The Self-Sacrificial Nature of Christian Love

One early church pastor wrote of Christians in his day, “We know many among ourselves who have given themselves up to bonds, in order that they might ransom others. Many, too, have surrendered themselves to slavery, that with the price which they received for themselves, they might provide food for others.” (1 Clement 55:2-6)

Christian love is truly unique. Who would give himself up to prison to obtain the release of another? The answer:  Christians did. Moreover, if circumstances were similar today, Christians ought to be willing to do the same. This kind of self-sacrificial action is implied by the New Commandment of Christ himself in John 13:34-35:  “Love one another.”

Christ’s command was so significant to the apostle John that he would say whenever he went to the meeting of the church in his old age, “Little children, love one another.”  Asked why he repeated this so often, John replied, “It is the Lord’s command. If this alone be done, it is enough.”

John had seen this love exhibited in Christ’s own example.  Christ said himself, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Not long after he said these words, Jesus died as a substitute in the place of others.

One well-known Puritan writer Matthew Henry highlights this New Commandment, “Surely we serve a good master, that has summed up all our duty in one word, and that a short word and a sweet word-love, the beauty and harmony of the universe. Loving and being loved is all the pleasure, joy, and happiness, of an intelligent being. God is love (1 Jn. 4:16), and love is His image upon the soul: where it is, the soul is well molded, and the heart fitted for every good work.”

The Angel of the Lord in the New Testament

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

“Who is a Teacher like Him?”

If there was ever an event that highlights Jesus as no mere teacher, it is the record of His calming the wind and the sea in Mark 4. As evening draws on, Jesus and his disciples along with some other boats cross over the Sea of Galilee. Jesus falls asleep in the stern while a wind storm arises, and the disciples quickly begin fearing for their lives. Waking and addressing Jesus as “Teacher,” they question His care for them in their circumstances. A simple “Hush, be still” brings an immediate calm and silence. In that very moment He asks them a poignant question:”Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

At this point their fear actually increases (v.40), but the object of their fear changes. No longer are the raging waves or the howling winds their concern. Their fear is now focused on the Man whom they had called “Teacher,” and they are not sure they really know Him: “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”

They were slowly learning that this Man (for indeed He had been sleeping in the boat) was no mere teacher, but THE TEACHER. This is God Incarnate Teacher, the only Teacher who is able by His holy power to wonderfully illustrate exactly who He is. Elihu had asked the question centuries before: “Behold, God is exalted in His power; Who is a teacher like Him?” (Job 36:22) It is difficult to observe Jesus here without thinking of Psalm 107: “They have seen the works of the LORD, And His wonders in the deep. For He spoke and raised up a stormy wind, Which lifted up the waves of the sea. They rose up to the heavens, they went down to the depths; Their soul melted away in their misery. They reeled and staggered like a drunken man, And were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, And He brought them out of their distresses. He caused the storm to be still, So that the waves of the sea were hushed. (Psalm 107:24-29)


May God help me to be comforted by His presence, awed by His power and taught by His wisdom. May I be filled with faith in the Teacher whose powerful word can calm the storm.



The Ministry of the Angel of the LORD from the Period of the Judges to the Post-Exilic Period

(This article is a continuation of a previous post. For a fuller exposition of these passages, see my dissertation.)

Many writers and commentators agree that the Angel of the LORD described in the book of Judges is the same as the Angel of the LORD in the books of Moses and Joshua. Not all would agree that His ministry continues beyond the period of the Judges. Nevertheless, the Biblical evidence indicates that His ministry indeed continues. His identity is so well established, moreover, that even the common people (i.e., not just the leaders and prophets) speak of His divine identity and attributes (Jdg 6, 13; 2 Sam 14:17, 20; 19:27). During and after the period of the Judges, the involvement of the Angel of the LORD in the history of the nation continues in His calling of leaders, His establishment of the temple location, His protection of Jerusalem, His deliverance of individuals and His judging of idolatry. In addition, the prophets continue to speak of the Angel of the LORD both in terms of their history and their future as a nation. The remainder of this article presents both an outline and commentary on the passages in which the Angel of the LORD is mentioned explicitly and passages where there are strong indications that the Angel of the LORD is present.

C.       The Angel of the LORD from the period of the Judges to the establishment of the Temple at Jerusalem

  1. The Angel of the LORD judges Israel at Bochim (Jdg 2:1-5)
  2. The Angel of the LORD commands Israel to curse Meroz (Jdg 5:23)
  3. The Angel of the LORD calls Gideon (Jdg 6:11-24)
  4. The Angel of the LORD appears to Samson’s parents (Jdg 13:1-24)
  5. The LORD calls Samuel to the prophetic ministry (1 Sam 3)
  6. The Angel of God is described by common Israelites (2 Sam 14:17, 20; 19:27)
  7. The Angel of the LORD establishes the location of the “House of God” at Jerusalem (2 Sam 24; 1 Chron 21)

    As He had indicated in the book of the covenant (Exodus 23:20-23), God promised that His Angel would go with the people into the Promised Land. The presence of the Angel of the LORD (Captain of the LORD’s Host, Josh 5:23-25) with Joshua and Israel at the beginning of their military operations is complemented by His holding the people to account at the end of their campaign (Jdg 2:1-5). This brief passage shows His active and leading role in the life of the nation by detailing His movement from the temporary capital of Israel at Gilgal to a place of weeping (the meaning of the Hebrew word bochim) and by recording His rebuke of the people. In His rebuke, the Angel of the LORD Himself claims responsibility for leadership in the Exodus and declares the guilt of the people in disobeying Him personally (v.2). The sacrifice offered to Him at Bochim additionally emphasizes His identity as the God of Israel (Jdg 2:5). In Deborah’s song, which records the events of the Israel’s victory over Sisera, the Angel of the LORD directs Israel to curse a city called Meroz for failing to aid Israel in a battle against its enemies. This instruction further demonstrates the role of the Angel of the LORD as divine Judge (v.23; comp. Gen 18:25). A more familiar passage is the call of Gideon by the Angel of the LORD (Jdg 6). The narrator identifies Him as the LORD early in the narrative (v.14), and Gideon’s suspicion that He is indeed the LORD is proven true after he offers a sacrifice to Him and watches Him disappear. Knowing that He has seen the Angel of the LORD (i.e., the LORD), he believes he is going to die (v.22). After the LORD proclaims peace to him, Gideon builds a memorial altar for the appearance of God and names it “Jehovah-Shalom,” the LORD is peace. The Angel of the LORD also appears to the parents of Samson to give them instructions about the birth and life of this judge of Israel. At the end of this narrative, the Angel of the LORD again receives sacrifice from Samson’s father Manoah, and once again He is recognized as God (v.22).

    Careful attention to the call narrative of Samuel in 1 Samuel 3 indicates the personal presence of the LORD in the tabernacle on the night He called Samuel to service. Verse 10 says that the LORD “came and stood, as at other times,” and spoke to him. In addition, verse 21 indicates that the LORD indeed appeared in Shiloh and revealed Himself “by the Word of the LORD.” Although the phrase “Word of the LORD” in the Old Testament refers frequently to abstract communication from God, it may also refer to the personal “Word of the LORD,” a name that is linked to the Angel of the LORD. (Compare Gen 5:1; Gen 32:28; 1 Kgs 18:31; Hos 12:2-6; see also Jer 1:4, 9.)

    A very significant act of the Angel of the LORD in the history of Israel and the Old Testament is His establishment of the location of the temple of the LORD. In this dramatic series of events, the Angel of the LORD executes judgment upon the nation after David numbers the people (2 Sam 24; 1 Chron 21), and then He appears to David at the threshing floor of Ornan on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem (2 Sam 24; 1 Chron 21; see also Gen 22:2, 9). David offers sacrifice to Him, and declares the location to be the “house of the LORD God” and the altar he builds as the “altar of the burnt offering of Israel” (2 Chron 22:1). Solomon later builds the temple on this very spot (2 Chron 3:1), further indicating that Jerusalem is to be Israel’s place of worship.

    D.       The Angel of the LORD in the period of the Divided Kingdom

    1. The Angel of the LORD strengthens Elijah (1 Kgs 19:4-8)
    2. The Angel of the LORD confronts Ahaziah’s idolatry (2 Kgs 1:1-17)
    3. The Angel of the LORD defends Jerusalem (Isa 37; 2 Kgs 19; 2 Chron 32)
    4. Hosea prophesies of the Angel named Jehovah, the God of Hosts (Hos 12:2-6)
    5. Isaiah prophesies of the Angel of His [Jehovah’s] Presence (Isa 63:9)

    The division of the kingdom of Israel during the days of Rehoboam did not discontinue the ministry of the Angel of the LORD to either the northern or the southern kingdom. His ministry to the northern kingdom is evident from His ministry to Elijah the prophet (1 Kgs 19) and His judgment of Ahaziah for his idolatry (2 Kgs 1). In the days of Hezekiah, the Angel of the LORD also protected Jerusalem in the southern kingdom of Judah from Sennacherib and his armies. The three-fold repetition in the Biblical record of this event demonstrates the magnitude of this deliverance by the Angel of the LORD (Isa 37; 2 Kgs 19; 2 Chron 32).

    In addition to His activity in the life of the nation, the Angel of the LORD appears in prophecy during this period of the divided kingdom. Hosea from the northern kingdom and Isaiah from the southern kingdom both speak of the Angel in terms of His historical ministry to the people of Israel. Isaiah identifies Him as the Angel of God’s Presence (lit., Angel of His Face) who led the nation out of Egypt (Isa 63), and Hosea identifies Him as the One with whom the patriarch Jacob wrestled. Isaiah’s title “Angel of His presence” indicates that the Angel mediates the presence of God with His people. When the Angel is present, God is present. Hosea also identifies the Angel as God, declaring that the Angel bears the memorial name of God, Jehovah. Indeed, He is Jehovah, God of hosts (Hos 12:5).

    E.       The Angel of the LORD in the Exilic and Post-Exilic Periods

    1. The Angel delivers the three Hebrew children (Dan 3)
    2. The Angel delivers Daniel (Dan 6)
    3. The Angel of the LORD intercedes for Jerusalem (Zech 1:6-7)
    4. The LORD who dwells in Israel’s midst (Zech 2:1-13)
    5. The Angel of the LORD cleanses Joshua the High Priest (Zech 3:1-10)
    6. The Angel of the LORD who went before Israel (Zech 12:8)
    7. The Angel of the Covenant who is coming (Mal 3:1)

    In the context of Isaiah’s prophecy, the designation “Angel of His presence” applies to the deliverance of Israel out of the land of Egypt. It may also be understood as a timeless description of His ministry to His people. The Angel of Jehovah’s presence did indeed rescue Israel from Egypt, but He also rescued the city of Jerusalem from Sennacherib. The same Angel of Jehovah who delivered the nation and the capital of the nation, delivered individual Israelites when they were exiled from the land. During the exilic period, the Angel of the LORD rescues Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the fiery furnace and Daniel from the lion’s den (Dan 6). In the account of the fiery furnace, Daniel details Nebuchadnezzar’s description of the One in the fire with the three Hebrew children (Dan 3:25) as well as Nebuchadnezzar’s word of praise for the God of Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego who sent His Angel to rescue them (Dan 3:28; compare Isa 43:2). The Angel was the Agent of their deliverance.  In an equally dramatic deliverance, Daniel declares that God had saved from the lions by sending His Angel (Dan 6:20), the same word recorded in the earlier deliverance narrative (Dan 3:28).The parallel narratives of deliverance suggest the possibility that this is indeed the same divine Angel who delivered the three Hebrew children.

    Following the exile of Israel, the Zechariah prophesied to encourage the people during their return to the land and the building of the temple. Zechariah’s prophecy shows the Angel of the LORD as initiating that return by interceding for Judah (Zech 1). Although the Angel of the LORD is not mentioned explicitly in chapter 2, the distinction between the two divine Persons named Jehovah has led many to suggest that Jehovah who is sent to dwell in the midst of Jerusalem is indeed the Angel of the LORD. In Zechariah 3 the Angel of the LORD cleanses the sins of Joshua the son of Jehozadak and installs him as the new high priest of Israel. A final reference in Zechariah directly identifies the Angel of the LORD as God (Zech 12:8). Concluding the Old Testament doctrine of the Angel of the LORD is Malachi’s prophecy of the Angel of the Covenant. Malachi prophesies that the Lord (Hebrew: Adonai), also identified as the Angel (Hebrew: malak) of the Covenant, will suddenly come to His temple and purify the people (Mal 3:1). Prior to His arrival at the temple, however, He will send a messenger before Him to prepare the people for His coming (Mal 3:1). This prophecy of a messenger, which the New Testament applies to John the Baptist, directly links the Angel of the LORD to the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

    The Ministry of the Angel of the LORD in the time of the Patriarchs and the Exodus

    One of the most fascinating subjects in the entire Bible is the person called the Angel of the LORD, also referred to as Angel of Yahweh or the Angel of Jehovah. He appears in every major period of Old Testament history, often at critical moments in the history of the nation. In addition to His appearances to the patriarchs, He appears to initiate the Exodus, to lead the Israelites into their first battle in the Promised Land, to establish the location of the temple in the time of David and to defend Israel against the powerful Sennacherib in the days of Hezekiah. Perhaps the most common question about the Angel of the LORD has to do with His identity. Who exactly is the Angel of the LORD? That question has intrigued many students of the Bible, and it is an important question for at least two reasons. First, it is important to understand who He is because the Biblical authors portray the Angel of the LORD as a person who is God and bears God’s name. This fact is apparent even from Genesis 16:7-14, particularly verse 13, where Moses as narrator refers to the Angel of the LORD as “the LORD” and then quotes Hagar, who calls Him El Roi, “the God who sees.” Another important reason for understanding the identity of the Angel of the LORD is that He sometimes speaks for God, or in God’s behalf. In Genesis 22:16, for example, the Angel of the LORD uses the prophetic formula “saith the LORD.” These two facts seem to militate against each other: the Angel of the LORD is indeed God, yet He speaks for God. These facts, however, do not at all contradict each other. Rather, they demonstrate that even in the pages of Genesis, the Holy Spirit is revealing that there is a Mediator between God and Man. But what about the word “Angel?” If the Angel of the LORD is God, why do biblical authors describe Him with the term “angel”? This is also an important question, and it is critical to understand the nature of the Hebrew word that is most commonly translated “angel” in our English Bible. The English word angel is the translation of the Hebrew word malak, and it may also be translated “messenger.” Depending on the context, the word malak may refer to a human being, a finite spiritual being (angel), or, in the case of the Angel of the LORD, a divine messenger. A good example of a passage in which the word refers to both human beings and angelic beings (finite spirits) is Genesis 32, where the “angels of God” met Jacob (v.1) and then Jacob sends his own messengers (same root word malak) to Esau (v.3, 7). The fact that the word may refer to a person who is human, angelic, or divine demonstrates that the word does not denote nature but function. That is, the word angel as it is used in the Old Testament describes what the person does, not what he is. This point is critical, particularly in the study of the Angel of the LORD. The Angel of the LORD is not by nature a finite, created being. Rather, He functions as the Messenger of God, the person of the Trinity whose function it is to communicate God’s will and word to man. The following outline and commentary focuses on the passages in which the Angel of the LORD appears or is men-tioned in the time of the Patriarchs and the Exodus and Wilderness Wanderings. Certain passages in the outline do not contain the phrase “Angel of the LORD,” but the absence of the phrase does not mean that the Angel of the LORD is not present. A study of the Bethel theophany in particular (Genesis 28), as well as other references to that theophany, demonstrates that the Angel of God (Genesis 31:11-13) is indeed the God of Bethel (Genesis 28; Hosea 12:2-6). As one studies the Angel of the LORD and the appearances of God (theophanies) in the Old Testament, he will see the wisdom of E.W. Hengstenberg’s assertion: “Wherever appearances of Jehovah are mentioned, we must conceive of them as effected by the mediation of His Angel.”

    A.  The Angel of the LORD in the time of the Patriarchs

    1. The Angel of the LORD appears to Hagar (Genesis 16:7-14)
    2. The LORD appears to Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 18-19)
    3. The Angel of God appears to Hagar and Ishmael (Genesis 21:14-21)
    4. The Angel of the LORD appears to Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 22:1-18)
    5. The Angel who went before Abraham’s servant (Genesis 24:7, 40)
    6. The God of Bethel and the Angel of God (Genesis 28; Genesis 31:1-13)
    7. The Divine Wrestler at Jabbok (Genesis 32:24-32; compare Hosea 12:2-6)
    8. God Almighty appears to Jacob at Bethel (Genesis 35:1-13)
    9. Jacob prays to the Redeeming Angel (Genesis 48:15-16)

    The first period in which the phrase “Angel of the LORD” appears in the pages of Scripture is the patriarchal period, the time of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In this period Moses consistently portrays the Angel of the LORD as Jehovah and God (Gen 16:13; 48:15-16). As He appears to different individuals in Genesis, the Angel of the LORD personally claims and exhibits divine power and prerogatives such as giving life and building nations (Gen 16:10; 21:18). He also claims to be the object of Abraham’s worship and the God of the patriarchs (Gen 22:10; 31:11-13). A careful reading of the dream theophany to Jacob at Bethel and the passages that refer to it demonstrates that the Angel is indeed God Almighty (Genesis 28:13; 31:11-13; 35:1-13; 48:3). Those who see the Angel memorialize the place where He appears by either naming the location, building an altar, or both. The Angel of the LORD thus receives the same honors as God Himself (Gen 12:7). In addition to the clear indications of the Angel’s deity, it is also possible to see in certain texts in Genesis the Angel of the LORD speaking as a prophet. In Genesis 22:16, for instance, the Angel of the LORD uses the phrase “saith the LORD,” a common phrase in the writings of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Thus, although the Angel of the LORD is God and Jehovah, He also speaks for another person named Jehovah. One author aptly described the Angel of the LORD as the “paradigmatic Prophet” or the “Original of all the other prophet-messengers.” In other words, He was the original of which all of the other prophets were copies. In addition, this function of the Angel of the LORD as prophet is a foreshadowing of His ministry in the New Testament as the Word of God, the One who would bring God’s words to man. His function of speaking for God also clearly implies a plurality of persons named Jehovah, which is foundational to the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity.

    B.  The Angel of the LORD during the Exodus and the Wilderness Wanderings

    1. The Angel of the LORD appears to Moses in the burning bush (Ex 3:1-4:17)
    2. The Angel of God in the Shekinah cloud at the Red Sea (Ex 14:19-31)
    3. The Aid of the Covenant Angel promised to Israel (Ex 23:20-23)
    4. Reaffirmation of the aid of the Covenant Angel (Ex 32-33)
    5. The Angel who brought Israel out of Egypt (Num 20:16)
    6. The Angel of the LORD opposes Balak and Balaam (Num 22-24)
    7. Moses prays to “him who dwelt in the bush” (Deut 33:16)
    8. The Captain of the LORD’s Host appears to Joshua (Joshua 5:13-6:5)

    In Exodus 3-4 the Angel of the LORD appears in the burning bush to Moses, identifying Himself as the God of the patriarchs and showing His divine authority by calling Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt. He also reveals his name “I AM” to Moses, and invests Moses with miraculous power. By sending Moses directly to Pharaoh with a message to let His people go, the Angel of the LORD acts with sovereign authority over Pharaoh. Pharaoh’s hard-hearted resistance is met by punishment in the form of plagues or miracles which the Angel of the LORD told Moses that He would perform (Ex 3:20). As the children of Israel depart from Egypt, the Angel of God leads them triumphantly in the Shekinah cloud (Ex 13:21-22; Ex 14:19ff.). When the Egyptians approach Israel from behind, the Angel Himself protects and delivers them at the Red Sea (Ex 14:19ff.). After the Angel leads Israel to Sinai, the LORD enters into a covenant with His people, reaffirming His promise to the patriarchs to give them the land. He also promises to lead them by the agency of an Angel who bears His Name (Ex 23:20-23). As the covenant is ratified and the LORD gives instructions for His tabernacle so that He may dwell among them, Israel breaks the covenant by its idolatry (Ex 32). The LORD responds to this sin by telling Moses that He will send His Angel ahead of Israel instead of with them, but Moses intercedes for the people, and the LORD relents from His threat. He promises Moses that His presence (i.e., His Angel) will go with them (Ex 33:14). The fulfillment of the promise of the continuous presence of the Angel of the LORD with Israel is evident through the presence of the Shekinah cloud with them (Ex 40:36-38). The fulfillment of the promise of protection from Israel’s enemies in Exodus 23:20-23 is found in His opposition to Balaam and Balak in Numbers 22-24. The Angel of the LORD not only thwarts the plot of Balak, but He turns the curse of Balaam upon the Moabites and puts only blessings in Balaam’s mouth for Israel (Num 22-24). A final indication of the continuous presence of the Angel of the LORD with Israel is His appearance to Joshua on the eve of the battle of Jericho (Joshua 5-6). As the Angel appears to Joshua, He identifies himself as the Captain of the LORD’s host (army) and instructs Joshua concerning the strategy of the battle of Jericho (Josh 5:13-6).

    For a fuller exposition of each of these passages, please see my dissertation, available here.

    John Flavel, Double Scheme, pt. 3

    Flavel concluded his double scheme with a list of six benefits of walking by the rules he proposed:

    1. BENEFIT:  Strict and heedful attendance to these rules will put a luster upon religion before the world, and make it glorious in the eyes of such as now despise it.  Titus 2:10 “Adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect.” Which he here speaks, to encourage all to ordinate [properly ordered] walking.

    2. BENEFIT:  This will allure and win the world over to Christ, and wonderfully prosper and further the design of the gospel. Philippians 2:15-16, “So that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.”

    3. BENEFIT:  This will effectually stop the mouths of all the detracting and blaspheming enemies of religion. 1 Peter 2:15, “For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.”

    4. BENEFIT:  This will eminently glorify God, which is the ultimate end of our beings. Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

    5. BENEFIT:  This will fill the people of God (by way of evidence) with much inward peace. Galatians 6:16, “And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.”

    6. BENEFIT:  This will secure the presence of God with, and among us; whence results both the efficacy of ordinances, and the stability and glory of the churches: For Christ walks among the golden candlesticks, and threatens the churches, in case of defection from gospel rules, “to remove the candlestick out of his place, except they repent” (Revelation 2:1, 5).

    John Flavel’s Double Scheme, pt. 2

    1.  DUTY: Their first duty is to be often together in acts of Christian communion. Malachi 3:16,  “Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who esteem His name.” Such meetings for prayers, repetition of sermons, and Christian conference, greatly conduce to mutual edification, which is the principal intention of Christian fellowship, Eph. 4:16.

    2. DUTY: Their second duty is, to follow and back the great design of the gospel in the world, and therein assist in the public ministry, by their private and prudent helping on the conversion of the carnal and careless world.  Philippians 4:3, “I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel.” Romans 15:30, “Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.”

    3.  DUTY:  Their third duty is humble condescension to the infirmities of their weaker brethren, and denying themselves in what they can, without sin, that they give them no offense.  Romans 15:1, “Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves.” And verse 2, “Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.”

    4.  DUTY:  Their fourth duty is to be exceeding tender of the church’s unity, both in judgment, love, and practice, avoiding (as much as may be, and as far as gospel rule allows) all causes and occasions of division and separation. Romans 16:17, “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.” And Philippians 2:1-2, “Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.”

    5.  DUTY:  Their fifth duty is a respectful carriage towards the meanest Christian, and to have higher esteem of others than themselves. External things make no difference with Christ; Romans 12:10, “Give preference to one another in honor.” Galatians 3:28, “You are all one in Christ Jesus.” Yet a decorum is to be kept suitable to civil differences; Ephesians 5:21, “Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.”

    6. DUTY:  Their sixth duty is meekly to receive reproofs from each other for their sins, especially when the matter is just, and the manner of delivering it regular; Psalm 141:5, “Let the righteous smite me in kindness and reprove me; It is oil upon the head.”

    7.  DUTY:  Their seventh duty is to communicate their spiritual stock of gifts, graces and experiences, not interfering with public officers, nor by sinful partiality including some, and excluding many others (to who it is as due, and who may have more need) from the benefit thereof; 1 Peter 4:10, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” 1 Timothy 5:21, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality.”

    8.  DUTY:  Their eighth duty is, cheerful to communicate their outward good things for the relief of their brethren; Hebrews 13:16, “And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” And the better to enable them hereunto, to be diligent in their callings; Ephesians 4:28, “Performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.”

    9. DUTY:  Their ninth duty is, not only to relieve the distressed members of Christ, but to seek out, and visit them; to know their spiritual and temporal wants, in order to a full discharge of that duty; James 1:27, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

    10. DUTY:  Their tenth duty is, to put charitable constructions upon doubtful words and actions; and if either will admit to a double sense, always to take it in the fairest, according to the law of charity; 1 Corinthians 13:7, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” And such a charity will defend and maintain church peace and unity.

    John Flavel’s “Double Scheme”

    I was blessed and convicted recently in reading John Flavel’s Double Scheme[1]. It is a call to godliness and a reminder to be circumspect as a member of the church of Jesus Christ. Below is the first column of the Double Scheme, the second will come in a later post.

    It reads as follows:

    Flavel’s Double Scheme, or Table,”containing, in the first column, the SINS most common to the members of particular churches, plainly forbidden in the Word, and for which God sets marks of His displeasure on them.  And, in the second, the DUTIES enjoined on them in the Scripture, in the conscientious discharge whereof, they receive signal fruits of His favor.

    1.  SIN:  The first, and more general sin of church members, is a defect in their care and circumspection, to prevent all just offenses to them that are without (i.e., unbelievers). This is forbidden in Colossians 4:5:  “Walk in wisdom towards them which are without.” By a careless disregard of this rule, we harden the wicked in their sins, bring guilt upon ourselves and reproach upon the name and ways of God.

    2. SIN:  The second, and more particular sin of some church members, is idleness, and neglect of their civil callings. This is against the express rule of 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12, “For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread.” This brings poverty on themselves, and scandal on religion.

    3. SIN:  The third sin is tale-bearing [gossip], and revealing the secrets of families, and persons. Because of these much strife arises, to the cooling and quenching of mutual love. This is expressly forbidden in Leviticus 19:16, “You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the LORD.”

    4. SIN:  The fourth sin is a disposition to believe rumors, and consequent rash criticism. This we ought not to do against the meanest member of the church, according to 2 Corinthians 12:20, “For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish and may be found by you to be not what you wish; that perhaps there will be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances.” Much less against church officers, 1 Timothy 5:19, “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses.” This strikes at the bond of peace.

    5. SIN: Their fifth sin is in their neglect of God’s ordinances upon slight diversions, when they are neither disabled by works of necessity or mercy. This is contrary to Hebrews 10:25, “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

    6. SIN:  The sixth sin is a defect in zeal for God’s ordinances, manifested in their dilatory attendance. This is contrary to Psalm 122:1, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD.’” And unsuitable to their first practice (as Christians), “Where then is that sense of blessing you had?”

    7. SIN:  The seventh sin is irreverence, and the want of seriousness under ordinances. This is contrary to Psalm 89:7: “A God greatly feared in the council of the holy ones, And awesome above all those who are around Him?” And this is manifest in vain attire: “The woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels” (1 Corinthians 11:10). And unseemly postures and gestures:  “Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil” (Ecclesiastes 5:1).

    8.  SIN: The eighth sin worthy of reproof in them, is, the neglect of giving and taking of due reproofs from each other. This is contrary to Leviticus 19:17, “You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him.”

    [I think Andrew Bonar provided a good explanation of the latter part of this verse in his commentary on Leviticus.  He writes, “If a brother defame us, or slight us, or give us cause for grief and anger, we are to tell it to the person face to face. There must be no self-satisfaction, as if you were in this better than he. Even for his sake, the evil must not be left on him” (Leviticus 19:17).  JIH]

    9.  SIN:  The ninth sin is, mutual strife and animosities, not seasonably and prudently composed among themselves, but scandalously exposed to the view of the world. This is contrary to the apostle’s rule in 1 Corinthians 6:5-6: “I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers?”

    10. SIN:  The tenth sin is, the privateness of their spirits, centering too much on their own concerns. This is expressly condemned in Philippians 2:21: “All seek their own, not the things that are Jesus Christ’s.” And it is contrary to scripture example in 2 Corinthians 11:29, “Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?”

    [1] This “double scheme or table” of sins and duties of the members of churches is available in volume 6 of his works, published by Banner of Truth. It is also available on Google Books in Old English. This republishing of the double scheme is edited from the original version to accommodate modern English readers. The translation I have used is the New American Standard Update (1995).

    Remembering life before Christ

    I don’t know how many times my Old Testament professor turned our attention in class to the theme of union with Christ, but it was often enough to leave a significant impression on my mind and heart. He often made the point that while it is important to live in obedience to Christ, it is equally and arguably more important to understand by faith what I am in Jesus Christ. Understanding my union with Christ is the key, in fact, to living in obedience to Christ. In his words, “Right thinking about the gospel produces right living in the gospel” (Michael Barrett, Complete in Him, 3, emphasis original). He writes in application, “It is the responsibility of preachers to proclaim the essential truths of the gospel and point their people to the proper implications and applications of those truths to daily life. It is likewise the responsibility of each individual believer to appropriate by faith the unchangeable truths of the gospel and to live consciously in the reality of those truths” (ibid., 3).

    One of those “unchangeable truths of the gospel” concerns the desperate (indeed hopeless) condition of the sinner before Christ. The apostle Paul frequently reminded his disciples of what they were before Christ. He tells the Ephesians, for instance, that they were dead in trespasses and sins, under the dominion of Satan, following their own lusts, and under God’s wrath (Eph 2:1-3). Later in the same passage he directs them to remember the time when they had no hope and were without God in the world (Eph 2:12). He likewise calls the Colossians to remember that before they were reconciled that they were “alienated and hostile in mind and engaged in evil deeds” (Col 1:21, NAU). Titus heard similar words in Paul’s letter to him: “For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another” (Titus 3:3). In Paul’s own testimony he includes a description of himself as a “blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man” (NKJ) as well as the “chief of sinners” (1 Tim 1:13, 15). More passages could be put forth on this same theme of what we were when Christ found us (e.g., Romans 5), but these few serve to illustrate that it is important to reflect upon what I was before Christ in addition to what I am in Christ. In fact, it is precisely the backdrop of our desperate condition—slaving to sin and under condemnation—that our present and eternal union with Jesus Christ becomes even more glorious before our eyes.

    A practical way to remember what we were before Christ is to take a passage of Scripture and put it often before our eyes. Paul himself chose to write about his former condition in letters to his closest companions in ministry (Timothy, Titus) as well as to the churches. John Newton followed that apostolic example in his own personal letters, and he also wrote hymns of testimony like “Amazing Grace” and “Father, Forgive, The Savior Said,” which instruct others to do the same. I find it significant as well that Newton had the following portion of Deuteronomy 15:15 painted above his fireplace in his study at his home: “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you.” For Newton, the allusion to slavery surely reminded him of his life as an unconverted man. In the context of Deuteronomy, however, God gave that command to the people of Israel to motivate them to send their newly released slaves away with plenty of good provisions for a new life. In other words, God intended that the remembrance of their former condition as slaves motivate them to demonstrate love by graciously and generously giving to the slave. May we as believers in Jesus Christ always remember our wretched condition apart from Christ, and may it motivate us to reach out in love to those who have no hope and are without God in this world.

    “Strange and Mysterious is My Life!”

    I laughed when I read the title of the third chapter of Heroes by my one of my favorite authors, Iain H. Murray. It is called “John Newton: A Wonder to Myself.” I laughed in part because God’s grace certainly does make us a wonder even to ourselves. What keeps us from sin? What keeps us from drinking iniquity like water (Job 15:16)? It is our living Head, whose Spirit is at work within us who have been justified by His grace through faith. Praise God for His grace! Newton’s words (also quoted by Murray) are apropos:

    Strange and mysterious is my life;
    What opposites I feel within!
    A stable peace, a constant strife;
    the rule of grace, and power of sin;
    To often I am captive led,
    Yet daily triumph in my Head. John Newton

    C.H. Spurgeon said as much about his Christian life: “There may be persons who can always glide along like a tramcar on rails without a solitary jerk, but I find that I have a vile nature to contend with, and spiritual life is a struggle for me. I have to fight from day to day with inbred corruption, coldness, deadness, barrenness, and if it were not for the Lord Jesus Christ my heart would be as dry as the heart of the damned.” July 11, 1875, Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington

    Thank God for those who have bared their soul and described their Christian experience, and most of all, thank God for Jesus.