READER QUESTION: Please explain Exodus 24, which tells us that Moses and the 70 leaders “saw” YHWH, yet we are told in John 1:18 and 1 John 4:12 that nobody can look upon God’s face. Help me understand that Moses and the elders saw God but John is saying no one has ever seen God.
RESPONSE: What we can surmise by perusing all the pertinent scriptures concerning anyone "seeing YHWH" is that no one ever actually SAW Him in His Natural State - not even Moshe, because Exodus 33 tells us that no one can look at YHWH "and remain alive." Here's what we are told Moshe and the 70 elders saw in Exodus 24:
Exodus 24:9 Moshe, Aharon, Nadav, Avihu and seventy of the leaders went up; 10 and they saw the God of Isra'el. Under his feet was something like a sapphire stone pavement as clear as the sky itself. 11 He did not reach out his hand against these notables of Isra'el; on the contrary, they saw God, even as they were eating and drinking.
12 ADONAI said to Moshe, "Come up to me on the mountain, and stay there. I will give you the stone tablets with the Torah and the mitzvot I have written on them, so that you can teach them." 13 Moshe got up, also Y'hoshua his assistant; and Moshe went up onto the mountain of God.
14 To the leaders he said, "Stay here for us, until we come back to you. See, Aharon and Hur are with you; whoever has a problem should turn to them." 15 Moshe went up onto the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain.
16 The glory of ADONAI stayed on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day he called to Moshe out of the cloud. 17 To the people of Isra'el the glory of ADONAI looked like a raging fire on the top of the mountain. 18 Moshe entered the cloud and went up on the mountain; he was on the mountain forty days and nights. (CJB)
Now, in Exodus 33:11 we read that Moshe saw YHWH "face-to-face" - but since God is spirit (John 4:24), He does not have a “face.” The passage simply means that YHWH had a close relationship with Moshe - they were in harmony with each other, just as close friends are. They were not literally face to face, but their relationship and communication was very much like two people who spoke to one another as close friends would.
Take a look at this passage in Exodus 33 which serves to explain that NO ONE can see YHWH's Face:
Exodus 33:17 ADONAI said to Moshe, "I will also do what you have asked me to do, because you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name." 18 But Moshe said, "I beg you to show me your glory!" 19 He replied, "I will cause all my goodness to pass before you, and in your presence I will pronounce the name of ADONAI. Moreover, I show favor to whomever I will, and I display mercy to whomever I will.
20 But my face," he continued, "you cannot see, because a human being cannot look at me and remain alive. 21 Here," he said, "is a place near me; stand on the rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you inside a crevice in the rock and cover you with my hand, until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand, and you will see my back, but my face is not to be seen."…
Nothing suggests that Y'shua was on the mountain with Moshe and the 70 leaders in Exodus 24. He could have been, but the passage doesn't reveal exactly "what" (or "who") Moshe and the leaders saw.....