In various places throughout Scripture, there are a few key moments in which God reveals himself to his people. In these important scenes, God reveals his presence, his name, and his character, and this is the way he is to be remembered throughout all generations. So what can we learn from these special encounters, and what do they teach us about the nature of God himself? Shane Rosenthal discusses these questions with Dr. Richard Bauckham, author of Who is God?: Key Moments of Biblical Revelation.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that he himself is the Son of God, the ladder in Jacob’s dream (Gen. 28) that the angels ascend and descend upon—the communication between heaven and earth. So, later in the Gospel, the disciples are to see Jesus lifted up on the cross with the cross being a communication bringing heaven and earth together. Therefore, when Jesus says that he is “the way” (John 14:6), the disciples understand the parallel image of a road, which is very much like a ladder. Jesus is saying he brings them from where they presently are to the place where God is. In other words, Jesus, himself, is the ladder of our redemption. But this is not something we’re meant to climb up. He has come down this ladder in the incarnation and he goes up again to his death so that we may come to God through him.Richard Bauckham
term to learn:
As the Gk. etymology implies, theophany refers to an ‘appearance of God’ to man. The OT records numerous theophanies, beginning with the early chapters of Genesis which record that God talked to Adam and walked in the garden (3:8). God manifested himself to man in three forms—human (see Anthropomorphism), angelic and non-human. The form of each theophany correlates to its function.
When God comes in judgment, he appears in a threatening guise. For instance, God presented himself as an irresistible warrior immediately preceding the conquest of Jericho (Jos. 5:13–15). Judgment theophany, though always threatening, brings both curse and fear to God’s enemies and blessing and comfort to God’s people (Na. 1:1–9).
The frequently encountered warrior theophany demonstrates that God often appeared in human-like form. Of course, God assumes various roles in the many OT theophanies. For example, in Gn. 18:1–15, a passage in which God confirmed his covenant promises to Abraham, he appeared as a messenger.
A second type of theophany occurred when God revealed himself to people in the form of an angel. Manoah and his wife received news of the birth of Samson from an angelic figure whom they later recognized as God himself (Jdg. 13). Many, if not most, evangelical scholars believe that the angel of the Lord is a pre-incarnation appearance of the second person of the Trinity. This is true as well of other theophanies in human form. Occasionally, these theophanies are more specifically referred to as ‘christophanies’. Neither the OT nor the NT directly identifies Jesus Christ with the angel of the Lord. Scholars, though, reason backward from the teaching of the NT (Jn. 1:18) that no-one has seen God the Father.
A third form of theophany occurs on those occasions when God appeared among men and women in non-human form. At the critical juncture of the establishment of the Abrahamic covenant, God passed between divided animal carcasses in the form of a ‘smoking fire pot with a blazing torch’ (Gn. 15:17).
The theophany par excellence is the advent of Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:1–17; 14:9; Col. 1:15). In the NT theophany becomes christophany, and is superseded by actual incarnation. Believers today look forward to the last days when ‘the Lord himself will come down from heaven’ (1 Thes. 5:16).
(New Dictionary of Theology, edited by Ferguson and Wright)