In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:1–5)
At the beginning of this passage is the phrase “I saw the Lord”. Now, this is a curious thing! There is a long tradition in the Old Testament that God cannot be seen. In fact, in Exodus 33:20 we read “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live”! And yet, Isaiah writes that he saw God. And lived.
This vision was one which cost Isaiah dear. There is an old tradition that king Manasseh was incensed by what he saw to be blasphemy and the king sawed Isaiah in half with a wood saw. We can see this tradition reflected in the New Testament itself, when the author of the book of Hebrews writes of the prophets: “they were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword” (Hebrews 11:37). Gruesome stuff, but it serves to make the point: the Jews were insistent that no-one can see God. It’s there in the Old Testament, it’s there in the New Testament too. Remember John 1:18, where the Apostle writes: “no one has ever seen God”?
Actually, I’ve cheated a bit there and only quoted the first half of the verse. If we look at the whole verse we can begin to see an answer to this whole tricky issue: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18). No-one can see God, writes John, but they can see Jesus. He is the one who makes God known. That is why John can write: “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
Jesus is the glory of God made manifest, he is the visible form of God. Hold on to that thought, because a few chapters later John reflects on the very vision of Isaiah with which we are dealing. In John 12, when he is dealing with why Jesus was rejected, he quotes from the Isaiah’s vision. The Apostle then comments: “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.” (John 12:41). Isaiah saw the glory of God, as John had seen the glory of God. Jesus is the visible form of God, and thus what Isaiah saw was Christ.
These are deep Biblical currents indeed, but they serve to remind us that the Bible tells a single story, the story which culminates in God taking flesh to save his people.