There is some debate among theologians whether or not Christ has any “pre-incarnate” incarnations throughout the Scripture. Neither side is heretical, though those who see pre-incarnate Jesus in one passage practically see Him everywhere: He’s Jehovah, He’s the Angel of the Lord, He’s Melchizedek, He’s any angel that appears to be doing anything important or cool, etcetera. Most Early Church Fathers ascribed to this, and most theologians into the modern era have done the same.
For a long time I believed that there were not any Christophanies in the Old Testament, because twice in the New Testament it says that “the Law was ordained by angels” (Acts 7:53, see also Gal 3:19). These “angels” are seemingly addressed as “God” or “Jehovah” when the Law is actually given in Exodus and recounted in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Therefore, it is not necessarily a stretch to imagine that these angels were messengers for the King so to say.
However, one passage in the Book of Genesis when properly exegeted makes it very likely that Christophanies are a common occurrence in the Old Testament. In it Jacob says the following:
The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,
The God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day,
The angel who has redeemed me from all evil,
Bless the lads;
And may my name live on in them,
And the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac;
And may they grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth (Gen 48:15, 16).
In the Septuagint (LXX) the terma “Ho Theos [The God]” and “Ho Aggelos [The Angel]
are used, so we know that the early Jews who translated the Book of Genesis were speaking of a singular, specific Person. Further, being that God redeemed Jacob from all evil, and the sentence construction is identical, the easiest explanation is that “the God” is “the angel.”
Being that “the Angel of the Lord” has a definite article in front of it, we know that this is a specific Angel, a special one set apart from the others. Being that Christ alone is the Redeemer, and He is God (John 1:1, 3), we have good reason to believe that any references to “the Angel of the Lord” are addressing the same Angel in Gen 48:16.
This is not a mere created being that acts as a messenger for God, but God Himself. Jesus Christ is the one who “exegetes the Father” (John 1:18). So, in this sense, Christ is indeed the Messenger of God the Father.
Who else can “the angel” of Gen 48:16 be? A random angel that happens not to be God? How can such an angel redeem Jacob from all evil? Jehovah’s Witnesses might take this to mean that Christ is merely an angel, and thereby a created being. However, context heavily mitigates against this. The Angel appears to be one and the same with the one true God.
The only reasonable conclusion is that Jacob wrestled with Christ, that he built altars to Christ, that his vision of the ladder (Gen 28:10-17) was that of Christ’s mediation between man and the Father, that Jesus is the God whom Jacob’s fathers walked before, and He is the one who redeemed him from all evil.