Visions of God in Scripture

"I saw the Lord" Isaiah 6:1

By James L. Morrisson




Quite a few men, in Scripture, have had close personal encounters with God. Some have had visions of God, and it is on these visions that I want to focus in this paper.

"God is spirit" (John 4:24). Spirit is invisible. Yet God can, when he chooses, manifest himself in physical form. I suggest that any physical manifestation in which God may choose to show himself is not the essence of God. It may be the most that we humans can see or comprehend of him, but there is more to God than is seen in any of these visions, or in all of them put together. It is in this sense, I think, that John says "No one has ever seen God". Men have seen visions of God, Enoch "walked with God" (Genesis 5:22), Moses knew the Lord "face to face" (Deuteronomy 34:10), but no human (other than Jesus Christ) has really seen God in his fullness. Whatever we think we see or understand, there is always more.

Here on earth we see through a glass darkly and know in pieces. So how can we expect to know God fully? But I believe that these visions, fragmentary as they may be, give a powerful sense of God's incomparable greatness and majesty. It is for that reason that I want to focus on them.

Paul, who had remarkable personal experiences of God and who understood the Old Testament Scriptures more thoroughly than any other writer of the New Testament, wrote:

"Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and to him and through him are all things. To him be the glory forever, Amen. Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship" (Romans 11:33-12:1). (All Scriptures are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.)

Paul is saying, I believe, that when we contemplate the unsearchable greatness and majesty of Almighty God, it should lead us to offer ourselves wholly to him. Because God is so great, and because all things come from him and we are nothing in ourselves, all we can do is to submit ourselves totally to him. His greatness leads us to worship him, and our most appropriate act of worship is a life that is totally submitted to him.

I hope that reflecting on the sense of God's greatness that these extraordinary visions convey may help lead others to the same conclusion that Paul came to.

I proceed to the visions. In some cases, because of the length of the Scriptural passage, I shall summarize and paraphrase. I urge you to read the entire passage in your Bible. I urge you to read all these passages many times, read them out loud, chew on them and allow them to sink into your inner being.


1. Isaiah.

"In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory'

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 'Woe to me!, I cried.' I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty'" (Isaiah 6:1-5).

2. Ezekiel.

Ezekiel Chapter 1 contains "visions of God" that the prophet saw (verse 1). He saw "an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal" (verse 4). In the fire was "what looked like four living creatures." Each had four faces and four wings. They went straight ahead. "Their faces looked like this: each of the four had the face of a man, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle" (verse 10). "The appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire or like torches. Fire moved back and forth among the creatures; it was bright and lightning flashed out of it. The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightning" (verses 13-14).

Beside each creature were two wheels which moved as the creatures moved. "Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around" (verse 18).

"Spread out over the head of the living creatures was what looked like an expanse, sparkling like ice, and awesome" (verse 22). "I heard the sound of their wings, like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, like the tumult of an army" (verse 24).

"Then there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads as they stood with lowered wings. Above that expanse was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked down like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it I fell facedown" (verses 25-28).

(Ezekiel had another vision of the throne, the"living creatures", identified as "cherubim", and the wheels in Ezekiel chapter 10.)

3. Daniel.

Daniel chapter 7 records a vision which Daniel saw one night in a dream. Here is part of that vision.

"As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days [God] took his seat. His clothing was white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated and the books were opened" (verses 9-11).

Then Daniel saw "one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed" (verses 13-14).

4. Peter.

On the mount of Transfiguration Peter, James and John saw a glimpse of Jesus Christ in his true glory. "He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light" (Matthew 17:2). As Peter wrote some thirty years later, "We were eyewitnesses of his majesty" (2 Peter 1:16).

5. Stephen.

Stephen "looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God" (Acts 7:55).

6. Paul.

As Paul was going to Damascus "suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?'" (Acts 9:3-4). He was blinded for three days. This light from heaven was "brighter than the sun", and it blazed around Paul and his companions (Acts 26:13).

7. John.

a. Vision of Jesus.

In his great vision on the Isle of Patmos, John saw Jesus in his true glory. He saw "someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead" (Revelation 1:13-17).

b. Vision of God and Jesus.

John saw "a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, surrounded the throne." Surrounding the throne were 24 elders, seated on 24 thrones. "From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder." In front of the throne was "what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal" (Revelation 4:2-6).

Around the throne were "four living creatures". They were "covered with eyes, in front and in back" and had six wings. One was like a lion, one was like an ox, one had the face of a man and one was like a flying eagle. "Day and night they never stop saying 'Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.'" The 24 elders keep falling down and worshiping "him who is on the throne", and saying "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being" (Revelation 4:6-11).

Then "a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain", with seven horns and seven eyes, approached the throne and took a scroll from the hand of "him who sat on the throne."

The living creatures and the elders fell down and worshiped the lamb. "Many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand" joined in the worship, as did "every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea". They all sang, "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, be praise and honor and glory and power for ever and ever" (Revelation chapter 5).

c. Vision of Jesus.

John saw a rider on a white horse whose name is "the Word of God". "His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns." The "armies of heaven" follow him. "Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword, with which to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron scepter. He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty" On his robe is written "King of Kings and Lord of Lords" (Revelation 19:11-16).


1. There is No Real Description of God.

Great as these visions are, none of them contain a real description of God the Father. Many speak in some detail of the glory surrounding God. Several (Isaiah, Daniel, John) speak of someone on a throne, without any real attempt to describe what that someone looked like. Isaiah gives a sense of great size, Daniel speaks of white hair and clothing, and John says that God had the appearance of jewels. The nearest thing to a description is that of Ezekiel. Ezekiel describes "a figure like that of a man." From his waist up "he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire", and "from there down he looked like fire." This, Ezekiel says, was "the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord." Evidently Ezekiel was so awed by what he saw that he could not attempt adequately to describe it.

John, in Revelation, gives us a little more detail in his descriptions of God the Son, but God the Father remains essentially undescribed.

Why is this? It could be that, in these visions, the figure of God was surrounded by such brilliant light that it was almost impossible to look at it. It could also be that the figure of God was so awesome, and so far beyond anything known on earth, that the seer could not find words to describe it.

2. Light and Fire

A common feature of many of these visions is that of brilliant light, sometimes described as blazing fire. Ezekiel's vision starts with " an immense cloud, with flashes of lightning and surrounded by brilliant light." He says that "brilliant light" surrounded the figure of God; "he looked like fire." Daniel says. "His throne was flaming with fire." At the Transfiguration Jesus' face "shone like the sun". Paul saw a light "brighter than the sun." John said Jesus' face "was like the sun shining in all its brilliance." We read also of brilliant colors - jasper and carnelian, sapphire, a rainbow like an emerald. Ezekiel and John saw a large expanse like ice or glass, both of which sparkle and reflect light. The sense of dazzling light runs through most of these visions.

"God is light; in him there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). In the New Jerusalem there is no need for sun or moon "for the glory of God gives it light" (Revelation 21:23; see Isaiah 60:19) The first act of the God who is light was to create light in his universe (Genesis 1:3).

3. Activity.

In the two most detailed visions, those of Ezekiel and John, we see a tremendous amount of activity going on about the throne of God.

In John's visions, flashes of lightning and peals of thunder keep coming from the throne of God. 24 elders, also seated on thrones, keep falling down and worshiping God. "Four living creatures", covered with eyes and having six wings, never stop saying "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty". Then Jesus appears, in the form of a lamb who was slain, and we see ten thousand times ten thousand angels, and then "every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea," joining in worship.

Ezekiel's vision begins with a an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. Then he saw four "living creatures" who "sped back and forth like flashes of lightning." Their wings made a tremendous sound. Each had two wheels which moved as they moved. Above all this was a figure like a man who looked like fire and was surrounded by brilliant light.

With all this going on it must have been hard for either Ezekiel or John to focus his attention on any one part of it. What we get, particularly in Ezekiel, I suggest, is quick flashes of impressions rather than a carefully drawn whole.

All this activity also suggests that when we get to heaven, we may find a great deal of activity going on and ourselves participating in it. I have often felt that our life in heaven will be active and busy, rather than the "eternal rest" which it is often portrayed to be. It is for this that we will have resurrection bodies that never get tired or grow old.

4. Angelic Figures.

Isaiah saw seraphs (angels) constantly flying and saying "Holy , Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty". Ezekiel saw "four living creatures", in constant motion, whom he later referred to as "cherubim." John saw "four living creatures" who keep saying "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty". Then he heard countless angels joining in the chorus of praise.

Note also that in the visions of Ezekiel and John the "four living creatures" had the characteristics of an ox, a lion, an eagle and a man.

5. Worship.

A number of the visions show God on a throne, sometimes an awesome throne (Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, John). Isaiah and John saw angelic beings who never stop saying, "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty." (I think John's vision makes it clear that the "four living creatures" have been constantly saying this, and will continue saying it, throughout all eternity!) John also saw innumerable angels joining in the worship of the Father and Son, and then "every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea" joins in. As I read this it is saying that those condemned to eternal punishment, and even the devil and his evil spirits, join in worshiping the Father and the Son. "Every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord" (Philippians 2:10-11). Truly God is worthy of worship!

6. Effect on the Seer.

Ezekiel fell facedown. John, when he saw Jesus in his glory, fell as though dead. Paul fell off his horse and became blind. Those who saw Jesus transfigured did not know what to say, they were so frightened (Mark 9:6). Isaiah cried "Woe to me!"

To those who saw them, these visions were tremendous and overpowering. As we read them, and try to picture them, I hope that we, too, will find them awesome, overpowering and life-changing.


In John's vision the 24 elders keep saying "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being." God created all things. "From him and to him and through him are all things" (Romans 11:36). Everything we are, everything we have, and everything we hope to be, comes from God.

God is awesome, in the literal and original sense of that overused word. He is great, tremendous, magnificent, glorious - the words are totally inadequate to describe the reality. When we really sense his greatness I think that, as Paul says, all we can do is submit ourselves wholly to him as a living sacrifice.

One of the questions we need to keep asking ourselves is, "How big is my God?" I think these visions help to give us a sense of how big God is. And then we must recognize that the visions are fragmentary and incomplete, and that God is really much bigger even than what they portray.

I find that reading and rereading these visions of God helps to give me some sense of his greatness. I hope that they will do the same for you.