Real Talk with Roderick – On the Ground

Real Talk with Roderick Barnes
On the Ground (Luke 2:8-14)

Yuletide art often displays the angel of this passage in the air above the shepherds. However, “the stood before” them of Luke 2:9 does not indicate that the heavenly messenger had an elevation greater than that of the shepherds. Absent from the text is any mention of wings, hovering (See 1 Chronicles 21:15-16), or clouds. I do not believe that the author’s command of Greek and attention to detail leave this open to interpretation. When Luke has meant “stood over” he has clearly conveyed that idea. E.g., later in the same work (Luke 4:39) Luke uses the same verb and a preposition to communicate that the Lord “stood over” Peter’s sick mother-in-law. Also, in the material that concludes Luke’s gospel more angels appear (Luke 24:4); the same verb that was translated “stood before them” in Luke 2:9 is used in the same way but in the plural. These angels, appearing at the end of Luke’s gospel to activate immediate obedience in the disciples, are on the ground with the men to whom they are speaking.

Luke 2:8-9, Angel Appears to Shepherds

In general when angels appear for judgement they do not make themselves available for conversation; they are not present to communicate but to condemn. In passages where angels appear in the air they are not merely aloft – they are positioned against the enemies of God (Revelation 7:1-2; 8:5,13, 14:1-19). Notable exceptions are found in the passage where an angel of God calls to Hagar out of heaven and later to Abraham (Genesis 21:17; 22:11). In these exceptions it does not say that the angel appeared but called out. But you will say, “What about Balaam’s donkey?” (Numbers 22:22-33) And to this I will say that the Angel does not appear to Balaam. It was the donkey that saw the Angel standing against the wayward prophet.

When heaven’s ministering spirits show up on the ground or in a dream they are present to help men (Genesis 31:11; 32:1; Exodus 3:2; Judges 13:3; Matthew 1:20; 2:13; 2:19; 28:5; Luke 1:11-13; 1:28-30; 2:9; John 20:12; Acts 5:19; 7:30, 35; 10:3; 11:13; 12:7; 27:23).

The good will of God toward men is indicated not only in the tidings of the angel but in the position of the messenger; he is on the ground with the persons being addressed. Does it matter? Insofar as we continue depicting the messengers as aloft we create the imagery of them also being aloof. The angels that appear to men are with those they are helping, among those they are aiding, and not above those being saved. When we consider the work of God in saving us, the Son of God comes to be with us – on the ground. Yes, Emmanuel will eventually even wash the feet of those He came to save (John 13:1-17).

In His grip by His grace,
Roderick L. Barnes, Sr.