Bible Answer

How do we know the Angel of the Lord is Jesus?

In many places, you teach that the Angel of the Lord is always the Second Person of the Godhead, that is the pre-incarnate Christ. How do you know this is to be so?

Scripture clearly shows the Angel of the Lord is the part of the Godhead, and in particular the pre-incarnate Christ.

The term “the Angel of the Lord” first appears in Genesis 16: 

“7 Now the angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. 8 He said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from and where are you going?” And she said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.”  9 Then the angel of the LORD said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority.”  10 Moreover, the angel of the LORD said to her, “I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count.”  11 The angel of the LORD said to her further, “Behold, you are with child, And you will bear a son; And you shall call his name Ishmael, Because the LORD has given heed to your affliction.  12 “He will be a wild donkey of a man, His hand will be against everyone, And everyone’s hand will be against him; And he will live to the east of all his brothers.”  13 Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees”; for she said, “Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?” 14 Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered.”

Notice a few things here. First, the Angel of the Lord tells Hagar that He will “greatly multiply your descendants.” An ordinary angel cannot do that, for only the Lord God can give life (Deuteronomy 32:39). Also, this statement is very similar to what God told Abraham (Genesis 15:5). 

Second, the Angel of the Lord knew Hagar was with child, that the child was a son, and what he would be like. Only God is omniscient to know the future (e.g., Hebrews 4:3), though ordinary angels can be told the future by God. 

Third, in v. 11, the angel says “the LORD has given heed to your affliction” when it was the Angel of the Lord who had given heed. 

Finally, in v. 13, the text says “the name of the LORD who spoke to her," clearly indicating that Hagar was speaking to God. Furthermore, Hagar calls the Angel "God" and can’t believe she remained alive after seeing Him! Indeed, the word Beer-lahai-roi means, “well of the Living One seeing me.”

Next, we look at Genesis 22:

“1 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”
12 He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”… 15 Then the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16 and said, “By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18 In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”

In both of these passages, it’s clear that the Angel of the Lord is also God. In v. 12 He says you have not withheld your son “from Me,” obviously referring to God. In vs. 15 and 16, the Angel of the Lord says of Himself “by Myself…declares the Lord.” Again, it’s clear the Angel of the Lord and God are One and the same.

Next, consider Exodus 3: 

“1 Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. 3 So Moses said, “I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.” 4 When the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then He said, “Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 He said also, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.”

The Angel of the Lord in v.2 is clearly equated with God in v.4. In v.6, He makes clear He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Moses understands, for he is afraid to look at God (remember Hagar above).

There are many, many more passages that demonstrate that the Angel of the Lord is, in fact, God Himself. 

But how do we know this appearance of God is always the pre-incarnate Jesus?

First, we know the Godhead is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but in John 6: 46, Jesus says, “46 Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father.” Since no one has seen the Father, and since people did see the Angel of the Lord, we can, therefore, know that the angel of the Lord cannot be the Father.

Second, the Holy Spirit never takes human form, and rarely does the Spirit take any form. He took the form of a dove when Jesus was baptized (Matthew 3:16), and as tongues of fire at Pentecost (Acts 2:3-4), but He is never shown in scripture to assume the form of man. Therefore, we have no reason to assume these OT appearances of the Angel of the Lord are the Spirit.

Finally, Paul says that Jesus has always been the "image of the invisible God" in Colossians:

Col. 1:15  He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
Col. 1:16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things have been created through Him and for Him.
Col. 1:17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
Col. 1:18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.
Col. 1:19 For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him,
Col. 1:20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. 

Consequently, the Angel of the Lord is the image of the invisible God in the days before Jesus took on flesh, which is why we say He is the “pre-incarnate” Christ. Furthermore, the Angel of the Lord never appears in the New Testament, once Jesus took on flesh (became incarnate), nor after His resurrection. The only mention of such a person in the New Testament is described as “an” angel of the Lord, but never “the” Angel of the Lord. Once God the Son appeared as flesh, there was no longer a need for Him to appear in any other form as “the Angel of the Lord”.

Finally, it's interesting to consider that the word “angel” means messenger. A messenger is one who is sent from someone else to deliver a message, and of course, Jesus fits this perfectly. He says in John 8:18, “I am He who testifies about Myself, and the Father who sent Me testifies about Me.” Just as the Father sent Jesus, so also did He send the Angel of the Lord. Based on all the above, we conclude that the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus was the Angel of the Lord.