What was the Son doing before Bethlehem?1
Sunday we thought together from God’s Word about The Son’s Bethlehem Birth. And Before.
One of the questions we asked was What was the Son doing before Bethlehem?
When the One and Only Son showed up at Bethlehem, that was most likely not the first time He’d been here. Hagar, and Abraham, Gideon, Manoah and his wife and many others had run into Him. We’re not talking about a vision here. Or a dream.
Before Bethlehem, God the Son showed up, face to face with people on the planet He created.
We call these adventures theophanies, which comes from two Greek roots: God, and appearing. A theophany is God appearing here on earth in various human forms. In these pre-Bethlehem appearances on earth, the Eternal Son of God is often called “The Angel of the LORD,” and comes helping His people in times of need.
The Angel of the LORD appeared twice to Hagar (Genesis 16:7-14; Genesis 21:17-18), once to Abraham (Genesis 22:11-13, Balaam (Numbers 22:22-35), Gideon (Judges 6:11-22), Manoah and his wife (Judges 13:3-22). He was present at the judgment on Israel after David's numbering of the people (2 Samuel 24:16), and He was the agent of destruction to Sennacherib's army (2 Kings 19:35-36; Isaiah 37:36-37). In a vision, Zechariah saw Him as judging between Joshua the high priest of Israel and Satan their accuser (Zechariah 3:1), and as the One who intervened on behalf of Israel's restoration after their seventy years of captivity (Zechariah 1:12). The Psalmist referred to Him as the deliverer of His people and the antagonist of their enemies (Psalm 34:7; 35:5-6). Other designations of the Angel of the Lord are "The Angel of God (Genesis 31:11), "My Angel" (Exodus 23:23; 32:34), and "the Angel of His presence" (Isaiah 63:9).
OK, cool. But how do we know this Angel of the LORD is God, not just some really hip angel? Good question.
Well first, the Angel of the LORD claimed to be God. When revealing Himself to Moses at the burning bush, "the Angel of the LORD (Exodus 3:2) said, "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (v. 6). Later, He proclaimed Himself to Moses as "I Am who I am" (v. 14), claiming to be God. In fact the context of Exodus 3:2-22 clearly identifies this appearance of the Angel of the LORD as the LORD Himself.
Second, the Angel of the LORD is addressed as God. When the Angel of the LORD appeared to Hagar (Genesis16:7-14), she called the Angel who spoke to her, "Thou art a God who sees" (v. 13). Gideon, believing he had seen God, feared for his life when he had spoken with the Angel of the Lord. He exclaimed, "Alas, O Lord GOD! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face" (Judges 6:22).
Third, the Angel of the LORD was called God. The Angel of the LORD appeared to Moses in the burning bush and it was the voice of God that Moses heard from the bush (Exodus 3:2, 4). In other words the passage uses the Angel of the LORD and God interchangeably. Manoah, Samson's father, was curious about the identity of the Angel of the LORD (Judges 13:17). When He departed, Monoah said, "We have seen God" (v. 22).
Fourth, the Angel of the LORD was honored as God. According to Exodus 3:5, when in the presence of this Angel, Moses was commanded to remove his shoes, for the place where he stood was holy ground. In Genesis 22:11-12, it appears that Abraham's sacrifice would have been received by the Angel of the Lord since the Angel of the LORD spoke to Abraham saying, "Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me."
Fifth, the Angel of the LORD promised to do what only God could do. He promised Hagar that He would make Ishmael's descendants "a great nation" (Genesis 21:18; cf. 16:10). He told Abraham that He would greatly bless him and greatly multiply his seed (Genesis 22:17). When speaking with Moses He said, "I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians" (Exodus 3:8). These promises would have surely been meaningless if the Angel who spoke to them was less than God.
OK, so the Angel of the LORD is God. But who says He’s the One and Only Son, who became flesh forever (remember, He didn’t leave His body in the grave!) at Bethlehem?
We believe these appearances of God (theophanies) are the eternal Son because He is the only member of the Trinity to manifest Himself in visible, bodily form. Neither the Father nor the Spirit characteristically manifest themselves in visible bodily form, although at Jesus' baptism, the Father's voice is heard and the Spirit descended upon Him like a dove (Matthew 3:16-17). The Scripture is very definite that God the Father has never made a temporary descent into visibility.
•John 1:18, "No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him."
•1 Timothy 6:16, "who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen." (cf. 1 Timothy 1:17)
•John 5:37, "And the Father who sent Me, He has borne witness of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form."
God the Holy Spirit is also described as invisible. Jesus said as much in His Upper Room Discourse.
•John 14:17, " the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you."
Jesus Christ is the full manifestation of God in visible, bodily form (John 1:14; cf. Colossians 2:9). According to the above factors, it would seem right that it is the role of the Second Person of the Trinity to appear visibly in both Testaments.
And Christ in the New Testament and the Angel of the LORD in the Old Testament were sent by the Father (cf. Judges 13:8-9; John 3:17). John Walvoord, a pretty smart theologian wrote: "The similarity of function between the Angel of the Lord and Christ can be observed in the fact that both are sent by the Father. In the Old Testament, the Angel of the Lord is sent by God to reveal truth, to lead Israel and to defend and judge them. In the New Testament, Christ is sent by God the Father to reveal God in the flesh, to reveal truth, and to become the Savior. It is characteristic for the Father to send and the Son to be the sent One. These facts again point to the identification of the Angel of the Lord with Christ."
Third, Christ in the New Testament and the Angel of the LORD in the Old Testament had similar ministries. Another good theologian wrote: “Jesus Christ of the New Testament and the Angel of the LORD of the Old Testament both interceded and called on God the Father. In addition to their ministries of intercession, both were involved in revealing truth, leading Israel, commissioning people for service, comforting the down cast, delivering those in bondage, protecting servants of God, and judging sin. Such similarities argue strongly that the Angel of the Lord and Christ are the same person."
Finally, the Angel of the LORD never appears again after Bethlehem. In fact He is never even mentioned again. This sudden disappearance in the New Testament after the incarnation indeed seems strange in light of the substantial ministry of the Angel of the LORD in the Old Testament. There is no other way to explain such a disappearance except to say that He continues His activity as God the Son, God-incarnate (Jesus Christ) rather than the Angel of the LORD. It is important to note the appearances of an angel of the Lord are not the same as appearances of the Angel of the LORD.
Our God is an awesome God. Active. Loving. Eternal. Coming to earth to care and rule. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit: worthy to be loved, obeyed, enjoyed and worshipped for ever.