Does Angel of the Lord = Preincarnate Christ?
Allow me to clarify something at the outset. I think there is a huge disparity between the terms “an angel of the LORD" and "the Angel of the Lord," although I'm not certain how someone can easily differentiate between the two. It seems to me that nothing other than context and evidence will suffice. The issue is certain to be roundly debated.
There are ample instances where angels have played significant roles in the affairs of people’s lives, and I am certain few biblical scholars would dispute their varied and frequent interactions in the Old and New Testaments. Angels are God’s messengers. Indeed, the word “ángelos” is a translation of the Hebrew term: mal'akh denoting simply “messenger,” without specifying its meaning outside the immediate context. (I am not a Hebrew or Greek scholar, but I've studied this subject, and am not convinced that either language is crucial.)
[Note: Some have suggested that the appellation “Malachi” from the Book of Malachi may simply infer “God’s messenger” (or “His messenger” in the Septuagint) and may not represent the author’s name at all. However, such an interpretation, originating from a largely secular source may or may not be true. Wikipedia ]
However, there are manifold encounters with “the angel of the Lord” in the Old Record. Often, this being demonstrated, and even embodied, several divine characteristics. A few of these peculiarities are listed:
Unique Characteristics of the “Angel of the Lord”
- He is referred to with masculine pronouns (Genesis 16:13; Judges 6:21);
- He is identified as God (Judges 6:11, 14; Zechariah 12:8);1
- He is our Intercessor with The Father and The Holy Spirit;
- He has the attributes of God;
- He performed miracles attributed to God alone (Judges 6:21; 13:20);
- Gideon, Moses, Jacob, and others thought they would die having seen God (Jg. 6:22; 13:22);
- He accurately foretold future events (Judges 13:3);
- He has been seen, recognized, and recorded for precisely Who He is by many people (God);
- His name is “Wonderful” (Judges 13:18; cf. Isaiah 9:6);
- He is worshiped;
- He is distinguished from the Father and the Spirit;
- He destroyed 185,000 Assyrians in one night (2 Kings 19:35);
- He no longer appears in the New Testament.
While angels serve God and discharge many of the duties rehearsed above -- and that includes performing miracles as well as heralding prophecy (Heb. 1:13), there are nonetheless instances where “the Angel of the LORD” simply cannot be just another angel. He is identified as God (LORD, YHWH) and accepted worship, something that holy angels would immediately refuse (cf. Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9).
The fact that Christ is the Creator of the universe demonstrates His existence before His physical incarnation (John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:16). He even states the fact of His preexistence several times (Jn. 8:58, 17:5, etc.) Someone may ask: “Do you mean to say that Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, created the entire universe?” Indeed.
And, His immortal constitution as God allows Him to appear frequently in the past, as already emphasized. It’s believed to be a mistake to ignore the mountain of evidence regarding Christ’s ubiquity, or omnipresence, throughout the ancient text. He was the Rock that protected, and spiritually fed ancient Israel in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:1-4).
Several people were awe-struck and terrified that they had seen God face-to-face, only to live to tell about it (e.g. Hagar, Jacob, Gideon, Samson’s parents, etc. (below)). Elsewhere in Scripture, such divine prerogatives are attributed only to God. Then, there is this question: Would God permit someone to proclaim false knowledge of a direct, face-to-face encounter with Him, and then allow such to become part of the Holy Record as irrefutable fact?
There are further points to consider. In the Book of Joshua, the great patriarch fell on his face before “the captain of the LORD’S host.” (The “Captain” here must surely have been the Preincarnate Christ):
Joshua 5:13-15: “[Joshua] … went to him and said to him, ‘Are you for us or for our adversaries?’ He said, ‘No; rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the LORD.’ And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, ‘What has my lord to say to his servant?’ The captain of the LORD’S host said to Joshua, ‘Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so.”
How would Joshua ever be permitted to “bow down with his face to the Earth” before any mere angel, captain, or otherwise? And, the language spoken by this “captain of the LORD’S host” is nearly identical to that which Moses received at the burning bush in the Book of Exodus. There, it is written that Moses explicitly encountered “the angel of the LORD”:
Exodus 3:2-6: “The angel of the LORD appeared to [Moses] in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; … When the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then He said, ‘Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ He said also, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.”
Surely, no one would deny that “the angel of the LORD” in these passages is “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” precisely as recorded? It should be plain enough this “angel of the LORD” is indeed God Himself: Christ. And, other than “the angel of the LORD,” there is absolutely no indication that an ordinary angel was present during this intriguing exchange. In fact, the last verse (Ex. 3:6) informs us of Moses’ primary concern: he “hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” Obviously, Moses was keenly aware of his own mortality should he inadvertently glimpse directly into the face of Almighty God.
Some may yet insist that God was simply speaking through an angel, but that is inconsistent with verse 16, a bit later in the text. There, we read,
Exodus 3:16: “Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has appeared to me,…’”
God says the LORD appeared to Moses, but in verse 2 it’s clearly stated that “The Angel of the LORD appeared to Moses.” It seems to me that only spiritual blindness could obscure this reference to “the angel of the LORD” as a direct reference to God Himself. (I'll examine the letters YHWH shortly, those which represent the unpronounceable name of God from the Hebrew Bible.)
I believe it’s implausible, given the context, to connect this Being with anyone other than God. The interesting thing about the passage in verse 14, is the following,
Exodus 3:14: “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’; and He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you”’” (Gen. 16:14).
Here, God is proclaiming that He is the Existing One, the timeless Being Who has existed eternally. Therefore, in this narrative, “the angel of the LORD” says He is not a created being. Of course, as previously observed, these are precisely the words Jesus used to describe Himself to His Jewish audience in the Gospel of John:
John 8:58: “Before Abraham was born, I am” (emphasis added).
(I'm convinced that the word "am" should be "AM" in the previous verse.)
Jesus of Nazareth identified Himself as the “Existing One,” both in Exodus 3:14 and John 8:58. Often, those who disbelieve this will turn things around and suggest that there’s no distinction indicated between the Angel of YHWH and YHWH. They may insist that these verses merely signify YHWH appearing in the form of an angel. But this makes absolutely no sense. A simple reading of the verses eliminates any such textual gymnastics.
Curiously, there are no longer any recorded references to “the angel of the LORD” in the Bible following the birth of Christ. Further, since His ascension into heaven (Acts 1:9), we’re not told of anyone who has seen Christ except 1) the apostle John who was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” (Revelation 1:10), and 2) Saul as he traveled on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-6). Of note, in both instances, these men fell to the ground in the Lord’s Presence -- a common phenomenon.
This effect, that of falling to the ground in the Presence of God, appears throughout Scripture. In John 18, the Roman cohort and officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees came to arrest Jesus. There, we read the following:
John 18:6: “So when He said to them, ‘I am He,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.”
[Note: While many English bibles have rendered the statement by Christ “I am He,” many believe the actual declaration by the Lord may simply have been: “I Am,” a statement that appears throughout the Gospel of John. As previously observed, “I Am” is the identity of the eternal God or YHWH, where the four consonants are known as the tetragrammaton. (Refer to Tetragrammaton.]
Based on the preponderance of the evidence these truths have led many to conclude that often, occurrences of “the angel of the Lord” in the Old Testament might correctly be rendered: “the Angel of the Lord” (i.e. uppercase “angel”) signifying none other than Christ Himself. Such frequent encounters with God reveal His deep relationship to His Creation and His intimacy with humanity. They further corroborate the uniqueness of Christ as our sole Advocate with the Father. This is in stark contrast to the deistic, indifferent (nonexistent) “gods” of paganism that are so often irresponsibly juxtaposed with the God of the Bible.
Naturally, the first theophanies to occur in history are recorded in the presence of Adam and Eve. Their encounters with “the LORD God” are chronicled often, not least in the third chapter of the Book of Genesis. There, we are told that after Adam and Eve sinned:
Genesis 3:8: They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden."
The obvious implication is that God appeared to them in a fully recognizable human form during their regrettable confrontation. But, surely, this rendezvous with God after they had sinned, would have been with none other than our Great Intercessor (1 Tim. 2:5) with the Father (and Holy Spirit), Christ?
I've provided a list of fifteen sets of passages (it is not difficult to find others) below to help illustrate some of the theophanies recorded for us in the Old Testament.
Some Appearances of the Angel of the Lord
||After Adam and Eve sinned, “They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.”
||“The LORD appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land.’”
||“[T]he angel of the LORD said to [Hagar], ‘I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count.’ … Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, ‘You are a God who sees’; for she said, ‘Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?’”
||“Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless.’”
||One day, Abram had three visitors: two angels and God Himself. Abraham invited them to come visit his home, “My Lord, if now I have found favor in Your sight, please do not pass Your servant by.”
||“Then the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, ‘By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore;…’”
||“Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. … He said, ‘Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.’ … ‘I [Jacob] have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.’”
||As previously discussed, God appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush, telling him exactly what He wanted him to do. “[Moses] hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God” (Ex. 3:2-6).
||God appeared to Moses, Aaron and the elders: “Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself.”
||God appeared to Moses and Joshua to institute the transfer of leadership to Joshua: “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Behold, the time for you to die is near; call Joshua, and present yourselves at the tent of meeting, that I may commission him.’ … The LORD said to Moses, ‘Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers; and this people will arise and play the harlot with the strange gods of the land, into the midst of which they are going, and will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them.’”
||“The captain of the LORD’S host said to Joshua, ‘Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so” (Josh. 5:15).” This “captain” was surely Christ preincarnate (as discussed at length earlier).
|Judges 6:20, 22-23
||“The angel of God said to [Gideon], ‘Take the meat and the unleavened bread and lay them on this rock, and pour out the broth.’ … Then the angel of the LORD vanished from his sight. When Gideon saw that he was the angel of the LORD, he said, ‘Alas, O LORD God! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.’”
||Samson’s parents, Manoah and his wife spoke about their encounter, “Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the LORD. So Manoah said to his wife, ‘We will surely die, for we have seen God.’” Question: Would the H/S allow this to be recorded if it were not true?
||God answered Job out of the tempest and spoke at great length in answer to Job’s many questions regarding his severe afflictions and suffering.
|2 Kings 19:35
||“Then it happened that night that the angel of the LORD went out and struck 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians; and when men rose early in the morning, behold, all of them were dead.”
It’s very likely that when one encounters the Son of the living God (The Word (Jn. 1:1, Rev. 19:13), and He desires to be known, His witnesses are fully able to appreciate the true circumstances to which they might otherwise have been blinded. These and other inferences should help illustrate that appearances of God as “the Angel of the Lord” were, in reality, that of Christ, most likely in His glorified state. Indeed, as mentioned, Paul saw the radiance of Christ in such a state, as did John (Acts 9, Rev. 1:10-16 respectively). Both fell to the ground.
I'm personally unable to ignore both the evidence and the context of all the passages under consideration. I find it hard to believe that some will deny that the Angel of the Lord and Christ are one and the same Person: the Preincarnate Christ.
[Note: I've encountered a bit of resistance answering a question (my own), so I looked it up. Help Center -> Search: "Can I answer my own question?":
"Stack Exchange has always explicitly encouraged users to answer their own questions. … You can also accept your own answer, but you must wait 48 hours to do so. After all, someone else may come along with an even better solution to your problem."]