thou art not able" to see it (la thukl). The common Hebrew verb (yakal) always signifies ability to do something, not permissibility. Moses had not the ability or strength to look upon Jehovah's glory, just as we are unable to stare at the sun in its glory.
Will a time arrive when human beings will be able to gaze upon God in His glory? Shall we see God the Father?
1. Tim. 6:14-16 must be carefully studied. Paul charges Timothy to keep the precept, (being) unspotted, irreprehensible, "unto the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ; which, in its own eras, the happy and only Potentate will be shewing—the King of those having kingship and Lord of those having lordship, the only one having immortality, making His home light inaccessible, whom not one of mankind does perceive or is able to be perceiving—to whom honour and might eonian."
Here man's disability is shewn to lie in the present, not in the future. We can meantime only imagine the vast capabilities of our new spirit bodies. How thankful I am that Paul did use here the future tense, as he did in Romans 8:39, where we discover that no creation of any kind "will be able to separate us from the love of God."
Therefore 1. Tim. 6:16 leaves the door open. There is hope that we may yet see God. Versions which use the word "can" here are misleading, as this makes one think either of the present or the future. Rotherham, Darby and the Emphatic Diaglott correctly read "is able."
There appears to be no statement that God can never be seen by human eyes.
Some friends have expressed the desire to see the Father, feeling that they would miss something if they did not. Others have a feeling that we should look over the shoulders of the Son and behold another and more venerable Person. Yet for the meantime, it is sufficient for us to see God in Christ. As an old book published in London in 1761, "Universal Restitution a Scripture Doctrine" said, "Christ is the Very God of the aeons."
We learn from John 1:18 that literally, "GOD no one has ever seen." That is to say, "God as GOD." "The only-begotten God, who, being within the bosom of the Father, HE unfolds (Him)." This means that the Son, and He alone, who always had access to His Father's bosom, can explain God. As Napoleon put it, "No man has seen God, except God." This access to God is parallel to what we find in John 1:1, the Word or Logos was toward (or, face to face with) God, and therefore could see God. Ch. 6:46 says, "Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One being from-beside God." The Son, having been beside, within, and face to face with His Father, knew God and had seen Him, "This One has seen the Father." John puts matters somewhat differently in his first Epistle, ch. 4:12: "At GOD no one ever has gazed." The final word here makes one think that glimpses of God might be obtained under certain conditions, and this is what we find occasionally in Old Testament times.
None of the above references say anything about the future. Yet once, in Matt. 5:8, we encounter a future tense, "Happy are the clean in heart, for they shall be seeing God." In case anyone should think the verb here only means seeing in a spiritual manner, we must point out that the word (opsontai) is exactly the same as that found in Matt. 24:30; 28:10; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27; and John 19:37, where the Son of Man is seen visibly. The same word is also found in Rev. 22:4, "and they shall see His face." When the Lord left our earth, His disciples were "looking" on, and a cloud "under-got Him" and He was taken up into the heaven or sky (Acts 1:9-11). He will be seen visibly when He returns.
Somewhere I once read, "We shall never see Him, in a literal sense. . . . God is absolutely invisible." I have also been told, "There is no hint that the invisibility of God is due to human disability to see Him."
The fact that according to 1. Tim. 6:16 the Lord "alone has immortality" does not necessarily imply that His own people will never possess immortality. In Athens Paul came upon an inscription addressed to "An Unknowable God." The Greek word used here means not only unknown, but unknowable. He is still to most human beings unknowable because they will not seek after Him. But must this mean that He will always be unknowable, and to those too, whom He has created specially in His own Image?
"Here the Apostle is clearly speaking of every man, good or bad.
To interpret 'image' of anything like 'moral and spiritual like-
ness' would be quite alien to a passage where the Apostle is
defending the contemporary custom by which men went un-
veiled and women veiled in public. His argument bases on the
physical difference between men and women, and while he
silently admits that women share God's eikOn (image) with
men, he discriminates between the sexes under 'glory.' As in
LXX, eikOn means a 'form' that can be seen. This inter-
pretation involves the continuance of the belief that God
Himself has a 'form.' Today this idea is supposed to be con-
fined to the less intellectual kind of men, but the present writer
believes that it was universal among the first Christians. It
would be out of place here to discuss the subject but there seems
to be no Biblical text that says that God is invisible—in the
sense that there is in Him nothing that can be seen."
Dr. Ryder Smith goes on to shew that at Sinai the Israelites had seen no form of God (Deut. 4:12), yet there were exceptions in the case of Moses, Isaiah and Ezekiel. While John wrote that "God is spirit" (4:24), and said that no one has ever seen God (1:18), he also mentions His form or appearance (eidos; 5:37), and this expression means something that can be seen (Luke 3:22; 2. Cor. 5:7). Our author continues:
"Similarly, the phrase 'the unseen (aoratos) God' can be taken to mean, not that God is invisible, but that no man has ever seen Him (Col. 1:15; 1. Tim. 1:17; Heb. 11:27). It is as though the sun, whose light is everywhere, were never seen. The interpretation of eikOn as something visible, though never seen, is possible also in the phrase' the image of Him that created him' (Col. 3:10), which refers to Gen. 1:27 without quite quoting it."
The second direct quotation is then dealt with (James 3:9), "With (the tongue) we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made after God's likeness (homoiOsis)."
"This Greek term does not occur elsewhere in the New Test-
ament, but 'moral and spiritual likeness' does not suit the
context, for James does not mean 'We curse men although
they are good'!"
The writer then states that although the N.T. teaches that men ought to be like God in character, and that when a man begins, through faith, to be like Him in this way, there begin to be changes in his 'form' too, this does not appear in the passages that refer Gen. 1:27 to all men, whether believers or not, as they are now. These passages interpret the text, like the LXX, to refer to man's outward form; and this 'form,' which was originally like God's, has not been altogether lost through sin.
If then, God possesses a form, we should imply that He has a 'body,' and belongs to the material universe. It may be that the early believers understood that God's form was physical but not material. Probably this will be true of our own glorious new bodies. The Lord had such a body.
"With the belief in a God who cannot be seen there usually
goes the belief that 'God is everywhere.' The texts most
commonly quoted are Ps. 139 in the Old Testament and John
4:24 ('God is spirit'—i.e. a 'spiritual being') in the New.
But the Psalmist's meaning seems rather to be that wherever
He goes God speeds thither before him. Even if he flees to
Sheol, or, what for him is farther away, to 'the uttermost parts
of the earth,' God has forestalled him. This concept—that God
can be anywhere He wants to be 'in a flash'—suits other Old
Testament passages, both early and late (e.g. Judges 5:4
Psalm 18:10; Ezk. 1:14, 28). The Johannine text is not
incompatible with this, for under both pneuma and ruach,
'spirit' is like a moving wind rather than the omnipresent air
(e.g. Ezk. 1:4, 20; Acts 2:2, 4; John 3:8). The text in John
means that, wherever men 'worship God in spirit and (therefore)
in truth,' God is there."
Dr. Ryder Smith thinks that this account of the unlimited mobility of God is a better approximation to what is meant by His transcendence of space than the idea that He is omnipresent. The word "eternity" is used in connection with the transcendence of time, and it is often maintained that because God works in history, and even more because in Christ He entered into history, there must be something of ultimate value even in time and history, even though it cannot be defined. This means that there is something of ultimate value in change, because history is the process of change. There emerges the antinomy that God is 'changeless' so far as changelessness is of value, and that He 'changes' so far as change has value. It is then suggested that under "space" similar claims may be made. But space has no term corresponding to "eternal" or "eternity." Perhaps there is something of ultimate value in space as well as in time, because the doctrine of the Incarnation means that God entered into both. This would mean that there is something of value in 'form' as well as in 'change,' for, just as time is known in change, so space is known in 'form' or 'shape.' A second antinomy follows, that God has no 'form,' so far as there is value in formlessness, but that He has 'form' so far as there is value in form. It is not reasonable to hold a doctrine about 'time' and refuse to apply it to 'space.'
Reverting to John 5:37, perhaps the writer from whom I have been quoting should have been more cautious here. The A.V. reads "Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape." The assumption would be, that God has both a voice and a shape or form. That He uses His voice we know. The true sense, however, will be found in Rotherham's first edition (1872): "Neither a sound of him, at any I time, have ye heard; nor an appearance of him, have ye seen." Most other versions have preferred conventionality to accuracy. The Greek here omits two Definite Articles, deliberately. The common English rendering certainly implies that God possesses both voice and form or appearance. But it is not stated here that God has, or has not, a form. Phil. 2:6, however, does prove that God possesses a form, that is, an outward appearance, though the Greek word here is morPhE, not eidos. The Greek text tells us, literally, that Christ Jesus was "existing-all-along (huparchOn) in God's form," prior to His becoming Flesh. There is no Definite article here either, but there is no dubiety as to God possessing a form.
Every occurrence, or lack, of the Greek Definite Article is of some importance, often of vital importance.
Now John 14:9 relates how the Lord said to Philip, "So much time with you am I, and you have not been getting to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father, and how are you saying, shew us the Father?" That is to say, whoever has seen the Son, has beheld something of the Father. And the more one sees of the Son, the more of the Father shall he see. He who beholds Christ in His glory, will come more and more to see the glory of God Himself. "Beloved, now are we children of God; and not yet was it made manifest what we shall be: we know that, if perchance it should be made manifest,—like him shall we be, because we shall see him according as he is. And everyone that has this hope on him is purifying himself according as He is pure" (1. John 3:2-3, Rotherham). When we see Christ as He is, and in Him God, shall we not be, as James Morison puts it, "in the most glorious of the presence-chambers of God?"
This marvellous process seems to reach its consummation in 1. Cor. 15:22-28.
But Paul means something quite different. What is in question is the delivering up of the Kingdom, in which the chief function was judgment. The Son could not deliver up to the Father His mediatorial function, for obvious reasons. His subjection to the Father has been taken as a contradiction of His divinity and His pre-existence, not to mention the Trinity dogma. But the expression Son takes in both the idea of subjection and of equality of nature. He was begotten of Holy Spirit, yet He was the son of Mary, and thus human. His Reign, with the object of reaching a definite result, had to be temporary. Once the end was gained, He returns to His normal position, relative subordination to God the Father. The subjection of the Son could be no loss to Him. It was not that He descended from the Divine Throne, but rather, His own subjects are raised to the Throne along with Him. See Rev. 3:21. We are "Heirs of God and joint-heirs of Christ" (Rom. 8:17), sharing with Christ the Divine inheritance, the possession of God Himself.
This subjection of the Son does not imply His absorption in the Deity, so that His own personality disappears. Absorption is not subjection. The Son returns to the state of submission which He had left in order to fill the place of Messianic sovereignty, for the reason that, when God communicates Himself to all directly, the Son ceases to be Mediator of God's sovereignty. Having restored all to God, the Son effaces Himself, so that the Father may take His place. In former times God manifested Himself to the world in Christ; "the all and in all is Christ" (Co1. 3:11). But now, at the consummation, God can, without the Son's mediation, reveal Himself directly to His saints and dwell in them. His saints have reached the perfect stature of the fulness of the Christ (Eph. 4:13), and their position is equal to His. God will be all in them just as He was in His Son. They will have attained at last the perfect stature of the fulness of the Christ (Eph. 4 : 13).
One might have expected, in 1. Cor. 15:28, the words. "that the Father may be all in all," seeing that the Son has just been mentioned. Yet Paul deliberately uses the term "God," in order to shew that he means God in all the fulness of His being and power; as Father, the source of all, as Son, revealing Him, and as Spirit, communicating Him. When that glorious stage is reached, it will be with that Divine fulness that He will dwell in the whole tree of humanity. Anyone who is acquainted with arithmetic or logic knows that the first death can never be the last enemy.
In the Old Testament theophanies or manifestations of God there was only a transitory appearance, which left the relation between God and man as external as before. Thus it was necessary that the theophany be consummated by an Incarnation. He who in former times had been seen only in a transitory theophany, now tabernacled with His disciples (John 1:14), in visible form. In Rev. 21:3, however, we find that "the tabernacle of God is with mankind, and He will go on tabernacling with them." The implication must be, that somehow or other God will then be visible, as indeed, ch. 22:4 states, "they will be viewing His face."
Clement of Alexandria, who died around 220 A.D., held so firmly by the humanity of Christ that he regarded the Incarnation as the basis and archetype of what was in a measure possible for all His followers. In the fact and doctrine of the Incarnation he saw the bridging of the gulf, hitherto impassible, between man and God. He saw in it also, the consecration of the history of humanity as the ever-operative sphere for the activity of the Word, and the consecration of every son of man by presenting to him the possibility of becoming a son of God. Clement understood that God's tabernacling with mankind meant a permanent theophany.
A.T. Last updated 13.10.2005