26 And above the firmament over their heads was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like a sapphire stone; on the likeness of the throne was a likeness with the appearance of a man high above it. 27 Also from the appearance of His waist and upward I saw, as it were, the color of amber with the appearance of fire all around within it; and from the appearance of His waist and downward I saw, as it were, the appearance of fire with brightness all around. 28 Like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the brightness all around it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. So when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard a voice of One speaking. Ezekiel 1:26-28
“The ‘man’ he saw upon the throne was probably a pre-incarnate appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ” – Warren Wiersby
This verse (“the appearance of a man”) speak of the incarnation of Christ, the fact that God became a man. – J. Vernon McGee
“This figure “whose appearance resembled a man” revealed God’s holiness and prepared Ezekiel for what God was about to tell him. The figure represented Christ revealed in human form and prepared us for his message of salvation. Christ came into history in a real, human body. – Life Application Study Bible
When Jesus appears in the Old Testament it’s called a Christophany. A Christophany is a visible manifestation or appearance of Christ before His human incarnation.
But since the Bible consistently says that no one has ever seen God the Father and lived (Exodus 33:20, John 5:37; 6:46, 1 Timothy 6:15-16, 1 John 4:12), many theologians believe that all visible theophanies in the Old Testament were pre-incarnate appearances of Christ.
- Appearance to Abraham (Genesis 18)
Three men visited Abraham, and one of them was God Himself. We know he was God because the text says, “and the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre.” The other two men were angels.
- Appearance to Jacob (Genesis 32:22-32)
Jacob once wrestled with a man all night, and that man was God. He said to Jacob, “your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel for you have striven with God, and with men, and have prevailed.” Afterward, Jacob named the place Peniel and said, “for I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”
- Appearance to Joshua (Joshua 5:13-15)
A man with a sword in hand appeared to Joshua before the fall of Jericho. He identified himself as the commander of the army of the Lord. Joshua immediately fell to his face and worshipped the man. And the commander said, “take off your sandals from your feet for the place where you are standing is holy.” This man was another Christophany.
Theologians also believe every visit of “the angel of the Lord,” or “the angel of God,” was a Christophany.
In Exodus 23:20-21, God told Moses He would send an angel before him to guide him, and that God’s name was in the angel. As the name of God represents His nature, will, and character. A random angel can’t bear God’s name; only God himself can. And this angel of the Lord must have been Jesus because He said in John 17:7, “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world.”
Here are a few visits from Jesus as the angel of the Lord.
- Visit to Hagar (Genesis 16:7-14)
The angel of the Lord appeared to Hagar in the wilderness and said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” The angel of the Lord spoke with the authority of God and said he would multiply her offspring. Hagar called the angel, “You are a God of seeing,” and said, “truly here I have seen him who looks after me.”
- Visit to Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 22:11-18)
Abraham took Isaac to Mount Moriah to sacrifice him as God commanded. But when he was about to kill Isaac, the angel of the Lord appeared and told him to stop. He said, “now I know that you fear God seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son from me.” The angel spoke as if he was God.
- Visit to Jacob (Genesis 31:11-13)
The Angel of God appeared to Jacob in a dream and said, “I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me.” The God of Bethel is Yahweh (Genesis 28:13-22).
- Visit to Moses (Exodus 3:2-6)
The angel of the Lord appeared to Moses “in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush,” and then, “God called to him out of the bush.” He said, “I am the God of your Father, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac.”
It’s quite clear from these few examples that the angel of the Lord is a Christophany. Furthermore, His visits stop after the birth of Christ.
This doesn’t mean that Jesus was an angel before the incarnation. Jesus was, is, and always be God (John 8:58). The Hebrew word for angel is malak, which means a messenger. It appears 213 times in the Old Testament. It can refer to actual angels such as in Genesis 19:1, and men such as in Genesis 32:3.
Also, Christophanies do not contradict the incarnation of Christ nor the virgin birth. Jesus taking on the form of a man is not the same as becoming a man.
There are many other examples of Christophanies in the Old Testament. But some are less certain than others.
For example, many people believe the fourth man in the fire in Daniel 3:25 was a Christophany. But all we know about him is that he had the appearance of a “son of gods.” Without additional information, we can’t say for sure if he was a Christophany or an actual angel.
Melchizedek is another questionable Christophany. He appears in Genesis 14:18-20 and his name means king of righteousness, and a priest of God most High. Hebrews 7:3 says that “he is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he continues a priest forever.” As a result, many people believe Melchizedek was a Christophany. But he could have been a type of Christ.
Always let the Bible guide you to recognize a Christophany accurately. For instance, if the text says, “the Lord appeared,” or the “Lord came down,” it most likely a Christophany. Also, if a man speaks with the authority of God, identifies himself with God, or does things only God can do, He might be a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ.
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Vernon McGee, Thru The Bible with J. Vernon McGee, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1983), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “Chapter 1” and “CHAPTERS 2 AND 3”.