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Jesus the Angel of the LORD

2008 March 31

A while ago I mentioned 3 talks by Simon Gathercole on the Pre-existence of Jesus. I have now listened to them myself, and here is a very brief synopsis.

Talk 1 presents the dominant scholarly view, which is that at first Jesus’ followers considered him a merely human figure, albeit the Messiah, or some grand Prophet. Later he was viewed as a semi-divine figure, and only later (John’s gospel, Hebrews) is Jesus considered fully divine. The Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) stand mid-way along that progress of thought, which is why (it is said) they don’t really present Jesus as God. They have no doctrine of Jesus’ pre-existence, namely that a Person existed who was incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth. Simon Gathercole starts showing the weakness of this viewpoint.

Talk 2 focuses on various ‘”I have come” + purpose’ sayings. In the synoptic gospels there are 10 such sayings e.g. Matthew 10:35, Mark 1:24. Simon makes the point that “I have come” implies an existence before the coming. Now, perhaps this could be simply “I was in Galilee, but now I have come to Jerusalem to do…” However, the purpose sums up Jesus’ whole life – so the natural reading is that “I have come to do…” means “I was once not in the world, but now I am, and I have come to…”. I.e. Jesus exists before his birth. Talk 2 focuses mainly on “I have come + purpose” sayings in the OT and other ancient Jewish literature, showing that they refer to heavenly beings (e.g. Angel of the LORD or various angels in Jewish literature) who are sent / have come to do certain things. A heavenly existence prior to the event of coming is always assumed.

Talk 3 then looks in detail at the 10 sayings in the Synoptic gospels, showing that they indeed read most naturally as implying Jesus’ pre-existence and his coming into the world to achieve / do certain things.

Okay, fair enough – for many people it is transparently obvious that Jesus existed before his birth. But many theologians / scholars do enjoy writing about silly stuff, and it does filter down into the local church, so it’s good to be aware of their nonsense and a Biblical response.

One bit I enjoyed was a passing comment about some of the gospel passages that may be “the tip of the iceberg” of the view that Jesus is the incarnation of the Angel of the LORD. (NB just read Genesis to discover many appearances of the Angel, and remember that ‘Angel’ means ‘Messenger’ or ‘Sent One’ so it doesn’t have to mean shiny creature with wings and harps.)

Matthew 10:34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” could be an allusion to Joshua 5:13-14 (the commander of the army of the LORD who Joshua sees with drawn sword) and/or 1 Chronicles 21 (the Angel of the LORD who stands between heaven and earth with drawn sword) and/or Numbers 22:31 (Balaam and his donkey see the Angel of the LORD standing with drawn sword).

Also, Luke 12:49 “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!” could be alluding to Genesis 19:24, where the LORD on earth rains down fire on Sodom and Gomorrah “from the LORD-out-of-the-heavens.”

Simon didn’t really explore these in detail, although I’m very curious to know what he thinks.  Having done a lot of thinking about the Trinity in the Old Testament, I find it obvious that the gospels frequently identify Jesus as the Angel of the LORD / the Visible LORD who was so active throughout Old Testament times.  But it’s still lots of fun finding more passages to prove my case!

One Response
  1. May 12, 2008

    Hi Tim,

    Yeah I’d be interested to know Simon’s take on Christ’s OT ministry. I really enjoyed those talks, but found myself wondering what he’d say in private with nobody recording!

    Dan

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