John 14:7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.
Seeing is believing. Or is it?
Jesus has plainly spoken of his identity and significance in relation to his heavenly Father. In a private conversation in the upper room, hours before his death, there is nothing hidden. Jesus is the singular means of journeying to the Father. He is the Truth. His disciples come to God because of him, through him and in him— which is the life of the New Age which he promises. All this has been revealed.
But for Philip this is not enough. He says, “Show us the Father and then we’ll be satisfied.” Philip’s request for a visual demonstration— something more plain and straightforward upon which to base his belief— is understandable, and yet completely misses the point.
More than showing the Father, Jesus wants his followers knowing the Father. The Father is not a spectacle to be gazed upon or a show to be applauded. Jesus is inviting his disciples into a relationship where they personally know God as Father.
Jesus has been with his disciples for three years. They have lived together, journeying on the road, interacting with all sorts of people. The twelve have witnessed remarkable signs. They have heard his remarkable teaching. Although it is a huge step to grasp all that Jesus is claiming of himself in relation to God, at that moment, none are better placed than his disciples to do so. But Philip seeks certitude.
Central to Jesus’ claim is that he is one with God his Father. Already Jesus has told his disciples that he has been sent from God, with the implication that, as the Sent One, he carries all the authority of the Father (Jn 13:20, 31-32). But now Jesus extends that idea from agency to mutual indwelling: not only did God send him but God is ‘in’ him and ‘with’ him— they mutually indwell one another (see also John 10:38). Indeed, the unity of the Father with the Son is foundational to Jesus’ identity— knowing Jesus is knowing the Father.
And so we glimpse something of the very personhood of God. He is, by nature and in his essence, triune. ‘Triune’ is an invented word that simply means ‘three-in-unity’. John’s gospel has told us about three distinct persons who are God: the Father, the Son and the Spirit. And yet they are not three Gods— they are one. Their unity is, at very least, constituted of their mutual indwelling of one another, love for one another, giving glory to one another, and their submission to the Father’s will. Three identifiable centres of personhood indwell one another in self-giving love and glory. Each is fully God and equal in glory and yet the nature of their unity means there is only one God.
We don’t for a moment comprehend this concept of God as Trinity. But by the grace of God, we can apprehend some of this truth that Jesus reveals. It is true revelation of God. But we are incapable of fully grasping all that it means. And this should not surprise us that our Creator is, in his very nature, a being of greater complexity and wonder than we mere humans can fully grasp (as though we were his equal!).
So we can certainly sympathise with Philip’s quest for simplicity. “Jesus, just show us…” But Jesus calls his disciples to a higher place. He invites us to know his Father.
Lord Jesus Christ, you have revealed the Father perfectly and invited us to know him, to enter into relationship with him. Please forgive us our slowness to respond. By the work of your Holy Spirit, please cultivate a heart and a readiness to participate in such mysteries. Amen.