This is an interesting verse, especially for anyone who has stayed awake long enough to read the Old Testament. What about when Jacob wrestled God? Did he not get a good look at His face? What about when God mooned Moses up on the mountain? (look it up, people, it says God showed Moses His back.) What about the visions of Isaiah or Ezekiel?
I think, without us spending the next 2 hours thoroughly dissecting OT passages, we can begin to get what John is getting at. No one has ever seen God, not like this. No one has ever seen God, looking into His eyes and sensing His approval by the looks on His face. No one has ever seen God, to watch His every move, experience the power in His words, the love in His actions, the desire for food and water and company. No one has ever seen God, not like this.
Or rather, for those of us living since the days of Jesus, we could read it like this; ‘No one had ever seen God like this, but Jesus, the One and only Son, who is in fact God and is closest in relationship to God the Father, came and revealed all we need to know about Him.’
In other words, no longer are we a national army, as God’s chosen nation of Israel was, calling on an unseen God to come and win our victories for us. No longer are we simply a nation of people, sacrificing to and teaching about a God with whom most of us could never even hope to have a personal experience. No longer are we placing all of our faith on the stories of the super-faithful to give us direction in our lives.
Because now God has revealed Himself in the person of Jesus, who has made God known. Because now we are a body of believers who can experience God through the gift of His Spirit living inside each one of us. Because now we are each vessels for showing clearly the love and hope and faithfulness of Jesus to one another.
Jesus gave us the best picture of what it looks like to know Him. This is why Jesus was able to look at Philip, in John 14, when Philip asked to see the Father, and tell him, ‘Bro (points to self)..right here!’
It’s like when people come up to me and ask if I know what awesome looks like (and they do ask) and I just shoot straight, ‘Every time I look in a mirror.’
We can know God. But only through Jesus.