The New Testament seems relatively silent about the Angel of the LORD when compared to the Old Testament. The phrases “angel of the Lord” or “angel of God” almost always refer to created angels (Matt 1:20, 24; 2:13, 19; Matt 28:2; Luke 1:11; 2:9; 12:7, 23; Acts 5:19; 8:26; 10:3-7, 22; 11:13-14; 12:7-11; 12:23; 27:23 ). Nevertheless, New Testament authors and characters do indeed quote from passages in the Old Testament where the Angel of the LORD appears and definitely do refer to Him.
The best way to identify references to the Angel of the LORD in the New Testament is by a careful examination of Old Testament backgrounds of New Testament contexts. The Gospels, generally speaking, begin where the Old Testament left off—with a focus on the forerunner who would precede the Angel of the Covenant (Mal 3:1; 4:6). The following outline provides certain themes in the Gospels as well as individual passages that identify the Angel of the LORD/Angel of the Covenant as Jesus Christ:
I. The Angel of the LORD in the Gospels
A. The Angel of the Covenant
B. The Theophanic Cloud in the Gospels and Acts
C. The Absolute “I AM” sayings
II. The Angel of the LORD in Acts and the Epistles
A. The Angel in Acts 7
B. Christ in 1 Corinthians 10:1-10
C. The Angel of God in Galatians 4:14
D. Christ in 1 Peter 3:20
E. Jesus in Jude 1:4-5
III. The Angel of the LORD in Revelation
A. The Priestly Angel of Revelation 8
A. The Mighty Angel of Revelation 10
B. The “One who is” of Revelation 16:5
The Gospel writers emphasize the fact that Jesus Christ is the Angel of the Covenant, but not in so many words. They do so by introducing Him immediately after highlighting His forerunner, John the Baptist (Isa 40:3-6; Mal. 3:1; Matt 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4; John 1:23). Malachi and Isaiah both prophesied of a forerunner who would precede the coming of the LORD, and Malachi specifically identified the Lord as the Angel/Messenger of the Covenant (Mal 2:17-3:1). Chronologically, the identification of John the Baptist as the forerunner to the Angel/Messenger of the Covenant was given first by Gabriel (Luke 1:16-17). Zacharias later affirmed it (Luke 1:76), John the Baptist preached it (John 1:23), and Jesus Himself certified it (Matt 11:7-19; Luke 7:24-30). In doing so, they all implied that Jesus was indeed the Messenger/Angel of the Covenant (Mal 3:1).
The Gospel writers also show Jesus Christ as the Angel of the LORD by showing His association with the Shekinah cloud in His transfiguration and His ascension (Mark 9:1-13; Matt 17:1-13; Luke 9:28-36; Acts 1:9). In the Old Testament the Angel of God is seen in union with the cloud during the Exodus from Egypt (13:20-21; 14:19-24). The cloud continues with them, and when Moses meets with Yahweh at the tent of meeting, the cloud stands over the tabernacle and comes down over its entrance (Ex 33:9-11). In the Transfiguration account, it is the cloud that both overshadows and envelops Jesus while He is being transfigured (see Luke 9:34), and it is a cloud that “receives” Him in the ascension (Acts 1:9).
Another theme identifying Jesus as the Angel of the LORD is Jesus’ repeated use of “I AM” (Gr. ego eimi) as a means of identifying himself as deity. It was this very phrase which the Angel of the LORD revealed as His Name to Moses at the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:14). Although the translation of this Greek phrase varies in its different contexts, Jesus used these words on a number of occasions to identify Himself. What is more, His very identity is at the heart of the plot in the narratives in which the phrase appears. These are sometimes called the “Absolute ‘I AM’ sayings,” because they do not contain a predicate at all (such as “I am the bread of life” or “I am the good Shepherd.” These statements are clear indications that Christ is the Angel of the Lord.
1. John 4:26—Jesus identifies Himself as the Messiah with the words “I AM.”
2. John 6:20—Jesus identifies Himself to His disciples by saying “I AM” as He walks on the water (Matt 14:23-34; Mark 6:46-53).
3. John 8:24—Jesus uses the phrase “I AM” with reference to Himself, prompting the question, “Who are you?” (v.25).
4. John 8:28—Jesus prophesies that the Jews will know Him as “I AM” when they lift Him up (crucify Him).
5. John 8:58—Jesus claims that He preceded Abraham with the words, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” The Jews picked up stones to kill Him here because they knew He was identifying Himself as God.
6 John 13:19—Jesus prophesies of His own betrayal to His disciples so that when it comes to pass they might know Him as “I AM.”
7. John 18:5, 6—Jesus, identifying Himself to the soldiers who came to arrest Him, says “I AM,” and the soldiers all draw back and fall to the ground.
8. John 18:8—Jesus once again identifies Himself as “I AM.”
The repetition of this phrase in John’s Gospel in particular seems quite purposeful. It seems highly unlikely that John is recording these uses of the phrase “I AM” without the particular intent of highlighting them.
Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin in Acts 7 is a defense of Christianity to unbelieving Jews. In the very heart of his defense he refers to the Angel of Yahweh, identifying Him with Jehovah/Yahweh (kurios) (Acts 7:30-34). An observation of the pace of the entire speech demonstrates that Stephen slows down when he comes to the Angel of the LORD and deliberately describes His encounter with Moses at the burning bush (v.30-34). The detail Stephen includes about this particular incident shows the importance of this appearance of the Angel of the LORD to his defense. By identifying the Angel as the LORD (i.e., Yahweh/Jehovah), Stephen is demonstrating the fact that the Angel is indeed God. At the same time, Stephen points out the distinction between the Angel and God in verse 35, when he says that God sent Moses with the hand the Angel to help him (Acts 7:35). Among other things, Stephen’s defense is a bold defense of the Triune God, who had revealed Himself in Jesus Christ.
Paul further attests to the identity between Christ and the Angel of the Lord as he writes of Christ’s presence with the people in the wilderness wanderings. It was Christ, furthermore, who was particularly involved in the judgment of the people for their sins (1 Cor 10:1-11). Paul also places the phrase “angel of God” in apposition (an explanatory equivalent) to “Jesus Christ” in Galatians (4:14). In most English translations, this phrase is translated “an angel of God,” but it may also be translated “the Angel of God.” Remembering that the Greek text does not have capital letters makes this more of an interpretive decision, and the question is whether Paul intends to use the phrases climactically or synonymously. If it is climactic, then Paul is saying that the Galatians received him as an angel of God (which is good), even as Jesus Christ (which is better still).
Peter’s mention of Jesus’ preaching “in the spirit” to the spirits who are now in prison has been interpreted as a part of His Old Testament ministry as the Angel of the Lord (1 Peter 3:18-22). If the “spirits” in this passage are to be identified as the men who lived during Noah’s time, it would be natural to see the Angel of the LORD as the One who went to preach to them. Those “spirits,” of course, were joined with their bodies then, but Peter speaks of them as “spirits in prison” because as he speaks their bodies are not yet resurrected.
This passage suggests various interpretations, including that Christ preached through Noah by His Spirit (the Holy Spirit) and that Christ preached to the spirits of Noah’s day after the cross by entering hell before the resurrection. It is also possible to interpret Peter’s statement as referring to the Angel of the LORD’s preaching to the men living in Noah’s day. That He would be preaching to lost men during that time is not much different from appearing to Abram in Ur to call him out of Ur (cf. Gen 12:1-3; Acts 7:2).
Several passages in Revelation have been interpreted historically as the Angel of the LORD/Christ. Joseph Seiss argues that the priestly angelos in Revelation 8 has to be Christ because He has a censer of gold, from the holy of holies in heaven, and He casts fire to the earth (Luke 12:49-52). He also offers the prayers of the saints, which Seiss argues is “nowhere in the Scriptures assigned to angels proper, but is everywhere assigned to the Lord Jesus” (Eph 2:18; 3:12; Heb 13:15; 1 Pet 2:5; 1 John 2:1).
In Revelation 10-11 the angelos described has a face like the sun, which is reminiscent of the face of the Son of God in other places in Scripture (Rev 1:16; Matt 17:2; Acts 9:3; 26:13). He also has feet like pillars of fire which parallels other descriptions of Christ (Rev 1:15; Ex 14:24; Ezek 1:27; 8:2). His voice is like a lion’s roar (Rev 10:1), which reminds of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah and the voice of Yahweh in the Old Testament (Rev 5:5; cf. Rev 1:15; Jer 25:30; Hos 11:10; Amos 3:8).
The Angel’s granting of authority to the two witnesses is a further indication of His identity. As He describes the power and ministry of the two witnesses (“my two witnesses”), He details their power to turn water to blood and smite the earth with plagues. This investment of power directly parallels the Angel of the LORD’s investment of power in Moses to perform the plagues upon Egypt (Ex 4:1ff.).
In a final passage in Revelation 16, Christ orders the angel of the waters to pour out his bowl upon the rivers of the earth, turning them to blood. Upon completion of this act, the angel of the waters praises Christ.
This plague in Revelation 16:4-5 is reminiscent of Egypt’s first plague. The Angel of the LORD gave Moses the power to turn water from the Nile into blood as a sign to the children of Israel (Ex 4:9), and then He commanded Moses to turn the entire river into blood as the first plague in Egypt (Ex 7:17-21). Thus, just as the Angel of the LORD executed judgment on Egypt in the Old Testament, Christ will execute judgment on the entire world in the Tribulation. The parallels are striking.
Perhaps the greatest lesson from this study of the Angel of the Lord is the continuity between the Old and the New Testaments. The continuity is seen as a divine Agent intervenes in human history on behalf of His people because of His relationship with them. Believers should recognize that divine authorship of the Scriptures presents a unified testimony to the divine Mediator between God and man.
For a more detailed explanation of these passages, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.