No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. (NIV)
1. For more information on “seeing” God, see our explanation of Genesis 18:1 and 2, which covers God occasionally appearing in human form.
2. Some people infer from John 6:46 that Jesus must be God, or at least that he pre-existed his birth, because he said he had seen the Father. However, this verse has nothing to do with the Trinity or pre-existence. For one thing, his audience would not have understood Jesus’ teaching about the Trinity unless it included more information, because they were not expecting a Messiah who was God.
In contrast, it was assumed in the culture that the Messiah would have an intimate relationship with God, so what Jesus was saying to them could, and likely was, properly understood by some of his audience. However, the Biblical record does not focus on the average people in the audience, but upon the religious leaders, which the Bible refers to as “the Jews” (John 6:41 and 52). Since almost all of Jesus’ audience would have been Jewish, it is well known to scholars that the phrase, “the Jews” refers to the religious leaders such as top Pharisees and Sadducees in the audience. In this teaching after feeding the 5,000, as in most of his teachings, the religious leaders did not understand Jesus’ message.
The key to understanding John 6:46 is knowing that the phrase “seen the Father” does not refer to seeing with the eye, but to “knowing the Father.” Jesus knew God, not because he lived with God before his birth, but because God revealed Himself more clearly to Jesus than to anyone else. Jesus made this clear in other teachings, saying, “For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does…” (John 5:20a).
In both Hebrew and Greek, words translated “see” also mean “to know, to realize.” The Hebrew word ra’ah is used of both seeing with the eyes and knowing something, or perceiving it (Gen. 16:4; Exod. 32:1; Num. 20:29). Similarly, the Greek word horao, translated “see” in John 1:18, 6:46; and 3 John 1:11, can mean “to see with the eyes” or “to see with the mind, to perceive, know.” Even in English, one of the definitions for “see” is “to know or understand.” For example, when two people are discussing something, one might say to the other, “I see what you mean.”
The usage of “see” as it pertains to knowing is found in many places in the New Testament. For example, Jesus said to Philip, “…Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father…” (John 14:9). Here again the word “see” is used to indicate knowing. Anyone who knew Christ (not just those who “saw” him) would know the Father. In fact, Christ had made that clear two verses earlier when he said to Philip, “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:7). In this verse Jesus says that those who know him have “seen” the Father.
One of the verses that uses the word “seen” in the sense of “known” is John 1:18.
John 1:18 (RSV)
No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.
The phrase “seen God” is parallel to the phrase “has made Him known,” and both phrases refer to knowing God. No man fully knew God, but Jesus made Him known. Throughout the Old Testament, what people knew about God was very limited. In fact, 2 Corinthians 3:13-16 refers to the fact that even today, the Jews who reject Christ have a veil over their hearts. The full knowledge, the “truth” about God, came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). He was the one who “saw” (fully understood) God, and then he taught others—which is what John 1:18 says. Before Jesus Christ came, no one really knew God as He truly is, a loving heavenly Father, but Jesus Christ “saw” (knew) God intimately, because the Father revealed Himself clearly to him.