13. The Comforter: An Angel?
The point has been made by several expositors(1) that as Israel were led by a special Angel through the wilderness, whom Isaiah 63 associates with God's Holy Spirit, so the new Israel were led by a Holy Spirit Angel, the Comforter, who was sent to the church by Jesus after His assuming of all power over the Angels on His ascension. A summary of the reasons for thinking this is now attempted:
- Is. 63:7-11 describes the Angel that guided Israel through the wilderness as the "Holy Spirit"- which is the Comforter.
- The Comforter was sent in God and Christ's Name (Jn. 14:26)- the Angel was sent in God's Name (Ex. 23:21)
- The Comforter would teach (Jn. 14:26), guide (16:13), be a judge (16:8) and prophesy (16:13); the Angel guided Israel through the wilderness, taught them God's ways, judged Egypt and the Canaanites, gave prophecies, and represented God to Israel as the Comforter represented Jesus to His people. As the church began a new Exodus and was constituted God's Kingdom in prospect as Israel were at Sinai, it was fitting that it should also have an Angel leading them, representing God to them.
- The Comforter would "shew you things to come" (Jn. 16:13)- fulfilled by the Angel giving the Revelation to John.
- The Angel testified to the churches (Rev. 22:16)- "the Comforter. . shall testify of Me" (Jn. 15:26).
- The references in Acts to the Holy Spirit as a person are now easier to understand - e. g. "The Holy Spirit said, Separate Me Barnabas. . " (Acts 13:2). Similarly the frequent occurrences of the ideas of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit together fall into place if the Holy Spirit has some degree of reference to a personal being in the form of an Angel. The error of the doctrine of the trinity is not in identifying the three common forms of God manifestation (i. e. through God Himself, Jesus and the Holy Spirit Angel), but in the blasphemous inter-relationships between them which it proposes. This idea is worth applying to our understanding of the baptismal formula.
- The work of the Comforter Angel may have been confined to the first century, in the same way as the Angel was particularly evident to the ecclesia in the wilderness during the initial Exodus period. Thus the words 'Angel' and 'Spirit' are obviously interchangeable in the book of Acts (e. g. 8:26,29; 10:3,19,20).
- In the same way as the angel of Israel dwelt in the temple after delivering them, so perhaps it is through Christ's Comforter Angel that He dwells in the spiritual temple of the New Israel.
- The Angel in Revelation "like the son of man" (i. e. representing Him but not Him personally) was this same Comforter Angel representing Jesus (Rev. 1:11 cp. 22:13,8,16). He carried the titles of Jesus, who carried the titles of God- e. g. "Alpha and Omega".
- We have seen that our prayers are presented to God through Christ by an Angel (Rev. 8:4) and that God answers prayer through commanding His Angels (Num. 20:16; Dan. 9:20,21). This perhaps allows us to interpret the 'Spirit' of Rom. 8:26,27 as having some reference to Jesus manifested in the Comforter Angel; whilst remembering that Jesus is ultimately the only mediator (1 Tim. 2:5) it may be that the mechanical presentation of the incense of our prayers to Him is done by the Comforter Angel.
- The Comforter is called “the spirit of truth” (Jn. 14:17; 15:26; 16:13). In the Qumran Dead Sea Scrolls literature, this phrase describes an Angelic Spirit who is the leader of the “good forces” and ‘in whom’ the righteous walk [Testament of Judah 20, 1-5]. The Aramaic translation of Job, and the targums on it, uses the term prqlyt to describe the Angelic spokesman [the malak melis] who makes a testimony in Heaven in Job’s defence (Job 16:19; 19:25-27; 33:23).
- Otto Betz, Der Paraklet (AGJU, 1963), brings out many connections between the Comforter and the Angel ‘Michael the Spirit of truth’ in contemporary Jewish writings.
- When we read of the “spirit of the Lord” snatching away Philip, it seems logical to interpret this as the same Angel already mentioned earlier in the chapter (Acts 8:26,29,39). But this Angel is defined as the Lord’s Angel- and the Lord in Acts is nearly always the Lord Jesus. Clearly we are led to understand the Lord Jesus as being associated with a specific Angel.
The following are some additional implications which may follow from this idea:
- If there is only one Comforter Angel, this has a bearing on the previous discussion about how many Angels led Israel in the wilderness.
- "Ye have an unction from the Holy One (the Comforter/ Holy Spirit), and ye know all things" (1 Jn. 2:20) is clearly alluding to the promise of the Comforter in Jn. 14:26; but "Holy One" is Angelic language, as if the Holy One was also an Angel.
- The Comforter is 'one called alongside'- is this a reference to the literal, physical presence of the Angel?
- Heb. 3:7-11 reminds the early church of how Israel had provoked the Angel which led them through the wilderness by tempting and proving Him (God cannot be tempted, so this must refer to the Angel). The writer then goes on to warn them "wherefore. . harden not your hearts", and exhorts them not to be like Israel in tempting God- in their case, a primary reference to the Comforter Angel which was leading them?
- The language of personification of the Spirit is found in 1 Cor. 2:10,11, suggesting reference to this Comforter Angel: ". . God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit (the Comforter Angel): for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea the deep things of God. . . even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. . . comparing spiritual things (in the word) with spiritual". If the Spirit here refers to the Comforter Angel, then we have a summary of much New Testament teaching on the present work of the Spirit: individual effort of our own freewill ("comparing") is required, for which we will be blessed by the help of the Spirit-Angel in our understanding even more.
- The tongues sitting like flames of fire on the apostles at Pentecost was an Angelic manifestation; the Angels can be made "a flame of fire".
- God "Granted repentance unto life"- the record does not say that He 'granted forgiveness', as if to suggest that this softening of the heart to repent was granted by the grace of God. This is an example of God in tandem with men's spirituality, which we have suggested in chapter 8 He does through His Angels. It is interesting that this action of God is described as being due to "the hand of the Lord"- an Angelic phrase- being with the people, encouraging them to believe (Acts 11:18,21).
- Paul seems to have conceived of God in terms of an Angel; not surprising, if he appreciated the doctrine of the Comforter Angel. This is implied by his exhortation on the deck of the ship: "The Angel of God, whose (i. e. the Angel's?) I am, and whom I serve. . . I believe God (i. e. the Angel), that it shall be even as it was told me" (Acts 27:23,25).
- "Why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which. . . we were not able to bear?" (Acts 15:10) is surely language of limitation, as if God was tempted to make the Mosaic law obligatory for all believers again. Surely God Himself would not consider doing so; perhaps an Angel could?
- Jude 5 reminds the new Israel of the first century that Israel of old had been condemned due to their provoking of the wilderness Angel- a warning that takes on special power once it is recognized that the very same Angel was leading the early church.
- Stephen's speech in Acts 7 contains many references to the Angel of Israel. He uses examples from Israel's history in which they rejected those who were types of Jesus- e. g. v. 9,10,22,25. It follows then that v. 35 must refer to this same aspect of Moses as a type of Christ being rejected. "This is Moses whom they renounced. . even him God sent to be a ruler and a redeemer with the hand of that Angel which appeared to him in the bush" (Diaglott). Israel resisted the work of the Angel supporting Moses, and so years later they were also rejecting the support of the same guardian Angel for the teachings of Jesus and His disciples, the greater than Moses. So v. 51 stresses "ye do always resist the Holy Spirit (the title of the Comforter Angel in Is. 63): as your fathers did, so do ye". Their fathers resisted the Angel of the presence which went with them; and so the Jews of the first century were doing just the same.
- If the Hebrew phrase "the living God" means, as suggested by some, 'the God of the living ones', then "the living God" would refer to the great Angel who dwelt between the Cherubim "living ones". 1 Tim. 3:15 then appears in a new light: "The church of the living God"- the church dwelt in by the mighty Angel of the Old Testament Cherubim. The Angel dwelling and walking in the ecclesia in the wilderness is linked with God- the same Angel? -living and walking in the Christian ecclesia (2 Cor. 6:16). It was because of the presence of this and other important Angels in the ecclesia that Paul could charge Timothy "before. . . the elect Angels" (1 Tim. 5:21), who were present physically at the ecclesia's meetings. Indeed, this may be the very reason why he asks sisters in Corinth to have covered heads at ecclesial meetings “because of the Angels”, i. e. their especial presence there. This is how important and pressing is the reality of their presence; and sisters’ headcoverings, their dressing with an appropriate modesty and sobriety which a head covering signals, is to remind us all of this ever present reality.
"He, the Spirit (Angel) of truth. . . will guide you into all truth; for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will show you things to come" (John 16:13). As the present writer understands it, the work of the Holy Spirit Comforter was initially achieved through the miraculous gifts, and now through the spiritual strength we receive from the written word. Thus nearly all the statements made about the Comforter are also made concerning the written word (e. g. Jn. 15:26; 16:13 cp. 17:17; 16:8 cp. 2 Tim. 3:16; 4:2; Titus 1:9; 16:8 cp. 12:40). The Angels being closely associated with inspiration, notably of the Revelation, the Comforter Angel now largely achieves His aims through the written word He has inspired. "Things to come" were shown us by the Comforter Angel inspiring Revelation, the ultimate prophecy of the future. The Comforter was to make known everything that was told Him. It therefore follows that even the mighty Comforter Angel only has the same words of prophecy to study regarding the future unfolding of God's purpose as we have. Therefore they with us earnestly look into these things, and search "what manner of time" must elapse before the final fulfilment of God's word.
(1) Notably in Ray Walker's series 'Angels' in The Bible Student, vol. 4 (1973).