“No one has ever seen God;” ~ 1 John 4:12a
Explanation of the Text: John wrote earlier that love is from God and those who love know God. He goes on to say that those who do no love do not know God (1 John 4:7-8). Yet, here he tells us that no one has ever seen God. How can we ever know God if we have not seen God? Is not knowing someone built upon a relationship between two individuals which cannot be had if those individuals do not see each other?
Thankfully, God is knowable. We are reminded though that as finite beings we can only have an incomplete understanding of God, and that as a result we cannot define God but only describe Him (1). While we are limited beings, God has transcended barriers to reveal Himself to us in a very real and personal way.
What does it mean then, when John writes that no one has ever seen God? First note that he is referring specifically to God the Father. Throughout Scripture God is never fully seen in all of His splendor, majesty and glory. To look upon God is to die (cf. Exodus 33:20).
Looking further though, this is not the first time John has used this phrase. At the opening of his gospel account, John also indicates that no one has ever seen God (John 1:18). But in reading further we can’t help but be in awe by John’s next statement. He writes: “the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” Not only is there heavy theology here in the unification and intimacy between the Father and the Son, but John proclaims that the Father is seen through the Son. “All that Jesus is and does interprets and explains who God is and what he does” (2).
Examination & Application of the Text: Although no one has ever seen God, it is clear that God still had a relationship with His people. We see that with Adam & Eve in the Garden, down through the generations to Noah, who God talked to about building the Ark. Moses tends to be one of our prime examples in this as God instructed Moses how to lead the people, even to the point of the smallest details of construction on the Tabernacle. Therefore, in spite of not having physically seen God the Father, He has still provided a way for us to know Him.
That way is by knowing His Son, Jesus Christ. It is written “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true” (1 John 5:20a). Our emphasize then must be on having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Seeing God and knowing Him as much as possible in spite of our finiteness can only occur trough a relationship with Him alone.
Questions to Consider:
- What is your relationship with Christ?
- Do you see the correlation between your relationship with Christ and your relationship with God?
- In what ways can you be more intentional in your relationship with Christ so that you may know God better?
(1) Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 1: Theology Proper, Translated & Edited by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2014), 1.
(2) John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 1535.