Before we look at other people seeing the face of God, let us consider what Adam and Eve saw. Genesis 3:8 says that Adam and Eve hid themselves from “the presence of the LORD God” (ESV). This verse also says that God “walked” in the garden. If we take these statements literally then they would imply that God has a physical form and moved about in the garden and was seen by Adam and Eve. However, there are a number of other passages that should make us cautious of such an interpretation.
In Exodus 33:20 God says to Moses “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live”. This is why Manoah says “we shall surely die” when he thinks they have seen God (what that they had actually seen was the Angel of the LORD). John 1:18 says that “no-one has seen God at any time”, which would indicate that no human has ever seen God as he actually is. Paul describes God as “invisible” (Colossians 1:15; 1 Timothy 1:17).
I think it is a mistake to think of God as a physical being. Jesus says “God is spirit” (John 4:24). Therefore when the Bible talks about the “face” of God, we should probably not understand this as a physical face. No-one has seen the face of God because 1) God is invisible, and 2) the true nature of God is probably beyond human comprehension.
There are references throughout the Bible to people “seeing” God, but these are all examples of people seeing some intermediary.
For instance, in the account in Exodus 34:1-5, it sounds as though God himself appeared to Moses and gave him the stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were engraved. However, in Acts 7:38 it says with regard to Moses, “This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us.” Speaking about the Law of Moses in Hebrews 2:2 it says, “Since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable…” So, although the Law was given to Moses by God, it seems that the actual contact was made through an angel, who acted as a perfect messenger for God.
Other examples include:
- Jacob says “I have seen God face to face” (Genesis 32:29); it was an angel (Hosea 12:4).
- Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look on God (Exodus 3:6); it was an angel in the burning bush (Acts 7:30).
- God spoke “face to face” with Moses (Exodus 33:11); Moses saw the cloud.
- Jesus said “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9); it was Jesus they saw, not God (cf. John 1:18).
We do not yet know what our relationship will be with God in the Kingdom. Paul describes it as “face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Revelation says “he will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3).