The Missouri Baptist Convention, through its High Street Press imprint, has just released a new resource for personal or group study titled Jesus Before Bethlehem: What Every Christian Should Know About the Angel of the LORD.
Written by the MBC’s Rob Phillips, the 338-page book explores dozens of Old Testament appearances by a figure often identified as “the angel of the LORD.” This figure not only speaks for God; he speaks as God. He appears as a man, a voice from heaven, a flame within a thorn bush, and a divine presence in a pillar of cloud and fire – all of which come to us as Christophanies, or appearances of Jesus before Bethlehem.
The book addresses the question: What was Jesus doing prior to his conception in Mary’s womb? While we see the Father and the Holy Spirit actively engaged in human affairs across the pages of the Old Testament, the other member of the Trinity (Jesus) is foreshadowed in messianic prophecies but otherwise absent from the earth. Or is he?
Jesus Before Bethlehem is designed to show how the eternal Son of God has always taken a personal interest in those he created to be his imagers on earth.
This is the seventh in a series of excerpts from the new MBC resource, “The Last Apologist: A Commentary on Jude for Defenders of the Christian Faith,” available at mobaptist.org/apologetics.
Jude 9 offers one of the few references in Scripture to Michael the archangel. He is the only archangel named in the Bible, and his name means, “Who is like God?”
Though little is revealed in Scripture about Michael, we are given enough information to draw some conclusions. He is introduced in Dan. 10:13 as “one of the chief princes.” He helps another angel, who has been battling the “prince of the kingdom of Persia” for 21 days, to deliver an answered prayer to Daniel. Because of the reference to Michael as “one of the chief princes,” it’s possible there are additional archangels, though none is named as such.
Some commentators suggest that Gabriel (“hero of God”) may be an archangel. He appears to Daniel (Dan. 8:15–27; 9:20-27), and later to Zechariah (Luke 1:11–23) and Mary (Luke 1:26-38).
Michael is one of God’s most powerful holy angels and the protector of God’s people. He is called “the great prince” in Dan. 12:1. He leads an angelic host in a heavenly battle against the “dragon and his angels,” defeating them so there is “no place for them in heaven any longer.” Satan is thrown to earth, and his angels with him (Rev. 12:7-9).
No doubt, Michael is a powerful angelic being who serves primarily as the champion angel of Israel. The word “archangel” comes from a compound Greek term archangelos and means “ruling angel.” It only occurs twice in the New Testament (1 Thess. 4:16; Jude 9) and not once in the Old Testament.
Rev. 14:17 – Then another angel who also had a sharp sickle came out of the sanctuary in heaven. 18 Yet another angel, who had authority over fire, came from the altar, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from earth’s vineyard, because its grapes have ripened.” (HCSB)
Another angel had a sharp sickle
Next, we encounter the fourth angel of Revelation 14. Like the One seated on the cloud, he also wields a sharp sickle and comes out of the sanctuary in heaven. A fifth angel follows him, and this one is said to have “authority over fire.” He calls in a loud voice to the fourth angel, “Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from earth’s vineyard, because its grapes have ripened” (v. 18).
This passage echoes Joel 3:9-13 in which grape harvesting and wine pressing are used as metaphors for judgment, and Isa. 63:1-6 in which God treads the grapes in His fury, pressing out the lifeblood of people. The same metaphor is found in Jer. 25:15, 28-31. Judgment also is symbolized by the harvest in Jer. 51:33 and Hosea 6:11. Moreover, it is the Messiah who treads the winepress in Rev. 19:15.
Why are we told about the angel that has “authority over fire?” Perhaps this is connected to the fifth seal in Rev. 6:9-11. Here, martyrs “under the altar” cry out to God for vengeance. Later, in the seventh seal, an angel with a gold incense burner stands at the altar. He is given a large amount of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the gold altar in front of the throne. The angel takes the incense burner, fills it with fire from the altar, and hurls it to the earth, which results in rumblings of thunder, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake. This also helps prepare the seven angels to usher in the next series of judgments.
Rev. 14:14 – Then I looked, and there was a white cloud, and One like the Son of Man was seated on the cloud, with a gold crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand. (HCSB)
One like the Son of Man
Seated on the cloud is “One like the Son of Man.” He wears a gold crown on His head and wields a sharp sickle in His hand. There is little doubt that this is Jesus, who calls Himself the Son of Man more than 80 times in the Gospels. The name is not exclusive to Jesus in scripture. For example, the Lord calls Ezekiel “son of man” more than 90 times, and the angel Gabriel once refers to Daniel by the same moniker. But there is no doubt that in specific contexts “Son of Man” refers to the second person of the Godhead.
The Son of Man clearly is a divine being in Dan. 7:13, and Jesus’ claim to be the Son of Man who will come on the clouds of heaven (Matt. 26:64) is sufficient testimony to convict Him of blasphemy and condemn Him to death in the eyes of Caiaphas. It’s important for us to understand that in preferring to call Himself “Son of Man” rather than “Son of God,” Jesus is communicating His incarnation. He is neither denying His deity nor exalting His humanity; rather, He is demonstrating that He is one person with two natures: divine and human.
As Ron Rhodes writes, “First of all, even if the phrase ‘Son of Man’ is a reference to Jesus’ humanity, it is not a denial of His deity. By becoming a man, Jesus did not cease being God. The incarnation of Christ did not involve the subtraction of deity, but the addition of humanity. Jesus clearly claimed to be God on many occasions (Matthew 16:16, 17; John 8:58; 10:30). But in addition to being divine, He was also human (see Philippians 2:6-8). He had two natures (divine and human) conjoined in one person” (found at http://christiananswers.net/q-eden/son-of-man.html).
The name “Son of Man” is found almost exclusively in the mouth of Christ in the New Testament. The apostles and other writers avoid the term, with a couple of exceptions. In Acts 7:55 Stephen exclaims, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” And, of course, in Rev. 14:14 John sees “One like the Son of Man” seated on a white cloud.
The early church fathers are of the opinion that Jesus uses the expression “Son of Man” out of humility and to demonstrate His humanity. Others think He adopts the title so as not to offend His enemies until His hour is at hand. Then, associating this lowly title with Dan. 7:13 and tying it to His deity forces the hands of both His accusers and followers to acknowledge Him as Messiah or reject Him as a pretender. At last, this title is “capable of being applied so as to cover His Messianic claims – to include everything that had been foretold of the representative man, the second Adam, the suffering servant of Jehovah, the Messianic king” (The Catholic Encyclopedia, “Son of Man”).
Rev. 14:13 – Then I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write: The dead who die in the Lord from now on are blessed.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “let them rest from their labors, for their works follow them!” (HCSB)
The dead who die in the Lord
This section ends with a voice from heaven saying, “Write: The dead who die in the Lord from now on are blessed.” This is followed by the Holy Spirit, who speaks, “Yes, let them rest from their labor, for their works follow them!”
Certainly, those who “die in the Lord” are blessed. Their names have been written in the Lamb’s book of life. The angels have rejoiced at their entrance into the kingdom. Jesus has gone to prepare a place for them in His Father’s house and will return to resurrect and glorify them. They will live forever with Jesus in the new heavens and new earth. Meanwhile, at the moment of death, they are absent from the body and present with the Lord. And they will be wherever Jesus is forever and ever. These are blessings for which every believer may rejoice for they are gifts of God’s grace, secured through the finished work of His Son.
But what does the phrase “from now on” mean? It cannot mean that those who previously have died in the Lord are lesser citizens of the kingdom or are denied the full benefits of eternal life. Nor can it mean that God withholds His promises from particular saints just because they lived in a different chapter of human history. Rather, the voice from heaven seems to be assuring those who remain faithful to the Lord during a time of extreme persecution that in death they are spared further suffering. Even more important, they are reminded that “their works follow them,” meaning they will be richly compensated in eternity for what they willingly sacrificed in time.