What are the odds the circumstances surrounding the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth that correspond with many ancient prophecies was just a coincidence?

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, followed by delivering a blessing to Abraham and his descendants.[1] Abraham 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. Concluding his dealings with Balek who wanted a curse placed on the Hebrews, Balaam instead prophesied 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, 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 where, by royal command, it 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’s vision of the 70-week end-time prophecy.[6]

Gabriel would again appear hundreds of years later in the Gospels. First, the messenger of God appeared to the priest Zechariah in the Temple to announce that his wife, Elizabeth, would bear a son to be named John.[7] Their son would later become known as John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus.[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] Joseph was unaware of God’s message to Mary and considered divorcing her for infidelity. Before Joseph arrived at 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 a prophecy, not by another man.[10]

Shepherds in the field outside of Bethlehem were visited by an “angel of the Lord” whose appearance shone around him. His presence “terrified” the shepherds, translated from the Greek word phobeo – they were so scared by the appearance of the angel they wanted to flee.[11]

Attempting to calm 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]

Validating his message, the angel instructed the shepherds to go into Bethlehem where they would find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. Obvious to the shepherds, finding a newborn baby in a stable lying in a manger was very specific – what are the odds of finding more than one newborn baby in a stable lying in a manger?

As their minds whirled from this sudden, unexpected angelic encounter, 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 in the Bible, angels praised God, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”[14]

Two men in dazzling clothes, according to the initial empty tomb encounter chronicled in Luke, witnessed the Resurrection of Jesus. Matthew and Mark only describe the one angel who spoke to the women at the tomb whereas Luke does not identify which of the two angels spoke to the women.[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. Interestingly, Jewish Law 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. As such, many Bible experts consider these two individuals at the Ascension to be angels, perhaps even the same angels who were at the empty tomb.[18]

In both instances – 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 prior to the Gospels, does it then make sense that they would be heavenly witnesses to the Resurrection and Ascension described in the New Testament?

 

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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] “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>

Luke’s Nativity – An Investigative Breakdown

Luke and Matthew provide significantly different perspectives about the Nativity circumstances of Jesus of Nazareth, yet they have the common threads of historical timeline, locations and the key figures. Interestingly, Luke first begins with the birth of John the Baptist.

Exclusive aspects of John’s birth are not described in any other Gospel meaning they could not be the source for Luke. In the very opening paragraph, the author states that his letter is based on the eyewitness accounts “from the beginning”:

LK 1:2-4 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught. (NASB)

While other accounts have already been written, the author writes, it is his intention to provide a thoroughly investigated account in consecutive order. Parallel passages in Matthew and  Mark leave no doubt that, along with Luke, the three share common source references. Many expert authorities believe that Luke was the last of the three Synoptic Gospels to be written, then followed lastly by John.[1]

Very limited is the list of possible eyewitnesses:  Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the parents of John the Baptist, Elizabeth and Zachariah.[2] Mary was present when her son, Jesus, was crucified and the whereabouts of Zachariah and Elizabeth are not recorded in the Gospels. John the Baptist was beheaded early during the ministry of Jesus. Mary’s husband, Joseph, is presumed to have died before the onset of Jesus’s ministry.[3]

First in Luke is the account of Zechariah, a Levite Jewish priest, and his wife, Elizabeth. The couple were considered “advanced in years” for not yet having any children; a relative term considering that girls married and began having children as soon as nature allowed, about 13 years of age.[4] Elizabeth considered her “barren” state to be a “disgrace.”[5]

Elizabeth’s pregnancy in her advanced years is not described in Luke as miraculous. Neither of the words expected to describe a miracle do not appear in the Greek text. These words are used, however, elsewhere in Luke – dunamis translated to English using such words as “miracles,” “deeds of power,” “power of the Spirit,” or “mighty works;” or semelon translated with such words as “miracle,” “miraculous sign,” “sign from heaven.”[6]

Zechariah was chosen by his priestly division to offer the timely sacrifices to God.[7] While inside the Temple, the angel Gabriel appeared to him delivering God’s message that his wife would become pregnant with a son who was to be named John.[8] Doubting Gabriel’s message, Zechariah was struck dumb.[9]

Only two witnesses to the angelic encounter were possible, Gabriel and Zechariah, both of whom were quoted rather than paraphrased.[10] Twice used in Zechariah’s quote is the personal pronoun “I” rather than being described in the third person. Zechariah can be the only source of the quotation.

Corroborating Gabriel’s message, Elizabeth did indeed unexpectedly become pregnant. Praising the Lord, Elizabeth is then quoted with personal pronouns rather than a paraphrased rendition.[11] For reasons that can only be surmised, Elizabeth stayed secluded at home for the first five months of her pregnancy.[12]

Meanwhile in Nazareth 80 miles away, Mary, who had been betrothed to Joseph, was going about her daily business.[13] Gabriel greeted her saying, “”Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”[14] The angel’s message continues to be quoted:

LK 1:31-32 “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David…” (NASB)

Mary is then quoted using the personal pronoun “I” asking Gabriel how she could have a baby when she was a virgin. Gabriel explained the Holy Spirit would impregnate her:

LK 1:35 “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. (NRSV)

Gabriel also informed Mary before he departed that her cousin, Elizabeth, was six months pregnant. Like Zechariah, Mary can be the only human source to this angelic encounter.

Elizabeth re-enters Luke’s account when Mary came to visit shortly after Gabriel delivered God’s message to her. Upon hearing Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s babe leapt within her. Elizabeth loudly exclaimed:

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord. For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”[15]

Noteworthy, Elizabeth knew about Mary’s immaculate conception before Mary told her. Elizabeth’s quoted praise contains four personal pronouns of “me” and “my” making it highly likely she is the source for this quote. Additionally Mary is praised for her complete belief in Gabriel’s message without any question.

Less obvious, Elizabeth confirmed to Mary she was already pregnant only a few days after Gabriel told her she would conceive the Son of God. A woman’s pregnancy is not naturally known to the mother, barring modern medicine, until 2-4 weeks or later after conception.[16]

Upon hearing Elizabeth’s blessing, Mary was filled with emotion. Her passionate praise is quoted with the personal pronouns “my” and “me” appearing five times.[17] The source of Mary’s praise strongly appears to be Mary herself.

Matthew articulates Joseph’s reaction to discovering Mary’s pregnancy whereas Luke documented Mary’s perspective. According to Matthew, Joseph considered a divorce until a visitation by Gabriel informed him Mary had not cheated, rather the Holy Spirit impregnated her as a fulfillment of prophecy.

Three key points are common to Luke and Matthew, locations and the Judean governing authority. Both state Jesus was born in Bethlehem; Nazareth is the hometown of Jesus and Herod is King.[18]

Unique to Luke’s Nativity are two names of rulers serving as historical date markers – Caesar Augustus and the governorship of Quirinius.[19]

Timing is perhaps the biggest differences between Matthew’s and Luke’s Nativity stories. Solely found in Luke is the reason why Mary traveled in her late stage of pregnancy to Bethlehem – a decree by Caesar Augustus.

Chronicling the night of the birth of Jesus, Mary went into labor in Bethlehem and was forced to give birth in a stable because all the inns were full. Mary then used a manger as a crib for Jesus.  Luke quotes angels appearing to shepherds outside of Bethlehem:

LK 2:10-14 “…behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord…And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”(NKJV)

Immediately, the shepherds quickly went into Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph with Jesus lying in the manger confirming the angel’s birth announcement. What the shepherds witnessed, they widely told to people who marveled.

Matthew, on the other hand, outlines a different Nativity timeline when the Magi followed signs in the sky on a long journey to Jerusalem. After consultation with Jewish religious experts, King Herod revealed to the Magi where they might locate Jesus. When the Magi found baby Jesus, the family was now in a house.[20]

Luke adds two other details. Eight days later during the circumcision event, Joseph and Mary officially named their baby Jesus as each were instructed by Gabriel. At the 30-day mark according to the Law, the parents presented Jesus to the Lord in the Temple in Jerusalem and offered a sacrifice which required a priest.

Much of Luke’s Nativity account is unique yet is in sync with Matthew. It includes quotes by Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary and the angel Gabriel as well as secular historical date markers. Does Luke’s Gospel Nativity meet the standards of credibility?

 

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] Mellowes, Marilyn. “An Introduction to the Gospels.” PBS.org. 1998. <https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/story/mmfour.html>  McLatchie, Jonathan. “When Were The Gospels Written?” CrossExamined.org. 2011. https://crossexamined.org/when-were-the-gospels-written>
[2] Luke 1:40-42.
[3] “St. Joseph.” New Advent. 2020. <https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08504a.htm> “St. Joseph.”  Encyclopædia Britannica. 2020.<https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Joseph>
[4] Luke 1:7, 18. NASB, NKJV. West, Jim. “Ancient Israelite Marriage Customs.” Quartz Hill School of Theology. n.d. http://www.theology.edu/marriage.htm>  Rich, Tracey R. “Marriages.” Judaism101. 2011. <http://www.jewfaq.org/marriage.htm>
[5] Luke 1:25.
[6] Luke 4:14; 10:13; 19:37; 23:8. NetBible.org. Greek text. dunamis <1411>, semelon <4592>
[7] Luke 1:8. NetBible.org. Footnote 28. <http://classic.net.bible.org/bible.php?book=Luk&chapter=1#n32>
[8] Luke 1:11, 19.
[9] Luke 1:20, 24.
[10] Luke 1:13-17, 19-20.
[11] Luke 1:25.
[12] Luke 1:24.
[13] Luke 1:39.  Slatzman, Russell. “Biblical travel: How far to where, and what about the donkey?” Aleteia. 2017. https://aleteia.org/2017/01/24/biblical-travel-how-far-to-where-and-what-about-the-donkey> Kosloski, Philip. “Mary traveled a highly dangerous path to visit Elizabeth. Aleteia. 2019. <https://aleteia.org/2019/05/31/mary-traveled-a-highly-dangerous-path-to-visit-elizabeth
[14] Luke 1:28. NET, NASB.
[15] Luke 1:42-45. NKJV.
[16] Luke 1:18-20. “Month by Month.” Planned Parenthood. 2020. <https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/pregnancy/pregnancy-month-by-month> “Home pregnancy tests: Can you trust the results?” Mayo Clinic. 2019. <http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/getting-pregnant/in-depth/home-pregnancy-tests/art-20047940> “How long does it take to know I’m pregnant?” nct.org. n.d. <https://www.nct.org.uk/pregnancy/am-i-pregnant/how-long-does-it-take-know-im-pregnant>  Marple, Kate. Ed. “Early signs of pregnancy: When will I feel symptoms?” babycenter.com. 2019. <https://www.babycenter.com/getting-pregnant/how-to-get-pregnant/early-signs-of-pregnancy-when-will-i-feel-symptoms_10372077>
[17] Luke 1:46-55.
[18] Matthew 2:1,4; Luke 1:5, 27, 2:4, 23.
[19] Matthew 2:22; Luke 1:5; 2:1-2.
[20] Matthew 2:11.

Demon’s Recognition of the “Son of God”

Gospel accounts of the supernatural realm of principalities recognizing Jesus as the Son of God came in a specific hierarchical sequence. The archangel Gabriel announced to Mary her miraculously conceived baby would be the Son of God although no one on Earth had yet to recognize him as such.[1]

First of the supernatural powers to distinguish Jesus as the Son of God was by none other than God, Himself. Immediately after Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, the Voice of God called out: [2]

MK 1:11 “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (NKJV)

John the Baptist testified to what he had seen and heard that day when he baptized Jesus of Nazareth. “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.”[3]

Fasting for 40 days in the wilderness after his baptism, Satan approached Jesus in his emaciated condition. Satan cunningly began his temptations saying to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God…” Nevertheless, Jesus quoted from the Scriptures to successfully rebuff the temptations.

Jesus began his public ministry traveling from Nazareth to a Capernaum synagogue where he taught. A man in the audience was possessed by an “unclean demon” and its voice cried out: [4]

LK 4:34 “Let us alone! What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” (NKJV)

Commanded to be silent and to come out of the man, the demon threw him down into convulsions, then came of the man leaving him unharmed. Those who witnessed the exorcism were “amazed” exclaiming Jesus was someone of authority and power causing his fame to quickly spread.[5]

It would not be the only instance when demons proclaimed Jesus to be the Son of God. Mark and Luke wrote that whenever demons saw him, they forced their hosts to fall down before Jesus crying out, “You are the Son of God.”[6]

Mathew, Mark and Luke record another especially harrowing encounter with a demon-possessed man in the Gerasenes (Gararenes) region on the Gentile side of the Sea of Galilee.[7] He lived nake without a house among the tombs and could not be restrained by anyone – chains and shackles would only be broken into pieces. Obviously, out of fear people avoided the area of the tombs.[8]

Arriving by boat from across the Sea of Galilee, the demon-possessed man spotted Jesus, ran to him and bowed down before him. A voice of the demon within the man cried out asking for mercy:

MK 5:7 “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me.” (NKJV)

Appealing to Jesus by the name of God for mercy, the demon demonstrated Jesus was subject only to the authority of God. The evil entity also recognized that Jesus had complete power and discretion over the demons.

Asked for his name, the demon answered Jesus saying, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”[9] When Jesus commanded the demons to come out of the man, Legion implored Jesus for mercy not to be thrown into the abyss; instead, asking that they would be allowed to enter a nearby herd of swine.[10] Jesus granted the request and the demons entered the herd of pigs which then charged down a steep hill into the sea and drowned.

Herdsmen of the hogs ran into the town and told their story of what had happened. A crowd gathered and went out to see things for themselves. They saw the former fearsome demon-possessed man clothed and calmly sitting at the feet of Jesus.

Fear gripped the crowd imploring Jesus to leave them alone. Jesus honored their request telling them to return to their homes and he sailed back across the sea. Meanwhile, the healed man proclaimed throughout the town what Jesus had done for him.

The Book of Acts, written by the same author as the Gospel of Luke, recounts another demon encounter that did not end well. Some Jewish exorcists, the seven sons of high priest Sceva, attempted to invoke the name of Jesus saying to the demon, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.”[11] 

Not impressed by the authority of their command, the demon retorted, “I know about Jesus and I am acquainted with Paul, but who are you?”[12] By the words of their own command, they did not acknowledge the power and authority of Jesus, rather only the person about whom Paul was preaching.

The demon reacted by causing the possessed man to overpower the seven sons and beat them to a point they ran from the house naked and bleeding. Word spread throughout Ephesus causing fear and praise for the name of Jesus.[13]

Accounts of the exorcisms carried such a degree of credibility, the enemies of Jesus believed the witnesses.[14] Rather than believe Jesus was performing the exorcisms by the power and authority of God, the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons in the name of Beelzebub, another name for Satan. In response, Jesus asked two rhetorical questions:

LK 11:18-20 “”If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? Because you say I cast out demons by Beelzebub. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (NKJV)

In the supernatural realm, God was the first to recognize Jesus of Nazareth as His own son. Secondly was Satan followed thirdly by his demons who recognized and bowed down to Jesus as the Son of God. What then should mortal people believe?

 

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] Luke 1:30-32, 35.  CR Matthew 1:20-22.
[2] Mark 1:11. Luke 3:21-22.  NKJV. CR Matthew 3:13-17; John 1:32-33.
[3] John 1:32-34. NKJV.
[4] Luke 4:34. NASB. CR Mark 1:24.
[5] Mark 1:27-28; Luke 4:36-37.
[6] Mark 3:11. Luke 4:41. NKJV. CR Mark 9:17-27; Luke 6:18.
[7] Matthew 8:28. NetBible.org. Footnote 1.
[8] Matthew 8:29-34; Mark 5:1-13; Luke 8:26-39.
[9] Mark 5:9. NET.
[10] Luke 8:29-33.
[11] Acts 19:13. NET. Acts 19:13-17.
[12] Acts 19:15. NET.
[13] Acts 19:13-17.
[14] Matthew 9:34, 12:24; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15.