Since this study is focused on the Life of Jesus as a human, we won’t be spending much time dealing with the potential Christophanies (appearances of Jesus before His incarnation) in the Old Testament. But here are some places you might look to see what Jesus was doing between Creation and His first Coming.
Fair warning, there are a variety of opinions on which of these (if any) are actual Christophanies. But there is enough evidence to convince a large number of Bible students that these might be pre-incarnate appearances of our Lord.
The Angel of the LORD
It is thought by many that the Angel of the LORD in the Old Testament is a pre-incarnate version of Jesus. One of the main reasons is that the Angel (literally Messenger) of the LORD makes claims to deity and takes credit for doing what is elsewhere ascribed to Jehovah.
It is the Angel of the LORD who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, whose presence caused even the dirt to become holy (Exodus 3:2-5).
It is the Angel of the LORD who spoke to Abraham and said, “now I know you fear God, because you have not withheld your son, your only son from me” (Genesis 22:11-12).
It is the Angel of the LORD who spoke to Hagar and said, “I will multiply your seed” (Genesis 16:9-10).
It is the Angel of the LORD who said to the Israelites, “I made you go out of Egypt, and have brought you to the land which I swore to your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you…. But you have not obeyed my voice. Why have you done this? Therefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you…” (Judges 2:1-4).
There are many other passages, but this sampling should suffice to get the point across.
The Captain of the LORD’s army
In Joshua 5, the new leader of Israel saw “a man” confronting him, sword drawn. Joshua asked, “Are you for us or our adversaries?” The reply was, “No, but as Captain of the LORD’s host [army] I have come.”
If it stopped there, one might think this is just a high-ranking angel. But it doesn’t end there.
Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and worshipped, and said to him, “What says my lord to his servant?”
So Joshua appears to worship this person, and calls himself the servant of this man, who he calls “lord” (Hebrew, Adoni). But the response from the Captain of the LORD’s army seals the deal for many:
“Take off your shoe from your foot, because the place on which you stand is holy.”
What being is so amazing that even the dirt becomes holy when He is present?
This interesting biblical character shows up once in Genesis, is mentioned in Psalms, and then some very interesting things are said about him in Hebrews.
- Melchizedek blesses Abram (better known as Abraham), and the greater always blesses the lesser (Hebrews 7:7)—thus Melchizedek was greater than Abraham (Genesis 14:18-19).
- Melchizedek is the king of Salem, which, being translated, means “King of peace” (Genesis 14:18; Hebrews 7:2).
- Melchizedek brought out bread and wine (some believe this prefigures the Lord’s Supper) (Genesis 14:18).
- Jesus was made a priest after the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 6:20; Psalm 110:4). Would Jesus’ priesthood be after a human order?
- Melchizedek was both king and priest (Hebrews 7:1).
- Melchizedek was “without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days nor end of life; but made like the Son of God; he abides a priest continually” (Hebrews 7:3). Some claim this means he didn’t get his priesthood from his ancestry—and they may be right—but that isn’t what it says.
- His priesthood was greater than the Levitical priesthood, because through Abraham, Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:9-10).
It must be noted, for the sake of showing both sides, that Hebrews 7:11 and 15 both say Jesus is “another priest” after the order of Melchizedek.
Some concluding thoughts on Christophanies
We know for certain that Jesus (as the Logos) was actively involved in Creation. We know for certain that He was born and lived a life as a human. If the above possibilities are not appearances of Jesus prior to His incarnation, then we really have no idea what He was doing for the thousands of years between Creation and Incarnation. Certainly He wasn’t sitting in heaven, twiddling His thumbs. He had to be doing something. And perhaps some of the above give us part of the answer.