Who was the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament? Was Jesus the Angel of the Lord? Read on to find out!
Table of Contents
The text in this post is from A Father Offers His Son: The True and Greater Sacrifice Revealed Through Abraham and Isaac, and the audio is from the accompanying audiobook. I am praying God uses the book and audiobook to exalt Christ and strengthen people’s relationships with Him!
If you want the short answer, the Angel of the Lord is the preincarnate Son of God. In Greek, “theos” is “God,” and “phaino” is “appear.” In the Old Testament, the Angel of the Lord is a Theophany (appearance of God) or Christophany (appearance of Christ). Read on for the longer answer!
People Have Seen God…or Haven’t They?
The Bible says nobody has seen God the Father.
Moses wanted to see God, but in Exodus 33:20 He said, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” If people saw God, they would not live to talk about it! The New Testament confirms that nobody has seen God:
- 1 Timothy 6:16—“(God) Whom no man has seen or can see.”
- 1 John 4:12—“No one has seen God at any time.”
Hebrews 11:27 says, “By faith (Moses) forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him Who is invisible.” Moses “saw” God by faith because He could not see Him physically. Colossians 1:15 says God is “invisible.” First Timothy 1:17 says, “The King eternal, immortal, invisible.”
But some people in the Old Testament did see God! Consider the following:
- When Jacob had his dream of the ladder that stretched between heaven and earth, he saw God standing at the top of it: “Behold, the Lord stood above (the ladder) and said: ‘I am the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac’” (Genesis 28:13).
- Moses and seventy-three elders saw God: “Then Moses went up, also Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel. And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity” (Exodus 24:9-10).
- The prophet Micaiah told King Ahab, “I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing on His right hand and His left” (2 Chronicles 18:18).
How can it be explained that the New Testament says nobody has seen God, but the Old Testament records instances of people seeing God?
The solution provides a better understanding of God’s Word, the triune nature of God, and situations in Scripture that might seem odd, e.g., Jesus praying to God while being God. When Scripture says nobody has seen God, it means nobody has seen God the Father. Jesus said:
- “The Father Himself, Who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form” (John 5:37).
- “Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He Who is from God; He has seen the Father” (John 6:46).
Often when Scripture discusses God the Father, it simply says, “God.” Consider these verses as examples:
- Romans 5:8—“God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Paul is referring to God the Father.
- 1 Corinthians 11:3—“The head of Christ is God.” Again, God the Father is in view.
- 1 John 4:9-10—“In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
In Matthew 27:46, Jesus prayed, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” People read this and ask, “How can Jesus be God and pray to God?” God exists as three distinct Persons, and God the Son is praying to God the Father. The reason Jesus did not call God “Father” as He did earlier throughout the gospels is because of the separation taking place at that moment between Father and Son.
Similarly, even though Jesus is God, throughout the New Testament, He is often simply called “Jesus” or “Christ” or a combination of both titles to emphasize His messiahship. Other times He is called, “Son of God” to emphasize His deity, or “Son of Man” to emphasize His humanity. Despite what some false religions teach, identifying Jesus as the Son of God does not make Him less than God any more than identifying God as Father makes Him any less God. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day understood that when Jesus called Himself the Son of God, He identified Himself as God:
Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.john 5:18
When People Saw the Angel of the Lord, They Saw God the Son
If nobody has seen God the Father, who did Isaac, Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, the seventy elders of Israel, and Micaiah see when they saw God in the Old Testament? They didn’t see a type or shadow; they saw the pre-incarnate Son of God when they saw the Angel of the Lord.
Considering that people saw God when they saw Jesus in the Old Testament is undeniable evidence that Jesus is God. One of the most famous visions of God:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.Isaiah 6:1
After witnessing this tremendous vision, the prophet said:
“Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.”Isaiah 6:5
Although it might be tempting to think Isaiah saw God the Father, since nobody has seen the first person of the Trinity, who did Isaiah see? He said he saw “the King, the Lord,” and He did—Jesus Christ is the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (1 Timothy 6:15, Revelation 17:14, 19:16). The New Testament affirms this. Speaking of Isaiah 6, John 12:41 says, “Isaiah saw (Jesus’) glory and spoke of Him.”
Another tremendous vision of God is in Ezekiel 1. Four angels carry the throne of God on a surface above their heads. Toward the end of the account, verse 26 says, “Above the firmament over their heads was the likeness of a throne (and on it) was a likeness with the appearance of a man high above it.” This is the Son of God – the Angel of the Lord – resembling a man before the Incarnation.
When Daniel’s three friends were thrown into the fiery furnace:
Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?”Daniel 3:24-25
They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.”
“Look!” he answered, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.”
Nebuchadnezzar saw the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ.
A Summary Verse Helping Us Understand the Angel of the Lord
No one has seen God (the Father) at any time. The only begotten Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father, He (the Son) has declared Him (the Father).John 1:18
The NIV says the “Son, Who is Himself God… has made Him (the Father) known.” God the Father is invisible, but God the Son revealed Him through these Old Testament appearances. Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 and 2 Corinthians 4:4) and “the brightness of (God’s) glory and the express image of His person” (Hebrews 1:3). In John 12:45, Jesus said, “He who sees Me sees Him Who sent Me” referring to the Father. When Philip said, “Show us the Father,” Jesus replied, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:8-9).
The Angel of the Lord is God the Son
Unfortunately, sometimes people wrongly think Jesus “began” when He was born in Bethlehem; therefore, they do not recognize Him as the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament. John 1:1 says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word is another name for Jesus. The verse distinguishes between the Word (Jesus) and God, while also identifying the Word (Jesus) as God. Jesus eternally existed with God and as God before becoming a Man. He was active throughout the Old Testament as the Angel of the Lord, who identifies Himself as God and acts as God. See Genesis 16:7-23, 21:17-18, 22:11-18; Judges 2:1-4, 5:23, 6:11-14; 2 Samuel 24:16; Zechariah 1:12, 3:1, 12:8.
When God spoke to Moses through the burning bush, Exodus 3:2 says, “And the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed.” Then the Angel of the Lord is shown to be God:
So when the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!”Exodus 3:4-6
And he said, “Here I am.”
Then He said, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” Moreover He said, “I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God.
The Angel of the Lord spoke with Samson’s parents and then disappeared:
When the Angel of the Lord appeared no more to Manoah and his wife, then Manoah knew that He was the Angel of the Lord. And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, because we have seen God!”Judges 13:21-22
Manoah knew the Angel of the Lord was God, and he knew God told Moses in Exodus 33:20: “No man shall see Me and live.” What Manoah did not know was that Exodus 33:20 referred to God the Father, and the Angel he saw was God the Son. The Angel of the Lord appeared throughout the Old Testament, but He seems absent from the New Testament. He is present, but He became a Man: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The Angel of the Lord served God throughout the Old Testament and continued that ministry as a Man in the New Testament:
- John 5:30 and 6:38—Jesus said, “I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father Who sent Me.”
- Matthew 26:39—“(Jesus) went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, ‘O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.’”
In John 4:34, Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him Who sent Me, and to finish His work.” The Son of God became a Man to finish the work He started as the Angel of the Lord. Throughout the Old Testament, God the Father prepared people to know His Son through these appearances. The Angel of the Lord foreshadowed the incarnation when God the Son would fully and permanently become a Man in the person of Jesus Christ.
- Exodus 33:20, 1 Timothy 6:16, and 1 John 4:12 state no man has seen God. How can these verses be reconciled with Old Testament verses, such as Genesis 28:13 and 2 Chronicles 18:28 that discuss men seeing God?
- What is a Theophany or Christophany?
- What verses teach that Jesus is God?
- What are some examples of Theophanies or Christophanies in the Old Testament?
Thank you for this break down. I teach children and it has given me a lot of good background knowledge to help me teach Jesus through the Bible. The only part I do not agree with is that you said that Jesus the Son and the Father were separated at his death. I disagree. When Jesus cried out, ” Why have you forsaken me?”, he was quoting from Psalm 22. He was drawing the people to God the Father even in his agonizing death. The people would have sung that Psalm and known it. As you read that Psalm it powerfully leads to the end where the Father is glorified for His mighty acts! Jesus did not feel abandoned, He knew that God the Father was forever faithful to Him as He is to us!
I’m glad my post ministered to you and will help you minister to others. I’m thankful for your comment, because it’s caused me to do some profitable studying.
GotQuestions.org is a site I like, and they captured the predicament well: “It is difficult to understand in what sense Jesus was ‘forsaken’ by God.” Agreed!
They seemed to agree with you when they wrote, “There is another possible reason for Jesus to cry out, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ It could be that Jesus’ intent in quoting Psalm 22:1 was to point His hearers to that psalm. When they read Psalm 22, they would no doubt see the many fulfilled prophecies included in that song of David. Even while experiencing the agony of the cross, Jesus was teaching the crowds and proving yet again that He was the Messiah who fulfilled the Scriptures.”
John Macarthur wrote in his commentary on Matthew 27:46, “Christ, at that moment, was experiencing the abandonment and despair that resulted from the outpouring of divine wrath on Him as sin bearer.” I’m assuming he means abandonment from the Father. In his commentary on Psalm 22:1 he wrote, “Forsaken is a strong expression for personal abandonment, intensely felt by David and supremely experienced by Christ on the cross.”
My Moody Bible Commentary on Psalm 22: 1 says, “It is only an emotional expression, since God did not in reality abandon the Messiah. Some have suggested that God is too pure to look upon evil (Habakkuk 1:13) and therefore he literally abandoned the Messiah when the sin of all the world fell upon him at his crucifixion and the eternal fellowship of the Father and the Son was broken. This explanation is problematic in that the words in Habakkuk mean that God will not look with approval upon sin, not that God cannot look upon evil, else he could not look upon the world or people. Additionally Messiah did not literally become sinful at the cross, or rather the elliptical phrase in 2 Corinthians 5: 21 means that God made the sinless One to be a sin offering, not literally sinful. The eternal fellowship of the Father and the Son was never broken.”
What do I think? Since Jesus was receiving the divine wrath of God the Father, and the Father was not experiencing that same wrath at the same time, I do believe there was separation between Son and Father; however, I don’t think that Father abandoned the Son. Messiah: “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4–5).
Thank you again for your comment. If you have further thoughts I’d be interested in reading them. God bless you!