One of the most familiar passages in the Bible—familiar because of its frequent appearance on Christmas cards and in Christmas sermons—is also one of the most profound and mysterious passages in the Bible. I am referring to Isaiah 9:6.
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
The mystery is how a mere child, born like other children, could also be the “Everlasting Father.” The very terms seem to constitute, in the modern jargon, an oxymoron—that is, an impossible contradiction in terms.
The same problem is encountered in that other very familiar Christmas verse, Micah 5:2:
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.
That is, how could a Babe be “given birth” (verse 3) by a mother in Bethlehem when He had already been “going forth” from everlasting?
“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”
God Himself—with us—in the guise of a virgin-born child! How can such things be?
God Himself had told Moses: “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live” (Exodus 33:20). Similarly, the apostle Paul spoke of God as “dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see” (1 Timothy 6:16).
Indeed, the very concept of an everlasting, omnipotent God who created the mighty universe seems impossible to grasp by mere mortals—especially by those astronomers and cosmologists whose very careers are spent in studying the universe and trying to understand its origin and nature. Surveys have shown that only a very small percentage of scientists in these fields are active in any kind of church. Their very purpose in life seems to be to try to explain not only the evolution of the universe but even its very origin without God. The Big Bang theory, with its initial period of supposed “inflation,” increasingly involves the assumption (at least by those who think about origins at all) that our universe simply evolved out of nothing by means of a “quantum fluctuation in the primeval state of nothingness.”
Such explanations are considered by them to be preferable to believing that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). While it is true that one cannot prove that God created, neither can anyone prove that the universe created itself. At least the concept of Almighty God as Creator presents a reasonable First Cause able to account for the complex of myriad effects that comprise the cosmos, whereas the assumed primeval nothingness explains nothing! Creationists thus have a reasonable faith, based on good evidence, whereas cosmic evolutionists have a highly credulous faith, based on the omnipotence of “nothing.”
It may be true that we cannot actually see God, for He is “the King eternal, immortal, invisible, [the] God who alone is wise” (1 Timothy 1:17). Christ Himself said that “no one has seen God at any time” (John 1:18). And to those in this scientific age who stress that the scientific method requires “observability,” this may seem to be a problem.
But the fact is that God has been seen by men! Enoch and Noah both “walked with God” (Genesis 5:24; 6:9), and “the LORD appeared to Abram” (Genesis 12:7; 17:1; 18:1) as well as Isaac (Genesis 26:2). Jacob testified, “I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved” (Genesis 32:30).
It was also said that Moses was a man “whom the LORD knew face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10). During the period of the conquest and the judges, there were occasions when “the angel of the LORD” appeared to men and was recognized as the Lord Himself (note the case of Gideon and also that of the parents of Samson, for example, Judges 6:22; 13:21-22). The patriarch Job could say after deliverance from his sufferings, “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You” (Job 42:5).
Much later the great prophet Isaiah testified, “I saw the LORD sitting on a throne, high and lifted up” (Isaiah 6:1). Ezekiel also saw that “on the likeness of the throne was a likeness with the appearance of a man high above it....This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD” (Ezekiel 1:26, 28).
There were still other occasions recorded in the Old Testament when the Lord appeared to men either in a vision or “face to face,” as well as even more times when He spoke audibly to men. As would be expected, numerous skeptics through the centuries have said this was one of the Bible’s “contradictions.” In many places, they say, the Bible says that no man can see God, whereas in other places it says that many men did see God.
This superficial discrepancy, of course, is beautifully resolved in the wonderful truth of the triune Godhead and was specifically clarified by the Lord Jesus Christ when He said,
“No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” (John 1:18)
That is, whenever the omnipresent, invisible God has deigned to appear to men, He has done so in the person of His eternal Son, who is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).
Since the Son is, indeed, “in the form of God…equal with God” (Philippians 2:6), He is omnipotent and can surely assume the form of an angel or a man or even a burning bush (note Exodus 3:2-6) when He so wills. Thus, men have on occasion in the past actually seen God. It was not God in His essential triune glory, of course, but rather God declared and manifested as God the eternal Son, forever “in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18) yet eternally “going forth” (Micah 5:2) to manifest the Godhead.
All such appearances of God to men were what are called theophanies, or preincarnate appearances of Christ. The English word theophany is from two Greek words meaning “God appearing,” and it beautifully defines these many appearances of God the Son to men before He actually became man.
Now, however, He has become forever Immanuel, “God with us!” He who was the very “brightness of [God’s] glory, and the express image of His person” (Hebrews 1:3), was made in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:8). He was one with the “Mighty God” and the “Everlasting Father” but has now become one with us, “made like His brethren” (Hebrews 2:17) in order that He, as Immanuel, might also become “Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). He who had “created all things” (Ephesians 3:9) finally created a human body in which He Himself would dwell and in which He would then die for our sins and rise again for our justification.
And the Word [that is, the creating Word!] became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
His first-century disciples were thus privileged to see God “manifested in the flesh” and then “received up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16). We who live in the twenty-first century have not been given this particular privilege, although He does, even now, “abide” in us by His Spirit (note John 14:21-23; 15:15).
But we also shall see Him in the flesh one of these days, for He is still a true man, resurrected and glorified, forever the Son of man as well as God. Furthermore, “when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).
And when we finally see Him, it will be far more glorious than when John and Peter saw Him by the Sea of Galilee. The only place in the Bible where His physical appearance as Son of man is actually described is when John saw Him on the isle of Patmos, many years later, after His resurrection and ascension. Here is how John saw Him, and this is how we shall see Him— not as a babe in a manger and not as our sin-bearing substitute nailed to a cross, but as our eternal King of kings and Lord of lords!
I saw…One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. (Revelation 1:12-16)
Then, when we, as His heavenly bride, shall “see Him as He is,” we can say with thanksgiving, “This is my beloved, and this is my friend” (Song of Solomon 5:16).
This article was adapted from Dr. Henry Morris’ article “Theophany” in the December 1994 issue of Acts & Facts.
* Dr. Henry M. Morris (1918-2006) was Founder and President Emeritus of ICR.