John 1:18 says that no one has seen God at any time. I have no problem with that statement, but what do I tell a skeptic who points out other passages, such as Isaiah 6:1–5, Genesis 32:30, and John 12:41?
First we must study the context of John 1:18; in verses 1–18 John opened his Gospel with the deity of God’s one and only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is referred to here as “the Word.” Jesus was and is God. As God, He is equal with the Father. Verse 18 states a simple truth, that is, no one has seen God. You haven’t, and I haven’t. However in coming to earth, Jesus, as God, revealed God to mankind. He came in the form of human flesh, and in that sense He walked upon earth as though He were not more than human. He was seen as a man even though He was and is God. Some accepted Him; others did not.
The word “declared” in verse 18 shows Jesus as revealer of God to mankind. The word for “declared” in the original language of the New Testament is the word from which we get the word “exegesis.” A pastor or Bible teacher, we say, “exegetes” a passage of Scripture. In other words, he tells us things that he dug from God’s Word—truths that are there but that we may not have known until he “exegeted” them in our hearing. In similar fashion, Jesus “exegeted” God. In the Old Testament passage of 1 Kings 8:12, Solomon said, “The LORD said He would dwell in the dark cloud.” But in 1 Peter 2:9 the apostle spoke of Jesus, “who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
Now if Jesus had come into the world as God in His true and full glory, no one could have approached Him. Exodus 33:20 states, “But He [God] said, ‘You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live?” Our great God in all His splendor is just too awesome for us to view.
Here is where we have to grapple with some of the passages you have listed. Just a few verses earlier in Exodus 33:11, we read, “The LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” How can we reconcile this verse with verse 20? We must see the expression as figurative language, or a similitude (temunah in Hebrew). The same conclusion is true for Genesis 32:30 and Isaiah 6:1–5. John 12:41 reinforces that “seeing God” in the Old Testament constituted various manifestations of God but fell short of a total, direct view of God as God. Phrases such as “glory of the LORD,” “angel of the LORD,” and “word of the LORD” were used in describing such encounters, but they were not direct viewings of God.
First Timothy 6:16 sums up the matter in its reference to God, “who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen.” There is a real sense in which God cannot be seen, including His very nature, yet there is the other sense in which He can be seen: through eyes of faith and through His manifestations to people, the pinnacle of which is His Son, the Lord Jesus.
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