Angels in the New Testament are associated with beginnings. We see their appearance when the Son of God was born into the world. We see their appearance when Jesus, the Son of God, began His earthly ministry. And finally, we see the special work of angels in the beginning of the church. We would conclude, therefore, that God’s sending of angels was unique in the first century in His work to begin this gospel dispensation of His work on earth until Jesus comes again.
And when Jesus comes again, angels will be coming with Him in order to consummate world history and begin our heavenly dwelling. Since the focus of their work was to begin this gospel dispensation of God’s work, then we would conclude that the manner or reasons for which they ministered in the first century would continue until the purpose for which the world was created is finalized.
A. Angels worked at the beginning in the incarnation.
The work of one prominent angel was significant at the time of the incarnation of Jesus. An angel, possibly Gabriel, appeared three times to Joseph in circumstances surrounding the birth and early life of the baby Jesus (Mt 1:20; 2:13,19). In reference to the birth and ministry of John the Baptist, the angel Gabriel appeared to Zacharias (Lk 1:8-20). An angel of the Lord also appeared to Mary, the mother of Jesus. This angel informed Mary, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son. And you will call His name JESUS” (Lk 1:30,31).
It is significant to notice the announcement that an angel made immediately after the birth of Jesus. This angel made the first announcement of the gospel to mankind. Luke recorded the angel’s announcement:
“Do not fear, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy what will be to all the people. For to you a Savior is born this day in the city of David, who is Christ the Lord “(Lk 2:10,11).
When the angel made the preceding announcement of the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, “then suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God” (Lk 2:13).
The “good tidings” (gospel) that was announced was for the purpose of alerting the Jews that the prophecies of the Messiah, the Christ, were being fulfilled. This was good news. However, it was good news beyond what they were expecting, because the news was about the salvation of the atoning death of the incarnate Son of God. It was not an announcement about the restoration of national Israel. It was an announcement at the very beginning that would eventually conclude with Jesus’ gospel atonement, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father in order to begin His gospel reign as King of kings. Once the people realized that the baby that was born in a barn in Bethlehem was truly the incarnate Son of God, who would be God’s sacrificial offering for the sins of the world, their announcement to the world would indeed be “good tidings of great joy to all the people.”
B. Angels worked at the beginning and ending of Jesus’ ministry.
When Jesus had prepared Himself for the work of the ministry by fasting for forty days in the wilderness, angels were involved in the beginning of His ministry. After Jesus had fasted the forty days, “behold, angels came and ministered to Him” (Mt 4:11). They came in order to minister to His physical needs in order to restore His body with food. They ministered with food in order to strengthen His physical body in preparation for the coming three and a half years of ministry.
Angels also worked at the conclusion of Jesus’ ministry. Immediately before His crucifixion, angels came to Him in the Garden of Gethsemane in order to strengthen His soul. In the Garden “an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him” (Lk 22:43). Since this angel came “from heaven,” we assume that this was the time when the Father reached forth Himself from heaven in tender loving care over an only begotten Son who was on His way to the suffering of the cross.
(During His ministry, there was a traditional belief in Jerusalem concerning the pool of Bethesda. It was believed that an angel stirred the waters of the pool in order to bring healing. It was supposed that an angel stirred the waters of the pool of Bethesda, and subsequently, offered healing to the one who first entered the water when it was stirred. This statement is recorded in John 5:4 in older texts of the New Testament. However, because of the lack of manuscript evidence, this reading has been left out of more recent texts. It is assumed that the reading was not a part of the original autograph, but was probably inserted into the text of John as a marginal statement of explanation. The historical comment was made by some scribe who simply wanted to explain to the readers what the belief in Jerusalem was concerning the stirring of the pool of Bethesda. It was, therefore, a historical commentary that was eventually added by later scribes. The later scribes thought that the scribe of the original manuscript from which they made their copies, had mistakenly left out this case of a supposed work of angels.)
There were angels present at the time of Jesus’ resurrection. At the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth, and after the crucifixion and three days in the tomb, an angel came and rolled away the stone from the tomb of Jesus (Mt 28:2). When certain women came to the tomb on the glorious Sunday morning of His resurrection, there were angels who reported the resurrection to the women (Lk 24:23). Since the disciples had a difficult time in connecting the dots between the crucifixion of Jesus, and the intended atonement of that event, they did not initially believe that Jesus had been raised from the death. Jesus later rebuked them for not at first believing what the women reported (See Mk 16:14).
It appears, therefore, that the presence of the angels at the tomb of the resurrection scene was for a greater purpose than to comfort Mary. They were there to substantiate the fact of the resurrection. The declaration of the resurrection was not simply made by some women whom the disciples thought were in an emotional state of hysteria. It was verified and declared by angels. It was as the angel said to the women: “He is not here [in the tomb], for He is risen as He said. Come, see the place where He lay” (Mt 28:5). The announcement of the gospel resurrection, therefore, was first made by angels.
We must keep in mind that throughout the ministry of Jesus, angels did not assume the ministry of Jesus. They did not in any way serve as messengers to the unbelieving public in order to preach the gospel. Gabriel announced to Mary the good news of her pregnancy. However, the focus of the announcement was on her pregnancy, not the preaching of the gospel. This same indirect ministry of angels occurred in reference to the unbelieving world. At the time of the birth of Jesus, the angel only announced to the shepherds that the Son of God had been born in bodily form in Bethlehem.
Specifics concerning the gospel were not explained by angels. The witnessing work of angels at the time of the beginning of the life and ministry of Jesus was secondary in reference to the proclamation of the gospel. Angels announced the events of the gospel, as the incarnational birth of Jesus. But they were not allowed to reveal the gospel of the atonement that took place at the cross. The revelation of this mystery was reserved to be revealed only through the apostles and prophets.
[Next in series: Nov. 10]