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Bible Q

“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Did Jesus claim to be God to Philip?

This question relates to Jesus’ answer to Philip’s request “Show us the Father”:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (John 14:6-13 NRSV) 

Jesus reveals his Father

It should be clear from reading through the whole section that Jesus is not claiming to be his Father. But only that by seeing Jesus, the Son of God, his disciples, or whoever, could, and should, be able to see his Father in him. This wasn’t a new teaching to Philip, or shouldn’t have been, because Jesus had already publicly made the same statement to the crowds on the day they laid palm branches before his donkey as he entered Jerusalem:

44 Then Jesus cried aloud: “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45 And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. (John 12:44-45)

From the above, it is clear what Jesus meant to Philip. Whoever saw Jesus should have been able to see God, who sent Jesus. This isn’t the same as Jesus claiming to be the Father. It is what it says; whoever saw Jesus could, or should, have seen the One who sent him.


Theophany, God manifestation

The two above passages (John 12:44-45 and 14:6-13) are the classic starting point for opening up a great New Testament theme, about how Jesus shows, reveals, represents, his Father.

A word of caution however: this subject area, which was sometimes called ‘theophany’ or ‘God’s manifestation’ (or less grammatically, ‘God manifestation’ with no apostrophe),  can be a rabbit hole which distracts from the power of what Christ was telling the crowds in Jerusalem and repeating to Philip above.

One traditional approach to the subject is to go through the Old Testament examining all the precedents for the true manifestation of God achieved by the Lord Jesus in his life and death.

And that leads to examples like the angels which appeared to Abraham at the oaks of Mamre, the angel in the burning bush to Moses, the pillar of cloud and of fire in the wilderness, the blinding light that passed Moses’ back on Mount Sinai, or the “still small voice” which was heard by Elijah on Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19)

Up to a point, fine. These are all valid examples of theophanies of Israel’s God in the Old Testament. They show how an angel, a fire, pillar of cloud, a blinding light, a small voice, can be described as being God, as manifesting or revealing Yahweh, Jehovah, the LORD of Hosts.

But there’s a problem with leaving Jesus’ words to Philip in the same category as those events. Fundamentally, the angel, the fire, the pillar of cloud, the blinding light, the small voice all actually were God. They were physical phenomena visible to men being used by God who himself cannot be seen, and has not ever been seen (1 Timothy 6:16). The fire, cloud, light, voice, even the angels (another topic) have in the Bible no independent will to reveal, manifest, show God as Jesus uniquely had. These Old Testament theophanies are not equivalents to Christ’s manifestation of his Father, but only pale foreshadows of what was to come in the New Testament:

“No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him”  (John 1:18 KJV, majority Greek texts)

Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great: He was revealed in flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory.” (1 Timothy 3:16, NRSV) 

This is the most important and most basic teaching of God’s manifestation in the Bible, that the greatest revealing, showing, of God happened only when Christ began his ministry.


Seeing God in the disciples of Christ

The theme of manifestation of God does not stop there. The New Testament also teaches that Christianity requires that men and women become people who can be looked at and others will not just see Christ, but even see his Father, as Philip should have seen in Jesus.

“To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27)

“Or do you not realize about yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you?” (2 Corinthians 13:5)

“it pleased God…to reveal His Son in me.” (Galatians 1:15-16)

Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

There are more verses in the New Testament that call on the believer to exhibit, manifest, Christ, than raise the expectation to manifesting God. Given that the Bible teaches we can only come near to God through Christ this is what we should expect. The main exhortation in the New Testament is towards Christ manifestation, revealing of Christ, God manifestation, revealing of God is in New Testament terms something we on our own simply cannot do. But the ambition of Christians at least attempting as Christ achieved to reveal his Father also is there latent in the text:

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

“We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement (Greek manifesting, phanerosis) of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:2)

That there in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:16) is the ultimate end of the long path of manifestations and theophanies in the Old Testament leading to where Christ challenged Philip to see the Father in him. Christians should let light shine as Christ came as the “true light” (John 1:9).

And in the second verse above we see that ultimately that manifestation of God by the Lord Jesus is something that the gospel requires Christians to try and follow. That phanerosis (NRSV open statement) of the truth in speech, in teaching and in behaviour, is the objective for us of what Christ revealed to Philip.

None of what Christ was saying to the crowds in Jerusalem or to Philip has anything to do with Christ claiming to actually be his Father.


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