Apart from Paul’s unequivocal assertion in 2 Corinthians 5:7 that we live by faith and not by sight, why does Jesus tell Doubting Thomas that those who have not seen him but have nonetheless believed are blessed? Why in other words is invisibility of such prime importance in Scripture?
First, God himself being spirit (John 4:24) is physically invisible. How then do we know that he exists? So far as all men and women are concerned, however, the invisible God reveals himself through creation (Rom. 1:20, cf. Ps. 19; Acts 14:17; 17:27, etc.). Since he creates us in his own image he expects us to seek him and to worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23, cf. Acts 17: 22-34).
Second, He revealed himself to the Israelites in various ways by his acts (e.g. the exodus) and through the prophets (Heb.1:1f.).
Witness Always Contemporary
All cannot see, that is, be actual eyewitnesses. The reason for this becomes obvious when we consider the crucifixion of Christ. For all to be eyewitnesses it would be necessary for him to be repeatedly crucified (or alternatively for all who ever lived to be present at his crucifixion which would in the nature of the case be impossible on a number of counts). This not only theologically impossible since it would undermine the once-for-all character of the Saviour’s sacrifice which brought to an end all other sacrifices but it would be impossible for chronological and spatial reasons. Jesus as man could in other words only be in one place at one time. Furthermore, all believers must be put on an equal footing, that is, by faith.
This is true even for eyewitnesses of crucial events like the crucifixion and the appearance of resurrected Jesus. At Paul’s Damascus Road experience it would appear that those who don’t believe don’t see (Acts 9:7), or hear presumably what was said (22:9), what Paul himself saw and heard (26:13f.) Eyewitnesses are always justified by faith before they become eyewitnesses of further revelation. This was certainly true of the apostles. All were believers before they testified to the resurrection.
The Internal Witness of the Spirit
In any case, seeing is not believing, hence Jesus refused to perform miracles to order. As he pointed out, the Jews though claiming to be his disciples did not necessarily believe Moses (John 5:45f.) or even Abraham (Mt. 3:7-10; 8:11; John 8:39). And even when he rose from the dead, despite all the evidence they did not believe as Jesus had anticipated (Luke 16:31, cf. John 12:48).
Since revelatory events occur sporadically, all cannot be present when they happen. Thus evidence relating to the faith once delivered is cumulative (cf. Heb. 1:1f.). So, though it is for the majority invisible, nonetheless it is always contemporary. Those who do not participate in eye witness are at no disadvantage. They are justified in believing credible testimony.
Our hope is an invisible hope (Rom. 8:24f.) related to faith (Heb. 11:1) which embraces invisible reality (2 Cor. 5:7). Our spiritual forebears such as Abraham often did not know where they were going (Heb. 11:8-16), but they anticipated Jesus’ day and rejoiced (John 8:56) as Jesus indicated.
The PL was physically real enough when the people, that is, Joshua and Caleb plus the children of those who died in the wilderness arrived. So what will invisible glory be like? Will it be material? Cf. Tom Wright and his “a different sort of physicality”. The Bible says not. The real is not physical but spiritual (cf. Bruce, John, p.13; de Silva, pp.387, 472, Lane, p.331) and will surely be spiritually discerned cf. Isa. 6:5b; 1 Cor. 2:14). We shall see the glory of the Lord Jesus himself and this glory was evident before the foundation of the world (John 17:5,24, cf. Isa. 33:17; 66:18). In fact Jesus’ earthly physical ‘glory’ was nondescript. Surely his heavenly glory will be quite something, like that of his Father (Luke 9:26, cf. Isa. 33:17; 66:18).
Perhaps we should think in terms of a different sort of spirituality especially in light of the imagery of Revelation 21:9ff.!