12-2 Angelic Strengthening of Jesus
PSALM 80: ANGELIC STRENGTHENING OF JESUS
How exactly “God was in Christ” is beyond our ability to define. Yet Jesus being of our nature and having our same battle against sin received strengthening from God against this which must have some similarities with how God helps us. His Divine Sonship without doubt played a large part in this strengthening; and yet I suggest the Angels also worked in His life to strengthen Him in the battle against sin. It is attractive to see the Angelic ministering to Him after the wilderness temptations as being both natural and spiritual refuelling. The Angelic strengthening of Jesus is brought out most clearly in Psalm 80, which has a definite Angelic bearing:
v. 1 "O shepherd of Israel"- the Angel acted as a shepherd to Israel in the wilderness, as Is. 63:9-11 states specifically.
"Thou that leadest Joseph. . before Ephraim"- the Angel in the pillar of cloud led Israel, going before the first tribe in the order of march.
"That dwellest between the cherubims"- the great Angel that dwellt literally over or in the ark.
v. 2 "Stir up thy strength"- language of Angelic limitation? God is essentially strength in constant activity.
v. 3 "God"- not Yahweh.
v. 4 "God of Hosts" (Angels).
v. 3,7 "Cause Thy face to shine", referring to the Angel in the tabernacle shining forth.
v. 8 "Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: Thou hast cast out the heathen and planted it"- this was the work of the Angels.
v. 14 "God of Hosts (Angels) look down from Heaven (the Angels are God's eyes), and behold, and visit this vine"- begging the Angel to literally return from Heaven to dwell in the land?
v. 19 "God of Hosts" (Angels).
This Angel is asked to give special attention to "the branch that Thou madest strong for Thyself. . let Thy hand (an Angelic phrase) be upon the man of thy right hand, upon the Son of man whom thou madest strong for Thyself" (v. 15,17). Christ is the branch (Is. 11:1; Jer. 23:5), and in any case both the branch and the "Son of man" are made strong for the Angel's own purpose ("for thyself"). This Angelic making strong is surely alluded to when the Angel "strengthened Him" in the garden (Luke 22:43). This chimes in with the popular idea that Angelic presence was withdrawn from Jesus on the cross- hence His cry primarily to the Angel "My God (strength), my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Mt. 27:46); perhaps fulfilling the crucifixion prophecy of Ps. 31:22 "I said in my haste, I am cut off from before Thine eyes (Angels): nevertheless Thou heardest the voice of My supplications when I cried unto Thee". Ps. 22:19 also seems relevant: "But be not far from me, O Lord (remember the physical coming and going of the Angels): O my strength (cp. "My God, My God"- the Angel), haste Thee to help Me". Verse 21 has the language of the Cherubim: "Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns" (Cherubim)- as if the Angel to whom He prayed dwelt in the midst of the Cherubim. We have earlier suggested that such a mighty Angel was probably the personal Angel of Christ. Gen. 49:23,24 confirms all this: "The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him (a prophecy of the Lord's sufferings): but his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob; (from thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel:) even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee. . ". There are similarities here with Moses' hands being held up by Aaron and Hur until Amalek was destroyed- an exhausted man with both hands upheld above his head until the great enemy of God's people (cp. sin) was destroyed must recall the suffering of Christ on the cross. The many Angelic titles in these verses ("God of Jacob. . of thy fathers") are made all the more relevant by being mentioned in the context of Gen. 48:15,16, which is the clearest association of them with the Angel. Thus it was through the Angels that Christ was strengthened on the cross.
However, it is likely that Jesus did not over-use this Angelic strengthening against sin, in the same way as He refused the (legitimate?) pain killer at the cross. Some words in Psalm 91 may just possibly imply this, although it is conceded that the following interpretation is tenuous: "He shall give His Angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the adder shalt thou trample under feet" (v. 11-13). It is suggested that this be read as a description of the Angels spiritually protecting Christ against sin, especially during His wilderness temptations. "Keep" in v. 11 is the same word used in Gen. 3:24, and thus alludes to the Angels keeping men in the way to the tree of life- not physically but spiritually preserving them. The figure of dashing the foot against a stone suggests the idea of spiritual stumbling against a "rock of offence" or stumblingstone. The Angels bore Jesus up to help Him avoid these. The treading underfoot of the adder must be another connection with Genesis 3; the seed of the woman trampling sin underfoot. This conquest of sin by Jesus was therefore partly due to Angelic strengthening of Him. Through them "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself", making Christ a sin-offering for us.
It was noted earlier (Ch. 7) that one example of the Angels changing their mind was in the fact that the Angel promised never to break the covenant with Israel (Judges 2:1 etc. ) and yet did so (Ez. 16:59-62; Zech. 11:10). The Angelic context of Zech. 11 is interesting. If the "I" in this chapter is God manifest in an Angel- which it must be, seeing that "I. . break My covenant which I had made", and God Himself cannot be associated with such a change of purpose- we see that the Angel was in control of Christ's sacrifice: "I took my staff, even beauty (Christ) and cut it asunder (on the cross); that I might break My covenant". Thus the Angel used Christ's sacrifice to break the covenant. He then seems to merge Himself with Christ: "And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price (Jesus never personally said this as far as we know, but the Angel could have effectively said so to the Jews). . . so they weighed for My (Christ's- and the Angel) price thirty pieces of silver. . . and I (the Angel working through Judas) took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter".
Care And Encouragement
It would appear from Is. 49:2 that Jesus was protected and specially guided by the Angel in the first thirty years of his life: "In the shadow of His hand (an Angelic phrase) hath He hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in His quiver hath He hid me". The word 'quiver' comes from the word for an astrologer, in the sense of being something that conceals knowledge. Thus the Angel hid the true identity of Jesus, so that "flesh and blood" alone could not recognize that He was God's Son (Matt. 16:13-17). We have seen that "the Lord" that passed by Moses and hid him with his hand in the cleft of the rock was an Angel. This strengthens the interpretation of God's hand here as being an Angel passing by rather than God Himself in person covering Moses. By all means compare this incident with 1 Kings 19:5-12, where Elijah had the same experience as Moses- "a cave" in v. 9 ="the cleft"; the same one as in Ex. 33:22. It was also this Angel which gave Jesus the words of God which He spake: "The Lord of Hosts (of Angels) is His Name. . . I have put My words in thy mouth, and I have covered thee in the shadow of mine hand (an Angelic phrase), that I may. . . say unto Zion, Thou art My people" (Is. 51:15,16). "The Lord God (the Angels) hath given Me (Jesus) the tongue of the learned. . He wakeneth (Me) morning by morning, He wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned. The Lord God hath opened mine ear (to understand about His crucifixion?), and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back. I gave my back to the smiters. . . (in obedience to what the Angels told Me)", Is. 50:4-6.
Much insight is given into the intense humanity of our Lord by reflecting upon His relationship with His Angel in times of depression, as outlined in the Psalms and suffering servant prophecies. Isaiah 49 shows Christ's depression at Israel's lack of response to the Gospel: "I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent My strength for nought, and in vain" (v. 4). He encourages Himself that "though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord (the Angels), and my God shall be My strength" (Gabriel? 'Strengthener of God'). The Angel then encourages Jesus: "Thus saith the Lord, the redeemer of Israel, His Holy One (an Angelic title), to him whom man despiseth, whom the nation (of Israel) abhorreth, to a servant of rulers, (Gentile) kings shall see and arise. . because. . the Holy One of Israel. . shall choose thee" (v. 7). The Angel encouraged Jesus with the thought that he was pleased with His progress, and could foresee Jesus being a light to the Gentiles as well as to Israel. Thus pleasing the Angels was a great goal for Jesus, and the sense of their presence and interest in His life was a great source of encouragement. Hence on the cross His panic fear of losing their presence: "I said in my haste, I am cut off from before Thine eyes" (Angels, Ps. 31:22). Notice too Christ's great respect of the Angels. This, along with his honouring of John the baptist, shows the great humility of the one who was greater and more righteous than both John and the Angels.
The same idea is found by a close analysis of Psalm 8. It is quoted in Hebrews 2 to prove Christ's superiority over the Angels. Verses 3-5 therefore show Christ's marvel at how a human like Himself should be considered worthy to have such great Angelic attention. Such was his respect of them: "When I consider Thy Heavens, the work of Thy fingers (the Heavens were created by the Angels; the Law was given by the Angel finger of God writing on the stones), the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained; what is man, that Thou art mindful of Him? ('why should You think so much about mere Me?') and the son of man (Jesus) that Thou visitest (Angelic language) Him? For Thou hast made Him a little lower than the Angels. . Thou madest Him to have dominion over the works of Thy hands (the Hand of the Lord is Angelic language; they were used to create all things); Thou hast put all things (including the Angels) under His feet: all sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field. . "- i. e. the things of the natural creation made and controlled by the Angels.
Psalm 42 has many echoes of the cross, although primarily it refers to David's longing for the tabernacle whilst exiled by Absalom. "My soul thirsteth for God, for the God of the living ones (the Angel in the tabernacle); when shall I come and appear before God (the Angel)?"(v. 2). He reflects how in the past "I went with them to the house of God" (v. 4)- i. e. Bethel, with all its Angelic associations. "Why art thou cast down, O my soul?" (v. 5)- the same in the Septuagint as Matt. 26:38 "Now is my soul troubled". Jesus rallies Himself: "Hope thou in God (His Angel); for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance"- fulfilled by the Angel appearing to Jesus in Gethsemane (transferring some of the glory of His countenance to Jesus as He did to Moses, so that Christ's arresters initially fell down when they saw Him?). "O my God. . . I will say unto God my rock ("the rock" is an angelic phrase- Gen. 49:24; Dt. 32:4,18), Why hast Thou forgotten Me?" (v. 6,9). Strong defines 'forgotten' as "to be oblivious of from want of memory or attention"- surely Jesus would not accuse His Father of this? It must be the the language of limitation which Jesus could use to Angels. Psalm 89 is a commentary on the promises to David concerning Jesus in 2 Sam. 7. The punishments that were to come on Israel were to come on Jesus, especially in His sufferings on the cross: "Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes" (Ps. 89:32). This was fulfilled in the process of Christ's crucifixion. "Visit" has Angelic connections- it was the Angels who brought about Christ's passion.
Strength And Glorification
It is impossible to exactly determine the amount of Angelic help Jesus received, but the spirit of Christ in the Psalms seems to attribute His final victory over sin and death in large measure to the Angels. This is not, of course, to under-rate the supreme and ultimate personal sacrifice of our Lord. "Now know I that the Lord saveth His anointed (Christ); He will hear Him from His Holy Heaven (the Angel in the temple? (1)) by the strength of the salvation of His right hand" (Ps. 20:6). We have seen that the hand of God represents an Angel. Or again: "The Lord is my strength and shield (as the Angel who gave the promises to Abraham was a shield and reward to him, Gen. 15:1), my heart trusted in Him, and I am helped. . the Lord is his strength, and He is the strength of salvation of His anointed (Christ)" (Ps. 28:7,8). This may also refer to the fact that an Angel raised Jesus from the dead, as well as to the spiritual strengthening they gave Him.
Acts especially stresses that Jesus was "by the right hand of God exalted" from the grave (Acts 2:33; 5:31), and is now at the right hand of God. If the right hand of God refers to the great Angel that represented Jesus in the Old Testament, and also the same Angel of Israel that dwelt between the cherubims (hence the Angel calls Jesus "Israel" in Isaiah), it would be fitting if after being the means of God's upholding of Jesus by His right hand during His ministry (Ps. 63:8), He raised Jesus and then was replaced immediately in His position at God's right hand by Jesus. Isaiah refers to God's taking of Christ's hand to strengthen Him (e. g. 41:13; 42:6). We take someone's hand with one of our hands- so God strengthened Jesus through His hand, and the hand of God is an Angelic phrase. Psalm 80 has a definite Angelic context; God's hand is linked with the "God of Hosts", v. 14, and the planting of the Jewish vineyard (v. 15)- which was done by the Angels at Sinai and in the planting of Israel in their land.
This hand of God made a specific branch "strong for Thyself". This branch was Jesus (Is. 11:1; Jer. 23:5; Zech. 3:8;6:12). The word for 'strong' is not the normal Hebrew word translated this way. It implies more to be alert, strong minded, and is the same word translated "good courage" used so often by the Angel in assuring Joshua of His support of him. We will see how the Angelic encouragement of Joshua was also repeated to Joshua-Jesus (their names being identical in itself makes Joshua a detailed type of Christ). Thus the strengthening of Joshua foreshadows that of Christ, both of His mind and courage, and also ultimately in His resurrection. It was this kind of mental strength that the Angel gave to Jesus in Gethsemane. The same word is used in Ps. 89:21 concerning the seed of David (the whole Psalm is a commentary on the Davidic promise): "with whom My hand (Angel) shall be established: Mine arm (Angel) also shall strengthen Him". The ultimate strengthening of Christ was in his resurrection, and the Angels being present at the tomb suggests they were responsible for this too. The point has been made that Peter's experience in prison was similar to our Lord's; a Herod willing to please the Jews by persecuting Christians, Passover time, sleeping between two soldiers (cp. two thieves), being smitten on the side, the death of James cp. John the baptist etc. In this parallel Peter being led out of the prison by the Angel would correspond to Christ being resurrected by the Angel.
Is. 41:9 is quoted in Heb. 2:10,14 about God taking hold of Jesus, His servant. Is. 41:10 continues concerning Jesus, therefore, "Fear thou not; for I am with thee (the Angels' words to Joshua again); be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness" (an Angel). The right hand Angel of God strengthened, upheld and helped Jesus spiritually. His dismay which the verse implies He had was therefore at His feeling of being spiritually inadequate to fulfil His great calling- exactly like Joshua. But as with Joshua, the Angel strengthened Him.
Rev. 4 and 5 describe the important part that the Angels had to play in welcoming Christ into Heaven on His ascension, and in giving Him then His full reward and glory(2). Having been so intensely involved in His every literal movement, this is understandable. Zech. 3:4,5 describes the same scene: "Joshua (Jesus) was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the Angel. And He (the Angel) answered and spake unto those (Angels) that stood before Him saying, Take away the filthy garments (human nature?) from Him. . they (the Angels) set a fair mitre upon His head, and clothed Him with garments. And the Angel of the Lord stood by". Perhaps the one Angel supervising this glorification of Jesus in Heaven was Gabriel, who appears to have been Christ's personal guardian Angel. God raised Jesus by His own right hand (Acts 2:33)- an Angelic phrase. Angels were visibly associated with Christ's resurrection and ascension.