When the angel of the Lord appears to Moses in the burning bush, he presents himself as a deliverer. He has seen the suffering of his people, and he has come down to snatch them from Pharaoh’s grasp and lead them to the Promised Land. Now, in Exodus 12, the angel perhaps appears again when the last of ten plagues descends on the Egyptians.
Hardened in heart, despite judgments involving such unsavory elements as blood, frogs, lice, hail, and darkness, Pharaoh stands defiantly as Moses announces the final feat that proves the power of the one true God over the magic arts of Pharaoh’s priests. But by morning, the death of every unprotected firstborn male breaks the tyrant’s will and forces him to let the Israelites go.
Passover is the oldest continuous feast in recorded history. Even today, the observance is celebrated in Jewish homes around the world. But in a sense, there is only one Passover. It took place in Egypt 3,500 years ago, when the Lord passed over the homes of believing Hebrews who sacrificed a spotless lamb and sprinkled its blood on their doorposts, sparing the loss of their firstborn males.
In the same way, there is only one occasion when the Messiah’s body is pierced and his blood poured out for our sins. To memorialize his coming death, Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper during the feast of Passover. Just as faithful Jews have observed the Passover for thirty-five centuries, Christians have observed the memorial meal of the Lord’s Supper for two thousand years. That’s why the apostle Paul reminds the Corinthians, “For Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7).
But is Jesus actually in Egypt on the night of the first Passover?
Article II-B of The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 reads:
“Christ is the eternal Son of God. In His incarnation as Jesus Christ He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Jesus perfectly revealed and did the will of God, taking upon Himself human nature with its demands and necessities and identifying Himself completely with mankind yet without sin. He honored the divine law by His personal obedience, and in His substitutionary death on the cross He made provision for the redemption of men from sin. He was raised from the dead with a glorified body and appeared to His disciples as the person who was with them before His crucifixion. He ascended into heaven and is now exalted at the right hand of God where He is the One Mediator, fully God, fully man, in whose Person is effected the reconciliation between God and man. He will return in power and glory to judge the world and to consummate His redemptive mission. He now dwells in all believers as the living and ever present Lord.”
Simply stated, the doctrine of the Incarnation means the eternal Son of God took on human flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. As such, Jesus is one person in two natures: divine and human. As the apostle John writes, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
The importance of this truth should not be overlooked. If Jesus is not divine, he cannot be the Christ; if he is not human, he cannot be our Mediator.
The doctrine of the Incarnation flows naturally from a biblical understanding of the Trinity. Historic Christianity affirms belief in one infinitely perfect, eternal, and personal God, the transcendent creator and sovereign sustainer of the universe. This one God is triune, existing eternally and simultaneously as three distinct, but not separate, persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In this light, Jesus clearly may be seen as the eternal Son of God who, in the Incarnation, set aside his privileged position (but not his deity) at the Father’s right hand in order to become a sinless human who rescued us from sin by becoming sin for us on the cross (2 Cor. 5:21).
In the Book of Exodus, we encounter the angel of the Lord in several contexts: (1) as a voice from a burning bush; (2) as the destroyer on the night of Passover; (3) as the divine presence in a pillar of cloud and fire; and (4) as the promised deliverer who leads the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land.
Each appearance is unique. Moses’ encounter with the angel on the backside of the desert ends forty years of hard-knocks leadership development and launches a dramatic return to ministry. After Moses goes back to Egypt, on the night of the tenth and final plague, one called the destroyer sweeps through the land and strikes the firstborn of every male not sheltered behind a doorpost stained with lambs’ blood. Then, with Pharaoh and his army in hot pursuit of the escaping Israelites, theangel of God inhabits a pillar of cloud and fire that separates God’s people from their pursuers. Finally, the Lord reminds Moses and the Israelites that he is sending my angel to see them safely into the land of milk and honey.
In this post, we’ll examine the angel’s appearance to Moses at the burning bush.
Article II-A of The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 reads:
“God as Father reigns with providential care over His universe, His creatures, and the flow of the stream of human history according to the purposes of His grace. He is all powerful, all knowing, all loving, and all wise. God is Father in truth to those who become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. He is fatherly in His attitude toward all men.”
There is little dispute among professing Christians that our Heavenly Father is God. But if we fail to understand the Father correctly, and if we miss the clear teachings of Scripture with respect to his relationship with the other members of the Godhead, then the biblical doctrines of creation, redemption, and restoration suffer as well.
It’s important to note while the Father is a person, he is not human. Balaam – a scoundrel who prophesied for hire – nevertheless spoke the truth concerning God’s unchanging decrees when he said, “God is not a man, that he might lie, or a son of man, that he might change his mind. Does he speak and not act, or promise and not fulfill?” (Num. 23:19).
On another occasion, the prophet Samuel informs Saul that the Lord has torn away the kingship of Israel from Saul and given it to David. “Furthermore,” he says, “the Eternal One of Israel does not lie or change his mind, for he is not man who changes his mind” (1 Sam. 15:29). Other Old Testament passages make similar claims (Job 9:32; Isa. 31:2; Hos. 11:9).
Before the angel of the Lord appears to Hagar in Genesis 16, Abram encounters a curious king and priest named Melchizedek. He appears suddenly in the wake of Abram’s victory over King Chedorlaomer and his allies. We read about his brief visit to Abram in Genesis 14:17-24.
Melchizedek, king of Salem (Jerusalem) and a priest of God Most High, presents bread and wine to Abram and his battle-weary men. He further bestows a blessing on Abram in the name of El Elyon, God Most High, and praises God for granting Abram victory. In response, Abram offers Melchizedek a tithe of all the items he has won in battle, an act that acknowledges the priest as one who ranks higher spiritually than Abram.
All of which begs the question: Is the story of Melchizedek the first recorded appearance of the angel of the Lord? Put another way, is Melchizedek the preincarnate Christ?
While he could be, it seems more biblically faithful to see Melchizedek as a type, or prophetic preview, of Christ rather than as Jesus himself prior to the Incarnation. While we take the position that Jesus comes to Abram as the angel of the Lord in Genesis 17, 18, and 22, the preincarnate Christ does not materialize as an earthly priest or king in Genesis, or anywhere else in the Old Testament.