Is Christ's Presence Invisible?
The Watchtower repeatedly states as established fact that Jesus presence is invisible. It has done so from the first time Charles Russell first published the doctrine of Christ's invisible presence until today. "Jehovah's Witnesses" have enthusiastically embraced that teaching presenting it as truth. This doctrine is etched into the minds and hearts of Bible students before they are approved for baptism and is the cornerstone of faith for almost everyone in the congregation today. This is evident by the fact that questioning this doctrine is viewed as a challenge to one's faith.
Anyone who feels that way should ask themselves – why? Why is the teaching that Jesus' presence is invisible and indiscernible to mankind fundamental to your faith in God?
The Watchtower’s primary evidence that it has sole authority from Jehovah to teach Christ's disciples is that Jehovah has revealed Jesus presence had begun through it's pages. From its very first issue in July of 1879 it has announced Christ's invisible presence as an established reality, and to associate with the Watchtower implies, by necessity, you embrace that teaching. By accepting this are some disciples putting their confidence in God's Word, or man's?
Anything published by men and approved by the God of truth will, for a fact, hold up to scrutiny in the Bible. All Christ's disciples are here admonished to carefully examine the Scriptures to see if this teaching is true or false. Are you able to explain this doctrine? If not, it would be a good idea to look up 'presence' in the Insight Book (vol. 2 pp. 676-679).Give it a through read. Under the subheading - Nature of Christ’s Parousia - there are nine paragraphs that present the basis for that belief. Let us now compare the invisible presence doctrine using the power of reason and the Bible one paragraph at a time.
Paragraph #1 starts out acknowledging that someone being present “can, of course, be visible”. This should strike us as odd, because it is. It is an example of stating something obvious as though it is not, so as to put the subsequent explanation on the same plain of sensibleness. A perplexing statement is then made:
"That a pa·rou·siʹa can also be invisible is indicated by Paul’s use of the related verb form (paʹrei·mi) when speaking of being “present in spirit” though absent in body. (1Co 5:3) "
Insight on the Scriptures, vol 2, pp. 677
How is that indicated? As the paragraph itself states, Paul used a related verb not the word presence. Examine the Scripture referenced. Jesus said “your Word is truth”, and is the basis for our identifying truth. 1 Corinthians 5:3 says “Although absent in body, I am present in spirit, and I have already judged the man who has done this, as if I were actually with you.” Note Paul is decisively passing judgment “as if” he were present, not because he is invisibly present. Paul was not 'actually' present with the Corinthians, rather he said he was “present in spirit”. If being “present in spirit”, as Paul used the expression, indicates being invisibly present, than Jesus has been invisibly present since his ascension to heaven. Recall Jesus parting words at Matthew 28:20: “Look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things”. Was Jesus stating that his presence was now beginning, or was he simply stating, like Paul, that he would be present with them in spirit? This should remind us of something else Jesus said at Matthew 18:20: “For where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there I am in their midst.” Was Jesus here advocating the teaching of being invisibly present, or was he rather implying that he would be there 'in spirit'? The Scripture at 1 Corinthians 5:3 is definitely not a definitive indication “that a pa·rou·siʹa can also be invisible”, and stating such as a matter of fact is irresponsible and presumptuous. It is a clear example of twisting a Scripture to support a preconceived idea. A teacher should be able to both explain and prove by references something this important, not just state that it is so without proof or reason. (Acts 17:3)
The concluding sentence in the first paragraph reads as followed:
"So, too, Jewish historian Josephus, writing in Greek, refers to God’s pa·rou·siʹa at Mount Sinai, his invisible presence being evidenced by the thunders and lightning. "
Insight on the Scriptures, vol 2, pp. 677
Are spirits visible? All of us know that human eyes are only capable of discerning light reflected off of physical objects. Jehovah's presence was made manifest or visible by the supernatural activity taking place before the eyes of the people. What they saw was a manifestation of Jehovah’s presence. The paragraph implies by it's brief reference to this account that Jehovah's presence was 'invisible' and therefore not discernible to the physical senses. Read for yourself the description of exactly what transpired at Exodus 19:16-19.
"On the morning of the third day, there was thunder and lightning, and there was a heavy cloud on the mountain and a very loud sound of a horn, and all the people in the camp began to tremble. Moses now brought the people out of the camp to meet the true God, and they took their place at the base of the mountain. Mount Siʹnai smoked all over, because Jehovah came down upon it in fire; and its smoke was rising like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain was trembling violently. As the sound of the horn grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and the voice of the true God answered him."
Can you hear the ominous horn emanating from the spirit realm? Can you smell the smoke in the air? Do you feel the earth shaking? Are you awestruck by the lightning and fire coming down upon the mountain and the thick smoke “rising like the smoke of a kiln”? This glorious manifestation of Jehovah's presence was in no way invisible, and certainly is not by any means evidence of some kind of “invisible presence”.
Any serious student of the Scriptures knows Jehovah is a powerful spirit and the physical universe is not able to contain his spiritual body. As Solomon stated in his prayer, “Look! The heavens, yes, the heaven of the heavens, cannot contain you.” (1 Kings 8:27) A question that should be asked is: since Jehovah is is always in heaven how does he ever become present in any particular location with anyone at anytime? As Christ's disciples we know that Jehovah is not omnipresent. Genesis 11:5 says that “Jehovah went down to see the city and the tower that the sons of men had built.” Did Jehovah leave the heavens to travel to Babel? At Genesis 18:21 Jehovah says in reference to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah “I will go down to see whether they are acting according to the outcry that has reached me. And if not, I can get to know it.” Was Jehovah going to leave heaven and travel to those cities? Had Jehovah actually left heaven to visit with Abraham? According to 1 Kings 8:27 we know that would be impossible. In these situations we see Jehovah was 'present' through the power of his holy spirit. However, it is much more meaningful and different than when Paul used the expression 'present in spirit' at 1 Corinthians 5:3. Unlike Paul, Jehovah is able to use his holy spirit to be present at any location of his choosing.
To illustrate think of how we use technology today. If, for example, a man in New York wants to communicate with someone in Hong Kong, by simply pressing a few buttons on a cell phone the two can speak with each other as though they were in the same room. Press another button and initiate a video chat and now they are communicating by sight and sound. How much more technology would have to be implemented before they would actually be present with each other although remaining in two physically distant locations? A 3D virtual reality call, or some kind of holographic virtual interface? The ability of Jehovah's holy spirit to convey his presence is beyond any technology man could ever possibly conceive. Nevertheless, we know it exists, and that Jehovah uses it whenever and however he chooses to make his presence manifest.
Paragraph's #2 begins as follows -
"The Scripturalness of an invisible presence is also borne out by Jehovah God’s saying to Moses regarding the ark of the covenant in the Most Holy of the tabernacle: “And I will present myself to you there and speak with you from above the cover.” (Ex 25:22) God’s presence was not in a visible form, since the Scriptures are clear that “no man has seen God at any time”—neither Moses nor the high priest who entered the Most Holy. (John 1:18; Ex 33:20) "
Insight on the Scriptures, vol 2, pp. 677
The statement “God's presence was not in a visible form” is an outright lie. Read the following excerpt from the August 15th, 2005 Watchtower page 31. -
"From where would Jehovah speak? He provided the answer when he said to Moses: “In a cloud I shall appear over the cover.” (Leviticus 16:2) This cloud hovered over the sacred Ark between the two golden cherubs. The Bible does not reveal how high that cloud was or how far above the cherubs it extended. This luminous cloud lit up the Most Holy. In fact, it was the only source of illumination in that compartment. The high priest would benefit from such lighting when he entered that innermost chamber on Atonement Day. He was standing in the presence of Jehovah." (w05 8/15 p31)
Jehovah himself said at Leviticus 16:2 “I will appear over the cover in a cloud.” This is another specific situation where the Scriptures are being twisted to promote a man's idea. The verse in Exodus 25:22 is cunningly chosen as Jehovah there said “I will present myself”, rather than using the verse in Leviticus 16:2 where he plainly states “I will appear”. By choosing the verse saying Jehovah 'presents' himself it can fit with the previous argument that Paul was “present in spirit.” All evidence of an invisible presence. Nevertheless, God's presence in the Most Holy was most definitely in visible form, as it is stated in the Watchtower a “luminous cloud lit up the Most Holy. In fact, it was the only source of illumination in that compartment.” True, Jehovah's spirit body was not seen inside the Most Holy, but what was seen was a visible manifestation of his presence. As the Watchtower went on to say, when the high priest entered the Most Holy “he was standing in the presence of Jehovah”
Paragraph two continues by relating how Jehovah's presence was made manifest, visibly mind you, by means of a cloud when Solomon inaugurated the temple and concludes with reminding us that Jehovah's spiritual body can not be contained in the physical realm. A fact which has already been established.
Paragraph #3 opens with the statement -
"These accounts illustrate God’s power to ‘be present’ on earth in a spiritual (hence, invisible) way while He yet remains in heaven. "
Insight on the Scriptures, vol 2, pp. 677
The implication of this statement is peculiar. It implies since Jehovah never leaves heaven that is why his presence on the earth remains invisible. God is invisible because he is a spirit and, like all spirits, he is invisible to human eyes (unless he chooses to make himself manifest in some way). Now whatever way either Jehovah, his son, the angels, or any other spirit manifests their presence it is always observable to human senses. Otherwise they remain hidden and therefore would not be manifesting their presence. The third paragraph goes on to relate how angels appeared on multiple occasions and served as a visual representation of Jehovah's presence.
Paragraph #4 highlights Hebrews 1:3 where Paul says Jesus is “the exact representation of his very being”. The suggested implication of the statement in this verse is that Jesus now has a spiritual body similar to Jehovah's. This would, therefore, imply that like Jehovah “the heavens, yes, the heaven of the heavens, cannot contain” Jesus. This would make it impossible for Jesus spiritual body to be present here on the earth. However, before we move forward with that assumption we must verify it in the Scriptures.
Before his coming to earth Jesus was a powerful spirit, and then he emptied himself to become a physical man. When he was resurrected what was he? A man, a spirit, or both? While the Scriptures do not go into great detail as to what exactly happened to Jesus physical body upon his being resurrected, they do state that he became a spirit. (1 Corinthians 15:45)
Something interesting that can be gleaned from the Scriptures is from the time of his resurrection until his ascension to heaven Jesus did not posses a spiritual body equal to Jehovah's. This is evidenced by his very first appearance to Mary Magdalene. Upon recognizing him she immediately embraced him which prompted him to state “Stop clinging to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father and to my God and your God.’” (John 20:17) So Jesus was not in heaven as he said “I have not yet ascended”. Therefore he obviously did not exist in a unique body that could not 'be contained' outside of the spiritual heavens, where Jehovah himself resides.
While according to 1 Corinthians 15:45 Jesus was resurrected as a spirit creature, how did he manifest himself to his disciples? We know for a certainty that prior to the flood angels had the ability to procure for themselves a fully functional human body (complete with reproductive powers) and inhabit it. It appears that after the flood these demons were restricted from doing that anymore. Nevertheless does it seem reasonable that Jehovah would have restricted his faithful son from procuring himself an actual physical body to interact with his faithful disciples prior to his ascension?
Once Jesus ascended to heaven and presented the value of his sacrifice before Jehovah was he then elevated to a more glorious spiritual body, one like Jehovah's that the physical universe cannot contain? While again the Scriptures do not go into specifics, in light of what is stated at Hebrews 1:3 the explanation of the verse certainly seems to fit. However, we could use some further details from Paul. What exactly was he implying when he said Jesus is “the exact representation of his very being”? Was he stating this in the same way that Jesus stated “whoever has seen me has seen the Father also” implying that Jesus personality and values are the same as his father's? (John 14:9) Without more information all we are left with is speculations over the realities of spirit creatures and the bodies they posses. Something completely irrelevant to our exercising faith. As Paul himself said “such things end up in nothing useful but merely give rise to speculations rather than providing anything from God in connection with faith.” (1 Timothy 1:4)
What we do know, is that having full access to Jehovah's spirit, Jesus would likewise be able to use that spirit to make himself manifest in the same way Jehovah had on previous occasions. Fortunately, we have one example of Jesus doing just that. There is only one occasion recorded in the Scriptures of Jesus making himself manifest after his ascension, and that was to the Apostle Paul. Paul described the experience saying it was as if he had been “born prematurely”. To this day Paul is the only one on record to have seen a glorious manifestation of Jesus post ascension. And this was before his coming with kingly authority, before his actual parousia, or presence. Indeed, Paul experienced prematurely something he would not live to see while he was still alive in the flesh, a visible manifestation of Christ's presence.
The fourth paragraph concludes by relating how Jesus “was able to effect healings of persons from a distance, just as though he were there personally present.” This, again, is not an indicator that supports the idea of some sort of future 'invisible presence'. Rather this is an example of Jesus having authority to dispatch others in his name to carry out his commands. This is explained in detail by the soldier whom Jesus was corresponding with in the account at Luke 7:1-9. The verses in Luke are more relevant than the account cited at Matthew chapter 8 verses 5-13, as it relates to the topic under discussion. Luke’s account shows that Jesus and the army officer were never in each others presence. The army officer spoke to Jesus by sending “some elders of the Jews”, and later by means of his “friends”. Likewise, Jesus healed the man's slave not by his invisible presence, but rather by dispatching an angel or by means of the holy spirit, the Scriptures do not give the specifics in this particular situation.
Paragraph #5 is excellent and highlights many Scriptures that should be carefully considered. The cited Scriptures explain and provide excellent details as relates to what Christ Jesus presence is, and what is accomplished during that specific period of time.
Paragraph #6 soundly refutes the notion, put forth by some, that one day we will look up and see Jesus riding a horse on a cloud. The paragraph clearly explains how we figuratively see things.
Paragraph #7 emphasizes the important truth that Jesus presence would only be manifest to his faithful disciples. This was true after his resurrection, and it will likewise be true during his presence. However, it should be taken to heart that Christ's manifestation to his disciples after his resurrection was visible. They literally saw and touched him. While it is possible that no fleshly creature might be able to literally see him today just as we cannot see Jehovah, we should recall that Jehovah still presented his people with a visible manifestation of his presence. Remember, the Israelite's were able to see a visible manifestation of Jehovah's presence at Mount Sinai. Likewise, Christ's faithful disciples, to whom he chooses to make himself manifest, may behold some sort of visible manifestation of his presence.
Paragraph #8 speaks to ridiculers. However the paragraph references “a bad condition of heart coupled with wrong expectations regarding Christ’s presence.” We should all be on guard against developing either of these. What would constitute a bad heart condition? What if we were to declare from our hearts 'we are approved by God and proclaimed faithful by Christ'? This would seem to be an attitude we should guard against. Rather we should humbly look to God for his approval and be found expectantly waiting for Christ to come and pronounce us faithful.
Wrong expectations have continually been embraced by mankind from the beginning and were certainly a stumbling block for Jesus disciples. They were so deluded by their own ideas of how Jesus was going to become king, they could not understand the words he was saying to them when he said “The Son of man is going to be betrayed into men’s hands, and they will kill him, but despite being killed, he will rise three days later.” Because of their preconceived ideas “they did not understand his statement.” (Mark 9:31,32) Jesus' invisible presence was certainly an idea preconceived by Charles Russell that he published in the first issue of the Watchtower in July of 1879 and solidified the wrong expectation that the world would end in the year 1914.
The last paragraph is a continuation of the organizations emphatic assertion that Christ's presence is invisible. However after having just considered all the explanations presented to prove the doctrine of an invisible presence, it lacks substance. There is simply no solid foundation for this doctrine in the Scriptures.
So the question naturally arises, does it matter? Does it matter if Jesus presence is invisible? What is the alternative? How could Christ's presence be visible?
The answers to these questions rest in the Scriptures, and yes it does matter. Paul said “The second time that he appears it will be apart from sin, and he will be seen by those earnestly looking for him for their salvation.” (Hebrews 9:28) How would Jesus “appear” and “be seen” by his faithful disciples? Before discussing the subject further the question of when needs to be addressed. When is Jesus' presence? Is it an already established reality that began over a century ago, or is it an impending event that we need to be prepared for? This will be discussed in the next post.