Day 16. Glory to God in the Highest (Luke 2:8-14)

Audio (7:54)

Monday, Third Week of Advent

Edward Burne-Jones, 'An Angel Playing a Flageolet' (1878) tempera and gold paint on paper, Sudley House, Liverpool, England.
Edward Burne-Jones, 'An Angel Playing a Flageolet' (1878) tempera and gold paint on paper, Sudley House, Liverpool, England.

Read in your Bible: Luke 2:8-14

We continue today from yesterday's reading of the Christmas story in Luke. Today we focus on the angels. Tomorrow we'll look more closely at the shepherds.

The Glory of the Lord (Luke 2:9)

"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby,
keeping watch over their flocks at night." (Luke 2:8)

One minute the shepherds are talking quietly in the blackness of the winter sky. The next moment the hillside is ablaze with light and booming with the sound of an angel's voice.

"An angel of the Lord appeared89 to them,
and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were terrified." (Luke 2:9)

This appearance isn't distant, but upfront and personal. The brightness is more than just mega-candlepower. It is the radiance of God's own glory.90 Throughout the Old Testament the presence of God is referred to as overwhelmingly bright, burning as fire, such as the cloud above the temple by day.91 God's angels sometimes bear this same bright glory.92 The result in the shepherds is predictable -- abject terror.93 

The Good News Angel (Luke 2:10-11)

The angel moves to calm their fears.

"Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10-11)

This Good News angel has the enviable task of being the first herald of Messiah's birth. "Bring good news" (NIV, ESV, NRSV) or "bring good tidings" (KJV) is the Greek verb euangelizō, from which we get our English word, "evangelize."94 The message the angel brings is very good news that results in joy -- great joy! 95

What wonderful news for those who are estranged from God and struggling under oppression! "The town of David"96 reminds the reader of the Messiah-child's connection with his ancestor David in Micah 5:2-3.

Finally, the angel utters the words that Jews had longed for centuries to hear -- "He is Christ the Lord," the Messiah!

The angel terms this baby as a Savior, "one who rescues, savior, deliverer, preserver."97 Traditionally, the Jews thought of the Messiah as a military and political Savior. This Savior will bring both salvation from enemies and from sin -- but his salvation extends beyond the Chosen People, the Jews, to the Gentiles -- "for all the people!"

Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11)

Our English word "Christ," of course, comes from the Greek adjective christos, Anointed One, Messiah.98 Moreover, he is Christ the Lord. "Lord" suggests "owner, lord, master."99 However, when Jews read the Hebrew Scriptures, they substituted "Lord" whenever the divine name Yahweh appeared.100 So "Lord" takes on divine dimensions -- a Savior who can be regarded as the Messiah-Yahweh.101 When the shepherds -- and later, Mary -- begin to ponder the angel's exalted title for this baby, the implications are staggering!

At the Sign of a Manger (Luke 2:12)

How can the shepherds know that the angel's message is true? The angel gives them an authentication test, a sign.102

"This will be a sign to you:
You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." (Luke 2:12)

The sign consists of two elements. The baby is:

  1. Wrapped in cloths, and
  2. Lying in a manger.

The swaddling clothes are "strips of cloth like bandages, wrapped around young infants to keep their limbs straight."103 In those days there was nothing unique about being wrapped this way. However, the second sign is that the newborn would be found in a manger, a feeding trough104 -- that is unique! A manger indicates the location in some kind of stable -- a second century legend indicates that this was a stable inside a cave.105

Glory to God in the Highest (Luke 2:13-14)

After the angel's startling declaration, the heavens reveal a huge crowd of angelic beings:

"Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel,
praising106 God and saying,
'Glory to God in the highest,107
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.'" (Luke 2:13-14)

This heavenly host, or army108 of angels, is praising God. It may have been a heavenly choir as in popular Christmas lore, but the scripture doesn't explicitly say that they are singing.109 Here they seem to be chanting in unison or speaking.

The content of their praise is (1) to give glory to God and (2) to offer a blessing of peace to men.110 The angels promise peace -- peace between God and mankind -- which essentially amounts to salvation.

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We're used to the wording: "on earth peace, good will toward men," (KJV) but more ancient Greek manuscripts indicate that a better translation is "on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests" (NIV).111 The idea is that God extends his peace and salvation to his favored people, those whom he sovereignly chooses or elects to favor and save.

The angels bring glorious "good news" as they light up the night sky with God's glory. We'll examine what the shepherds do with this good news in our reading tomorrow (Day 17). But today, I ask you directly: What are you doing with this "good news of great joy"? How far have you shared it?


Father, thank you for this glimpse into the glorious announcement of your Son's birth -- heralded by an army of angels. All heaven rejoices! Thank you. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Discussion Question

Q16. (Luke 2:8-14) Why do you think the angels shocked the shepherds with their radiant glory? Why not something more low-key? What does the good news consist of that the angels bring? What allows the shepherds to authenticate this news?


References and Abbreviations

[89] "Appeared" is the Greek verb ephistēmi, which here means "to stand at or near a specific place." Often this use of the verb occurs with the idea of suddenness (BDAG 418-419).

[90] "Glory" is the Greek noun doxa (which we also see in verse 14). Here it refers to "the condition of being bright or shining, brightness, splendor, radiance" (BDAG 257).

[91] Exodus 16:7, 10; 40:34-35; 1 Kings 8:11; Isaiah 6:3; 40:5; 60:1; Ezekiel 3:23; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:4; etc.

[92] Matthew 28:3; Luke 24:4; Daniel 10:6.

[93] "Terrified" (NIV) or "sore afraid" (KJV) reads, literally, "feared with a great fear."

[94] Euangelizō, BDAG 402. Later in the New Testament it is widely used for "proclaim the message of salvation, preach the gospel."

[95] "Joy" is the Greek noun chara, "the experience of gladness, joy" (BDAG 1077). Here joy is intensified by the Greek adjective megas, "great, pertaining to being above standard in intensity" -- great joy! (BDAG 623-624).

[96] "City" or "town" is the Greek noun polis, which can refer to "a population center of varying size" (BDAG 844-845).

[97] Sōtēr, BDAG 985.

[98] Christos, "anointed ... fulfiller of Israelite expectation of a deliverer, the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ." The Hebrew equivalent, māshîaḥ, is transliterated in English as "messiah." (BDAG 1091). See notes on māshîaḥ, TWOT #1255c.

[99] Kyrios, BDAG 576-579.

[100] "Lord" is the Hebrew noun ʾădōnî. The Greek Septuagint Old Testament usually employed kyrios, "Lord" to translate the Hebrew adanoi.

[101] The meaning seems to be "the highest conceivable and most lofty designation of Christ," (Walter Grundmann, chrio, ktl., TDNT 9:532-33, quoting H. Sahlin). Marshall, Luke, p. 110. Cf. Green, Luke, p. 135.

[102] "Sign" is the Greek noun sēmeion, "a sign or distinguishing mark whereby something is known, sign, token, indication" (BDAG 920).

[103] Marshall, Luke, p. 106, cites Ezekiel 16:4 and Wisdom 7:4. The phrase "wrapped in swaddling clothes" (KJV) or "cloths" (NIV) translates the Greek verb sparganoō, "to wrap in pieces of cloth used for swaddling infants, wrap up in cloths" (BDAG 936). We don't use the English word "swaddle" much anymore, but it is derived from the Old English word swathain, "to swathe, bind, wrap."

[104] The Greek noun is phatnē, "manger, crib, feeding-trough" (BDAG 1050). The lexicographer indicates that the term "could perhaps be a stable or even a feeding-place under the open sky, in contrast to katalyma, a shelter where people stayed." The predominant idea of this word group is of feeding animals. Martin Hengel (phatnē, TDNT 9:49-55) denies the possibility in our context that this can be translated "stall."

[105] So Martin Hengel (TDNT 9:49-55) and Joachim Jeremias (TDNT 6:491, fn. 59). A cave in Bethlehem was honored by Christians as Christ's birthplace as early as the early second century AD.

[106] The Greek verb here and in verse 20 is aineō, "to praise," with the root idea of "express approval" (BDAG 27).

[107] These angels honor God as being highest (Greek hypsistos) in a spatial sense, in contrast to earth (mentioned in the next phrase) (BDAG 1045). Also Georg Bertram, hypsistos, TDNT 8:619.

[108] The crowd is described with two phrases: (1) "great company" or "multitude" (Greek plēthos, "crowd, throng, host, assembly"[108]) and (2) "heavenly host." "Host" is the Greek noun strateia, a military term that means "army" (Otto Bauernfeind, strateuomai ktl., TDNT 7:701-713). God's heavenly army is mentioned several times in scripture (Joshua 5:14; 2 Kings 6:17; Psalm 34:7; 103:21; 148:2).

[109] The angels in Revelation 5:11-13; 15:3 are singing.

[110] "Glory" is the Greek noun doxa, which we saw in verse 9. Here it is used in another sense: "honor as an enhancement or recognition of status or performance, fame, recognition, renown, honor, prestige" (BDAG 257-258). "Glory" is often used in the New Testament in the context of praise (Luke 19:38; Ephesians 1:6; 3:21; Philippians 2:11; Revelation 5:13).

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