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>

Angels at the Tomb – a Gospel Conflict?

 

Angelic encounter descriptions in the Gospels at the empty tomb of Jesus of Nazareth seem to vary, thus posing a potential conflict. One Gospel describes two angels and two Gospels describe one angel at the empty tomb.

Setting the scene, by Jewish day-reckoning the Saturday Sabbath began at sunset on Friday evening. Earlier that afternoon, Jesus of Nazareth had been executed by crucifixion requiring a hasty burial that afternoon before Jewish Sabbath Law restricted various activities.

Sabbath formally ended Saturday at sunset. With the Sabbath restrictions no longer a factor, this is where the chronicles of the Resurrection of Jesus begins. The three synoptic GospelsMatthew, Mark and Luke – join the story line at different points.

Mark’s account establishes the earliest timeline identifying Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome purchasing burial spices as soon as the Sabbath ended Saturday evening.[1] The women worried about how they would move the stone from the entrance clearly indicating they were not aware the tomb was sealed and guarded.

Matthew’s account sets the scene at the tomb as sunrise approached Sunday morning. The joint-contingent, armed koustodia established by the command of Pilate at the behest of the Jewish council, were on-duty guarding the tomb to prevent the theft of the body. Arriving at the tomb were the two Marys, Salome, Joanna and other unnamed women.[2]

Suddenly a great earthquake struck when the women witnessed an angel rolling away the stone from the entrance to the tomb. Matthew described the angel:

MT 28:2-3 “And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow.” (NKJV)

At this point Mark and Luke join the story line at the tomb with each describing, differently though consistently, the physical attire of the angels:

MK 16:5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side…” (NKJV)

LK 24:4 “… behold, two men stood by them in shining garments.” (NKJV)

Luke, written after Matthew and Mark, unambiguously says there were two angels, while both Matthew and Mark only refer to one angel. Factoring in the details of each account into the entire scenario is revealing.[3]

Tomb – Israel

Matthew reports that after an angel rolled away the large stone, he did a curious and unusual thing – he sat on it. Not standing or hovering in the air like the stereotypical image of an angel; instead, in dazzling array there he sat, perhaps with his legs draped over the side. Unnecessary and unexpected information, yet personifying and specific detail, adding authentic realism.

Mark describes the angel inside the tomb specifically on the right side also sitting, not standing. Such descriptive details are typically absent from a deceptive statement. Logically, this angel cannot be the same one sitting outside on the rolled-away stone.

Body language of the angles indicates they were waiting, relaxed and inviting in demeanor. As one angel sat on the tomb’s entrance stone, he spoke to the women inviting them to go inside the tomb:

MT 28:5-6  “”Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying.”(NASB)

At the angel’s invitation, at least some of the women entered the tomb. Inside, Mark describes another angel who spoke to the women, his message similar to Matthew:

MK 16:5-6 “Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him.’””(NASB)

Pointed out was the same spot to the very same witnesses – the two Marys, Salome and perhaps other unnamed women – where the dead body of Jesus had lain on Friday as they watched Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus preparing the body of Jesus for burial.[4] Had the angel’s statement been untrue, the women would be expected to refute it and the angel’s message would have been suspect – they didn’t.

All three Gospels’ descriptions vary, yet they are all tightly consistent on the main details – there was an angelic presence; the tomb was empty; the body of Jesus was gone; and the angelic pronouncement that Jesus is alive, just as he had predicted.

Corroborating information is provided by the eyewitness John’s account. His personal knowledge begins when the terrified women burst into the room where he and Peter were mourning and announced the empty tomb. The two Disciples raced to see it for themselves.[5] Also arriving back at the tomb was Mary Magdalene.[6]

Marveling at finding the tomb empty except the burial cloths used to wrap the body, John and Peter decided to go home leaving Mary behind. Standing outside the tomb crying, Mary stooped and looked back inside where she saw two angels who spoke to her and this time, so did she:

JN 20:12-13 “And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”(NKJV)

John was not there although his source, by strong indications Mary Magdalene herself, consistently described the two angels dressed in white sitting on each end of the stone slab.[7] Unlike the first encounter, this time she is not alarmed and she spoke to them. Mary Magdalene’s reaction, or lack of one, to the supernatural beings indicates familiarity with them as a result of at least one previous engagement.

One other detail, one not called out by the Gospels, is a Jewish legal fact that, if not in met, could diminish the credibility of the Resurrection event. God’s Law required two witnesses to corroborate the same point of evidence to establish a fact. Two angels as witnesses at the Resurrection scene of Jesus of Nazareth would meet the requirement.[8]

Evaluating witness statements requires consideration of key facts, information, perspective, sequence of events, etc. Witness statements must then be evaluated based on their own merit and compared to other statements and evidence.

Witness statements to the same event are expected to vary and, as long as they are consistent on key information, it is a hallmark of truthful authenticity and credibility. If two statements vary too much or are very nearly or exactly the same, it is a strong indication of deception.

Longstanding investigative principals to decipher credible and truthful statements from deceptive ones through the use of literary analysis and other evidence, all point in one direction. Is a Gospel conflict of one vs. two angels at the empty tomb who witnessed the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth?

 

Updated September 19, 2022.

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

REFERENCES:

[1] Mark 16.
[2] Luke 24.
[3] Kirby, Peter. “Gospel of Luke.” EarlyChristianWritings.com. 2019. <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/luke.html>  “The Book of Luke.” . Quartz Hill School of Theology.  n.d.  <http://www.theology.edu/biblesurvey/luke.htm> Tzaferis, Vassilios. Bible Archaeology Society. “Crucifixion – the Archaelogical Evidence.” n.d. <https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/crucifixion/a-tomb-in-jerusalem-reveals-the-history-of-crucifixion-and-roman-crucifixion-methods
[4] Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23.  Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah.1883. Book 5, Chapter XV. pp 1419-1420. <http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/The%20Life%20and%20Times%20of%20Jesus%20the%20Messiah.pdf>  “Centuries later, archaeologists opened the tomb of Jesus.” News24hours. photo. 2016. <https://news24hours.in/2016/10/31/centuries-later-archaeologists-opened-the-tomb-of-jesus-christ
[5] John 20.
[6] Luke 24; John 20.
[7] Shanks, Hershel.  “Crucifixion Bone Fragment, 21 CE” The Center for Online Judaic Studies. 2004.  <http://cojs.org/crucifixion_bone_fragment-_21_ce>   Romey, Kristin. “Unsealing of Christ’s Reputed Tomb Turns Up New Revelations.” National Geographic. 2016. <https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/10/jesus-christ-tomb-burial-church-holy-sepulchre>
[8] Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15; Numbers 35:30.  Soncino Babylonian Talmud.Sanhedrin. 9a; 30a; 56a, footnote #1. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/index.html>  Resnicoff, Steven H. “Criminal Confessions in Jewish Law .“ Project Genesis. 2007.  <https://web.archive.org/web/20160122222638/http://www.torah.org/features/secondlook/criminal.html>