Christ and the Angel of the Lord

Christ and the Angel of the Lord

Keith G. Ball - Minister, the church of Christ at Delaware, Ohio


The subject of angels has fascinated the minds of multitudes for centuries. This curiosity is especially evident today. Numerous books and articles found in our bookstores and libraries today evidence this. Unfortunately, most of these publications are not written from a Biblical or scholarly perspective. It is the conclusion of this writer that much misinformation about angels has appeared in print. In recent years, the New Age Movement has catered to mysticism, spiritualism and thus misinformation about angels. One author claims that she can help her readers find the name of their guardian angel. In addition to this, naive readers are encouraged to learn the angelic alphabet as well as the language of angels, which is "similar to Hebrew."1 Rituals are taught so that one may contact Michael the Archangel on their birthday.2 These writings concerning angels appear to bear more of a resemblance to the occult than anything that resembles Christianity. Yet multitudes are drawn to these teachings like bees to honey.

According to an October 2001 national survey by Scripps Howard and the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University, "more than three-fourths of Americans believe in angels."3 The survey further states that "more than one in five Americans say they have seen an angel or know someone who has..."4 With so many believing in celestial beings, it is vital that sound and Biblical information be provided.

In the Biblical study of angels one can conclude that there are classifications of angels. Some more important angels are named including Michael and Gabriel. One angel of major significance that emerges on the pages of the Bible and in the lives of fortunate individuals in Biblical times is the Angel of Jehovah or Angel of the Lord. This angel has interested Biblical scholars for centuries. It is this writer's intent to present a study of the Angel of the Lord based on Biblical principles without conjecture and to draw some reasoned conclusions regarding this special angel. In order to properly understand this special angel, it is necessary to first examine several aspects including the origin, function, free will, physical appearance or manifestation and type of homage paid to angels in general.


The word angel or angels appears more than three hundred times in our Bible. The English word "angel" is derived from the Greek word angelos which literally means messenger. "The word angel is applied in Scripture to an order of supernatural or Heavenly beings whose business is to act as God's messengers to men, and as agents who carry out his will."5 There is solid Biblical evidence that angels were created by God. Just as God was able to command and bring into existence the heavens and the earth, God commanded and the angels were created.

Praise ye the LORD. Praise ye the LORD from the heavens: praise him in the heights. Praise ye him, all his angels: praise ye him, all his hosts. Praise ye him, sun and moon: praise him, all ye stars of light. Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens. Let them praise the name of the LORD: for he commanded, and they were created. (Psalm 148:1-5).

Again in Nehemiah we read, "Thou, even thou, art LORD alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshippeth thee" (Neh. 9:6). In Colossians chapter 1 we read of the preeminence of Christ and how that He was responsible for all things created. "For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist" (Col. 1:16, 17). Furthermore, there are Biblical references that lead us to conclude that the angels were created prior to the creation of the heavens and the earth of Genesis 1:1.

Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:4-7).

Most scholars believe the "sons of God" that shouted for joy is a reference to angels existing prior to the creation.

These heavenly creatures, whose population is an innumerable company (Heb. 12:22), serve God as obedient ministers of His will (Psalm 103:20, 21). It is indeed a great comfort to know that God is concerned with and involved in the lives and affairs of His people. The Hebrew writer reveals that angels are servants of Christians. "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" (Heb. 1:14). How they serve and what they do is not fully known, but we can have great confidence that God is involved in our lives in myriad ways.

A similarity that angels share with man is that they both have been given independent freedom of choice. Man has been given the freedom to choose between good or evil, right or wrong, God or Satan. The heavenly hosts have likewise had, and may in fact still have, the power to choose. Some have chosen poorly and sinned, resulting in being cast out of heaven to await the Judgement day. "For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment" (2 Peter 2:4). "And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day" (Jude 6).

One of the biggest misconceptions concerning angels is in regard to their physical appearance or manifestation. These misconceptions are based upon early Christian art which was often produced with little if any scriptural support. Much of the art depicts angels as winged, anemic-looking creatures hovering about. Angels are spiritual beings and were invisible to man until God desired that they be seen. When God desired that they be seen, then angels almost always assumed a human form that was often mistaken by man to be another human being. In Numbers 22, Balaam was not able to see the angel with the drawn sword; however, Balaam's donkey was able to see the angel. Eventually the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam and he too was able to see the angel. In Genesis 18, Abraham invited three angels that he mistook for weary travelers, to rest under a tree while he provided refreshment. Likewise, Lot, in Genesis 19, insisted on providing lodging for two angels that he and the townspeople mistook for mere men. At the ascension of Jesus, while the disciples stood looking up into the sky as Jesus had just been lifted up before them, two men dressed in white stood near them and made the proclamation that Jesus was going to return in similar fashion (Acts 1:9-11). While the text itself does not identify and call these men angels, it is a logical and safe conclusion that these who prophetically announced the return of Christ, were angels.

While angels are celestial beings, making up the host of heaven, they are not to be adored and worshipped. In the Revelation letter we learn that John, on two occasions, was so striken with wonder and amazement at what was revealed to him by an angel, that he fell before the angel and worshipped him. The angel immediately corrected him, reminding him that he, the angel, was a fellow servant and that John should worship God (Rev. 19:10; 22:9).


We have stated earlier that there would appear to be different classifications of angels. Cherubim, seraphim, archangels and ordinary angels are each mentioned in the Scriptures. Also as stated previously, there are angels that are specifically named such as Michael and Gabriel. An angel that appears frequently in the Old Testament, at least 23 times, and is the specific focus of our lesson, is "the Angel of the Lord." The Bible student would do well to notice the difference between the indefinite article "an" and the definite article "the." The appearance of "the" Angel of the Lord is definitely a special messenger and the context of each reference to "the Angel of the Lord" emphasizes this uniqueness and the special nature of this angel. The Angel of the Lord is not of the ordinary class of angels found in the Scriptures. A closer examination of several of these appearances of the Angel of the Lord to individuals in the Old Testament will help us to gain greater insight into the unique nature of this being.


The first mention of this special angel is found in Genesis 15. The appearance occurs in the context of a crisis in the life of Hagar. Sarai, Abraham's wife, drove out her maidservant, Hagar because of jealousy over the carrying of Abram's child. While in the wilderness, Hagar was visited by the Angel of the Lord and was instructed to return to her mistress. The angel promised Hagar many descendents through the child she was carrying and even revealed the child's name, Ishmael. Hagar, overwhelmed by the encouragement from her heavenly messenger, called the Angel of the Lord, "You are the God who sees" (Gen. 16:13).


In Genesis 18:1 we read that the Lord appeared to Abram in Mamre. As Abram was escaping the heat of the day in his tent, he suddenly discovered that he had three visitors. The hospitable thing to do was to provide rest and refreshment for these strangers. During this visit, Abram had to come to the conclusion that these were not mortal men but special messengers from God. Abraham and Sarah were assured again that they would have a child, even in their old age. It is at this time that Abraham learned from the Lord that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah would be destroyed. Abraham, obviously concerned about the well being of his nephew Lot, entered into a negotiation with the Lord, concluding with the agreement that if ten righteous souls could be found, then God would spare the cities. At the conclusion of this discussion, the Lord went his way (Gen. 18:33) and the other two angels went to Sodom (Gen. 19:1). It is a logical conclusion that the three men who appeared to Abraham in Genesis 18 are angels.

Since three "men" appeared, but only two "angels" went to Sodom, we conclude the following: 1). Three angels appeared in the form of men; 2). One of the angels was "the angel of Jehovah," since he deals with Abraham as only Jehovah could deal; 3). The two angels, in the form of men, told Lot that Jehovah had sent them to destroy the city (Gen. 19:13). 6

It is also noteworthy that this incident is alluded to in the New Testament in Hebrews when Christians are encouraged to show kindness and hospitality to strangers. "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares" (Heb. 13:2). It is especially important to note that Abraham had entered into a discussion with the Lord (Gen. 18:22) and during that time appeared as an ordinary man.

The Angel of the Lord likewise appeared during the greatest test of faith in the life of Abraham. God called upon Abraham to offer his only son, his son of promise, as a human sacrifice upon an altar. Never before had God called upon anyone to offer a human sacrifice. The entire events of Genesis 22 are emotionally charged. As Abraham, Isaac and the servants made their way to Moriah, the time approached when there was just the father, his son, an altar and the sacrificial knife. As the old patriarch was about to plunge the knife into his beloved son, the Angel of the Lord interrupted the process and instructed Abraham not to harm the child.

And the Angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me (Gen. 22:11, 12).

From our text it appears that there was not a physical manifestation of the Angel of the Lord but the voice of this special angel trumpeting from heaven. This angel had authority from heaven to stop the sacrifice because God had seen the obedience of this man of faith. The angel spoke as Deity and informed Abraham that he (Abraham) had not withheld his only son "from Me" (the Angel of the Lord). Abraham then gave the name "Jehovah-jireh" which means "Jehovah will provide" to that place because of the great event that has transpired there.


Again we see this special angel, as Jacob was about to leave the borders of the Promised Land. We know this incident to be the familiar account of Jacob's dream at Bethel of the ladder to heaven. In Jacob's dream he saw a ladder reaching from earth to heaven with angels traversing up and down the ladder. God spoke to Jacob and gave this weary young man, who was going into exile, the assurance of the promise that had been given to his grandfather, Abraham and his father, Isaac. "...the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed" (Gen. 28:13b). When Jacob awakened, he was shaken, afraid and convinced that the place he had inadvertently chosen to spend the night was "the gate of heaven." Most importantly however, he knew that God was in that place. At daylight he anointed the stone which had served as a pillow and changed the name of the place from Luz to Bethel which means "house of God." Years later, Jacob had become a wealthy man with two wives, eleven sons, servants and much livestock. The "angel of God" appeared to him and informed him that it was time to leave Laban, his father-in-law. As the Angel of the Lord spoke to him, He said to Jacob, "I am the God of Bethel, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto me: now arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred" (Gen. 31:13). The important concept to note is that this angel laid claim to Deity. He stated He was the God of Bethel.

Jacob had another unique encounter with the angel of God when, on the eve of reuniting with his estranged brother Esau, he wrestled all night with a man. In the text, the man is not named as the Angel of the Lord but at daybreak Jacob said, "I have seen God face to face..." (Gen. 32:30). It is during this unprecedented experience that God changed Jacob's name from Jacob (supplanter) to Israel (soldier of God). The prophet Hosea, through inspiration, wrote of this incident, that Jacob, "...had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept and made supplication unto him..." (Hosea 12:4).

As Jacob's life was coming to an end, he called his sons together so that he might bestow the special family blessings upon them. Jacob called upon the angel that had blessed him and redeemed him from all evil to likewise bless the sons of Joseph (Gen. 48:16).


The angel of Jehovah makes an appearance to Moses at Mt. Sinai. This manifestation was not in the form of a man but in the form of the burning bush. "And the Angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed" (Ex.3: 2). The diligent Bible student will quickly observe that immediately following the introduction of this angel in the flame of the burning bush that God called to Moses out of the midst of the same burning bush (Ex. 3:4). God told Moses that it was necessary for him to remove his shoes because he was standing on holy ground. "No created angel ever demanded such reverence, so we must conclude that this "angel of Jehovah" is not a created angel."7 The Angel of the Lord said to Moses, "...I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob..." (Ex. 3:6). God announced his intention to deliver the nation of Israel from Egyptian bondage. When Moses asked God for the answer he was to give to the people when they questioned him regarding who had sent him, God again spoke from the midst of the burning bush, "... I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you" (Ex.3:14). This proclamation is of utmost significance because it is here that we learn the profound truths regarding the name of God.

The key expression in verse 14 is "I am that I am" (Heb. 'ehyeh 'aser 'ehyeh). The verb 'ehyeh, as pointed in the Masoretic text, is considered a Qal imperfect first personal singular of the root hayah (hwh - "to be, become"). This clause is extremely important because the verb forms reveal the essential idea of the tetragrammaton yhwh commonly translated "Jehovah" in English versions. The Hebrew word yhwh is, in fact, the third person form of the root hayah (hwh). If the simple Qal sense is maintained, it carries the fundamental idea of the self-existence of God, and simply means "I am the One who is." 8

This angel announces that He is the one who is and there are no others; He is the existing one. If we fast-forward to the New Testament, it is believed that we get a glimpse of Jesus in connection with this "I Am" proclamation. Jesus gave us no less than seven "I Am" proclamations as to who and what He is. He is the bread of life (John 6:35), the light of the world (John 8:12), the door (John 10:7), the good shepherd (John 10:11), the resurrection (John 11:25), the way (John 14:6), the true vine (John 15:1) and of special importance to our study, He said, "...Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:15). The Jews recognized the greatness of Abraham, that patriarch who first received the promise from God and marked the birth of a nation; yet Jesus was clearly superior to Abraham and in existence before the father of their nation. This "I Am" echoes the voice from the midst of the burning bush. Brother Guy N. Woods likewise makes this connection between the I Am of Jesus of John 8:15 and the burning bush.

The tense is timeless present and conveys the same notion as that used of Jehovah when he said, "I am that I am." (Ex. 3:14.) It should be observed that Jesus did not say, "Before Abraham was born, I was," though this would have positioned him in history at a point prior to Abraham; this would have suggested that he had a beginning, even though before Abraham. As it stands, unlike Abraham, who came to be, the Lord is uncreated, absolute, eternal, always existing, and thus wholly independent of time. 9

It is believed that it is here that we get our first good indication of who the Angel of the Lord is. We have already noted that this angel, unlike "ordinary" angels, has a claim to Deity.

Moses again encountered this angel at the point when God informed him that He (God) would send an angel to lead Israel through the wilderness and bring them into the Promised Land.

Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him. But if thou shalt indeed obey his voice, and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries. For mine Angel shall go before thee, and bring thee in unto the Amorites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites: and I will cut them off (Ex. 23:20-23).

In this text it is obvious that there is a differentiation of personality between God and the angel. God states that He is sending the angel. Yet the angel has powers and qualities that only God would have. It is a logical conclusion that the one speaking here is the first person in the Godhead. The Hebrew word Elohim, meaning God, is actually plural. Thus, a literal translation of God's name would be "Gods." Because of this, some have wrongly asserted that the Bible teaches polytheism. Throughout the scriptures we find that the Godhead, while having three personalities, always functions as a unit. In the creation account, we see God speaking to the other members of the Godhead when he says, "...Let us make man in our image..." (Gen. 1:26). According to John, chapter 1, Jesus was present in the beginning and was the Word and was with God and was God. Christ is distinct from God the Father yet at the same time, inseparable. Jesus said, "I and my Father are one" (John 10:30). They are one in purpose, agreement and mind.

God told Moses, "Beware" of this special angel (Ex. 23:21). His presence was not to be trivialized but feared and respected. Israel was to "obey his voice." The instructions received from this angel were to be harkened unto, as one would be obedient to words from God. Furthermore, this angel had the power and authority to pardon or not pardon sin. This power and right is found only in Deity. Even Moses did not have the authority to pardon or retain the sins of others. When Christ walked upon this earth in the form of human flesh, He had the power and authority to speak and grant forgiveness of sin. Examples of this can be seen in the man sick with palsy (Matt. 9:2); the woman who anointed Jesus with the oil in the alabaster box (Luke 8:47) and the thief on the cross (Luke 23:43).

God says of this angel, " name is in him" (Ex. 23:21b). God's name is above every other name and His name is excellent, exalted and wonderful. The angel, in whom was God's Name, must have been co-equal with GodÑone of the persons of the Blessed Trinity." 10


Many years later, the Angel of the Lord appeared to Manoah and announced the birth of Samson. When Manoah inquired as to the name of his informative guest, the angel informed him that His name was "wonderful" (Judges 13:18, NKJV). This is one of the many reasons why we believe the Angel of the Lord to be the preincarnate form of Christ. The prophet Isaiah foretold that the Messiah would have a magnificent name. "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace" (Isa. 9:6). The Apostle Paul reminds us of the greatness of Jesus Christ and that His name is exalted above all names. "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:9-11).

In Judges 6:11-24 we read of the Angel of the Lord sitting under a terebinth tree while Gideon was thrashing wheat in Ophrah. The Angel appeared to Gideon and instructed him in his mission of delivering Israel from the Midianites. It should again be noted that the text transitions between "the Angel of the Lord" and the "Lord." Gideon desired some form of confirmation that the heavenly messenger really had commissioned him so the angel agreed to wait until Gideon prepared a special meal. The angel instructed Gideon to place the meat and the unleavened bread upon a rock. The angel touched the food with his staff and fire came out of the rock, consuming the offering. The angel then departed from Gideon's sight. Gideon was terrified, realizing that he stood in the presence of the Angel of the Lord and that he had been face to face with the Lord. It was then that the Lord spoke to Gideon and gave him comfort and assurance. "And the LORD said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die" (Judges 6:23). This assurance that Gideon would not die is important because it would have been common knowledge among the people of God that no one could see God face to face and live (Ex. 33:20). Yet God knew what Gideon did not know, that the physical manifestation of Himself in the angel was not physically detrimental to the health of those who saw Him. We can speculate as to why "no man" can "see God and live." The answer probably lies in the physical frailty of the human body. It is possible that to be exposed to the full splendor, brilliance and magnificence of God would not allow our frail human bodies to survive.


When we compile all the references to the Angel of the Lord we see a fascinating being emerge, in spite of the fact that we find no concrete reference as to who the angel truly is. For this reason, not all scholars are ready to identify this angel other than to acknowledge that the angel is a very special representative of God. Brother Hugo McCord, a respected scholar within the brotherhood, states,

Some equate the Angel of Jehovah with Jehovah himself and with Jesus. Indeed this angel is called Jehovah (Ge. 16:7, 13), but since angels are the servants (Re. 22:9) of God, not God, the designation of him as Jehovah must be a special sense. Since Jehovah informs us that "My name is in" the Angel of Jehovah (Ex. 23:21), in an accommodative sense he could be spoken of as Jehovah because he was the personal representative of Jehovah. 11

Brother McCord further states that the Angel of the Lord could very well have been the angel known as Gabriel or even Michael, the archangel. However, there are many others who believe that there are sufficient reasons to believe otherwise.

When we assemble all the references to this angel and compare them to the facts known about Jesus, we find striking resemblances. A good example of this would be the role that the preincarnate Christ played in leading, sustaining and providing for the Israelites while they were in the wilderness. We know that on at least two different occasions while in the wilderness, water came from a rock (Ex. 17:5-7; Num. 20:7-13). Paul used a metaphor in 1 Cor. 10:4 to describe the providential way that Jesus supplied that water for Israel. He stated that "that Rock was Christ." The Apostle had also spoken of a "Spiritual Rock;" "spiritual meat" (manna) and the "cloud" that guided them and protected them from the Egyptians (1 Cor. 10:1-4). It is here that we learned of an active role of the preincarnate Christ. When we look closely at the events recorded in Exodus, we learn that the angel of God was manifest in the pillar of cloud (Ex. 14:19ff).

As we consider the evidence, we must remember that the word "Angel" simply means, "messenger." There are times when the Hebrew word "nalak" (angel) is used and refers to a human messenger (1 Kings 19:2). However, it is most frequently used to refer to a divine messenger from heaven. The messenger is on an errand from His Master. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, recognized the superiority of God the Father. When He was here in the flesh, not only did He live the perfect, sinless life and die on the cross for our sins; He also had a message to man from God the Father.

For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak (John 12:49, 50).

Like Jesus, the Angel of the Lord spoke with authority from God yet was submissive and obedient to God. Yes, Jesus the Son of God was the special messenger of the Lord that God announced from heaven. "...This is my beloved Son: hear him" (Mark 9:7).

If the Angel of the Lord is indeed Jesus, then why did our God deem it necessary to appear to individuals such as Hagar, Abraham, Moses, Manoah and others? The answer to this question may be even more difficult to ascertain than the identity of the Angel Himself. The answer may lie in the fact that some things are just too important to be delegated. Why didn't God send an "ordinary" angel in the situations where the Angel of Jehovah was sent? Again the answer, although known only to God, seems to be that an "ordinary" angel was incapable of fulfilling the mission. This truth can best be understood when we consider the most important role that Jesus performed. We cannot begin to know or fully understand the sacrifice that Jesus made when He came to this earth, taking upon himself the form of human flesh. In the 33 years He spent upon this earth, He surrendered the magnificence of heaven as well as the full communion with God the Father. Jesus knew that in order to redeem man he had to become man and die a sinless death at the hands of those He came to save. This most important mission could not have been relegated to the highest of archangels, but Deity alone.

1 Wippler, M. G. Return of the Angels (St. Paul, MN: Liewellyn Publications, 1999) p. 109.

2 Wippler, M. G. Return of the Angels. p. 155.

3 Hoover, F. Mystery Cloaks Angels (Columbus Dispatch , July 25, 2003) p. E1.

4 Hoover, F. Mystery Cloaks Angels,p. E1.

5 Orr, J. (Ed.) International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Volume 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1939) p. 132.

6 Lanier,Sr. R. H. The Timeless Trinity for the Ceaseless Centuries (Denver, CO: Roy H. Lanier, Sr., 1974) p. 167.

7 Lanier,Sr. R. H. The Timeless Trinity for the Ceaseless Centuries. P. 171.

8 Davis, John J. Moses and the Gods of Egypt: Studies in the Book of Exodus (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1971) pp. 64-65.

9 Woods, Guy N. A Commentary on The Gospel According to John (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate Company, 1981) p. 181.

10 Spence, H.D.M and Exell, J. S. (Eds.) The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 1, Genesis and Exodus (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978) p. 212.

11 McCord, H. Getting Acquainted With God (Murfreesboro, TN: DeHoff Publications, 1965) p. 21.