When people ask if anyone has ever seen God, they usually mean God the Father. The Bible is clear that no one has seen God the Father, except in a vision. As we learn from John 1:18. “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” Jesus Christ has made Himself known in many ways throughout history, including through physical expressions. These expressions, however, should not be confused with seeing Jesus Christ in His full glory.
For example, Jesus Christ revealed Himself to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:8-9). His presence was evident as He walked in the garden and spoke with them.
In Genesis 18:1-2 we find that Jesus Christ appeared to Abraham as a man together with two angels, also appearing as men. We know that those two are angels from Genesis 19:1. Christ and the two angels ate a meal that Abraham had arranged to have prepared for them. Later, the two angels went toward Sodom while the “LORD” spoke with Abraham (Genesis 18:22).
In Genesis 32, Jacob fought with Christ all night and in the morning he called the name of the place Peniel, meaning “Face of God”, because, as he said, “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved” (Genesis 32:30).
In Joshua 5:13-15, Joshua saw a Man with a drawn sword. Joshua fell on his face and worshipped, showing us that this was also an appearance of the LORD, Jesus Christ.
When we consider the example of Moses, we find in Exodus 33:11 that “the LORD spoke to Moses face to face as a man speaks to his friend”. In all these examples mentioned so far, the LORD or Jesus Christ appeared as a man and not as a glorious Spirit Being. However, in Exodus 33:18, Moses asked to see God’s glory. In verse 20 God or Jesus Christ replied and said: “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” In verse 23 we find that God did allow Moses to see His back, but not His face. God stated later that Moses saw the form or similitude of the LORD (Numbers 12:8).
In these examples, men and, at times, women, had seen the appearance of God, actually Jesus Christ, but not in His full glory which is described in Revelation 1:12-18. However, a certain extent of Christ’s glory was revealed to the people. In Exodus 16:7, 10, the whole congregation of Israel saw the glory of the LORD which appeared in a cloud. Also, Ezekiel saw Christ’s glory in a vision (Ezekiel 1:26-28). Interestingly, King David stated in Psalm 17:15 the following: “As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness.” Here David is expecting to see Christ’s glorified face and His glorified likeness when he wakens. This is not just wakening in the morning as some commentaries explain it. But David used the term sleep as a symbol for death as we read in Psalm 13:3: “Consider and hear me, O LORD my God; Enlighten my eyes, Lest I sleep the sleep of death.” He knew he would not see God’s face in its full glory until he had died and been resurrected. He would also have been aware that Moses was not able to see God’s glorified face while he was still a human.
Another example of this terminology is found in 2 Kings 4:31. This is when a woman had miraculously received a son according to Elisha’s promise, but the son had died: “Now Gehazi went on ahead of them, and laid the staff on the face of the child; but there was neither voice nor hearing. Therefore, he went back to meet him (Elisha), and told him, saying, ‘The child has not awakened.’” Elisha then proceeded to bring him back to life. Here again, this physical resurrection is considered an awakening from a sleep.
As David said in Psalm 17:15, he would be satisfied to be like God or to be a glorified God being in substance, and to be with God forever. This was much more valuable to him than temporary, physical possessions. He also realised that at that time, he would be righteous. He had written about this time in the previous Psalm, Psalm 16:11: “You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” He certainly understood what he was looking forward to.
Of course, this does not only apply to David. We are given the same promise from God in Matthew 5:8: “Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.” This encouragement is also given to us in 1 Corinthians 13:12: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known [by God].”
The apostle John re-emphasises this future for us in 1 John 3:2-3: “Beloved, now we are the 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. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” This is basically a repeat of David’s expectation in Psalm 17. We will see Christ in His full glory, as He is, because we will BE like Him, or better, we will be equal with Him in substance. We will bear His glorified image (1 Corinthians 15:49; 2 Corinthians 3:18), as Christ bears the Father’s glorified image (Colossians 1:15; 2 Corinthians 4:4). When the heavenly Jerusalem descends on the new earth, we read that we will also see the glorified face of God the Father (Revelation 22:4).
But, of course, there are conditions. In David’s case, he knew he would see God in righteousness. In fact, he wrote in Psalm 15:1-2: “LORD, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill? He who walks uprightly, And works righteousness, And speaks the truth in his heart.” And in Psalm 119:172 we read: “All Your commandments are righteousness.”
And in Matthew 5:8 and 1 John 3:3, the ones who will see God are the pure in heart—those who have purified themselves. From this we see that God will raise us from sleep in a resurrection or change us if we are still alive when Christ returns, but we must be striving to live righteously and be pure in heart and life.