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Discovering Christophanies: The Most Prophetic Way to Read Scripture

Jesus Rising Out of the Bible

"That which is called the Christian religion existed among the ancients, and never did not exist, from the beginning of the human race until Christ came in the flesh, at which time the true religion which already existed began to be called Christianity."

~ St. Augustine, Retractions

Old Testament Prophecy

As Christians, we should read the Old Testament in such a way that the main objective of our reading is to understand the underlying prophecy. That is to say, it should be every Christian’s Bible Study goal to understand how these thirty nine books — written more or less a millennium before Jesus walked the earth — point directly to his story and his life.

A Snake on a Pole

For instance, there is this one story in the Old Testament, in the Book of Numbers, where the Israelites are in the wilderness and they turn away from Moses and God. As a result of this, they are attacked and bitten by hoards of fiery serpents. Succumbing to the venom of the serpents, the Israelites beg Moses to ask God for mercy. We read of God’s response to their pleas, “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live” (Numbers 21:8).

To the unobservant reader this story may seem like some strange and random tale that seems apropos of nothing. Nevertheless, when we read this story through the lens of Jesus’s life and the coming of Christ then we can see a much deeper meaning within the text. For you see, there are at least a couple of different points in the New Testament, where this story of the serpent on the pole (or Nehustan, as it is referred to in the 2nd Book of Kings) relates directly to the life of Jesus.

The first point is in reference to one of Paul’s letters. In the Letter to the Galatians, Paul teaches that it is by faith in Christ that we are saved (Galatians 2:16). How does this relate to the snake on a pole story? It is very simple. For an explanation of this we turn the Gospel of John, where it is written: “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14). In other words, the serpent on the pole is analogous to Jesus on the cross. In this case — as it does in the Book of Genesis in the Garden of Eden — the serpent represents sin and death. Likewise, Jesus on the cross, represents sin and death. It’s easy to see how Jesus on the cross represents death, but how does he represent sin you may be wondering. The fact is, Jesus on the cross represents all of sin. He is the very embodiment of sin at that moment, in that, he took on all of the sins of the world, and died so that we could all live (click here for a full explanation of what it means when we say that Jesus died for our sins).

The Tree of Life and Jesus on the Cross

Thus, comparing the crucifixion of Jesus to the Nehustan story, we can see the glaring similarities. The Israelites, who are bitten by serpents because of their sinning, are then subsequently restored to life when they turn back toward God, and they believe in his sign raised up on a wooden beam. Jesus, likewise, is a sign raised up on a wooden beam. And if we, like the ancient Israelites, would simply have faith in God, we too will be absolved of our sin -- which is to say, be free of the serpents -- and we too will be restored to life.

Isaiah's Messianic Prophecy

I assure you, finding prophecy in scripture is not always as complicated as that. There are many instances where it is fairly straight forward. An example of this is when we read of John the Baptist in the Gospel of Mark: “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before thy face who shall prepare thy way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’” (Mark 1:2-3). The prophecy here is quite explicit: Mark is quoting Isaiah directly in order to show how Jesus fulfilled his prediction.

The Synoptic Problem (A Tangent)

Seven Prophecies of the Christ

The above Gospel verse is just a simple and straight forward prophecy. However, there is a serious issue with the passage, and to go into that issue is a bit tangential to our current discussion. Nonetheless, there is a benefit to a momentary diversion from our main point, in order to explain something so significant. What I am trying my best to get across here is that Mark’s citing of Isaiah is a bit off. Mark is correct: Isaiah does say, “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3). The problem, however, is that the first part of what Mark says is actually written by the prophet Malachi, not Isaiah. That is, Mark’s first line attributed to Isaiah, “Behold I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way” is actually a word for word copy of Malachi, where it is written, “Behold, I send my messenger to prepare thy way before me” (Malachi 3:1).

Mark may have got it wrong. Nonetheless, Matthew got it right. For in Matthew it is written, “For this is he who is spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’” (Matthew 3:3). Unlike Mark, Matthew’s statement is completely correct; also unlike Mark, Matthew is only quoting one Old Testament prophet; Mark quotes two.

The reason that all of this matters, and why I wanted to divert our attention for a moment, is to shine a light on the type of Biblical analysis at the heart of the Synoptic Problem — which is without a doubt the most intriguing literary enigma of all time. The Synoptic Problem is a debate among, theologians, believers, and agnostic scholars about which of the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) was written first. These three Gospels share so much in common, and figuring out which one of them came first has a profound effect upon the entire Christian faith, and by extension the world. (For more on the Synoptic Problem click here).

Excuse my small tangent there. It did, however serve a two-fold purpose. The first of which, was obviously to draw attention to the all-important Synoptic Problem (that was the tangential part) but the second, and more importantly the more relevant point, is that sometimes the prophecy of the Old Testament regarding Jesus is quite explicit and much more straightforward than my earlier example about the Nehustan.

Common Types of Old Testament Prophecy

So, as we can see, sometimes the Christ prophecies of the Old Testament can come in different forms. Sometimes the prophecy is like a parable — as we see in the story of Moses and the Israelites and the serpent on the pole. Other times, the prophecy is quite straightforward — where a Gospel writer will quote the Old Testament directly as a means of proving Jesus is the Messianic fulfillment of scripture.

What is more, there is also a type of messianic prophecy that sort of bridges the gap between the two aforementioned types, in that it can be viewed, at once, as a prophetic parable analogous to some aspect of Jesus’ life and it can also be presented in a very straightforward and easy to see manner. For prophecy such as this look no further than the 53rd chapter of Isaiah. It is arguably the most talked about prophetic foreshadowing of Jesus in the entire Old Testament.

These forms of prophetic reading, and this type of theological approach to understanding the the two testaments of the Bible and how they connect — via the life of Jesus and the foreshadowing of his earthly existence — is very rewarding. Nonetheless, it is a very common approach to reading and understanding scripture. This essay, on the other hand, serves a different purpose and seeks a less travelled road in the understanding of Jesus’ place in the Old Testament — less prophecy and more pre-existing. That is to say, the point of this is not to show how Jesus fulfills the words of ancient scripture, but rather to shine a light on how Jesus is actually in the words of ancient scripture as his pre-earthly self.

The pre-earthly Jesus (for lack of a better term) refers to when Jesus was on earth prior to the time when he historically walked the earth. You may be asking: How is that even possible? To which I would answer: Not only is it possible, but there is a name given to such occurrences. They are called Christophanies. In short, a Christophany is an appearance of Jesus Christ on earth, prior to time when Jesus lived on earth. (I know this may sound confusing, stick with me.)

What is a Christophany?

There are two enigmatic figures from the Old Testament that one could view as a Christophany. These two figures are Melchizedek and Michael the Archangel. Simply put, these two figures are really just Jesus Christ in disguise, so to speak. How can this be? What do I mean by this exactly?

Before we get into our analysis of these two figures, I want to show you one way in which Jesus can appear on earth prior to appearing on earth. Turning to the opening of John’s Gospel, we read, “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 were made through him, and without him was not anything made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:1-4). John is saying something quite profound here. He is calling Jesus the WORD of God, which is both, a thing equal to God, and the thing through which all other things are made.

If we go back to the “beginning” that John is evoking here, we can see exactly what I mean. That is, if we turn to the opening of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, we read: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… And God said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1: 1, 3). If we look closely here, we can see how Jesus is present in the first lines of the Old Testament — “God said let there be light.” In other words, God spoke light into creation. Or to put it yet another way, God used his Word, which is Jesus, to create light. For as John said, "the Word was with God, and was God in the beginning, and in him was life, which was the light of men.” The point is, as God’s Word, Jesus makes his first appearance “In the beginning” as it were, which is obviously long before his historical existence on earth (by about four thousand years to be exact).

Begotten, Not Made

The Nicene Creed, which is a profession of faith for Catholics and other Christian sects, says that Jesus is “begotten, not made, consubstantial with the father.” To make the distinction between begotten and made is of monumental importance — so important in fact that it is the result of a synod of church leaders coming together in 325 AD to define the Christian faith, choosing each and every single word with the utmost precision. Simply put, the difference between begotten and made is crucial and cannot be overstated, because if Jesus was simply made by God the father, then he would be seen as less than God the father. However, to say that Jesus is begotten, implies that his appearance on the proverbial scene is of a more timeless quality, and thus more equal to God the father. To be begotten means you simply came about, whereas if you are made then you were created at a very specific moment in time. In other words, begotten’s lack of time specificity is what makes it different from made. As such, Jesus’ existence in time is more indefinable, and not limited to the specific years in history we often apply to his life (i.e. 1-33 AD).

As we have already said, the word for an appearance of Christ before Jesus historically walked the earth is called a Christophany. These instances are possible because Jesus is co-eternal with God (i.e. begotten, not made) — "From everlasting to everlasting," as it is written in Isaiah. Jesus’s appearance as the Word of God in the very beginning of time could be considered a Christophany. But that kind of Christophany is more metaphorical in nature than the kind I am seeking to explore in this essay. The Christophanies I am speaking of are of a more literal nature. When I say that Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth as Melchizedek and Michael the Archangel I mean that quite literally.

The Pre-Earthly Jesus

I know this seems strange, but even Jesus himself addressed his pre-earthly appearances saying:

“If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

“You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, ‘and you have seen Abraham!”

“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipped away from the temple grounds (John 8:54-59).

The question that emerges from Jesus’ statement here is how could he have been around before Abraham, if Jesus walked the earth 2000 years ago but Abraham walked the earth over 4000 years ago? It is at this point we turn to the figure of Melchizedek.

Melchizedek as Jesus

We read in the Book of Genesis, “After [Abraham’s] return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley) And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth’” (Genesis 14:17-19).

Melchizedek looking into Scripture

Melchizedek is described here as "the King of Salem," and "priest of the Most High God," who brought out bread and wine.

How can Melchizedek be seen as Jesus Christ?

Let’s break it down one piece at a time. The first is the description of Melchizedek is as the “King of Salem.” This title has two distinct meanings. Nonetheless, they each mean the same thing -- that he is the messianic figure (just like Jesus)

The word Salem means peace. As such, Melchizedek is "the King of Peace." Jesus, likewise, has been referred to in (nearly) the exact same way. In Isaiah we read prophecy that describes the Messiah, which is to say Jesus, as the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

We must remember here, to what the term Messiah refers. The Messiah is by definition the anointed king of Israel. In our modern world, much like in the ancient world we are describing, Israel are referring to the same place. As we already said, Melchizedek is the King of Salem, which is to say, the king of Jeru-Salem. So, by definition, Melchizedek as the king of Jerusalem (i.e. Israel) is a Messiah just like Jesus.

The next description of Melchizedek is that he is "a priest of the Most High God," and much like the previous moniker this title highlights the deep connection between Melchizedek and Jesus. This description of Melchizedek is used in two other books of the Bible — one in the Old Testament and one in the New — and in conjunction they are emphatically telling the reader to pay attention to the profound connection between the two men. In the Old Testament Book of Psalms, David proclaims, “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110: 4). This phrase is then carried on into the New Testament and applied to Jesus by the anonymous author of the Letter to the Hebrews. We read: “So also Christ did not exalt himself to be a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, ‘Thou art my Son today I have begotten thee’; as he says also in another place, ‘Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek’” (Hebrews 5: 5-6). First thing I want is to notice is the word "begotten," which I addressed earlier (I will return to that momentarily). More importantly, I want us to see here how the Bible is explicitly telling us to notice the connection between the two men.

Melchizedek and Jesus not only share the same descriptions — King/ Prince of Peace, Messiah, and priest of the Most High God — they also share similar actions. As we read in Genesis, Melchizedek brought out bread and wine for Abraham. This calls to mind the last supper, during which Jesus uses bread and wine as a representation of his body and blood.

Furthermore, Melchizedek and Jesus each tell us who exactly who God is. The former does this quite literally when he blesses Abraham. That is to say, the first time in the Bible we are told exactly who God is, is via the aforementioned descriptions of Melchizedek. In other words, the God of Abraham is “God Most High,” (i.e. El Elyon). In like manner, Jesus also tells us exactly who God is, which is to say he shows us God's character. He does this, however, in a more figurative way than Melchizedek. Meaning, Jesus shows us exactly who God is -- our loving and merciful father -- through his words and actions.

If all of this were not enough to convince you that Melchizedek and Jesus are (essentially) one and the same, then maybe the passage from the seventh chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews will convince you:

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him; and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also King of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, and has neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest for ever” (Hebrews 7:1-3).

We have already addressed most of what is written in this passage, in terms of the titles of Melchizedek. What I want us to notice now is the last line of the passage where it says that Melchizedek “has no beginning nor end of life,” and that he “resembles the Son of God.” This pretty much says it all doesn’t it? As we can see, the resemblance to the Son of God, which is to say, the connection between Melchizedek and Jesus is impossible to deny Biblically.

What is more, this verse drives home the point that to think of Jesus as beginning his life 2000 years ago is completely incorrect. For as we can see here in scripture, Jesus’ life (like that of Melchizedek) "has no beginning." Or as Jesus himself said, “Before Abraham was I am.”

Scripture tells us that Jesus cannot be defined within the limiting parameters of time, but instead he has "no beginning nor end," because he was with God “In the beginning," as it were, as "the Word." The point is that when scripture explicitly says that Melchizedek resembles the Son of God, we should understand exactly what that really means. He is simply Jesus in disguise, so to speak. Or rather, that Melchizedek is simply a christophany.

Michael the Archangel as Jesus

The second Old Testament figure who is Jesus in disguise, or a pre-existent earthly occurrence of Christ, or a Christophany, or whatever you want to call it, is Michael the Archangel. There are two references to Michael in particular that really scream, "I am actually Jesus!”

We find the first Michael the Archangel christophany in the Book of Daniel. Three fellow exiles of Daniel refuse to turn their back on God at the command of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, and are subsequently thrown into a furnace. "Nebuchadnezzar shouts ‘Look! I see four men walking around in the fire unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods'” (Daniel 3:25). A few lines later we read, “Nebuchadnezzar said, ‘Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants’” (Daniel 3:28). At one moment the being that saves these three from the fire is called “a son of the gods” the next he is called an “angel.” As we continue reading the book of Daniel we see exactly who this “son of the gods"/ “angel” is.

In the seventh chapter of Daniel we read of a messianic vision that Daniel has: “In my vision at night I looked and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven” (Daniel 7:13). It always surprises people when you tell them that Jesus is only explicitly referred to as "the Son of God" in one of the four gospels. In the three Synoptic Gospels, he is referred to as "the Son of Man" — a messianic description that comes directly from this passage of Daniel.

What does this have to do with a connection between Michael the Archangel and Jesus?

The final chapter of Daniel is a prophecy of the end times. We read: “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people — everyone whose name is found written in the book — will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:1-2).

Michael is described as “the great prince who protects your people” who will “arise” and “deliver God’s people to everlasting life.” If that doesn’t sound like Jesus, then I don’t know what does.

What is more, this prophecy of Michael being there to defeat death at the end of the world continues on into the New Testament. In the Book of Revelation, it is Michael who defeats Satan at the end of the world in the final battle for souls. We read:

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world — he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. (Revelation 12:7-10)

The Bible begins with a serpent that represents sin and death, and it ends with a dragon that is defeated by Michael with the authority of God’s Christ. Connecting this back to the Book of Daniel, where we read that Nebchadnezzar connected "the son of the gods" with an "angel," and where Daniel prophesies that the Son of Man will come on the clouds of heaven, and that Michael the great prince will arise to deliver God’s people to everlasting life, it should not be hard to see how Michael and Christ are one and the same.

After all, doesn’t it make sense that when Satan is officially defeated in the Bible, it would be Jesus who does it?

At this point it should be easy to see how Jesus and Michael the Archangel can be seen as the same. The connection is so scripturally evident in fact, that it has been built into the belief systems of some fringe Christian denominations, such as the Seven Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Furthermore, Church reformers such as Martin Luther wrote of the connection as well.

If all of that were not enough to convince you of the connection, then perhaps the meaning of the name Michael will change your mind. The name Michael means “One who is like God.” This begs the question: who is more like God than Jesus?

Beyond Prophecy

We began this essay with a quote from Saint Augustine about how the Christian religion has always existed — even before Christ came in the flesh. Jesus confirms this in John's Gospel when he says, "Before Abraham was, I am." As Christians, we understand this implicitly — Jesus was begotten, not made after all. It follows, that we should approach the Old Testament with this Christian point of view. Meaning, we should interpret the books of scripture written prior to Jesus' time on earth, by asking ourselves how it connects with his life.

The point I have been attempting to make here, is that we need to take this approach to reading scripture even further. Instead of just looking for signs that point to Christ metaphorically or prophetically, we need to look for Christ himself. In such a way, we are mining scripture for Christophanies. This is not as complicated as one may think. After all, in the beginning God created the world using his Word, and that Word is Jesus. That is to say, Jesus is present in all created things. In other words, if one is willing to look at the world as God's creation — with Christ in all things — then everything can be seen as a Christophany.


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