The Proclamation of the Good News
In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy (2:8–10a)
The good news of the Savior’s birth came first to a most unlikely group of people. Shepherds were near the bottom of the social ladder. They were uneducated and unskilled, increasingly viewed in the post-New Testament era as dishonest, unreliable, unsavory characters, so much so that they were not allowed to testify in court. Because sheep required care seven days a week, shepherds were unable to fully comply with the man-made Sabbath regulations developed by the Pharisees. As a result, they were viewed as being in continual violation of the religious laws, and hence ceremonially unclean.
That is not to say, however, that being a shepherd was an illegitimate or disreputable occupation. Two of the greatest figures in Israel’s history, Moses (Ex. 3:1) and David (1 Sam. 16:11–13), were shepherds at some point in their lives. Moreover, the Old Testament refers metaphorically to God as the “Shepherd of Israel” (Ps. 80:1; cf. 23:1; Isa. 40:11), while Jesus described Himself as the “good shepherd” (John 10:11, 14; cf. Heb. 13:20; 1 Peter 2:25; 5:4). Shepherds were, however, lowly, humble people; they certainly were not the ones who would be expected to receive the most significant announcement in history. That they were singled out to receive this great honor suggests that these shepherds were devout men, who believed in the true and living God. Such people are later described as those who were “looking for the consolation of Israel” (2:25) and the “redemption of Jerusalem” (2:38).
God’s choice of shepherds to receive the announcement of His Son’s birth is in keeping with Old Testament prophecy concerning Messiah’s ministry. Isaiah 61:1 prophetically put these words in the mouth of the Messiah: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners.” After reading that passage in the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus declared, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). The Messiah’s ministry would not be to the self-righteous (Luke 5:32)—especially the religious leaders (John 7:48), or the self-sufficient wealthy (Luke 18:24). Instead, He would seek out the poor, the lowly, the afflicted, the outcasts of society (cf. Luke 1:52; 1 Cor. 1:26). Throughout His ministry Jesus attracted such people (cf. Matt. 9:10–13; 11:19; Luke 15:1–2), who were broken over their sin and humbled themselves in repentance (cf. Luke 7:37–38; 18:13–14).
These particular shepherds were watching their sheep in the region around Bethlehem, about six miles south of Jerusalem. They were staying out in the fields with their flocks, something typically done in Israel from April to November. That does not mean, however, that Jesus could not have been born in the winter, since winters in Israel are often mild. Further, as Leon Morris notes, the rabbinic writings speak of sheep being pastured between Jerusalem and Bethlehem in February (The Gospel According to St. Luke, The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975], 84). According to rabbinic law, sheep were to be kept in the wilderness, and any animal found between Jerusalem and the vicinity of Bethlehem was subject to being used as a sacrifice in the temple. It may be, then, that the sheep these shepherds were caring for were destined for that very purpose.
Sheep were kept out in the fields during the day. In the evening they were moved into sheepfolds, where the shepherds could take turns keeping watch over their flock during the night. Inside the fold the sheep could more easily be guarded from predators and thieves.
But the tranquil normalcy of the shepherds’ nightly routine was abruptly shattered in a most amazing, dramatic, unexpected way. While they were doing what they normally did during the long hours spent watching their flock an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them. The angel is not identified, but in light of his earlier appearances to Zacharias and Mary, it may have been Gabriel. Adding immeasurably to the shepherds’ shock and terror at the angel’s unexpected appearance, the glory of the Lord blazed forth out of the darkness and shone around them.
Throughout Scripture, God’s glorious presence was manifested in brilliant light (e.g., Ex. 24:17; 33:22–34:5; Deut. 5:24; 2 Chron. 7:1–3; Ezek. 1:27–28; 43:2; Luke 9:28–32; Rev. 21:23; cf. Ex. 34:29, 35; Ps. 104:1–2; Hab. 3:3–4; Rev. 1:13–16). The glory of God first appeared in the garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve had intimate fellowship with God and enjoyed His presence. But after they sinned, God banished them forever from the garden and posted an angel with a flaming sword at the entrance to keep them out. God’s glory manifested itself to Israel in the wilderness (Ex. 24:16–17), especially at the dedication of the tabernacle (Ex. 40:34–35), as it would later appear at the dedication of the temple (1 Kings 8:10–11).
But after centuries of sin and rebellion, the glory of God left the temple (Ezek. 9:3; 10:4, 18, 19; 11:22–23), symbolizing its withdrawal from Israel. It would not appear again until this very night, where it signified that God’s presence had once again entered the world through the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. Later in His life Jesus would reveal His divine glory to Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1–2). The next visible manifestation of God’s glory to the world will be at the second coming, when “the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and … all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30). Heaven will be lit by the all-pervasive glory of God throughout eternity (Rev. 21:10–11, 23).
The shepherds understandably were terribly frightened by the appearing of the angel and the manifestation of God’s glory. Fear was the normal response whenever anyone in Scripture either encountered an angel (cf. Dan. 8:15–18; 10:7–9, 16–17; Matt. 28:2–4; Luke 1:12, 26–30) or saw the glory of God manifest (Isa. 6:1–5; Ezek. 1:28; 3:23; Matt. 17:5–6; Mark 4:41; 5:33; Acts 9:4; Rev. 1:17). Those who experience the presence of the holy God are acutely aware of their sinfulness. Isaiah cried out, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isa. 6:5), and Peter exclaimed after witnessing a miracle performed by the Lord, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke 5:8).
Seeing the shepherds’ obvious terror, the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.” The sequence of events in the angel’s appearance to the shepherds is the same as in Gabriel’s appearances to Zacharias and Mary: the angel appeared, those to whom he appeared were frightened, the angel spoke words of comfort, delivered his message, and promised a sign.
There is a sense in which it is right to fear God; the Bible declares that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10; cf. 1:7; 15:33; Job 28:28; Ps. 111:10; Mic. 6:9), and godly men are marked by reverence for Him (Gen. 22:12; 42:18; Ex. 18:21; Neh. 7:2; Job 1:9; Ps. 66:16; Eccl. 5:7; 8:12; 12:13; Matt. 10:28; 1 Peter 2:17). But the redeemed need not be terrified of God. “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again,” Paul reminded the Romans, “but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ ” (Rom. 8:15; cf. Gal. 4:6–7). God says to His people, as He did to Abraham, “Do not fear” (Gen. 26:24; cf. Judg. 6:23; Isa. 43:1, 5; 44:2; Jer. 46:27–28; Lam. 3:57; Dan. 10:12, 19; Matt. 14:27; 17:7; 28:5, 10; Luke 5:10; 12:32; Rev. 1:17).
The shepherds did not need to fear, for the angel had come bearing good news. His message was not one of judgment, but rather that “the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14). Euangelizō (“to proclaim good news) is one of Luke’s favorite terms; he used it more than any other New Testament writer (cf. 1:19; 3:18; 4:18, 43; 7:22; 8:1; 9:6; 16:16; 20:1; Acts 5:42; 8:4, 12, 25, 35, 40; 10:36; 11:20; 13:32; 14:7, 15, 21; 15:35; 16:10; 17:18). The good news of the gospel is that the saving God sent the Savior to redeem sinners. That news produces great joy; the joy that Peter described as “inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8), which is reserved for those whose sins have been forgiven through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Pervasiveness of the Good News
which will be for all the people; (2:10b)
The good news the angel proclaimed is for all the people. Laos (people) refers first to Israel (1:68; 7:16; 19:47; 21:23; 22:66; 23:5, 14), since “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22; cf. Rom. 1:16). But the promise of salvation is not for them only. Praising God after seeing the baby Jesus in the temple, Simeon said, “For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel” (2:30–32). Significantly, laos in verse 31 is plural, while it is singular in verse 32. Simeon’s words reflect the truth expressed in Isaiah’s prophecy:
Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples; but the Lord will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. (60:1–3; cf. 9:2; 42:6; 49:6–9; 51:4)
The good news of salvation, having been proclaimed first to Israel, is now proclaimed throughout the world (Matt. 28:19–20).
2:9–11 An angel of the Lord came to the shepherds, and a bright, glorious light shone all around them. As they recoiled in terror, the angel comforted them and broke the news. It was good tidings of great joy for all the people. That very day, in nearby Bethlehem, a Baby had been born. This Baby was a Savior, who is Christ the Lord! Here we have a theology in miniature. First, He is a Savior, which is expressed in His name, Jesus. Then He is Christ, the Anointed of God, the Messiah of Israel. Finally, He is the Lord, God manifest in the flesh.
2:10good tidings … joy: The association of these two ideas occurs only here and in Luke 1:14, but they sum up what the response to Jesus’ presence should be.
2:10 — Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.”
The angel told the shepherds not to fear, but to open their eyes and look for the wonderfully good thing that God was doing for them and for the whole world—something that would bring great joy to everyone.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2009). Luke 1–5 (pp. 155–158). Chicago: Moody Publishers.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1374). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (pp. 1252–1253). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
 Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (Lk 2:10). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.