The 12 Legions
The Passover Seder has finished, which Jesus has just presided over. He added some new features that will be remembered and adapted for Christians two millennia later, including sacrificial acts of love such as foot washing, Holy Communion, and agape fellowship dinners
But in the midst of these Jewish celebrations – activities Jesus would have participated in since childhood – He realizes it is just hours now from fulfilling the most challenging mission God has given Him. To be sure Jesus has undertaken and accomplished many missions and miracles for His Father during an all too short earthly lifetime. But this next one would require all of Jesus’ faith, and strength of mind, body and spirit.
During such times, Jesus does what we have come to expect – He goes to pray. This was a common practice – sacrament – with Jesus. Only this time, instead of finding an isolated place to pray alone, as He frequently did - read Matthew 14 - Jesus takes the 11 Disciples to a place on the Mt. of Olives, which is walking distance to Jerusalem. A place called “Gethsemane,” which translated means “oil press.” After talking with God, Jesus …..
“45 Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.46Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray me.47 And while he yet spake, lo, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people.48 Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he: hold him fast.49 And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, master; and kissed him.50 And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come? Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus and took him.51 And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest's, and smote off his ear.52 Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.53 Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?54 But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?”
Matthew 26:46 – 54 KJV
These verses are filled with powerful imagery and lessons, launching many sermons and Bible studies. Most focus on the betrayal, Peter slicing off an ear, and Jesus’ submission to fulfill His destiny.
But what about the Verses 53 - 54, often treated like ‘fly over territory’ in Matthew 26?
“Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?”
Matthew 26:53 KJV
Notice Jesus didn’t merely say ‘ask my Father,’ but instead said “pray to my Father.”
Once again Jesus was teaching us what is written in Philippians 4:6
“Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
And if ever there was a time to be anxious, facing crucifixion certainly ranks right up there. Ever the Savior and teacher, Jesus was reminding us in Matthew never forget to pray.
His words also were also from scripture –
11”For He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways.“
Jesus again reminding the crowds, and His Disciples He was the fulfillment of God’s Word.
Jesus was also reminding us that as co heirs of God, if we commit to Him, we can all on His protection as well, and that our Father knows us, too.
”The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and He delivers them.”
Throughout the Testaments, we are reminded God cares for us.
Jesus is saying prayer is powerful, and we should never forget it.
Moreover in Matthew again Jesus was confirming His Birthright, when referencing God as “My Father.”
Also only God could provide an army of angels, so Jesus was telling the crowds ‘Who’ they were messing with, and just how much retribution, Power, He could invoke with a prayer.
Jesus was also saying those words for us, as well. God’s Power, like Jesus Himself, is never far from us. We have our Indwelling God – the Holy Spirit as near as our soul.
“The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing."
What about the 12 legions of angels?
Jesus often spoke in words of Divine mystery; literal and spiritually.
During Jesus’ era, legions were comprised of 10 cohorts made up of 6 centuries - ~100 men, so that ideally (excluding illness, injury, or transfers) each legion represented ~6000 soldiers, give or take cavalry and other warrior types, leaders, etc..
Interestingly there probably wasn’t a full legion in all of Judea, the nearest being in Syria. Historians suggest there were a handful of cohorts in Caesarea Maritima and one or two in Jerusalem, which aligns with scripture….
27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters,[a] and they gathered the whole battalion* before him”
Matthew 27:27 ESV
*“battalion” equates to a cohort (500 – 600 soldiers).
So when Jesus said he could call upon 12 legions, and they would appear – that could be upwards of 72,000 angels. Such an army – even of mortals – is beyond what the most seasoned Roman generals and senator rank leaders would have seen on one battlefield or lifetime.
But there were mortals in Jerusalem who did witness such an angel army. Recall the shepherds. Some of them might still be working near Gethsemane, or came to the arrest out of curiosity. Jesus’ angel comment would have rekindled old memories. These men were witnesses to the awesome power of God associated with the Christ child.….
8That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” 13Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,