Jude and the Angel of the Lord

I've spent a fair bit of the first half of this week pushing through Jude, the penultimate book in the New Testament in preparation for Sunday's sermon. It's a slightly obscure little letter dealing with a fairly simple subject (God's wrath against false teachers) but using a number of challenging and confusing images. For example, there is the enigmatic v9,

Jude 1:9 But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”

What's going on there?! Nowhere else do the Scriptures speak of such an event and yet Jude uses it as an illustration of “straight talking” ie not speaking wrongly of someone, even if they are evil. Some suggest that it alludes to an episode recounted in the inter-testamental apocryphal work “Testament of Moses” (also known as “Ascension of Moses” or “Assumption of Moses”) but there's no real evidence of it when you work through that text. Similar claims of a source in the Midrash Rabboth don't yield anything firm either.

There is, however, a more reasonable solution to this problem and its provided for us by Peter Leithart,

 

Perhaps some progress might be made toward a solution to this puzzle by tracing the origin of the quotation at the end of Jude 9: “The Lord rebuke you.” It is a quotation from Zechariah 3:1-2:

Then he [the man with the measuring line, 2:1] showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?”

At first glance this hint does not look very promising. It seems that the only parallel between Zechariah 3:2 and Jude 9 is the quotation. But a closer look will reveal other parallels as well. First, apart from Jude 9, Michael, whose name means “who is like God?” (cf. Ex. 15:11) is mentioned only in Daniel (10:13, 21; 12:1) and Revelation (12:7). Daniel characterizes Michael as “one of the chief princes” (10:13), “your prince” (10:21), and “the great prince” (12:1). Michael is the only one who stands firmly against the princes of Persia and Greece (10:20-21). He is the one who stands as protector over the Lord’s people (12:1). Elsewhere, Daniel refers to a “Prince” that is identified with the Messiah (9:25). In Revelation 12:7, Michael leads the angels in the war against the dragon. All of these passages suggest the probability that Michael is Christ.

Moreover, as David Chilton points out in his commentary on Revelation 12:7, the word “archangel” means simply the “chief angel” (cf. 1 Thess.4:16), a title that applies abundantly well to the “angel of the Lord” or the “Captain of the Lord of Hosts” (cf. Joshua 5:13-15; Ex. 23:20-23). Most commentators agree that the Angel of the Lord often is a pre-incarnate appearance of the Son. Thus, we may conclude that the archangel Michael is the Angel of the Lord is Christ.

And, of course, he goes on to exegete further.

It's interesting, at least to me, that once again we see the New Testament affirming or alluding to the divine character, the Angel of the Lord. I'm planning on writing more on Him in the weeks to come (as motivation carries me along) but, for now, I'll quote Martin Downes at Against Heresies,

Is the Angel of the LORD a mere siphon, the conveyer of a tape recorded message, or is he what he appears to be, the covenant promise-maker as well as the sacrifice-receiver?  It would be very easy to approach these texts in a wooden way that, in effect, flattens out the contours of God's revelation of himself.

Lest you think that this is some quirky theory that I have dreamed up consider the words of the great Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) on Exodus 3:

 


This redemption was by Jesus Christ, as is evident from this, that it was wrought by him that appeared to Moses in the bush; for that was the person that sent Moses to redeem the people.  But that was Christ, as is evident, because he is called 'the angel of the LORD' (Exodus 3:2).

Jonathan Edwards, A History of the Work of Redemption, (Banner of Truth, 2003), p. 72

The one who appears and speaks to Moses, whose presence makes the ground holy, is the Angel of the LORD.  When he speaks he says that he is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the covenant promise-maker and sacrifice-receiver. 

Exodus 3:2 reads, “And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush.”  In Deuteronomy 33:13 ff. Moses invokes the blessing of the LORD upon Joseph and “the favour of him who dwells in the bush.” 

Often, when this theory gets broached some will push back. I'll let Downes answer them,

It is somewhat ironic that the championing of progressive revelation has gone hand in hand with a diminished confidence in the revelation of Christ in the Old Testament.  Historically it is as if the church has regressed and not progressed in her confidence that it was “Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt” (Jude 5, ESV).

Indeed. And so we arrive back at Jude. According to Jude it is He who is our “only sovereign and Lord” (v4) and He who rescued a people from Egypt, punished angels, poured out destruction upon Sodom and, in Zechariah 3, stood in front of Satan and rebuked him. He is Lord of both Old and New Testaments, Jude reminds us and He will protect His church.

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4 comments on “Jude and the Angel of the Lord

  1. Does that mean that when “the Angel of the Lord came down and glory shone around” while the shepherds were watching their flocks by night that the Son was the one who came to foretell His coming???

  2. Hey Dave we’re studying Jude in BEE at college at the moment so I was quite keen to hear what you said about this! I think Zec 3 makes sense with Jude 9 – Andrew Ford also said it was alluded to in Jude 23 so that seems to strengthen the argument, plus we had to do a word study and I did it on the word ‘doubt’ in verse 22 which is the same word as in verse 9 so it all seems to tie together!

  3. no Kirstie, don’t think so. The Angel of the LORD in the Old Testament is a distinct character who both receives worship and speaks on his own behalf as though He were God (because, presumably, He is!)

    The angel of the Lord who appears in the infancy narratives is somewhat different – a created angel who never acts in the same way.

  4. well, pressure’s on then! Yes, there is some “wrapping up” at the end of the letter and I think the way the same vocab gets used there helps to explicate it’s earlier usage!

    I’ll keep plugging away!

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