Who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.

—1 Timothy 6:15-16

The human mind, being created, has an understandable uneasiness about the Uncreated….We tend to be disquieted by the thought of One who does not account to us for His being, who is responsible to no one, who is self-existent, self-dependent and self-sufficient.

Philosophy and science have not always been friendly toward the idea of God, the reason being that they are dedicated to the task of accounting for things and are impatient with anything that refuses to give an account of itself. The philosopher and the scientist will admit that there is much that they do no know; but that is quite another thing from admitting that there is something which they can never know…. To admit that there is One who lies beyond us, who exists outside of all our categories, who will not be dismissed with a name, who will not appear before the bar of our reason… this requires a great deal of humility, more than most of us possess, so we save face by thinking God down to our level, or at least down to where we can manage Him. KOH041-042

Lord, forgive my flimsy attempts to comprehend You. I bow humbly before the great Uncreated, the King of kings and Lord of lords. Amen. [1]

The Blessedness of God

He who is the blessed (6:15b)

Beginning with this phrase, Paul launches into one of the magnificent doxologies of Scripture. Each phrase in it expresses the transcendent, incomparable greatness of God. This first phrase of the doxology yields a third attribute of God, His blessedness. Makarios(blessed) means “happy,” “content,” or “fulfilled.” When used in reference to God, it describes His lack of unhappiness, frustration, and anxiety. He is content, satisfied, at peace, fulfilled, and perfectly joyful. While some things please Him and other things do not, nothing alters His heavenly contentment. He controls everything to His own joyous ends.

Those who enter into a relationship with God enter into His calm. They can be unperturbed because He is unperturbed. The Psalmist wrote, “How blessed are all who take refuge in Him” (Ps. 2:12; cf.. 34:8; 40:4; 84:12; 112:1; 128:1)! Scripture describes the blessed as those whom God chooses (Ps. 65:4), those who know Christ (Matt. 16:16–17), those who believe the Gospel (Gal. 3:9), those whose sins are forgiven (Rom. 4:7), those to whom God grants righteousness apart from works (Rom. 4:6–9), and those who obey the Word (James 1:25).

No matter what the opposition, no matter what trials or persecutions he faces, the man of God can be at peace. That peace is not based on external circumstances but on the knowledge that God is in control. Believers are blessed because they are in union with the God who is blessed.

The Sovereignty of God

and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords; (6:15c)

God is the only Sovereign because He alone is God (Deut. 4:35, 39; 6:4; 32:39; 1 Sam. 2:2; 2 Sam. 7:22; 22:32; 1 Kings 8:23, 60; 2 Kings 19:15, 19; 2 Chron. 6:14; Neh. 9:6; Pss. 18:31; 86:10; Isa. 37:16, 20; 43:10; 44:6, 8; 45:5–6, 21–22; 46:9; Joel 2:27; 1 Cor. 8:4, 6). There is no one to vie with Him for control of the universe. “I act,” says the Lord, “and who can reverse it” (Isa. 43:13)?

Isaiah understood that God is uniquely sovereign. He wrote,

“To whom then will you liken Me that I should be his equal?” says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these stars, the One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power not one of them is missing. Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary. (Isa. 40:25–31)

Dunastēs (Sovereign) comes from a word group whose basic meaning is “power.” The adjective only shows that God’s power to rule is inherent in Himself, not delegated from an outside source. God is absolutely sovereign and omnipotently rules everything everywhere. He has no rivals, certainly not Satan, whom He created, cast out of heaven, and sentenced to eternal hell.

God’s sovereignty is further amplified by the title King of kings and Lord of lords. Such titles were given to God in the Old Testament (cf.. Deut. 10:17; Ps. 136:2–3; Dan. 2:47). Although this title describes the Lord Jesus Christ in Rev. 17:14 and 19:16, it is here used in reference to the Father. The phrase “whom no man has seen or can see” clearly does not apply to Christ, “who was revealed in the flesh” (3:16).

It is likely that Paul intended this title as a conscious rebuttal to the cult of emperor worship. The deification of the emperor dates back to Augustus. It gradually assumed a central place in the empire, and became “the supreme cause of Roman persecution of Christians” (Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language [Waco, Tex.: Word, 1982], 58). The Romans viewed emperor worship as the unifying factor that bound their diverse empire together. To refuse to worship Caesar was considered an act of treason. To counter that, Paul insists that God alone is the Sovereign, and He alone is to be worshiped.

The sovereignty of God is the most encouraging and comforting doctrine in all of Scripture. An understanding of it removes the anxiety from life. It also gives the man of God courage in spiritual duty and willingness to face any danger. God is never surprised, nor is His will ever frustrated. He says in Isaiah 46:11, “Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it.” Because He is in total control, there is no need to worry, to compromise, to equivocate, or to manipulate to achieve a goal.

The man of God knows that the success of his ministry does not depend on his ingenuity, wisdom, or talent. He is relieved of the intolerable burden of imagining that people’s eternal destiny rests on the persuasiveness of his preaching or the cleverness of his invitation. He understands that no one comes to faith in Christ apart from God’s gracious, sovereign choice. And he, too, is operating under the constant surveillance of and within the plan of the God who is in perfect control of everything. That frees him to focus on faithfully expounding the Word and fulfilling his calling with contentment.

The Eternity of God

who alone possesses immortality (6:16a)

Once again the apostle counters the cult of emperor worship. Although the Romans imagined the emperors to be immortal, Paul emphasizes that God alone possesses immortality. That phrase describes God’s eternity. He alone possesses immortality in the sense that He is inherently immortal. Angels and men, having come into existence, will exist forever. Their immortality, however, derives from God. Immortality does not translate aphtharsia, which means “incorruptible,” but athanasia, which means “deathless.” God has an unending quality of life, and is incapable of dying. The psalmist wrote, “For with Thee is the fountain of life” (Ps. 36:9). Jesus said, “The Father has life in Himself” (John 5:26). Isaiah called Him “the Everlasting God” (Isa. 40:28), while Moses wrote in Psalm 90:2, “Before the mountains were born, or Thou didst give birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God” (cf.. Hab. 1:12). Micah 5:2 describes the Lord Jesus Christ as eternal, offering further proof of His deity.

The man of God derives comfort from the knowledge that his God is above history and beyond time. No matter what happens during his brief span of time on this earth, the deathless, eternal One is available to support him. He shares the perspective of Paul, who told the Romans, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18; cf.. 2 Cor. 4:17).

The Holiness of God

and dwells in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen or can see. (6:16b)

In this age of casual familiarity with God, it is well to remember His utter holiness. While God is our loving, gracious Father, He nevertheless dwells in unapproachable light. He is transcendent, totally beyond us. He is, in Martin Luther’s words, Deus absconditus, the hidden God. Had he not revealed Himself and come out of His holy habitation, man could have had no knowledge of Him.

The psalmist wrote of Him, “O Lord my God, Thou art very great; Thou art clothed with splendor and majesty, covering Thyself with light as with a cloak” (Ps. 104:1–2). When Moses prayed for God to reveal His glory, the Lord replied,

“I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” (Ex. 33:19–20)

The writer of Hebrews put it simply, “our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29).

The imagery of God as blazing light aptly expresses His holiness. He is totally separate from sin. Psalm 5:4 reads, “For Thou art not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; no evil dwells with Thee.” He is “majestic in holiness” (Ex. 15:11). “There is no one holy like the Lord” (1 Sam. 2:2).

Because of that holiness, God is inaccessible to man. He lives in an atmosphere of absolute purity, far too holy for mortals to ever enter. Such passages as Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” and 1 Corinthians 13:12, “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face,” refer to only that much of a vision of God which glorified humanity can perceive.

How does God’s absolute holiness fit into this doxology? Paul emphasizes God’s inability to make any mistakes. He always does exactly what is right and just. That provides great comfort for the man of God as he pursues his ministry. Not only is God in total control, but He also never makes a misjudgment. Further, those who oppose and persecute him will one day be judged by the holy God. That knowledge equips the man of God to faithfully serve his Lord.

It is fitting that the doxology ends with a refrain of praise, to Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen. Paul exclaims, “let God always be respected, and may his rule never end.” That refrain takes its place alongside the other great hymns of praise to God in Scripture (cf.. 1 Peter 4:11; 5:11; Jude 24–25).

Nothing motivates a man of God like a true understanding of the greatness of his God. Those who know their God can say with the writer to Hebrews, “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What shall man do to me” (Heb. 13:6)?[2]

15, 16. With reference to this appearing Paul continues: which in due season he will display, (even he)



Old Testament Parallels


a. the blessed and only Sovereign ……


Deut. 6:4; Ps. 41:13; Is. 40:12–31; Dan. 4:35


b. the King of kings …… and


Ezek. 26:7; Dan. 2:37; Ezra 7:12


c. Lord of lords ……


Deut. 10:17; Ps. 136:3


d. the only One possessing immortality ……


Ps. 36:9; Is. 40:28; Dan. 4:34


e. dwelling in light unapproachable ……


Ex. 24:17; 34:35; Ps. 104:2


f. whom no human being has (ever) seen or is able to see


Ex. 33:20; Deut. 4:12; Is. 6:5


g. to whom (be) honor and strength eternal. Amen.


Neh. 8:6; Ps. 41:13; 72:19; 89:52


To the two reasons which have been given, indicating why Timothy should “keep the commission without spot and above reproach” a third is now added, but only by implication, namely, that he will receive his reward when Jesus returns in glory. However, the idea of reward for Timothy is pushed into the background by the rapturous contemplation and consequent exaltation of the majestic attributes of the One who, in due season (or: “in its—or his—own season”), the season designated by the Father from eternity (Acts 1:7; 3:20, 21; cf. Gal. 4:4), will exhibit that great event to which, in a sense, the entire universe looks forward (cf. Rom. 8:19): the epiphany or visible shining forth of Jesus Christ upon clouds of glory. Just as, in Paul’s thinking, it is God (1 Cor. 6:14; Eph. 1:20), or more particularly, God the Father (Rom. 6:4; Gal. 1:1; cf. 1 Peter 1:3) who raises the Son (though it is also true that Christ arose through his own power, John 10:18), so it is God who displays the Son’s epiphany. He displays it as proof (for the verb in this sense see John 2:18) to the world, for this is the public vindication of the Son and of his people.

The doxology in praise of God is one of the finest in Scripture. For its origin one must not look to pagan philosophy. Though some of its phrases have parallels in extra-canonical Jewish literature, it should certainly be regarded as a spontaneous outburst coming from the heart of a devout believer in Jesus Christ, an apostle who, while he is writing or dictating, is thoroughly conscious of the loving presence of his Lord and who in his youth had made a thorough study of the Old Testament, so that its phraseology was embedded in his soul. The parallels from the Old Testament have already been indicated (see the incomplete list of references above, next to the quoted passage). It is possible to duplicate the sense—and in most cases the very words—of the doxology without departing from the text of the Old Testament. Thus, quoting throughout from the Old Testament, one might paraphrase the doxology as follows:

“the blessed and incomparable One, who does according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, the King of kings and Lord of lords, with whom alone is the fountain of life, who covers himself with light as with a garment, whom no human being shall (ever) be able to see, whose glorious name be blessed forever, Amen and Amen.”

It was to be expected that just as the contemplation of the first coming of Christ led to a doxology (1 Tim. 1:17), so also the meditation upon the second coming (here in 1 Tim. 6:15, 16) would lead to a similar and expanded doxology.

The present doxology consists of seven terms descriptive of Deity. In the original, as in our translation, a., b., and c. are nouns; d. and e. are participial modifiers; and f. and g. are relative clauses.

As to thought-content, every element in this doxology stresses the transcendence or incomparable greatness of God. He is Sovereign (a word applied to human rulers in Luke 1:52; Acts 8:27; and to God in 2 Macc. 3:24; 12:15; 15:4, 23; but see Dan. 4:35). As Sovereign he is altogether blessed. See on 1 Tim. 1:11. He is, moreover, the only Sovereign (cf. Jude 25); hence, absolutely incomparable in his right to do as he pleases, for example, to choose the appropriate season for Christ’s epiphany (note preceding context). Thus, “the blessed God” (of 1 Tim. 1:11) and “the only God” (of 1 Tim. 1:17) are here combined. Whatever titles men may bear, either rightfully or by usurpation, he—he alone!—is the real King of kings and Lord of lords. Literally, the original has, “the King of those kinging and the Lord of those lording” (Rev. 17:14; 19:16, used both times with reference to Christ, have the simpler form). The lengthened (participial) form probably adds freshness and vigor to the meaning.

Having set forth God’s relation to the universe and particularly to all earthly rulers, Paul in the last four terms (d., e., f., and g.) dwells on the divine essence itself, the majestic being of God.

He alone possesses immortality. This must not be confused with “endless existence.” To be sure, that, too, is implied, but the concept immortality is far more exalted. It means that God is life’s never-failing Fountain. On the concept life as applied to God see N.T.C. on John 1:4. This immortality is the opposite of death, as is clear from the derivation of the word both in English and in Greek. Athanasia is deathlessness. It is fulness of life, imperishable (cf. 1 Tim. 1:17) blessedness, the inalienable enjoyment of all the divine attributes. The only human beings who, as far as it is possible for creatures to do so, share this immortality, and thereby become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), are believers, though also unbelievers exist endlessly. It is through the gospel that immortality or imperishability was brought to light (2 Tim. 1:10). For the believer immortality is therefore a redemptive concept. It is everlasting salvation. For God it is eternal blessedness. But while the believer has received immortality, as one receives a drink of water from a fountain, God has it. It belongs to his very being. He is himself the Fountain.

The idea of life, implied in immortality, naturally leads to that of light. “In him was life, and that life was the light of men” (John 1:4). Now, this light is like the sun. We need it to see by, yet we cannot look into it, for it is too intensely brilliant. In that sense, God, too, dwells in light unapproachable. The metaphor is even stronger than that employed in Ps. 104:2 (“He covers himself with light as with a garment”). Like a dwelling conceals its occupants, and hides them even more when it is unapproachable, so God’s very essence, by virtue of what it is, conceals him. Hence, the term light as here used re-emphasizes his incomparable greatness. “Verily, thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Savior” (Is. 45:15). “Behold, God is great.”

This greatness of God has as its corollary, “… and we know him not” (Job 36:26). Similarly, here in 1 Tim. 6:16 the line, “dwelling in light unapproachable,” already implies and is immediately followed by, “whom no human being has (ever) seen or is able to see.” Cf. 1 Tim. 1:17, in connection with which the sense in which God is invisible has been explained. See also N.T.C. on John 1:18; and cf. 1 John 4:12.

The devout contemplation of this majestic Being, who has wonderful blessings in store for his children, leads to the climax, “to whom be honor and strength eternal. Amen.” Truly, such a God is worthy of all honor: reverence, esteem, adoration (see footnote  above). He is also worthy of eternal strength, that is, power manifested in action, to the discomfiture of his enemies and to the salvation of his people. Paul’s expressed wish is that God may receive this honor and may manifest this eternal strength. This wish is very deep-seated, for the apostle loves God very, very much. Hence, as in 1 Tim. 1:17, he seals the wish with the solemn word of affirmation or confirmation: Amen (cf. Num. 5:22; Neh. 8:6; Ps. 41:13; 72:10; 89:52; and see N.T.C. on John 1:51).[3]

15–16 In a great sevenfold closing doxology (cf. 1:17; Quinn and Wacker, 537–44), the apostle refers to God as:

the blessed and only Ruler,

the King of kings

and Lord of lords,

who alone is immortal

and who lives in unapproachable light,

whom no one has seen

or can see.

To this God, Paul concludes the doxology, “be honor and might forever. Amen.” It is possible that the apostle here inserts or adapts a doxology from the liturgy of Hellenistic synagogue worship (cf. Kelly, 146).

15 “Ruler” renders the rare Greek term dynastēs (GK 1541), found elsewhere in the NT only in Luke’s writings, where it refers to human rulers (Lk 1:52; Ac 8:27; with reference to God, see Sir 46:5; 2 Macc 12:15). Slightly more common is despotēs (GK 1305; Lk 2:29; Ac 4:24; 2 Pe 2:1; Jude 4; Rev 6:10; see esp. Jude 4, where Jesus Christ is called “our only Sovereign [Ruler] and Lord”; see comments at 1 Ti 6:2a); much more frequent is kyrios (GK 3261), “Lord.” This “Ruler” is identified as both “blessed” (makarios, GK 3421) and the “only” one (monos, GK 3668), both common Jewish designations for God.

“King of kings and Lord of lords” also has OT precedent (cf. esp. Dt 10:17, “God of gods and Lord of lords”; Ps 136:2–3), identifying God as the ultimate King and supreme Lord in Hebrew style (similarly, Rev 19:16; cf. Rev 17:14; 2 Macc 13:4; 1 En. 9:4). The combination of “Ruler,” “King,” and “Lord” emphatically affirms God’s sovereignty over human affairs (cf. Isa 40:12–31; Da 4:35), lending further weight to Paul’s charge to Timothy. In the light of God’s supreme authority, all competing claims are dwarfed by comparison.

16 In the second section of his doxology,the apostle affirms that God alone is “immortal” (cf. 1 Co 15:53–54) and “lives in unapproachable light” (cf. Ps 104:2: “He wraps himself in light as with a garment”). “Immortality” is a Greek concept that corresponds to the notion of “eternal life” referred to in v. 12. God alone is not subject to death (rather, death is subject to God). He is the life-giver (v. 13), and he dwells in “unapproachable” (aprositos, GK 717; only here in the NT) light, removed from human sight (cf. Ex 33:20; Jn 1:18), for he is too holy for sinful human beings to look upon (a subject of frequent contemplation in the Fathers: see Peter Gorday, ed., Colossians, 1–2 Thessalonians, 1–2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon [ACCS; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2000], 9:220–22). This understanding of God as transcendent comports well with the depiction of God in the OT (e.g., at Sinai; cf. Josephus, Ant. 3.76, who refers to Sinai as “awful and unapproachable” because of the rumor that God dwelt there; also, J.W. 7.280, where the rock of Masada is called “inaccessible to the foot of any living creature”).

Paul seals his doxology affirming God’s sovereignty and transcendent majesty with the words “to him be honor [timē, GK 5507] and might [kratos, GK 3197; cf. 1 Pe 4:11; 5:11; Jude 25; Rev 1:6; 5:13] forever. Amen.”[4]

6:15 Bible scholars are not agreed as to whether the pronouns in this verse and the next refer to God the Father or to the Lord Jesus Christ. Taken by itself, verse 15 seems to refer to the Lord Jesus, because He is definitely called King of kings and Lord of lords in Revelation 17:14. On the other hand, verse 16 seems to refer particularly to God the Father.

In any case, the meaning of verse 15 seems to be this: When the Lord Jesus Christ comes back to reign upon the earth, men will realize who is the blessed and only Potentate. The appearance will manifest who is the true King. At the time Paul wrote to Timothy, the Lord Jesus was the rejected One, and He still is. But a day is coming when it will be clearly shown that He is the King over all those who reign and He is the Lord over all those who rule as lords.

Blessed means not only worthy to be praised, but One who has in Himself the fullness of all blessing.

6:16 At the appearing of the Lord Jesus, men will also realize that it is God alone who has immortality or deathlessness. This means that He is the only One who has it inherently. Angels have had immortality conferred upon them, and at the resurrection, believers will receive bodies that are immortal (1 Cor. 15:53, 54), but God has immortality in Himself.

God is next spoken of as dwelling in unapproachable light. This speaks of the bright, shining glory which surrounds the throne of God. Man in his natural condition would be vaporized by this splendor. Only those who are accepted in the Beloved One and complete in Christ can ever approach God without being destroyed.

In His essential being, no man has seen God or can see Him. In the OT, men saw appearances of God, known as theophanies. In the NT, God has perfectly revealed Himself in the Person of His beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

However, it is still true that God is invisible to mortal eyes.

To this One, honor and everlasting power are due, and Paul closes his charge to Timothy with this ascription of homage to God.[5]

[1] Tozer, A. W., & Eggert, R. (2015). Tozer on the almighty god: a 365-day devotional. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (pp. 273–276). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles (Vol. 4, pp. 205–208). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] Köstenberger, A. (2006). 1 Timothy. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 557–558). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[5] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2102). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.


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