What do we call Jesus before Bethlehem?

The Old Testament witness kept the identity of the Son hidden. God is the orchestrator of the narrative, and the Spirit of God’s activity is seen throughout, but what about the Son?

What do we call Jesus before Bethlehem?

In the light of New Testament revelation, the members of the Godhead are easily denoted. Jesus Himself taught the disciples in his “Great Commission” to baptize followers in the Name (singular) of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). However, the Old Testament witness kept the identity of the Son hidden. God is the orchestrator of the narrative, and the Spirit of God’s activity is seen throughout, but what about the Son? He is present, as demonstrated in the earlier article, but His identity is shrouded in mystery. This is the reason the prophets searched so diligently, and wondered so much, concerning “the sufferings of [the Messiah] and the glories that would follow” (1 Peter 1:11).

The revelation of the Son was kept for Mary and Joseph, as the angelic witness testified to them that the child to be born was, in fact, the Son of God (Luke 1:35). And He was to be called “Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).  

What is your Name?

We recognize that our name has something to do with our identity; it evokes an image of who we are. When the pre-incarnate Son, commonly recorded as the Angel of the LORD, appears in the Old Testament (see the previous article), those who meet Him ascribe deity to Him, but are left unsure as to precisely what to call Him. Therefore, some denote Him with a name describing the nature of their interaction with Him. Hagar calls Him a “God of seeing” (Genesis 16:13 ESV). Abraham calls Him the God who provides (Genesis 22). Significantly, Jacob wonders who he is wrestling with in Genesis 32. The Wrestler asks Jacob for his name, but does not answer Jacob’s query as to His own. Jacob names the place Peniel, recognizing that he had “seen God face to face” (Genesis 32:30).

This desire to know His name is seen again when Moses wonders how he is going to describe to the people who it is that has entrusted him with the deliverance of the nation from Egypt. He wonders what his response should be when “they ask me, ’What is his name?’”(Exodus 3:13 ESV). Tell them “I AM has sent [you]” (v.14) is the cryptic reply. The link with Yahweh is clear, but the question remains, who exactly is this Yahweh (LORD)? He says, “The LORD . . . is My name forever” (v.15), and it is by this name that He was known to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The revealed divine title is shared by both Father and Son, leaving Moses with little insight, from his standpoint, as to the specific identity of the Person speaking to him from the bush.

Manoah is perhaps the boldest in this regard of naming the Angel of the Lord. Keen to know the name of his surprising visitor (he wants to know whom to honour when the promised son arrives), he boldly asks, “What is Your name?” (Judges 13:17) but his questioning is cut off. Why do you ask My name, seeing it is wonderful?” (v.18).  

Finally, Agur, the sage, may be wrestling in a similar vein. As he considers the greatness of God he exclaims, “What is His name, and what is His Son’s name?” (Proverbs 30:4). If this is a reference to God, it seems to sum up the questioning of those graced with the presence of the pre-incarnate Christ. They clearly recognized Him to be God, but struggled with how to apprehend Him as such.

My Name is . . .

Interestingly, some of these cryptic titles are likely made clear in the light of further revelation. Moses’ “I Am” revelation seems to come into full bloom in Jesus’ self-revelation throughout John’s Gospel. Over and over again He relates to the people with the little phrase “I Am” either on its own or with an additional descriptor. For example, when the religious leaders come to arrest Him in the garden, He presents himself as “I Am” and it would seem that they involuntarily acknowledge His deity by falling to the ground (John 18:6). More commonly recognized are the “I Am” associations He makes with the door or the good shepherd in John 10.

Further connections may be seen throughout the Old Testament prophecies. The reference made to Manoah that His name is “wonderful” may be picked up in Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming son (Isaiah 9:6). Daniel’s vision of one like a son of man coming to the Ancient of Days to receive universal dominion (Daniel 7:13-14) may be a further elaboration of the insight shared by Agur. David’s call to “kiss the Son” in Psalm 2 similarly fits into the vision of dominion being granted by the LORD to the one who is both His Anointed and His Son.

We Call Him . . .

The Spirit of God’s inspiration of the Old Testament writers and the self-revelation of God the Son kept His precise identity largely hidden from Old Testament believers. God had His reasons for preserving the identity of the promised Saviour for the day when He is presented at the temple as the Lords Christ (Messiah) (Luke 2). Therefore, it seems weird to refer to Jesus in the Old Testament, but the New Testament is clear He was there. 

So what do we call Him when we find Him in the Old Testament? When Jude considered His activity in the Old Testament he referred to Him as Jesus (Jude 5 ESV), and Paul referred to him as Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4). Jesus calls Himself the Lord that Isaiah saw in John 12:41. The Hebrew writer catalogues several Old Testament references to Jesus as Son and God in his argument for His deity (ch.1). Therefore, we have every warrant to refer to Him as the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whenever we find Him in the Old Testament! 


OT Appearings of Christ (often as 'the Angel of the LORD')







Hagar Genesis 16, 21 Wilderness  Sustenance & Assurance Angel of the LORD, angel of God, God of Seeing Provides water and promises to multiply her offspring
Abraham Genesis 22 Mount Moriah Deliverance Angel of the LORD, LORD will provide Delivers Isaac, provides a sacrifice and promises blessing
Jacob Genesis 32 Peniel Dependence Unnamed Wrestler but Jacob recognizes he has seen the face of God Promises care and blessing but also touches Jacob’s hip causing him to limp
Moses Exodus 3 Burning Bush in desert Assurance Angel of the LORD, I AM (clearly linked with 'Yahweh') Promise to deliver Israel from Egypt and Moses’ frailty highlighted
Nation of Israel Exodus 13 & 14 With the cloud from Egypt to Canaan Guidance LORD, angel of God Direction, Protection and Light
Balaam Numbers 22 Blocking Balaam’s path to cursing Israel Preservation Angel of the LORD Ensures Balaam will only bless Israel 
Joshua Joshua 5  Gilgal, plains of Jericho Preservation Commander of the army of the LORD Protection of Israelite camp
Nation of Israel Judges 2 Bochim Obedience Angel of the LORD Indicts nation for disobedience
Barak Judges 4, 5 Oppression by Canaanites Deliverance Angel of the LORD Curse of Meroz for not helping in battle
Gideon Judges 6 Oppression by Midian Deliverance Angel of the LORD, LORD is Peace Sword of the Lord and of Gideon
Manoah’s wife Judges 13 Oppression by Philistines Deliverance Angel of the LORD, Wonderful Promise of a Nazirite son who will deliver Israel
David 2 Samuel 24, 1 Chronicles 21 Census judgment outside Jerusalem Repentance Angel of the LORD Sword against Jerusalem is held back due to David’s repentance and sacrifice
Elijah 1 Kings 19 Depressed in wilderness Sustenance & Presence An angel, Angel of the LORD Affirms His presence and purposes to Elijah
Hezekiah 2 Kings 19, Isaiah 37 Jerusalem under siege by Assyrians Deliverance Angel of the LORD 185,000 killed overnight by the sword
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego Daniel 3 Fiery furnace Deliverance Not given but called God's angel by Nebuchadnezzar Unhurt and untouched through the fire
Daniel Daniel 6 Den of lions Deliverance Not given but called God's angel by Daniel Mouths of lions shut
Zechariah Zechariah 1,2 Israel in weakness Preservation Angel of the LORD Active in restoration of Israel to glory and relationship with God