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 post them in four parts in this "Angel of the Lord" series.
Question: Did Jesus make appearances before His incarnation?
Answer: Definitely. A good example is found in Isaiah 6. King Uzziah, who had reigned for 52 years in Judah, had just died, and Isaiah, who was probably only a teenager at the time, went to the Temple to mourn the king's death.
Isaiah was surprised by a vision in which he saw the Lord — the King of kings — "sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted" (Isaiah 6:1). In John 12:41 we are told that what Isaiah saw was Jesus in "His glory" — the glory He had before He became incarnate (Philippians 2:5-8).
Question: I have heard that "the Angel of the Lord" who is often referred to in the Old Testament was really Jesus making preincarnate appearances. Is this true?
Answer: "The Angel of the Lord" is referred to 56 times in 51 verses in the Hebrew Scriptures. The first reference is found in Genesis 16:7-12 where it says that "the Angel of the Lord" appeared to Hagar as she was fleeing in the wilderness from the rage of Abraham's wife. The Angel told her to go back home, and then He revealed to her that she was pregnant with a son whose name would be called Ishmael.
A study of the subsequent appearances of the Angel of the Lord makes it very clear that they were pre-incarnate appearances of Jesus.
A good example is found in Exodus 3. There we are told that the Angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush (verse 2). Then we are later told that the Angel spoke to Moses and said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (verse 6).
In Exodus 23 we are told that God the Father spoke to Moses and said He would send an angel to guide and protect the Children of Israel in the Wilderness. He refers to this angel as "My angel" and states that "My name is in Him" (Exodus 23:20-23). This is obviously no ordinary angel.
In Judges 13 we are told that the Angel of the Lord appeared to Manoah and his wife to inform them that they would have a child named Samson. When Manoah asked the Angel for His name, He replied, "Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?" (Judges 13:18). Manoah got the point of this statement immediately, for he turned to his wife and said, "We shall surely die, for we have seen God" (Judges 13:22).
The Angel's deity is also attested to by the fact that on two occasions He accepted worship. When He appeared to both Moses (Exodus 3:1-5) and Joshua (Joshua 5:14-15), they were told to remove their sandals for they were "standing on holy ground."
Couldn't the Angel of the Lord have been God the Father rather than God the Son? Find out in the next part of this "Angel of the Lord" series!