Finding Jesus in the Old Testament

May 9, 2016

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Looking for Jesus in the Hebrew Scriptures is an interesting and rewarding study. The saying, “In the Old Testament concealed, in the New Testament revealed,” hints at the fact that a student of the Scriptures is going to have to dig a bit if they want to see Jesus in the Old Testament. This article will focus on a few of the appearances of Jesus found in the Hebrew Scriptures.

One of the first places where the reader can look for a possible sighting of Jesus is in Genesis 14:18: “And Melchizadek, the king of Salem and a priest of God Most High, brought Abraham some bread and wine.” Melchizadek then goes on to speak a blessing over Abraham. For his part, Abraham gave Melchizadek a tenth of the spoil he had recovered in battle.

Melchizadek is a very enigmatic figure. These three verses in Genesis are his only appearance in the Old Testament. It is in the New Testament where the idea of Melchizadek being an appearance of Christ is first mentioned. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews spends over a chapter arguing that Melchizadek was, in fact, Jesus. Of Melchizadek, the writer says, “There is no record of his father or mother or any of his ancestors – no beginning or end to his life. He remains a priest forever, resembling the Son of God.” (Hebrews 7:3) The bread and wine that Melchizadek gives to Abraham have clear New Covenant overtones. The fact that Abraham gave him a tenth, a tithe, of his spoils also seems to indicate that Melchizadek was no ordinary man.

Abraham later had another visitation from God in human form. “He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground.” (Genesis 18:2) When this story opens, Abraham is likely just extending hospitality to three strangers. During their interaction, however, it becomes clear that these are not three men. They are two angels and God himself in human form. This is likely another preincarnate appearance of Christ.

As Abraham provides a meal for them, God and Abraham talk about the promises that God had made to Abraham and reiterates the fact that he and Sarah would have a baby, despite their old age. God also discusses with Abraham his intention to destroy the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their sin. This is a very interesting conversation in which Abraham intercedes for these cities. God concedes not to destroy them if ten righteous people can be found in them. After this conversation, God/Jesus apparently leaves and the two angels go to Sodom to see if the city can be saved.

A third appearance of Jesus in the Hebrew Scriptures is in the book of Joshua. After the death of Moses, Joshua was appointed the leader of the Hebrew people. As he led them into the Promised Land, they came up against the fortified city of Jericho. While preparing for battle, Joshua saw a man standing in front of him, holding a sword. Joshua asked, “Are you friend or foe?” (Joshua 5:13)

The man’s answer showed him to be more than he appeared at first glance. “Neither one,” he replied. “I am the commander of the Lord’s army.” (Joshua 5:14) At this, Joshua fell on his face in worship and immediately placed himself at this commander’s disposal. The fact that the commander of the Lord’s army accepts Joshua’s worship indicates that this is much more than an angelic appearance. This is the preincarnate Jesus reminding Joshua Who is actually in charge.

A last mention of Jesus in the Old Testament that will be mentioned is found in Daniel. Three young men who were taken to Babylon from Israel during the exile were given a difficult choice. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were ordered by King Nebuchadnezzar to worship a large idol that he had erected. When they refused, the king had them bound and physically thrown into a blazing furnace. The furnace was so hot that it killed the soldiers who performed this task.

Nebuchadnezzar had been furious at the defiance of these young men, and he watched their execution. After they were thrown into the fire, however, the king jumped to his feet and shouted, “Look! I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a son of the gods!” (Daniel 3:25) The king then yelled into the furnace for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to come out. When they did, the crowd noticed that the fire had not touched them. Their clothes were not burned and they did not even smell like smoke.

Nebuchadnezzar was suitably impressed and praised the God of the three men. He said, “He sent his angel to rescue his servants who trusted in him. They defied the king’s command and were willing to die rather than serve or worship any god except their own.” (Daniel 3:28)

Was this Jesus or one of His angels? That is a difficult question to answer. The case could be argued for either one. In one sense, it really does not even matter. Jesus made several appearances in the Old Testament. He also sent his angels to minister on his behalf. The writer to the Hebrews said that “angels are only servants – spirits sent to care for people who will inherit salvation.” (Hebrews 1:14) Jesus’ angels minister in his name and with his authority.

Can you think of any other appearances of Jesus in the Old Testament?

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