Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Why Gabriel—not Michael?

Biblegems #18
Is it significant that God sent Gabriel to both Joseph and Mary rather than Michael or some other angel?

Actually, the Bible does not specify that the angel who spoke to Joseph in a dream was Gabriel. All we know for sure is that it was “an angel of the Lord” (Matt. 1:20ff). His message to Joseph is strikingly similar, however, to Gabriel’s message addressed to Mary (Lk. 1:26ff); and Luke 1:19 tells us that it was Gabriel who appeared to Zechariah with the news that Elizabeth was to have a child in her old age. So it is certainly likely that the angel Joseph encountered was Gabriel as well.

The only other times in Scripture that Gabriel is mentioned by name is in the book of Daniel, chapters 8 and 9, where Daniel receives from the angel an interpretation of his vision of the end times. When we compare his activities with that of Michael, another angel of the Lord, some striking differences between them emerge.

In each angel encounter with Gabriel, he is quite talkative—not in a prattling way, but he does have much to say as he dialogues with humans. In contrast, the archangel Michael has virtually no direct communication with human beings, but rather acts as a guardian and protector for the prophet Daniel (Dan. 10:13) and for the people of Israel as a whole (Dan. 12:1; Rev. 12:7). In fact, the only reference we have to Michael saying anything at all is from the book of Jude, where “the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’” (9).

From the evidence available in Scripture, it seems evident that God’s appointed role, at least in part, for Gabriel is to serve as His principal messenger to key people in the outworking of His plan of salvation throughout history. Michael’s principal role is apparently that of Israel’s protector from those who would derail God’s chosen people from their appointed place in God’s plan of salvation.

In either case, these glorious beings represent a vast host of heavenly beings (Heb. 12:12), all of whom are “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:4). As beautiful, powerful and other-worldly as the angels are, “it is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come…” (Heb. 2:5). “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9).

Gabriel’s great privilege was to announce to Mary, and very likely to Joseph, that they would be the earthly parents of the One he had already known and worshiped in heaven, and would come to know again and worship as the Lamb who had been slain.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Why "Jesus"—not "Immanuel"?

Biblegems #17
Here is a great question someone has submitted for this Christmas season: “Why did they name Him Jesus when the OT said His name would be Immanuel?”

“Immanuel” shows up in Scripture only three times (Is. 7:14; 8:8; Matt. 1:23), each time referring to the Messiah.

The first occurrence in Isaiah 7:14 prophecies that a “virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Matthew’s Gospel reports that the angel Gabriel, quoting this Scripture, announced to Joseph that Mary was the virgin of Isaiah’s prophecy, and that her child would be the “Immanuel” of that prophecy (Matt. 1:22). Yet it is also Gabriel who in the previous verse instructs Joseph to name the baby “Jesus” (Lit., Yahweh saves) because he will save his people from their sins (1:21).

So we know that Gabriel, as God’s messenger, understood “Immanuel” to be an adjective meaning “God with us,” not the Messiah’s name. Joseph also understood that naming the baby “Jesus” as the angel instructed did not contradict the Isaiah prophecy, but fulfilled it. This was further confirmed when the same angel instructed Mary to name the child “Jesus” (Lk. 1:31). Not only so, But Gabriel informs Mary that the child would be conceived through the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit, “so the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Lk. 1:35). In other words, the child would be God—with us!

Even the similarity in phrasing is interesting: Isaiah says that the virgin “will call him” Immanuel, and Gabriel says that the child “will be called” the Son of God. Neither time is the phrase meant to indicate the baby’s name, only what terms would be eventually applied to Jesus. The same can be said of another familiar Isaiah prophecy concerning the Messiah:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:6).

So it is clear that the phrase “will be called” was never meant to mean “will be named.” “Immanuel” refers to what Jesus is—God with us; and the name “Jesus,” though likewise highly symbolic in its meaning, refers to Jesus’ identity as a person. It is one thing to know in theory that there might be a unique person somewhere in existence who is “God with us.” It is something else entirely to know who this specific person is by name, because: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Remember, you can submit your Bible question in the comment box below and share the blessing with others!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Where Is the Ark of the Covenant?

Biblegems #16
Here’s a great, two-fold question from a young man concerning the Ark of the Covenant: 1) What happened to the Ark, and (2) will it be ever be found again?

Here’s what we know for certain: The Ark of the Covenant, which had accompanied the Hebrews during their 40 year wandering in the wilderness, and was then situated at a variety of locations in conquered Canaan for several hundred years, was finally brought to Jerusalem by King David. His son Solomon built the First Temple and brought the Ark into the Holy of Holies (1 Sam. 5-6). It remained there until the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonian Empire in 586 B.C.

There are many theories as to what happened to the Ark. Some contend that it exists still in a cave within the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Others believe it survives in Africa or Egypt. But there is no real definitive proof as to its survival or possible whereabouts.

The apocryphal book of Maccabees, which relates the historical uprising of the Jews in Israel against the Seleucid Empire and the establishment of the Jewish Hasmonean Empire from 164 – 63 B.C., refers to the disappearance of the Ark. It states that the prophet Jeremiah hid the Ark in a cave on “the mountain where Moses had gone up and had seen the inheritance of God” (2 Macc. 2:4 RSV). The location was supposedly lost soon after, and Jeremiah is claimed to have prophesied that it would remain lost “until God gathers his people together again” in the days of the Messiah (2 Macc. 2:7-8 RSV).

The problem with this side-note in 2 Maccabees is that there is no record of such a prophecy in the book of Jeremiah itself. Indeed, Jeremiah prophesied that when the Messiah reigns on earth from Mt Zion, the Ark will not be recovered and “it will never enter their minds or be remembered; it will not be missed, nor will another one be made” (Jer. 3:16).

Most likely, from the limited information available, 1) the Ark was destroyed in 586 B.C. by the Babylonians (their record of the Temple artifacts brought back to Babylon does not include the Ark), or (2) The Ark was buried beneath the Temple just before the Temple was destroyed.

Jeremiah’s prophecy should remind us that the Ark ‘s purpose was fulfilled in the Old Testament, and its foreshadowing of the cross of Christ fulfilled in the New Testament. Other than satisfying a certain archeological curiosity, its recovery would serve no further spiritual value. And, when Jesus returns to establish His Kingdom, the Ark—if it were found—would seem as nothing more than a gold-covered box in comparison with the beauty, power, majesty and of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
Sources: T he Jewish Virtual Library is a division of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise; LIVIUS , Articles on Ancient History (online); 2 Maccabees, RSV; The Bible (NIV),

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Which Simon Is Which?

Biblegems #15
Is Simon the Leper in Matthew 26 the same person as the Simon mentioned in the other three Gospels?

The name “Simon” comes up 74 times throughout the four Gospels, so it’s no wonder that there is some confusion as to which “Simon” is which, or if they are all one and the same person!

Matthew 26:6-7 tells us that, “While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.” Anointing was a common practice in Bible times, and done for a variety of purposes (Ps. 23:5; 133:2; Is. 1:6; Ps. 104:15; Lev. 14:17-18). Also at the house with Jesus were his disciples (v.8), and perhaps several others not mentioned by name (Mk. 14:4).

“Simon the Leper” is referred to only in Matthew 26:6 and Mark 14:3. Jesus was eating at Simon’s home in Bethany of Judea on the Mount of Olives two days before the Passover. Simon was likely present. If so, he had been healed of his leprosy, perhaps by Jesus, because Jewish law would otherwise have required him to be quarantined outside the village and prohibited him from any social contact whatsoever.

During the meal a woman anoints Jesus’ head with expensive perfume, and is then rebuked by many at the table, possibly even Simon himself, for being wasteful (Matt. 26:7-9). Jesus, of course, commended the woman and prophesied that she would always be remembered for her kindness whenever the gospel was told (Matt. 26:13).

A similar account is recorded in John 12:1-8, and another in Luke 7:36-40. But these two events are not identical. The woman in John’s Gospel is Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, and that anointing takes place six days before the Passover. The anointing in Mathew and Mark takes place two days before the Passover. The events also take place in two different homes in Bethany.

The anointing of Jesus in Luke 7:36-40 probably occurred two years earlier, during Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, not Judea. The woman in this case had once been a prostitute. She anointed Jesus at the home of Simon (a Pharisee, not a leper). She anointed Jesus feet, not his head, and dried them with her hair. No one complained about the cost this time, but took offense that Jesus would allow a sinful woman to touch him.

So, in answer to the question, these are three different Simons associated with three different women who performed a very common act of kindness for Jesus in different locations and at different times of Jesus ministry.

Do you have a question for Biblegems? You can submit your question by writing it in the comment box below. Look for new Biblegems next Tuesday!