Mary and Joseph weren’t the first human beings to see Jesus Christ. In fact, that common perception reflects a deep misunderstanding about the Son of God’s central role throughout history.
When unbelievers think of Jesus, many strictly think of a man who lived about 2,000 years ago. Sadly, many Christians in the church pews adopt this same thinking. But when we do, we unwittingly devalue who Jesus really is.
Christ is fully man and yet fully God (Hebrews 1; Colossians 1; John 1). He is preeminent in all things, even time and space that He created (John 1:1–3; Colossians 1:16–18). The one true God is triune in nature, eternally existing in the co-equal persons of the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 44:8, 45:18; Deuteronomy 6:4; Malachi 2:10; James 2:19).
The point is that Jesus Christ has been actively involved in the world from
the very beginning. So the question arises, “Do we see Jesus anywhere in Genesis?”
Yes! These pre-incarnate appearances of Christ are called theophanies
(from two Greek words meaning “appearance [phaneia] of God [theos]”),
or more specifically Christophanies. They are generally believed to be
appearances of the Son of God prior to His coming “
in the flesh” two thousand
years ago (1 John 4:2).
Genesis employs very intimate, personal language in describing God’s creation
of Adam and Eve. This language could indicate the Son’s direct presence, especially
when the Lord “
brought her to the man” (Genesis 2:7–9, 2:18–22). Then after
Adam and Eve sinned, “
they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden.”
They hid, only to be confronted for their sin (Genesis 3:8–24). Later, “
Lord appeared to Abram” (Genesis 12:7).
Other passages throughout the Old Testament might also be theophanies. Consider these passages in Genesis, some of which are more certain than others: Genesis 4:4–15, 7:16, 11:5–9, 18:1–33. The Lord appeared to Abraham and Moses several times in Genesis 17:1, 18:1; Numbers 12:5–8; and many other passages.
So why did the Son of God “
take on flesh” if He could easily appear to whomever
He wanted? Perhaps Peter said it best: “
For Christ also suffered once for sins,
the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in
the flesh but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).