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In Luke 1, as Zechariah is in the temple at the altar of incense, we read:

And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. (Luke 1:11, ESV)

Why include the information about the angel being on the right side of the altar? The big deal here is that an angel appeared to Zechariah, so why bother recording that the angel was on the right side (rather than just "next to", for example)?

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The greek word used in this verse is δεξιός, an adjective and also means metaphorically a place of honour or authority. –  Paul Vargas Feb 26 '14 at 4:45
@paul-vargas True, but judging from the reactions recorded in the bible of those who have had angelic visitations, the angels don't seem to lack authority or honour. A bit of extra honour by appearing to the right of the alter would hardly seem necessary. –  cdjc Feb 26 '14 at 5:36
@cdjc I see what you're saying with "appearing to the right side of the altar would hardly seem necessary". Jesus on the other hand told the fishermen "Cast the net on the 'right' side of the ship, and ye shall find", so they did (John 21:6 KJV). To me it seems there must be some symbolism with these and the right hand side. –  John Martin May 15 '14 at 0:26

4 Answers 4

It's hard to determine why "on the right" might be used in this citing (with angels possibly not lacking "authority or honour”). At the same time Jesus probably didn't need more honor while in heaven; he sat on the right hand of God.

Mark 16:19 (KJV)

So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.

Of the several ways in the “biblical usages of ‘right’ and ‘left’ ”, one was just that the right side was traditionally considered better than the left, all the way back to Genesis, because the right was the “side of honor” and “recognized in many ways to be the better”. The right side of a person received “special prominence”. Actually, being left-handed was even considered a disqualification for priesthood. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12757-right-and-left

Right was also considered the "stronger" side. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0017_0_16755.html In one case in Genesis when blessings took place, Isaac was blessing two grandsons he had next to him, but he even crossed his hands since he knew the younger would surpass the older.

Gen 48:13-16

13 And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel's left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel's right hand, and brought them near unto him.14 And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim's head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh's head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn. 17 And when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, it displeased him: and he held up his father's hand, to remove it from Ephraim's head unto Manasseh's head. 18 And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head. 19 And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.

In summary there may not be clearer reasons for emphasizing the right side, especially with the angels, then Jesus in heaven.

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What is the significance of the angel being on the right side of the alter of incense in Luke 1:11?

We must assume (I know that is a banned word here) that Zechariah was standing facing the altar and, also, the Holy of Holies. If that position is allowed, the significance would be that the angel was not standing between Zechariah and the entrance to the Holy Place. In other words, Zechariah was free to exit anytime he wished.

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We allow well-reasoned assumptions, just show your work for making them (it's pretty apparent in this case so you'll be alright) ;) –  Dan Feb 26 '14 at 22:16
They key thing to keep in mind is that we care less about what you know and far more about how you know it (we do care about both, but we don't want the former without the latter). –  Dan Feb 26 '14 at 22:45

The right side of the altar of incense puts the angel on the same side as the table of showbread. Here's a discussion of the TOS from the-tabernacle-place.com:

“'Showbread' also was called “bread of the presence” because it was to be always in the Lord’s presence. The table and the bread were a picture of God’s willingness to fellowship and communion (literally speaking, sharing something in common) with man. It was like an invitation to share a meal, an extension of friendship. Eating together often is an act of fellowship. God was willing for man to enter into His presence to fellowship with Him, and this invitation was always open."

So maybe the significance of this side of the altar is indicative of the angel's purpose with Zechariah, and, in a larger way, anticipatory of the prophetic (i.e., God-communing) nature of John, and, through his prophecies, Christ, whose work on the cross opens such communion to the priesthood of all believers.

Just a thought!

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Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other sites. I just visited that link and did not find this information. Could you link to the specific place this is mentioned? –  Dan Jun 24 '14 at 16:06

One must first understand who the angel of the Lord is. Go to "Got questions.org or just google it and you will find that the angel of the Lord is the pre-incarnate Christ. This is the meaty part of the gospel that many can't chew or they will choke! Therefore when the angel stands at the right side of the altar this represents Jesus. Furthermore, anytime there is a mention of the angel of the Lord, this is called a theophany(Jesus preincarnate.)

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This post does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this post by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.

Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! This is a good start on an answer. If you could incorporate some of the evidence for the Angel of the LORD being a theophany, it would really help. And if you could spend more time on why the right side shows it represents Jesus. –  Frank Luke Dec 17 '14 at 14:22
Hello, and welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics. It may help you to look at What are we looking for in answers? and What it means to "show your work". Please edit this to tell us how you arrived at your conclusions and cite sources. "Just google it" is not a helpful answer. –  Susan Dec 17 '14 at 15:30

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