A Video Supplement for
Come, Follow Me Lesson 4:
We Have Found the Messiah
John 1:15-18 reads,
15 John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.
16 And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.
17 For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
18 No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.
The apparent claim in the last verse seems a bit abrupt given where the first several verses appear to be going and is sometimes taken as meaning that no one has ever seen God. The Joseph Smith Translation renders this verse as “JST John 1:19 And no man hath seen God at any time, except he hath borne record of the Son; for except it is through him no man can be saved.” which arguably is more consistent with the argument being made in the passage up to that point: that Jesus is the Messiah and that we need to look to Him in faith for redemption.
However, the wider question of whether man can see God is worth exploring in the scriptures. On this occasion, I am going to be particularly looking at the Old and New Testament. To begin with, there are a number of scriptural witnesses that attest to seeing the Lord in the context of a vision. Revelation contains some examples, though one might wonder whether the Father or the Son is subject of the vision. In Isaiah 6:5, Isaiah reports, “Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” In Acts 7:55-56, we have a witness which is especially complete. It reads “But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, 56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” This one is especially interesting because it shows the Father and the Son together. However, these all have, similar to the vision of Lehi when he sees (1 Nephi 1:8) “God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God.” a distinctly visionary character. Maybe target of the claim isn’t visions but visitations.
Expanding our search, Margaret Barker has noted that “One of the secrets of the priesthood must have been experiencing theophany, something described in the ancient high priestly blessing” [Margaret Barker, The Secret Tradition, 1993]. The description of this blessing, given in Numbers 6:22-27, reads in full:
22 And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
23 Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them,
24 The Lord bless thee, and keep thee:
25 The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:
26 The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.
27 And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them.
So read this way, “The Lord make his face shine upon thee: The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.” is not a collection of merely nice phrases but when it says “his face” it means his face and when it says “his countenance” it actually means his countenance, and in fact means that the blessing of seeing the face of the Lord is one which we can receive (and presumably survive under the right circumstances) and, indeed, Moses would know.
Now we should note that this is not a casual sort of experience. John 6:46 notes that one must be “of God” to see the Father, while Hebrew 12:14 exhorts us to, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which, no man shall see the Lord.” Meanwhile Jesus indicates that one must be pure in heart to see God (Matthew 5:8). We indeed learn in Exodus 3:6 that Moses was initially fearful to look upon God, but later on his ministry, Moses requests to see him such as in Exodus 33, where Moses is permitted to see the Lord’s back.
Exodus 24:9 is about as plain on this topic as we could possibly desire:
9 Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel:
10 And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness.
11 And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink.
So they saw God and lived to tell about it.
Genesis 32:30 records that, after his wrestle with the “Angel”, Jacob named the place as follows: “And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” So here we learn that even some of the instances of “Angels” described in the Old Testament are in fact describing situations where one encounters the Lord face to face. A similar occurrence happens in Judges 13:15-23 with Manoah and his wife prior to the birth of Samson.
Now these aren’t the only references that can be pointed to on this topic: Numbers 12:8 commends Moses to the people, saying, “With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” Deuteronomy 34:10 says, “And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face,” and later we read of Solomon in 1 Kings 11:9 “And the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the Lord God of Israel, which had appeared unto him twice,”
So the Old Testament and the New Testament taken as a whole witness that people do see the Lord when they are prepared and under the correct circumstances.