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Angels: God's Messengers
Bible Teaching About God's "Ministering Spirits"
THE story has been told of how the first Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, was instructed by Soviet premier Khrushchev to watch out for angels when he went into space in April, 1962. On his return he reported that he had seen no angels. Khrushchev is said to have replied, "Good, I knew you wouldn't. There are no such things!"
It is all too easy to assume that what you do not see does not exist!
Do you believe in angels? Do you know who they are or what they do? Are they just figments of the artist's imagination in religious paintings down the centuries? Is there really something out there we ought to know about? Is it important to know if they exist?
Back to the Bible
Let us go straight to the Bible to remarkable evidence about these heavenly beings. The example we are to look at first is not the earliest occasion when angels are mentioned, but it is a particularly illuminating one. In the days when the kingdoms of Syria and Israel were at war in the 8th century BC, the king of Syria was much frustrated by the constant discovery of the whereabouts of his advancing forces (2 Kings 6:8-11). Being told that the informer was Elisha the prophet of God, his agents tracked down Elisha and his servant to a small hill town in northern Israel. He dispatched a large army to capture the prophet, and surrounded Dothan with chariots and horsemen under cover of night. When Elisha's young servant looked out the next morning and saw this great host, he was terrified: "Alas, my master! How shall we do?"
The Man whose Eyes were Opened
"LORD. I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha." (2 Kings 6:17)
Elisha was a man of God, and the LORD had sent his protective forces in the service of His prophet. Elisha had already experienced a similar thing a short time before, when his predecessor Elijah was taken up from him and Elisha had cried, "My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof" (2 Kings 2:12). Elisha knew from that experience that the angels were there, but the inexperienced young steward had not yet learned where true strength lies. His spiritual eyes were closed.
God Works Through His Servants
The chariot and horsemen revealed to Elisha's servant were the angels of God, concerned for those who feared God. The incident demonstrated what another "man of God", king David, well understood and which he described in the following Psalms:
"The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them." (Psalm 34:7)
"The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place." (Psalm 68:17)
"Bless the LORD, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word. Bless ye the LORD, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure." (Psalm 103:20,21)
"Bless the LORD ... who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind: who maketh his angels spirits: his ministers a flaming fire." (Psalm 104:1-4)
The Hosts of God
With the evidence of this important Bible event, it is clear that there are such beings as angels, and that they have been at work on behalf of God and man. If we wish to know more about them, we must start with a simple question.
Who are the Angels?
Although the word "angel" in the Bible, meaning a messenger, nearly always applies to heavenly beings, it can occasionally apply to human messengers. Malachi himself said a priest was a messenger (malak) of the LORD of hosts (Malachi 2:7), and in the Book of Revelation the elders of the seven churches of Asia were called angels (1:20; 2:1 etc.). But when we meet messengers doing supernatural things, there is no doubt they are heavenly beings - God's messengers, working for Him and for the ultimate benefit of mankind.
The Creator of the Universe
The LORD God has always been there, and He always will be there, so that the Bible describes Him as being "from everlasting to everlasting" (Psalm 90:2). He is a living God (in contrast to all other so-called "gods"); the source of all power, all life and all things necessary for life to continue. In creating the galaxies, the stars, the planets and everything else in space. He singled out the earth for a special purpose, with the intention that it should become the home of a race of beings who would reflect His own glory and emulate His own characteristics. "All the earth shall be filled with my glory" (Numbers 14:21) is His promise. Although He is a spirit power, He is not some kind of automatic machine.
God did not create robots with automated responses for life on earth; rather, He desired to generate a willing response to His will from men and women who revere and obey Him:
"Thus saith the LORD. The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool ... but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word." (Isaiah 66:1,2)
Why did God Create Angels?
"They which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God. being the children of the resurrection." (Luke 20:35.36)
Jesus was saying that, in the same way as the angels (the children or "sons" of God) live for ever and are of one gender, so those who will be called the "sons" and "daughters" of God when Jesus returns will also live for ever and will not marry.
The "Sons of God"
"Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? ... Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" (Job 38:4-7)
These "sons of God" were there working for the Almighty. The Creator commanded, and the tasks were carried out. As Psalm 33 says, "For he spake, and it was done: he commanded, and it stood fast" (33:9). The LORD only had to speak the word and the angels responded; and what they did, they did well - which is why the record in Genesis 1 repeatedly says that "God saw that it was good". Good, because "a faithful messenger refreshes the soul of the master who sends him" (Proverbs 25:13).
"Let us make man in our image. after our likeness ... So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him: male and female created he them." (Genesis 1:26-27)
This does not mean that the first of the human race had exactly the same physical nature as the angels, for the angels were made to live for ever. Adam and Eve were not made never-dying: they did sin, and they suffered death as the punishment for it. That is why the whole human race has been dying ever since. The fact that man was created in the image of the angels speaks of God's ultimate intention for His creatures.
Psalm 8 is a Psalm in which the creation of the earth is extolled. Here we are told that man's position is lower than the angels:
"What is man, that thou art mindful of him? ... For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour." (Psalm 8:4,5)
The New Testament quotes this passage, and tells us that mankind - including the Lord Jesus himself - was made a little lower than the angels, "for the suffering of death" (Hebrews 2:9). Angels do not die, but men and women do. Even Jesus, the Son of God, was mortal, but has now received the glory and honour which was his due when, as he said after his resurrection, "all power is given unto me in heaven and in earth" (Matthew 28:18).
The "Mighty Ones"
This introduces an important aspect of the angels and their work. As God's representatives, they bear His name and carry out His will. They are glorious because He is glorious. The LORD is the Almighty. and the angels are "the sons of the mighty" (Psalm 89:6). Another of God's titles is "LORD of hosts" because, as we have seen, He has such extensive forces at His command.
We have seen that the angels execute the LORD God's commands, they were involved at the creation of the earth, they act as messengers and they operate in the name of the LORD. We shall now look at how they guided, led and protected God's people, the nation of Israel.
Angels in Old Testament History
Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, witnessed several angelic manifestations. On his flight into Padan-aram from the wrath of his brother Esau he had a dream, when he saw "the angels of God ascending and descending" a ladder going up from earth to heaven (Genesis 28:12). It was a dramatic representation of how communication between heaven and earth is maintained and how the angels are watchful over those who put their trust in God.
Jacob returned to his homeland some 20 years later, but was fearful of meeting Esau who was approaching with 400 men. The divine encouragement and protection was there again: "The angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God's host" (Genesis 32:1,2). But belief in the presence and power of angels does not eliminate the need for action on our part, as Jacob found out when he wrestled with a "man" in a painful night-long encounter. His opponent proved to be an angel, who did Jacob the honour of changing his name to "Israel", meaning a 'prince with God'. Jacob declared, "I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved" (Genesis 32:24-30).
The Angel that Bore the Name of God
"Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not: for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him." (Exodus 23:20,21)
The Angel of God's "Presence"
The cherubim are first mentioned when Adam and Eve were driven from Eden. They guarded the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:24), and were modelled in gold on the Ark to represent God's protection and care.
Again, when Moses on Mount Sinai desired to see the face of God Himself he was not permitted to do so, only to witness the glory of the LORD passing by: "Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live" (Exodus 33:20). The Lord Jesus confirmed this when he said, "No man hath seen God at any time" (John 1:18). The angels therefore brought divine information to men and women, which they could not otherwise receive because of God's holiness and man's sinfulness.
Angels with Names
Six months later, Gabriel appeared to Mary, who was in the royal line of King David. Her prayer, said the angel, had found favour with God, and she would be the mother of the expected Messiah. Gabriel told her that she would conceive through the power of the Holy Spirit and her son would be Jesus, the Saviour, and he would be the Son of God and would occupy the royal throne of David (Luke 1:26-33). It was an extraordinary meeting because Mary was not yet married. Nothing is impossible with God! Joseph, her husband-to-be, also received angelic messages advising him what steps to take in this unique situation.
When Jesus came to be born in Bethlehem, the birth was the signal for a glorious witness of divine approval, seen by shepherds:
"An angel of the Lord (could this have been Gabriel?) appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear ... And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!'" (Luke 2:9-14, RSV)
Angels Preach the Gospel
When Jesus grew up he was ever conscious of the part that angels played in his life. We read that at the end of his lonely six-weeks trial in the Judean wilderness, when he was very hungry and suffering from the stress of his temptations, and needed support and company, "angels came and ministered unto him" (Matthew 4:11). Again, in the Garden of Gethsemane, the angel was there, a personal companion with whom Jesus could commune and share his feelings. When even his closest disciples could not bear the pressures of the situation, the angel was a friend indeed!
The Angels in World Affairs
Angels at the Second Coming of Christ
"The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ ... when he shall come to be glorified in his saints." (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10)
"The tribes of the earth shall mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." (Matthew 24:30,31)
The heavenly aides will be there with Jesus when the dead are raised:
"For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel's call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first ..." (1 Thessalonians 4:16, RSV)
They will be present, as witnesses, at the great judgement, when the Son of man will confess those who confess him, "before the angels of God" (Luke 12:8). They are the "reapers" of the harvest when "the Son of man shall send forth his angels. and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend. and them which do iniquity" (Matthew 13:39-41). Thereafter, they will remain in the service of those followers of Jesus who will be given eternal life and who will rule the world of the future as God's representatives here on earth.
Can Angels Help Us?
Yet the very fact that they are not visible to us may lead us to discount their presence and their effectiveness in our lives. The truth is that since the writings of the Bible were completed at the end of the First Century AD. there has not been what the Bible calls any "open vision", as there had been at certain times before that. The completed Bible is sufficient to supply all information necessary for salvation, and we are invited to read it, to accept its direction and to live by faith. Faith is not blind acceptance of things we know nothing about, but it is built on the evidence of God's word and work and is an essential requirement for believing the truth.
We are asked to "open our eyes" to all the evidence around us that God's plans are being fulfilled. If we do this we shall have the confident expectation of the return of Jesus Christ very soon. But we can go further than this: we can say quite positively that, for those who trust God and are prepared to follow and obey Jesus in readiness for his kingdom, there is angelic help at hand - for each disciple personally. Do you remember Psalm 34? "The angel of the LORD encampeth round about them that fear him". With our limited eyesight, we may not see him; but he is there! Are you ready to believe that?
Followers of Jesus are left in no doubt when they read the Letter to the Hebrews. The early chapters demonstrate how God has communicated with man, how the angels are His servants and how Jesus, the Son of God, is now superior to the angels and commands their obedience. Likewise, those who become the "sons of God" and are destined to be the rulers in the coming kingdom of God will be above the angels. In chapter 1, the writer says that God spoke in the past in many different ways (for example, by angels conveying God's word to patriarchs and prophets) but He now speaks directly through His Son, who is "the express image of his person ... being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they". The Son is greater than the servants. Yet, he says, the angels still have their work to do:
"Of the angels he says, 'Who makes his angels winds, and his servants flames of fire.' ... Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?" (Hebrews 1:7,14, RSV)
"The whole family in heaven and earth"
How Can the Angels Serve Us Now?
Let us sum up: Yes, angels do exist and they are there to help us, if we fear God. Truth does not depend on what you can see. That was the big mistake made by Mr. Khrushchev: The things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18, RSV).
When the heavenly hosts are sent to gather together the "elect" for judgement at the return of Jesus, the elect may meet and see the angels for the first time The invitation may well be, "The Master is come, and calleth for thee!" (John 11:28). Now is the time to believe in the LORD God and His angels and to prepare for this great event:
"Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law." (Psalm 119:18)
-- STANLEY OWEN
Reproduced with the kind permission of The Christadelphian Magazine and Publishing Association Ltd (UK), by whom all rights are reserved.