First of all “God is Spirit.” This we read in our first text: John 4:24, “God is Spirit.” You will note that in your Bible, both the Authorised and Revised Versions, you read, “God is a Spirit.” But there is no indefinite article in the Greek language, and wherever it is necessary in the English translation to fit the English idiom, it has to be supplied, and it is supplied, in this case. But there is really no reason for supplying it here any more than there is for supplying it in 1 John 4:8 and translating, “God is a Love,” or in 1 John 1:5 and translating “God is a Light.” The preferable translation is as I have given it: “God is Spirit.” This is a definition of the essential nature of God. What does it mean? Our Lord Jesus Himself has defined what is meant by “spirit” in Luke 24:39, where He is recorded as saying after His resurrection: “See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; handle Me, and see, for a spirit not flesh and blood, as ye behold Me having.” It is evident from these words of our Lord that spirit is that which is contrasted to body. That is to say, spirit is incorporeal, invisible reality. To say, “God is Spirit” is to say that God is essentially incorporeal and invisible (cf. 1 Tim. 6:16), that God in His essential nature is not material but immaterial and invisible, but none the less real. This thought is also found in the very heart of that revelation of Himself which God made to Moses in the first division of the Old Testament. For example, we read in Deut. 4:15-18: “Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of form on the day that Jehovah spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire; (16) lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, (17) the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flieth in the Heavens. (18) The likeness of anything that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth.” This is a plain declaration way back fifteen centuries before Christ, of the spirituality of God in His essential nature. God is essentially invisible spirit.
But it is also clearly revealed in the Word of God that “spirit” may be manifested in visible, bodily form. We read in John 1:32 these words of John the Baptist speaking about what his own eyes had seen: “And John bore witness, saying, I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven; and it abode upon him.” Here, then, we see Him who was essentially spirit manifesting Himself in a bodily, visible form.
Furthermore in the Bible we are told that God has manifested Himself in visible form. We read in Ex. 24:9, 10: “Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel: (10) and they saw the God of Israel; and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and as it were the very heaven for clearness.”
What they saw was not God in His essential nature as Spiritual Being. Indeed, what we see when we see one another is not our essential self, but the house we live in, and so John could say, as he does say in John 1:18: “No man hath seen God at any time.” And so I could say to you now that you do not see me. Nevertheless, it was a real manifestation of God Himself that they saw, and so it could also be said, and said truthfully, that they had seen God, as it could be truthfully said, “you see me.”
Furthermore still, though God is essentially spirit, God has a visible form. This is taught in the most unmistakable terms in Phil. 2:6, where we are told of our Lord Jesus that He existed originally “in the form of God.” The Greek word which is translated “form” in this passage means “visible form,” “the form by which a person or thing strikes the vision,” “the external appearance.” It cannot mean anything else. This is the definition given in the best Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament, of the word here translated “form.” Now as Jesus existed originally “in the form of God,” it is evident that God Himself must have a form, this form in which our Lord Jesus is said to have existed originally.
That God in His external form, though not in His invisible essence, is seeable, is also clear from Acts 7:55, 56, where we read: “But he (i.e., Stephen), being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens open, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” Now if God has not a form that can be seen, then, of course, the Lord Jesus could not be seen standing upon the right hand of God. God is, as we shall see later, everywhere; but God is not everywhere in the same sense. There is a locality where God is visibly and manifestly present in a way in which He is not present anywhere else. There is a place where He is present visibly and manifests Himself as He does not elsewhere. The place of God’s visible presence and full manifestation of Himself is Heaven, though in His spiritual presence He pervades the universe. This is evident from many passages in the Scriptures. For example, it is clear from the prayer that our Lord taught us—a portion of Scripture that many accept who reject most of the Bible. Our Lord began the prayer that He taught His disciples with these words “Our Father Which Art in Heaven.” If these words mean anything, they certainly mean that God, our Father, is in heaven in a way in which He is not elsewhere. That was where God was when Jesus was addressing Him. We read again in Matt. 3:17: “Lo, a voice out of the heavens, saying, this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” If these words mean anything, they mean that God was in heaven and that His voice came out of the heavens to the Lord Jesus who was here on earth. Again in John 14:28 Jesus is recorded as saying:
“Ye heard how I said to you, I go away and I come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would have rejoiced, because I go unto the Father: for the Father is greater than I.” If these words mean anything, taken in the light of the events that were to follow on the next day and the days following, they mean that Jesus was going away from the place where He then was—earth—to another place where He was not when He spoke, i.e., heaven—and that in going to heaven he was going to where God was, from earth where God was not in the sense in which He was in heaven. Again we read in Acts 11:9: “A voice answered the second time out of heaven, What God hath cleansed make not thou common.” Here again God is represented as speaking from heaven where He was. Again our Lord Jesus Christ is recorded in John 20:17 as saying to Mary Magdalene after His resurrection: “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended unto the Father: but go unto my brethren and say to them, I ascend unto my father and to your father and my God and your God,” from which it is unmistakably evident that in the conception of our Lord Jesus after His resurrection there was a place where God was and to which He was going, and that place was up in heaven. There is no possibility of explaining this away by saying it is a figure of speech, the whole passage loses its meaning by any such interpretation, and to attempt to so explain it is a trick and a subterfuge that will not bear close examination. Again the Apostle Paul tells us regarding our Lord Jesus Christ that God the Father “raised Him from the dead, and made Him to sit at His right hand in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:20) which makes it as clear as language can make anything that there is a place, heaven, where God is in a sense that He is nowhere else, and where one can be placed at His right hand. The same thing is evident from the verses that we have already quoted in another connection, Acts 7:55, 56, where we are told that Stephen “being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens open, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” The meaning of these words to anybody who wishes to know what words are intended to convey and not merely to distort them to fit his own conception, is that God is in heaven locally present. There is no escaping this by any fair, honest interpretation. Men who are skilful in the art of discrediting truth by giving it bad names, and names that sound very scholarly, may call this “anthropomorphism,” and that sounds very learned. Nevertheless, be it “anthropomorphism” or what not, this is the clear teaching of the Word of God in spite of this or any other frightful terms used to scare immature college boys and immature college girls. There is no mistaking that this is the teaching of the Bible, and we have already proven that the Bible is God’s Word, and is to be taken at its face value in spite of all the attempts that men, who “counting themselves wise, have become fools,” make to explain it away.