How does the Creature help the Creator?
There is a unique moment in the earthly life of our Lord Jesus that I have thought about numerous times. This moment is recorded only in the gospel of Luke and it takes place during Jesus’ praying in the garden of Gethsemane. The single verse reads as follows:
Luke 22:43 Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him.
What is going on in this moment? If you think about it, you realize not much works. This angel would not be telling Jesus anything he didn’t already know. This angel would not be comforting Jesus for more suffering was to come. This angel wasn’t doing battle of any type because his solitary mission concerned Jesus Christ. Encouragement is possible, but how would that have worked? In what way does a creature strengthen the creator?
I think there is one way that works well. I believe the angel touched him in a special way, a physically strengthening way, to keep him from breaking under the infinite strain and continue his obedient suffering.
My solution comes from four different realities that seem to converge on this moment.
Reality # 1 – Jesus the man
This is the most mysterious of all the realities. The Son of God took on flesh and became fully man. As one who is fully man, he was subject to all the weakness of humanness in a broken world, except sin. He hungered, thirsted, grew weary, dealt with pain, bled, and died. In this particular instance, Jesus was standing face to face with imminent and horrific loss. All of us know the pressure and agony that is felt while standing on the brink of great pain and loss. Jesus, in all of his humanness, felt this in a way that we will never know. The whippings and beatings were handled without incident, but the one moment where Jesus was most vulnerable was that moment in the garden. It was there that Jesus himself said “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.” Matthew 26:38. The thought of the infinite wrath of the Father being poured out on him alone almost broke him physically. I am speaking of the strain that comes from spiking blood pressure, adrenaline dumps, and a host of other physiological responses to extreme trauma. He knew what that wrath was in perfect clarity, and even this beginning stage of it almost killed him on the spot.
Reality #2 – Angels can strengthen people
The most prolific evidence comes from one book and one man: the man Daniel. The book of Daniel is one of the most intense books in our Bible. Not only does it have some incredible events of costly obedience and shocking miracles, it also has some of the most breathtaking prophetic visions of the future. It is in these moments of prophetic visions received through angels that Daniel is drained of all strength and left nearly lifeless. In the book of Daniel, there are 4 separate incidents when this happens. In 8:18 and 10:10, Daniel is so sapped of strength that he sinks into a coma-like sleep. Then in both instances, the angel touches him and brings him back to consciousness and onto his hands and knees. In 10:16, Daniel seems to have fallen to the ground again but this time unable to speak because he was so shaken. The angel touches his lips and this allows him to speak, however all he can manage to say is that he still has no strength to speak with such a being. Therefore, in 10:18 the angel touches him one more time and this time Daniel says in verse 19 “May my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.”
There is one other situation that is possibly the same. In Revelation chapter 1, John is given a vision of the glorified Christ. It is so powerful he falls down as a dead man. Verse 17 specifically says, “and he placed his right hand on me…” which seems to have been the solution that allows John to then write what he saw.
We don’t know exactly what is happening in these moments, but somehow angels have the ability to grant physical strength and emotional capacity. This is exactly what Jesus needed in the garden of Gethsemane.
Reality #3 - Jesus has to suffer more
The whole point of this event in the garden is to keep Jesus going. The garden is where the cup of God’s wrath is just beginning to be poured out. But Jesus still has 12+ hours to go. He must die on the cross in obedience to the Father’s will, having borne all of God’s wrath for sin. This means he cannot die in the garden from a brain aneurism or from some other form of bodily failure. At numerous times in Jesus life, we have seen the Father’s intervention right before death came crushing down. In Luke 4, the Nazarene crowd was about to throw him off the cliff, but God intervened in some way and Jesus walked away. Twice in the gospel of John (7:30; 8:20) we read that they sought to seize him but he escaped them for one reason, “his hour had not yet come.” Jesus’ hour had now come in the Garden, but even still this was not the precise time to die. The Father had to intervene one more time so that all would be accomplished according to plan.
Reality #4 – Luke’s focus on the physical
It has been recognized that Luke was a doctor of some type, and his gospel gives some special notes about physical issues. Luke tends to make notes about the specifics of illnesses that a doctor would notice, as well as using words that were doctor-jargon of the day. It is no surprise then that only Luke’s gospel mentions the sweat becoming like drops of blood. This is a rare medical condition happening to those under the most severe distress. Luke is also the only gospel writer who adds the note about the angel coming to strengthen Jesus. All of this matches the focus on the physical frailties and needs of the Gethsemane moment.
It is in the garden of Gethsemane that we get the closest look at the perfect obedience of Christ in light of all he knew it would cost him. We will never understand the depths of agony he was feeling. We will never know the heights of obedience that he willingly offered. But every little detail helps us get a little closer and worship a little deeper. May this be true for us as we look at what this angel was doing.