At John 8:56, Jesus made an interesting statement regarding His appearances to humankind prior to the incarnation. He said to the Jews: “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” He also alluded to the fact that He was directly involved in Old Testament history when at Luke 24:27: “…beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” Likewise, at John 5:39-40, Jesus chided the Jews with this statement: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” In all their studies of the Old Testament Scriptures, the religious experts of the day missed the whole point of the Scriptures: “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (Revelation 19:10)
WHEN DID ABRAHAM “SEE” JESUS’ DAY?
In view of the many Scriptures where Jesus announces His involvement in Hebrew history, it seems clear that many incidents in the Old Testament not only revealed the coming of Christ, but also foreshadowed it. Yet, what about the appearances of God in the Old Testament? Since Jesus is “the image of the invisible God,” (Colossians 1:15) could it be that the Old Testament appearances of God (also called “Theophanies”) were actual appearances of the pre-incarnate Christ or “Christophanies”? In particular, what about the appearances of “the angel of the LORD”? Were they merely appearances of a created angel (as the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach), or were they appearances of the LORD (Yahweh or Jehovah) God Himself in the “image” of Jesus Christ? 2 Corinthians 4:6 states:
“For God, who said, Light shall shine out of darkness, is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
Let’s consider the account of Genesis 22:11-12 where “the angel of the LORD” appears to Abraham to “provide” (Genesis 22:14) a substitute ram for sacrifice in place of Abraham’s son Isaac whom “God” had commanded Abraham to offer in the land of Moriah (Genesis 22:1-2).
Notice how the angel of the LORD proclaimed to Abraham: “for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” (Genesis 22:12). Here, the angel of the LORD identifies Himself with “God” by stating that if Abraham had withheld his son, Isaac, from the sacrifice, he would have withheld his son “from Me.” Thus, the angel of the LORD revealed Himself to be God.
Now, recall how Jesus said at John 8:56 that Abraham rejoiced to “see” His “day.” Could it be that the “day” of Jesus’ redemption and resurrection was revealed to Abraham when the angel of the LORD provided a ram for the sacrifice at Genesis 22:13? Concerning this, Hebrews 11:17, 19 explains:
“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son;…He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.”
Genesis 18:1-2 records another account in which Abraham saw “three men” as “the LORD appeared” to Abraham “by the oaks of Mamre” with two other messengers. The text goes on to describe how the LORD and these two beings interacted with Abraham, by eating the food he prepared for “them” and discussing the outcome of Sodom and Gomorrah whose judgment for sin was imminent. Perhaps Jesus at John 8:56 was also referring to this incident because Abraham saw a picture of His “day” of judgment and redemption by seeing the LORD send His two angels to spare the righteous man, Lot, from fiery destruction (Genesis 18-19).
THE ANGEL OF THE LORD IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
Genesis 22:11-12 and Genesis 18-19 are not the only Scriptures where the “the angel of the LORD” identifies Himself as “God” and provides redemption as a picture of Christ. There are many other Scriptures that seem to identify the angel of the LORD in the Old Testament with Jehovah God and Jesus Christ. You can draw your own conclusion as to the identity of the angel of the LORD as we examine the following Scriptures:
THE ANGEL OF THE LORD IS THE I AM.
Who was “the angel of the LORD” who appeared to Moses in the burning bush exclaiming, “I AM WHO I AM …the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:2, 14-15)? Didn’t Jesus refer to Himself as the “I AM” at John 8:58?
THE NAME OF THE ANGEL OF THE LORD IS WONDERFUL.
Who was the “man” (Genesis 32:24) and “angel” (Hosea 12:3) who wrestled with Jacob and prevailed? He is called “God” at Genesis 32:28 and “the angel” and “the LORD” at Hosea 12:3-5. Yet, this same “angel of the LORD” (Judges 13:3, 15-17) also appeared to Manoah and his wife as “a man of God” (Judges 13:6, 10-11) and “the angel of God” (Judges 13:9), and called Himself “Wonderful” at Judges 13:18. Wasn’t Jesus called “Wonderful” at Isaiah 9:6?
THE ANGEL OF THE LORD REMOVES SIN.
Who was “the angel of the LORD” who appeared to Joshua as the “LORD” standing up to defend Joshua against Satan’s accusations, proclaiming: “The LORD rebuke you, Satan!” and then telling Joshua: “See I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.” (Zechariah 3:1-4)? Also, at Exodus 23:20-21, we see another depiction of the angel pardoning transgression because God’s name is “in Him.” Doesn’t Scripture say that Jesus Christ removes our iniquity (Mark 2:10-11; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Colossians 3:3)? Isn’t He our advocate before the Father (1 John 2:1)? And didn’t Jesus say that the Father had given Him His name (John 17:11)?
THE ANGEL OF THE LORD REDEEMS US.
Who is “the angel” who “redeemed” Jacob (Israel) from all evil” (Genesis 48:16)? Isaiah 63:9 says: “…the angel of His [God’s] presence saved them [Israel]; in His love and in His mercy He redeemed them.” Yet, doesn’t Scripture teach that “the LORD of hosts” who is called the “Redeemer” and “the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 47:4), is Jesus, our “Redeemer” (Job 19:25) and “Holy One” (Acts 2:27)?
THE ANGEL OF THE LORD IS WORSHIPPED AS CAPTAIN OF GOD’S ARMY.
Who was the “man” who appeared to Joshua “with his sword drawn in his hand” proclaiming that He is “the captain of the host of the LORD” and was worshipped by Joshua by removing his sandal because the ground where he was “standing is holy” (Joshua 5:13-15)? Didn’t “the angel of the LORD” who appeared to Moses as “God” also proclaim to Moses that he must remove his sandals from his feet because Moses also was “standing” upon “holy ground” when he was in His presence (Exodus 3:4-5)? Yet, Jesus who is also the captain of the armies of Heaven (Revelation 19:11-14), is the only one who allows worship of Himself (Revelation 5:11-14). No created “angel” receives worship (Revelation 22:8-9).
THE ANGEL OF THE LORD ENCAMPED AND RESCUED ISRAEL.
Psalm 34:7 reveals: “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them.” Exodus 13:21 states that when the LORD led Israel out of Egypt, He went before them “in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way…” Yet, Exodus 14:19 identifies this “pillar of cloud” as the “angel of God.” Likewise, at Judges 2:1,4-5: “the angel of the LORD” says: “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land which I have sworn to your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you. …When the angel of the LORD spoke…they sacrificed to the LORD.” Could it be that this “angel of the LORD” who led Israel out of Egypt was “the spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4)?
THE ANGEL OF THE LORD IS THE LORD OF PEACE.
At Judges 6:20-24, the “angel of the LORD” appeared to Gideon as “the LORD” of “Peace” (Judges 6:24). Isn’t Jesus our “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6 and Ephesians 2:14)?
OTHER SCRIPTURES LINKING THE ANGEL OF THE LORD TO YAHWEH GOD:
- The “angel of the LORD” spoke to Hagar (Genesis 16:7-12) and “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?’ ” (Genesis 16:13).
- At Genesis 28:13-20, Jacob made a vow to God at Bethel after the LORD appeared to him. Then at Genesis 31:11-13, the “angel of the LORD” appeared to Jacob saying: “I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar, where you made a vow to Me…” (Genesis 31:13).
- Zechariah 12:8: “In that day the LORD will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem, …and the house of David will be like God, like the angel of the LORD before them.”
DOES THE HEBREW WORD FOR “ANGEL” MEAN A CREATED BEING?
Some may ask, if Jesus is not a created being, how can “the angel of the LORD” be identified with Jesus since most “angels” in Scripture are created beings? This objection is easily answered by the fact that the Hebrew word “mal-awk”for “angel” does not necessarily mean a created being. While it is often used of created beings, like angels, prophets, and kings, its root meaning according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible simply means: “to despatch as a deputy; a messenger; spec[ifically] of God…”** The connection between Jesus and “the angel of the LORD” is so close that Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words notes:
“The relation between the Lord and the ‘angel of the Lord’ is often so close that it is difficult to separate the two …. This identification has led some interpreters to conclude that the ‘angel of the Lord’ was the pre-incarnate Christ.” – W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985), page 5
Thus, in the Old Testament it is reasonable to conclude that “the angel of the LORD” is the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ, but this is not the case with the New Testament reference to “an angel of the Lord.” While there are many references to “an angel of the Lord” appearing in New Testament Scriptures, none of these cases have the “angel” identifying himself with God Himself. Also, the “angel of the Lord” who appeared to Joseph in the New Testament proclaimed the birth of Jesus at Matthew 1:20. This proves that this “angel” in the New Testament could not possibly be the same person as Jesus Christ. Since “the angel of the LORD” of the Old Testament who identified Himself with God never appears in the New Testament, it seems that once the incarnation occurred, Jesus no longer appeared to humankind as “the angel of the LORD” but rather as the suffering Messiah and “Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8).
** James Strong, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1986), 66.