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Question

What does it mean that no one has seen God (1 John 4:12)?

no one has seen God
Answer


First John 4:12 says, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” The same assertion that no one has ever seen God can be found in other parts of Scripture, such as John 1:18. But what does this statement signify, especially in light of Moses, Gideon, and others who seem to have seen God?

Scripture proclaims that no one has seen God because God is a spiritual being, and our eyes are limited to perceiving only physical, material objects—and even that has limits. God is invisible. Just as we cannot see the wind, we cannot see God.

Furthermore, it’s important to distinguish between what is possible and what is reasonable. While anything can happen within the realm of possibilities, is it reasonable to expect created beings to be able to see the Creator of the universe? When we factor in the existence of the spiritual realm, it becomes clearer why the idea of seeing God with our limited human eyes is impossible.

So, the skeptic asks, how can we ever come to know God if we can't see Him? In response, we assert that God took the first step to meet us in the person of Jesus. Therefore, if we seek to know God, we should look at Jesus. John 1:18 states, “No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us” (NLT). The writer of Hebrews also affirms this by stating, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe” (Hebrews 1:1–2). Not only did Jesus redeem us from our sins, but He also made God visible (and approachable) to us.

What about passages in the Old Testament that seem to suggest people met God and even wrestled with Him? For example, Exodus 33 says on one hand that Moses couldn’t see God (verse 20) yet also records that “the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.” (verse 11). The expression “face to face” seems to be more of a figure of speech, emphasizing the intimacy between God and Moses. Or it could be that Moses saw a theophany—a visible manifestation of God. Other possible theophanies in the Old Testament include Jacob’s wrestling match (Genesis 32:22–30), Abraham’s conversation with God near Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:1–33), the appearance of an angel to Samson’s parents (Judges 13:1–23), and the angel who spoke to Gideon (Judges 6).

Therefore, while no one has ever beheld God in His essence, He has manifested Himself numerous times in human form and engaged in conversation with His people. These theophanies in the Old Testament foreshadow the Incarnation, where God the Son assumes human flesh.

After John states that no one has ever seen God, he writes, “But if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is made complete in us.” The love Christians demonstrate reflects God’s love. We cannot see God, yet when we exercise love, we know that God is dwelling in us. Christian love serves as tangible evidence of God and the gospel.

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What does it mean that no one has seen God (1 John 4:12)?
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This page last updated: December 11, 2023