This is the 19th in a series of articles on the Trinity, excerpted from “What Every Christian Should Know About the Trinity,” available through Amazon and other booksellers.
Identified as Yahweh and yet distinct from Him, “the angel of the LORD” appears numerous times throughout the Old Testament. This messenger is above all others. He is called “commander of the LORD’s army,” “the God of Abraham,” “Judge,” and “I AM WHO I AM” – a name only the one true God ever claims.
Who is this awe-inspiring messenger? Ancient Jews believed him to be a special angel, the highest revelation of the unseen God. Similarly, Roman Catholics generally regard the angel of the LORD as an angelic representative of God, as do some Protestants. Many evangelicals, however, consider him either as a manifestation of Yahweh – a theophany, derived from the Greek words theos (God) and pheino (to appear) – or as the preincarnate Son of God, a Christophany, the Lord Jesus.
We should note that the Hebrew word malak and the Greek term angelos, translated “angel,” mean “messenger.” While angels in Scripture normally are spirit beings of higher intelligence and power than humans, there are times when the term refers to human messengers, or to the Son of God. The context helps us determine the correct application.
Norman Geisler writes, “Jesus Christ appears in the Old Testament in His preincarnate state as ‘the Angel [Messenger] of the Lord’ … Once the Son (Christ) came in permanent incarnate form (John 1:14), never again does the Angel of the Lord appear. Angels appear, but no angel that is worshiped or claims to be God ever appears again. The Father and Holy Spirit never appear as a man. Hence, Jesus Christ, as a person, eternally existed and appeared as a man before His virginal conception on earth.”
Just as the Holy Spirit is active on the earth prior to the Day of Pentecost, so Jesus works collaboratively with the Father and the Spirit to bring a divine word, direction, and deliverance prior to His conception in a virgin’s womb.
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.