Deep Dive: Who was this fourth person?
As I said in the full discussion guide, there’s some debate as to who or what this fourth being in the fiery furnace was. The answer we’re given in the passage is an angel, at least according to Nebuchadnezzar.(3:28) Spiritual beings like angels were known to Jews in Daniel’s time, with references like in Psalm 103:20, “Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word!” The Babylonian religion had tons of different spiritual beings, including angels, so it could very well be that Nebuchadnezzar was correctly identifying this visitor from his own, more varied, background. However, the Bible also tells us about a far more puzzling candidate for this furnace appearance, one who is often called “the angel of the Lord.” For example, this is the title given to the being who spoke to Moses in Exodus 3:2, “And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush.” But here’s where it gets tricky; in Exodus 3:4 we read, “When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush.” So this “angel of the Lord” in the bush is…God? The same confusing thing happens multiple times in scripture, like in Judges 2 where the angel says to Israel, “I brought you up from Egypt.” So here we have a distinct being—the Bible goes to lengths to call him “the angel of the Lord” instead of just calling him God—who speaks as God and makes sometimes disembodied, sometimes physical appearances in the Old Testament (ex. Genesis 18). Consequentially many people wonder, “Wait, could that be Jesus?” Considering Jesus has existed for all time (John 1:2), theologians have speculated that these appearances of the angel of the Lord could have been pre-incarnation appearances of the Son of God. These suspected visits are called Christophanies, Greek for “Christ-appearances.” Considering the Spirit of God also shows up in the pages of the Old Testament (Genesis 1:2, 1 Samuel 10, Isaiah 61, etc.) it’s not outside the realm of possibility that all members of the Trinity are represented both in the Old and New Testament. However, aside from Jesus’ eternal existence, we don’t have any confirmation within the Bible that the angel of the Lord was in fact Jesus, so while I think we need to hold onto this premise loosely, there’s also some pretty good evidence to back it up.