by Luke Wayne
A central claim in the Mormon religion is that their founder, Joseph Smith, saw not only Jesus Christ but also God the Father in visible, human form when both allegedly appeared to him and called him to "restore the Church." The plain, biblical truth, however, is that God the Father cannot be seen. Thus, God's word denies even the possibility that Joseph Smith's claims here were genuine. Passages such as 1 Timothy 6:16, John 1:18, and 1 John 4:10-12 (among others) plainly state that no one has seen nor can see the Father. Colossians 1:15 likewise states that Jesus is the image of the otherwise invisible God. The Son may be seen, but the Father cannot. The Son makes the Father known.
Yet, many Mormons try to get around these facts by pointing to passages in the Bible which they believe are exceptions to this rule. One important example is John's vision of a heavenly throne room in the Book of Revelation. Considered in context, however, this passage is not in any way contrary to the straightforward teaching that God the Father has not and can not be seen by men.
The Mormon Argument
The argument is fairly straightforward and, on the surface, can even seem compelling. John describes a spiritual vision in which he saw a throne in heaven and a figure seated upon it. We see this in verses like:
"Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance," (Revelation 4:2-3).
We certainly get the impression that this figure was basically humanoid in shape from descriptions like:
"I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals," (Revelation 5:1).
So, is this figure not God the Father, seated enthroned in the heavens in all His majesty? Isn't this a clear example of someone literally seeing God the Father? Actually no. Much like the similar passage in Daniel, the context helps us see that there is no conflict between the symbols in John's dream-like vision and the plain teachings of the rest of the New Testament, nor does this passage offer any support to Joseph Smith's claims.
Revelation in Context
Let's look a little closer at John's vision of the heavenly throne room and the overall context of the Book of Revelation as a whole. This particular scene in John's vision starts at the beginning of chapter 4, where we read:
"After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, 'Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.' Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne," (Revelation 4:1-2).
The first thing we should note is the phrase John uses when the throne room is presented to him. He says, "Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven..." The phrase "in the Spirit" is used several times in Revelation, and each time it clearly denotes a prophetic, dream-like visionary experience where a truth is presented to John not in straightforward propositions or literal pictures but rather in very symbolic images. Note, for example, later in the book when we're told:
"Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, 'Come here, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed acts of immorality, and those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality.' And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness; and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns," (Revelation 17:1-3).
This passage follows a very similar pattern to Revelation 4. Note that John is told, "come, let me show you..." followed by him going somewhere and seeing something "in the Spirit." In this latter case, he sees a woman sitting on a scarlet, seven-headed beast. It is fairly obvious even without reading any further that this is not really about a girl and a deformed animal. These are symbols that point to something else. And, indeed, further reading makes it clear that this is actually about cities and kings rather than weird creatures and the ladies that ride them. Yet, "in the Spirit," what John actually saw was a woman and a beast. He saw figurative images that cryptically represented real things and events. He did not literally see the actual things and events.
This is precisely what we see in the throne room vision in Revelation 4-5 as well. John sees a throne and a figure on the throne holding a scroll. This figure represents God the Father in an entirely figurative and symbolic sense. It is not an actual appearance of God the Father nor even a literal picture of what God the Father is supposed to "look like." This is made clear to us by simply considering the rest of the scene. To take one obvious example, note what John sees representing Christ:
"And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne," (Revelation 5:6-7).
John obviously does not mean that Christ is literally, physically a young sheep rather than a man, nor that He actually has seven ocular organs on his face. These are symbolic images that tell us spiritual truths about Christ, but John did not literally see Christ Himself in this scene. Again, John prophetically saw apocalyptic images figuratively representing people and things, he did not see the actual people and things themselves. Thus, when John saw a figure on a throne, that was no more a literal picture of the Father than a seven-eyed lamb is a literal picture of Jesus. John saw in this scene highly symbolic figures that metaphorically represented God the Father and Jesus Christ. He did not literally see God the Father or even Jesus Christ here. Thus, John's experience in Revelation in no way conflicts with the universal biblical teaching that God the Father has not and cannot be seen by men.
The Bible is quite clear. No one has seen God the Father. No one can see God the Father. The Apostle John (who Himself testifies to this truth) is no exception to this and never claims to have actually seen God the Father. He only claims to have seen a figurative image that represented the Father in an entirely symbolic sense. Joseph Smith, however, claims that God the Father literally appeared to him. He claims to have actually seen the genuine form of God the Father. Thus, Joseph Smith's assertions directly contradict Scripture and must be rejected.