Who is the Angel of the Lord? | Ben Carlson

by | Mar 8, 2022 | Systematic Theology

 

Who is the Angel of the LORD?

 

A.) He is distinguished from the LORD.

There are many passages which tell us that the Angel of the LORD was a messenger sent by the LORD to represent Him and execute His will. The important thing is, there is a personal distinction made between the Angel of the LORD and the LORD.

1.) The Angel of the LORD speaks to the LORD.

  • Zechariah 1:12: Then the angel of the LORD said, “O LORD of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years?”

2.) The Angel of the LORD is spoken to by the LORD.

  • 1 Chronicles 15:21: And God sent the angel to Jerusalem to destroy it, but as he was about to destroy it, the LORD saw, and He relented from the calamity. And He said to the angel who was working destruction, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” And the angel of the LORD was standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. 

3.) The Angel of the LORD speaks for the LORD.

  • Zechariah 3:6-7: 6And the angel of the LORD solemnly assured Joshua, 7“Thus says the LORD of hosts: If you will walk in My ways and keep My charge, then you shall rule My house and have charge of My courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here.”

4.) The Angel of the LORD is sent by the LORD.

The Angel of the LORD is sent by the LORD to rescue the Israelites out of Egypt, lead them through the wilderness, and make them conquerors in the land of Canaan:

  • Exodus 14:19-20: 19Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, 20coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night.
  • Exodus 23:20: Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared.
  • Exodus 23:23: “When My angel goes before you and brings you to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, and I blot them out,”
  • Exodus 32:34: 34But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; behold, My angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.
  • Exodus 33:1-3: 1The LORD said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ 2I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 3Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”
  • Numbers 20:16: 16And when we cried to the LORD, He heard our voice and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt.
  • Judges 2:1-2: 1Now the angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, 2and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done?
  • Isaiah 63:7-9: 7I will recount the steadfast love of the LORD, the praises of the LORD, according to all that the LORD has granted us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel that He has granted them according to His compassion, according to the abundance of His steadfast love. 8For He said, “Surely they are My people, children who will not deal falsely.” And He became their Savior. 9In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; He lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

The Angel of the LORD is sent by God to deliver Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from King Nebuchadnezzar’s burning fiery furnace:

  • Daniel 3:28: Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants, who trusted in Him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.

The Angel of the LORD is sent by God to save Daniel from the power of the lions in the lion’s den:

  • Daniel 6:22: My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm.”

5.) The name of the LORD is in the Angel of the LORD.

  • Exodus 23:20-22: 20“Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. 21Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for My name is in him. 22“But if you carefully obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.”

This at least means, as the Geneva Study Bible says, “I will give him my authority, and he will govern you in my name.”

6.) The Angel of the LORD usually appears in human form.

The Angel of the LORD looks like and acts like a human being. 

  • He is called a man (Genesis 18:2; 32:24; Joshua 5:13; Judges 13:6; Daniel 3:25; 10:5; Zechariah 1:8, 10, 11; 2:1).
  • He sits under a tree (Judges 6:11).
  • He stands among the trees (Zechariah 1:11).
  • He holds a sword in his hand (Numbers 22:23, 31; 1 Chronicles 21:16, 30).
  • He holds a staff in his hand (Judges 6:21).
  • He is offered meals to eat (Genesis 18:1-8; Judges 13:15-16).
  • He touches people (1 Kings 19:5, 7; Daniel 10:10).
  • He encamps around those who fear him (Psalm 34:7).
  • He wrestles with Jacob (Genesis 32:24 with Hosea 12:4).
  • He chases and strikes down God’s enemies (Psalm 35:6; 2 Kings 19:35; 1 Chronicles 21:15; 2 Chronicles 32:21; Isaiah 37:36).

It is clear from these considerations that the Angel of the LORD is distinguished from the LORD.

 

B.) He is described as the LORD.

It is a mystery of mysteries that although the Angel of the LORD is sent by the LORD, we are also told in many passages that the Angel of the LORD is synonymous with the LORD. He is the Angel who is the LORD! He may appear in the form of a human and perform actions like a created being, but the Person who speaks and acts is really and truly Yahweh, the uncreated and unchangeable God!

1.) The Angel of the LORD performs the same actions as the LORD.

  • He redeems His people (Genesis 48:15-16; Isaiah 63:9).
  • He delivers His people (Psalm 34:7).
  • He forgives sin (Exodus 23:21; Zechariah 3:4).
  • He receives sacrifices (Genesis 22:9-18; Judges 13:15-20).
  • He blesses (Genesis 22:15-18; 32:24-30; 48:15-16).
  • He keeps His covenant and leads the people of God out of Egypt and into the Promised Land (Judges 2:1-2).
  • He creates and multiplies human life (Genesis 16:10-12; 21:17-18).

2.) The Angel of the LORD possesses the same attributes as the LORD.

  • His presence is holy (Exodus 3:5; Joshua 5:15).
  • His character is blameless (1 Samuel 29:9).
  • His appearance is very awesome (Judges 13:6; Daniel 3:25).
  • His Name is too wonderful to be spoken or comprehended (Genesis 32:29; Judges 13:6, 18).
  • He is wise, discerning good and evil (2 Samuel 14:17; 19:27).
  • He sees and knows all things that are on the earth (Genesis 16:13; Exodus 3:7; 2 Samuel 14:20).
  • When people see Him, they think they are going to die (Genesis 32:30; Judges 6:22-23; 13:22).

3.) The Angel of the LORD is given the same titles as the LORD.

  • The Angel of the LORD who spoke with Hagar is identified as the LORD and as “a God of seeing” (Genesis 16:13).
  • The Angel of God spoke to Jacob in a dream and said, “I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to Me. Now arise, go out from this land and return to the land of your kindred” (Genesis 31:13).
  • The Angel whom Jacob wrestled with at Peniel was God, for Jacob confessed, “. . . I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered” (Genesis 32:30). Hosea identifies the Angel of the LORD with God when he says of Jacob, “. . . and in his manhood he strove with God. He strove with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favor” (Hosea 12:3-4).
  • The Angel who had redeemed Jacob from all evil is the God of Abraham and Isaac and the God who had been his shepherd throughout his entire life (Genesis 48:15-16).
  • The Angel of the LORD who appeared to Moses in the burning bush is identified as “the LORD” and “God” in Exodus 3:4. Additionally, the Angel said to Moses, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6) and “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14).
  • The Angel of God who was in the pillar of cloud behind the Israelites is later identified as the LORD who fought against the Egyptians and destroyed them in the Red Sea (Exodus 14:19, 24).
  • God spoke the law to Moses at Mount Sinai (Exodus 20:1), but Stephen later recounts it came from the mouth of the Angel of the LORD: “This [Moses] is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us” (Acts 7:38).
  • The Commander of the Army of the LORD who speaks to Joshua (Joshua 5:14-15) is shortly after identified as the LORD (Joshua 6:2).
  • In Judges 2, the Angel of the LORD is the One who brought the Israelites up from Egypt into the land that He swore to give to their fathers (Judges 2:1) while later in the chapter it says the LORD, the God of their fathers, was the One who had brought them out of the land of Egypt (Judges 2:12).
  • The Angel of the LORD who appeared to Gideon and speaks with him is also identified as the LORD (Judges 6:14, 16).
  • The Angel of the LORD who was standing between Joshua the high priest and Satan speaks to them not just on behalf of the LORD (Zechariah 3:6-10) but as the LORD (Zechariah 3:1-5).
  • The Angel/Messenger of the Covenant who comes is the LORD of hosts returning to His temple. Malachi 3:1 says, “Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple; and the Messenger of the Covenant in whom you delight, behold, He is coming, says the LORD of hosts.”

It is also clear, then, that the OT identifies the Angel of the LORD as the LORD. In one sense He is not the LORD, but in another sense He is!

C.) He is disclosed as the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Angel of the LORD is a messenger from God as well as the manifestation of God. He is “The Uncreated Angel”. These truths may at first seem incompatible with each other, but upon further investigation they sweetly work together to teach us that the Angel of the LORD in the OT is none other than the pre-incarnate eternal Son of God. He is an “embodied” form of the Second Person of the Trinity before He took on a body at the incarnation.

I think the NT identifies Jesus as the Angel of the LORD in various ways. I want to bring to your attention two of those ways.

1.) Christ is identified as the Angel of the LORD in the Book of Revelation.

I believe this occurs in Revelation 10:1-3: 1Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. 2He had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land, 3and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. When he called out, the seven thunders sounded. 

This mighty angel is different than the other angels in this book. He shares many characteristics with the one like a son of man in Revelation 1 and the one with the appearance of a man in Ezekiel 1 and 2 and the one having the likeness of the sons of men in Daniel 10-12.  I believe all these figures are the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Matthew Poole states, “the most and best interpreters understand by this angel, Christ, formerly represented to us as a Lamb, here as an Angel; none but he could call the two witnesses, Revelation 11:3, his witnesses; besides, the glorious appearance of this angel speaketh him no ordinary angel.”

G.K. Beale states, “This angel is not an ordinary angel, but is given divine attributes applicable in Revelation only to God or to Christ. . . . Therefore, the angel is the divine Angel of the Lord, as in the OT, who is to be identified with Yahweh or with Christ Himself.” 

In a certain sense, then, the Lord Jesus retains the title and function of the Angel of the LORD even in the NT. He is and will always be the “Messenger” and “Apostle” of God.

2.) Christ is identified as the Angel of the LORD in three key passages which address His role in the OT Exodus account.

These passages are Jude 1:5, 1 Corinthians 10:4, and 1 Corinthians 10:9-10.

a.) Jude 1:5: Christ saved and judged the Israelites in the Exodus.

The OT tells us that the Angel of the LORD saved a people out of the land of Egypt in Judges 2:1: “. . . And [the angel of the LORD] said, ‘I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. . . .” and in Isaiah 63:9: “In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; He lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.”

The NT tells us that Jesus saved a people out of the land of Egypt in Jude 1:5: “Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.”

There is debate about the reading “Jesus” here. But the New English Translation (NET) Notes on Jude 1:5 state that this is the best reading: 

The reading ‘Jesus’ is deemed too hard by several scholars, since it involves the notion of Jesus acting in the early history of the nation Israel. However, not only does this reading enjoy the strongest support from a variety of early witnesses, but the plethora of variants demonstrate that scribes were uncomfortable with it, for they seemed to exchange “Lord” or “God” for “Jesus”. As difficult as the reading “Jesus” is, in light of v. 4 and in light of the progress of revelation (Jude being one of the last books in the NT to be composed), it is wholly appropriate.

But even if we grant that “Lord” is the better reading than “Jesus”, the preceding verse already identifies the Lord as Jesus: “For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (v. 4). The Lord (Kurios) of v. 4 is the same Lord (Kurios) of v. 5.

So, Jude 1:5 is clearly teaching that the Lord, who is Jesus Christ, was active in the history of the nation of Israel in the OT. He saved the suffering Israelites out of Egypt. He destroyed the unbelieving Israelites in the wilderness. And He did all this as the Angel of the LORD.

b.) 1 Corinthians 10:4: Christ provided for the Israelites in the Exodus. 

The apostle Paul states in 1 Corinthians 10:1-4, “1For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3and all ate the same spiritual food, 4and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”

I believe this is another NT passage which teaches us that Christ was actively involved in bringing the Israelites out of Egypt and into Canaan. The apostle Paul is referring to the times when the Israelites in the wilderness ate manna which came down from heaven (Exodus 16) and drank water which sprang from literal rocks (Exodus 17:1-7; Numbers 20:10-13). These common meals are called spiritual food and spiritual drink because they were miraculously given to the Israelites by a supernatural Provider. That Provider was “the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” It was not a literal rock or allegorical rock that followed them. It was a spiritual/supernatural Rock, and that Rock was Christ. “The spiritual rock” is not a description of a rock but a title of Christ. He is the God or Rock of Israel (Deuteronomy 32:4; 2 Samuel 23:3; Psalm 89:26; Isaiah 17:10; 26:4; 1 Peter 2:4-8). As the Rock of Israel, Christ personally attended the Israelites in the wilderness to nourish and bless them. As they journeyed from Egypt to Canaan, He went before them as their leader, dwelt among them as their provider, and stayed behind them as their rear guard. And when the Israelites ate the heavenly manna and drank the water from the split-open rocks, they were to recognize these blessings coming to them from the hand of their spiritual Rock. Their food and drink came from Him! Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary states, 

Not the literal rock (or its water) “followed” them . . . as if Paul sanctioned the Jews’ tradition that the rock itself, or at least the stream from it, followed the Israelites from place to place. But Christ, the “Spiritual Rock” accompanied them. “Followed” implies His attending on them to minister to them; thus, though mostly going before them, He, when occasion required it, followed “behind”. He satisfied all alike as to their bodily thirst whenever they needed it; as on three occasions is expressly recorded (Ex 15:24, 25; 17:6; Nu 20:8); and this drink for the body symbolized the spiritual drink from the Spiritual Rock.

And the way Christ the Spiritual Rock went before them, behind them, and beside them was as the Angel of the LORD, for the OT tells us that it was the Angel of the LORD who did all these things!

Exodus 14:19: Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, 

Exodus 23:20: “Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared.

Psalm 34:7: The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.

c.) 1 Corinthians 1:9-10: Christ destroyed the unbelieving Israelites in the Exodus.

1 Corinthians 1:9-10 reads, “9We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.”

I believe both verses teach us how Christ was actively involved in the judgment of the Israelites in the wilderness.

Verse 9 says that some of the Israelites put Christ to the test and were destroyed by serpents. The apostle Paul is referring to what happened in Numbers 21:4-9 when the Israelites spoke against God and Moses about their living conditions and daily provisions, and the LORD sent fiery serpents in their midst which bit and killed many of them.

Similar to Jude 1:5, there is debate on whether this should read “Christ” or the more generic title “Lord”. But the NET Notes give four main reasons why “Christ” is the better reading:

  • It is attested in the majority of manuscripts.
  • It evidenced in the early church.
  • It is the more difficult reading.
  • It is consistent with Paul’s writing style in this passage (cf. 10:4). 

It then concludes by saying, “In sum, ‘Christ’ has all the earmarks of authenticity here and should be considered the original reading.”

They put Christ to the test as the God of Israel. But even more specifically, they put Christ to the test as the God of Israel embodied as the Angel of the LORD. The One they spoke against and tempted was the eternal Son of God who appeared to them in human form. Albert Barnes states, 

In order to relieve this interpretation from the difficulty that the Israelites could not be said with any propriety to have tempted “Christ,” since he had not then come in the flesh, two remarks may be made. First, by the “angel of the covenant,” and the “angel of his presence” . . . that went with them, and delivered them from Egypt, there is reason to think the sacred writers understood the Messiah to be intended; and that he who subsequently became incarnate was he whom they tempted.

Calvin adds, 

This is a remarkable passage in proof of the eternity of Christ; . . . Nor is it to be wondered that Christ is called the Leader of the Israelitish people. For as God was never propitious to his people except through that Mediator, so he conferred no benefit except through his hand. Farther, the angel who appeared at first to Moses, and was always present with the people during their journeying, is frequently called yhvh, Jehovah. Let us then regard it as a settled point, that that angel was the Son of God, and was even then the guide of the Church of which he was the Head.”

Verse 10 says that some of the Israelites grumbled and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Paul is probably referring to Numbers 16 when God destroyed Korah and his rebellious followers by opening the earth to swallow them up, sending fire from heaven to burn them, and letting loose a plague to consume them.

Who is the Destroyer who destroyed them? One lexicon says this title refers to “. . . an angel sent as the agent of divine punishment.” One might think he is the devil, but most likely he is the same angel who justly destroyed the firstborn in Egypt and the army of Assyria and almost destroyed the inhabitants of Jerusalem. John Gill comments, “by the destroyer may be meant an angel, such an one as smote the firstborn in Egypt, and bears the same name, Hebrews 11:28 and as smote Israel with a pestilence upon David’s numbering the people, and was about to have destroyed Jerusalem, had he not been restrained, 2 Samuel 24:15 and as, smote [185,000] in the camp of the Assyrians, in one night, 2 Kings 19:35.”

2 Samuel 24 and 2 Kings 19 specifically identify this destroying angel as the Angel of the LORD. It is very probable, then, that the Destroyer who destroyed the grumbling Israelites is also the Angel of the LORD, who is Christ.

In conclusion, these three NT passages teach us how active Jesus was in the OT Exodus account. He rescued the Israelites from the fiery furnace of Egypt. He provided for their needs in the barren wilderness. And He destroyed many of them in the wilderness for their sin and rebellion against Him. He did all this as the Angel of the LORD. And if He was the Angel of the LORD during the Exodus account, He was the Angel of the LORD throughout OT history.

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