Non-trinitarians object that the doctrine of the trinity is a post-apostolic phenomenon. It was developed in the latter stages of the development of the early church, but it has no real roots in the beliefs of the apostles, much less the prophets of old. The YHWH of the Old Testament, they will say, was inescapably unitarian. However we do see a certain plurality within the Godhead when we begin talking about this issue of the angel of the Lord. The angel of the Lord is a figure who is identified with YHWH and yet is made distinct from YHWH. So this raises the question: is the angel of the Lord the second person of the trinity? I think he is. I think that the angel of the Lord is Jesus himself, the eternal Son who existed with the Father.
Of course, that is not to say that there is more than one God, or than Jesus is a God beside the Father. The trinity states unequivocally that there is only one God. The trinitarian abhors tri-theism as condemnable heresy. The trinitarian maintains that if you think that there are three gods, you have not only denied the trinity, but also, that you have denied the Christian faith. So when the trinitarian answers the question “is the angel of the Lord the second person of the trinity?” we are not saying that there are three gods. We are saying that within the one God, there are three distinct persons. We see evidence of this in this business about the angel of the Lord.
The angel of the Lord is YHWH. Many Christians are trained to make distinctions between angels and God. That would be a distinction on the level of creature and Creator. When John worshipped the an angel in the book of Revelation, the angel rebuked him and assured him that he was just a created being, like him. But in the case of the angel of the Lord, it is different. The title angel is not one that describes his nature as much as it describes his office. Just because he is describes as the angel of the Lord does not mean that he is merely an angel or an archangel. From the way this term is used, it becomes clear that the angel of the Lord is YHWH himself. The angel of the Lord is God.
Exodus 3:2 has to be the clearest example. When Moses encountered the burning bush, the text says, “The angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush.” So the Burning Bush is probably the clearest example of an encounter with God. We derive God’s eternal name, YHWH, from verse 14, which reads, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.” He goes on to command Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘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.’”
Thus it seems beyond question that the angel of the Lord is not merely an angel. He is YHWH. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Is the angel of the Lord the second person of the trinity? Well we are beginning to establish that. At this point, we may say that he is God.
The angel of the Lord is distinct from YHWH. That is not to say that the angel of the Lord is not YHWH. It means that there is a second YHWH. We see YHWH making pleas to YHWH. Zechariah 1:12 reads, “Then the angel of the Lord said, ‘O Lord of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years?” So we have this character, who we have established as YHWH, making a plea, to YHWH, to have mercy on Jerusalem. Thus, there is a second YHWH.
This is emphasized again in Isaiah 44:6, and I am going to quote the Tanakh just so you know that this translation is not a product of Christian bias. “So said the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer the Lord of Hosts.” Isaiah draws a distinction between YHWH the King of Israel, and YHWH the Redeemer (the word Lord replaced YHWH).
This becomes even more powerful a few chapters later. Isaiah talked about the Holy Spirit in another verse. In Isaiah 48:16, YHWH the Redeemer is talking, and he says, “Now the Lord God has sent me, and his Spirit.” So is the angel of the Lord the second person of the trinity? There certainly seems to be a plurality or a distinction of YHWH’s. We see then that the angel of the Lord is one person of the trinity.
Jesus claims to be the angel of the Lord. We can know that the angel of the Lord is the second person of the trinity because Jesus claimed to be the angel of the Lord. The most famous occurrence of this is in the eighth chapter of John. Jesus is conversing with the Jews and he tells them, “Before Abraham was, I Am.” (John 8:58). This is a clear reference to God’s name back in Exodus 3:14. The Jews knew exactly what he meant. So they picked up their stones to stone him to death (v. 59). Jesus claimed to be the angel of the Lord. He said earlier in the conversation, “Unless you believe that I Am, you will die in your sins.” (v. 24). We see other claims to be the I Am throughout the Bible.
So is the angel of the Lord the second person of the trinity? Since Jesus is the second person of the trinity (John 1:1-2, Matthew 28:19, Hebrews 1:8), and Jesus is the angel of the Lord, it follows that the angel of the Lord is the second person of the trinity. Perhaps keep it in mind now that every time the angel of the Lord is speaking, that is Jesus speaking.
If you would like to get in on the discussion about this, join my Theology Discussion Group!