EDITOR’S NOTE: This groundbreaking series is being offered in celebration of a previously top-secret project and now unprecedented new 3-Volume book series (over 10-years in the making) from best-selling scholar Dr. Thomas Horn and biblical history and theology majors Donna Howell and Allie Anderson: THE MYSTERY OF JESUS FROM GENESIS TO REVELATION—YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW
It’s easy to assume that, although there might be symbols and typographies of Christ in the Old Testament (and there is an abundance!) there is no literal, physical, observable “appearance” of Jesus (or even the Father) in the Old Testament. “The only way God is literally or physically present,” one might say, “is by the observable effects of His power, such as the parting of the waters. We can observe waters climbing into a giant wall, but we can’t observe God pushing the waters back. As far as the other two members of the Trinity, there’s a confusing reference about the Holy Spirit hovering over the waters of the earth in the opening passages of Genesis, and then the Son shows up in Matthew.”
However, scholars from all over the world and from every culture and background have long acknowledged that the Greek and Hebrew languages of the original biblical manuscripts frequently describe appearances of the Father and the Son throughout the Old Testament in a form that, to the people standing there at the time, would be corporeal—physically touchable and seen by the naked eye. In the case of Christ, this would be prior to His human birth. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible simplifies this complicated idea: “The human-form theophanies in the OT [Old Testament] are often referred to as Christophanies on the basis that these appearances of God are best explained as pre-incarnate manifestations of the Second Person of the Trinity. These appearances thus anticipate the incarnation of Christ and provide an OT glimpse into the triune nature of the Godhead.”[i]
In a work like this one, where Christ appears in an Old-Testament narrative ages before He was born to Mary in the flesh, the subject becomes important to tackle from the beginning. Allie Anderson and Donna Howell addressed this in Encounters: Extraordinary Accounts of Angelic Intervention and What the Bible Actually Says about God’s Messengers while they were ironing out how Jesus could have been the Old Testament “Angel of the Lord”:
The word “theophany” is derived from the Greek words theos (“god”) and phainein (“show” or “reveal”). A theophany within the context of the Holy Bible, therefore, is a visible appearance of God, Himself, to mankind…. A “Christophany” is essentially the same thing, but specific to an appearance of Christ, much like the Apostle Paul’s “Road to Damascus” experience. Most theophanies describe God in human form, but some are more mysterious and complicated, such as when He appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush (Exodus 3:2 and 4:17)….
Sometimes we needn’t look far for the proof that an “Angel” is, in fact, a theophany, since near the verse in question, another passage clarifies it in no uncertain terms. For instance, Genesis 31:11 says, “And the Angel of God spake unto me in a dream, saying, ‘Jacob’: And I said, ‘Here am I.’” Initially, it’s not certain that this is God, Himself. But two verses later, this same “Angel of God” says, “I am the God of Bethel, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto me.” Nobody needs to wonder whether a mere messenger [angel]…is “the God of Bethel” (or the “God of” any place, for that matter). Beyond this, pillar anointings and vows would not be made to a spirit-being servant of the Almighty instead of the Almighty, Himself.…
At times, Scripture distinguishes a theophany when a passage describes the Angel performing an act, service, miracle, or all-powerful character trait that only God, Himself, is capable of.…
[As one example:] God is the only power in the universe that can create life (Genesis 1; Isaiah 40:28; Acts 17:24), and even more importantly, He is the only power that can create life out of nothing by the sheer force of His command (Colossians 1:16).… Yet in Genesis 16:10, we read: “And the Angel of the Lord said unto her, I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude.” Here again, a “messenger” [the literal translation of the Greek word for “angel”] of the Creator wouldn’t have the power to multiply offspring.
Elsewhere, Joshua “fell on his face to the earth, and did worship” the Angel; immediately after Joshua’s worshipful expression, the Angel told Joshua—in the same flavor as He had told Moses earlier—that Joshua was standing on “holy ground” (Joshua 5:14–15). Within the boundaries of healthy Christian theology, angels are not to be worshipped. This kind of error led to the evil/fallen angels in the first place. Any “holy angel” of the Lord’s Celestial Order would not accept worship, as is proven by John’s account on Patmos [Revelation 22:8–9; see also Matthew 4:9–10; Romans 1:25; Colossians 2:18].…
Therefore, we know the Angel in the Joshua account was a theophany, as he openly accepted worship and spoke in the same terms as God.[ii]
First, scholars consider the attributes and characteristics of each member of the Trinity and find Christ the most likely candidate to appear corporeally. The Word is clear that “no man hath seen God at any time” (John 1:18), yet many have seen Christ while He walked in the flesh. This conundrum has confused a great number of Bible students throughout the years, because verses like these are scattered throughout Scripture: “And he said, ‘Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live’” (Exodus 33:20).
But wait a second…Jacob saw God and lived: “And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man…[and thereafter said:] ‘I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved’” (Genesis 32:24, 30).
On the other hand, nobody can see God: “[God] only hath immortality…which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see” (1 Timothy 6:16).
But on the other other hand: “And Manoah said unto his wife, ‘We…have seen God’” (Judges 13:22).
Whereas it appears quite clear in Scripture that no man can see God and live, it’s quite obvious that Jesus—God in human form—was “seen” by mankind everywhere He went. He was corporeal, touchable, and physical.…
Second, the “Angel of the Lord” mysteriously disappeared after Jesus Christ was born in the flesh. If the Angel was, in fact, the preincarnate Messiah, then it explains why the theophany/Christophany didn’t take place during the years He was going about His Father’s business in human form. In a time as spiritually and eternally significant as Christ’s ministry years, one might find the absence of theophanies a notable oddity, until we allow that the same God behind the theophanies was walking with the disciples, challenging the Pharisees, etc. It is during this time when God’s chief messenger was identified as Gabriel, not the “Angel of the Lord.”
Third, although we know that Christ is “much better than the angels” (Hebrews 1:4) who in turn “worship Him” (Hebrews 1:6–7)…Malachi’s prophecy (Malachi 3:1) about the future Messiah specifically identifies Christ as God’s mal’ak, which, as we discussed earlier, is Hebrew for “messenger” and by extension “angel.” This is key language that links Christ, Himself, to theophanies.[iii]
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Note that some translations—the KJV is one example—attempt to deeply analyze which moments recorded in the Word are Christophanies referred to as the “angel of God” or “angel of the Lord,” and the term is capitalized: “Angel.” So if you’re reading your Bible and an “angel” is given a surprise capital letter, you know you’ve stumbled upon what the translators and scholars behind that translation believe to be a Christophany.
As thoroughly as this explanation was handled by Allie and Donna in their work, it’s only the beginning of what could be a ton of evidence that Christ was corporeally present in the Old Testament, typically as a human male. Some instances where the form of this theophany/Christophany does not reflect human design can be mind-boggling. At times, it’s so strange that we feel tempted to skip over it, shrug, and assume it will all become clear in the afterlife. However, as our good friend and paramount theologian, Dr. Michael Heiser, often says, “If it’s in the Bible and it’s weird, it’s important.” We won’t spoil it here, but there were times either Christ types or Christ, Himself, appeared in bizarre manifestations early on that, once understood, will flip that switch of comprehension even further regarding Christ’s identity in the New Testament and how it miraculously links to God’s redemption plan from the beginning.
Typology and the Word “Type” in This Work
Moving forward, you’ll note we use the word “type” quite often. In the realm of theological study, this is a doctrine and/or theory that links the Old Testament to the New Testament in regard to people, places, objects, events, and so on, that foreshadow things to come (but always in some relation to the Messiah). In other words, it is used to refer to a foreshadowing of Christ prior to His coming.
A multifaceted example of an Old Testament type is in the account of Abraham, when he was sent to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. The boy asked his father where the lamb for the sacrifice was, and Abraham answered that God, Himself, would provide the animal (Genesis 22:8). When Abraham was provided with a ram caught in a thicket as a provision that saved Isaac’s life, we see layers of Christ in the story: Abraham was asked to sacrifice his only son, and it was God’s only Son who would be the one sacrifice for all; Isaac lived because the ram was his substitute, and Jesus was the New Testament Lamb substitute (more on this in the material on the Exodus later on) who is slain for all so that all might live; the ram was “crowned” with a thicket, and Jesus was crowned with thorns. To reiterate, the ram in this story is a “type” (a prophetic prefigure) of Christ, because he is the lamb God provided for a sacrifice, as Jesus was the Lamb God provided for the ultimate sacrifice. Another example is Jonah. He is a type of Christ because, as Christ was dead for three days and reemerged to life, Jonah was swallowed by a whale, where he remained for three days before he reemerged to the living, appearing to rise from the dead.
One final note: This book doesn’t read like some studies, beginning each book of the Bible by explaining its contents (though that is closer to the format we follow from the Epistles forward). Instead, this book is a companion to the Word. We suggest you keep your Bible handy and consult it often while you read this book.
The Word of God is a love story, from beginning to end…and it all begins in Genesis, where our Savior is first mentioned to the human race as the seed of the woman. That seems as good a place as any to start, yes?
The English word “Testament” we see in the two major headers of the Bible is translated from the Greek diatheke (dee-ath-ay-kay), and it has a triple meaning, all quite legally binding. First, it means what it sounds like, as regarding evidence, a witness, or proof (think of a “witness testament” in court). Second, the word represents the “will” of someone, similar to the “Will Contract” document arranged that designates one’s personal property to beneficiaries. Last, especially in the context of the Word, it denotes a “covenant.”
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Some define “covenant” as “a promise,” but it involves much more than that. Promises can often be made and easily broken with little consequence apart from a single individual or small group getting their feelings hurt or their hearts broken. A covenant is far closer to the concept of a contract, and in the Bible, that’s precisely what it is.
God gave us His self-revelation, a contract in writing, and His signature appears on each page of the document. He is bound by what is stated within it, and we are given a choice: We can “sign” it and agree to live by its terms to reap its eternal benefits, or we can refuse to “sign,” it, with the understanding that our temporary existence on this planet will conclude with death—without the afterlife profits the contract stipulates to us as beneficiaries.
What we must never do is “sign” the contract and then be found in breach of its conditions and clauses, saying we’re Christians and living like heathens or the ancient Israelites who swore oaths to “be married to Yahweh” and then “cheated on Him with other gods” (the nuptial language used in both Testaments to describe this “contract” as a marital arrangement).
With that said, the Old Testament is not called “old” because it’s irrelevant or defunct. Two humans can write a contract and later update it, but the new one is still based upon the stipulations of the first. In that regard, as we proceed, keep it in mind the Old Testament could alternatively be called the “Evidence of God in the Beginning,” the “Will of God before His Anointed,” or simply, the “First Contract.”
UP NEXT: Jesus in Genesis?
[i] Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J., “Theophany,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible: Volume 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book, 1988), 2,052.
[ii] Anderson, Allie and Donna Howell, Encounters: Extraordinary Accounts of Angelic Intervention and What the Bible Actually Says about God’s Messengers (Crane, MO: Defender, 2019), 188–190.
[iii] Ibid., 191–193.