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In his gospel, Luke records the visitation of the angels to shepherds immediately after the birth of Jesus Christ.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased! Luke 2:8-14 ESV

This event is very well popular, indeed. Yet, why was it so significant that angels appeared to shepherds? Why were they the only ones to receive such a profound message? Why not farmers or carpenters or tax collectors or... fishermen (like Zebedee)?

God made a specific choice to proclaim this message to shepherds. So, why is that?

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2 Answers 2

The following is highly speculative but (I think) not entirely unreasonable.

  • Shepherds might be considered lower class and were likely grubbier than those in other occupations, especially given that these were night-shepherds in the fields (when all the "decent" folk would be sleeping at home).
  • By announcing the message to isolated shepherds, the privilege of evangelizing was bestowed on the hearers. If the announcement had been made in a town, lots of people would have noticed. Alternatively, there might be an aspect of messianic secret (cf. Jesus's telling people not to talk about him healing them), perhaps to reduce the number of people interested because of miracles rather than the message the miracles are meant to provide a sign for. In addition, a degree of secrecy might have delayed Herod's infanticidal actions (people in authority would be unlikely to pay attention to the ravings of shepherds but if a whole town--including its respected elders--was talking about an angelic appearance, then even priests in Jerusalem might give the account some credibility).
  • Such might be an homage to David and a foreshadowing of Jesus' own identification as the good shepherd.
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If they were the shepherds of the sacrificial lambs as some believe, it might make sense for God to introduce them to the true Lamb of God. –  kurosch Dec 18 '12 at 21:32

In Psalm 23, David, the shepherd king, proclaims, "The Lord is my Shepherd." In doing so, David implicitly ascribes to God the title of "The Shepherd's Shepherd" or "The Shepherd of Shepherd's". Elsewhere, God is called the "King of Kings" and "Lord of Lords".

Thus, it was wholly fitting that when God, the Shepherd of Shepherds, became a Man and was born in the city of David, that a proclamation was made to shepherds. Who else would you tell of the birth of the Shepherd of shepherds, but shepherds?

Jesus was also called the Lamb of God by John the Baptist (John 1:29). So, it is also noteworthy that it was shepherds who received the proclamation that the Messiah, who would later be called the Lamb of God, had been born.

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29 ESV

On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. Revelation 19:16 ESV

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