Saturday, February 11, 2023

PreIncarnate Appearances of Christ: OT Appearances and Activities

Excerpt from John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, eds., Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 240–242. 

Old Testament Appearances

One of the primary occasions of the phenomenon referred to as a theophany (“an appearance of God”) involves the presence of God at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19). Other instances of divine manifestation arise with the ministry of “the angel of the LORD [Yahweh]” in passages like the following:

1. Genesis 16:7–13: In this passage the narrator (Moses, not Hagar) identifies the messenger of Yahweh as Yahweh: “So she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her” (16:13).

2. Exodus 3:2–4: Later in history, the messenger of Yahweh appears to Moses in a burning bush at Mount Horeb in the Sinai Desert. The narrator (again, Moses) declares that “God called to him out of the bush” (3:4).

3. Judges 6:11–23: The writer of the book of Judges (not Gideon or the messenger of Yahweh) reports that “the LORD turned to him and said …” (6:14).

Such appearances seem to possess one significant feature: all of them, as James Borland puts it, “reveal, at least in a partial manner, something about [God] Himself, or His will, to the recipient.” Should we identify the divine person in such appearances as the preincarnate Son of God (i.e., a christophany)? Borland defines these appearances as “those unsought, intermittent and temporary, visible and audible manifestations of God the Son in human form, by which God communicated something to certain conscious human beings on earth prior to the birth of Jesus Christ.” When the biblical account associates “the angel of the LORD” with a theophany, “messenger” might provide a better translation than “angel,” because this title denotes the function or office of the individual, not his nature. In addition, the Scripture speaks of him as actually being God. He bears the name “LORD,” he speaks as God, and he displays divine attributes and authority. Most significantly, however, he receives worship (Matt. 2:2, 11; 14:33; 28:9, 17). Given what John 1:18 says about the Son—that “no one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known”—the appearances of God in the Old Testament must have been the Son, not the Father. The phrase “made him known” in Greek (exÄ“geomai) is the word from which we derive the verb exegete and its cognate noun, exegesis. Literally, the Son of God “exegeted” the Father to mankind.

Old Testament Activities

The works of the second person of the Godhead in the Old Testament include creation, providence, revelation, and judgment. These are acts of deity and demonstrate that he is God. Jesus’s works in the New Testament (e.g., resurrection) parallel the works attributed to him in the Old Testament and add significantly to those works.


Obviously, this work of the second person of the Godhead takes place in his preincarnate state. Old Testament references to the Creator or Maker do not distinguish the divine person doing the creating from other persons of the Godhead. The New Testament, however, emphatically makes that very distinction:

All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:3)

He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. (John 1:10)

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. (Col. 1:16)

But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (Heb. 1:2)

You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands. (Heb. 1:10)

The Son’s title “the Word” (John 1:1) affirms that God created all things by his spoken word—he spoke all things into existence (see the repetition of “God said” in Gen. 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, and the direct declarations in Ps. 33:6 in the Old Testament and Heb. 11:3 in the New Testament). Although all three persons of the Godhead participated in some way in creation, the Scripture identifies the Son of God as speaking everything into existence.