Most people assume God the Father directly interacted with individuals, groups and nations during the Old Testament period, but Paul tells us that the Being who did this, at the direction of the Father, was the One who would later be born in the flesh as Jesus Christ.
Paul was very familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures and their repeated references to “Rock” as a term applying to Israel’s God, and clearly tells us the “Rock” referred to in the Scriptures directly interacted with the ancient Israelites: “Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ” (I Corinthians 10:1-4).
We should note that “followed” isn’t the best translation here. The Greek verb used is a form of akoloutheo, which means to “go in the same way” or to “travel together.” Forms of the word appear 92 times in the New Testament, the overwhelming majority of which refer to the disciples or crowds accompanying Jesus on His travels in Galilee and Judea during His ministry.
While the word akoloutheo can and usually does mean “follow,” a better translation in the context of the Exodus story would be “accompany” or “travel together with”—since the “spiritual Rock” with the Israelites didn’t follow them, but accompanied them on their journey to the Promised Land. Other versions translate this word as “traveled with them” (New Living Translation), “went with them” (God’s Word version) and “accompanied them” (New International Version).
When Paul wrote “that Rock was Christ,” he knew that Moses, David, Isaiah and Habakkuk all referred to God—Yahweh—as their God or Israel’s “Rock”. For example, in Deuteronomy 32 Moses repeatedly refers to Israel’s God, as “the Rock.”
In 1 Corinthians 10:9, Paul refers to another event that took place during the Israelites’ journey: “We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents.” Numbers 21:5-9 describes this incident, when “the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people” because of their rebellion. Paul plainly tells us in Corinthians chapter 10 it was Jesus Christ who was interacting with the ancient Israelites.
The Apostle Paul, after his miraculous conversion, was apparently directly taught by Christ for three years in Arabia before meeting the other apostles (Galatians 1:11-18), and he tells us in Colossians 1:16 Jesus Christ was the One who created the physical universe and also the invisible spirit universe and the angels: “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.” Jesus Christ is the Creator, the One through whom God the Father created the physical universe and the angelic realm, and He is the God and Lord who interacted with Moses and the Israelites during their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land.
The Apostle John also made several remarkable statements that help us understand Jesus Christ’s role during the Old Testament period. In John 1:18 he tells us: “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.”
Notice that John says Jesus Christ “declared” the Father. Other versions translate this as “made him known” (New International Version, English Standard Version, New Revised Standard Version) or “reveal[ed] Him” (Green’s Literal Translation).
John repeats this statement in one of his epistles: “No one has seen God at any time” (1 John 4:12). We also see two explicit statements from Jesus Christ: “And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form” (John 5:37). Jesus again says no one has ever seen the Father in John 6:46: “No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father” (New International Version).
Yet in the books of the Old Testament period we see a number of people did see God. In these encounters, the “God” who appeared and spoke with these individuals is identified as “God” (Hebrew Elohim), “the Lord” (Hebrew YHWH or Yahweh), “the God of Israel,” “the God of your fathers,” “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” “God Almighty” (Hebrew El Shaddai), “the word of the Lord,” “I AM WHO I AM” and “I AM.”
The only way we can make sense of this is to understand that when God appeared to these individuals, He was the Word who was also God (John 1:1), the One who was born in the flesh as Jesus. Jesus was the One who interacted with the patriarchs, prophets and ancient Israel as the Lord or God on behalf of the Father. He was the “I AM” who spoke to Moses. In Exodus 3:13-14, when God appeared to Moses at the burning bush promising to deliver the Israelites out of their Egyptian slavery He tells Moses to tell the Israelites: “... ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ …‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.”’”
John 8:56-58 describes a heated debate that occurred when Jesus said Abraham rejoiced to see His day.“Then the Jews said to Him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.’” The Jews who heard Jesus say these words realized what He meant—that He was claiming to be the “I AM” who had interacted with Moses. And how did they react? They immediately took up stones to stone Him to death for claiming to be God! (verse 59).
The One who spoke to and interacted with human beings in the Old Testament period as God on behalf of the Father was the One we know today as Jesus Christ. Jesus always directed worship toward God the Father and was subservient to Him, in the same way we must always put God the Father first and honor Him. But Jesus accepted worship without dissuading people and said it’s God’s will “that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father” (John 5:23).
Beyond Today Magazine (Mar-Apr 2020)