The Face of Christ in the Hebrew Bible

The Face of Christ in the Hebrew Bible

The Face of Christ in the Hebrew Bible. 

There is a fascinating forecast of the coming Messiah, breaking through the dimness with amazing consistency, at intervals from Genesis to Malachi, Abraham and Moses, the slave girl of Hagar, the impoverished farmer Gideon, even the humble parents of Samson, had seen and talked with Him centuries before the herald angels proclaimed His birth in Bethlehem.” (Cambridge Bible).

Jesus has been the face of God from eternity, even from before His incarnation. There were many times in the Old Testament when God appeared in bodily form as a man. But can Yahweh be seen that way? Can one visibly witness a sighting of God face-to-face? There are a couple of reason why this contradicts Scripture:

  • God is a Spirit (John 4:24). One can’t see a Spirit. A Spirit is formless, shapeless, and basically invisible. The Spirit is more like a wind and can’t be encountered visibly;
  • We cannot actually see God and survive the experience (Exodus 33;20; John 1:18). God is a consuming fire of purity and light and unimaginable substance. God burns too hot for personal human experience.

So when people in the Old Testament state that they have seen God, what have they literally seen? Early Church theologians, and most Biblical scholars since, have believed that when God is in visible form, the truth is that Christ has made an appearance. Every physical appearance of God is a revelation of Jesus Christ in His pre-incarnate form. There is a particular character who flits in and out of the Hebrew Bible, the Angel of Yahweh also known as the Angel of God, the Angel of the LORD, the Messenger of Yahweh, the Messenger of the Covenant, or the Angel of His Presence. It is widely accepted in Biblical scholarship that this mysterious Angel is none other than the bodily appearance of Jesus Christ. When Biblical characters in the Hebrew Bible reported that they had seen God, they had been right… They had seen the face of Christ. The Deity of Jesus is clearly portrayed in His role of Angelic Messenger, God’s special representative that speaks God’s mind and performs His will. “The Angel of the Lord is the visible Lord God of the Old Testament, as Jesus Christ was of the New Testament.” (Amplified Bible notes).

When is it safe to say we might assume that Christ made an appearance in the Hebrew Bible, that an incident involved the Angel of Yahweh, the Person of Jesus, and not just any old angel? There are several signs that point to the presence of Jesus:

  • Did the Angel do or say anything that is normally said or done by God?
  • Did the persons involved claim that they had seen God?
  • Was there a response of worship on the part of the witnesses?
  • Was there anything miraculous in the appearance?
  • Were there any traits of God demonstrated?

That the Angel of Yahweh is an uncreated angel, distinguished from other angels, and in many places identified with the Lord God is undeniable. On the other hand there are passages in which He seems to be distinguished from God the Father. The simplest way of reconciling these two classes is to adopt the old view that this Angel is Christ, the second Person of the Godhead, even at that early period appearing as the revealer of the Father.” (Lange’s Commentary).

Here is a list of the exciting appearances of Jesus in the Old Testament, or Christophanies as they are called. Note the qualities of Jesus that are displayed in the various contexts. Jesus has many roles in the Hebrew Bible: Deliverer, Judge, Sustainer, Redeemer, Revealer. This incomparable Messenger from heaven, this Angel of Yahweh, is God in the form of God’s Son before His incarnation.

(1.)  With Hagar, in Genesis 16, as she was abandoned and on the run from an obstinate Sarai;

(2.)  With Abraham, in Genesis 18, when the Lord appeared in bodily form to him by the Oaks of Mamre;

(3.)  With Isaac, in Genesis 22, when he was tied to the altar and about to be sacrificed by Abraham;

(4.)  With Jacob, in Genesis 32, when wrestling with the Angel and he saw the face of God;

(5.)  With Moses, on a number of occasions: in Exodus 3 when he talked with Him at the burning bush; in Exodus 14 when the Israelites were saved at the Red Sea; in Exodus 23 at Mount Sinai;

(6.)  With Balaam, in Numbers 22, when his donkey started engaging in conversation with him;

(7.)  With Joshua, in Joshua 5, when he was confronted by the Captain and he was on holy ground;

(8.)  With Gideon, in Judges 6, when he was given his special calling and assignment;

(9.)  With Samson’s parents, in Judges 13, when they received a heavenly birth announcement;

(10.)  With Elijah, in 1 Kings 19, when he was fed and rested on the run from Jezebel in the wilderness;

(11.)  With Isaiah, in Isaiah 63:9, when he referred to someone known to him, “the Angel of His Presence.”

(12.)  With Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in Daniel 3, as they were surviving in the fiery furnace;

(13.)  With Daniel, in Daniel 10, when he was visited by God after fasting for three weeks;

(14.)  With David, in Psalm 34, when he referred to “the Angel of Yahweh encamping all around those who fear Him” (Ps. 34:7); and also in 1 Chronicles 21:16, when on the threshing floor after sinfully taking a census;