How was Christ “strengthened” by the angel (Lk. 22:43)?
Just what manner of help did the angel offer Christ?
These are very curious circumstances indeed. While we are informed that an angel appeared to Jesus, why did God Himself not appear to Him? On three previous occasions, God the Father and Spirit were present with Christ (baptism, Transfiguration, speaking from heaven (Jn. 12:28)). Why not now, in Jesus' desperate time of need?
Recall that Christ was administered to by angels at the beginning of His ministry after He had fasted 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness:
Matthew 4:11: "Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him" (emphasis added).
It will be remembered that, under far less trying conditions (starving for 40 days is hardly trivial), it seems that angels (plural) came to His aid. Why would Christ not have been afforded at least the same substantive attention as before?
Here are the passages under consideration:
Luke 22:40: "When [Christ] arrived at the [Mount of Olives], He said to [his disciples], 'Pray that you may not enter into temptation.' 41And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, 42saying, 'Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.' 43Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. 44 And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground" (emphasis added).
Jesus knew from the very beginning of His ultimate fate, and those circumstances now lay immediately before Him. We are told several times about the relationship between Jesus and the Father, all of which seems curious as Christ was now on the brink of desolation:
John 10:30: "I and the Father are one" (emphasis added).
John 10:38: "[Though] you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father" (emphasis added).
John 14:8-9: "Philip said to Him, 'Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.' Jesus said to him, 'Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (emphasis added).
John 14:10b: “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me?" (emphasis added).
John 14:11: "Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me" (emphasis added).
Many have observed that, unlike the Synoptics, John's Gospel, was specifically written to emphasize Christ's deity. It seems intriguing that a "mere angel" would appear from heaven to comfort Him. This is especially true after Christ admonishes his audience with the following words:
Luke 11:11-12: “Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if [his father] is asked for an egg [by his son], he will not give him a scorpion, will he?" (emphasis added).
This is more dramatically emphasized in the Letter of James:
James 2:15-16: "If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,' and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?" (emphasis added).
These passages demonstrate that simply telling someone desperately in need, "Go, it will all be fine" is totally unacceptable. This is especially true as we read in verse 44 that immediately follows the angel's "strengthening", Christ's sweat became like drops of blood, falling to the ground" (22:44, emphasis added).
How, precisely, did the angel strengthen Him? There is a good article that describes this unique phenomenon: "hematidrosis" -- "sweating blood," here. Apparently, this angel did not offer any physical relief to Christ; it appears to have been emotional assistance as has been suggested by the other contributors.
We are told repeatedly throughout the Gospels that Christ could read the minds of those around Him: "He knew their thoughts" (Matt. 9:4, 12:25, Lk. 9:47, etc.) Is it possible that this enormous burden was now being withdrawn from Him, that Jesus' profound foresight would now be lifted?
Interestingly, we read an exchange that may reveal this just a bit:
John 18:33-34: "Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, 'Are You the King of the Jews?' Jesus answered, 'Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?'"
Had the "angel" relieved Christ of His semi-omniscience to every event about to transpire? Suppose that is what occurred. Christ would no longer necessarily be intimately familiar with the next beating He was to receive -- the imminent strike of the metal/bone scourge to tear His skin. He would be restricted, as we are, in our knowledge of exact future details. After all, we are not privy to every horrific detail of what might occur during an impending fatal auto accident; God has withheld such explicit details from us.
It is unlikely that anyone can plumb the depths of this matter to our satisfaction. But perhaps Christ was at least offered some solace by removal of His exact foreknowledge of the horrors that would ensue? While this would afford little comfort in circumstances such as these, even the slightest assistance could bestow some aid to Christ's extreme mental anguish.