Appearances of Christ in the O.T. (6): Elijah and Isaiah

Appearances of Christ in the O.T. (6): Elijah and Isaiah

Appearances of Christ in the O.T. (6): Elijah and Isaiah.

The mysterious Angel of Yahweh in the Hebrew Bible would appear numerous times from out of nowhere and in unexpected settings. This unique Angel would appear as a divine visitor to Abraham, a welcome comfort to Hagar, and a wrestling opponent to Jacob. This heavenly Messenger saved Isaac from being sacrificed, and spoke in a burning bush with Moses. This Angel was God in the form of man, the pre-incarnate Christ, the appearance of Jesus according to Early Church theologians and more modern scholars as well. This special Angel appeared in many other settings in the Old Testament, and every situation is distinct and unique. God cannot be seen because He is Spirit, and because He is comprised of a substance of light so pure and holy that He cannot be experienced face-to-face by any human. So God sends Jesus as His unique representative to speak His mind and do His will on earth. The Angel of God has been witnessed in the roles of deliverer, judge, revealer. And now in this article we see the Angel in the roles of sustainer (with Elijah) and redeemer (with Isaiah).

Jesus With Elijah. We read about the astounding ministry of Elijah in 1 Kings 17-21 and 2 Kings 1-2. We don’t know the family background of Elijah, though we do know he was from the other side of the tracks in Gilead. He was a unique personality in Scripture… Sometimes fearful, other times fearless; sometimes weak, other times strong; sometimes discouraged, other times full of confidence; sometimes he ran from trouble, and other times he ran right into the middle of it. Because he was a loner, he often felt isolated and abandoned. We also know he enjoyed an unusual personal relationship with God. He was consistently a man of deep faith and fervent prayer. Elijah was noted for his distinctive wardrobe: a famous cloak made of fur and animal hair stitched together; and a leather loincloth, a homemade piece of underwear that no doubt raised the eyebrows of many. Elijah was a religious reformer and a miracle worker. He was a thorn in King Ahab’s side, who even called Elijah “the troublemaker of Israel.” (1 Kings 18:17). He had a flair for the dramatic and the supernatural. Elijah prayed successfully for a drought, then prayed for a rainfall three years later. He multiplied food and oil for a poverty-stricken widow, and then raised her son from the dead, the first resurrection in the Scripture. He held a divine duel between himself and 850 pagan prophets on Mt. Carmel, and he won. With God on his side, it was no contest. He was fed by ravens in the wilderness, and then by a personal visit by the Angel of the Lord. He listened to God whisper to him on Mt. Sinai, and was ushered into heaven by a chariot and horses of fire. To top it all off, we find Elijah in the Gospel 900 years later, talking with Moses and Jesus at the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor (Matt. 17). Elijah was complicated and unpolished, and James said he was “human just like us.” (James 5:16-18). Just like us? Yes, he had his human frailties like all other humans, but nonetheless he was used powerfully by God in a unique time and setting.

In 1 Kings 19, we find Elijah on the run from the evil Queen Jezebel. She was furious with the stunt Elijah pulled on Mr. Carmel. That public spectacle caused a huge revival in the worship of Yahweh, rejecting her emphasis on Baal and Asherath. And it resulted in the slaughter of 850 hand-picked pagan prophets. So Jezebel put out a bounty on Elijah’s head, dead or alive, and he ran for his life. He escaped to a wilderness, more like a barren desert. He was alone, discouraged and exhausted. He found some shade underneath a small broom tree and went fast asleep. After a while, the Angel of Yahweh woke him up to the smell of baking bread on hot stones, accompanied by a big jar of water. Elijah ate and drank and immediately went back to sleep. After some more time, the Angel of Yahweh once again woke him up and had him eat some more food. The Messenger knew Elijah was about to go on a long hike to Mt. Sinai (Horeb). So Elijah again complied with this unique Angel of the Lord, and ate the meager food provided by the Angel, which turned out to be good enough to last him till he arrived at Mt. Sinai 40 days later. So here we find Jesus in the form of a man, the Messenger of Yahweh, personally ministering to Elijah at a time of need. This reminds us of when He cooked breakfast for His disciples on the beach much later after the Resurrection. Jesus the sustainer, feeding believers and nourishing them by His own hand. This is a clear picture of the Lord providing  bread for the sustenance of life. And a powerful reminder of Jesus as the Living Bread of Life, the Manna come down from heaven.

Jesus in Isaiah. “The Angel of His Presence saved them; in His love and mercy He redeemed them.” (Isaiah 63:9).  This excerpt from Isaiah is not technically an appearance of Christ, but instead a clear reference to the unique Angel of Yahweh. The Messenger of God was clearly an appearance of Christ in the Hebrew Bible. Isaiah here is referring to an earlier time in Israel’s history, when God in His grace forgave and carried the Chosen People, even to the extent of becoming a fellow sufferer with them. The Angel of His Presence redeemed the Israelites due to His love and mercy. When the people suffered, He took it on Himself, and He suffered as well. His role as Redeemer was a part of Christ’s character, and resulted in the Cross for our salvation.

This profound Scripture hints strongly at the existence of the Trinity long before the New Testament theology came into being. In verse 8, Yahweh refers to His people as His children. He is claiming to be their Father. Then in verse 9, the Angel of His Presence, the Angel of God and the Person of Christ, is front and center. God’s Son is pictured in ways that are parallel to God Himself. And then in verse 10 we find a reference to the Holy Spirit. The people of Israel, after all that mercy demonstrated by God on the people, still rebelled and grieved God’s Holy Spirit. Isaiah 63:7-10 is an unmistakable reference to the Holy Trinity, the eternal Godhead:

“I shall make mention of the lovingkindnesses of Yahweh, the praises of the Lord, according to all that Yahweh has granted us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which He has granted them according to His compassion, and according to the multitude of His lovingkindnesses. For he said, ‘Surely, they are My people, children who will not deal falsely.’ So He became their Savior. In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His Presence saved them; In His love and in His mercy He redeemed them; and He lifted them and carried them all the days of old. But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit.”