Theophanies: Visible Manifestations of the Invisible God

February 9, 2009

by Shawn Brasseaux

“For in [Christ] dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9 KJV).

The Bible tells us that God is a triune Godhead: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14; 1 John 5:7). The triune Godhead is invisible—we cannot see God. However, God has revealed Himself in a form that we can see: a man.

In time past, God the Son appeared to various people. Whenever God appeared to man in human (or visible) form, it was a “theophany.” For instance the LORD and two angels appear to Abraham, but they appear as three men (Genesis chapter 18). Those men, according to verse 18, ate a meal with Abraham! Years later, Abraham’s son Jacob actually fought with the LORD in a human body and Jacob named that place “Peniel,” meaning “the face of God” (Genesis 32:24-32).

In Exodus 3:1-14, we find the well-known account of God appearing to Moses in the form of a burning bush that is not consumed. According to John 8:52-58, Jesus Christ claimed to be the great “I AM” in the burning bush! According to 1 Corinthians 10:1-4, 9, the Rock from which the Israelites drank in the wilderness in Exodus 17:1-6 was the Lord Jesus Christ!

Upon the completion of the Tabernacle, the glory of the LORD came down becoming a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 40:33-38). Some refer to this as the “Shekinah Glory of God.” The cloud of God’s glory appeared again at the dedication of the Temple, the Tabernacle’s permanent successor (1 Kings 7:51; 1 Kings 8:9-13). We find that several hundred years later, that same Shekinah glory cloud appeared over Jesus Christ in Matthew 17:1-8 and Luke 9:28-36.

Theophanies were never permanent; sometimes God would appear to Israel, but then He would disappear by becoming invisible again. When we come to the Lord Jesus Christ, God appearing to man becomes more than a theophany. He permanently indwells a physical body.

In His earthly ministry, Jesus Christ in the flesh was the “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). We read “the Word [God the Son] was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:1-2, 14). Paul speaks of Jesus as “the man” (1 Timothy 2:4), but he also says that Jesus is “the great God and our Saviour” (Titus 2:13). Peter and the eleven apostles touched the Lord Jesus and they saw Him in a human body (Luke 24:37-43). As 1 John 1:1-3 KJV says:

“1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;
2 (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)
3 That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.”

Who was the last person to see the Lord Jesus Christ? It was the Apostle Paul. Look at 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 KJV:

“3 For I [Paul] delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
5 And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:
6 After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.
7 After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.
8 And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.”

When the Lord Jesus Christ reached down from heaven and saved wicked Saul of Tarsus in Acts chapter 9, He appeared to Saul in a “heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19). In Acts 26:16, when Paul is recounting the day of his salvation, he quotes what the Lord Jesus told him: “But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee;”

Take notice that the Lord Jesus Christ will appear unto Paul. In fact, Paul says that he will “come to visions and revelations of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 12:1). During his lifetime, Jesus Christ made several appearances to Paul.

God has not appeared to anyone in nearly 2,000 years—despite all the bogus claims of God appearing to people and giving them messages or commissions. Paul was the last person to see the Lord Jesus Christ. Do not expect to see God until the rapture of the Church the Body of Christ.

In the future, after the seven years of Tribulation, Jesus Christ will return to planet earth at His Second Coming. Job 19:25-27 KJV says:

“25 For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:
26 And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:
27 Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.”

The Apostle John describes Christ’s Second Coming in this manner: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2 KJV).



Does the Bible say if anyone sees God, he or she will die? Actually, the Bible says the opposite: “no man can see God and live” (Exodus 33:20).

We find a fascinating passage in Exodus 33:18-23, when Moses begs the LORD God “shew me thy glory.” God told Moses to go into a crevice in the rocks, and God would pass over Moses, and Moses would see God’s “back parts.” While Moses did not see God’s face, He saw God’s “back.”

However, no one has actually seen all three Persons of the Godhead at once (see John 1:18): as we stated earlier, it was only God the Son (Jesus Christ) who would make Himself visibly known to mankind.

What if someone in a physical body like ours did see the Lord Jesus Christ in all His glory? Earlier, we learned that Jesus Christ appeared to Paul in Acts chapter 9. Because of this, Paul was actually physically blind for three days (Acts 9:8-12,18).