By Randy Blackaby
Can a Man “See” God?
In Exodus 24:9-12 it is recorded that Moses and 73 others “saw the God of Israel” near Mt. Sinai. It is stated in Exodus 33:11 that the Lord spoke to Moses “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.”
But in that same chapter (33:20-23) it says God told Moses, “You cannot see My face, for no man shall see Me, and live.”
The New Testament provides similar contrasting statements. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount he said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). But in John 1:18 it clearly states, “No one has seen God at any time.”
So, do the Scriptures contradict themselves? Can a mortal man “see” God or not?
The Bible’s historical records clearly show that men and women have seen representations of God. Hagar was approached by an angel (Gen. 16:7ff) and the handmaiden of Sarah understood that she had seen God (v. 13).
Jacob wrestled with a “man” (Gen. 32:24) but called the place of that wrestling “Peniel” because, he said, “I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.”
Moses and the 70 elders of Israel saw something they knew as God (Exod. 24:9-12). Moses saw God in the form of or speaking from a burning bush (Exod. 3). God led the children of Israel through the wilderness by manifesting himself as a cloud by day and a fire by night. At Mt. Sinai his presence was revealed by thunderings, lightning and a dark cloud. Isaiah said he saw the Lord on a throne when he had a vision (Isa. 6:1, 5). Ezekiel had a similar experience (Ezek. 1:26-28).
What did these people really see? The Apostle Paul de-scribed God as “eternal, immortal and invisible” (1 Tim. 1:17).
Our interpretive options are two. We can conclude the Scriptures conflict or we can look more closely at what it means to “see” a person, such as God. And, since the first option is untenable in light of the inspiration of Scripture, we must look to the second for our answer.
Physical vision allows us to do several things. By it we can observe the characteristics of someone, recognize that person again in the future, and, we can acquire knowledge about that person, his essence, attributes, nature, etc.
Figuratively, we can do the same. We can “see” God however he decides to “reveal” himself to the mind’s eye.
How, then, does God reveal himself to us today. He-brews 1:1-3 contrasts how God revealed himself in times past to his present means through Jesus. In John 14:7-9, Philip is standing in the presence of Jesus and says he wants to see the Father. Jesus tells him he has because he has seen Jesus. In Colossians 1:15 Jesus is described as the visible image of the invisible God.
We are taken a step further in our understanding in 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 where not only is Jesus declared to be the “image of God” but the gospel is described as the light which reveals Jesus and thus God to us.
Since Jesus is not here in the flesh any longer, we see God through Jesus with the eye of faith. We place trust and confidence in the Word that reveals or lets us “see” God. Jesus told Thomas, “because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). John then goes ahead in the next two verses to explain that he had written his record of Jesus so that men might believe and have life.
In Exodus 33:11 Moses is said to have seen God “face to face.” Since the same chapter says he didn’t physically see God’s face, we must infer that “face to face” refers to the close communion, familiarity or friendship relation that Moses enjoyed with God.
As we today obey the gospel and maintain fellowship with God through obedience, we develop such a “face to face” relationship. James 4:8 says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” As we learn of God’s nature through the word and let him dwell in us, we “see” God in the fullest sense (1 John 4:12-16).
The process of seeing God is progressive we can draw nearer and nearer. In 1 John 3:2 it says, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”
So long as we are in the flesh, we see God by faith. We see him in the things he has created and by what he has revealed in his Word. But the day is coming when we shall see him like he is and be like him.
In that day we won’t have physical bodies (1 Cor. 15) so our “seeing” of God still won’t be with physical eyes but it will be with vision not limited by the weaknesses of the flesh. Our faith shall become sight.
Guardian of Truth XL: No. 22, p. 14-15
November 21, 1996