Jesus in the Old Testament
To begin with it is made clear in the Gospel of John that "no-one has seen the Father except the One who is from God (i.e. Jesus). He has seen the Father." John 6.46. If the Father has not been seen up till the point of Jesus' earthly life, and the Holy Spirit is exactly that - a Spirit that doesn't take physical form (or at least in Scripture never takes the form of a human) - then any physical manifestation of God which is seen up to this point must be the second person of the Trinity. Some argue it should not be said that 'Jesus' was in the Old Testament but rather the 'Word' or '2nd Person of the Trinity' as Jesus was His 'incarnational' name. However the correct translation of Jude 5 states that "Jesus rescued the people of Israel out of Egypt" - clearly the 2nd person of the Trinity had not been 'incarnated' as Jesus at that point but Scripture reveals that it is right and true to still refer to Him as Jesus. I say that the Father had not been seen up until the life of Jesus as it is clear that in Revelation the figure sat on the Throne must be the Father as the Lion of Judah the Lamb of God Jesus Christ enters the stage when the Holy Lord God is already seen sat on the throne.
The first reference to Jesus in physical form comes in Genesis 3 where it says "Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. So the Lord God called out to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard You in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.” Genesis 3.8-10. Here we see The Lord 'walking' in the garden in such a way that He could be heard at a distance. This clearly implies a physical form.
Following this the most common sight of God is in the mysterious 'The Messenger of the Lord/God' more commonly translated 'The Angel of the Lord.' It is important to distinguish between 'an angel of the Lord' and 'The Angel of the Lord.' As a general principle 'an angel' refers to what would widely be understood as a normal angel, which should not be worshipped - Revelation 22.8-9. Thus the presence of worship which is accepted by 'The Angel' would point to Him being God for no angel of Heaven would dare to allow worship towards anything but the LORD.
The first instance of importance is in Genesis 16.7-14. Here we hear that "The Angel of the Lord found her... she called the Lord who spoke to her 'The GOD who sees...' Clearly the 'Angel' who found her and spoke to her is identified as God.
In Genesis 18 Abraham has three visitors who are Angels. Widely seen as a type of the Trinity it is important to read carefully. Only one of the ‘men’ is ever identified as The Lord - two head off to Sodom and Gomorrah where they are simply 'angels' but one remains with Abraham and this one is identified as The Lord in verse 22.
Genesis 22.15-18 has "Then The Angel of The Lord called to Abraham... and said 'by MYSELF I have sworn' this is the Lord's declaration." Here The Angel swears by His own Name and promises blessings on Abraham and his descendants.
Genesis 32.24-32 is the account of Jacob wrestling with an unnamed figure who blesses Jacob and changes his name to Israel. Hosea 12.4 claims "Jacob struggled with The Angel" whilst, importantly, Jacob boldly declares "I have seen God face to face" in Genesis 32.30.
Genesis 48.15-16 "The God before... The Angel who has redeemed me from all harm, may He bless these boys." In This passage Jacob (now Israel) blesses his children and appears to use the words God and The Angel interchangeably, furthermore, The Angel is said to have 'redeemed' Jacob - God alone is the redeemer of His people.
Exodus 3.2 is the account of the Burning Bush where God reveals Himself by His own name YHWH. But shockingly it states "The Angel of The Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire within a bush... God called out him from the bush... the place where you are standing is Holy ground (i.e. God is there)." Clearly The Angel of the Lord is identified as one and the same with the God who declares Himself to be called 'I AM' and who Jesus would claim to be in the Gospel of John.
Exodus 14.19 "Then The Angel of God, who was [in] the pillar of cloud, moved... 24 The Lord looked down on the Egyptian forces from the pillar of fire and cloud." Again we see The Angel and The Lord being identified as one and the same person.
Numbers 22.22-38 In the story of Balaam and the Donkey we see Balaam bowing down to The Angel of God, but Revelation 22.8-9 makes clear angels do not accept this kind of behaviour.
Judges 2.1-4 states "The Angel of the Lord went up...'I brought you out... I also said: 'I will never break my covenant with you.'" Whilst it is clearly The Angel who 'went up' it is equally clear that it is God who speaks once up there.
Judges 6.11-14 "The Angel of the Lord came, and He sat... the Lord turned to him and said..." As in the previous passage, it is The Angel who moves but the Lord who is said to 'turn' and speak.
Judges 6.22 "When Gideon realised He was The Angel of the Lord, he said 'oh no Lord God, I have seen The Angel of the Lord face to face." In this bold statement we see the idea that seeing God face to face brings death (Judges 13.22) - clearly Gideon felt that he had truly seen God face to face and that is why he is no astonished.
In Judges 13 The Angel of the Lord doesn't eat but asks for a sacrifice and says His name is 'Wonderful.' Not only should sacrifice only be given to God and people fear for their lives after seeing His face, but 'Wonderful' is one of the Names of Jesus Christ prophesied in Isaiah 9.6 (note in the Hebrew there is no punctuation so either 'Wonderful, counsellor' or 'Wonderful Counsellor' is possible.)
Joshua 5.13-14 - 6.2 recalls the events surrounding 'The Commander of the Armies of the Lord. This mysterious but very physical figure bears the hallmarks of divinity: Joshua is told to remove his sandals for the ground around The Commander is Holy as at the Burning Bush, The Commander answers to no-one and in 6.2 the text continues by definitively stating "The Lord said to Joshua."
In 2 Samuel 14 The Angel of God discerns good and bad (vs.17) and knows 'everything' (vs.20) both of which are signs of divinity - omniscience and complete morality.
2 Samuel 19.27 Here the earthly lord and king of Israel is compared to The Angel of God to demonstrate his complete control over the situation and people involved.
Isaiah 63 is a passage all about Jesus and yet verse 9 states "The Angel of His Presence saved them, He redeemed..." Here Jesus is clearly cast as the Angel of His Presence who saves and redeems His people.
Zechariah 3 has The Angel of the Lord standing before Joshua and Satan with verse 2 saying "The Lord said to Satan" and verse 4 saying "The Angel of the Lord declares 'I have removed their guilt'" Mark 2.7 makes clear that only God can forgive sin and remove guilt.
Finally Zechariah 12.8, "the house of David will be like God, like The Angel of the Lord..." Here once again God and The Angel are used to represent the same person.
Given, as described above, no-one has seen the Father and the Spirit is invisible, all these bodily manifestations of God in the Old Testament MUST be Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, during the time of Moses God was physically seen. In Exodus 24.9-11 we see Moses and 73 others go up to see the Lord and though it is not clear they saw His face, they certainly saw “His feet” which implies a human form. Later (Exodus 33.10) Moses would be known for speaking “face to face with God as with a friend” in the Tent of Meeting in the desert. Again in Numbers 12.8 the Lord says of Moses: “I speak with him directly, openly, and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD.” What then are we to make of the rest of Exodus 33 where the Lord says that Moses will die if he sees His face and God will have to hide Moses as He passes by in His glory? This is still to be understood as Jesus for it is clear in the next chapter that God ‘stood’ before passing by. On mount Tabor at the Transfiguration Jesus, whilst incarnated in the flesh, was transfigured and just a fraction of His Divine Glory was seen by the disciples yet it was nearly blinding – if God revealed not just His presence but His ‘Glory’ to Moses it is little wonder he could have faced death by looking directly into the eyes of the glorified Jesus.
Concerning the vision that Isaiah has of the throne room of God, and God sat on the throne in Isaiah 6 we are told by John in 12.41 of his Gospel that Isaiah saw Jesus. It is likely it was also Jesus that Ezekiel saw in his visions and calling and Daniel in his (chapter 7 – more on this in a moment).
Likewise it is important to note that often in the Old Testament 'The Word of the Lord' (which is clearly identified with Jesus in John 1) is a physical person and not a voice or imparted thought. When The Word of the Lord first appears in Scripture in Genesis 15 it is clear from the text that The Word is a 'He' who can walk about, speak, and point to the stars. Whilst not always the case, many other instances of 'The Word of the Lord came to...' can be best understood as a physical manifestation of God in Jesus Christ actually coming to speak with the prophet in question – for example in Jonah where fleeing from the presence of the Lord can be understood as meaning the Lord was actually present.
Another poignant instance of the physical manifestation of Jesus as ‘the Word of the Lord’ in the Old Testament in is 1 Samuel 3. Here God calls twice to the young Samuel whilst he sleeps. Importantly, it is said that Samuel does not recognise who is speaking to him because he has not yet experienced the Lord and the “Word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him” (verse 7). On the third calling, when Samuel is to answer and has been told to speak to God we are told not only that there was a disembodied voice but "The LORD came, and stood there, and called as before, "Samuel, Samuel!" (verses 10). This is clearly a physical presence of God - it is the Word of the Lord being revealed to Samuel and him experiencing the Lord. The Story end with verse 21 by saying "The LORD continued to appear in Shiloh, because there He revealed Himself to Samuel by His Word." This implies, given the above, that the Lord’s appearing was physical – as it had been with Moses and many others.
There is also strong tradition that Melchizedek in Genesis 14 may be the pre-incarnate Jesus (at the very least he is an incredible type of Jesus who recapitulates so much of Jesus' work.)
The only example in the Old Testament which could be (wrongly) understood as portraying the 'Father' is the figure of the ‘Ancient of Days’ on the throne in Daniel 7 whom gives authority to the ‘Son of Man.’ The physical description of the ‘Ancient of Days ‘matches that of The Word of God who leads the armies of Heaven in Revelation and the Ancient of Days role in the later part of Daniel 7 regarding end time and judgement matches the Jesus of Revelation also. Furthermore, the title 'Ancient of Days' fits well with the titles given to Jesus in Revelation such as 'the first and the last' and 'the alpha to the omega.' So what is happening here? It is important to read all of Daniel 7 – the interpretation of the vision is given straight away by the Angel. In the interpretation we find out in verse 18 that it is “the holy ones of the Most High” who receive the Kingdom – that is to say the saints, the people of God. The direct interpretation of this passage is that Jesus is the Most High, the Ancient of Days, on the Throne of Judgement, the “one like a son of man” is the personified people of God – much as the people of God are personified as a woman in Revelation and the female lover in the Song of Songs – the Bride of Christ. It is, nonetheless, true that this passage is also a prophecy of Jesus Christ and His ascension into Heaven as The Son of Man, the first fruits of the resurrection, the New Adam in whom dwell the redeemed people of God. We are reckoned as saints because when we come before the Throne of God and are judged it is The Son of Man who takes our place and receives the judgement for us – we are in Him. Thus it can be seen that the ‘Ancient of Days’ is not the Father, but Jesus, the eternal Word of God from the before the beginning of time to beyond the end of time.
If Scripture is taken as seriously as it demands it should be, then there can be no other conclusion except that Jesus Christ was physically manifest numerous times in the Old Testament prior to His incarnation – that is to say these events are ‘Christophanies’. God could never be said to have abandoned His people, He repeatedly came down to help them. The People of God in the Old Testament worshipped Jesus just as we do – it is just a sorrowful shame that unlike Abraham they did not recognise Him when He returned. In doing this they no longer believe in the God of the Old Testament, who revealed Himself by His Word, but in a shadow of the revelation given them, a shadow which cannot save them as there is salvation only in the Name of Jesus.