If you need to, please refresh your memory of Luke 2:1-20 before you proceed to the comments below.
Previously, we read about Jesus’ birth – the political events prompting Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem, as well as the actual birth narrative.
Jesus’ birth was followed by…
The Angelic Announcement (vv. 8-14).
The angelic announcement came to lowly shepherds who were tending their flocks in the countryside…
Verse 8 describes the shepherds working (v. 8).
We are told, “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.” Some try to fill this verse with great theological significance by saying that the shepherds were looking after sheep destined for temple sacrifices. Then they try to draw a parallel between those sheep and the Lamb of God. The shepherds may have been raising sheep for the Temple, or not, we have no way of knowing for sure, and we should be wary of interjecting our own ideas into the text when we should be concerned with the information explicitly stated.
Luke’s point (as we shall see) was that the good news of the Messiah’s arrival was received by the humble and lowly. This is a wonderful theme which finds its way into many passages in Luke’s Gospel.
Verses 9-12 detail the angel’s announcement.
Verse 9 tells us, “And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.” As an angel appeared, the “glory of the Lord shone around them” – the night sky was illuminated by God’s shekinah glory. And again, the presence of supernatural beings struck a note of fear in the hearts of the shepherds – the encounter with the Divine and His agents is initially startling and unsettling.
The angel in verse 10 calmed the men by saying, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” The angels brought “good tidings.” The Greek word (uangellizo) is one from which we get the word, gospel. This does not refer to the Gospel of Jesus Christ (which involves death, resurrection, etc.). Here it is used as a verb not a noun: I am proclaiming good news. The angels declared the good news of the arrival of Israel’s Messiah who will usher in salvation for the nation (including Gentile nations). The angel arrived to tell them about an event which escaped their notice. With good reason it escaped their notice because God planned for the birth to be without fanfare.
Furthermore, these good tidings would result in “great joy” – The salvation received by those who personally receive the Messiah always results in joy. This joy is made available to “all people.” The context tells us that the “all people” are those of Israel. Obviously, however, not all Jewish people will actually experience it. And obviously, this great joy will also extend to the Gentiles through the formation of the New Testament church following Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.
So, while joy is possible for all, it will only be experienced by those who consider the events and understand and receive the significance of the events. Those who by faith receive Jesus as God’s Messiah are those who will experience the joy that comes from experiencing the eternal life which Messiah will usher in.
While the context is Jewish – those Jews who believe will be filled with joy, we know that the Abrahamic covenant allowed for the inclusion of Gentiles in the Kingdom. Later, in his gospel as well as in the book of Acts, Luke will explain the significance Christ’s coming has to the Gentiles. Even Gentiles will experience the joy of salvation as they receive Jesus as God’s Messiah.
Verses 11-12 contain the angelic announcement. The angel said, “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The angel personalized the message: “there is born to you…” The shepherds themselves would benefit from this good news. The “city of David” is again mentioned. Zion (portion of Jerusalem) was called the “city of David” because David occupied that part of Jerusalem. Later, the whole city surrounding Zion was later called the “city of David.”
The One born in Bethlehem was called “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The word “savior” simply means deliverer. As mentioned earlier, deliverance can be physical or spiritual. The context of the Messiah, and considering the promises made to Abraham, suggest that we understand “savior” in a comprehensive sense – Jesus is the One who will save Israel from the physical harm from its enemies and deliver the redeemed into God’s future kingdom which He promised the nation of Israel – only those who are saved by the Messiah will be allowed into Christ’s glorious, earthly kingdom.
The word “Christ” is from the Greek equivalent of the Heb Messiach. The Hebrew Messiach means anointed one. The Greek Christos means anointed one. The term anointed was used in the Old Testament to refer to the Davidic kings. However, the word became a proper name for the Redeemer who would be God’s perfect King. When these terms are used to refer to Jesus Christ, it has the connotation that God has chosen Him to be the one to redeem the nation of Israel.
Interestingly, this is the first time in Scripture where the term “savior” and “Christ” are simultaneously applied to the same person. The appearance of these two words together is significant. Luke wanted his readers to see that Jesus is the One who will rescue the nation of Israel from peril, from physical peril and from spiritual peril. Jesus, as the saving Messiah, will rescue the nation from their enemies and usher them into the land promised to them so that they can live in peace and serve God through regenerated love.
Lastly, Jesus Christ was also referred to as “the Lord.” Previously, Elizabeth used the title “Lord” to refer to Jesus’ exalted position as her master. However, here the more knowledgeable angel used the title, and therefore it is a literary foretaste of what will be described later in the gospel. The angel used the term in the sense of Jesus’ absolute sovereignty which would bring salvation to the nation of Israel. Though the angels understood and declared the divine nature of Christ, the shepherds would not have understood the term “Lord” to imply divinity – that Christian understanding comes later in the New Testament record. Obviously, as Christians reading this narrative we can appreciate the divine reference to Jesus Christ.
In verse 12 the angel told the shepherds about a sign, for which they were to look. People are unwise to seek guidance via “signs,” but when God offers signs, people are unwise to ignore them. He said, “And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” The sign was not that the babe was “wrapped in swaddling cloths.” The sign was who this baby was and his unlikely location: the Messianic child would not be in a palace or a nobleman’s house but, “lying in a manger.”
Following this joyful announcement came spontaneous praise to God…
Verses 13-14 describe the angels praising God.
Verse 13 says, “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God.” With the angel appeared “a multitude of the heavenly host.” We don’t know how many angels, but it was clearly a whole “flock” of them.
Verse 14 tells us what they declared, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” Because of the birth of God’s Messiah the angels proclaimed “glory to God.” Sometimes glory refers to God’s transcendent character – He is one of majestic glory. However, the context indicates that the word is used to refer to praise being rendered to God. God was the One who graciously sent the Messiah to save His nation Israel and therefore, He was to be praised.
Because God demonstrated grace in sending Jesus Christ, He must receive glory. Those who respond to God’s grace, will experience peace, as the remainder of verse 14 says. The angels declared “and on earth peace.” This refers to the harmonious relationship which is possible between God and man. Because all people are sinners, they are hostile to God and God’s wrath abides upon all. It is through Jesus Christ that peace with God is possible. This peace will be made possible through Christ’s crucifixion, but it will be experienced by those “on earth” This is a subtle indication as to the location of where God’s kingdom will be established. God will establish His kingdom on the earth. Those Jews who are regenerated by God will enjoy a spiritual relationship with God in His earthly kingdom (according to the promises to Abraham) which will be characterized by peace.
The final phrase explains which people enjoy this peace. The angels finally declared, “goodwill toward men!” This phrase has suffered badly over the years. We hear this constant refrain at Christmas time. People assume it means that God’s good will was demonstrated to all men through sending Jesus Christ to the earth. However, the phrase is literally, “men of goodwill.” When Luke wrote, this phrase had become a near technical term in first-century Judaism referring to God’s elect. It is not that God was showing goodwill to all (without exception) by sending Jesus to the earth, rather, God would grant peace to all of those who were of His gracious choice. In the particular context, God’s elect refers to the God-fearers in Israel mentioned in 1:50-53. God was establishing peace through His Messiah with people of His gracious choice out of Israel.
Theses verses describe for the reader the angelic announcement and praise which accompanied Jesus’ birth. Therefore, this description contains great significance. It shows that God’s saving work for the nation of Israel was according to His promises made 1000’s of years earlier. It also shows that the people whom God draws near through Jesus Christ will experience peace and harmony with God as a result of the salvation which He bestows upon His own.
- Even Gentiles will share in God’s promises to Israel though Gentiles are not of Israel.
- We who have been born again by the Spirit of God will be able to enter Christ’s kingdom and experience the peace of the Kingdom.