Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
An Angel From Heaven Strengthens Christ
by Robert C. Harbach
"There appeared an angel unto Him from heaven, strengthening Him." -Luke 22:43
THE TEXT. The first question here is whether the text is genuine or spurious. Some ancient authorities do not contain the verses 43 and 44. The New American Standard Version, the New International Version, and the Weiss Greek text call attention to this omission. The Nestle Greek text lists the authorities for the omission, basically on the authority of Manuscript (Codex) B. But these verses are supported by the Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text, by Codices Aleph and D, the Caesarean Text, some Old Latin manuscripts, and by Justinius, Irenaeus, and Tischendorf. These latter authorities very definitely and absolutely place these verses within the text of holy Scripture as genuine. It is said that our text was omitted on dogmatical, not exegetical grounds, by the orthodox because heretics used it to deny Christ's deity. But Scripture teaches that Christ has both a divine and a human nature, and that the latter, wherever stressed in Scripture, in no wise denies the former. We are content to let the Bible speak for itself, whether for Christ's absolute deity, or for His true and complete humanity.
THE INCIDENT. This occurred immediately after the Lord's first prayer in Gethsemane (Luke 22:43). He needed this strengthening, for as He continued even more earnestly in prayer He got into an agony of soul to the point of sweating as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. This He did "with strong crying and tears," His entire human nature shrinking from the horror of the God-forsakenness which was His Father's will for Him to endure. His supplications were heard as they were prayed from his godly fear (apo tees eulabeias, Hebrews 5:7). In this way, the Father instantly replied to His fainting Son Who was suffering infinite sorrow (Matthew 26:38) in the place of His people. True, He could have called to His own aid twelve legions of angels (Matthew 26:53), or He could have strengthened His weakened human nature by the power of His divine nature. But there is no need to argue against the biblical record of how it actually was done.
THE APPEARANCE. "There appeared an angel unto Him." The next question is whether this was only a subjective appearance, in the mind of Jesus, having no objective, visible manifestation. This would be docetic, in the sense that the angel was, or all angels are, fantasmal or apparitional, figment of the imagination. Angel appearances can be presented as real, historical, objective, and visible, and yet actually be spurious, as in the case of the accounts recorded in the Apocrypha and in certain Swedenborgian, Mormonite, and charismatical books. But this angel visibly and objectively appeared, just as one did to Zacharias, who with his natural senses saw him and received from him a rather lengthy audible message (Luke 1:11-22). This was no appearance in a dream, but just as objectively real as when the devil, a fallen angel, appeared to tempt the Lord, after which "angels came and ministered unto Him" (Matthew 4:11), a fulfillment of John 1:51.
ANGELS TODAY? Do angels appear today with messages and miracles? Is there today continued divine revelation in visions, voices from heaven, dreams, tongues, healings, appearances of God and Jesus? "Yes, definitely!" say the modern-day charismatics (Neo-Montanists) , along with Roman Catholics, Christian Scientists, Mormons, "Children of God," Jehovah's Witnesses, and the "Moonies." A popular electronic charismatic club produces "witnesses" telling how Jesus suddenly appeared beside them in their car while driving along the highway, talked awhile, then as suddenly disappeared; or how they died, when an angel appeared to their bodiless soul to say that it wasn't their time yet, and so brought them back to life from the dead. May we tolerate this sort of thing? Not for a moment! We have Moses and all the Scriptures. We must hear them. For "if one went unto them from the dead, they will not repent" (Luke 16:30). If they believe not the canonical Scriptures, "neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." Why not? because the holy Scriptures alone have an incomparable sufficiency to be the only rule of faith and conduct (Belgic Confession, VII). "Nothing, at any time, is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men" to the whole counsel of God as contained in the holy Scripture (Westminster Confession, I, VI). The Scriptures alone teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man (Westminster Larger Catechism, Ans. 5). "The Word of God, . . . contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy" God (Shorter Catechism, A. 2). Therefore, the true church takes the stand that no extra-biblical revelation is divine revelation.
COME AND GET YOUR MIRACLE! So cry the modern healers advertising their meetings. Thousands flock to these extravaganzas. They seek a big-name prophet. They want a special, personal revelation from God. They will not have a sermon based on a text from the Bible. They will not have preaching. They hope they can dream something, or hear a voice in the sky; then they think they have something. They prefer an angel who appears to tell them how to make a lot of money, rather than to have a humble, faithful (perhaps young) minister who breaks the bread of life to God's people. But in the Word of God purely preached right out of the Bible we have a more sure word of testimony than we ever could have in any of the modern sensational substitutions.
A UNIQUE AGONY. A liberalistic (or modernistic) humanizing of the gospel will speak of our own afflictions in which we, too, suffer our Gethsemanes. Refuse this sort of thing. You hear it from Jesse Jackson, who dresses up his political talks in shallow religious verbiage, telling us that the Blacks have had their Gethsemane, and their Crucifixion, but not yet their merited and long overdue Resurrection. However, that's coming! This is to make gospel grace common, for the Lord Jesus Christ trod the winepress entirely alone. Besides, it is extremely blasphemous, and God will not give His glory to another.
HIS WEAKNESS. The human physique, at its best, has its limitations: its infirmities (Belgic Confession, XVIII), its finitude, its relative weakness. Think how the Lord experienced (1) fatigue (John 4:6), (2) sleep (Matthew 8:24) and (3) enervating hunger (Matthew 4:2, 11). Here, He had become extremely weak, for no less than a mighty angel was sent from heaven to strengthen Him, and angels are not sent on superfluous missions, nor does God do anything unnecessary. But here is mystery: the Creator (John 1:3) needing to be strengthened by one of His creatures! We ought not to cringe at the thought that the Son of God became so weakened as to need the divine means of angelic aid to strengthen Him. He was totally exhausted, mentally and spiritually, by the agony producing the terrible bloody sweat. Part of His prayer was, "Thou hast brought Me into the dust of death" (Psalms 22:15). He was tempted in all points like as we are, sin excepted; only, He suffered in the place of His people to redeem them from their sins. Christ's hellish agonies are absolutely unique.
NOT DEROGATORY. Why should the angel strengthening Him seem derogatory to His divinity? He was once a babe, and had to be strengthened and nourished from the womb and then from the breast of His mother. In infancy He was not only weak, but utterly helpless. The Mighty God veiled His omnipotence with the true humanity of infancy, childhood, boyhood, youth, and manhood. Because He got hungry, thirsty and tired, He had to be strengthened with bread, water, rest, and sleep. Will Arians, or other heretics, grasp this side of the truth to support their denial of Christ's deity? Let them; but Satan and his dupes are fools. On His human nature, Scripture says, "Jesus therefore being wearied with His journey, sat thus on the well." On the divine side it says, "the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary." Angels must wonder at this, but there is more about Him at which to wonder. He was strengthened by the angel in Gethsemane lest He die; for there He nearly did die (Matthew 26:53). But He had to die on the cross. There He in weakness gave up His life. That completes the proof of His true humanity. Yet at the same time He was and is "the true God and the Eternal Life." Why did He become so weak? To make us, His weak ones, as strong as David, as strong as the Angel of God!
HIS STRENGTHENING. "There appeared an angel unto 'Him from heaven, strengthening Him." How could an angel strengthen Him? If we mean by that, how is that possible, we ought to understand that just one angel alone is mighty (Psalms 103:20), strong enough to shut the mouths of lions (Daniel 6:22), strong enough to strengthen any human being (and Christ was and is a human being without being a human person). Daniel had become so weak that there was no strength in him, yet an angel strengthened him, making him strong (Daniel 10:13-19; Daniel 11:1; cp. Daniel 8:16-18, Gabriel = "God is my strength."). Perhaps we are unable to answer this "how." But at least we have shown the angels can do this and actually have much experience in doing it. Let all the angels of God fall down in awe, wonder, and worship of this blood-red Son of God!
Rev. Robert C. Harbach was born in 1914. He graduated from the Protestant Reformed Seminary in 1955 and immediately served as Minister in congregations in Lynden, Washington from 1955 to 1963, Kalamazoo, Michigan from 1963 to 1974, and as Home Missionary from 1974 to 1979. He retired from the active ministry in 1979. He is author of the book called "Studies in the Book of Genesis (ISBN-10: 0916206696, ISBN-13: 978-0916206697)," and passed on to glory on December 14, 1996.