Preaching Theophanies

Theophanies of Christ recognize that the Triune God – Father, Son, and Spirit – is the God of both the Old and New Testaments. Unfortunately, many are quickly inclined to see the Father as the God of the Old Testament and the Son as the predominate Face of God in the New Testament. In effect, we set God up against Himself, understanding God to be severe in the Old and gentle in the New. The former becomes the persona of the Father and the latter the persona of the Son. Of course all of this, though common, is terrible theology. In actuality, Jesus of Nazareth is the Incarnate Son of God who existed eternally as God the Son before Mary’s conception of Him by the Holy Spirit. And this is the point: Jesus is the eternal pre-Incarnate LORD of the Old Testament. This is not to say that the Father and the Spirit are not the LORD of the Old Testament, for God is One. Nevertheless, we can embrace that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Great I AM of Old Testament Scripture. Sometimes the Scriptures refer to the Triune God as LORD and sometimes they refer directly to the Son as LORD. As Clowney (Preaching Christ in All of Scripture, 12) writes:

Most of the designations of God in the Old Testament refer to the living God with no distinction of the persons of the Trinity. But the Second Person of the Trinity appears as the ‘Lord’ in many passages. John’s Gospel shows that this is the case when John quotesIsaiah 6:10 and adds, “These things said Isaiah, because he saw his glory; and he spake of him” (John 12:41, ASV). Since the quotation is from Isaiah’s vision of God’s glory in the temple, it is clear that John views that glory of the Lord enthroned as the glory of Christ, the Logos.

Theophanies of Christ enable us to see and hear that Christ was and is actually present in the Old Testament. He is not merely typologically present. Hanson (Jesus Christ in the Old Testament, 172) makes this point:

The central affirmation [of the New Testament writers] is that the pre-existent Jesus was present in much of Old Testament history, and that therefore it is not a question of tracing types in the Old Testament for New Testament events, but rather of tracing the activity of the same Jesus in the old and new dispensations.

There is nothing wrong with a good typology, as will be discussed further below, but Hanson reminds us that there are more ways to see and preach Christ in the Old Testament than simply relying on typology.

Preaching theophanies of Christ requires the preacher to identify the LORD of the Old Testament with the pre-Incarnate Lord Jesus Christ. For example, when the LORD spoke to Moses from the bush in Exodus 3, the pre-Incarnate Jesus was speaking. When the LORD delivered Israel from slavery in Exodus 12-14, the pre-Incarnate Jesus was their Deliverer. When the LORD spoke through His prophets, the pre-Incarnate Jesus was declaring His will (1 Peter 1:10-12). When the people of Israel worshipped the LORD, they were worshipping the pre-Incarnate Jesus (2 Timothy 2:3). Even more amazingly, the pre-Incarnate Jesus makes direct explicit appearances in Old Testament history (Clowney, Preaching Christ in All of Scripture, 12-13):

The Angel of the Lord’s presence did reveal the mystery of the One who could be both distinguished from God and identified with him. When the Commander of the Army of the Lord confronted Joshua in front of Jericho with a drawn sword, he told him to take off his sandals, because he was on holy ground. The Commander revealed himself to Joshua as the Lord himself (Josh. 5:13-6:5). The Lord God had given that same warning when he called to Moses from the flaming bush. The Angel of the Lord spoke to Moses from the bush, but identified himself as I AM, the God of the fathers. This is a well-established pattern in the theophanies of the Old Testament. The Angel was, in fact, God the Son, the Lord. He is the Angel of God’s presence who spoke with Abraham (Gen. 18:1-2, 22, 23), who wrestled with Jacob (Gen. 32), who went before Israel (Ex. 23:20), whom Moses desired to know (Ex. 33:12-13), and who appeared to Manoah to announce the birth of Samson (Judges 13). The Angel speaks as Lord, bears the name of God, and reveals the glory of God (Ex. 23:21). Glimpsing his face in the early dawn, Jacob says he has seen the face of God (Gen. 32:30).

Even in the pages of the Old Testament we see clear indications that God is a Trinity. In all of these examples God is both a unity and a plurality. The Incarnation helps us to see this profound truth with greater clarity, but it can and should be preached from the fullness of our Scriptures.

Theophanies of Christ recognize that the God of both Old and New Testaments is the Triune God. The pre-Incarnate Jesus has always been the Second Person of the Trinity and therefore, when God speaks and acts in the Old Testament, there is Jesus. Preachers would do well to help their congregations hear the voice of Christ in the voice of God in the Old Testament. More than that, there are instances where the presence of Christ is not just implicit, but rather is directly explicit. These are wonderful rare occasions to teach Christological Trinitarian theology from the pages of the Old Testament.

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