Question: "Has anyone ever seen God?"


“No one has ever seen God” (John 1:18a). This statement refers to the spiritual nature of God. God is spirit (John 4:24a), and so we are naturally limited in perceiving Him. Physical eyes cannot behold spiritual beings.

The Lord Jesus Christ is a unique case: “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man” (John 3:13). Since He is both the Son of Man and the Son of God, Jesus knows both the earthly and heavenly realms. He descended from heaven, where “he was with God in the beginning” (John 1:2). Jesus has seen God; in fact, Jesus is the embodiment of all God is: “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” (John 1:18; cf. Colossians 2:9).

Because of our physical, moral, and spiritual limitations, God the Father sent His one-and-only Son into the world. Through Jesus Christ, we know God and are redeemed from our sin. If we want to see God, we must look to Jesus. Those who beheld Jesus as He walked this earth were, in a sense, seeing God—not God as a spirit but God clothed in humanity (John 14:9).

When Moses talked with God at the burning bush, “Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God” (Exodus 3:6). Later, God tells Moses, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). In other words, truly seeing God as He is, in the fullness of His glory, is more than any mortal can tolerate (cf. Isaiah 6:5). Moses was allowed a glimpse of God’s glory, but, for his own protection, most of God’s glory was kept hidden from him (Exodus 33:21–23).

What, then, should we do with other passages that describe various people “seeing” God? For example, in Exodus 33, the same chapter in which Moses cannot see God, Moses speaks to God “face to face” (verse 11). In this instance, we must understand the phrase face to face as a figure of speech indicating Moses and God were in close communion. They were speaking to each other as if they were two human beings holding a conversation.

There are other times when people seem to have seen God:

• In Genesis 32:22–32, Jacob wrestles with someone who is later revealed to be God. When the incident was over and Jacob felt the full import of what had just happened, he was overawed: “So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared’” (verse 30). However, Jacob did not see God in all His glory, and he did not see God in spirit form. On a purely physical level, Jacob wrestled a theophany, a manifestation of God in human form.

• In Judges 13:1–23, Samson’s parents have an interaction with the angel of the Lord. They don’t realize they are speaking to the angel of the Lord until the angel performs a sign and ascends to heaven before their eyes. At that point, Samson’s father is terrified: “‘We are doomed to die!’ he said to his wife. ‘We have seen God!’” (verse 22). But, as in Jacob’s case, they had only seen God appearing as an angel. This is another example of a theophany (or Christophany).

• In Isaiah 6:1–13, Isaiah has a vision of “the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne” (verse 1). There are seraphim present, and even they cover their faces in God’s presence (verse 2). Isaiah’s immediate reaction is fear due to his sin: “Woe to me!” he cries. “I am ruined! . . . My eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (verse 5). God then atones for Isaiah’s sin and commissions him as a prophet. Of note here is that Isaiah is experiencing a prophetic vision; thus, he is not seeing Yahweh, per se, but a symbol of His presence and majesty. Or this could be another Christophany (see John 12:41).

No one has ever seen God, who is “the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen” (1 Timothy 6:15–16, emphasis added). It is only through God’s only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, that we can approach God, know God, and see God.