For 13 days in October 1962, during the Cuban missile crisis, the world came very close to nuclear annihilation. In taking historical accounts and interviews from those involved, looking at how those events unfolded, we were mere minutes—maybe seconds at certain points in those two weeks—from nuclear fire engulfing the known world.
When I look at Matthew 26:52-54, I wonder how close creation came to its end in the tense moments of Gethsemane and later, the cross itself? In the account of events in Matthew 26, Jesus is arrested. Peter, ever the zealous one, draws his sword in defense of his rabbi.
Christ chides Peter and makes casual mention of 12 legions of angels available to him at a second’s notice. However, Jesus chooses to defuse the situation. He doesn’t unleash heaven. He quiets Peter and those who came to arrest him.
Jesus had at his disposal the full might of heaven, if he wished to show creation a thing or two, maybe put us in our place. As God, he also had dominion over all of creation, but he submitted himself to the petty drama that creation enacted. I sometimes think of the heavenly host, rising to their feet, ready to charge in if Christ decided to command it in those moments. Twelve legions—probably figurative— meant something akin to saying “tons” of angels if he were describing it today. But that would be enough, friends. We often paint pictures of them as kids with cute little wings, but remember, angels are incredibly frightening beings. Hebrews 11:28 credits the Passover event to one angel. One. 2 Samuel 24:15-17 tells about one angel who kills 70,000 people in one day. One angel. In 2 Kings 19:34-36, one angel kills 185,000 in one night. Again, one angel does this stuff…like it’s nothing.
So when Christ said he could instantly bring to earth 80,000 avenging angels, it might very well have been akin to a nuclear holocaust.
We know Christ had a moment in Gethsemane before the lead-up to the crucifixion when he asked God to take the cup from him—when he asked his father if there was another way to move forward. Perhaps this cascade of heavenly vengeance and angels was an option for Christ. Now it was an option he absolutely did not intend to use, given his submission to God’s will, but it was a card in his hand, nonetheless. I bring it up as a reminder to the complete humility and meekness of Christ—not weakness…meekness. Here was a man (fully God but still fully man), who could have flexed his muscles at any point in this story if he wished, but didn’t. He could have wielded the mighty and terrifying power of heaven to put a stop to the plans creation had to kill him. He instead embodied love, sacrifice and grace. He submitted himself to the Father’s will and endured the cross, which liberated all of us from the bondage and death of sin.
In our modern day-to-day lives, we mostly don’t think about how close to destruction we came in 1962. I would postulate had we a different god, we came pretty close to destruction during the Crucifixion as well. Instead, remember we don’t have a different god. God is one of love, forgiveness, patience and grace because of the work on Calvary, which we celebrate in this season.