3 Enoch explains how the Rabbi Ishmael journeyed into heaven and saw God’s throne and chariot guided by the archangel Metatron. The general form is a report of a vision and an explanation of elements of the vision by Metatron. Since this angelic being is not mentioned by name in the Hebrew Bible it is important to understand who Metatron was in the post-biblical traditions.
Metatron becomes one of the greatest angels in the Jewish mystical literature, as close to a “son of God” as one gets in this literature. He is “God’s vizier and plenipotentiary” and is sometimes called a “little Yahweh” (R. S. Anderson, “Son of God” in ISBE Revised, 4:572; cf., Hengel, Son of God, 46). 3 Enoch 25:1 says Metatron’s name is “ʾOpanniʾel YHWH.” Because of his righteousness, Metatron is “installed as God’s vice regent and is given authority over all the angels” (3 Enoch 4:3-5 and 10:3-6; Grindheim, 146).
In 3 Enoch 12:5, Metatron is called the prince of the ophanim (אוֹפַנִּימ), a kind of angelic being based on Ezek 1:15. The Hebrew word אוֹפַן refers to a wheel and Alexander points out that although 4QŠirŠabb uses ophanim for literal wheels, but the word refers to a “class of angels in 1En 61:10; 71:7; 2En 29:3” (OTP 1:279, note g).
3 Enoch 12:5 Why is his name called ʾOpanniʾel? Because he is appointed to tend the ophanim, and the ophanim are entrusted to his keeping. Every day he stands over them and tends them and beautifies them: he praises and arranges their running; he polishes their platforms; he adorns their compartments; he makes their turnings smooth, and cleans their seats. Early and late, day and night, he tends them, so as to increase their beauty, to magnify their majesty, and to make them swift in the praise of their Creator. (Alexander, OTP 1:279–280).
Metatron is far more spectacular than the angels in Ezekiel 2. He has “He has sixteen faces, four on each side, and 100 wings on each side. He has 8,766 eyes, corresponding to the number of hours in a year, 2,191 on each side” (25:2). Like God, Metatron has seventy names (3 Enoch 45D:5), he rules the angels in God’s name (10:5) and represents God’s authority when he judges. Metatron “assigned greatness, royalty, rank, sovereignty, glory, praise, diadem, crown, and honor to all the princes of kingdoms, when I sat in the heavenly court” (16:1).
Since 3 Enoch describes Metatron in such exalted terms, some popular writers have tried to see this angelic being as a Jesus-like figure who sits on God’s throne and rules on behalf of God. As Sigurd Grindheim states clearly, “Metatron is not portrayed with an authority of his own that matches the authority of God. He does not act as God acts, but he is consistently on the receiving end of God’s actions” (147). In fact, Grindheim points out that 3 Enoch warns against making too much of Metatron’s power: When ʾAher sees Metatron on the throne, he declares “there are indeed two powers in heaven” (16:3). A divine voice censures ʾAher and he is not allowed to return to God and Metatron himself is punished with “sixty lashes of fire.” Metatron is therefore not an object of worship and according to 3 Enoch, those who think he might be worthy of worship are in serious danger.
Metatron is a very powerful angel in this literature, but he is not divine and certainly not to be worshiped as God. There is no reason to think this being actually exists and even less reason to seek out hidden, mystical knowledge based on these texts in 3 Enoch.
Bibliography: Sigurd Grindheim, God’s Equal: What Can We Know about Jesus’ Self-Understanding? (LNTS 446; London: T&T Clark, 2011).