There are a number of passages which indicate that Jehovah appeared to men (in some form) in the Old Testament (e.g., Genesis 18:1ff; etc.). Yet, there are also numerous passages which say that no man has ever seen God (cf. John 1:18). What are we to make of this phenomena? Should we understand such passages to suggest that no man has ever seen the entire Godhead at one time? Probably not, but this has been suggested. Should we say that men did not see God Himself, but rather, only some shadowy manifestation of Him, or, some physical manifestation that is not to be identified with Him? That this is not satisfactory will become apparent in a short time. Some passages say that men saw Jehovah, and others just as clearly say that no man has seen the Lord. How should we understand what appears to be a serious problem?
The Problem Stated
Numerous passages indicate that no man has seen God at any time. For instance, John says in John 1:18 (all Scripture references are from the American Standard Version, unless otherwise noted): "No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." Scripture is clear to show that those who had seen the Christ had seen the Father (cf. John 10:30; 14:9; etc.). But, the same Bible is just as clear to point out that the Father has not been seen by mortal man at any time. In John 5:37, 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 says further, in 1 John 4:10-12, 14, 20:
Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No man hath beheld God at any time: if we love one another, God abideth in us, and his love is perfected in us: . . . And we have beheld and bear witness that the Father hath sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. . . . If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, cannot love God whom he hath not seen.