Biblical and Historical Views of Christ as an Angel
BY HAROLD L. FLEMINGS
TESTIMONY OF EARLY CHURCH FATHERS AND OTHERS
From time to time representations that Jesus Christ has appeared as an angel or that Jesus Christ is an angel have been made by various religious figures and religious communities. Some firmly reject these theological views while others solidly accept them.
On this subject scholar, Martin Werner, wrote:
"... in the Post-Apostolic period the appearances of angels in the Old Testament narrative, so far as they occurred in some way for the succour of men, had already begun to be interpreted as appearances of Christ. This identification long remained a favourite one, as Origen, Justin, Irenaeus, Novatian and the Letter of Hymenaeus as well as other documents abundantly show us." 1
Another scholar, John A. Lees asserted:
"The earlier Protestant scholars usually identified Michael (the archangel) with the preincarnate Christ, finding support for their view, not only in the juxtaposition of the ‘child’ and the archangel in Revelation 12, but also in the attributes ascribed to him in Dnl [Daniel]..." 2
A popular, contemporary Protestant evangelist, Billy Graham, claimed that:
"Some places in the Old Testament tell us that the Second Person of the Trinity appeared and was called either ‘the Lord’ or ‘the angel of the Lord’. Nowhere is it clearer than in Genesis 18 where three men appear before Abraham. Their leader is clearly identified as the Lord, whereas the other two are merely angels... We must remember, then, that in some cases in the Old Testament God Himself appeared in human form as an angel..." 3
Also, J. N. D. Kelly noted:
"In a number of passages (from church father Hermas) we read of an angel who is superior to the six angels forming God’s inner council, and who is regularly described as ‘most venerable’, ‘holy’, and ‘glorious’. This angel is given the name Michael; and the conclusion is difficult to escape that Hermas saw in him the Son of God and equated him with the archangel Michael." 4
1. Martin Werner, D.D., The Formation of Christian Dogma, p. 130
2. John A. Lees, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1930, Vol. III, p.2048.
3. Billy Graham, Angels: God's Secret Agents, (Doubleday), p. 33
4. J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (Harper Brothers), p. 95
Finally, the Cyclopedia of Biblical Theological & Ecclesiastical Literature by McClintock and Strong submitted:
"...the ‘Sons of God’, or even in poetry, the ‘gods’ (Elohim), the ‘holy ones’, etc. are names which, in their full and proper sense, are applicable only to the Lord Jesus Christ. As He is ‘the Son of God’, so also is He the ‘angel’ or ‘messenger’ of the Lord." 5
TESTIMONY OF THE BIBLE
What does the Bible tell us regarding this question? We shall see that it is not silent on the matter. Some posit that the Bible excludes Jesus as an angel while others firmly declare that it includes him as one.
Perhaps the most frequently quoted passages to make the case that Jesus was not and is not an angel are found at Hebrews 1:5, 13 and 2:5 which are translated this way in the Revised Standard Version:
Hebrews 1:5 - "For to what angel did God ever say, ‘Thou art my Son...’"
Hebrews 1:13 - "But to what angel has he ever said, ‘Sit at my right hand...’"
Hebrews 2:5 - "For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come..."
Since God said to Jesus ‘Thou art my Son’, ‘Sit at my right hand’ and subjected the coming world to him, then it would appear Jesus is not an angel, unless Jesus is an angel in a way that differentiates him from the others.
To illustrate this point, look at Psalm 82:7, where Jehovah said to Israelite judges:
"Nevertheless, you shall die like men and fall like any prince." (Revised Standard Version)
Does the expression "you shall die like men" mean that those judges were not men or does it mean that they were being differentiated from ordinary men? In kind, the Hebrew passages could be complying with this same idea, that is, that Jesus though an angel, is to be distinguished from "ordinary" angels.
5. Volume I, "Angel", p. 226.
Another example might be brought forth to demonstrate this thinking. The account at Acts 23:9 reads:
"And there arose a great cry: and the scribes that were of the Pharisees’ part arose, and strove, saying we find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God." (KJV)
Some scholars understand that the "spirit" referred to here is a demon while the "angel" referred to one of the faithful holy angels. But does that mean that "angels" are not "spirits" since the passage reads "spirit or an angel"? No, the Scriptures are plain that angels are spirits.6 Notwithstanding that fact, angels are differentiated from spirits at Acts 23:9. Could this same principle apply with respect to the citations from Hebrews 1:5, 13 and 2:5 and the question of Jesus’ status as an angel? Let us move forward into the Bible to see.
With Pharaoh’s armies pursuing them, Moses and the Israelites were accompanied by an angel through the miraculously parted Red Sea. At Exodus 14:19-22, we find:
"Then the angel of the true God who was going ahead of the camp of Israel departed and went to their rear, and the pillar of cloud departed from their van and stood in the rear of them. So it came in between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. On the one hand it proved to be a cloud together with darkness. On the other hand it kept lighting up the night. And this group did not come near that group all night long. Moses now stretched his hand out over the sea; and Jehovah began making the sea go back by a strong east wind all night long and converting the sea basin into dry ground and the waters being split apart. At length the sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on dry land..." (NWT)
The Apostle Paul identified the angel that followed them through the Red Sea at 1 Corinthians 10:1-4:
"Now I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea and all got baptized into Moses by means of the cloud and of the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they used to drink from the spiritual rock-mass that followed them, and that rock-mass meant the Christ." (NWT)
6. See Psalm 104:1, 4; Hebrew 1:7; 1 Kings 22:20-22.
Interestingly, the angel that had been assigned to Israel is named "Michael" in other passages.7
Commenting on one aspect of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, Apostle Paul wrote:
"because the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a commanding call, with an archangel’s voice and with God's trumpet, and those who are dead in union with Christ will rise first. (1 Thessalonians 4:16) (NWT)
If Jesus is not the archangel in this event and he is superior to the archangel, then why would he perform this act as though he was someone of lower rank? Wouldn’t he be using an archangel’s voice because he is an archangel?
Once more, the Apostle Paul made this comment:
"And what was a trial to you in my flesh, you did not treat with contempt or spit at in disgust; but you received me like an angel of God, like Christ Jesus". (Galatians 4:14) (NWT)
There is certainly the sense here that being received like an angel was the same as being received like Jesus Christ. Doesn’t this suggest then that Jesus Christ is an angel, albeit an exceptional one? 8
The Septuagint translation of Isaiah 9:6, 7 next commands our attention. Both Jews and Christians alike understand that Isaiah 9:6, 7 is a prophecy about the Messiah, the Christ. Translator Lancelot C.L. Brenton rendered the Septuagint verses:
"For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us, whose government is upon his shoulder: and his name is called the Messenger of great counsel: for I will bring peace upon the princes, and health to him. His government shall be great, and of his peace there is no end..."
The phrase "Messenger of great counsel" translates the Greek "Mεγαλης βουλης αγγελος" which is also translated "Angel of great counsel". This inference may be more than suggestive.
7. See Exodus 23:20-23; Daniel 10:21; Daniel 12:1.
8. The Greek text reads: "ως αγγελον θεου εδεξασθε με ως χριστον ιησουν"
In the highly symbolic book of Revelation, chapter nine depicts the disciplining of individuals who "have not the seal of God in their forehead." Those administering the discipline are said to have "a King over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon". (vss. 4, 11) (King James Version). Who is this angel who is a over subjects of God performing his will? We know that Jesus is called a King in heaven and so too Jehovah and humans that are resurrected to heaven. Clearly, Jehovah is not the "angel who is a King" and the heavenbound resurrected humans are not angels at all. Doesn’t this leave Jesus as the likely candidate? (Jeremiah 10:10; Zechariah 14:9; Psalm 2:6-8; Luke 1:32,33; Daniel 7:13, 14, 27; and 2 Timothy 2:11,12)
Having considered both some historical and scriptural data, it ought to be clear that the argument that Jesus is or was the principal angel, even Michael the archangel, is not without some weight and ought not be discounted as untrue.