As I enter into this Good Friday I’m wondering about the angels. Angels have been intimately involved in Jesus’ life from before he was born. It was the angel Gabriel that came to Mary and announced that she would give birth to God’s son. Another angel, maybe Gabriel again, came to Joseph in a dream and told him to move forward with marrying Mary. When Jesus was born a choir of angels filled the sky over the shepherds and sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
As the years rolled by, it was an angel who told Joseph to escape to Egypt because Herod wanted to find and kill Jesus. And an angel who told them when it was safe to return home. And it was angels who came to Jesus to strengthen and minister to him after his testing in the wilderness.
Angels in the Bible serve all kinds of functions. Some of the angels surround the throne of God and sing his praises. Other angels are messengers who carry messages. Some of the other angels appear to be warriors and others are worshipers.
But today I wonder about the army of angels waiting to come to Jesus’ defense in the Garden of Gethsemane. There is a moment when Jesus is surrounded by the mob of soldiers and religious leaders. They encircle him with clubs and swords and torches. Their numbers and might are intended to intimidate him. But he is unfazed by their muscle. They think they are large and in charge and that Jesus is helpless, weak and outmanned. After all, the disciples seem to only have one sword between them and the best Peter can do is cut off an ear.
In the midst of the passage, Matthew alone records these words from the lips of Jesus:
Matthew 26:53 – “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”
Jesus says that all he has to do is snap the fingers of his Infinity Gauntlet and an army of angels will come swooping out of heaven to wage war on behalf of the Son of God. If Jesus just says the word, the King of heaven, our Heavenly Father, will unleash the fury of twelve legions of warrior angels.
Experts say that a legion was made up of 6000 foot soldiers and 700 cavalrymen. Twelve legions adds up to 80,400 warriors at Jesus’ disposal. That’s a powerful force storming out of heaven.
In my imagination I see these soldiers mounted and in formation. I see them ready to attack. When the mob comes up the hill to Jesus they mount their steeds. The horses shuffle in anticipation of action. The foot soldiers draw their swords and position their shields. They look back and forth between the King of Heaven on his throne and the King’s son on the battlefield. Their righteous indignation at the way their champion is treated spurs them to ride to his defense and right all that is wrong. They are prepared to wage war for the protection of Jesus.
They wait for the King to nod or the Son to cry out. But the call never comes. Jesus never asks for help. The King never sends the waiting army to his rescue.
Jesus has chosen to drink the cup of God’s wrath. He has chosen to become the sacrificial lamb. The sinless Son takes on the sins of humanity. The living must die so the dying can live.
And so, the angel army stands at the ready through Thursday night and into Friday afternoon. They stand at attention and watch their beloved champion beaten, flogged, spit on, abused in every form and finally crucified between two criminals.
And I wonder if these angels are as amazed by this grace as I am. Are they shocked by the unconditional love of the Son who was willing to lay down is life for a rebellious child like me? Like you?