Shepherding the Angels
This Christmas, take a closer look at the shepherds who faced the angels on the night a special baby was born.
BY: William D. Webber
The sheep were not ordinary. Since the shepherds’ fields in Bethlehem were close to the temple in Jerusalem, the fields were the domain of the temple and the sheep were used in temple sacrifices. The shepherds were responsible for raising healthy, unblemished sheep to be offered on the altar of sacrifice even though these same shepherds were excluded from the temple because they were considered to be ceremonially unclean.
6. Who was the angel that appeared to the shepherds?
Luke simply reports that it was the “angel of the Lord” without giving a name. It is likely the shepherds never learned the name of the angel. Some Bible scholars suggest that it was Gabriel who was the messenger angel in other parts of the Christmas story.
7. What was the light that surrounded the “angel of the Lord”?
“The glory of the Lord” that shone around the angel (Luke 2:9) terrified the shepherds who were unprepared for such a sight. No doubt they were also fascinated and drawn to this unique experience. “The glory of the Lord” is a technical term in the Scripture for what is also known as the “Shekinah” or the brightness of the perfection of God. Theologians have tried to explain it by writing that the sum total of God’s attributes combine together to make a brilliant, perfect light. This is what the shepherds saw on the Bethlehem hillsides. In the Old Testament, the Shekinah was the symbol of God’s presence with his people. For more info, see Exodus 24:16, Numbers 16:19, and 1 Kings 8:10-11.
8. What was the “angel of the Lord’s” purpose?
A primary function of angels is to serve as messengers. In fact, this is the basic meaning of the word angel. In the Christmas narratives within the Gospels, angels brought messages to Mary (Luke 1:26-38) and Joseph (Matthew 2:13), as well as to the shepherds. The message the “angel of the Lord” proclaimed to the shepherds was that Jesus was born.
9. How was the “angel of the Lord’s” mission different from the mission carried out by the heavenly hosts that the shepherds also heard?
While carrying messages is an important task of the angels, it is not the only thing angels do. In fact, the Bible indicates that it may be secondary to their primary task in heaven: praising and worshipping. The many passages that show angels in perpetual worship include Isaiah 6: 3 and Revelation 4 and 5. How glorious must have been the anthem heard by the shepherds as the heavenly hosts lifted their voices in worship and the heavens rang with their words, “Glory to God in the highest!”
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