A Disturbing Survey
The "2020 State of Theology Survey" by Ligonier Ministries and Lifeway Research to find out what Americans believe about God, salvation, ethics, and the Bible yielded the following results:
52% of evangelicals strongly agree that Jesus was a great teacher, but He was not God.
26% of evangelicals strongly agree that God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
38% of evangelicals strongly agree that Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.
32% of evangelicals strongly agree that the Holy Spirit is a force but is not a personal being.
54% of evangelicals strongly disagree that even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation.
20% of evangelicals strongly agree that the Bible, like all sacred writings, contains helpful accounts of ancient myths but is not literally true.
25% of evangelicals strongly disagree that the Bible is 100% accurate in all that it teaches.
These are disturbing numbers. I could spend lots of time addressing each one of these survey results, however the focus of this blog is the deity of Christ Jesus and His preincarnate appearances in the Old Testament. I will affirm my convictions up front:
I believe that Christ Jesus is the second person of the Triune God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) who exists throughout all eternity. He is not a created being!
I believe that God only accepts the worship to His Son. All other forms of worship are to false gods.
I believe that the Bible, containing the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testament, is the inerrant and infallible Word of God.
In John 8:56-58 Jesus made an astonishing claim about Himself when challenged by the Jews. "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” So, the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.”
This didn't sit well with the Jews because they knew exactly who Jesus claimed to be - God. And such a claim was blasphemy. One could get stoned for such a thing during that time. John tells us in verse 59 that "they picked up stones to throw at Him" But He escaped from them.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being... And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:1-3, 14).
Jesus is the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us. He created all things. Colossians 1:15-16 states "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him." He is the God we see in the creation account of Genesis 1. We see the first mention of one God consisting of at least two persons in Genesis 1:26-27: "Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them."
God in the Hebrew is ʾĕlōhîm. The word literally means “gods.” The form of the word is plural, but when it is used to refer to Yahweh it is usually treated grammatically as a singular noun and occurs with singular verbs and adjectives. When it refers to other beings, it is usually treated grammatically as a plural noun. It can refer to foreign gods or idols (Genesis 31:17–35; Exodus 20:3), angels (Psalms 8:5), and spirits (1st Samuel 28:13). Psalms 82:1 portrays God (ʾĕlōhîm) as holding court in a council of divine beings (ʾĕlōhîm). - J. A. McGuire-Moushon, “Divine Beings,” ed. Douglas Mangum et al., Lexham Theological Wordbook, Lexham Bible Reference Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014).
When grammatically treated as a singular noun with singular verbs and adjectives, ʾĕlōhîm refers to "Yahweh" (yhwh) which means Lord. This is the proper name by which Israel addressed God. The first mention of the "Lord God" (yhwh ʾĕlōhîm) is found in Genesis 2:4. The first encounter that Adam had with the Lord God is recorded in Genesis 2:15-17. In Genesis 3:8 Adam and Eve "heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day."
The Son of God took on human flesh and became man (John 1:1, 14) in the person of Christ Jesus. Colossians 1:15 states that "He is the image of the invisible God." Hebrews 1:3 tells us "He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature." Any Old Testament revelation of God in human or angelic form are theophanies - appearances of the preincarnate Son of God.
The Angel of the Lord
The word "angel" in Hebrew is malʾāk - a messenger or supernatural emissary sent by God to deliver a message or carry out a task. "The angel of the Lord" in the Old Testament is sometimes called "the angel of God", "His angel", "My angel". He is virtually identified with God and speaks not merely in the name of God, but as God Himself. Here are a few examples from the Old Testament:
Genesis 16:7-13 - "Now the angel of the LORD found her (Hagar - vs 4) by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. He said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from and where are you going?” And she said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.” Then the angel of the LORD said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority.” Moreover, the angel of the LORD said to her, “I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count.” The angel of the LORD said to her further, “Behold, you are with child, and you will bear a son; And you shall call his name Ishmael, Because the LORD has given heed to your affliction. “He will be a wild donkey of a man, His hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him; And he will live to the east of all his brothers.” Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees”; for she said, “Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?”
Genesis 21:17 - "God heard the lad crying; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter with you, Hagar? Do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is."
Genesis 22:10-14 - Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “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.” Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. Abraham called the name of that place The LORD Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the LORD it will be provided.”
Genesis 24:7 - “The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me (Abraham) from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and who swore to me, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give this land,’ He will send His angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there.
Exodus 3:2 - "The angel of the LORD appeared to him (Moses) in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed... Then He said, “Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said also, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God."
Exodus 14:19-22 - "The angel of God, who had been going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them. So, it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel; and there was the cloud along with the darkness, yet it gave light at night. Thus, the one did not come near the other all night. Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided. The sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on the dry land, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left."
Exodus 23:23 - “For My angel will go before you and bring you in to the land of the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will completely destroy them.
Judges 6:20-22 - "The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread and lay them on this rock and pour out the broth.” And he did so. Then the angel of the LORD put out the end of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened bread; and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread. Then the angel of the LORD vanished from his sight. When Gideon saw that he was the angel of the LORD, he said, “Alas, O Lord GOD! For now, I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.”
The Aramaic rendering of the word "angel" is malʾak and is only found in the following two verses:
Daniel 3:28 - "Nebuchadnezzar responded and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him, violating the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God."
Daniel 6:22 - “My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths and they have not harmed me, inasmuch as I was found innocent before Him; and also, toward you, O king, I have committed no crime.”
In Genesis 18:1-3 three men appeared to Abraham. One of them was the Lord. In Genesis 18:20-22 "the LORD said, “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. “I will go down now and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know.” Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, while Abraham was still standing before the LORD." In Genesis 18-33 Abraham pleaded with the Lord to spare Sodom if there were any righteous men in it. The Lord said He would not destroy Sodom on account of any of the righteous found there. Genesis 19:1 reveals that the other two men who "went toward Sodom" (Genesis 18:22) were angels who rescued Lot and his family from Sodom before "the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven" (Genesis 19:24).
In Genesis 32:24-32 "Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak." He told the man "I will not let you go unless you bless me." The narrative continues - "So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. So, Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” Clearly, Jacob did not see the full glory of God because he would have died if he did (Exodus 33:18-23). God revealed Himself to Jacob in the form of a man.
In Joshua 5:13-15 the Lord appeared to Joshua as a man, the captain of the host of the Lord. "Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?” He said, “No; rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the LORD.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, “What has my lord to say to his servant?” The captain of the LORD’S host said to Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so."
In Daniel 3:23-28 there was a fourth man in the furnace that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were cast into. "But these three men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, fell into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire still tied up. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he said to his high officials, “Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?” They replied to the king, “Certainly, O king.” He said, “Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!” Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the furnace of blazing fire; he responded and said, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, come out, you servants of the Most High God, and come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego came out of the midst of the fire. The satraps, the prefects, the governors and the king’s high officials gathered around and saw in regard to these men that the fire had no effect on the bodies of these men nor was the hair of their head singed, nor were their trousers damaged, nor had the smell of fire even come upon them. Nebuchadnezzar responded and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him, violating the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God."
Other Appearances of the Preincarnate Christ Include:
The Lord's angel helped Eliezer find a bride for Isaac (Genesis 24:7, 40).
The angel of God appeared to Jacob in Paddan-aram (Genesis 31:11).
The Lord appeared as a pillar of cloud and fire (Exodus 13:21).
The angel of the Lord appeared to Balaam and his donkey (Numbers 22:22–35).
The angel of the Lord appeared to Israel assembled at Bochim (Judges 2:1–4).
The angel of the Lord appeared to Samson’s parents (Judges 13:3–23).
The Lord appeared to David after striking down many in Israel (2nd Samuel 24:14–17).
The angel of the Lord appeared to Elijah under a juniper tree (1st Kings 19:5–7).
The angel of the Lord killed 185,000 of the Assyrian army which threatened Hezekiah (2nd Kings 19:35).
The angel of the Lord interceded for Israel (Zechariah 1:12).
Is The Angel of the Lord in the Old and New Testaments the Same Person?
"The angel of the Lord" in the Old Testament is not to be confused with similar references in the New Testament. In Matthew 1:21 "an angel of the Lord" appeared to Joseph in a dream to announce that Mary was conceived by the Holy Spirit. In Matthew 2:13 "an angel of the Lord" appeared to Joseph in a dream warning him to take the Child (Jesus) and his mother and flee to Egypt because Herod was going to search for the Child and destroy him. In Luke 2:9-10 "an angel of the Lord" announced the birth of Christ the Lord in the city of David (Bethlehem). In Acts 12:7-11 "an angel of the Lord" rescued Peter from prison. These angels are simply messengers, not God Himself.
Revelation 1:1 - "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John." Note that "His angel" is not referring to Christ Jesus. This angel was sent by Jesus to testify to John "these things for the churches" (Revelation 22:16). When John "fell down to worship at the feet of the angel," the angel responded “Do not do that. I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book. Worship God" (Revelation 22:8-9).
Is Melchizedek the Preincarnate Christ?
There was a time when I would have answered this question in the affirmative. But I have changed my mind because the scriptures do not teach that Melchizedek and Jesus are the same person. The teaching that they are the same person comes from a misunderstanding of Hebrews chapter 7. The first mention of Melchizedek is found in Genesis 14:17-20. He is identified as "king of Salem" (Jerusalem - Psalm 76:2) and "a priest of God Most High." Although Abram "gave a tenth of the choicest spoils" (Hebrews 7:4) to Melchizedek, he never once acknowledged him as the Lord God (Genesis 13:18, Genesis 15:2). Psalm 110:1-7 makes a clear distinction between the Lord and Melchizedek. The psalmist (David) addresses "The Lord" (verses 1, 2, 4, 5) in the second person and addresses Melchizedek (verse 4) in the third person. In Matthew 22:42-42 Jesus mentions Psalm 110 in declaring who He is - David's Lord (I cannot imagine how infuriated this made the Pharisees!).
The troublesome verse for most people is the description of Melchizedek from Hebrews 7:3 - "Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually."
"Without father, without mother, without genealogy"
Unlike the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob) and their descendants, there is no genealogy provided in the Old Testament for Melchizedek. There are two genealogies for Jesus: Matthew 1:1-17 (the son of David) and Luke 3:23-38 (the Son of God). Hebrews 7:6 confirms this - "But the one whose genealogy is not traced..."
"Having neither beginning of days nor end of life"
The Levitical priesthood had fixed terms of service, from "twenty-five years and upwards" to "the age of fifty years" (Numbers 8:24-25). However, the priesthood of Christ is "forever, according to the order of Melchizedek" (Psalms 110:4, Hebrews 5:6, Hebrews 7:17). Unlike the Levitical priesthood, the priesthood of Christ does not have "beginning of days nor end of life."
"But made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually"
In what way was Melchizedek "made like the Son of God?" Since very little is known about Melchizedek, the only answer that makes sense is that he was made like the Son of God in his perpetual priesthood. It is clear from Hebrews 7:11 that Melchizedek's priesthood was not "designated according to the order of Aaron." He had his own order. Similarly, the everlasting priesthood of the Son of God is also not according to the order of Aaron. It couldn't be because "it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests. And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life" (Hebrews 7:14-16). Just as the Son of God received His priesthood according to the power of an indestructible life (v. 16), the unrestricted quality of Melchizedek’s life qualified him to serve as priest. - John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), Heb 7:3.
Jesus makes a very definitive statement in John 8:24 - “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” Most conservative theologians agree that "I am He" is referring back to Exodus 3:14-15 - "God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations." Jesus drives home who He is in John 8:58 - “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” Jesus, the Son of God, the second person of the Triune God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) exists throughout eternity. He created everything. He appeared numerous times before His incarnation. He took on human flesh. He was crucified, died, was buried, and rose from the dead on the third day. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of His Father's throne. He will one day return in His full glory and will sit on His rightful throne, the throne of David, where He will literally reign on earth for a thousand years! If you do not believe that Jesus is who He claimed to be - the one and only eternal God - then you will die in your sins.
"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth"
2nd Timothy 2:15
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture cited in this post is taken from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update.