Monday, May 28, 2018

Understanding The Meaning Of The Angels At The Empty Tomb

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John 20:11-13 "But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; 12 and she *saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 And 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.”


When one reads the Gospel narratives of Christ's resurrection, the presence of angels are embedded in the testimony. Inasmuch as we are witnessing a sequence of historical, literal events that transpired in time and in space, we must include the reality of angelic beings. When it comes to what needs explanation concerning the events of Christ's resurrection requiring explanation, three main details are cited by the majority of New Testament historians:

1). The discovery of the empty tomb

2). Jesus' post-mortem appearances 

3). The cause for the disciple's belief in the resurrection.

New Testament historians of all stripes (evangelical and skeptical alike) list the above main points as objects of historical inquiry. Whatever explanation they assign to the events in question (whether naturalistic explanations or the proposal: "God raised Jesus from the dead") results in the wide spread opinions concerning the meaning of what took place that first Easter morning. This author has argued in other posts that the proposal: "God raising Jesus from the dead" is the best explanation of facts in question. For example, click here:

As a pastor, my responsibility is to expound on all the text. Angels are nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to interpreting the text of scripture. The majority of scholarship today ignores the presence of the angels. As much as some may cite that angels lie outside the task of the historian, such refusal to interpret the meaning of angels is not due to the constraints of historical investigation as it does to a philosophical bias against anything supernatural. Frankly, if we assert that Jesus' resurrection was indeed a Divine act, then explaining the significance of angelic intervention in those accounts ought not seem so far-fetched. 

Acquiring a fundamental grasp of the Bible's teaching on the angelic realm (called: "angelology") aids greatly in understanding why angelic activity is appropriate with respect to the events surrounding the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Once one traces an outline of the Biblical teaching on angels, the details of their activities relative to the empty-tomb doesn't appear as foreign as it does upon first glance. 

With these thoughts in mind, I'd like to offer some reasons why the Gospel writers included angels in their reporting of the events of Christ's resurrection. For those (like myself) who take the Gospel narratives as reliable historical documents which are inerrant and infallible written revelation from the hands of the Apostles, explaining the point of the angels at the resurrection is a pre-requisite if we're to arrive at a clearer understanding of the Gospel records. What were the angels achieving as they ministered the glory of Christ's resurrected power to the Apostles? Moreover, what can we learn and apply to our lives regarding Jesus' resurrection power for today? Please note the following thoughts:

1. Angels protected the message and messengers who proclaim Jesus' resurrection from the dead

We will first turn to Matthew's Gospel to observe the activity of angels at the empty tomb. Matthew 28:3-4 states: 

"And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. 4 The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men."  

When we look at these verses, we can note the following observations. 

1. First, the women were already on their way to finish the final stages of the interment of Jesus' body in Matthew 28:1. 

2. Second, the detail about the guards mentioned by Matthew in 28:3-4 reminds the reader of the manifest impossibility of anyone coming to steal the body of Jesus. The enemies of Jesus had arranged the tomb to be guarded in Matthew 27:62-66. 

3. Thirdly, when we realize that the presence of angels led to the collapse of the soldiers, it suggests that the angels were sent to protect the women and those who would be peering into the empty tomb. 

4. Fourthly, on a practical note, it was an angel that moved the stone of the tomb aside so that the disciples (and us) could see its vacancy (see Matthew 28:2). 

As we noted already, surveying additional Biblical teaching on angelic activity alongside God's people aids in arriving the suggestion of angelic protection afforded to the disciples at the empty tomb. Passages such as 2 Kings 6; Psalm 34:7; 91:11 and Hebrews 1:14 remind us of how angels defend or protect God's people. By protecting the disciples, and particularly the women, the angels were dispatched by God to protect the message they would communicate to the disciples. But now notice a second significant reason for the presence of angels in the events of the Risen and Ascended Christ...

2. Angels aided in the declaration and explanation of Jesus' resurrection from the dead.

We read in Matthew 28:5-7 -

"The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. 6 He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying. 7 Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you.” 

The Hebrew and Greek words translated "angel" speak of "messengers" or "emissaries" of God. Angels are seen throughout scripture as God's emissaries announcing God's message to His people. We see angels functioning as God's messengers for instance in Acts 1:9-11  -

"And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. 11 They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” 

In Stephen's sermon to his Jewish opponents in Acts 7, we are reminded of how the angels assisted in the dispatching of God's Law on Mount Sinai in Acts 7:53 - "you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.” The angels were doing what they were created to do: declare and explain the glory of God (Psalm 68:17). Moreover, angels are described as pointing people to the equal and shared glory of the Son (Luke 2:14). Since angels served to facilitate the revelation of God's Word and salvation in general, it makes much more sense as to why they would aid the women is grasping the true explanation of the empty tomb: "God raised Jesus from the dead". 

So in addition to protecting the messengers of God and  facilitating the clarity of God's message, observe a third significant reason as to why angels are included in the resurrection and ascension accounts of the Living Christ...

3. Angelic presence demonstrated the Deity and humanity of Christ in His resurrection from the dead

The Old Testament makes it abundantly clear that the angels function in the capacity of a royal court demonstrating the Deity of Yahweh. As we jog through the following Old Testament scriptures, we can apply our observations to understanding why angels appear in the resurrection narratives.

1. We see the angels, from the inception of their creation, exalting God for His creative power in Job 38:7 and Psalm 104:1-4. 

2. In Psalm 68:17, we see angels attending the giving of the law atop Mount Sinai, demonstrating before the newly redeemed Hebrew nation the uncontested royal deity of Yahweh. 

3. Daniel 7:10-13 portrays God by the title: "The Ancient of Days". In the wider circle of the Biblical teaching on the Trinity, we can reasonably assume that the figure of "The Son of Man" is non-other than the Pre-incarnate Son of Man in royal Deity (see Jesus' self-reference of Himself as the "Son of Man" in Matthew 26:64). If we take these thoughts to their full conclusion, one could propose the "Ancient of Days" as being the Person of the Father, and "the Son of Man" as the eternal Son sharing in the one Divine nature with the Father. Back-reading the New Testament truth of Christ's co-equality with the Father explains, for example, why Jesus used the title "Son of Man" to refer to Himself more often than any other self-designation (over 80 times in the four Gospels). Thus, we can see why Daniel 7:10-13 includes "the Ancient of Days" and "The Son of Man" attended by an innumerable angelic court. 

4. As a final example, Daniel 12:1-3 depicts Michael the archangel assisting in some fashion what will undoubtedly be the Divine power of God Himself raising believers from the dead in the resurrection of the righteous and unbelievers in the later resurrection of the wicked. To see angels present at Christ's resurrection reinforces the profound nature of the events in question.

Such associations between Yahweh's Deity and angelic presence aids greatly in how we approach the presence of angels at the empty tomb. The Living Christ who came out of the tomb on Sunday morning had angels attending to assert the fact that He is as much true Deity as He is truly glorified, resurrected humanity.

Closing thoughts
We attempted to offer reasons why angels are a part of the resurrection narratives found in the four gospels. By including the wider-biblical testimony on angelology or "doctrine of angels", one arrives at a clearer explanation of angelic presence at the empty tomb. We discovered three reasons for why angels were involved in the events of that first Easter morning:

1. Angels protected the message and messengers who proclaim Jesus' resurrection from the dead.

2. Angels aided in the declaration and explanation of Jesus' resurrection from the dead.

3. The angels' presence demonstrated the Deity and humanity of Christ in His resurrection from the dead

1 comment:

  1. Very nice.
    Absolutely. The angels solidified and confirmed what the women found. Angels wouldn't be there if someone stole his body. Something supernatural had occurred. They were at Jesus' birth. They were at his Resurrection. They were at his Ascension. They will be at his second coming