This Week's Focus Passage

Luke 22:43 ‘And there appeared unto him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.’

If the Christ, the God-man, Emmanuel, God with us; our Champion; God Himself manifest in the flesh, retaining omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, required the sustenance and/or comfort that this angel was able to render, how much more do we weak and frail humans stand in need of such strengthening. How in the world could we even begin to conceive of ‘standing it alone,’ if the Son of God; the Son of man; our Man in Glory was deemed to need such sustenance? How are we to grasp this account that Luke alone has given us in his depiction of the struggles with which this Man of sorrows was engaged on that day of all days? What are we to even think of this event? Why is it not mentioned by Matthew; why not Mark; and why not John, the beloved disciple who leaned upon his Savior’s bosom at the table? May we thoughtfully and prayerfully approach this question with the help of our God.

We have read of an account of the eminent Free Church of Scotland minister and professor of their Free College in Edinburgh, ‘Rabbi’ John Duncan, and his remarks regarding this individual—not the event, per se, but—; this particular angel and how he somewhat enthralled the Scottish professor of Hebrew. He is alleged to have spoken on a particular occasion, saying that when he reached heaven, ‘the first Person that he wished to see was his Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ; the second person he would wish to see was this angel that was sent to Gethsemane to strengthen our Saviour in His struggles in the garden.’ John Duncan was, according to some accounts, from some reports, an intriguing and interestingly unorthodox person; perhaps just the person whom God would give a true heart for the Jews.

“Duncan was born in Gilcomston, Aberdeen, the son of a shoemaker. He studied at Marischal College in the University of Aberdeen and obtained an MA in 1814. Duncan embarked on theological study while still an atheist first through the Anti-Burgher Secession Church and then the Established Church. He completed his studies in 1821 and subsequently became a theist, but according to his later testimony was not yet converted when he was licensed to preach in 1825. Duncan was converted under the ministry of Cesar Malan, and in 1830 commenced ministry at Persie in Perthshire. The following year he moved to Glasgow, and was finally ordained as the minister of Milton parish church on 28 April, 1836.”

John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan was given the passionate epithet ‘Rabbi’ because of his knowledge of the Hebrew language and his passion for the Jewish people. William Garden Blaikie, still another Scottish preacher himself, remarked upon the death of ‘Rabbi’ Duncan’ that “his profound originality, his intellectual honesty, his deep piety, his childlike simplicity, humility, and affectionateness, commanded the respect of every student.” This may somewhat explain his being so strikingly and incredibly enamored of the angel that strengthened our Savior. Just to offer one or two of his quaint aphorisms before we return to the matter of our focus, Duncan once said that ‘Hyper-Calvinism is all house and no door: Arminianism is all door and no house.’ Of himself, he is cited as having said, ‘I am first a Christian, next a Catholic, then a Calvinist, fourth a paedobaptist, and fifth, a Presbyterian. I cannot reverse the order.’ This certainly seems to bespeak both his simplicity and his honesty.

But to move on with the interesting question of why this Lucan account of the angel being sent to Gethsemane is found solely in this writer’s gospel. What may we understand of the sending itself? One commentator has helpfully pointed out that:

“The opinion has been expressed by several that this strengthening affected only Christ’s body, not his soul. Now it must be granted immediately that throughout this fiery ordeal Jesus never, even for a moment, crossed the boundary line between fear and sin. Nevertheless, to say that the strengthening he received was entirely limited to his body and in no sense whatever affected his soul is more than is probably warranted by such a passage as ‘He learned obedience from the things which he suffered’ (Heb. 5:8).           —William Hendriksen

Yet, while it is very plausible that Luke, the physician, might alone relate the matter of Jesus’s sweating as it were great drops of blood, this does not require that he alone relate the sending of the angel for strengthening. So, why is this matter only to be found in Luke’s account? Surely, this angel’s being sent would remind the Savior that His Father had not forsaken Him at this hour of trial. But, still, why is this not recorded also by Matthew, or Mark? Perhaps we may as well inquire, ‘why is the name of the place, that is, Gethsemane, not employed by Luke; or John for that matter? These are four different writers; four different men. John has simply spoken in this fashion regarding the Savior’s coming into Gethsemane, in John 18:1;

When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples over the brook Kidron, where was a garden, into which he entered, himself and his disciples.

Another writer, maybe not in total conformity with Hendriksen, has offered his own assessment of that which took place regarding the sending of the angel;

“This angel, we may say, performed the same service as did those mentioned in Matt. 4:11. The angel’s coming for this purpose was the Father’s answer that he, indeed, willed that Jesus drink the cup, that he accepted the submission of Jesus’ own will in this regard, and that his strengthening would fully enable also Jesus’ body and human nature to do their hard part. This is the basis of Heb. 2:9, Jesus’ being made lower than the angels, namely by his agonizing human nature; but only in this respect, for the angel gave Jesus strength, not from angelic sources, but from the Father.’   —R. C. H. Lenski

These are surely some interesting thoughts for our meditation on the loving death and the dying love of our Lord Jesus Christ for us. May we live lives before Him that would grant Him to see the travail of His soul and to be satisfied with it.

David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church


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