Theophany is a word meaning an actual appearance of God to man, whether it be literal or in a dream or vision. In the Old Testament, prophets are sometimes called “seers” because of such theophanies.
Theophanies always produce profound effects on those who experience them, sometimes life-changing. Let me mention just three examples.
First we have Isaiah. In chapter six he tells us that he saw the Lord high and lifted up, with Seraphim worshipping Him, saying “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of Hosts!”. A fiction writer might have made a lot out of this, in describing the scene, but all Isaiah says is, “Woe is me for I am a man of unclean lips.” We can only pause at the effect of the theophany, and realise that to be in the actual presence of the Lord is not only dramatic, but decidedly traumatic. But the Lord came not to frighten Isaiah, but to cleanse him and equip him for ministry.
Peter, the “big fisherman” comes next. He is sitting in a boat listening to Jesus teaching the multitude. But Jesus concludes by asking him to fish. Peter responds somewhat scornfully. How can a carpenter know anything about fishing? But he responds positively, after all, Jesus had just cured his wife’s mother. The result is often called miraculous, but the real miracle is with Peter. “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” All of a sudden Peter was confronted, not just by a carpenter, but by the Lord Himself. It was a theophany and a life-changing experience. (Luke 5:8)
Our third example is the demonic horde called Legion. Being confronted by Jesus he said, “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me!” (Luke 8:28) As James said, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” (James 2:19) Legion was sent into the pigs. The pigs were drowned in the sea, and it is said that demons hate water. But the man was healed and in his right mind.
There are other examples we might ponder, as with Abraham at Sodom, Ezekiel before the Cherubim, Amos with his visions, and Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. When God appears before man (or demons) His holiness creates either holy fear, a sense of unworthiness, or conviction of sin. It must be a great and awesome privilege to be in the presence of the Lord, the One who is a consuming fire, ready to purge, refine, cleanse, instruct and equip for service. And those who have had a theophany will never be able to forget their experiences.
Many Jews and Arabs have had theophanies in recent years, and it has always been life changing. Jesus is the same, yesterday, today, and for ever. Are we ready to meet the Lord? What effect would a theophany have?