During Advent and the Christmas season, we celebrate the first appearing of Jesus Christ, when He left His heavenly throne to clothe Himself in human flesh (John 1:14; Luke 1-2), to appear on Earth. But the New Testament actually refers to three appearings of Christ: past, present and future (Hebrews 9:24-28). Two thousand years ago He appeared on earth at His first coming; currently He appears at the right hand of God the Father to intercede for us; and in the future He will again appear on earth at His second coming.
Before these three appearings of Christ summarized in Hebrews, there were also preincarnate appearances of Jesus Christ in human form, in which He is often referred to as the angel of the Lord, such as when He appeared to Hagar to provide a great promise for her son Ishmael (Genesis 16).
Predating by millennia His appearance as a Babe in Bethlehem, Jesus Christ appeared to Abraham as a human visitor, accompanied by two angels also in the form of men, to tell him that his wife Sarah would conceive in her old age and that Abraham would thereby be the father of a great nation (Genesis 18). Later the angel of the Lord appeared to keep Abraham from sacrificing Isaac as God had commanded him (Genesis 22:10-12).
Other visible manifestations of God in the Old Testament include the burning bush from which the angel of the Lord spoke to Moses (Exodus 3:2; Acts 7:30), and the Shekinah Glory, or fire inhabited by God, which led the Israelites through the wilderness into the Promised Land (Exodus 13:21).
As prophesied in the Old Testament, the promised Messiah, Son of God and God Himself, would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), given by God the Father to save us from the penalty of our sins and to reign forever (Luke 1:31-33). This appearance was known by God and actually prophesied since the beginning of the world (Luke 1:67-79) as the solution to redeem man from the curse of sin brought about by Adam’s disobedience (Romans 5:12-19).
Although Jesus would be tempted and tested as we all are, He would never sin (Hebrews 4:15), and therefore was the perfect atoning Sacrifice to pay our sin debt in full (Romans 3:25). Holy God could not allow sinful man into Heaven without Jesus Christ taking on Himself the burden of all our sin as He died on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Before Christ’s first appearing, the high priest had to enter the most holy place in the temple once every year with an animal sacrifice to temporarily cover the sins of himself and of the people (Hebrews 9:6-15). But the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), then “appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26).
The Greek word used here for “appeared” is “phaneroo,” meaning to become evident or visible after being hidden. The Triune God knew that God the Son would appear in this specific form for the specific purpose of salvation for all who trusted Him, and spoke of it in veiled terms through the prophets. Yet His actual appearing was a mystery hidden through the ages until the fullness of times had arrived (Ephesians 1:10).
Jesus cried out “It is finished,” as the agony of His crucifixion ended, for His work on the cross abolished the need for animal sacrifice or for any work as an attempt to obtain salvation (John 19:30). We are saved only by His grace through our faith in Him, and not by our works (Ephesians 2:8-9). All who trust in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6) will therefore have eternal life (John 3:16).
Once Jesus Christ arose from the dead and ascended into Heaven, His second and present appearing is in the presence of God (Hebrews 9:24). He is now seated at the right hand of the Father (Hebrews 10:12), constantly making intercession for us (Romans 8:34) to the Father as the Holy Spirit brings our prayer requests to Him (Romans 8:26). There He is also our advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1), defending us against the accusations of the devil. In this active and vocal role it is fitting that the Greek word for “appear” is “emphanizo,” meaning to be manifest or declare openly.
The third appearing of Christ Jesus (Hebrews 9:26) refers to His future appearing, or Second Coming, when born-again Christians (John 3:3-8) eagerly anticipating the blessed hope of the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17) shall see Him face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12). How appropriate that the Greek word translated here as “appearing” is “optomai,” meaning to gaze at face to face!
In our glorified bodies we will be freed not only from the power and penalty of sin, but even from the very presence of sin (1 Corinthians 15:35-50). Our justification (Romans 3:24-28), sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30), and salvation (Romans 1:16) shall be perfected and made complete, for we shall sin no more! At the Rapture, or first phase of Christ’s future appearing, that appearing will be evident only to God’s children, for those who are left behind will not witness His presence or our ascent to meet Him.
But in the second phase of Christ’s future appearing, all will see the King of Kings return to earth in all His glory, and we shall accompany Him in glory as His troops (Revelation 17:14) when He defeats sin, death and Satan! The apostle Paul writes: When Christ, Who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory (Colossians 3:4).
The Greek word used here for “appear” is also “phaneroo,” as used to describe His first appearing in human form in Bethlehem, meaning to become evident or visible after being hidden. Clearly all will then witness Jesus Christ in physical, tangible form, just as experienced by those Jesus encountered in His earthly ministry.
While those who walked the earth with Jesus.saw Him as a frail newborn (Luke 2:12), humble servant (John 13:5), and suffering Savior (Hebrews 12:2), all who see His future appearing shall witness the King of Kings in all His power, glory and righteous judgment. May all trust Him now in His present appearing to hear the plea of a sinner seeking salvation, to ensure that they will one day appear with Him in glory!
© 2017 Laurie Collett
Reposted from the archives
I too am impressed how the Holy Spirit inspired the writers of the New Testament to choose their words wisely and correctly from a vocabulary which was richer and more varied than our English equivalent.
As for the three entities who appeared to Abraham, for a long time, I thought they were the manifestation of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, with Abraham interceding directly to the Father whilst the other two made their way to Sodom. But I'm open to other interpretations, and your idea that one was the Christ who had to bring two angels with him also seems sensible.
But whichever case may be, for God to make the Promise directly after the Fall demonstrates his loving heart for us all and his desire for all mankind to share in the eternal love between each Person of the Trinity.
Best to you and Richard. God bless.
Hi Laurie, I can not even begin to imagine what our Lovely Lord went through on that cross, but to go through such torture for those who he did not even know is unimaginable and beyond belief. However, my love for Jesus is greater than my love for anyone as I come to know Him more through the Word He speaks to me as I go through my trials, even though I have have never seen Him nor physically heard His voice. God bless you Laurie.
Thank you for sharing your interpretation of the three who appeared to Abraham, which also seems plausible. I suppose it is one of those mysteries that shall be revealed to us when we see Jesus face to face! Praise God for His infinite love, extended to us through the gift of the Father, the sacrifice of the Son, and the indwelling of the Spirit.
May God bless you and Alex,
It is an amazing and unfathomable mystery how our Lord suffered for us while we were still His enemies. His love for us is the most precious gift imaginable -- may we cherish it in our hearts always until He comes again.
God bless you,
Great Post, Laurie.
As we look at the attitudes and actions of our present world, it seems impossible that a Holy God could love us enough that he would send his only son to die for us, but he did. The more I watch what is going on the more concerned I become about people today, and the more excited I become about his return.
Thanks, Donald! God's love is such an amazing mystery! Amen -- the signs of His second appearing are all around us -- come quickly, Lord Jesus!
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