The night before his crucifixion, Jesus Christ went to the Garden of Gethsemane (on the Mount of Olives outside of Jerusalem) to pray. He had just eaten his last supper with his disciples and knew that after his time of prayer in the garden, one of them (Judas Iscariot) would betray him and Roman authorities would arrest him and sentence him to die by crucifixion for claiming to be a king.
Jesus went through an intense spiritual battle in the garden, struggling with the temptation to save himself rather than following through with God’s plan for him. The Bible says that Jesus came to Earth to save people from sin in a fallen world. Jesus’ ministry was to culminate by sacrificing himself on the cross to make it possible for sinful people to connect to a holy God through him. He was in anguish as the time approached for him to die a torturous death, so God sent an angel from heaven to the garden to strengthen Jesus.
Luke 22:39-40 of the Bible records: "Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, 'Pray that you will not fall into temptation.'"
The Bible says that Jesus knew the temptation that he was facing to avoid suffering -- even suffering with a great purpose -- would also affect his disciples, many of whom would stay clear of Roman authorities rather than speaking up in Jesus' defense, for fear of having to suffer themselves because of their association with Jesus.
An Angel Appears
The story continues in Luke 22:41-43: "He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 'Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.'" An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.”
The Bible says that Jesus was both God and human, and the human part of Jesus’ nature showed when Jesus struggled to accept God’s will: something every person on Earth does sometimes. Jesus honestly admits that he wants God to "take this cup" [take away the suffering involved in God’s plan], showing people that’s fine to honestly express difficult thoughts and feelings to God.
But Jesus chose to be faithful to God’s plan, trusting that it really was best, when he prayed: "yet not my will, but yours be done." As soon as Jesus prays those words, God sends an angel to strengthen Jesus, illustrating the Bible’s promise that God will always empower people do whatever he calls them to do.
Even though Jesus had a divine nature as well as a human one, according to the Bible, he still benefited from angelic help. The angel (likely an archangel, who some people believe was Chamuel), likely strengthened Jesus both physically and emotionally to prepare him for the intense demands that awaited him at the crucifixion. Jesus implies both physical and emotional suffering when he tells his disciples before praying in the garden: "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death." (Mark 14:34).
"This angel performed a vital ministry for Christ just prior to His going to the cross to die for the sins of humankind," writes Ron Rhodes in his book Angels Among Us: Separating Fact from Fiction.
Immediately after the angel strengthens Jesus, Jesus was able to pray "more earnestly," says Luke 22:44: "And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground."
A high level of emotional agony can cause people to sweat blood. The condition, called hematidrosis, involves sweat glands hemorrhaging. It’s clear that Jesus was struggling mightily, yet was able to pray well despite his struggles because of the angel’s help.
Twelve Legions of Angels
Just a few minutes later, Roman authorities arrive to arrest Jesus, and one of Jesus’ disciples tries to defend Jesus by cutting off the ear of one of the men in the group. But Jesus responds this way: "'Put your sword back in its place,'" Jesus said to him, 'for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?" (Matthew 26:52-54).
Jesus was saying that he could have called upon many thousands of angels to help him that situation, since each Roman legion typically contained several thousand soldiers. However, Jesus chose not to accept help from angels that was against God’s will.
In his book Angels: God Secret Agents, Billy Graham writes: "The angels would have come to the cross to rescue the King of kings, but because of His love for the human race and because He knew it was only through His death that they could be saved, He refused to call for their help. The angels were under orders not to intervene at this terrible, holy moment. Even the angels could not minister to the Son of God at Calvary. He died alone in order to take the full death penalty you and I deserved."
Angels Watching the Crucifixion
As Jesus moved forward with God’s plan, he was crucified on the cross in view of all the angels who watch what happens on Earth.
Ron Rhodes writes in his book Angels Among Us: "Perhaps most difficult of all, the angels saw Jesus when he was mocked, cruelly scourged, and his face marred and dishonored. Legions of angels likely hovered about him, wincing in pain as this all occurred. Jesus knew he could have called upon these angels to rescue him (Matthew 26:53), but the scriptures had to be fulfilled: He had to die on the cross. All heaven must have been affected by what was transpiring on this tiniest of planets in the universe. Creation’s Lord was being put to death for the creature’s sin! Finally the work was done. The work of redemption had been completed. And just before his death, Jesus triumphantly cried, 'It is finished!' (John 19:30). These words must have echoed throughout the entire angelic realm: "It is finished ... It is finished ... It is finished!"