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>

What Happens When God Names Someone?

When God names someone the few times in Hebrew history, it is associated with greatness and long-term blessings.[1] What does that say about Jesus of Nazareth?

As a 75-year old man, God told Abram to move with his family to the land of Canaan promising “…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”[2] Faithfully, Abram complied and eventually settled near the city of Salem and the mounts of Moriah.

Abram and his wife, Sarai, decided that due to their old age, the only way for him to have a son was to father a child with Sarai’s servant, an Egyptian named Hagar.[3] Once Hagar became pregnant, both women despised each other placing Hagar in difficult position.

Sarai blamed Abram of creating the situation by making Hagar pregnant. Abram told Sarai that since Hagar was her servant, she could do with Hagar as she wished. Hagar was treated harshly to the point she ran away. God sent an angel to Hagar telling her to return and obey Saria, then she would be blessed through her son whom God named Ishmael:

Gen. 16:11-13 “And the Angel of the LORD said to her: ‘Behold, you are with child, And you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, Because the LORD has heard your affliction…Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand… I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude.’”(NKJV) [4]

Hagar gave birth to Ishmael when Abram was 86 years old.[5] The boy lived with his mother as part of Abram’s family for more than 13 years until the time came for the next chapter in Abram’s life. Ishmael went on to get married to an Egyptian girl and was blessed with 12 sons who would become princes of their tribes.[6]

At the age of 99, God appeared to Abram confirming His promise 24 years earlier. Adding to the promise, the message from God was 3-fold:

Gen. 17:5-6 “No longer shall your name be called Abram, But your name shall be Abraham; For I will make you the father of a multitude of nations.  I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you.” (NASB)

Gen. 17: 15-16 “…As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”

Gen. 17:19 “…Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.”

Renamed by God, descendants of Abraham, Sarah and Isaac included the kingdom of the House of David from whom the Messiah would come according to several future prophecies.[7] God included the names of Abraham and Isaac in His introduction when he spoke to the Hebrew nation. Perhaps the greatest recognition of greatness came about 1300 years later when God called Abraham His friend in present tense:

Is 41:8 “But you, Israel, are My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, The descendants of Abraham My friend.” (NKJV)

Isaac would marry Rebekah to whom was born twins, Esau and Jacob. A famine came upon the land and God warned Isaac not to go to Egypt as his father had once done to escape a famine meanwhile assuring Isaac of His blessing:

Gen. 26:3 “Dwell in this land, and I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your descendants I give all these lands, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father. And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.”

Living in exile for 20 years hiding from Esau who wanted to kill him for stealing his firstborn birthright blessing, Jacob decided to go back home. Before entering the land of Abraham, Jacob’s family camped at a place called Bethel.[8] That night, Jacob wrestled with a Man who, at the end of the night, said:

Gen. 32:28 “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.”(NKJV)[9]

At peace with Esau, Jacob settled and built a house in the land of Canaan. God later sent Jacob back to Bethel instructing him to build an altar. Returning home, he received another message from God:

Gen. 35: 10-12 “God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall you be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” … “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall spring from you. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.”(NRSV)

Gabriel, the archangel known in Biblical history as the messenger of God, appeared to Daniel to interpret visions. In both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Gabriel reappeared first to Mary, then to Joseph.[10]

Mary was informed she would miraculously conceive a baby by God to be named “Jesus” who would be the promised Messiah. Joseph, Mary’s betrothal, received a similar message from Gabriel telling him that Mary’s surprise pregnancy was by the hand of God and the baby was to be named “Jesus”:

LK 1:26-33 “Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ … ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.’ 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; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.’” (NASB)

MT 1:20-21 “…behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (NASB)

In two independent appearances by Gabriel months apart, first to Mary, then to Joseph, neither knew about each other’s message from God. Circumstances of the separate announcements met the standard of Jewish Law requiring two witnesses to confirm a fact – God named Mary’s baby, “Jesus.”[11] What does this say about the fulfillment of God’s promises and the blessings to be associated with the babe God named Jesus?

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

REFERENCES:

[1] Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 1883. Book II, Chapter 4.  <http://philologos.org/__eb-lat/default.htm>
[2] Genesis 12 ; Genesis 12:3. NASB, NKJV, NRSV.
[3] Genesis 25.
[4] CR Genesis 17, 21.
[5] Genesis 16.
[6] Genesis 16, 25; I Chronicles 1. “The 12 Tribes of Ishmael.” Nabatea.net. n.d. <http://nabataea.net/12tribes.html>
[7] “Abraham.”  BBC | Religion. 2009. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/judaism/history/abraham_1.shtml>  “Analysis: Story of Abraham and His Relevance to Islam, Judaism and Christianity.” NPR. 2018. <https://www.npr.org/programs/totn/transcripts/2002/sep/020924.feiler.html>
[8] Genesis 35.
[9] CR Genesis 35.
[10] Luke 1; Daniel 8, 9. “Uriel.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14606-uriel>  “Gabriel (Archangel).” New World Encyclopedia. 2017. <http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Gabriel_(Archangel)>
[11] Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15; Numbers 35:30. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Sanhedrin 9a. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_9.html> Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Sanhedrin 30a. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_30.html>