Why is the Angel of the LORD Important?
The person of the Angel of the LORD reveals to us in shadowy form the doctrine of the Trinity in the OT.
Christians are monotheists (we believe there is only one God). But Christians are also trinitarian monotheists (we believe the one God exists in three persons who are equal in power and glory). But we may be tempted to think that the doctrine of the Trinity is a teaching reserved exclusively for the NT. It is true that only in the NT are we given clear and explicit teaching on the doctrine of the Trinity in the incarnation of the Son and the outpouring of the Spirit. But the OT is not devoid of the doctrine of the Trinity. God never revealed Himself in the OT as the Unitarian God but always as the Triune God. All the makings of an orthodox trinitarian theology are contained in the OT (at least in seed form). And in part they can be discerned from studying the Angel of the LORD.
In the Angel of the LORD, we see a shadowy and mysterious revelation of the inner distinctions within the Godhead. The glorious rays of the Trinity begin to shine forth in the Angel of the LORD who is both distinguished from the LORD and identified as the LORD. The OT is clear that He is both from God and He is called God. As Calvin said concerning Him, “In his representing himself as different from God, a personal distinction is denoted, but unity of essence is not destroyed.” ((John Calvin, comments on Joshua 5:14.))
Interestingly, the same truth is affirmed concerning God the Son. He is sent by God, and yet He is called God. He is both the representative of God and the radiance of the glory of God. More precisely, a personal distinction is denoted between Him and the Father, but unity of essence between them is not destroyed; rather, it is maintained. In other words, the Father and Son are different persons, but they are the same God. Both these statements are true concerning the Lord Jesus Christ: “I came from the Father and have come into the world,” (John 16:28) and “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Jesus came from the Father, and Jesus is one with the Father. He is, as the Nicene Creed puts it, “the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.” He is begotten of the Father and He is of one substance with the Father. This has been the case from eternity past, and the OT reveals this to us in the Angel of the LORD who is personally distinct from the LORD and yet is in essence equal to the LORD.
The appearance of the Angel of the LORD informs us how God primarily revealed Himself in the OT.
How did God reveal His glory and speak His Word to His OT people? Hebrews 1:1 tells us: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,”. But we know these many ways were always through the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the only One who has seen God and makes Him known.
John 1:18: No one has ever seen God; the only begotten God, who is at the Father’s side, He has made Him known.
John 6:46: not that anyone has seen the Father except He who is from God; He has seen the Father.
And He is the only Mediator between God and men.
1 Timothy 2:5: For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
This has been the case throughout human history. If the incarnate Son of God makes the Father known in the NT, then the pre-incarnate Son of God must have made the Father known in the OT. And as we have seen in this study, He did so as the Angel of the LORD. The Angel of the LORD, then, was one of the primary and dominant modes of OT revelation. Whenever God revealed Himself to His people, usually it was through the Angel of the LORD. This is true especially when God revealed Himself in the form of a man. (( Doug Van Dorn states that most appearances of God, especially physically embodied in human form, are referring to the Lord Jesus (except for the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7, for He is the Father). See WGR Conversation-Doug Van Dorn, Wrath and Grace Radio, September 6, 2020, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/wrath-and-grace-radio/id1230575783?i=1000490282422.))
John Gill says, “for the voices that were heard, and the forms that were seen under the Old Testament dispensation, from the first of this kind in Eden’s garden, to the incarnation of Christ, which are ascribed to God, or to a divine person, were either by the ministry of angels, or they were voices uttered by the Son of God, or forms assumed by him, who often appeared in an human form, as a prelude of his incarnation;” ((John Gill, comments on John 5:37.))
Jamieson-Fausett-Brown Bible Commentary comments, “All the manifestations of God in the Old Testament, the Shekinah and human appearances, were made in the person of the Divine Son. He was the messenger of the old covenant, as well as of the new.” ((JFB, comments on Malachi 3:1.))
Nehemiah Coxe states, “In pursuing this covenant of redemption and the suretyship of Christ taken in it upon the fall of man, the government of the world was actually put into the hands of the Son of God, the designed Mediator, who interposed himself for the prevention of its present and utter ruin. By him were all future transactions managed for the good of man, and all discoveries of grace and mercy were made to the children of men in him and by him.” ((Nehemiah Coxe, Covenant Theology, 54.))
Doug Van Dorn adds, “. . . God talked to people in the OT through the Angel of the LORD. They weren’t talking to the sky, and they weren’t merely hearing things in their head. This was not their wild imaginations running away with fancy ideas. The Angel appeared to them in various ways. This is the God they saw and with whom they spoke. In the New Testament, we know him as Jesus.” ((Early in The Angel of the LORD.))
It is safe to say, as Edmund Clowney asserts, that wherever the LORD revealed Himself in the OT, there we should behold Jesus Christ. ((Edmund Clowney, “Christ in the Old Testament” (MP3 audio of sermon, New Life PCA, Escondido, CA, December 29, 1996), tinysa.com/sermon/66091652420.))
The activity of the Angel of the LORD shows us how involved the Lord Jesus Christ was in OT history.
The revelation of the Angel of the LORD shows us early on in redemptive history that Jesus Christ was not just symbolized or typified or prophesied in the Old Testament but was actively present as the Angel of the LORD. ((Edmund Clowney, “Christ in the History of Redemption” (MP3 audio of lecture, C.S. Lewis Institute, Springfield, VA, June 16, 1980), tinysa.com/sermon/341120850.)) The pre-incarnate Christ appeared to His people throughout the Old Testament to lead them, to fight for them, and to stand as their covenant Lord. He blessed Abraham, He wiped out Sodom and Gomorrah, He appeared to Moses in the burning bush, He led the Israelites out of Egypt into the Promised Land, He destroyed pagan armies, He judged the Israelites, and He revealed the will of God to the prophets.
The OT is all about Christ. He is on every page. He is there anticipated in prophecy but also there actually in appearance as the Angel of the LORD. Moses and the prophets not only spoke about Him; they spoke to Him! Or rather, He spoke to them!
The coming of the Angel of the LORD prepares us for the incarnation of the LORD.
It is vital to state that Jesus was not incarnate until the NT. He did not possess any kind of human (or angelic) body in the OT. He appeared in a human form in the former times of the OT, but He did not assume a human form until “the fullness of time had come” (Galatians 4:4) in the NT. There is a major difference in the Son of God revealing Himself through His creation in the OT and the Son of God uniting Himself to His creation in the NT. (( Calvin wisely states, “I willingly receive what ancient writers teach on this subject, — that when Christ anciently appeared in human form, it was a prelude to the mystery which was afterwards exhibited when God was manifested in the flesh. We must beware, however, of imagining that Christ at that time became incarnate, since, first, we nowhere read that God sent his Son in the flesh before the fullness of the times; and, secondly, Christ, in so far as he was a man, behooved to be the Son of David. But as is said in Ezekiel, (Ezekiel 1) it was only a likeness of man. Whether it was a substantial body or an outward form, it is needless to discuss, as it seems wrong to insist on any particular view of the subject” (see his comments on Joshua 5:14). What Calvin says concerning how angels are called “men” in the Scriptures could also apply to the Angel of the LORD: “We have elsewhere stated, how angels are called men, whenever God wished them to put on this outward form. The name of men is therefore used metaphorically whenever they assumed that form by God’s command, and now Daniel speaks after the accustomed manner. Meanwhile, some absurdly imagine angels to have been really men, since they assumed this appearance, and were clothed in a human body. We ought not to believe them to be really men, because they appeared under a human form. Christ, indeed, was really man, in consequence of his springing from the seed of Abraham, David, and Adam. But as regards angels, God clothes them for a single day or a short period in bodies, for a distinct purpose and a special use. Wherefore, I assert the gross error of those who suppose angels to become men, as often as they are corporeally visible in a human form. Still they may be called men, because Scripture accommodates itself to our senses, as we know sufficiently well” (see comments on Daniel 10:5).))
But His appearances in the form of a man in the OT prepared the world for the time when He would take on a human nature in the NT. The human-like form of the Angel of the LORD in the Old Testament served as a prelude to and pledge of the incarnation in the New Testament. ((See comments from John Gill and Matthew Poole on Daniel 10:5)) It showed His desire and readiness to take on human flesh. (( John Gill, comments on Daniel 10:5 )) John Calvin says, “For the fact that God from time to time appeared in the form of a man was the prelude to his future revelation in Christ” ((Calvin, Institutes, 1:11:3.)) and, “because even though the time of humbling had not yet arrived, that eternal Word nevertheless set forth a figure of the office to which he had been destined” ((Ibid, 1:13:10.)) and “But the orthodox doctors of the church have rightly and prudently interpreted that chief angel to be God’s Word, who already at that time, as a sort of foretaste, began to fulfill the office of Mediator. For even though he was not yet clothed with flesh, he came down, so to speak, as an intermediary, in order to approach believers more intimately. Therefore this closer intercourse gave him the name of angel. Meanwhile, what was his he retained, that as God he might be of ineffable glory.” ((Ibid.))
Or the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges states, “The visible manifestations of Jehovah or the Angel of Jehovah in the O. T. were foreshadowings of the Incarnation.” ((Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, comments on 1 Samuel 3:10.))
So, God taking on human flesh was a totally unique and unprecedented event, but it was predicted in OT prophecy and prefigured in the Angel of the LORD. In this sense, OT saints should have seen the Angel of the LORD as a type pointing forward to the antitype, the incarnate Christ. And they should have been filled with joy as they awaited the day when the shadows of theophanies would give way to the substance of the incarnation! When God appearing to them would turn into God becoming one of them! When God encamped around them would turn into God enfleshed with them!
The visitations from the Angel of the LORD teach us the condescending grace and glory of the Lord to draw near to His people.
The high and holy God has always desired to reveal Himself to His people and cause His special presence to dwell in their midst. His promise from the beginning of time has been, “They shall be My people, and I will be their God.” He desires to enter into covenant with His people, walk among His people, dwell in the midst of His people, communicate with His people, bless His people, fight on behalf of His people, and assure His people of His great love for them. In the OT, He did this through the Angel of the LORD. The invisible and incomprehensible God made Himself known to His people in the Angel of the LORD, who was the manifestation and brightness of God’s glory and the mediator between the holy God and sinful man.
But the grace and glory of God on display in the Angel of the LORD pales in comparison to the grace and glory revealed in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the incarnation, God the Son did not simply appear to be a human, but He permanently took on human flesh. He did this for us and for our salvation. He came as a man in order to be crucified, killed, and raised from the dead to redeem us from our sins, give us the saving knowledge of God, and make us a fit dwelling place for God.
Jesus, who as the Angel of the LORD established the Old Covenant on Mount Sinai, came as the Messiah to establish the New Covenant on the cross of Calvary by the shedding of His precious blood. The Messenger of the Old Covenant (Malachi 3:1) is now the Mediator of the New Covenant (Hebrews 9:15; 12:24). As He encamped around His people in the OT to deliver them (Psalm 34:7), so He encamps around His NT people but in a much greater way. He comes to us not in a theophany but in glorified humanity as our theanthropic King!
I hope this series has helped you to better appreciate the statement made by Alfred Edersheim when he said, “We cannot conceive any subject more profitable, or likely to be fraught with greater blessing, than reverently to follow the footsteps of the Angel of Jehovah through the Old Testament.” When we connect the Angel of the LORD with the Lord Jesus Christ, we see how intimately and actively involved our Savior has been in the affairs of His people from the very beginning of time. May we be blessed as we trace His “angelic” footsteps through the OT, as well as His human footsteps through the NT!