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 my last two in this four part "Angel of the Lord" series.
Question: What was the pre-incarnate name of Jesus? Could it possibly have been "Israel" in light of 2 Chronicles 7:14, Exodus 4:22, and Hosea 11:1?
2 Chronicles 7:14 — "[If] My people who are called by My name [will] humble themselves and pray..."
Exodus 4:22 — "Then you [Moses] shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the Lord, "Israel is My son, My first-born."'"
Hosea 11:1 — "When Israel was a youth I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son."
Answer: God the Father loves names because He is a personal God (1 Peter 5:7). He Himself has a personal name, Yahweh, which He revealed to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 6:2-3). This name is used in the Hebrew Scriptures 6,668 times. Unfortunately, it is camouflaged in most English translations by the use of the word, LORD — all in capital letters.
During biblical times, God often changed the names of people as their roles would change. When He called the man who was to become the father of the Jewish people, He changed his name from Abram, meaning "exalted father," to Abraham, meaning "father of a multitude" (Genesis 17:5). Likewise, He changed the name of Abraham's wife from Sarai to Sarah, meaning "princess" (Genesis 17:15). When stubborn and deceiving Jacob finally yielded to the Lord, his name was changed to Israel, meaning "he who strives with God" (Genesis 32:28). In New Testament times, Saul's name was changed to Paul, and Simon's name to Peter (Acts 13:9 and Mark 3:16).
In Revelation 2:17 we are told that when the Redeemed stand before the judgment seat of Jesus, each one will be given a white stone (a symbol of innocence) on which will be written a new name. Yes, we are going to have new names in the Eternal State. These names will probably relate to our Christian lives. Thus, some may be named Faith, while others might be called Perseverance or Love.
Jesus' name — Yeshua in Hebrew — means "the salvation of the Lord" (Matthew 1:21). His name expresses the purpose of His First Coming. We are told in Revelation 19:12 that when He returns to reign He will be given a new name. This name will undoubtedly relate to His new role as King of kings. Jeremiah 23:6 hints that His new name may be Yahweh-Tsidkenu, meaning "The Lord's Righteousness." That would be an appropriate name because He is returning to bring peace, righteousness and justice to this world.
Considering all these points, it certainly makes sense to assume that Jesus might have had some other name before He became incarnate. But what it may have been, the Bible does not reveal. "Angel of the Lord" is a title, not a name.
It certainly was not Israel because that name means "one who strives with the Lord." How could that be the name of one who co-exists in perfect unity with God the Father? In fact, Jesus said that He and the Father are One (John 10:30).
In Exodus 4:22 God told Moses to say to Pharaoh, "Israel is my son, My first-born." This phraseology was selected in order to emphasize to Pharaoh how important the Jewish people were to God. But it is a metaphor, similar to the New Testament concept that the Church is the Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-26 and Revelation 19:7).
Hosea 11:1 quotes God the Father as saying, "When Israel was a youth, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son." Again, the Lord is speaking metaphorically of Israel as His son, just as He refers to Israel elsewhere as His wife (see Jeremiah 3:1-5, Jeremiah 31:32, and Ezekiel 16:15-34).
In 2 Chronicles 7:14 God refers to Israel as "My people, which are called by My name." Literally, this passage says, "My people over whom My name is called." The point here is not that God's name is Israel. Rather, the point is that the Jewish people are the people of Yahweh.
Question: What other roles did the Angel of the Lord fulfill besides that of a messenger?
Answer: Delivering messages was certainly His primary role. He appeared to the prophet Balaam and gave him orders (Numbers 22:22-35). He instructed Gideon to deliver Israel from the Midianites (Judges 6). He prophesied the birth of Samson (Judges 13), and He commanded David to build an altar in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 21:18).
Sometimes He provided guidance. He led the Children of Israel in the wilderness as a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night (Exodus 14 and Judges 2:1). He directed Elijah when he fled to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19).
Occasionally, He served as an avenger, executing judgment upon the enemies of Israel. When the Assyrians threatened to destroy Jerusalem, it was the Angel of the Lord who killed 185,000 of them in one night, forcing those remaining to retreat (2 Kings 19:35). In times like this, He also served as a protector of Israel and is lauded in the Psalms as such: "The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them" (Psalm 34: 7).