Jesus in the Old Testament, Part 4: Christophanies

This is the fourth part in a series on how the Bible is all about Jesus. Read the series introduction, “How Jesus Taught the Bible;” part one, “Events;” part two, “Titles;” and part three, “Prophecies.”

Jesus as the eternally existing Son of God, the second member of the Trinity, is demonstrated through his various cameo appearances throughout the Old Testament, what theologians call Christophanies—kind of like a divine “Where’s Waldo?”

Since no one has seen or can see God the Father (Ex. 33:20; John 1:18, 5:37, 6:46; 1 Tim. 6:15–16), most theologians believe the times in the Old Testament where God is “seen” refer to Jesus. I’ll give you a few examples.

The Book of Genesis

In the book of Genesis we observe a couple of Christophanies. First, in Genesis 18, Abraham has a conversation with a man who is God. That’s Jesus. Basically Jesus shows up, hangs out with Abraham, and discusses details about the fate of Sodom.

Second, in Genesis 32:22–32, Jacob gets in an all-night, UFC-style wrestling match with somebody. Though this man never reveals his name to Jacob, Jacob’s all-night wrestling match appears to have been with Jesus.

After struggling all night, I imagine Jacob thought to himself at the end of the fight, “I held in there all night. That was a long fight. I’m pretty tough.” Jesus says, “I could’ve taken you at any point,” and then reaches out his finger, touches Jacob’s hip, and cripples him.

Afterwards, Jacob realized, “Oh, wow. I was wrestling with God,” saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered” (Gen. 32:30).

The Book of Daniel

In the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (if you’re a Veggie Tales fan, it’s Rack, Shack, and Benny), these three men wouldn’t bow down and worship the golden image made by King Nebuchadnezzar. As a consequence, he had them thrown into a fiery furnace. After a series of events, there’s a fourth guy who appears in the furnace and his appearance “is like a son of the gods” (Dan. 3:25). That fourth guy? It’s Jesus, and he gets them out of that furnace.

The Book of Isaiah

One of my favorite Christophanies is in Isaiah 6.

In the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah said that he “saw the Lord high and exalted and seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. And the angels surrounded him. And day and night they worship him, crying out: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD God Almighty; heaven and earth are full of his glory!’” (Isa. 6:1–3).

After seeing such a lofty vision, Isaiah responded, “And I’m a man of unclean lips. I’ve said some things I shouldn’t have said. And I come from a people of unclean lips. I’m a dead man. I’ve seen the LORD” (Isa. 6:5). Then an angel takes a hot coal and presses it to his lips. “Your sin is atoned for; you’re a new man now. Your mouth now belongs to me. You’re going to be a prophet and say what I tell you to say” (Isa. 6:6–7). Isaiah basically says, “All right, Lord. Tell me where you want me to go. Tell me what you want me to say. I’m your man.”

The question we need to answer is this: who did Isaiah see? In John 12:41 we read, “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.”

Isaiah’s encounter with Jesus the same picture that John has of Jesus in the book of Revelation. It’s the same picture of Jesus that you and I will have when we see him face to face. No longer a humble, marginalized, beaten, poor Galilean peasant, but the risen, ruling, reigning, resurrected, glorious King of kings, Lord of lords, high and exalted, worshiped by angels, adored by nations: the Lord Jesus Christ, who was and is and is to come (Revelation 1:8).