The Angels of Easter

What supporting role did angels have in the story of Easter?

In movies, the performance of a leading character often overshadows the performance of characters in supporting roles.  In particular, for movies where the resurrection story is told, Jesus would win an award for the leading character while angels would receive an award for the best supporting roles. Since the resurrection is an important event in the Christian faith, most churches often center sermons on Jesus. Angels are rarely mentioned, although they are prominent in the Scriptures about Easter. Angels are not only a major part in the Easter story, but one angel in particular (let’s call him the “first angel”) also makes a dramatic entrance worthy of a Hollywood script. This is the way the Gospel writer Matthew recorded the event:

“After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men” (Matthew 18:1-5).


The scene above would certainly be a challenge for George Lucas and his Industrial Light and Magic Studio. Picture this first angel with an ethereal brightness that could only be described “like lightning” (was it the Shekinah glory?). It was a sight so startling that the Roman soldiers guarding the tomb fell in dread and “became as dead men.” This angel also single-handedly, with super-human strength, rolled the stone away from the entrance to Jesus’ tomb. Scholars estimate the stone may have weighed as much as twelve tons. Theologians point out that the angel did not roll the stone away to let Jesus out. Rather, the stone was removed to reveal that the tomb was empty. The resurrection had already occurred.

Amazingly, this angel and other angels in the rest of the story are careful to play a supporting role. Notice that even in this great moment, the first angel is never named. This particular angel deflects attention from himself and, instead, points to the resurrection of Jesus. How easy it would have been for the angel to perch atop the massive stone and become the major tourist attraction of the Passover season. Crowds from Jerusalem would have flocked to see the angel. Instead, the angel focused attention on the empty tomb and the resurrection of Jesus. In all the Gospel accounts of the Easter story, the angels appeared only when necessary and then disappeared from sight.

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William D. Webber
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