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Angels Who Saw It Happen

Throughout the Old Testament, the Tenakh, angels delivered messages and prophecies, dispensed judgements, provided protection and bore witness to special events – some of the Bible’s most profound events.

An “angel of the Lord” called out to Abraham in the mounts of Moriah to spare the life of his only son, Isaac ; provided a substitute sacrifice; then delivered a blessing to Abraham and his descendants.[1] Abraham eventually became the patriarch of Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

Balaam’s donkey was blocked by an “angel of the Lord” when he attempted to go to King Balek on his own volition rather than first waiting to see if the King summonsed him. While Balaam was allowed to proceed with meeting Balek, the angel commanded Balaam to only say to the King what God instructed him to say.

King Balek wanted Balaam to place a curse on the Hebrews in an effort to prevent them from defeating his own nation. Balaam prophesied instead that a future star would shoot out from Jacob and a scepter would arise from Israel.[2]

Judgement was dispensed by an “angel of the Lord” for King David’s sin of failing to have faith in God’s promise of protection by enumerating the warriors to determine the strength of his army.[3] To obtain forgiveness for his sin, at the direction of Gad the prophet, David built an alter and offered a sacrifice on Mount Moriah. Moved by the events, David issued a royal command that this location on Mount Moriah would become the future location of the Temple.[4]

Mouths of the lions were shut by “His angel” protecting Daniel when King Darius had him thrown into the lion’s den.[5] Later, the angel Gabriel interpreted for Daniel his vision of the 70-week prophecy.[6]

Gabriel would again appear hundreds of years later in the Gospels. First, the angelic messenger of God appeared to the priest Zechariah in the Temple to announce that his older and barren wife, Elizabeth, would bear a son to be named John.[7] Their son would later become known as John the Baptist, the forerunner messenger of Jesus of Nazareth.[8]

LK 1:18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this? For I am an old man, and my wife is old as well.” The angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.”

Six months later, Gabriel appeared to Mary announcing, “And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.”[9] Her husband, Joseph, was unaware of God’s message to Mary and considered divorcing her for infidelity. Before Joseph reached a final decision, “an angel of the Lord” appeared to Joseph in a dream informing him that Mary’s conception was from God to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy – she was not by pregnant by another man.[10]

Shepherds in the field outside of Bethlehem were visited by an “angel of the Lord” whose appearance shone around him. The Greek word phobeo is translated as “terrified,” “greatly afraid,” and “terribly frightened” – the hard-core shepherds wanted to flee.[11] Calming the shepherds, the angel told them not to be afraid because he was bringing good news and great joy for everyone: 

“for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”[12]

Instructed by the angel to go into Bethlehem, the shepherds would find the a newborn baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger; very specific and unusual information. In a small town, finding a newborn baby in a stable lying in a manger rather than an inn … what are the odds of finding more than one?

As the minds of the shepherds whirled from this sudden, unexpected angelic encounter, a more spectacular event occurred – a host of angels appeared in the sky. “Host” is translated from the Greek word stratia meaning a vast number of troops; a number so great it is likened to the countless number of stars in the sky.[13] In the largest angelic appearance ever recorded, a multitude of angels praised God, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”[14]

Two men in dazzling clothes witnessed the Resurrection of Jesus, according to the initial empty tomb encounter chronicled in Luke, albeit the account does not identify which of the two angels spoke to the women. Matthew and Mark only describe one angel who spoke to the women at the tomb although it does not mean a second angel was not present.[15]

Confirming two angels appeared at the empty tomb is the witness statement of Cloepas who also used a plural reference indicating more than one angel was at the empty tomb. Noteworthy is the Jewish Law that required two witnesses to establish a legal fact.[16]

Written by the same author of Luke, the Book of Acts describes two men dressed in brilliant white clothing appearing to the witnesses from Galilee who were fixated on seeing Jesus rise from the ground into the clouds.[17] The two men are described in very similar terms as the angels at the empty tomb. Many Bible experts consider these two angels at the Ascension to be the same angels who were at the empty tomb.[18]

In both instances – the Resurrection and Ascension – the angels asked the witnesses why they marveled at what they were seeing? Reflected in their questions, the angels seemed to be puzzled by the human reactions at what the angel’s regarded as not all at surprising to them:

LK 24:4-5 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” (NRSV)

Acts 1:10-11 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (NRSV)

If angels witnessed and participated in key events in the Old Testament, the Tenakh, does it then make sense angels would be heavenly witnesses to the events involving Jesus of Nazareth described in the New Testament?

 

Updated April 9, 2022.

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REFERENCES:

[1] Genesis 22:11-12, 15-18.
[2] Numbers 22:15 – 24:19. Commentary. BibleHub.com. 2020. <https://biblehub.com/numbers/22-22.htm>
[3] I Chronicles 21:1-30. 2 Samuel 24:10-17.
[4] I Chronicles 22:1.
[5] Daniel 6:19-21.
[6] Daniel 9:20-23. CR Daniel 8:15-18.
[7] Luke 1:8-21.
[8] Luke 1:17; John 3:28.
[9] Luke 1:26-38.  NRSV – Luke 1:31.
[10] Matthew 1:20.
[11] Luke 2:9. “phobeo <5399> NetBible.org. Luke 2:9. Greek Text. <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=5399>
[12] Luke 2:11. NASB.
[13] “stratia” <4756> NetBible.org. Luke 2:13. Greek Text. <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=4756>
[14] Luke 2:14. NKJV.
[15] Matthew 28:5; Mark 16:5; Luke 24:4.
[16] Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15; Luke 24:4-7; John 20:2, 13. CR Matthew 28:2-8; Mark 16:5-7;
[17] Acts 1:10-11.
[18] Commentary. Acts 1. BibleHub.com. 2020. <https://biblehub.com/acts/1-10.htm> “Ascension.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2020. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/Ascension-Christianity>

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