While a number of studies over the years have looked at God’s appearing in theophany (a literal combination of the words God/θεος + To shine, become visible, appear/φαινω), several recent studies have been devoted to considering this topic biblically-theologically. Vern S. Poythress’ newly published Theophany: A Biblical Theology of God’s Appearing (Crossway, 2018) is an especially fine read. But lest one think that learning about theophany is too abstract – the kind of thing only for scholars to tackle – Poythress offers the following thoughts of why all of us can grow in our understanding of God and his word by paying attention to the theme of theophany:
The theme of theophany – the theme of God appearing – is important for several reasons. First, as we just observed, the theme has at its center the person of Christ, who is the permanent theophany anticipated by the temporary theophanies in the Old Testament. Second, the theme finds its culmination in the final vision of God described in the book of Revelation: “They [the saints] will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads” (Rev. 22:4). Thus, theophany is central to Christian hope. The final destiny of redeemed mankind is to experience the final theophany, when we “see his face.”
It helps to remember the larger plot of history. God’s purpose in history is to establish communion with mankind. That communion comes to consummation in the new heavens and new earth (Rev. 21:1-22:5). At that time, the consummate communion takes place in a final theophany. God comes. God appears, and the Lamb appears on the throne (22:1). God’s promise is that his servants “will see his face” (v.4). This purpose of GOd is behind the whole history leading up to the consummation. It drives all of history. So it is important to reckon with it.
The purpose of God also has practical implications for us. It is God’s purpose for the church, for each one of us who belong to Jesus Christ. It defines who we are by showing what God’s plan is for us. Even now, in this life, we can experience communion with God through Jesus Christ. In the Bible, theophanies show us this same God. They show us that God comes to us and establishes communion with us in Christ. Understanding God’s appearing reorients the meaning of our lives and enables us to know the purpose of our life by knowing God.
R. Andrew Compton
Mid-America Reformed Seminary