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: Does the title, "the Angel of the Lord," mean that Jesus is a mighty angel like Gabriel or Michael?
Answer: Not at all. In fact, we are told point blank that Jesus is "much better than the angels" (Hebrews 1:4) because He is the one and only Son of the Father (Hebrews 1:1-5). Therefore, the angels worship Him (Hebrews 1:6-7). Also, the angels were created at a point in time (Psalm 148:1-6) whereas Jesus has existed eternally (John 1:1-14). In fact, the Bible asserts that Jesus Himself was the one who created the angels (Colossians 1:16).
Question: If Jesus is not an angel, then why was He given the title of "the Angel of the Lord" in His pre-incarnate appearances?
Answer: The title is both a term of endearment and a description of Jesus' primary role in these appearances. Just as my wife is my "angel," so also is the Son the Father's "angel." Jacob used this type of terminology when he blessed his sons on his death bed. In blessing Joseph, he referred to God as "the angel who has redeemed me from all evil" (Genesis 48:15-16).
Again, the term, angel, means "messenger." And that is the role that Jesus most often played in His pre-incarnate appearances. Therefore, the title was most appropriate.
The imagery is carried over to the New Testament in a vision that John records in Revelation 10. John is given a flash-forward to the end of the Tribulation. He sees a "strong angel" coming down out of Heaven. The angel has the title deed of the earth in his hand. He puts one foot on land and the other in the sea and lifts the title deed in the air as a symbol of his claiming all of creation for himself.
I don't think there is any doubt that this "angel" is Jesus. He is clothed in a cloud, crowned with a rainbow, and has a "face like the sun" — all of which are symbols of deity (see Revelation 1:13-17). His feet are like "pillars of fire," indicating He has come in judgment — and all judgment has been given to Jesus (John 5: 22). Most important, He holds open in His hand the title deed of the earth (Revelation 10:2), a deed which we are told in Revelation 5:5-7 that only Jesus is worthy to open.
Some object to the identification of this angel as Jesus because He makes an oath by the name of God (Revelation 10:6). They ask, "How can God swear by God?" But in Hebrews 6:13 we are told that when God made His promises to Abraham that "He swore by Himself" because "He could swear by no one greater." We see the same thing in Jeremiah 22:5 where God says, "I swear by Myself."
It is only appropriate that the imagery of "the Angel of the Lord" should be used in the book of Revelation because it is a book steeped in the Hebrew Scriptures. Revelation contains over 300 quotes or references to Old Testament passages, more than any other New Testament book.
Could the Old Testament name of Jesus been "Israel" actually? And, what were some of the roles the Angel of the Lord fulfilled? Find out in the last part of this "Angel of the Lord" series!