We find in Daniel chapter 3 one of the Bible’s most vivid examples of godly courage. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego preferred being thrown in the fiery furnace to compromising their commitment to worship the God of Israel exclusively. Just after these three men were cast “into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire still tied up” (Dan. 3:23), we read the following:
Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he said to his high officials, “Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?” They replied to the king, “Certainly, O king.” He said, “Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!” (3:24-25)
God saved the three Hebrew men miraculously. The question arises as to who that fourth person was. The text does not answer. However, as with many of our questions about the Bible, the pursuit of a scripturally plausible answer is a faith-building exercise.
Commentators have suggested that the fourth person was Daniel, or an angel—perhaps Gabriel himself. In the early centuries after Jesus, many believed that the pre-incarnate Christ appeared in the fiery furnace. This belief was emphasized by the King James Version, which had Nebuchadnezzar saying “like the Son of God” rather than the more accurate “like a son of the gods.”
While we cannot be sure whether the Christ was in the furnace, it may be so. Recall that Christ was involved heavily in the events of the Old Testament. The Israelites “drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4). Jesus identified Himself as the “I Am,” Who spoke to Moses from the burning bush (John 8:53-58; cf. Exodus 3:13-15). In the Old Testament, Christ often is referred to as “the Angel of the Lord,” or “the Messenger of Jehovah” (see Genesis 16:7-13; 22:15-16; 32:28-30; cf. Hosea 12:3-5; Joshua 5:13-6:2).
Whoever it was in the fiery furnace, he was there by God’s decree and by His power. And God’s salvation of the three Hebrew men reassures us that God will see us through the fiery trials of our lives (James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 4:12).