The Old Testament. The Hebrew word most commonly used for appearance in the Old Testament is raa [h'a'r]. The seeing of God leads to an understanding of his nature and his purposes for Israel. When people appear before God, their loyalty and obedience to God are disclosed.
The Appearing of God. One of the defining characteristics of God in the Old Testament is that he is the one who appears ( Exod 6:3 ). The salvation history of Israel is punctuated with and propelled by appearances from God. God appeared to Abram ( Gen 12:7 ), Isaac ( Gen 26:2 ), and Jacob ( Gen 28:12-17 ), promising that their descendants were chosen by him. Subsequently he appeared to Moses, promising deliverance ( Exod 3:2 ) and establishing a covenant with Israel (Exod. 19-24). Stephen refers to this central feature of Jewish religion ( Acts 7:2 ). Appearing by its very nature requires one or more people to perceive/receive the appearance. While later rabbinic texts hold that a direct vision of God is reserved for the righteous in the age to come, the Pentateuch in particular recounts that God was visible (in various forms) at certain moments to certain people.
God appears for specific purposes, so those who receive his appearances also receive some sort of commission. The appearance of God both validates a person's role ( Exod 4:5 ) and initiates a new stage in God's revelation of himself and his purposes for Israel. A common pattern in the Old Testament is that through his appearance to one person God subsequently reveals himself to all of Israel ( Lev 9:23 ). In the psalms God's appearance in Zion is for the general benefit of those who are faithful ( Psalm 84:7 ). The religious significance and historical reality of appearances of God are signified by commemorative sites, such as El-bethel, Shechem, and Shiloh.
God appears in the Old Testament to reveal his character, identity, and purposes for Israel. This quality of disclosure is seen in the fact that an appearance of God is typically connected with a revelation of his glory ( Exod 16:10 ) or with a "word of the Lord" ( Gen 15:1 ). At his appearances God reveals himself as one who listens and responds (Judg. 13 1 Kings 9:2-3 ), who comforts and cares ( 2 Ch 1:7 ). God's appearances make clear that his purpose for Israel is both her deliverance and her loyalty to him (e.g., Num 14:10-12 ). God's appearing functions also as a reward for obedience ( Lev 9:6 ). The appearing of the righteous God can be threatening and terrifying (Judg. 13), but generally God's appearances provide hope. Remembrance of God's appearances provides the basis for trust in God's faithfulness and love ( Jer 31:3 ).
While the majority of Old Testament references to God's appearances tell of specific historical moments, there is also expectation of future appearances. The future appearance of God or God's messenger entails judgment ( Mal 3:1-5 ) but also the vindication of belief in him ( Psalm 84:7 ; 102:16 ). One of the most profound expressions of religious longing is the hope for a vision of God ( Psalm 42:2 ). Just as several of God's past appearances are connected with specific places, so future appearances are expected in religiously significant locales, particularly the temple and Zion.
People Appear before God. There are several references to God's people appearing before him (e.g., Exod 23:17 ; 34:20 ; Deut 31:11 ; Isa 1:12 ). Such references speak not just of an obedient response to the kingly authority of God or of cultic observances but of Israel's requirement to be conscious of and accountable for what she knows of the revealed truth about God. Just as God's appearances are a self-disclosure, so Israel's appearance before God discloses the adequacy or inadequacy of her response to God's self-revelation. Appearing in the presence of God is part of establishing ( 1 Sa 1:22 ) and maintaining ( Deut 16:16 ) a special relationship with the God of Israel.
The New TestamentAppearing of God, His Purposes and Gifts. Reference to the appearance of God (in the form of an angel) occurs primarily in the birth and resurrection narratives of the Gospels ( Matt 1:20-21 ; 28:2-7 ; Mark 16:5 ; Luke 1:11 ; 22:43 ). These appearances announce and confirm the good news of God's deliverance in Jesus Christ. As in the Old Testament God's appearances serve to direct ( Matt 2:13 ) and disclose his purposes ( Matt 17:1 ; Mark 9:4 ; Luke 9:31 ). God's gift of eternal life is made manifest in Christ for those who believe ( 1 John 1:1-2 ).
Appearing of Christ. While reference is made to Christ's presently appearing before God in a priestly capacity on behalf of believers ( Heb 9:24 ), the major referent is to the post-resurrection earthly appearances of Jesus Christ. In the Gospels, Acts, and writings of Paul the resurrection is confirmed when the risen Christ's appearance is perceived by the disciples (e.g., Luke 24:34 Luke 24:36-45 ; cf. John 21:14 ). Such appearances occur only before Christ's ascension ( John 20:17 ). Their import is to reveal the meaning of his life, death, and resurrection ( Luke 24:25-27 ) to those who would witness to him. Seeing the risen Jesus confirms that he is to be worshiped ( Matt 28:17 ). The appearance of the risen Lord in bodily form is a distinctive and definitive type of appearance that signifies the dawn of the new age of salvation.
Just as the authority of an Old Testament prophet or leader involved having received an appearance from God, so an essential requirement for apostleship in the New Testament is having received an appearance from the risen Christ. Again as in the Old Testament the appearance of God is purposeful and those who receive it also receive a commission ( Acts 10:40-42 ). The connection between commission and appearance is especially clear in Paul's life. Luke recounts that the Lord Jesus appeared to Saul ( Acts 9:17 ) for the purpose of appointing him to bear witness to the Gentiles ( Acts 26:16 ). Paul regards this appearance as both a validation of his apostleship and as central to the message of the gospel ( 1 Cor 15:3-8 ).
The centrality to the Christian faith of belief in Christ's appearance may be the background to the Pastorals' use. There the concept of Christ appearing includes his incarnation and work of salvation. Christ's appearing is spoken of in the abstract as something that the writer and his readers share and understand ( 1 Tim 3:16 ). While Christ's appearing is connected with the abolition of death ( 2 Tim 1:10 ), it is not a confirmation of the resurrection so much as of the truth of the gospel and the worthwhileness of witnessing to Jesus Christ ( 2 Tim 4:1 ). Rather than using the concept of appearing in connection with historical moments, it has become shorthand for the continuing salvific work of Christ ( Titus 2:11 ; 3:4 ).
The Gospel of John refers to the appearing (emphanizo [ejmfaNIVzw] or phaneroo [fanerovw]) of Christ also in this more abstract way. The Fourth Gospel speaks not only of the bodily appearance of the resurrected Christ, but also of his revelation to Israel ( 1:31 ) and to the people God gave him ( John 17:6 ). Christ's identity appears through his signs ( 2:11 ) and as believers love him ( 14:21-24 ).
The New Testament does not just proclaim that Christ has appeared but hopes for a second appearance. This is implicit in Jesus' promise to his disciples in Mark 16:7 and may be the proper referent for Jesus' words in Matthew 24:30. Other New Testament writings speak of the time when Christ will be revealed or appear again ( Col 3:4 ; 1 Tim 6:14 ; Titus 2:13 ; 1 John 2:28 ). The expected appearing of Christ is a warning to believers ( 1 Jo 2:28 ), a promise of defeat of the enemy ( 2 Th 2:8 ), and an encouragement ( 1 Pe 5:4 ). At that second appearing God will reward those who have believed in him ( Heb 9:28 ).
Christ's first appearance in all of its facets (incarnation, death, and resurrection) served to express God's concern for and deliverance of all people. It is visible to those with eyes to see. Christians hope for a second appearance when all the promises entailed in the first appearance will be delivered and when God's character and purposes and their identity as the faithful ones will be fully manifest.
Appearance of People. As in the Old Testament, the New Testament refers to people appearing before God at the judgment seat ( 2 Co 5:10 ). The most interesting referent, however, has to do with the revelation of believers at the end. When Christ appears so too will those who have believed in him ( Col 3:4 ; cf. Rom 8:19 ).
L. Ann Jervis
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Appear, Appearance'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".