The Old Testament Ministry of Jesus Christ

Willmington's Guide to the Bible

The Old Testament records a number of theophanies. A theophany is a pre-Bethlehem appearance of Christ. Most Bible theologians hold that the recurring angel of the Lord episode in the Old Testament is to be identified with Christ himself. This theological position is strongly suggested by two key passages.

The first is found in Genesis 48:16 where the dying patriarch, Jacob, is blessing his two grandchildren. The old founder of Israel prays:

"The angel who redeemed me from all evil, bless these lads…" (Gen. 48:16).

As no regular angel can redeem men, it is assumed the angel here is actually Christ.

The second passage is found in Judges 13 where a barren couple has just learned from the angel of the Lord about the future birth of Samson. In gratitude, Manoah (the father), requests the name of the angel that he might call the babe after him. Note the answer, however:

"And the angel of the Lord said unto him, why askest thou thus after my name, seeing it is secret" (Jdg. 13:18).

This word, "secret," is from the same Hebrew root word found in Isaiah 9:6, where it is translated "wonderful."

"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace" (Isa. 9:6).

Inasmuch as we know the "wonderful" in this verse refers to Christ, it is highly probable that Judges 13:18 does as well.

Let us now examine some of these Old Testament theophanies.

A. He appeared to Hagar, Abraham’s Egyptian wife (Gen. 16:7-14). The first biblical reference to the angel of the Lord occurs here as he tenderly ministers to a pagan and pregnant Egyptian girl.

B. He appeared to Abraham (Gen. 18:1; 22:11-13). These two appearances came at critical times in Abraham’s life. One (Gen. 18) concerned itself with the destruction of Sodom, and the other (Gen. 22) with the last-minute salvation of Isaac.

C. He appeared to Jacob (Gen. 28:13; 32:24-32; 48:16). It will be remembered that Christ not only appeared to Jacob, but actually wrestled with him. (See Gen. 32.) This was doubtless that same divine One he had seen standing atop a ladder some twenty years before. (See Gen. 28.)

D. He appeared to Moses (Ex. 3:2; 23:20; 33:18-23). These three occasions were all connected with Mt. Sinai.

The first was near the mountain.

"And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not near here: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground" (Ex. 3:4, 5).

The second occasion was on the mountain.

"Behold, I send an angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared" (Ex. 23:20).

The final occasion was in the mountain.

"And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by" (Ex. 33:22).

E. He appeared to Joshua (Josh. 5:13-15). He appears to Joshua on the eve of the battle against Jericho and introduces himself as the captain of the Lord’s host.

F. He appeared to Gideon (Jdg. 6:11-24). The angel of the Lord finds a very discouraged Gideon threshing wheat beside a wine press to hide it from the oppressing Midianites.

G. He appeared to Samson’s parents (Jdg. 13).

H. He appeared to Isaiah (Isa. 6:1-13). Isaiah is allowed to see more of the glory of the pre-incarnate Christ than any other Old Testament prophet.

I. He appeared to three young Hebrews in the fiery furnace (Dan. 3:25). How thrilling are the astonished words of pagan king Nebuchadnezzar which accompanied this appearance:

"Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonished, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counselors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God" (Dan. 3:24, 23).

J. He appeared to Daniel (Dan. 6:22; 7:9-14). The first of these appearances was in a lion’s den.

"Then said Daniel unto the king, O king, live forever. My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lion’s mouth, that they have not hurt me…" (Dan. 6:21, 22).

The second appearance was in a vision.

"I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened. I beheld then because of the voice of the great words which the horn spake: I beheld even fill the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame. As concerning the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away: yet their lives were prolonged for a season and time. I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed" (Dan. 7:9-14).

K. He appeared to Zechariah (Zech. 1:8-13; 2:8-11; 3:10; 6:12-15). In this book, Zechariah describes Christ as protecting Jerusalem (1:8-13), measuring Jerusalem (2:8-11), cleansing Jerusalem (3:10), and building Jerusalem (6:12-15).

Taken from: Willmington's Guide to the Bible  1981, 1984 by H. L. Willmington.