15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
1901 ASV Translation:
15 And it came to pass, when the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing that is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
There are two variations between the Textus Receptus and the Nestle/Aland 26 in 2:15. The first is that the Textus Receptus contains an added phrase "and the men" before the words "the shepherds". It is noticeably not translated by the translators of the AV even though the text they used contained it. The second variation is that the Textus Receptus used a word for "said" in the phrase "said one to another" that signals an emphasis upon the content of what they said; while the Nestle/Aland 26 used a word that only signaled the fact that they spoke to each other.
I. Luke has been recording the angelic visitation to the shepherds.
II. At 2:15 his record shifts from the angel's message to the shepherds' response.
I. Since the impact of the additional phrase contained in the Textus Receptus is only the creation of an emphasis upon the distinction between the angels and the men, the shepherds, and since that does little to advance Luke's meaning (since it is obvious from the context of 2:15-20 that he has shifted from the angels to the human responses), we are going to go with the assumption of the editors of the Nestle/Aland 26 that Luke didn't write those words. It makes no difference doctrinally, and only has a very small significance in the thought-flow of Luke's words in any case.
II. There is a bit more of a difference between "they said with a focus upon content" and simply "they said". This variant has a somewhat larger significance, but, for the careful student, that significance is diminished because careful students always look at the "content" regardless of whether it is emphasized or not.
III. "And it came to pass...".
A. This is Luke's typical phrase to indicate the next development in the divine program. It is rather easy to overlook, being typical, but we need to keep in mind that Luke used this phrase 14 times in his text prior to 2:15 and it always carried us to the next very crucial issue that we needed to understand.
B. The standard significance is that "Yahweh is working in the midst of the details to bring His plan to fruition".
IV. "...as the angels departed from them into the heaven...".
A. This phrase accomplishes two things...
1. It gives us a time reference to the shepherds' reaction.
2. It tells us that the angels "departed".
a. When the angels "appeared", it was a "sudden" thing -- as though they had been there, but were invisible, and "suddenly" they were "visible" to the shepherds.
b. But the terminology of this text is that they "departed from...into the heaven". This does not seem to imply that they just "disappeared", but that they "moved" from visibility by "departure".
1) Did they really "depart"? If not, why are we told they did? If so, was that a signal that their current task had been sufficiently accomplished as to render their presence no longer necessary?
2) What is the point of "departed into the heaven"? Where did they go? Why did they go?
3) Clearly, the shepherds considered them messengers of Yahweh, for they said to one another, "Let us...see...what 'the Lord' made known to us". The visible movement "into the heaven" would have automatically generated this conviction because "the heaven" is typically associated with God in such a fundamental way that movement "from" there, or "to" there brings the automatic assumption with it that "God" is involved.
B. This phrase also pushes the thoughtful student to do more than the shepherds did with aforethought.
1. The shepherds were "witnesses" of the "sudden" appearance and the "departure" into the heaven; but they were probably so stunned that only the most fundamental impressions made a mental impact.
2. We, who are called to ponder the words and who are not so stunned by the events that we really cannot think, must attempt to see what it is that Luke wants us to know.
a. Clearly, we should attempt to understand those "most fundamental" impressions that even the "stunned" would "pick up on".
1) The first of these is that the message is from Yahweh, Lord of Heaven and Earth (Luke 10:21).
2) The second of these is that the message is supported by the Armies of Heaven.
3) Even the most "stunned" would "get" this.
b. But, just as clearly, we should attempt to understand the "less fundamental" impressions that belong to those who ponder the words.
1) One of these is a greater appreciation of Yahweh's use of "others" to "bring to pass" what He has decreed: certainly an omnipresent God does not have any need to "delegate" tasks to others. But, just as certainly, the record of the omnipresent God is that He does not "typically" do what He has empowered others to do.
a) What would be the point of usurping the activities of others whom One has empowered to act?
b) Which question leads us to a more important one: why has Yahweh chosen to empower others to do what He could do by simply uttering the command, "Let it be that..."?
c) The answer to these questions seems to rest upon a singular fact of "Life" -- that "Life" consists of participationwith Yahweh. If He were to "usurp" the position of "actor" in every situation of action, there would be no participation; and that He empowers others to act is as clear a statement of His interest in sharing His Life with us as there is.
2) Another of these is a greater appreciation of the mutual interdependence of the creatures of Yahweh. Clearly, the angels have their part in the plan; just as clearly, the shepherds have their part as witnesses of what the angels both did and said.
3) And a third is, perhaps, a greater appreciation for the nature of the Plan itself. The "big" picture of the Plan is to bring Salvation to man. The "small" picture of the Plan is the application of that Salvation to you or me as one individual in a vast stream of humanity and time. Two thousand years after the facts, the Big Picture is still being worked out, and the Little Pictures of individuals being drawn into the benefits of His "so great salvation" are being worked out in individual "it came to pass" realities. The angelic witness, carried forth by the shepherds' witness, carried forth by Luke's witness, carried forth by each "believer" in the witnesses, -- all are "bringing to pass" the final details of the Plan under the Sovereign Oversight of the Empowerer.
V. "...the shepherds said to one another..."
A. This phrase is the beginning of Luke's record of the shephardic response to the angelic visitation apart from the "sore afraid" reaction of 2:9.
1. We are again reminded to consider that Luke's "introduction of Jesus" is via the "shepherds".
2. It is inescapable that Yahweh's identity as a "Shepherd" is a rather major thesis in the Word of God and the assumption of an introduction via shepherds is that He wants us to zero in on the "shepherd" thesis for our thoughts regarding Him as the material unfolds by the Spirit through Luke.
a. This paragraph is the only place in Luke's records (Luke/Acts) where this particular word ("shepherd") is used.
b. John 10:14 calls Jesus the "Good Shepherd"; Hebrews 13:20 calls Jesus the "Great Shepherd"; and 1 Peter 5:4 calls Him the "Chief Shepherd" in the context of a "lion-like" adversary. Ephesians 4:11 calls the fundamental "edificational" gift to the Church that of "shepherd/teacher". In the three-fold "restoration" of Peter in John 21:15-17, every "lovest thou Me?" answer is followed by "feed/tend my lambs/sheep". In 1 Peter 5:1-4, the "elders" are summoned to "feed the flock of God" -- effectively making "elders" into "under-shepherds".
B. It clearly reveals the fact that the shepherds have, indeed, moved beyond the "fear" of the initial reaction.
C. It does not cover how they will both do what they say to one another and continue to watch over their sheep, but it does indicate that, at least for the majority of them, there will be an immediate pursuit of the truth of what they had been told. If they were not all "necessary" to the task of "watching over their sheep", why were they all "there" doing that? If the majority of them can leave for a while to pursue the knowledge of the angels' message, why have they been out there in any case? That the message is taking precedence over their "norm" is obvious; that this raises the question of the "necessity of the norm" is also obvious. But, underlying the whole is the part: "life" consists of participating with Yahweh, not competing with Him, nor competing with one another. Sharing the task, lightens the task; sharing the task, shares the "life" involved; and sharing the task further develops everyone involved.
D. What they "said to one another"...
1. "Let us 'at once' pass throughout (the places where there are mangers) as far as Bethlehem..."
a. They recognized the need for a "search" of the various possibilities as they had only been told they would find the baby "in a manger".
b. They were highly motivated to act immediately.
2. The focus yet remains upon the city of David, Bethlehem.
3. "...and behold this word which the Lord has made known to us."
a. That they were "supposed" to go look was implicit in the angel's message of the "sign".
b. That they were motivated to go look is expressed in the "let us go at once" terminology.
c. That they were not going to "see" without "searching out the place" is obvious to all: the angel did not tell them the "address".
d. That they wanted to "see" the "fact" of the "word" made known is also both implicit and expected.
e. The record intensifies the reality of the "space/time" manifestation of the Messianic Truth so that it became a "eyes have seen, ears have heard, hands have handled" (1 John 1:1-3) reality. The truth of the message is rooted in the seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years of actual history.
f. The characterization of the "word" is "this word which has come to pass"...i.e., there is a critical link between God's "words" and history's "unfolding" (the foreordained Lamb was manifest in history -- 1 Peter 1:20). What God "says" is the criterion for expectation; what God "does" is the fulfillment of that hope.