Appearances of Christ in the O.T. (2): The Patriarchs

Appearances of Christ in the O.T. (2): The Patriarchs

Appearances of Christ in the O.T. (2): The Patriarchs.

The pre-incarnate Jesus made appearances at momentous times in the lives of the three Patriarchs in the Hebrew Bible. Christ made personal, life-saving interventions with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their lives were changed forever. When God shows up in the form of  a man, or as the mysterious Angel of Yahweh, then that heavenly Being is Jesus Christ. God is a Spirit and can’t be seen, while Jesus in His eternal body can be seen. And no one can see God and survive the experience. In the OT, if one encounters a visible manifestation of God, then that encounter is with God’s Son as His incomparable representative.

Jesus With Abraham. Abraham is known in Scripture as a friend of God, and as he aged, he developed a close relationship of trust with the Lord.  Abraham firmly believed that God knew what was best for mankind, and would execute justice for all people. Abraham knew that God was merciful and would protect the believers when judging the sinful. So in Genesis 18, it was a hot day as Abraham sat in the shade of his tent’s entrance. And “the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre.” Abraham looked up and saw three men were standing right there next to him, and, calling one of these men “Lord,” Abraham pleaded with these visitors to stay and have a meal. Abraham, Mr. Hospitality, unsure of what else to do, fulfilled the common dictates of any host. The Lord then declared that Sarah would become pregnant in her old age. Abraham was 100 years old, and Sarah was well beyond child-bearing age.

So Abraham saw and interacted with God in the form of man. Abraham is addressing this mysterious Angel as the Lord. This little group of visitors was no doubt Jesus and two angels. This Angel of God once again, just as we saw with Hagar, had the knowledge of when life would begin. This is no ordinary Angel. Jesus then shared something with His friend Abraham. The Lord wanted Abraham to show to his children that the Lord holds people accountable, that He will execute righteousness and justice. The Lord told Abraham of His plan for the highly depraved cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. But Abraham, based on his trust in the Lord’s judgment, started bargaining with Jesus. Suppose there were 50 righteous in the city, Abraham asked, would you actually kill those 50 when you judge the whole city? Abraham had the courage and pluck to bargain the Lord all the way down to ten righteous in the city. And the Lord agreed that if He could find ten righteous in the city, He would not destroy it. (18:32). Abraham’s desire for mercy was met by the Lord’s offer of mercy. “So Yahweh went his way as soon as He had finished speaking with Abraham.” (18:33). But alas, the two angels did not spare the city. There were not ten righteous there after all. The angels were able to rescue Lot, Abraham’s nephew, and his daughters, but that was all who were rescued. The Lord was serious about sin and its consequences. According to Scripture, Jesus didn’t physically appear to Abraham again until He was called the Angel of Yahweh, the Messenger of the Lord, on Mount Moriah with Isaac many years later.

Jesus With Isaac. In Genesis 22, several years after the birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah, God decided to confront Abraham with an unusual challenge. God decided to test Abraham’s faith, and He asked Abraham to take his (probably) teenage son Isaac to a nearby mountain, Mt. Moriah. At the top of the mountain, Abraham was instructed to sacrifice Isaac on an altar for a burnt offering. After waiting all those years for a promised child, God asked Abraham to do a perplexing and horrific thing. Human sacrifice wasn’t all that uncommon, so despite his profound misgivings, Abraham obeyed God one step at a time and took Isaac to the mountain. There he made the altar, secured Isaac on the altar, and prepared him for sacrifice. One often forgets that Isaac himself had to fully submit to God’s test. What was going on in Isaac’s mind as he was tied to the altar? What was the relationship between father and son after this difficult, agonizing scene? We do know that Abraham reconciled God’s impossible request with the fact that God would certainly raise Isaac from the dead if need be. (Hebrews 11:19). How else would Abraham’s descendants be as numberless as the stars? Following the binding of Isaac to the altar, the drama of this unforgettable scene intensifies. “And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.” (22:10). But the Angel of the Lord, the Messenger of Yahweh, came to Isaac’s rescue.  The Angel called out to Abraham, “Do not lay your hand on the boy, or do anything to him!” (22:11-12). Jesus intervened, saved Isaac from being sacrificed, and confirmed Abraham’s deep trust in God. The Messenger Jesus then spoke to Abraham a second time, repeating the promise to Abraham of so long ago, that there would countless descendants in Abraham’s line. The Lord then exclaims that, “In your seed, all the nations of earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (22:18). Christ’s message was straight from heaven, heard loud and clear by Abraham and Isaac. A ram was then found in a thicket, and that was God’s provision for the burnt offering. Isaac, perhaps still terrified, must have been thinking, that could have been me. But God came to the rescue. In due time, the Father would know what it was like to lose a Son.

Jesus With Jacob. In Genesis 32, we find Isaac’s son Jacob fearful about his meeting up with his long-lost brother, Esau. It’s been 20 years since Jacob, the con man, cheated Esau out of both his birthright and his father’s blessing. Jacob by now was wealthy, had 11 sons, and was frantic with fear. Knowing Esau was coming to meet him with 400 soldiers, Jacob decided to send lavish gifts ahead of their meeting, hoping to soften Esau’s heart toward him. He would do whatever it took to save the life of his family, and of course save his own skin in the process. While waiting until morning to meet his fate with Esau, Jacob wrestled with the Angel all night. “In his strength he struggled with God. Yes, he struggled with the Angel and prevailed.” (Hosea 12:3-4). Jacob was determined to receive a blessing from this man, this physical manifestation of God Himself. (32:24-31). This wrestling Angel could be none other than Jesus, God in the form of man. This mysterious wrestling match demonstrated Jacob’s strength of will and determination. He would not be denied a blessing from heaven, from this Messenger of Yahweh. The Angel changed Jacob’s name to Israel after the match, “because you have fought with God and with men and have prevailed.” After receiving his hard-fought blessing from the Lord, Jacob named that place Peniel, which means “face of God.” “For I have seen God face-to-face, yet my life has been spared.” (32:30). The next day, Jacob and Esau reconciled, and made peace with each other. And because the Angel threw Jacob’s hip out of joint, Jacob had to limp for the rest of his life. He had to lean on his staff and learn how to depend on God instead of his own wits. Jacob became Israel, and his faith never wavered from that day onward. Because of his encounter with Christ, Jacob was a  changed man, and he enjoyed a whole new and deeper relationship with God.