The "Shape" of God

In John 5 we find the account of Jesus healing the invalid man (verses 1-9) and the religious Jews becoming indignant at the fact that He had the poor judgment of doing it on the Sabbath (verses10-15).  As we follow the story, this same crowd began to persecute Jesus and sought to kill Him (verse 16). Jesus then turned up the heat, so to speak, by telling them that His Father had always been doing such things (for example, go back and read verse 4 again) and it was time for Him to do them too (verse 17).  This incensed the Jews even more, because in Jesus’ statement He was making Himself equal with the Father (verse 18).  This, then, leads into one of those great passages where Jesus the Son talks about His relationship with the Father (verses 19-47).

And in the midst of this, Jesus says in verse 37"And the Father Who sent Me has Himself given this evidence concerning Me. And not one of you has ever heard His voice or seen His shape."  Of course the evidence Jesus was talking about was His ability to perform the miraculous and heal the invalid.  But it is the last part of the verse that I want to talk about.  Jesus tells the crowd that none of them had ever seen the Father’s shape, or depending on the translation, His form.  The word is eidos, from the verb eido, meaning, to perceive with the outward senses, particularly with physical sight. Therefore, eidos found here refers to the Father’s outward, physical appearance.

The implication is clear enough. Jesus’ argument was that He was presenting first-hand evidence of His close relationship to the Father; what He was telling them was not second-hand information, it wasn’t hearsay.  Not one of them had ever heard the voice of the Father, but He had.  None of them knew what the Father looked like, but He did.  And for those of us reading this account, it tells us something, if not terribly important, then at least, interesting.  God is not an immaterial essence, a purely spiritual presence, as many suppose.  

In the references to follow I will give examples of descriptions and appearances of God giving evidence of shape or visible form.  Some refer to the Father, some to the pre-existent Son.  Either way, they represent the fact that God, whether Father or Son before He took on the physical form of a man, have visible form.  

Jesus is telling us that the Father has an outward, physical shape or form that can be seen.  If you’ve read the articles on this website, you might remember there’s one titled "Grace, Faith and the Invisible God".  And I want you to know right now, there’s no contradiction in what I’m about to lay out for you here.  If you go back and read the article, you’ll see that I emphasize that "invisible" means "unseen".  The fact is that for most of us the Father chooses to remain beyond our ability to see, though, as I will point out from Scripture, there are plenty of exceptions and descriptions that tell us He can be seen and does not always choose to remain "unseen".

To further advance the idea that the Father, in fact, has physical form, let’s look at Genesis 1:26.  "And God said, Let Us make man in Our image and in Our likeness."  The words translated "image" and "likeness" is tselem and demuth, respectively.  Both are words that describe outward, visible form and are generally considered to mean the same thing, with the exception that demuth commonly emphasizes structural similarities.  Note, again, what God says in this verse, "Ourimage and Our likeness"?  Just as Jesus says in John 5:37, that the Father has shape; here, the Father says of Himself that He has a visible form with structural characteristics.  And, I want to move on, not belaboring the point, but James 3:9bsays that men "were made after the similitude of God".  Here, the word "similitude" is homoiosis, another word that is used to describe outward appearance.  Its general meaning is resemblance.  The verse could easily read something like, "men were made to look like God".

Another aspect that should be considered in regards to the similarities that exist between God and man is this: man has a body, a soul and a spirit; God has a body, a soul and a spirit (the exception being that there is no evidence the Holy Spirit has a body).  God has a personal soul and the expressions of it are seen in His: anger (I Kings 11:9), regret (Genesis 6:6), jealousy (Exodus 20:5), disapproval (Proverbs 6:16), sorrow (Psalm 103:13), enjoyment of fellowship (I John 1:1-7), delight (Psalm 147:10), mind (Romans 11:34), intelligence (Romans 11:33) and will (Romans 8:27).  There are many more examples, but you get the idea.  He also has a personal spirit that can be seen in His expressions of: truth (Psalm 91:4), faith, hope and love (I Corinthians 13:13), righteousness (Psalm 45:4), faithfulness (I Corinthians 10:13), wisdom (Isaiah 11:2), and an unchanging character and nature that remains good and right (Hebrews 6:17).

Now, before we go any further, if you’re somewhat a student of Scripture, somewhere in the back recesses of your mind, just waiting to jump out and yell, "HOLD ON JUST A DARN MINUTE!!!" you may recall a verse somewhere in the Gospels where Jesus says, no man has seen the Father" (John 6:46).  So, to put your mind at easelet me explain the verb here translated "seen".  The word is horao and just like the English word "seen", it can mean, depending on the context, to see with the eyes or to see with the mind (or understand).  In context here, it means, to fully understand truth. You can compare Jesus’ use of this word in John 8:3814:9and 15:24, where it means the same thing.  In all these references Jesus is not talking about seeing a physical form, but about comprehending truth.  As usual, the Scriptures do not contradict themselves.

Another seemingly problematic passage is found in Exodus 33, where Moses asks God in verse 18"Show me Your glory".  The word translated "glory" is kavod and means, splendor or brilliance.  And to this God replies in verses 19-23"And God said, I will cause all My beauty to pass before you, and I will proclaim My name, THE LORD, before you; for I will be gracious to whomever I choose, and I will show my loving-kindness to whomever I choose.  But, you cannot behold My face, for no man can see Me (in this way) and live.  And the Lord said, Look, there is a place here by Me, and you can stand by this rock, and while all My brilliance passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by.  Then I will take away My hand and you can see (the brilliance that comes off of) My back, but you shall not see My face."

Of course the key here is that Moses asked to see God in all His beauty and splendor, that Moses had already seen God or His face should not be in question.  In Exodus 24:9-11 Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and 70 of the elders of Israel "saw" God and a partial description of His appearance is given (He was standing on a pavement of bright sapphire stone described as being under His feet).  In Exodus 33:9-11 the Lord came down in a cloud, then stood at the door of the tabernacle and spoke with Moses "face to face as a man speaks to his friend".  From this we can conclude that it is possible for God to appear to man in a physical form that does not display the expression of all that He is, an appearance that evidently would be fatal to our own carnal existence from what God tells Moses in the passage above.

But, the fact that He is able to appear in a physical form with familiar structural characteristics is clear.  In Genesis 3:8-10 we see the account of Adam and Eve hiding from God because they "heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day".  If He didn’t have a physical presence, why did He make a sound that could be heard, why would the record describe Him as "walking" and why would they try to hide from Him, unless they could have some idea of where He was physically located?  The fact that they recognized it was the sound of God walking in the garden tells us this was an experience they had become accustomed to. This was not the first time He had appeared to them in physical form.

Probably the most complete reference to God appearing in a visible, physical form is found in Genesis 18.  If you read this chapter you’ll see that the Lord "appeared" to Abraham (verse 1), "stood by him" (verse 2), that Abraham washed the feet of the Lord and the two angels with Him (verse 4), that Abraham "took butter, and milk, and the calf he had prepared, and set before them…and they ate (verse 8), that as they walked towards Sodom to see the city, Abraham walked with them (verse 16), that Abraham stood by the Lord, then came even closer to speak to Him (verse 22-23) and that finally the Lord went His way…and Abraham returned to his own place (verse 33).

In the Genesis record God showed Himself to Abraham many times, then to Isaac and Jacob several times from chapter 12 through chapter 35.  In those instances it is said that He "appeared" to these men.  The word is ra’ah, and means, to reveal or show oneself He appeared to Joshua (Joshua 5), Gideon (Judges 6), Sampson’s parents (Judges 13), David (I Chronicles 21), Job (Job 42), Isaiah (Isaiah 6), Amos (Amos 9), Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1), Stephen (Acts 7) and John (Revelation 1, 4 and 5).

Daniel gives a partial description of the "Ancient of Days" in Daniel 7:9.  This is God the Father, not the Son Who is seen as a separate person in verses 13-14.  The Father is wearing a garment "white as snow" and His hair is "pure wool".

In Daniel 10:5-6 we see Daniel giving us a vision of the pre-incarnate Son of God.  He had the physical appearance of a man.  His clothing was fine linen.  He had a golden girdle around His waist.  His body appeared to shine like crystal, though the exact color is not given.  His face was like lightning and His eyes lamps of fire.  His arms and feet were like polished brass.  And the sound of His voice was like the sound of many people all speaking in unison.

What makes this description even more interesting is the fact that John’s vision of the glorified Christ (Revelation 1:12-16) some 60 years after His resurrection and ascension is essentially the same as Daniel’s, which was recorded about 700 years earlier.  The one exception being that John mentions His hair being white like wool.  It is also worth mentioning that both Daniel and John fell into a dead faint at the sight of Him, telling us that the Son of God, like the Father, can limit the splendor of His physical presence to the point it is not fatal, just somewhat debilitating.

And while on the subject of the glorified Christ, let’s look at the record regarding His appearance to the disciples after His resurrection, but prior to His ascension.  In Luke 24:36-43 the disciples were terrified at His appearance.  Thinking they had seen a spirit, Christ tells them in verse 39, "Look at My hands and My feet, see that it is I Myself!  Handle me and see, a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have."  Compare this to John 20:25-27, where He tells Thomas to put his finger in the nail holes and his hand into the open wound in His side.  It is here and in the other appearances mentioned in the record that we get a glimpse into what will forever be the physical form of the eternal Christ and of all resurrected believers.

It is interesting that Christ after His resurrection describes Himself as "flesh and bones", not flesh and blood.  He carried the open wounds received during His crucifixion, but in His spiritual body those wounds were not bleeding.  Now, if "spiritual body" is a new term to you, you need only look at I Corinthians 15:39-44where Paul explains that there is a natural, corruptible body and there is a spiritual, incorruptible body and it is the resurrection that changes the corruptible into the incorruptible (verse 42). Paul further confirms what Jesus says about being flesh and bones, when he says in I Corinthians 15:50 that flesh and blood cannot share in the eternal Kingdom of God.  As Jesus prepared to join the Father, He was no longer flesh and blood (natural body); at His resurrection He became flesh and bone (spiritual body).  But make no mistake; both are physical, material bodies.

And John in I John 3:2 tells us that at the resurrection "we will be like Him". The word "like" is homoios (the adjective form of the noun homoiosis mentioned earlier in James 3:9), and means, the same in appearance or form (compare this to what Paul says in Philippians 3:20-21).  At the resurrection believers will be changed and will receive a spiritual body just like Christ displayed to the disciples after His resurrection.

In that spiritual body He was able to appear and disappear at will (Luke 24:15, 31and 36), He was able to enter a room where it is emphasized in the record that the doors were shut, apparently by passing through solid walls (John 20:19, 26) and it is evident that Jesus could make Himself both recognizable and unrecognizable at will (John 20:14-16Luke 24:31).  Another obvious fact regarding the spiritual body is that following His resurrection Jesus ate food (Luke 24:42-43), just as the Lord and the two angels with Him ate the meal prepared for them (Genesis 18:8).  And Jesus makes it clear there will be eating and drinking with Him in the eternal Kingdom (Matthew 26:29Mark 14:25Luke 22:16, 18, 30Revelation 2:7, 17 and 19:9).

So, what may we conclude from all this?  That the Father and the Son have always had physical, material, spiritual bodies, except for the brief time the Son took on a natural body in order to carry out the Father’s plan of redemption.  That, even though the spiritual body resembles the natural one in structure, form and function, it is obviously not limited to the same physical laws.  The spirit body can easily move back and forth between the spirit realm and this earthly one.  That both God and angels have physical, material, spiritual bodies (there are over 100 references in Scripture of angels appearing to men) and Paul tells us in Hebrews 13:2 that some have entertained angels and were not aware of it.

And this might be a good time to expose some religious myths concerning heaven.  Since it is obvious from the Scripture record that God has a physical form, does He reside in an invisible, immaterial place called heaven? Or do the Scriptures actually describe heaven as a planet very similar to the earth? In Genesis 1:1 many translations say, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."  The problem with this is that the word in the text translated "heavens" is actually the singular shamayim (the plural form would be shameh and is not there) and should be translated "the heaven".

In fact, this verse should read something like this: "At a predetermined point in time God created the heaven and the earth."  The word "beginning" in most translations is from reshith, a word that does not describe a beginning, but a fixed point in time.  In God’s plan for the ages, there came that point when He planned to create a place for man and a place for Himself.  And the word "created" is bara and means to make something out of nothing, both the heaven and the earth were physical, material planets brought into existence by the creative act of God.   You see the same usage of shamayim in Isaiah 66:1-2

In John 14:1-3 Jesus talks about going to the Father’s dwelling place (house) to prepare a place for believers.  We know that place is then described in Revelation 21:2 as the holy city, the New Jerusalem that comes down to the earth from God out of heaven to become the eternal residence of believers (Oops, another myth destroyed. Believers don’t spend eternity with God in heaven.  They spend eternity with God on the earth.  Read Revelation 21:3). So, is Jesus preparing a physical, material city in an invisible, immaterial place?  I don’t think so.  When Jesus went to heaven to prepare that city, He went in a resurrected, physical body (Luke 24:36-44, 51).  Again, does it make sense He would go to an immaterial place in a material body?

Here’s one more to consider.  What about Enoch?  In Genesis 5:24 the record tells us he walked with God, then was not, because God took him.  In Hebrews 11:5, we further find out that God transferred (metatithemi, to take from one place to another) him and that he did not die.  If God took Enoch to heaven and he did not die, then Enoch has lived well over 5,000 years in a place that obviously can support life, as we know it here on earth.  The same must be true of Elijah from what we see in II Kings 2:1,11.  And if you do a study on the subject, you’ll find heaven described in Scripture as a place with fire, lightning, thunder, trees, animals, food, mountains, musical instruments and other physical, material things familiar to us here on the earth.

So, why have I taken the time to explain all this about God’s physical form? I’ll try to put all this together in some sort of conclusion.  Let me quote I Peter 2:1-5"So, get rid of any malice and deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and every kind of evil speaking.  And just like newborn babies crave their mother’s milk, earnestly long for the pure spiritual nourishment that will allow you to grow up in your completed deliverance.  Since you have tasted and know that the Lord is good, come to Him, that Living Stone, Who men rejected, but Who is chosen and precious to God.  And like living stones be built into a spiritual house, to become a holy priesthood, with the distinct privilege of offering those spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable and pleasing to God through Jesus Christ."  And what are those spiritual sacrifices that are to be offered by this holy priesthood Peter is talking about? He tells us in verse 9"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a dedicated nation, God’s possession, for the purpose of displaying the perfect character and nature of Him Who called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light."  And, to avoid any confusion, just let me tell you that where the Authorized Version and other popular translations say, "show forth the praises", the word "praises" is arêtes, and means virtue or excellence.

Now, stay with me.  I want to show you a couple of other references; then I’ll tie it all together and make my point.  In Revelation 1:5b-6 John says, "To Him Who has always loved us and has loosed us from our sins by His own blood, and formed us into a kingdom and priests in order to serve His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever, Amen."  And then in Revelation 5:9-10 John describes a future scene in heaven when the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders sing a new song as they prostrate themselves before the Lamb, "You are worthy to take the scroll and open the seals of it, because You were slain and with Your blood You purchased men for God out of every tribe and language and people and nation.  And You have made them a kingdom and priests to serve our God and they will reign on the earth."

Then, a verse I referenced earlier, but did not quote, this is Revelation 21:3"Then I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, now the dwelling place of God is with men, and He will live with them.  And they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and will be their God."  And at the end of John’s description of the holy city, the New Jerusalem, we see this in Revelation 22:3-5"And the curse will be gone.  But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and His servants will worship Him.  And they will see His face and His name will be on their foreheads.  And there will be no more night; but they will have no need for lamps or sunlight, for the Lord God will be their light.  And they will reign as kings forever and ever."

First, Peter tells us to consciously reject the expressions of our carnal nature, pursue the things that allow us to grow in our spirituality and be part of a holy priesthood able to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to the Father.  He then tells us the purpose of this special priesthood is to actively represent the Father by displaying His perfect character and nature.  Then John tells us this same kingdom of priests formed by Christ from every people group will serve the Father and reign as kings on the earth throughout eternity.  And finally that God Himself will dwell on the earth with men and with that priesthood of believers, who will administer His affairs (I Corinthians 6:1-3). And finally, in that eternal state, they will see His face.

So, what’s my point? What have I been rambling on about for the last 6 pages?  God has a face, and I want to see it.  God has a face, and I want you to see it with me.  If you’ve been reading the articles on this website, I hope you recognize the fact that I use it to emphasize the difference between a relationship with God that is individual, personal and follows Christ’s example of spending time alone with the Father, submitted to His will and purpose, and a mere relationship with a religious organization based on group activities.  Religion and religious institutions that promote their worthless rituals and meaningless traditions is never what the Father intended and what Jesus angrily, even violently opposed.  And Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 7:21-23 that only those who submit themselves to the will of the Father will be part of His kingdom, merely taking part in religious activities will not do.

I guess what I’m really wanting to do is ask you as you read this article, are you really submitted to the Father’s will?  Is it really the focus and priority of your life to know God and see His purpose carried out; or are you simply following religion or your own selfish, worldly pursuits.  The application is a simple one.  His purpose is to conform you to the image of His Son, to prepare you to be a member of a priesthood that will be His legal representatives administering His affairs with the same character and nature that Christ possesses, and do it among men on the earth for all eternity.  I want the character of Christ; I want to be a member of that priesthood; I want to be able to see the face of my God for all eternity.