A gracEmail subscriber writes: “If Abraham’s three visitors in Genesis 18:1-15 were men, and one of the men was also ‘the Lord,’ wouldn’t that man have been Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, a pre-incarnation? As I said, it’s of no particular importance, just something I wondered about.”
* * *
Many people think they see an appearance of the pre-incarnate Jesus at various points in the Old Testament – Abraham’s visitor (Gen. 18:1-15), Melchizedek (Gen. 14:17-20), the captain of the Lord’s host who appeared to Joshua (Josh. 5:13-15), the fourth man in the fiery furnace (Dan. 3:24-25), and so forth. My sense of the matter now is that none of these is Jesus pre-incarnate.
Abraham’s visitor is called “the LORD,” a euphemism for Yahweh or God. Genesis portrays Melchizedek as a mortal man. The person who confronted Joshua calls himself “the captain of the armies of the LORD” would seem to be Michael the Archangel except that he accepted worship and was therefore an appearance of God himself in this form. To the pagan king, the fourth man in the furnace looked like “a son of the gods.”
To the extent that there are divine appearances in the Old Testament, I think it is appropriate to consider them manifestations of God (“theophanies”) rather than appearances of Christ (“christophanies”). “Christ” is a title God gave to Jesus. “Jesus” is the name of Mary’s miraculously-conceived son who was Immanuel–God with us. Precisely speaking, Jesus did not exist before his conception, although the Son of God who in Jesus took on humanity forever, also identified as the “Word” (Logos) and perhaps as the “Wisdom” (Sophia) of God, had always existed with God whom we call “Father” (John 1:1-4; Prov. 3:19-20). Your question is both interesting and legitimate, although it is not one to which Scripture permits a total or dogmatic answer.