The Bible’s View
“He Who Has Seen Me Has Seen the Father”—In What Sense?
ON ONE occasion Philip, a disciple of Jesus, asked: “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.”* (John 14:8) In answer to this question, Jesus declared: “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) What did Jesus mean by that statement?
Before answering this question, let us consider a peculiar interpretation of Jesus’ words. Some individuals believe that if one who has seen Jesus has seen the Father also, Jesus must be Almighty God, fully equal to his Father, Jehovah.
Individuals who believe that also cite many passages from the “Old Testament” that refer to Jehovah God, but which Christian Bible writers (in the “New Testament”) apply to Jesus Christ. To illustrate: Through the prophet Isaiah, God said: “I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior.” (Isa. 43:11) And in prayer to God the psalmist stated: “For with thee is the fountain of life; in thy light do we see light.” (Ps. 36:9) However, Christian Bible writers declare the savior of mankind and the source of life and light to be Jesus Christ.—John 1:4; 5:26; 8:12.
Do parallel passages such as these and the fact that the Son of God said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” prove that Jesus is Almighty God? Let us see.
Repeatedly the Scriptures refer to Jesus Christ as the one “sent” from God as his chief representative. (See, for example, John 3:17, 28, 34; 5:23, 24, 30, 37.) Interestingly, the Bible often describes persons who represent others as if they were the ones represented. Consider two examples:
(1) Matthew’s Gospel relates that, after delivering the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus entered into Capernaum, where “a centurion came forward to him, beseeching him” to heal his slave. (Matt. 8:5-13) Yet from the parallel account at Luke 7:1-10 we learn that the centurion “sent to [Jesus] elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his slave.”
(2) In the Gospel of Mark we read that “James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him,” asking: “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” (Mark 10:35-37) However, Matthew relates that this request to Jesus actually was made by “the mother of the sons of Zebedee,” as their representative.—Matt. 20:20, 21.
Of course, no one would conclude from these Bible accounts that those Jewish elders were coequal with the centurion, or the mother of James and John coequal with her sons. Similarly, no one should conclude that Jesus is coequal with God simply because things stated about Jehovah God in certain parts of the Bible are applied to Jesus Christ in others. The real reason for this is that Jesus represents God.*
Is that why the Son of God said: “He who has seen me has seen the Father”? Yes, but more is involved in that expression than mere representation. The request, “Lord, show us the Father,” suggests that Philip wanted Jesus to provide for his disciples a visible manifestation of God, such as was granted in visions to Moses, Elijah and Isaiah in ancient times. (Ex. 24:10; 1 Ki. 19:9-13; Isa. 6:1-5) However, in such visions God’s servants saw, not God himself, but symbolic representations of him. (Ex. 33:17-22; John 1:18) Jesus’ reply indicated that Philip already had something better than visions of that type. Since Jesus perfectly reflected the personality of his Father, whom only the Son fully ‘knew,’ seeing Jesus Christ was like seeing God himself.—Matt. 11:27.
The miracles of the Son of God, for example, manifested the love and tender concern for human welfare that is characteristic of Jehovah God. It is no wonder that, after Jesus resurrected the dead son of a widow from the Galilean city of Nain, observers exclaimed: “God has visited his people!”—Luke 7:11-16.
Further opportunities for people to ‘see the Father’ (that is, to perceive his personality, will and purpose) were afforded by what Jesus said, both as to content and manner of utterance. Persons who listened to Jesus learned that God judges people according to their heart condition, rather than by external circumstances, such as wealth, education, ceremonial cleanness or national origin. (Matt. 5:8; 8:11, 12; 23:25-28; John 8:33-44) How different from the viewpoint fostered by the Jewish religious leaders!—Note John 7:48, 49.
The way Jesus spoke, too, made his hearers realize that they were hearing a message from God, “for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” (Matt. 7:29) Rather than speaking indirectly, in the name of other human teachers (as was customary among the scribes), Jesus often spoke in the first person, with the phrases: “I tell you,” “Truly, I say to you,” and “Truly, truly, I say to you.” (Note Matthew 5:20, 22; 6:2, 5, 16; John 1:51; 3:3, 5, 11; 5:19, 24, 25.) On occasion Jesus even declared the sins of certain persons forgiven, which led some to accuse him of blasphemously usurping a sole prerogative of God.—Mark 2:1-7; Luke 5:17-21; 7:47-49.
But Jesus never usurped the position of God. He readily admitted that the authority with which he spoke and acted did not originate with him. It was a delegated authority, for “the Father had given all things into his hands.” (John 13:3; compare Matthew 11:27; 28:18; John 3:35; 17:2.) Hence, Jesus declared: “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise.”—John 5:19; compare John 5:30; 8:28, 42.
Since everything that Jesus did was in full harmony with the will of God, persons who observed Jesus were in a sense observing God in action. In his notes on John 14:9, Bible commentator Albert Barnes expresses it nicely: “Hath seen the Father. This cannot refer to the essence or substance of God, for he is invisible, and in that respect no man has seen God at any time. All that is meant when it is said that God is seen, is, that some manifestation of Him has been made; or some such exhibition as that we may learn his character, his will, and his plans. . . . The knowledge of the Son was itself, of course, the knowledge of the Father. There was such an intimate union in their nature and design, that he who understood the one did also the other.”—Compare John 10:30.
All Scripture quotations in this article are from the ecumenical edition of the Revised Standard Version, known as the Common Bible. This version is approved by both Catholic and Protestant authorities.