Summary of this article
Jesus always existed. He was “before Abraham” (John 8:58), existed “before all things” (Col 1:17), and was “in the beginning with God” (John 1:2). Therefore, the question arises: Where do we find Jesus in the Old Testament?
Jesus was accurately prefigured in the Old Testament, for example in Daniel 9 (cf. John 5:39, 46). But the purpose of this article is to search for instances where He appeared visibly; not to discuss such predictions.
A visible or audible manifestation of God, for example in the form of blinding light or a burning bush, is called a theophany. But this article focuses on theophanies where God appeared in bodily form, to determine whether any of such appearances were actually the Son of God.
Many think of the God of the Old Testament as severe. For example, He drowned almost the entire human population through the flood. But if it can be shown that Jesus, who taught us and showed us to love our enemies, is the God of the Old Testament, then some of us will have to change our views of the God of the Old Testament.
God’s name is YHVH.
YHVH is the proper name of the God of Israel, similar to names such as Peter, John, and James. The name YHVH appears 6,668 times in the Hebrew Scriptures. However, most English translations render YHVH as “the LORD” — all capital letters. But this causes a problem, for “lord,” in normal English, is a title; it is not a name. To translate God’s name as “LORD” slightly distorts its meaning. For that reason, this article, when it quotes from the Old Testament, replaces “the LORD” with “YHVH.”
God is invisible.
“No one has seen God at any time” (John 1:18; 1 John 4:12). He is “the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God” (1 Tim 1:17; cf. 6:16). That is also logical, for He exists outside the space, time and matter of this universe. The only One who ever saw the Father is His Son (John 6:46), and He “is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15).
According to the Old Testament, God spoke “face to face” or “eye to eye” with humans. However, these are figurative statements; not literal “face to face” or “eye to eye” interactions.
God was seen.
Although God is invisible, He was seen. For example:
(1) Adam and Eve “heard the sound of YHVH God walking in the garden” and they “hid themselves from the presence of YHVH God” (Gen 3:8).
(2) Three men appeared to Abraham. He welcomed them and served them food, and “they ate” (Gen 18:8). One of the three men was YHVH (Gen 18:13, 1). In other words, YHVH looked like and ate like a human being. But then YHVH said of Abraham, “I have chosen him” (Gen 18:19). This implies that this is God speaking. Abraham also referred to Him as the “Judge of all the earth” (Gen 18:25).
(3) Jacob wrestled all night with “a man” (Gen 32:24-25), but the man said to him, “you have striven with God” (Gen 32:28). And, the next morning, Jacob said, “I have seen God face to face” (Gen 32:30). Hosea reflecting on this incident, wrote: “In his maturity he contended with God” (Hos 12:3-4).
These people saw YHVH God appearing in bodily form. Yet, the NT tells us that “no one has seen God at any time” (John 1:18). Therefore, Who appeared to them? Since Jesus existed in the form of God (Phil 2:6), was He the YHVH of the Old Testament?
Two divine beings
To solve this apparent contradiction, note that the Old Testament gives us evidence of two distinct divine beings:
(1) “God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image” (Gen 1:26; cf. 3:22; 11:6-7). According to John and Paul, God created all things through Jesus Christ (Col 1:16; John 1:3; Heb 1:2; 1 Cor 8:6). This implies that the Father and the Son were the “Us” who created Genesis 1:26.
(2) There were two distinct Beings in Zechariah’s visions, namely YHVH of hosts and the Angel of YHVH (Zech 1:11). The Angel of YHVH is also called YHVH (Zech 3:2), acts as Judge, and forgives Joshua his sins (Zech 3:1-3). In other words, He seems to be God. However, He asks YHVH of hosts for a decision about Jerusalem (Zech 1:12) and conveys a message from YHVH to Joshua (Zech 3:6-7). These things, as well as His title, “Angel of YHVH,” which means messenger of YHVH, imply that He is subordinate to YHVH of hosts.
(3) In Psalm 110, YHVH invites Adonay (lord) to sit at His right hand (Psa 110:1). However, in Psalm 110:5, YHVH sits at His right hand. This also implies that there are two who are called YHVH. As indicated by their positions, the YHVH who invites the other YHVH to sit “at My right hand” is superior to the other. [Psalm 110:5 is one of the ancient emendations.)
(4) In Malachi 3:1, YHVH of hosts says that “the Lord” – also called “the messenger (the angel) of the covenant” – “will suddenly come to His temple.” Since this statement responds to the question, “where is the God of justice?” (Mal 2:17), and since He will come “to his temple,” “the Lord” is also a divine being. “Messenger” is the same word malak that is translated “angel” in the phrase “angel of YHVH.” This implies that “the messenger of the covenant” (Mal 3:1) is the same as the angel of YHVH. As “messenger,” He is subordinate to YHVH of hosts, who is the Source of the message.
– END OF SUMMARY –
Jesus always existed. He was “before Abraham” (John 8:58), existed “before all things” (Col 1:17); “from the days of eternity” (Micah 5:2). He was “in the beginning with God” (John 1:2) and God created all things through Him (John 1:3). Before He became a human being, Jesus existed in the form of God and had equality with God (Phil 2:6). Therefore, the question arises: Where do we find Jesus in the Old Testament?
God is invisible. He “dwells in unapproachable light, whom NO MAN HAS SEEN or can see” (1 Tim 6:16-17), but was seen in the Old Testament. To solve this apparent contradiction, this article finds evidence in the Old Testament of two distinct divine beings.
Jesus was accurately prefigured in the Old Testament, for example in Daniel 9. He was also represented by many symbols and types. He said that the books of the Old Testament “testify about Me” (John 5:39), and that Moses “wrote about Me” (John 5:46). After His resurrection, He met two disciples on their way to Emmaus. ”Beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27; cf. v45; 1 Peter 1:10-12). But the purpose of this article is not to discuss such predictions or types. The purpose is to search for His visible appearances in the Old Testament.
A visible or audible manifestation of God is called a theophany. This is a combination of two Greek words; theos (god) and epiphaneia (an appearance). An appearance of Christ in Old Testament times is similarly called a Christophany. This article examines some of the appearances of God in the Old Testament to determine which ones were actually appearances of Christ.
Sometimes, God speaks without being seen. At other times, He appears in visions and dreams, or He appears as a blinding light (e.g. Acts 9:3) or in the form of fire. Jesus also appears in visions, dreams, or in other non-bodily forms. For example, in Daniel 7, Daniel saw the Son of Man (Dan 7:13 – Jesus) in a vision, appearing before “the Ancient of Days” (Dan 7:9). But this article only considers instances where God appears in a body, interacting with people or angels. It is proposed that every manifestation of God in the Old Testament in bodily form is actually an appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Is the Old Testament God severe?
Many think of the God of the Old Testament as harsh. He, for example, expelled Adam from the Garden of Eden for eating the forbidden fruit, destroyed almost the entire human population through the flood, sent plagues on ancient Egypt, instructed Israel to kill all inhabitants in Canaan and punished Israel through captivity by foreign nations.
Jesus, on the other hand, is merciful. He taught love towards enemies. He healed multitudes, held children in His arms and voluntarily gave His life to save us.
But if it can be shown that Jesus is the God of the Old Testament, then some of us will have to reconsider our views of the God of the Old Testament.
YHVH and Elohim
In this study, the words YHVH and Elohim are important.
God’s Name is YHVH.
YHVH (pronounced Yahweh or Jehovah or Yhovah) is the most common transliteration of the Hebrew name of God. It is the proper name of the God of Israel, similar to the names Peter, John, and James.
The name YHVH appears 6,668 times in the Hebrew Scriptures. Most English translations render YHVH as “the LORD” — all capital letters. But “lord,” in normal English, is not a name; it is a title. To translate God’s name as “LORD” distorts its meaning. For instance, consider the following statement:
“I am the LORD;
and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
as God Almighty, but by My name, LORD,
I did not make Myself known to them” (Exo 6:2-3).
This statement says that the LORD revealed His name to Moses. But it is not clear what His name is. However, if we replace “the LORD” with “YHVH,” then it reads,
“I am the YHVH;
and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
as God Almighty, but by My name, YHVH,
I did not make Myself known to them” (Exo 6:2-3).
Now it is clear what God’s name is: It is YHVH. As standard practice, this website uses the NASB, but, in this article, all instances of “the LORD” have been replaced with “YHVH.” For instance:
“Thus says God YHVH, Who created the heavens …
Who spread out the earth …
I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You, …
I am YHVH, that is My name‘”(Isa 42:5-8).
God’s name YHVH never appears in the New Testament.
Elohim (gods) is the plural form of el (god). False gods are also described as el or elohim, but false gods are never called YHVH. Although Elohim is plural, when referring to the true God, it is commonly translated as “God” (singular).
God is invisible.
John revealed something which might have surprised the first Jewish believers:
“No one has seen God at any time”
(John 1:18; 1 John 4:12).
“Not that anyone has seen the Father,
except the One who is from God;
He has seen the Father” (John 6:46).
Note that the title “God” is used here for the Father only, and excludes Jesus. Paul confirmed that the only God is invisible:
“The King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God” (1 Tim 1:17);
“Who alone possesses immortality and dwells in inapproachable light whom no man has seen or can see” (1 Tim 6:16).
Jesus “is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15).
God not only has never been seen; He is “invisible” (Col 1:15). He cannot be seen (1 Tim 6:16). That is also logical, for He exists outside the space, time, and matter of this universe.
These statements make a distinction between God, who is invisible, and Jesus, who is visible. For a discussion of this challenge to the divinity of Christ, see Jesus is distinct from God.
Face to face
But then, how do we explain the numerous Old Testament Scriptures that God spoke face-to-face with humans?
“YHVH used to speak to Moses face to face,
just as a man speaks to his friend” (Exo 33:11).
But still, Moses found it necessary to ask God:
“I pray You, show me Your glory!” (Exo 33:18).
To which YHVH responded,
“You cannot see My face,
for no man can see Me and live” (Exo 33:20).
Moses, therefore, did not literally see God face to face. As another example, Moses said to Israel:
“YHVH spoke to you face to face at the mountain
from the midst of the fire” (Deut 5:4).
But he also said:
“YHVH spoke to you from the midst of the fire;
you heard the sound of words,
but you saw no form—only a voice” (Deut 4:12).
“Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu,
and seventy of the elders of Israel,
and they saw the God of Israel … they saw God …
at a distance” (Exo 24:9-11).
“Face to face,” therefore, does not mean literally face to face. It must rather be understood in a sense of direct interaction.
Similarly, in Numbers 14:14, we read,
“You, YHVH, are seen eye to eye,
while Your cloud stands over them;
and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day
and in a pillar of fire by night”.
In this verse, the expression “eye to eye” means that Israel saw the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. There was no literal “eye to eye” interaction with God.
But God was seen.
The claim of the apostles, that God is invisible, would have been a surprise to the first Jewish Christians because they knew that God was seen.
Adam and Eve
“They heard the sound of YHVH God
walking in the garden in the cool of the day,
and the man and his wife
hid themselves from the presence of YHVH God” (Gen. 3:8).
It does not explicitly say that they saw Him, but that is a fair assumption.
Abraham in Genesis 18
In Genesis 18, YHVH appeared to Abraham. Genesis 18:1 serves as an introduction, and simply says:
“Now YHVH appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre,
while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day.”
Verses 2 to 8 elaborates to tell the story of how three men appeared to Abraham. He welcomed them and served them food, and “they ate” (Gen 18:8). These verses do not specifically mention YHVH, but verses 13 to 22 identify one of the three men as YHVH (Gen 18:13, 17, 19, 20, 22). This means that YHVH looked like and ate like a human being.
YHVH promised Abraham that Sarah will have a son (vv9-15 ). He also said, referring to Abraham, “I have chosen him” (Gen 18:19). This confirms that this is God speaking.
In Gen 18:22, “the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, while Abraham was still standing before YHVH.” Since “two angels came to Sodom in the evening” (Gen 19:1), “the men” in 18:22 were “two angels.”
In Gen 18:23 to 33 Abraham negotiates with YHVH about “Sodom and Gomorrah” (Gen 18:20). In this section, the writer of Genesis twice refers to the One speaking with Abraham as YHVH (Gen 18:26, 33). Once Abraham refers to Him as the “Judge of all the earth” (Gen 18:25).
Jacob wrestled all night with “a man” (Gen 32:24-25), but the following indicate that this “man” was actually God, appearing in the form of a man:
(A) Just before daybreak, the “Man” finally disabled Jacob. He told Jacob “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed” (Gen 32:28). The next morning Jacob understood that it was God Himself whom he had wrestled: “So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, ‘I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved’” (Gen 32:30).
(B) While still wrestling, Jacob asked the “Man,” “Please tell me your name.” The “Man” said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” (v29). Many years later, YHVH said to Moses, “I am YHVH; and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name, YHVH, I did not make Myself known to them” (Exo 6:2-3).
(C) Hosea 12 reflected on to this incident as follows: “In his maturity he contended with God. Yes, he wrestled with the angel and prevailed” (Hos 12:3-4). (“The angel” probably refers to the angel of YHVH, discussed below.”)
“If there is a prophet among you,
I, YHVH, shall make Myself known to him in a vision.
I shall speak with him in a dream.
Not so, with My servant Moses …
he beholds the form of YHVH.” (Num 12:6)
The “form of YHVH,” which is the form of God, is different from the form of man. The appearances of God may be divided into at least three categories:
- The form of God, and
- The form of a man.
Sometimes God is seen in visions and dreams:
Isaiah “saw the Lord sitting on a throne” (Isa 6:1), but only in vision (Isa 1:1).
Ezekiel saw “something resembling a throne … and on that which resembled a throne, high up, was a figure with the appearance of a man” (1:26), but only in “visions” (1:1).
Daniel saw “the Ancient of Days” (7:9), but only in a dream (7:1).
John saw “One sitting on the throne” (Rev. 4:2), but only “in the Spirit” (1:10). In these instances, God gave images directly to the brains of the individuals; by-passing their physical eyes.
Form of man
Visions are not seen through physical eyes but sometimes, YHVH appears in the form of a man, visible to physical eyes, for instance to Adam, to Abraham and to Isaac in the examples above.
Form of God
Sometimes, God appears visible to physical eyes in the form of God. However, according to Numbers 12:6, Moses was the only person who ever saw the form of God with His physical eyes. YHVH made it a specific point of not letting other people see any form of Him. But even Moses, “cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live” (Exo 33:20). Moses only saw a form.
Adam and Eve saw YHVH God. YHVH appeared to Abraham in the form of a man. Jacob wrestled all night with God, appearing in the form of a man. Moses saw YHVH, appearing in the form of God. Yet, the NT tells us that “no one has seen God at any time” (John 1:18). Therefore, even Moses did not see God. Who then appeared to Adam, Abraham, Isaac and Moses? Was Jesus the YHVH of the Old Testament? Jesus existed in the form of God (Phil. 2:6). Was that the form that Moses saw?
Two divine beings
To solve this apparent contradiction, that God is invisible, but was seen, we note that the Old Testament implies two distinct divine beings:
Let Us make man.
The Book of Genesis contains three passages in which “Us” and “Our” are used in reference to God, implying more than one divine being:
“God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image’” (Gen 1:26).
“YHVH God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to decide good and evil’” (Gen 3:22).
“YHVH said … ‘Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language…’” (Gen 11:6-7).
The title “God” in these verses translates Elohim, which literally means “gods” (plural).
Do the “us” refer to angels?
Some explain the plural pronouns (Us and Our) as the Deity conferring with his angels; a single God and His angelic host. However, angels do not have the power to create, took no part in man’s creation, and were therefore not part of the “Us” of Genesis 1:26.
Is the “us” a figure of speech?
Others claim that such plural pronouns for God are only a figure of speech. But what justification do we have for taking the text as symbolic? In Genesis 11:4, the men of Babel said, “let us build us a city … let us establish a name.” If “us” in this verse was literal, why would YHVH’s invitation, just three verses later, “let Us go down,” be symbolic? As a general rule of interpretation, when a word or term is used more than once by the same writer in the same context, it should be interpreted in a parallel manner.
Is the “us” a plural of majesty?
A third theory is that the “Us” passages of Genesis, and the use of the plural Elohim for God, are examples of the plural of majesty; a royal style of speech. It is argued that the plural is used for the singular to show honor to God. However, one of the keys to Bible interpretation is that we must allow the New Testament to interpret the Older Testament:
Jesus Created: John and Paul made it clear that God created all things through Jesus Christ (Col 1:16; John 1:3; Heb 1:2; 1 Cor 8:6). This is strong evidence that the Father and the Son were the “Us” who created Genesis 1:26.
Jesus spoke of God and Himself as “Us”: In John 17 Jesus seems to explain the “Us” of Genesis. Here Christ prays for the Father to bless His disciples; “that they also may be in Us” (John 17:20-21). If Jesus was not who He said He was, this would have been a most arrogant statement; to talk about the Father and Himself as “Us.”
When God said, “Let Us make man in Our image” (Gen 1:26), He included the One who later became the man Jesus.
This conclusion is supported by Zechariah’s visions. In these visions, we find two distinct Beings, namely:
YHVH of hosts: To simplify the narrative below, He is referred to as YHVH.
The Angel of YHVH: The word “angel” translates the Hebrew word malak, which means “messenger.”
In Zechariah’s visions, the Angel of YHVH is also called YHVH, and He acts as Judge, but He is subordinate to YHVH:
Zechariah “saw at night, and behold,
a man was riding on a red horse …
with red, sorrel and white horses behind him” (Zech 1:8).
This “man” is identified as the Angel of YHVH in Zech 1:11. The patrol reports back to Him, saying, “we have patrolled the earth, and behold, all the earth is peaceful and quiet” (Zech 1:11). The Angel of YHVH, therefore, is the captain of this supernatural patrol.
He then asks YHVH:
“How long will You have no compassion for Jerusalem …
with which You have been indignant these seventy years”
This implies that the Angel of YHVH is subordinate to YHVH. YHVH is the One that makes the decisions.
In another vision, Zechariah saw “Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of YHVH, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him” (Zech 3:1). Now it becomes clear that the angel of YHVH is no normal angel, for He is called “YHVH” (Zech 3:2), acts as Judge, rebukes Satan and forgives Joshua his sins (Zech 3:2-3).
The angel of YHVH then conveys a message from YHVH to Joshua (Zech 3:6-7). This confirms the distinction between the Angel and YHVH. It also confirms that, although the Angel is called YHVH, He is subordinate to YHVH. This is also indicated by His title; Angel (Messenger) of YHVH.
Conclusion: These visions confirm that there are two distinct divine beings. Zechariah’s visions identify them as the angel of YHVH and as YHVH of hosts, with the angel of YHVH subordinate to YHVH of hosts.
It will later be argued that the Angel of YHVH is the One who John called “the Word” (John 1:1) or “the Word of God” (Rev 19:13).
Psalm 110:1 reads:
“YHVH says to my Lord (Adonay):
‘Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies
a footstool for Your feet.’”
Psalm 110:5 continues:
“The Lord (Adonay) is at Your right hand;
He will shatter kings in the day of His wrath.”
However, verse 5, as originally written, did not read Adonay. The monotheistic scribes anciently altered the word from YHVH to Adonay. Appendix 32 of the Companion Bible lists the 134 passages where the scribes altered YHVH to Adonay. This includes Psalm 110:5. (See also Hebrew Roots) They probably did this probably because:
(1) It does not seem right that there are two called YHVH.
(2) The relevant individual was called Adonay (Lord) in verse 1.
Strangely enough, even although modern translators know that the text was changed, they still keep to the revised text.
Conclusion: In Psalm 110, YHVH said to Adonay (lord) to sit at His right hand (Psa 110:1). However, in Psalm 110:5, YHVH sits at His right hand. This implies that there are two that are called YHVH. As indicated by His position, the YHVH sitting “at My right hand” is subordinate to the other.
In Malachi 3:1, YHVH of hosts says:
“The Lord (Hebrew Adon), whom you seek,
will suddenly come to His temple;
and the messenger of the covenant … He is coming.”
This “Lord” is also YHVH, for the following reasons:
(1) The title “the Lord” (with the definite article) occurs eight times in the Old Testament. The current verse is the only place where “the Lord” is not followed by the name YHVH (cf. Exo 23:17; 34:23; Isa 1:24; 3:1; 10:16; 10:33; 19:4).
(2) He comes “to his temple.” But it is God’s temple.
(3) Malachi 3:1, with its reference to “the Lord,” is a response to this question in the previous verse, where the people asked, “Where is the God of justice?” (Mal 2:17).
(A) There are two divine beings, namely YHVH of hosts and the Adon who “will suddenly come to His temple.“
(B) “Messenger” (Mal 3:1) is the same word malak that is translated “angel” in the phrase “angel of YHVH.” It is therefore proposed that “the messenger of the covenant” (Mal 3:1) is the angel of YHVH.
(C) Since He is called a “messenger,” He is not the source of the message, but subordinate to YHVH of hosts.
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