Question: In our Bible Class we were talking about whether or not Jesus made appearances in the Old Testament. Someone in the class said that he had heard that the “angel of the Lord” was actually Jesus. I asked how Jesus could be an angel. No one knew. Can you help us?
Answer: This statement by Luther will be helpful in providing an answer: “Whenever Scripture says something about God doing things associated with bodily or physical functions, this must always be understood as referring literally to Christ in his blessed humanity.” (Luther) Following is an example:
Genesis 3:8: “And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day…” According to Luther this would be an example of “Christ in his blessed humanity”. That is, God (Christ) walks and talks to Adam and Eve the way he did in the New Testament when he walked and talked with his disciples and others. This can be seen as an Old Testament shadow of the New Testament reality, the incarnation.
Now for the “Angel of the Lord” part. The word for angel in Hebrew is “malak” which means messenger. In that sense Christ can be called God’s “Messenger” since he brought the message of forgiveness to a world full of sinners.
When examining some of the Old Testament “angel of the Lord” appearances you might notice that the word angel is capitalized now and then. The reason is that the translator concluded that the information given on that particular occasion caused him to conclude that this particular “angel” is really God in human form. Here is the rule of thumb often used: “Whenever divine characteristics are ascribed to “the angel of the Lord” this can be interpreted as a foreshadowing of the coming of Christ in the flesh.
Following are a few examples:
In Genesis 16:7-12 “The Angel of the Lord” appeared to Hagar, Abraham’s servant girl, as she fled Sarah’s mistreatment. The “Angel” told her to return and then said: “I will multiply your seed exceedingly that it shall not be numbered for multitude.” No created angel could make that promise and bring it to pass. Scripture tells us that that promise was fulfilled in the birth of her son Ishmael, and the subsequent Increase of his seed. V.13 provides the perfect conclusion: “And she (Hagar) called the name of the Lord that spoke to her, ’thou God seest me’ : for she said, ‘have I here also looked after him that seeth me?’” The Hebrew literally says: “I have (truly or actually) seen the one who sees me,” Clearly she meant the Lord.
In Genesis 22:11 Abraham is about to plunge the knife into his son Isaac and offer him up as a burnt offering when the angel of the Lord called to him out of heaven, and said; ”Abraham, Abraham.” In v.12 the angel said, “…I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me,” confirming that the angel was in fact God himself. An interesting footnote is the manner in which the angel addressed Abraham. He called from heaven: “Abraham, Abraham,” he did the same in Exodus 3:4 out of the burning bush,” Moses, Moses”, and elsewhere in the Old Testament. Many years later that same “angel” spoke, not from heaven this time, but as the incarnate Son of God on earth ,”Simon, Simon” (Luke 22:31) or again, “Martha, Martha” (Luke 10:41) and then again the same voice from heaven in the true style of the Messiah, “Saul, Saul” (Acts 9:4)
Judges 13:3 the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman (Manoah’s wife) and announced to her that she would have a son. In v. 6 the woman said to her husband: “… A man of God came to me and his countenance was like that of an angel of God…” The “angel” eventually appeared to Manoah also and this is how Manoah addressed the “angel”, “…are you the man that spoke to the woman? And he said I am.” V.22 “And Manoah said unto his wife we shall surely die, because we have seen God.” This “angel”, who appeared as a man, was clearly God, again a foreshadowing of the incarnation.
A number of other appearances that might be of interest in this connection are the following: Genesis 18 (the entire chapter) Genesis 32:24-32 (cf Hosea 12:3-4) Daniel 3:24-28.
I hope this information will help answer the question of Christ’s appearances in the Old Testament.
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