One of the most emotionally captivating stories from the Bible is that of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and their encounter with the “fiery furnace” in Daniel 3.
Who Were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego?
The first time we read about these young men, we meet King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon who besieged Jerusalem. He immediately started to take notice of the people living in his new territory: “Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility—young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace” (Daniel 1:3–4). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, along with Daniel, were selected as meeting that criteria. They were the absolute “cream of the crop” in Jerusalem at that time. The king took these young men under his wing, gave them food and drink from his own table, and trained them in the ways of the Babylonians (Daniel 1:4–5). As a symbol of their stature within the leadership structure, the king even replaced their Israelite birth names with the Babylonian names they are most commonly known by: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. It was clear that these young men were on their way to the top.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were eventually appointed “administrators over the province of Babylon, while Daniel himself remained at the royal court” (Daniel 2:49). It didn’t take long for these young men to be tested. King Nebuchadnezzar set up a golden idol and commanded everyone to bow down to it (Daniel 3:1–5). The dire consequences of not obeying this command were that the violator would “immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace” (Daniel 3:6). The time had come for these three young men to choose whom they were going to obey: King Nebuchadnezzar or the One True God.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow to the golden image. When questioned as to why they had failed to comply with the king’s order, they replied, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:16–18). The die had been cast. A furious Nebuchadnezzar immediately ordered the three young men to be thrown into the fiery furnace and, as an added measure of wrath, for it to be heated “seven times hotter than usual” (Daniel 3:20). The king wanted to make a public example of how disobedience would be dealt with under his reign.
The Fourth Man
When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the furnace, the king expected to see a quick and painful death for these young men. But he was stunned to see them walking around in the furnace, unharmed—and someone else was in the furnace with them: “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods” (Daniel 3:25). The king, although antagonistic toward the God of Israel, immediately recognized the supernatural nature of miracle before him. Nebuchadnezzar called the three Hebrew men out of the furnace, praised their God, and honored them, declaring, “No other god can save in this way” (Daniel 3:29).
So, who was this mysterious fourth man in the furnace? Most Christians understand this person to be the pre-incarnate Christ, the second Person of the Godhead. Another theory is that this fourth person is the Angel of the Lord who appeared to Moses in the burning bush (Exodus 3:2). Note that this theory could also lead to the conclusion that it was Jesus. The fourth man in the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego was thus a theophany or a Christophany.
Who was in the furnace? — The Conclusion
God was responsible for the supernatural protection of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. This story stirs hope in the believer’s heart, for we know that God is with us even in trials. Trials may be unavoidable in this life, but we have a risen Savior who has promised to be with us. Jesus, the One who was with the three men in the furnace, promised, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). And 1 Peter 5:10 reminds us, “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”