Several years ago I received a letter from a fellow in Champaign, Illinois in which he asked me a number of very thought provoking questions about Jesus before He became incarnate in the flesh. Since that time, a number of other people have contacted me with a variety of questions concerning the same subject. I've collected my answers and will continue to post them in this four part "Angel of the Lord" series.
Question: Couldn't the appearances of God in the form of "the Angel of the Lord" have been God the Father Himself instead of Jesus?
Answer: No, because there are many reports of people seeing the Angel of the Lord, and John 1:18 says, "No one has seen God at any time." The verse then continues to make a very important point: "The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him [God]." Thus, according to John, the people in the Old Testament times who saw God really saw Jesus in a pre-incarnate form "declaring" God.
This conclusion is confirmed by a statement which God the Father made to Moses at Mt. Sinai: "You cannot see My face, for no one may see Me and live" (Exodus 33:20). Likewise, Paul states in 1 Timothy 6:16 that God the Father "dwells in inapproachable light whom no man has seen or can see."
In Genesis 32 we are told that Jacob wrestled with a "Man" (verse 24) who identified Himself as God (verse 28). In fact, Jacob says, "I have seen God face to face..." (verse 30). Since we know from John 1:18 that no one has seen God the Father, Jacob must be talking about Jesus in a pre-incarnate appearance. This is made clear in Hosea 12:3-4 where we are told that the God-Man Jacob wrestled with was "the Angel." In verse 5 Hosea identifies the Angel as "the Lord, the God of hosts."
In Malachi 3:1, in a prophecy about the First Coming of the Messiah, God the Father is quoted as promising to send His Son: "Behold, I am going to send my messenger..." The word translated "messenger" is the Hebrew word, malakh, which literally means "angel."
Further evidence that the Angel of the Lord was the preincarnate Jesus is the fact that the Angel ceased to appear after Jesus became incarnate in the flesh. At that point in time, the Angel Gabriel took over the responsibility of serving as God's chief messenger.
Does Jesus being called "the Angel of the Lord" in the Old Testament mean He was just an angel and not God? Find out in the next part of this "Angel of the Lord" series!