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Who Was the Angel of the LORD?


Copyright © 2002, 2015

by
Jim Kerwin

Introduction

Two Memorable Bible Studies

  1. “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?”
  2. And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, [Jesus] expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.…
  1. And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the scriptures?…
  1. And He said unto them, “These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning Me.
  2. Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures,
  3. And said unto them, “Thus it is written…”
  4. Luke 24:26-27,32,44-46

Two of the most fascinating Bible studies ever to occur transpired on the first Easter. The risen Christ appeared to two distraught disciples on their way home to Emmaus. In order to encourage them, He revealed things in Holy Writ their eyes had never seen. Later, toward day’s end, for the benefit of these two and all the assembled disciples, He repeated the theme, and “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (v. 45 nasb). Along with the many Messianic passages He must have highlighted in the Psalms, the Books of the Prophets, and in the various types of the Old Testament, an important theme of His discourse might have been the Angel of the Lord.

Getting Familiar with a Few “Tools”

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Perhaps this subject of the Angel of the Lord is all new to you, as it may well be, if you’ve never studied theology. What gives me the idea that Jesus would have brought up this Angel in a Bible study about Himself? To deal with this question adequately, I need to introduce you to a few words used by theologians. Don’t be put off by a few new words or unfamiliar terms. Think of specialized words as tools that help us get a handle on special thoughts and concepts. Let’s pick up two words and examine them:

  • Theology: This word comes from two Greek words—theos (meaning God) and logia (shorthand for “study of). So theology means the study of God, and the study of God’s relation to the world. Thus if you are studying and learning about God, you are, by definition, a theologian. (And you thought that title was relegated to Ivory Tower types!)
  • Christology: Here is another word that comes from two Greek words—Christos (the Greek equivalent of the Jewish term Messiah, meaning [in both languages] anointed one) and that root word logia again. So Christology means the study of Christ. And a special area of Christology is exactly what we’re dealing with in this article. (Yes, technically, that also makes you a Christologian, but don’t put that on your next résumé or people will think you’re showing off.)

Are you still with me? Those two words weren’t so hard, were they? It should be our delight as Christians to study God and His ways, as well as to study Christ and His atonement, miracles, and heavenly ministry. There’s no harm done in having special labels to describe what we’re doing.

So let’s do some theology and Christology in this Bible study and look at two more terms, the most important words of this study. Let’s try:

  • Theophany: This is another meeting of two Greek words. The theos part we’ve already encountered. The last half of the word is derived from phaneia, which means an appearance or manifestation. So a theophany is a visible appearance or manifestation of God.
  • Christophany: We’ve already met the two pieces to this word, so we can figure it out. Christos plus phaneia gives us Christophany or a visible appearance or manifestation of Christ.

So when I start throwing these “big words” around, you’re “in the know” now and can say to yourself, “That’s a piece of cake—I know what that word means.”

A Less Familiar Meaning for a More Familiar Word

Ah, but here’s a word that you may think is “a piece of cake,” but you might be wrong. That word is ANGEL. We think we know that it means “a heavenly being with wings;” but “a heavenly being” is only the secondary definition. The problem is that we haven’t translated the word; instead, we’ve transliterated it;1 that is, we’ve moved the sounds of the word from Greek to English, substituting English letters for Greek ones, making angel out of the Greek word angelos (ἄγγελος). And by transliterating the word, we have lost sight of the fact that the Greeks used the word primarily to mean someone who is sent, a messenger or ambassador or envoy, for a thousand years before the New Testament was written. The verb form of this word (angello / ἀγγέλλω) means to proclaim.

Thus we see the word angelos used of messengers in the New Testament in verses like Luke 9:52 (men Jesus sent out), Luke 7:24 (men John the Baptist sent out), and of John the Baptist himself (Matthew 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27; all referring to Malachi 3:1). “Messenger” is probably also the meaning of “angel” in Revelation 2:1,8,12,18;3:1,7, and 14. But most of the time in the New Testament the word angelos is translated as angel, which is perfectly fitting, because when we encounter these heavenly beings in the Bible, they usually are acting as God’s messengers. They derive their name from their function; but we would remember their function better if we translated the word angelos as messenger rather than transliterating it as angel.

Now it won’t surprise you that in the Old Testament, the Hebrew word translated as angelmal’akh— also means messenger or ambassador; indeed, it is translated that way almost half the time it appears. (Mal’akh even finds its way into the name of the last known prophet of the Old Testament, Malachi.) The word is used of human messengers in such passages as Joshua 6:25, 1 Samuel 6:21, and 1 Kings 19:2. The other half of the time, the Old Testament word mal’akh is translated as angel, by which is meant a heavenly messenger. While it usually means a created order of heavenly being (as in Genesis 19:12-17 and Psalm 91:11, for example), it is also used of that uncreated Being known as the Angel (i.e., Messenger/Ambassador/Envoy) of the LordMal’akh-Yahweh.

On Our Marks, Get Set, Let’s Go

All right, we’ve picked up a few new “tools”—theophany, Christophany, and messenger, the actual meaning of angel— and they’re on our Bible study workbench. Do you have your Bible handy? This is the Chief Tool for doing theology. We’ll need it, because we’re going to look at all the passages that mention the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament.

Why are we going to look at all those Angel of the Lord passages? It is because we’re going to analyze them and try to arrive at an understanding of the Christian teaching that the Angel of the Lord is a special Being Who was none other than the pre-incarnate manifestation of Christ, the visible appearance of the Second Person of the Trinity in Old Testament times. (And you are now doing theology and Christology if you just said to yourself, “Aha, he means that the Angel of the Lord is a Christophany.” Very good—go to the head of the class!)

Summary of Scripture Appearances

Bible scholar C. Fred Dickason asserts that the Angel of the Lord “is the most frequent Christophany in the Old Testament.”2 This can be shown by e number of passages in which He is mentioned. Let's examine the passages that appear in the following table,The Angel of the Lord in Scripture:

Table 1: The Angel of the Lord in Scripture
Appearance or Mention Individual or Category Reference Notes & Supporting References
The Angel of the Lord was seen, heard, felt, or other­wise experi­enced by peo­ple, including: Hagar Genesis 16:7-14; 21:16-20 Notice that Hagar encountered the Angel not once, but twice.
Beer-lahai-roi (Genesis 16:14) means The Well of the Living One Who Sees Me.
Abraham & Isaac Genesis 22:11-18 Hebrews 6:13-14. The point to note here is that in quoting Genesis 22:17, the writer to the Hebrews is quite clear that God is speaking, even though the Genesis passage makes it clear that these are the words of the Angel of the Lord.
Jacob Genesis 28:12-19; 32:24-30 The Genesis 28 passage is significant, because in the Bethel “ladder” dream, God clearly declares Himself to be the Lord. Yet when the Angel of God speaks in Jacob’s dream in Genesis 31:11-13, he refers to the previous dream at Bethel some fifteen years earlier, saying that, that He (the Mal’akh / Messenger / Angel) is the God of Bethel! (It is therefore significant how Jesus alludes to this passage in John 1:51.) Only when we study the Genesis 34 wrestling passage side by side with Hosea 12:3-5, do we learn that Jacob wrestled with an angel. And it wasn’t just any angel, because Jacob realizes that he has “seen God face to face.”
Moses Exodus 3:2-14ff Most Bible readers are familiar with this famous passage, but many overlook verse 2, which makes clear that it is the Angel of the Lord who appears and speaks.
Balaam Numbers 22:22-35 On three separate occasions Balaam is nearly slain by the Angel of the Lord, and on each occasion Balaam is saved only by a donkey who was more spiritually astute than the prophet himself. The Angel warns Balaam that “only the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak” (Numbers 22:35); yet it is clear that Balaam is prophesying with words from God and the Lord in Numbers 23-24.
Gideon Judges 6:11-24 In relating Gideon's encounter, the narration freely interchanges the phrases “Angel of God,” “Angel of the Lord”, and “the Lord.”
Manoah & his wife Judges 13:3-23 One of the main points to note here is that once Manoah realized that the visitor with whom he was dealing was the Angel of the Lord, he was greatly afraid, because he realized that he had looked on God Himself.
David, the elders, & Ornan (Arau­nah) 2 Samuel 24:16-17
1 Chronicles 21:12-19,26-30
It is interesting to note in these passages that, though the Angel of the Lord is distinct from the Lord (for the latter addresses the former in 1 Chronicles 21:15,27), the Angel of the Lord speaks as the Lord to God’s prophet Gad (v. 18).
Elijah 1 Kings 19:5-7;
2 Kings 1:3,15
The Angel of the Lord appeared and spoke to Elijah at least three times.
Zechariah Zechariah 1:11,12; 3:1-10 Zechariah saw the Angel of the Lord in two different visions.
Many people Exodus 14:19;
Judges 2:1-5
Here are two incidents in which the Angel of the Lord is seen by a large congregation.
The Angel of the Lord is mentioned in prophecy. Zechariah 12:8
Malachi 3:1
In at least one major event in Judah’s history, the Angel of the Lord was active but unseen. 2 Kings 19:35
2 Chronicles 32:21
Isaiah 37:36
All three of these references are “parallel accounts” of the same incident.
The Angel of the Lord is invoked in… Blessings Genesis 24:7,40;48:15,16;
Deuteronomy 33:16
Curses Judges 5:23
Psalm 35:5,6
God’s Promises Exodus 23:20-23; 32:34;33:2;
Psalm 34:7
Historical recitations Numbers 20:16;
Isaiah 63:9
Hosea 12:3-5
Compliments & Flattery 2 Samuel 14:17,20; 19:27 Here are three quotes from two incidents. The tie-in with the “the Angel of God” is rather lost in the King James translation (“an angel of God”); but in others, like the New American Standard, the translation clearly brings out that it is “the Angel of God” to whom reference is being made.

 

Special Names and Designations

All right, if you’ve honestly read each of those passages in the table above, you have covered many of the same Scriptures the disciples had expounded to them that first Easter by Jesus. If you were paying close attention, you noticed that throughout Scripture, the Angel of the Lord is called by various other names including:

  • the Angel of God (Genesis 21:17; 31:11; etc.);
  • the Angel of the Face or the Angel of the Presence (Isaiah 63:9);
  • the Angel or Messenger of the Cove­nant (Malachi 3:1);
  • My Angel3 (Exodus 23:23; 32:34);
  • the Redeeming Angel (Genesis 48:16);
  • simply the Angel or Messen­ger (Ecclesiastes 5:6), and
  • “Him Who dwelt in the bush” (Deuteronomy 33:16).

Several sites are given memorial-names after the Angel manifests Himself:

  • Beer-lahai-roi [The Well of the Living One Who sees me] (Genesis 16:13-14);
  • Yahweh4-jireh [The LORD provides] (Genesis 22:14);
  • Beth-el [The House of God] (Genesis 28:17-19; 31:11-13);
  • Peniel [The Face of God] (Genesis 32:30) and
  • Yahweh-shalom [The LORD’s peace] (Judges 6:24).

More cau­tiously, we may guess that it is also He Who is called Captain of the Host of the Lord (Joshua 5:13-15), though the passage doesn’t specifically call Him the Angel of the Lord, so we won’t force the issue.

The Angel of the Lord and Yahweh

Who (or what), then, is this Angel of the Lord? A number of views are held, including:

  1. He is a common angel with a special commission.5
  2. He is a temporary descent of God into visibility.6
  3. In Jewish tradition, the Angel of the Lord is also called the Metatron,7 though the origins of this name are long-forgotten.8 Jews regarded the Metatron as a very important figure, and a segment of Jewish tradition believes him to be Enoch, changed into an angel.9
  4. “Any kind of agency, personal or impersonal, by which the divine working or will is made manifest.”10 Under this concept, inanimate objects (e.g., the burning bush) and non-personal phenomenon (e.g., the Shekinah glory, the cloudy pillar) are considered “the Angel of the Lord.”11
  5. The Evangelical consensus is that the Angel is a theophany, “a kind of temporary pre-in­carnation of the Second Person of the Trinity.”12

The Angel Is Identified with Yahweh

This fifth view has the strongest Biblical support. Of all the Scriptural designations given to the Angel, the most amazing and important is the name of God—Yahweh.

Those who experienced His visit called Him Yahweh (“Lord”) or Elohim (“God”). Moses, in writing the story of Hagar’s encounter with the Angel, records the following words:

Then she called the name of the Lord [Yahweh] Who spoke to her, “Thou art a God Who sees”; for she said, “Have I even remained alive after seeing Him?”

Genesis 16:13 nasb

Jacob wrestled with the Angel. This passage in Genesis 32:24-30 doesn’t specifically say that it was any kind of angel, much less the Angel of the Lord; that fact is brought out in Hosea 12:4. (The rest of this short passage in Hosea is instructive, too. It says that Jacob “made supplication to Him, he found Him in Bethel,” and then it clearly identifies Him as “even the Lord, the God of hosts” v. 5.) Yet as the morning dawned, Jacob declared, “I have seen God face to face.” As a result, Jacob named the place Peniel (i.e., Face of God).

Once the identity of the Angel is revealed to him, Gideon fears for his life (Judges 6:22,23). Like Gideon, Manoah (Samson’s father) lamented, “We shall surely die, because we have seen God!” (Judges 13:22)

Even more impressive is this fact: the Angel identifies Himself as Yahweh. For instance, in Jacob’s “ladder” dream, Yahweh speaks, saying, “I am Yahweh” (Genesis 28:13), and Jacob names the place Beth-el (“House of God”). Then many years later, the Angel of the Lord speaks to Jacob in a dream (31:11-13) and says quite distinctly, “I am the God of Bethel” (v. 13). Calling to Abraham (Genesis 22:11,12,15) and in the hearing of Isaac, who was also present, the Angel declares Himself to be Yahweh and swears by Himself13 a tremendous promise to Abraham (vv. 16-18).

Finally, by carefully scrutinizing several poetic passages, noting how the parallel lines of verse illuminate each other, we conclude that inspired Scripture is equating Yahweh/Elohim with the Mal’akh-Yahweh. For instance, the dying patriarch Jacob intoned this blessing:

God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk,
the God which fed me all my life long unto this day
The Angel which redeemed me from all evil,14
Bless the lads…”

Genesis 48:15-16

God Himself, speaking through the prophet Hosea, says of Jacob:

…by his strength [Jacob] had power with God:
Yea, he had power over the Angel, and prevailed:
he wept, and made supplication unto Him:

he found Him in Bethel,
and there He spake with us;

even the Lord God of hosts;
the Lord is his memorial.

Hosea 12:3-5

The Angel of the Lord also exercises the prerogatives of God as God would:

  • He receives and answers prayer (Genesis 18:22-32).15
  • He receives worship due to God alone (Joshua 5:14; Judges 13:20; 1 Chronicles 21:16). This point is more potent when we realize that other angels are careful not to receive worship due to God (Revelation 19:10; 22:8,9).16
  • He swears by Himself and makes extraordinary promises. (Genesis 16:10-12; 21:18;22:15-18; 28:13-15, cf. 32:9-13)
  • He actively receives sacrifices offered to Yahweh. (Judges 6:18-21; 13:16, 19,20)
  • He takes away iniquity. (Zechariah 3:1-4)

Even some Jewish tradition concerning the Metatron helps us in this identification of the Angel with Yahweh. A.C. Gaebelein, the famous Bible lecturer (an expert on Jewish history and prophecy) makes this statement:

It is noteworthy and of great interest that the ancient Jews in their traditions regarded the Angel of the Lord, in every instance, not as an ordinary angel, but as the only media­tor between God and the world, the author of all revelations, to whom they gave the name Metatron. They called him “the angel of the counten­ance” (see Is. lxiii:9) because he always sees and beholds God’s countenance, and they speak of him as the highest revela­tion of the unseen God, a partaker of His nature and His majesty.17 [bolded emphasis mine]

Gaebelein goes on to quote another Talmudic18 source stating that “‘the Metatron, the Angel of the Lord, is united with the most high God by oneness of nature’”.19 [bolded emphasis mine]

We conclude that the teaching of Scripture, supported by elements of Jewish tradition, is that the Angel of the Lord is Yahweh, and therefore divine.

Mal’akh-Yahweh Is Distinct from Yahweh

Yet the Angel is also distinct from Yahweh, as is shown in several Scripture passages. First of all, in at least one passage, the Angel, in making intercession for Jerusalem, prays to Yahweh in heaven (Zechariah 1:12). Others believe they see something similar to this in Genesis 19:24, where the Lord rained down destruction from the Lord out of heaven. This view assumes that:

  1. A theophany is in view;20 and
  2. This theophany is the Angel of the LORD.

The Mal’akh-Yahweh is often sent by Yahweh (Genesis 24:7,40; Exodus 23:20; 33:2; 1 Chronicles 21:15; 2 Chronicles 32:21, cf. Isaiah 37:36 and 2 Kings 19:35; possibly even Daniel 3:28 and 6:22). Thus he is a different person from Yahweh. In the same way, Yahweh on occasion commands the Angel (1 Chronicles 21:27).

The Angel of the Lord as Christophany

So we are left with a mystery—the Angel of the Lord is Yahweh, yet He is distinct from Yahweh. Is there an acceptable solution to this dilemma? For Trinitarians21 like Dickason there is:

To those not recognizing the deity of Christ and not able to welcome the truth of the Scriptures, the problem [of the identity of the Angel] is irreconcilable. But to those who recognize Christ as God’s eternal Son and truly God, the problem is easily resolved. Christ, the eternal Son, is Jehovah in essence, yet a distinct person within the Trini­ty…22

Theologian James O. Buswell agrees:

…we are to understand that it is the Second Person of the Trinity Who appears thus in human form.23

If this is true, then the manifestations of the Angel of the Lord are Christophanies. Remember our working definition of Christophany: a visible appearance or manifestation of Christ in the Old Testament. James Borland enhances that definition for us when he calls Christophanies

…those unsought, intermittent and temporary, visible and audible manifestations of God the Son in human form, by which God communicated something to certain conscious human beings on earth prior to the birth of Jesus.24

We have established that the Angel is God and a distinct Person within the Godhead; but how do we know that it is God the Son and not one of the Others? We can prove it in two different ways:

  1. Employing a process of elimination by showing that neither God the Father nor God the Spirit can or have been seen; and,
  2. Showing that Christ and the Angel of the Lord share many parallels in their functions.

The Angel Cannot Be the Father or the Holy Spirit

First, Jesus gives us a definition of spirit, or at least what a spirit is not:

Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.

Luke 24:39

In other words, a spirit is non-corporeal (that is, without a body; from the old Latin word for “body”—corpus). By definition, then, since the Holy Spirit is spirit, He does not have a body. Since it is a man-like body that is of primary concern regarding the Angel of the Lord, the Holy Spirit is eliminated as a candidate.

The same truth applies to God the Father. Jesus tells us that “God is spirit” (John 4:24), and from the context of that remark, we know that He was speaking specifically of the Father (v. 21). In addition, the New Testament makes a strong, four-fold argument for the fact that no man has ever seen the Father:

No man hath seen God at any time…

John 1:18

Not that any man hath seen the Father, save He which is of God, He hath seen the Father.

John 6:46

[God] only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see.…

1 Timothy 6:16

No man hath seen God at any time…

1 John 4:12

No man [excepting Christ alone] has seen [past tense, covering all preceding time] or can see(present tense, because of present human limita­tions) God (the Father) at any time (past or present).25 To which we add the warning of God to Moses:

“Thou canst not see My face: for there shall no man see Me, and live.”

Exodus 33:20

This, then, is where the Scriptures lead us:

  1. The Angel of the Lord is God. Yet,
  2. The Angel of the Lord is a distinct Person within the Godhead.
  3. The Father and the Holy Spirit cannot and have not ever been seen because They are spirit. Still further,
  4. Even though it is certain instant death to look upon the face of God, it has been the testimony of many Old Testament characters that they have seen the face of God.

We conclude, then, that the Angel must be God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity. Hence we are confirmed in our hypothesis that the Angel of the Lord is a Christopha­ny.

Parallels Between Christ and the Angel of the LORD

Enlightened by this conclusion, many similarities and parallels unfold as we see Christ and the Angel of the Lord juxtaposed. Just as the Bible establishes the deity of the Angel, even more clearly does Scripture declare the deity of Christ (e.g., John 1:18 nasb; 20:28; Romans 9:5). And as the Angel of the Lord is a visible, personal manifestation of God, so Christ is the visible image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Hebrews 1:3). And whereas Old Testament characters encountering the Angel knew that they had looked upon the face of God,26 so we who are Christians are given “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Note an important contrast, too. The manifestation of the Angel of the Lord was always tempo­rary, where­as Christ has taken on human nature forever. Blessèd be the Lord!

When we view the functions and ministries of the Angel and Christ side by side, we see (as we would expect) the eternal principle holding true: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). It does not surprise us that the duties of the Christophany are the same as those of Christ:

  1. Both declare the name of God. The Angel announced to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14). Christ made known the name of the Father (John 17:26).
  2. Both are intercessors. The Angel intercedes to Yahweh (Zechariah 1:12), and Christ, as our heavenly High Priest, faithfully intercedes for us (Hebrews 7:25).
  3. Judgment is committed to each of Them. The Angel of the LORD carried out the judg­ments of God against Israel and her enemies (e.g., Judges 2:1-5; 1 Chronicles 21:11-27; 2 Chronicles 32:21). Jesus declared that the Father “has given all judgment to the Son”. (John 5:22; cf. Matthew 25:31ff).
  4. Both lead the heavenly armies. Joshua encountered the One Who declared Himself to be “Captain of the Lord’s host” (Joshua 5:13-15). And, though we don’t often think of Him in this way, Christ is depicted leading the heavenly armies in Revelation (19:11-16). There is also a sword in each passage that helps to further identify the two as one.
  5. Each was used to establish a covenant, the Old and the New. Although we only have hints of it in the Old Testament, Stephen, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says that it was the Angel Who spoke the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai27 (Acts 7:38; cf. v. 53; Galatians 3:19; Hebrews 2:2; Deuteronomy 33:2). Christ also established the New Covenant in His own blood (Hebrews 9:15).

It is not necessary to belabor the comparisons. Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday….” Be­cause this is true, He functioned in the same way as the Christophanic Angel of the Lord as He does as our Lord and Savior.

One other thought offers a Biblical point of closure to this comparison. Paul declares a principle, though he applies it to another matter, that may shine light on the absence of the Angel of the Lord from the New Testament and church history:

But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

1 Corinthians 13:10

The Angel of the Lord was “in part” and not “perfect” because He was only a temporary manifestation—He was only visibly present part of the time. Based on the principle of the complete superseding the incomplete, therefore, it is logical that we never again see the Angel after the incarnation28 of Christ. Except in references to Old Testament passages, He is never mentioned in the New Testament.29 This is because once God had become man, the function of the Angel was subsumed in the greater and permanent revelation of God in Christ.

A Disclaimer

I should take a moment out, before concluding this article, to head off a possible mis­con­cep­tion. In saying that Christ, before His Incarnation, often appeared as the Angel of the Lord, we are in no way saying Jesus is or was an angel (in the sense of a created super­natural being); this is a heresy with which the Church dealt long ago. Nor are we saying that the Second Person of the Trinity is somehow less than fully God.

Remember the other definition of angel? It was messenger or envoy, right? The Angel of the Lord was the Messenger of the Lord—a gracious appearing, a visible manifestation of the invisible God. In that role, as a temporary theophany or Christophany, He came both to meet His people in their time of need and to prefigure an even more wonderful time when God would become Man, live and minister among us, die for our sins, and ever afterwards be both fully God and the Representative Man in Heaven. What the Angel of the Lord prefigured in Christophany, we see fully revealed in the Incarnation.

The Purpose of this Christophany

We may praise God for His gracious revelation of His Son in the Old Testament through the words and actions of the Angel of the Lord. And, if we proceed with rever­ence, we may also ask, “Why?” Why would God deign to reveal Himself in this way? What does it tell of Him and His purposes? While much of the answer will remain hidden in the sovereign will and wisdom of God, at least two reasons suggest themselves.

First, it was ever God’s intention to have an intimate relationship with Man, the creature created in God’s image. God’s desire to make Himself known to Man displayed itself from the very beginning. God intended to walk with Man in the Garden (Genesis 3:8). Even though sin separated Man from God, this did not change God’s desire. As He declares in Leviticus 26:12:

“And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people.”

(Cf. 2 Corinthians 6:16.) How could separated Man know the Unknowable One and see Him Who is invisible and sense His love? One answer God ordained was to manifest Himself as the Angel of the Lord, Who could be seen and heard and acknowledged as God, the One concerned and involved with men and their affairs. Great is the mercy of God! We are blessed people because His purposes are un­changing.

Second, I believe God had an even greater reason for the continuing appearances of the Angel. These glimpses of God’s Christ in His various aspects and human-like visage and demeanor looked forward to a day when, as Charles Wesley puts it,

Our God contracted to a span,
Incomprehensibly made Man!

(from his hymn
Let Earth and Heaven Combine)

Each appearance of the Angel of the Lord was meant to further prepare the hearts of men for that time when God would take on our nature and be with us in intimate and loving communion.

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Once we see these two underlying purposes, our premise comes to maturity. Certainly the Angel of the Lord was a pre-incarnate manifestation of Christ in the Old Testament. I suspect that when the Master Teacher, the newly-risen Lord, unfolded the matter more clearly in His Easter Bible studies as He “expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27), the true import of the Angel of the Lord came clear to the disciples for the first time.

Although it’s been a good number of years since that first Easter, you can read the same passages that Jesus expounded. Now that you have been promoted to theologian, I hope your pulse will quicken whenever you encounter the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament. It won’t matter if you don’t remember all the fancy words like theophany and Christophany. It will be enough if you can say, like John, “It is the Lord.” Once your “John” side identifies the Lord, let your “Peter” side dive in (John 21:7) and encounter Jesus in a new, unexpected, and exciting location.

We may have missed out on two wonderful Bible studies that first Easter Day, but there’s no reason why Jesus can’t teach us the same things out of His Book. After all, His Spirit not only lives in us to reveal Jesus us to us and in us, but He also abides in us to guide us into all truth (John 16:13). He, like Jesus, can “open our understanding, that we might understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45) and see all that is “written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms” (v. 44) about Christ.

Lord, we rejoice to have our eyes opened, like the two at Emmaus, and like the disciples in the upper room. Give us understanding so that we may see Christ in the Angel of the Lord, Christ in the Prophets, Christ in the Psalms, in the Law, in the Tabernacle, and in the Types. Like those seekers who accosted the Apostle Philip so long ago, “We would see Jesus” everywhere. Amen!

 


Bibliography

“Angels and Angelology.” Vol. II in Encyclopaedia Judaica. 20 vols. Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House Jerusalem, Ltd., 1972.

Borland, James A. Christ In The Old Testament. Chicago: Moody Press, 1978.

Bury, R. G. The Fourth Gospel and Logos Doctrine. Cambridge, England: W. Heffer & Sons Limited, 1940.

Bush, George Notes, Critical and Practical, on the Book of Exodus; Designed as a General Help to Biblical Reading and Instruction. n.d. Rpt. Minneapolis: Klock & Klock Christian Publishers, Inc., 1981.

Buswell, James O. A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1962.

Dickason, C. Fred. Angels, Elect and Evil. Chicago: Moody Press, 1975.

Gaebelein, A. C. What The Bible Says About Angels. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1924.

Graham, Billy. Angels: God's Secret Agents. New York: Pocket Books, 1975.

Huber, Georges. My Angel Will Go Before You. Westminster, MD: Christian Classics, 1983.

Kuntz, J. Kenneth. The Self Revelation of God. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1967.

Liddon, Henry P. The Divinity of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; Eight Lectures Preached Before the University of Oxford, in the Year 1866. London: Rivingtons, 1867.

MacGregor, Geddes. Angels, Ministers of Grace. New York: Paragon House Publishers, 1988.

Sch[olem], G[ershom]. “Metatron.” Vol. XI. Encyclopaedia Judaica. 20 vols. Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House Jerusalem, Ltd., 1972.

Strong, Augustus H. Systematic Theology. Valley Forge: The Judson Press, 1907.

Thiessen, Henry C. Lectures In Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmands Publishing Company, 1949.

Walvoord, John F. Jesus Christ Our Lord. Chicago: Moody Press, 1969.

Williams, J. Rodman. Renewal Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, Zondervan, 1988.

Wilson, John M. “Angel.” The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1956.


Footnotes:

  1. To transliterate simply means… well, let me give you an example. Let’s say you have dinner at the home of a Spanish-speaking friend who knows no English. As best you can make out what he’s saying, he is serving you meat called poiyo, and you duly record this word poiyo in your diary that night. What your friend was saying, in his language, was pollo. You have recorded in your diary the sound of what he was saying—that is, you’ve transliterated the word—but you only have a vague idea what it means. If your Spanish were better, you’d know that you could have translated that word pollo as chicken!
  2. C. Fred Dickason, Angels, Elect and Evil, (Moody Press: Chicago, 1975), p. 84.
  3. That is, God's Angel or Messenger.
  4. Yahweh: God’s revealed name in the Old Testament. I have no objection to using the more traditional Jehovah. Each rendering is an attempt to represent the tetragrammaton (“having four letters”) YHWH or JHVH from Hebrew. In most English translations, this is usually indicated by the word Lord.
  5. John M. Wilson, “Angel,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, James Orr, ed., (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, 1956), p. 134.
  6. Wilson, “Angel,” p. 134.
  7. A. C. Gaebelein, What The Bible Says About Angels, (Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, MI, 1924), p. 20
  8. Gershom Scholem, “Metatron”, Encyclopaedia Judaica, (Keter Publishing House Jerusalem, Ltd.: Jerusalem, 1972), p. 1446.
  9. Scholem, “Metatron, p. 1445.
  10. George Bush, Notes, Critical and Practical, on the Book of Exodus; Designed as a General Help to Biblical Reading and Instruction, (Klock & Klock Christian Publishers, Inc.: rpt., Minneapolis, 1981), p. 165.
  11. Bush, Notes, p. 165.
  12. Wilson, ”Angel,“ p. 134.
  13. Note that the writer to the Hebrews says that this was God speaking, and that He swore by Himself because He could swear by no one greater than Himself (Hebrews 6:13).
  14. Emphases mine. Note the Trinitarian formula.
  15. I hesitate to include this reference, though others include the theophany of Genesis 18 under the heading of the Angel of the Lord. Though I am readily inclined to agree subjectively, the text does not use the phrase as such. Most of the theophanies in Abraham’s life are not called the “Angel of the Lord”. (Cf. Genesis 12:7; 17:1-22; ch. 18; and probably ch. 15, because of v. 5). Similarly, Isaac’s one theophany (26:2-6) is not named.
  16. This is no doubt because of their reverence for God. But there is probably also a special zeal among them in this matter, since one of their own fell and because of seeking this worship for himself. So desperate is the evil one for this worship that he even brazenly sought it from the Son of God! (Matthew 4:8-10; Luke 4:6-8)
  17. Gaebelein, What the Bible Says About Angels, p. 20.
  18. Talmudic: Of or related to the Talmud, the authoritative body of Jewish tradition, religious and civil law, including commentaries on the Torah (i.e., the five books of Moses, Genesis-Deuteronomy). Sorry, but it’s way more than we have time to explore in this article.
  19. Gaebelein, What the Bible Says About Angels, p. 20.
  20. Which is possible, considering the Theophany Who visited Abraham the day before (Genesis 18:1, 17-20).
  21. Trinitarian: Someone who believes in the Trinity.
  22. Dickason, Angels, Elect and Evil, p. 80.
  23. James O. Buswell, A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, (Zondervan Publishing House: Grand Rapids, 1962), p. I:33.
  24. James A. Borland, Christ In The Old Testament. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1978), p. 10.
  25. For sanctified Christians, the future is different, for Jesus says the pure in heart shall see God (Matthew 5:8).
  26. Remember, too, that He is also called the Angel of the Face.
  27. Note that Stephen's discourse is chronological. He has already related the burning bush incident (Acts 7:35) and moved on in his narrative. Verse 38, however, makes it clear that it was when Moses and the congregation were in the wilderness together with the Angel, that the Lawgiver received the “living oracles,” that is, the bylaws and constitution of the Old Covenant.
    “This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness together with the Angel who was speaking to him on Mount Sinai, and who was with our fathers; and he received living oracles to pass on to you.” (Acts 7:38 nasb)

  28. Incarnation: ‘That act of grace whereby Christ took our human nature into union with his Divine Person, and became man. Christ is both God and man.” (Easton's Bible Dictionary)
  29. As much as I love the King James translation, it sometimes falls short. This is one such case, because someone who reads the King James version exclusively might take issue with my statement that the Angel of the Lord “is never mentioned in the New Testament.” Such a reader could cite to me a total of 10 verses in 8 different New Testament chapters that specifically mention “the angel of God” or “the angel of the Lord” in the KJV— Matthew 1:20,24; 2:13; 28:2; Luke 2:9; Acts 5:19; 8:26; 12:7, 23; 27:23. But in every case except Matthew 1:24 (more on that in a moment), the definite article (the fancy name for that everyday word called “the”) is missing in the Greek. (Yes, it’s even missing in the Greek text the King James translators would have used, Stephen’s Textus Receptus, c. 1550 a.d.) Greek has no indefinite article (the words “a” and “an” are indefinite articles) per se, because they are usually implied by the absence of the definite article. Thus, in every case mentioned above, the text should read “an angel of the Lord” or “an angel of God.” This can be checked in any popular modern translation, such as the New American Standard Bible or the New International Version. The sole exception in every translation is Matthew 1:24, where “the angel of the Lord” means “that particular angel from God who spoke to Joseph in his dream in verses 20-21.”

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