Trinity Series- Part 2- Jesus in the Old Testament

Jesus in the Beginning

In the first post of this Trinity series, I briefly explored some key words in Genesis 1. Specifically, I discussed the plurality of the word “Elohim” mentioned in v. 1 and the use of the plural pronouns “Us” and “Our” in v. 26, the latter leading to a credible position that there is a Trinity: God in three distinct yet unified persons. But we cannot forget that in between vv. 1-26 is the miraculous and wondrous work of creation. God spoke and it was so! Take a moment and think about everything you’ve seen, heard, touched, tasted, and smelled. It still boggles my mind that new species are being discovered every year (possibly every day!). Also, think about yourself and how complex you are in mind, body, and spirit. All of this because God spoke.

But the truth of creation gets even more awesome. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, who died for our sins to give us life, was there:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”[1]            ~ John 1:1-5 (NASB)

The idea of how the Trinity works is wrapped up in v. 1. The Word was with God and the Word was God. These bold words may seem small, but they have significant meaning. To be with someone implies that there are at least two of you. But then to say you are someone other than yourself transforms separation into unity. Ultimately, we can conclude that God the Father and Jesus, God the Son, are distinct but unified Persons (I will discuss the Holy Spirit in a future post). Additionally, not only is Jesus described as being God, but John declares that He played an active role in creation. Along with John’s gospel, the beginning of Hebrews also indicates Jesus’ role in creation, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world” (Heb. 1:1-2). In discussion of other names of God which appear in plural form, Robert Baker Girdlestone remarks that “it is worthy of notice that in the well-known passage in Ecclesiastes (12:1) the Hebrew runs thus, ‘Remember now thy Creators in the days of thy youth.’”[2]

John 1:1-5 and subsequent verses in John 1 leave no room for doubt that “the Word” is Jesus. John 1:9-10 refers to Jesus as the true Light: “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.” John (known as Jesus’ beloved disciple) also uses “the Word” again in v. 14, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Furthermore, John 1:29-30 recounts the day John the Baptist baptized Jesus:

The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’”

The phrase “for He existed before me” is significant because in the birth narratives of John the Baptist and Jesus, John is physically born first (Luke 1:36). Therefore, John the Baptist was referring to a different kind of existence: an eternal one. In John 8:53-58, Jesus Himself alludes to His eternal nature when speaking to the Jews:

53 ‘Surely You are not greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets died too; whom do You make Yourself out to be?’ 54 Jesus answered, ‘If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God’; 55 and you have not come to know Him, but I know Him; and if I say that I do not know Him, I will be a liar like you, but I do know Him and keep His word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.’ 57 So the Jews said to Him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?’ 58Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.’”[3]

Every time I read this passage I feel a sense of awe at Jesus’ declaration. R.C. Sproul presents a thought-provoking argument for the meaning behind “I am”: “In John’s gospel, Jesus makes a number of ‘I am’ statements: ‘I am the bread of life’ (6:48), ‘I am the door’ (10:7), ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life’ (14:6), and others. In each of these statements, the wording in the Greek New Testament for ‘I am’ is ego eimi. These Greek words also happen to be the words with which the essential name of God, Yahweh, is translated from the Hebrew. Jesus, then, by using this construction for Himself, is equating Himself with God.”[4]

With all the evidence that declares that Jesus existed with God and was God at the beginning of all things, and everything was created through Him, why do we only talk about Him as if He first showed up at the virgin birth? Does He show up elsewhere in Scripture outside of prophecy?

No One Has Seen God

Before we can answer that question, there is another important topic to discuss: the declaration that no one has seen God. Well, the Father that is. But why is this important? Because there are many passages that seem to say that so-and-so saw the face of God, which we usually interpret to mean God the Father. Yet, there are other passages which declare that no one has seen God. It all seems strange, but have no fear! Since Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16), and therefore NOT contradictory, we only have to do some biblical research and put the puzzle pieces together.

First, let’s examine two Old Testament passages: Exodus 33:9-11; 17-23 and Judges 13.

After the Golden Calf debauchery in Exodus 32, the LORD becomes quite angry with Israel. Exodus 33 illustrates His anger and Moses’ intercession on Israel’s behalf. Verses 9-11 offer context and insight into Moses and God’s relationship,

Whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent; and the Lord would speak with Moses. 10 When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would arise and worship, each at the entrance of his tent. 11 Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses returned to the camp, his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.”

If we had no other context for v. 11, we might assume that it is possible to see the Father’s face. However, the LORD Himself provides clarification in vv. 17-23 after Moses pleads for Israel:

17 The Lord said to Moses, ‘I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name.’ 18 Then Moses said, ‘I pray You, show me Your glory!’ 19 And He said, ‘I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.’ 20 But He said, ‘You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!’ 21 Then the Lord said, ‘Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; 22 and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.’”

Based on these verses, it seems reasonable that v. 11 has another meaning, possibly that the LORD speaks with familiarity to Moses as a man speaks to his friend. As Scripture indicates, very few people had the same intimacy with God as Moses did.

Let’s look at our second passage. In Judges 13, the angel of the LORD appears to Manoah’s wife, telling her she will have a son. The woman describes the angel of the LORD in v.6,

“A man of God came to me and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome. And I did not ask him where he came from, nor did he tell me his name.”

Manoah prays for the man of God to appear to them again, and the LORD answers his request. Manoah says in v. 11, “‘Are you the man who spoke to the woman?’ And he said, ‘I am.’” He then wishes to prepare a young goat for the angel of the LORD, but the angel of the LORD advises Manoah to prepare a burnt offering to the LORD instead “For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of the LORD” (v. 16). Verses 17-23 shed light on who the angel of the LORD is and how the people understood His significance:

17 Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, ‘What is your name, so that when your words come to pass, we may honor you?’ 18 But the angel of the Lord said to him, ‘Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?’ 19 So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering and offered it on the rock to the Lord, and He performed wonders while Manoah and his wife looked on. 20 For it came about when the flame went up from the altar toward heaven, that the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame of the altar. When Manoah and his wife saw this, they fell on their faces to the ground. 21 Now the angel of the Lord did not appear to Manoah or his wife again. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the Lord22 So Manoah said to his wife, “We will surely die, for we have seen God.” 23 But his wife said to him, “If the Lord had desired to kill us, He would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering from our hands, nor would He have shown us all these things, nor would He have let us hear things like this at this time.”

This is one of many passages where the angel of the LORD physically appears to people, and there seems to be clear face-to-face interaction. It’s not until a miraculous sign occurs that the people realize that they have spoken with the angel of the LORD. Once they realize it, they declare that they have seen God. But how can this be?

Let’s look at some New Testament passages. John 1:18 (and reiterated in 1 John 4:12 by the same author) blatantly declares, “No one has seen God at any timethe only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” Jesus Himself proclaims the same truth in John 6:45-46, “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father.” The connection in both of these passages is that no one has seen the Father—a more specific term than “God”— except the Son. If we know that Jesus existed when the earth was created and that there are references in Scripture to people claiming to see God, then could it be that people were actually seeing and interacting with the Son of God in some cases?

It’s time to put the puzzle pieces together that we have gathered so far:

First, based on information from the introductory post, we know that there is a Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We, as humans created in the image of God, are representatives of how the Trinity functions since we are body (physical like the Son), soul (which is spirit like the Father), and spirit (also spirit like the Holy Spirit).

Second, based on John 1:1 and other passages discussed in this post, we know that Jesus was with God in the beginning and played a role in creation. This further solidifies Trinitarian ideas.

Third, based on how we were created and our knowledge that Jesus came as a physical being, we know that Jesus is physical whereas the Father and the Holy Spirit are spiritual.

Fourth, based on OT and NT passages discussed in this post, we know from the Father and Jesus’ own mouths that no one has seen God. Jesus clarifies that no one has seen the Father. We also know that Jesus is God based on John 1:1 (and other passages- some to be discussed in future posts), and that even though no one has seen the Father, they have seen the Son.

Therefore, because people have seen Jesus face to face, and He has the authority of God (since He is God), it is reasonable to suggest that He is the angel of the LORD in the OT Scriptures and is sometimes depicted as the LORD (e.g., Gen. 18) when speaking to someone (like Abraham). This would explain why people hold the angel of the LORD with reverence and fear Him once they understand who He is, yet at the same time, they do not die because they are not looking upon the Father but the Son. This further demonstrates God’s love for us that even after witnessing all the wickedness humanity has wreaked on the earth, He still came to live among us and suffer as we suffer for the sake of our eternal fate.

 What Next?

All of this information is surely a lot to compute, and there’s so much more to discuss. If you are interested in this topic, I highly encourage you to go on a Bible search site, like biblegateway.com, and research “angel of the LORD.” Read those passages and consider that Jesus is the one intervening on the Father’s behalf. I plan to expound upon some of those passages in upcoming posts to make the aforementioned points more clear. As mentioned in my introductory post, please feel free to leave comments or questions. I would love to hear from you!

Also, to all those who are fathers or soon-to-be fathers, have a Happy Father’s Day!

 

©Lauren Heiligenthal

 

Footnotes

[1] Bold print added for emphasis.

[2] Robert Baker Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament: Their Bearing on Christian Doctrine. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1998), 22–23. Bold print added for emphasis.

[3] Any italicized words in Scripture passages are from the NASB translation. These are words that are inserted for clarification and are not part of the original text. I add the bold print to emphasize my points in this post.

[4] R. C. Sproul, What Is the Trinity? , vol. 10, The Crucial Questions Series (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2011), 22.

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