In this post, I am going to revisit the Old Testament (OT) texts that speak of Jehovah God visibly appearing to the OT saints in order to show that this was none other than the Lord Jesus Christ since he is the One who reveals the Father to mankind.
The God Whom Abraham and Isaiah Saw
The God-breathed Scriptures testify that Jehovah appeared visibly to Abraham:
“The LORD appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land.’ So he built an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.” Genesis 12:7
“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, ‘I am Almighty God. Walk before Me and be blameless.’… Then He stopped talking with Abraham, and God went up from him.” Genesis 17:1, 22
“Then God spoke to Moses, and said to him, “I am the LORD, and I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by My name, The LORD I was not known to them.’” Exodus 6:2-3
“He said, ‘Brothers and fathers, listen! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran,” Acts 7:2
These same writings proclaim that Jehovah also showed himself to Isaiah:
“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphim. Each one had six wings. With two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. One cried to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.’ The posts of the door moved at the voice of him who cried, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! For I am undone because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips. For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of Hosts.’… Also I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, ‘Here am I. Send me.’ He said, “Go, and tell this people: “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive. Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn and be healed.”’” Isaiah 6:1-5, 8-10
And yet according to the inspired NT writings, God has never been seen at any time apart from the revelation of the Son. I.e., a person cannot see God and know him as he truly is apart from and unless the Son makes God known to an individual:
“No one has seen God AT ANY TIME. The only Son (ho monogenes hyios), who is at the Father’s side, has made Him known.” John 1:18
Note the various renderings of this text:
“No one has EVER seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God (monogenes theos) and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” New International Version (NIV)
“No one has EVER seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” English Standard Version (ESV)
The following verses make the same point:
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father.” John 6:44-46
“All things are delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son, except the Father. And no one knows the Father, except the Son and he to whom the Son will reveal Him.” Matthew 11:27 – Cf. Luke 10:22
Therefore, since no one can see God apart from the Son making him known this means that when Abraham and Isaiah saw Jehovah God, they were actually seeing the Lord Jesus Christ in his prehuman existence.(1)
In fact, this is precisely what John’s Gospel states!
For instance, Christ told the Jews that they were not truly the children of Abraham because they sought to kill him, something that the patriarch did not try to do:
“‘I know that you are Abraham’s seed. But you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. I am telling what I have seen with My Father, and you are doing what you have seen with your father.’ They answered Him, ‘Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this. You are doing the works of your father.’ Then they said to Him, ‘We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father: God.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I came from God and proceeded into the world. I did not come of My own authority, but He sent Me.’” John 8:37-42
The implication of our Lord’s words is that he and Abraham saw one another and that the latter’s reaction upon seeing the Lord wasn’t one of hatred or hostility, unlike the Jews with whom Jesus was addressing. Christ is obviously speaking of his prehuman existence, to the time before he became a man, a point brought out from his claiming to have come forth from God to enter into the world in order to reveal the things he had seen and heard from the Father.
That Jesus is claiming to have actually met Abraham is made explicitly clear by what he goes on to say to these same Jews:
“‘Truly, truly I say to you, if anyone keeps My word, he shall never see death.’ Then the Jews said to Him, ‘Now we know that You have a demon. Abraham and the prophets died, and You say, “If a man keeps My word, he shall never taste death.” Are You greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets are dead! Who do You make Yourself out to be?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing. It is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say that He is your God. Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him. If I say, “I do not know Him,” I shall be a liar like you. But I know Him and keep His word. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day. He saw it and was glad.’ Then the Jews said to Him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old. Have You seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was born, I AM.’ Then they took up stones to throw at Him. But Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple. Going through their midst, He passed by.” John 8:51-59
Unlike the Jews who wanted to kill him, Abraham rejoiced when he saw Christ. The Lord then goes on to explain how he could have possibly seen Abraham in light of the fact that the latter had been dead for virtually two thousand years and Jesus didn’t even look like he was even fifty years old.
Christ’s answer is, unlike Abraham who came into being, he simply is, meaning eternal and timeless, and therefore has always existed, a point made explicit by the following translations:
a John 8:58 I.e. I Am the One who is—the Lord, Heb Yahweh.
“Jesus answered, ‘I tell you for certain that even before Abraham was, I was, and I am.’” Contemporary English Version (CEV)
“Jesus said to them, ‘For sure, I tell you, before Abraham was born, I was and am and always will be!’” New Life Version (NLV)
Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I am![a]”
“Jesus answered, `I tell you the truth. I already was before Abraham was born.’” Worldwide English New Testament (WE)
This simply confirms that the God whom Abraham saw, the God who spoke with him, was none other than the Lord Jesus in his prehuman existence.
Abraham wasn’t the only OT saint to have seen the prehuman Christ:
“Though HE had done so many signs before them, yet they did not believe in HIM. This fulfilled the word spoken by Isaiah the prophet: ‘Lord, who has believed our report, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ Therefore they could not believe. For Isaiah said again: ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes and perceive with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ Isaiah said this when he saw HIS glory and spoke of Him.” John 12:37-41
John quotes Isaiah 6:10 to show that this was the time when Isaiah beheld the glory of Christ when the prophet saw Jehovah seated on a throne, a point made emphatically clear by the following translations and versions:
“Isaiah was referring to Jesus when he made this prediction, for he had seen a vision of the Messiah’s glory.” Living Bible (TLB)
“Isaiah said these things because he saw Christ’s glory and spoke of him.” MOUNCE
“Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.” NIV
“Isaiah said this because he had seen Yeshua’s glory and had spoken about him.” Names of God Bible (NOG)
“This is what Isaiah said when he saw the shining-greatness of Jesus and spoke of Him.” New Life Version (NLV)
“Isaiah was referring to Jesus when he said this, because he saw the future and spoke of the Messiah’s glory.” New Living Translation (NLT)
- Isaiah’s vision in the Temple, Is. 6:4, interpreted as a prophetic vision of Christ’s glory. The Jerusalem Bible (JB, p. 139 http://mullumbimbycatholic.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Jerusalem_Bible_Readers_Edition.pdf)
tn Grk “his”; the referent (Christ) has been specified in the translation for clarity. The referent supplied here is “Christ” rather than “Jesus” because it involves what Isaiah saw. It is clear that the author presents Isaiah AS HAVING SEEN THE PREINCARNATE GLORY OF CHRIST, which was the very revelation of the Father (see John 1:18; John 14:9).
sn Because he saw Christ’s glory. The glory which Isaiah saw in Isa 6:3 was the glory of Yahweh (typically rendered as “Lord” in the OT). Here John speaks of the prophet seeing the glory of Christ since in the next clause and spoke about him, “him” can hardly refer to Yahweh, but must refer to Christ. On the basis of statements like 1:14 in the prologue, the author probably put no great distinction between the two. Since the author presents Jesus as fully God (cf. John 1:1), it presents no problem to him to take words originally spoken by Isaiah of Yahweh himself and apply them to Jesus. New English Translation (NET https://netbible.org/bible/John+12; capital and underline emphasis mine)
Ver. 41. “This did Isaiah say, when he saw his glory and spoke of him.” John justifies in this verse the application which he has just made to Jesus Christ of the vision of Is. vi. The Adonai whom Isaiah beheld at that moment was the divine being who is incarnated in Jesus. Herein also John and Paul meet together; comp. 1 Cor. x. 4, where Paul calls the one who guided Israel from the midst of the cloud Christ. Some interpreters have tried to refer the pronoun autou, of him, not to Christ, but to God. But the last words: and spoke of him, would be useless in this sense and this remark would be aimless in the context. The Alexandrian reading, “because he saw,” instead of “when he saw him,” is adopted by Tischendorf, Weiss, Keil, etc. But it does not appear to me acceptable. Its only reasonable sense would be: “because he really saw his glory and spoke of Him so long beforehand (a thing which seems impossible).” But this reflection would be very coldly apologetic and quite useless for readers who were accustomed to hear the prophecies quoted. It is much more easy to understand how the conjunction hote, which is quite rarely used, may have been replaced by hoti, which appears in every line, than how the reverse could have taken place. The ancient Latin and Syriac versions are agreed in supporting the received text. The sense of the latter is simple and perfectly suitable. “It was of Christ, who manifested Himself to him as Adonai, that Isaiah spoke when he uttered such words.” John proves that he has the right to apply this passage here. (Frederic Louis Godet, Commentary on the Gospel of John with an Historical and Critical Introduction, translated from the third French edition with a preface introductory suggestions, and additional notes by Timothy Dwight President of Yale [Funk and Wagnals Publishers, New York 1886], Volume 2, pp. 235-236: http://books.google.com/books?id=zx8WAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false; bold emphasis mine)
Now pay attention to the English rendering of the Greek version of Isaiah, commonly referred to as the Septuagint (LXX):
“And it came to pass in the year in which king Ozias died, [that] I saw the Lord (eidon ton Kyrion) sitting on a high and exalted throne, and the house was full of his glory (tes doxes autou)… And one cried to the other, and they said, Holy, holy, holy [is the] Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory (tes doxes autou)… And I said, Woe is me, for I am pricked to the heart; for being a man, and having unclean lips, I dwell in the midst of a people having unclean lips; and I have seen with mine eyes the King, the Lord of hosts (kai ton Basilea Kyrion sabaoth eidon tois ophthalmois mou).” Isaiah 6:1, 3, 5
Compare this with the Greek of John 12:41:
“Isaiah said this when he saw His glory (eiden ten doxan autou) and spoke of Him.”
The Greek of both is virtually identical. In fact, there is no other place in Isaiah which refers to the prophet seeing glory and speaking of it apart from Isaiah’s vision of Jehovah. This simply reinforces the fact that according to John, the glory of Jehovah which Isaiah beheld was that of the Lord Jesus Christ in his prehuman existence.
And It isn’t simply the Greek that shows that John is identifying Jesus as the Jehovah that Isaiah saw. The Aramaic paraphrase of the Hebrew Bible, known as the Targumim, does so as well:
In the year in which King Uzziah was smitten with the leprosy the prophet said, I saw THE GLORY of the Lord sitting upon His throne, high, and lifted up unto the highest heavens, and the temple was filled with the brightness of His glory… And one cried unto another and they were saying, Holy in the highest and exalted heavens is the house of His Shekinah, holy upon the earth is the work of His might, holy for ever, world without end, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of the brightness of His glory… Then said I, Woe is me, for I have sinned, for I am a guilty man to reprove, and I dwell in the midst of a people polluted with sin: for mine eyes have seen THE GLORY of the Shekinah of the King of the worlds, the Lord of hosts… And I heard the voice OF THE WORD of the Lord, which said, Whom shall I send to prophesy? and who will go to teach? Then said I, Here am I, send me. (The Chaldee Paraphrase on the Prophet Isaiah by Jonathan b. Uzziel, translated by Rev. C. W. H. Pauli [London Society House, 1871], pp. 20-21 https://books.google.com/books?id=_boCAAAAQAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false; capital and underline emphasis mine)
Astonishingly, not only does the Targum confirm that the prophet saw the very glory of Jehovah but it also connects Isaiah’s commissioning with the Word of the Lord. I.e., it is the Word of the Lord who personally appointed Isaiah to speak on behalf of the Godhead.
In another place, the Targum interprets Isaiah 6:1 in reference to the prophet actually seeing the Word of the Lord seated on God’s heavenly throne!
“But the custom of (other) nations is to carry their gods upon their shoulders, that they may seem to be nigh them; but they cannot hear with their ears, (be they nigh or) be they afar off; but the Word of the Lord sitteth upon His throne high and lifted up, and HEARETH our prayer what time we pray BEFORE HIM and make our petitions.” (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, Deuteronomy 4:7 http://targum.info/pj/pjdt3-7.htm; capital and underline emphasis mine)
And the following Targum on the Psalms basically states the same thing:
But as for the word of the Lord, HIS seat is in the highest heaven forever; he has established his throne for judgment. Psalm 9:8 (The Psalms Targum: An English Translation, Edward M. Cook 2001 http://targum.info/pss/ps1.htm; capital and underline emphasis mine)
And who was this Word whose glory Isaiah beheld and who sits enthroned alongside of Jehovah?
The inspired Apostle tells us:
“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… 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. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 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.” John 1:1-5, 9-14 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
It was none other than the Lord Jesus, the eternal Word of the Father who became a flesh and blood human being in order to reveal God to mankind and save the world from its sins!
Unless noted otherwise, biblical citations taken from the Modern English Version (MEV).