Jesus in the Old Testament: Christophanies

This week I want us to look at theophanies in the Old Testament, but specifically christophanies.

A theophany is a "manifestation of God that is tangible to the human senses.  In its most restrictive sense, it is a visible appearance of God in the Old Testament period often, but not always, in human form."

I'm sure if you've read much of the Old Testament, you can think of several times where God shows up in the lives of many of the prophets, such as Moses, Abraham, and Jacob.  Each time God appears, it is considered a theophany.

A christophany is similar, but where a theophany is God appearing, a christophany is Jesus Christ appearing in the Old Testament.  To be clear, this is not the prophecies and types we have talked about before.  A christophany is Jesus on the earth, interacting with someone, before His arrival in Bethlehem. 

I really love christophanies because they are reminders that while Jesus was born to Mary in Bethlehem, He existed long before that. 

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.  In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.  The Light shines in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it."  John 1:1-5 (NASB).

As you continue to read John 1, it is obvious that the Word John is speaking of is Jesus.  The first three words of John echo the first three words of Genesis, bringing us back to the creation of the world.  Jesus was present at creation!

Not only was Jesus present at creation, but He was a participant as well.  Jesus is the Creator! 

"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things have been created through Him and for Him.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together."  Colossians 1:15-17 (NASB).

Who Is the Angel of the Lord?

Often in the Old Testament, angels come and speak to men and women.  Sometimes, they are referred to as "the angel of the Lord."  Many times when the angel of the Lord appears, he speaks as if he is God himself.

In Genesis 22, God told Abraham to take Isaac to Moriah and sacrifice him as a burnt offering.  Abraham was obedient.  He took his son to the place, and just as he was about to sacrifice him, he was stopped.

"But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, 'Abraham, Abraham!'  And he said, 'Here I am.'  He said, 'Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.'"  Genesis 22:11-12 (NASB).

In Genesis 32, Jacob was traveling with his family to meet his brother Esau for the first time since he betrayed him.  One night on his journey, he had an encounter like no other.  A man came and wrestled with him all night long.  At the end of the night, Jacob insisted that he be blessed.  The man said to him, "'Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed." . . . So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, 'I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.'"  Genesis 32:28, 30 (NASB). 

In Exodus 3, the angel of the Lord is in the burning bush, but after being called the angel of the Lord once, He is from then on referred to as God or the Lord.

In Judges 2, the angel of the Lord speaks to the people of Israel, but he speaks to them as if he is God.  "I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land which I have sworn to your fathers; and I said, 'I will never break My covenant with you, and as for you, you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars.'  But you have not obeyed Me; what is this you have done?  Therefore I also said, 'I will not drive them out before you; but they will become as thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.'"  Judges 2:1-3 (NASB).

It could be argued that the angel of the Lord is a sort of ambassador, speaking the words of God for Him.  I think this may be a valid argument, and I am really not one hundred percent certain whether or not the angel of the Lord is God or not.  I can say that if the angel of the Lord is God, He is God in the person of Jesus rather than the Father.  I'll explain my reasoning for that further down.  For now, I’m going to continue to some other theophanies.

The following four theophanies show God appearing to His people.  It does not say the angel of the Lord, but God Himself.

God appeared to Abraham in Genesis 12.  Verse 7 says, "The Lord appeared to Abraham."  We do not know what this appearance was like, only that the Lord spoke to him, telling him that He was going to give the land he was on to his descendents. 

Genesis 28 tells the famous story of Jacob's ladder.  Most people remember the angels ascending and descending the ladder, but in verse 13, God appears to Jacob.  "And behold, the Lord stood above [the ladder] and said, 'I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendents.'"  (NASB).

In Exodus 24, seventy-four people all saw God, and they feasted there with Him.  "Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself.  Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they saw God, and they ate and drank." Genesis 24:9-11 (NASB).

Theophany or Christophany?

All of the appearances could be simply called theophanies, until we read John 1:18, John 6:46, and 1 John 4:12.  1 John 4:12 says, "No one has seen God at any time."  John 6:46 says, "Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father."  John 1:18 says, "No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him." (NASB).  

How could all of those Old Testament appearances be God if these New Testament statements are true?  Wilbur Fields said in his book Old Testament History: An Overview of Sacred History and Truth

"If it was Jesus the Word who appeared as the angel of God or as God during the Old Testament age, then both statements are true, that no man has ever seen God (the Father), but that men truly did see the Lord when they saw the pre-incarnate Word" (p 326).

Because of this, I would argue that every place where God appears before people in the Old Testament, we are not looking at a theophany, but a christophany.  Jesus certainly existed at creation, and I would argue that He is eternal as God the Father is.  No one has seen God the Father except God the Son, who has revealed Him to us, both in the Old and the New Testaments.

What appearance of Jesus in the Old Testament is your favorite?  Do you think the angel of the Lord is Jesus or simply an angel speaking God's words for Him?

So far in this series on Jesus in the Old Testament, we have looked at prophecies about Jesus, types and christophanies.  Next time, we're going to look at one of the most mysterious characters in the Old Testament:  Melchizedek.  Is he a type?  Or is he a christophany?  If you want to get a head start on this, check out my post The Great High Priest.

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5 Responses to Jesus in the Old Testament: Christophanies

  1. Thank you for writing this post! Great thoughts. Great concept! Just one more thing to add to my list to do a study on. Thank you again for your faithfulness to writing about your faith. I love it!

    1. I'm so glad you liked it. Christophanies are so interesting, Jesus interacting with Old Testament people. I'd love to hear your thoughts when you get a chance to study it further.

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  2. Kirra: This blog post was beautifully written and described, as eloquently as a thesis paper. I'm afraid I can't add much value in the way of comments as all of this is quite confusing to me. However, I did enjoy reading your thoughts on what is and is not a theophany and a christophany. I am a big fan of learning new words. Love the concept. Beautifully expressed.

    1. Amanda, thanks for reading. It all is a little confusing, and really, I don't think our salvation rides on it or anything. I just find this kind of thing highly interesting. And I often can't settle on an answer, but I love to think about it! Just to imagine that Jesus was speaking to Moses and Abraham and Jacob makes me smile!


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